Share Everything

Share Everything: Why the Way We Consume Has Changed Forever.  Sharing material goods makes it cheaper to use high quality, durable, well designed things, and the higher utilization factor means that many fewer things need to exist to satisfy everyone’s needs.  It works especially well in urban areas where the geographic transactional overhead is small.  This is a big piece of the dematerialization of our economy, and one of the most underappreciated reasons cities are a core climate solution.

Cars and Robust Cities Are Fundamentally Incompatible

A writeup by The Atlantic Cities of a paper in the Transportation Research Board journal of the National Academies looking at the effects of parking on the vitality of urban centers.  It’s found that the detrimental effects of dedicating urban real-estate outweigh the potential benefits of making it easier for drivers to access your central business district.  Those cities that stopped adding parking to their urban cores after 1980 were found to have more jobs and higher incomes on average than those that continued adding parking.

ALEC attacking renewable energy standards nationwide

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at it again, trying to roll back state renewable energy standards nationwide.  The argument behind their model bill, entitled the Electricity Freedom Act, is that renewable energy is simply too expensive.  The Skeptical Science blog offers a good short debunking of this claim, based on the cost of electricity in states with aggressive renewable energy goals, and how those costs have changed over the last decade.  And this is before any social cost of carbon or other more traditional pollutants is incorporated into the price of fossil fuel based electricity.

US States with renewable portfolio standards or binding goals.

Their summary:

  • States with a larger proportion of renewable electricity generation do not have detectably higher electric rates.
  • Deploying renewable energy sources has not caused electricity prices to increase in those states any faster than in states which continue to rely on fossil fuels.
  • Although renewable sources receive larger direct government subsidies per unit of electricity generation, fossil fuels receive larger net subsidies, and have received far higher total historical subsidies.
  • When including indirect subsidies such as the social cost of carbon via climate change, fossil fuels are far more heavily subsidized than renewable energy.
  • Therefore, transitioning to renewable energy sources, including with renewable electricity standards, has not caused significant electricity rate increases, and overall will likely save money as compared to continuing to rely on fossil fuels, particularly expensive coal.

But really, go read the entire post for more detail.

Orange County toll roads’ under review by California

Orange County’s toll roads are unable to pay their own way, leading the state of California to investigate whether their administrative agencies are viable as a going concern.  Obviously the situation is complicated by the fact that there are public highways (I-5 and I-405) that duplicate some of the connectivity of these tollways, but their financial duress would seems to suggest that when people actually have to pay, directly, to use freeways… they’re far less interested in footing the bill than when we socialize the resource, and force everyone to pay.  This isn’t very surprising, but it does get one thinking: just how much of our infrastructure would we have never built if it was transparently priced?  How many hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars have we wasted on a polluting, oil dependent, dangerous, city destroying, obesity inducing means of transportation?  If you’re going to subsidize something at the scale we’ve subsidized automobiles, you better be darned sure that the externalities that come along with it are positive!  Hopefully this will serve as a wake up call to the beltway developers around Denver.

As Coasts Rebuild and U.S. Pays, Repeatedly, the Critics Ask Why

The New York Times looks at our national policy of paying to rebuild vulnerable coastal communities, no matter how ill advised their developments might be.  In effect, we’ve encouraged people to upscale their beachfront shanties into expensive vacation homes, increasing the value at risk next time a storm hits.  As the seas rise, ever more money will be sent down this gopher hole.  Instead, we should prohibit future development, map out the most vulnerable locations, and draw up buy-out offers ahead of time, so when disaster strikes, it can be used as an opportunity to re-direct investment into less risky areas.

Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America’s Costliest Coal Plants

Ripe-for-Retirement Generating Capacity Is Concentrated in Eastern States
UCS identified up to 353 coal-fired generators nationwide that are uneconomic compared with cleaner alternatives and are therefore ripe for retirement. These units are in addition to 288 coal generators that utilities have already announced will be retired. Under the high estimate, there are 19 states with more than 1,000 MW of ripe-for-retirement coal-fired generating capacity, all in the eastern half of the United States.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has gone through the catalog of America’s coal plants, and found hundreds of mostly small, old, polluting, inefficient generating units that just aren’t worth operating any more, even on a purely economic basis. They looked at several different sets of assumptions, including different natural gas prices going forward, a price on carbon, whether or not the competing natural gas fired generation would need to built new, or whether it existed already with its capital costs paid off, and whether or not the production tax credit for wind ends up being renewed. In all of the scenarios considered, they found substantial coal fired generation that should be shut down on purely economic grounds, above and beyond the 288 generating units that are already slated for retirement in the next few years. They also found that some companies — especially those in traditionally regulated monopoly utility markets in the Southeast — are particularly reluctant to retire uneconomic plants, and suggest this may be because they can effectively pass on their costs to ratepayers, who remain none the wiser.

Ripe For Retirement: The Case for Closing America’s Costliest Coal Plants

The Union of Concerned Scientists has gone through the catalog of America’s coal plants, and found hundreds of mostly small, old, polluting, inefficient generating units that just aren’t worth operating any more, even on a purely economic basis.  They looked at several different sