Archive for the 'Economics' Category

The Days After the Storm

By Daniel Rosen and Billy Parish, co-founders of Mosaic

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy. We’ve seen the impacts of climate change in other parts of the world, but with Hurricane Sandy, we saw for the first time the places of our childhood underwater, family members without power. It is as shocking as it is frightening to see the devastation extreme weather can wreak.

We were deeply moved by pictures of firemen and nurses carrying babies in the dark from NYU Hospital out of harms way. Seeing them in action, we were filled with a fierce pride in humanity. When it comes down to it, in moments like these, we rise to extraordinary levels of bravery and sheer force of will.

But we’re also left feeling angry. The irony that the same energy system that brought us climate change and this tremendous storm also couldn’t handle its wrath makes us sick.

Let’s not mince words: The fossil fuel industry is destroying our planet and everything that we love. CO2 in the atmosphere is making our oceans warmer and making our climate unstable. The current energy system is not only bad for the planet, but also is extremely fragile. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, 12,000,000 people went without power for days. Many of them still without power today.

When you awake you will remember ev’rything, You will be. – Bob Dylan

The gravity of the situation is real. Everything is at stake. Families. Homes. Memories. Whole ways of life. All packaged up neatly and for sale to the highest bidding lobbyist The fossil fuel industry has spent $153 Million on this election so far. It’s no wonder climate change didn’t come up once in the three Presidential debates or the VP debate.

Meanwhile, the expected costs of Sandy are upwards of $50 billion. Will Exxon and Shell pay for that out of their $54 billion in profits this year? Will ConEd? Will PG&E? And what about the wildfires this summer? And the droughts across the midwest that have destroyed corn crops and farmers’ livelihoods? What about those costs? Is there math that they have that figures out the value of lives lost in the hurricane? It’s disgusting to even write that, but it begs the question.

So after the storm, what?

An Ambitious Proposal
Like the firefighters who risked their lives, we of all creeds, all ages, and all political stripes, must come together and work with the same tireless strength and courage to replace CO2-producing energy sources with clean energy and smart grid technologies. A world powered 100% with clean energy. If you don’t think it’s possible, watch this talk by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, Stanford engineer Mark Jacobson, and Executive Vice President of Rabo Bank, Marco Kraepels.

Jacobson’s team has mapped out how New York can make a total transition to clean energy by 2030. Under this plan, electricity would come from a mix of renewables and energy efficiency, reducing statewide power demand by 37%.  And talk about collateral benefits: Air pollution mortality would decline by 4,000 deaths a year. Just the cost savings from reduced air pollution would save the Empire State $33B a year, enough to pay for the needed new 271 gigawatts of renewable power.

Take Jacobson’s plan national and there you have it — clean energy delivered via thousands of decentralized microgrids. It will take planning, coordination and financing by the whole crazy lot of us, from the clean tech sector to utilities to Mosaic investors crowdfunding the next distributed solar power plant. It will take an unprecedented coalition of people and businesses mobilized to make this ambitious vision happen.

ConEd is saying that it will take 10 days to get the majority of its customers their power back, but some may be without power until the end of November. In coming months, Cuomo and others could establish an aggressive state Feed In Tariff, guaranteeing a market for renewables. They could help to structure it to incentivize back-up storage. Each house could be a solar power plant. Every rooftop a place for distributed generation.

Distributed generation (such as wind and solar with backup battery storage) and other decentralized energies would have been far more resilient than our current electricity grid. The advantage of clean power microgrids, besides curbing climate change, is that if one mini-power station goes down, it doesn’t take the whole grid down with it — had NYU Hospital been microgrid-powered, we likely would not have witnessed the grim spectacle of firemen carrying those babies to safety.

Microgrids would offer protection in the inevitable event of future superstorms and in the face of powerful solar storms predicted for 2013 that have the potential to take down the entire US grid. Better still, clean energy would help avert extreme weather events in the first place.

One of Mosaic’s projects in Oakland funded by 134 people.

The storm waters have gone back to the sea. Now begins the real work of rebuilding. The task in front of us is the most ambitious rebuilding project human civilization has ever undertaken. This is not a top down mandate. The task to transition from a CO2 based economy and energy production to 100% clean and renewable energy is a movement of movements, community of communities, network of networks.

We have the technology to make the transition. We have the know how. We have the people.  We need not wait for another superstorm to underscore our vulnerability, and we need not — must not — wait for politicians and utility executives to lead the charge. As we say at Mosaic, we got this.

Gender Gap in Youth Green Jobs

Right now, a lot of youth are fighting to stop the tar sands. A lot more are just trying to find a job. Last year, Michael Davidson and I wrote about our work to try to understand if green jobs could be youth jobs. The results were pretty good — young people were underrepresented in green job creation in the U.S., but not by much.

This year, we tried to see if the situation had changed. Turns out not much – U.S. youth probably are still getting fewer green jobs compared to other age groups and compared to how many jobs we have in the economy overall. So, pretty good news. And if investing in clean energy and climate change-fighting solutions will create more jobs than business as usual, or  more fossil fuel investments — and the green jobs research says it will — then that will probably mean more jobs for youth. Green jobs will be youth jobs.

Gender Differences in U.S. Youth Green Jobs

Young women have not benefited from green job creation as much as young men.Source: Muro, Mark, Jonathan Rothwell, and Devashree Saha. 2011. Sizing the Clean Economy. Washington: Brookings Institution. Available at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Series/resources/0713_clean_economy.pdf. Accessed October 1, 2011.Source: 2012. Table 15. Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, and age, Annual Average 2011. Washington: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unpublished work tables from the Current Population Survey. Received March 1, 2012.
Brookings data sums to more than 100% due to rounding.

But then we asked — which youth will have those green jobs? And here things don’t look so great.

We got pretty good data for male/female breakdown within youth jobs (at least for ages 16-24, and without data on transgender youth). When we matched this gender data up with the green jobs and youth data, we got this table. The categories are from a cool Brookings Institute clean energy jobs report, but don’t worry too much about them. Instead, check out the gold boxes at the bottom right.

In the overall economy, young men and women are almost even in how many of us have jobs — we’re 6.4% of all jobs in the economy for dudes, and 6.0% for girls (putting it together, youth have 12.4% of all jobs in the economy, compared to 10.9% of the clean energy economy).

But in the clean energy economy (at least as of 2011), male youth have about 7.5% of all the jobs, while female youth only have 3.5%. This is basically the same trend I found for all age groups in past research – men outnumber women for direct green jobs. I also found disparities across races and ethnicities, but there isn’t good data on this for just youth, so more work is need to understand where else youth green job creation might be unequal.

The good news is what we’ve said before – if investing in green jobs creates more jobs overall, this will probably mean more jobs in total for both genders. But, for now at least, men will benefit comparatively more.

Can we change this? Probably. But so far, we haven’t even been talking about the issue. Now that we know the situation, we can start figuring out solutions to help make sure green jobs are green jobs for all.

Want much more detail? Dive into the full report (don’t worry, it’s only 17 pages, and most of those are tables).

Flawed Report Ignores Economic Costs of Coal Mining, Contains Blatant Self-Contradictions

This post is cross-published from the Coal Export Action.  To help stop destructive coal mining in Montana this summer, sign up here.

What do you get when the construction industry finances an “unbiased” report on the economic impacts of coal mining, and the report author goes on to completely ignore how land degradation, aquifer depletion, and climate change might negatively impact the economy?

You’d expect such an industry-sponsored study to over-estimate the economic benefits of letting Big Coal have its way.  What you might not expect, is for it to contain findings that blatantly contradict the authors’ own claim that opening a giant coal mine will positively impact nearby communities.  Yet that’s exactly what a recent report on “The Impact of Otter Creek Coal Development on the Montana Economy” does.

The report in question, financed by the Montana Contractors Association, and authored by Patrick M. Barkey and Paul E. Polzin of the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, recently made headlines in the Montana news.  Claims made in the report are about what you’d expect from an industry-sponsored study: coal mining will create thousands of jobs, generate millions in tax revenue, and lead its supporters down the one true path to Paradise.

But as I read the report, I was astonished by both its cavalier disregard for basic information, and its obvious self-contradictions. Continue reading ‘Flawed Report Ignores Economic Costs of Coal Mining, Contains Blatant Self-Contradictions’

Minneapolis Energy Options: Energy, Markets, and Democracy

Cross-posted from Solutionaries.net referencing a Minneapolis Star Tribune opinion piece published May 23: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/153296235.html

Last November, I sat down with a couple of long-time Environmental Justice organizers in Minnesota and had a conversation about Minneapolis’s energy future. I had been notified by an lawyer that the franchise agreements (20 year agreements that allow the major local utilities to use the public right of way to distribute electricity and natural gas to Minneapolis energy users in exchange for paying Minneapolis about $24 million annually) were expiring in 2014. In our conversation, we figured we should do something about it to ensure the next 20 years of energy development was founded on energy efficiency, clean energy, and community ownership of our energy system.

Fast forward six months and we have a coalition of a dozen groups leading the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign, support from many of our local elected officials, and insight into the many ways that state regulation partners with utilities to limit the options cities have taking steps towards more affordable, efficient, clean, and community-based energy development. We’ve learned of the work of dozens of other cities that have moved to take control of their energy purchasing, generation, and/or distribution, whether through innovative franchise agreements with cooperative utilities, community choice aggregation (which allows a local governments to choose what power they buy, distributed by the local utility), and forming new municipal energy utilities. We believe Minneapolis should keep its options open rather than locking in 20 more years of business as usual – we want to enable the city to explore the option of municipalizing while evaluating negotiations of the franchise with an eye towards enabling Minneapolis residents and businesses to take charge.

And recently, we opened that discussion in an Op Ed in the Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/153296235.html

Read more about what we could achieve and what this means for energy action, democracy, and how movements relate to markets:

Continue reading ‘Minneapolis Energy Options: Energy, Markets, and Democracy’

How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going

[Written by Ash Sanders. Originally published as a zine, which you can download and print (6 double-sided sheets folded into a 24 half-page booklet). Online version cross-posted from peacefuluprising.org]

Not so long ago, Americans witnessed the beginning of a mass democratic uprising. Thousands of average people, disgusted by greedy elites and corporate control of government, launched a movement that spread to almost every state in the nation. They did it to reject debt. They did it to fight foreclosures. They did it to topple a world where the 1 percent determined life for the other 99. And they did all of it against incredible odds, with a self-respect that stymied critics.

The year? 1877. The people? Dirt-poor farmers who would come to be known as Populists.

Now it’s 2011, and the People are stirring again. It’s been over two months since a few hundred dreamers pitched their tents in Zuccotti Park and stayed.

These people weren’t Populists, but they had the same complaints. They couldn’t make rent. They had no future. They lived in a nation with one price for the rich and another for the poor. And they knew that whatever anyone said that they didn’t have real democracy.

Okay, and so what? What do a bunch of century-dead farmers have to do with the Occupy movement? Well, quite a lot, actually.

You see, the Populists came within an inch of changing the entire corporate-capitalist system. They wanted a totally new world, and they had a plan to get it. But as you may have noticed, they didn’t. And now here we are, one hundred years later, occupying parks where fields once stood. We’re at a crucial phase in our movement, standing just now with the great Everything around us—everything to win or everything to lose. It’s our choice. And that’s good, because the choices we make next will echo, not just for scholars and bored kids in history class, but in the lives we do or don’t get to have. The good news is this: the Populists traveled in wagons and left us their wheels. We don’t have to reinvent them. We’re going in a new direction, but I have a feeling they can help us get there.

Occupy has done a lot of things right, and even more things beautifully. But strategy has not been our forte. That was okay at first, even good. We didn’t have one demand, because we wanted it all. So we let our anger grow, and our imagination with it. We were not partisan or monogamous to one creed. That ranging anger got 35,000 people on the Brooklyn Bridge after the Wall Street eviction, and hell if I’m not saying hallelujah. But winter is settling now, and cops are on the march. Each week we face new eviction orders, and wonder how to occupy limbo.

It’s time for a plan, then, some idea for going forward. This plan should in no way replace the rhizomatic-glorious, joyful-rip-roarious verve of the movement so far. It can occur in tandem. But we need a blueprint for the future, because strategy is the road resistance walks to freedom.

In that spirit, I sat down a few years ago and devoted myself to studying social movements of the past. I wanted to see what I could learn from them—where they went wrong, where they went right. I didn’t trust this exercise to random musings. No, like a good Type A kid, I made butcher paper lists of past movement features and mapped them onto current ones. I asked: What is the revolt of the guard for the climate movement? What’s the modern anti-corporate equivalent of the Boston Tea Party?

As I read, I learned a lot about the phases movements go through as they form, what common features they share, and what often breaks them apart.

I could name these phases myself, but it’s already been done. And no one has named them better than historian Lawrence Goodwyn, a thinking human if there ever was one and the author of The Populist Moment.

Goodwyn said that successful movements go through four stages:

Continue reading ‘How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going’

Occupy Denialism

Occupy Denialism: Toward Ecological and Social Revolution

This is a reconstruction from notes of a keynote address delivered to the Power Shift West Conference, Eugene, Oregon, November 5, 2011.

All of us here today, along with countless others around the world, are currently engaged in the collective struggle to save the planet as a place of habitation for humanity and innumerable other species.  The environmental movement has grown leaps and bounds in the last fifty years.  But we need to recognize that despite our increasing numbers we are losing the battle, if not the war, for the future of the earth.  Our worst enemy is denialism: not just the outright denial of climate-change skeptics, but also the far more dangerous denial — often found amongst environmentalists themselves — of capitalism’s role in the accumulation of ecological catastrophe.1

Recently, climate scientists, writing in leading scientific journals, have developed a way of addressing the extreme nature of the climate crisis, focusing on irreversible change and the trillionth ton of carbon.  Central to the scientific consensus on climate change today is the finding that a rise in global temperature by 2° C (3.6° F), associated with an atmospheric carbon concentration of 450 parts per million (ppm), represents a critical tipping point, irreversible in anything like human-time frames.  Climate models show that if we were to reach that point feedback mechanisms would likely set in, and society would no longer be able to prevent the climate catastrophe from developing further out of our control.  Even if we were completely to cease burning fossil fuels when global average temperature had risen by 2° C, climate change and its catastrophic effects would still be present in the year 3000.  In other words, avoiding an increase in global average temperatures of 2° C, 450 ppm is crucial because it constitutes a point of no return.  Once we get to that point, we will no longer be able to return, even in a millennium, to the Holocene conditions under which human civilization developed over the last 12,000 years.  Many of you are aware that long-term stabilization of the climate requires that we target 350 ppm, not 450 ppm.  But 450 ppm remains significant, since it represents the planetary equivalent of cutting down the last palm tree on Easter Island.2.

Continue reading ‘Occupy Denialism’

Thoughts following Midwest Powershift

Cross-posted from http://www.solutionaries.net by Ruby Levine

I spent the weekend at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Among the rallies, trainings, and speeches, I was able to catch some downtime with fellow Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants from around the Midwest. Especially valuable was a conversation I had with members of other Midwestern programs on Saturday night.

500 young people applaud Joshua Kahn Russell's keynote poem at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Photo credit Ben Hejkal.

This conversation helped me articulate two things: one, the “good environmentalists vs. the evil polluters” framing I saw a lot of other places during the conference makes me deeply uncomfortable, and two, if the green economy is going to work it needs to be the whole economy, not a side industry.

Continue reading ‘Thoughts following Midwest Powershift’

Apply to Start a Summer of Solutions Program in Your Community!

Cross-posted from www.solutionaries.net by Ruby Levine.

The Summer of Solutions is a program for young people who want to build just, sustainable economies in their communities.

We want to invite YOU to be one of those young people building those solutions. Apply here by October 22 to start a program in your community or to join an existing program leader team.

Running a program gives you the opportunity to create and support green economy projects that build power for people who currently don’t have as much access AND to empower young people from your community and beyond with the skills and strategies they need to do the same thing wherever they go next.

Past Summer of Solutions programs have:

  • Built community gardens and farms on vacant lots
  • Taught neighbors how to use bikes as an effective form of transit
  • Run summer camps for children to help them learn about healthy eating and growing their own food
  • Founded and partnered with energy businesses to create a community-based clean energy system
  • Created community spaces, from mini-golf courses in the coal fields of West Virginia to a playground in Detroit, MI
  • Designed and organized for green manufacturing at a closing car factory in Saint Paul, MN
  • Continue reading ‘Apply to Start a Summer of Solutions Program in Your Community!’

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge Launches

Credit: Michael Drazdzinski

Solar panels adorning the tops of Harvard buildings. A bright, towering wind turbine on the St. Olaf campus. Libraries and dormitories chock full of blue recycling options and even composting bins inside the dining halls, at the University of Washington.

Campus sustainability has come into its own over the last decade, with renewable energy, tray-less dining, and sustainability director jobs popping up at campuses across the country. While many colleges and universities can implement some or all of these programs to reduce their carbon footprint, many projects are done piecemeal, without a regular source of funding or the institutional support to make it the first step in a larger commitment.

Being a sustainable campus can be so much more than just a green garden or showcase project. Sustainability projects can often reduce the overall operating costs for the campus, saving energy and money, keeping tuition low. But high upfront costs can be a barrier to administrators experiencing steep budget cuts and rising energy costs.

One way for any college or university to achieve these results is through a sustainability financing mechanism called the Green Revolving Fund.

On the main stage at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s national conference in Pittsburgh, PA, the Billion Dollar Green Challenge will be launched in front of the largest gathering, to date, on sustainability in higher education. The Challenge is inviting colleges to establish green revolving funds to invest in significant energy efficiency upgrades on campus.

At the time of the launch, 32 institutions have joined the Challenge’s Founding Circle. Founding Circle participants range in size from large institutions such as Arizona State, Harvard and Stanford, to small and innovative institutions such as Northland College, Green Mountain College and Unity College.

Green revolving fund projects are diverse and versatile, and can be easily adapted to a school’s priorities. Have an active student body? Consider operating a student-driven fund, like at Oberlin College’s EDGE Fund, where students work with faculty and staff to initiative sustainability projects. Want to retrofit your campus buildings? Take a page from the University of Pennsylvania’s Energy Reduction Fund, which reduces energy through building upgrades.

Existing green revolving funds prove that sustainability efforts can be profitable and even fund larger and more ambitious projects, as they have an average return on investment of 32 percent annually.

Clearly, the benefits of joining the Challenge and operating a green revolving fund are numerous. They are a bright spot in a rocky economy, helping to create green jobs in campus communities while substantially reducing operating costs. The Challenge is a broad network of like-minded institutions focused on improving campus sustainability throughout their operations.

For participating institutions, it will be a best practice forum for what kinds of projects have proven successful, what programs have had difficulties, and what programs you should consider on your own campus, based on real-life examples.

As energy prices rise and concerns about resource scarcity increase, it is a risky venture to not invest in environmental initiatives on campus. By joining the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, institutions can both save energy and grow money.

Visit GreenBillion.org for more information and see if your school might be a good fit.

———————————
Mark Orlowski is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) and Emily Flynn is Manager of Special Projects at SEI.

The View from Four Years Out

Cross-posted from www.solutionaries.net, where you can find more stories of young people building the green economy.

When I helped close the 2011 Twin Cities Summer of Solutions three weeks ago, I knew something amazing was happening, but in the flurry of it all I wasn’t really able to identify it. I started to get a sense of it when I first sat down at the Grand Aspirations August Gathering two weeks ago, when forty people from all over the country streamed in with wondrous stories of their work creating the green economy. By the end of the Gathering, last week, the full depth of the change was starting to dawn on me and was brought to the front of my attention when Ethan Buckner, a friend and Oakland Summer of Solutions Program Leader, said smiling at the end of a big group hug, ‘you know, we’ve created something really remarkable in the past few years’. Now, after a week of catching up and taking the next steps forward back in Minnesota, I’m finally seeing the view from four years out.

Four years ago was about 6 months after the events that got Cooperative Energy Futures and the Alliance to Reindustrialize for a Sustainable Economy off the ground – the seeds of my green economy work in the Twin Cities. It was about 6 months before the vision for the Summer of Solutions and Grand Aspirations emerged. Four years ago, there had been no national gatherings of thousands of youth activists, candidate Barack Obama was barely a competitor, and the economy had not yet tanked. The dream of a green economy was barely starting to be voiced, and the idea that we could sustain ourselves, our communities, and the future of our world by creating new ways to feed, house, power, and transport our society was an exciting but utopian ideal.

So what has changed?
Continue reading ‘The View from Four Years Out’


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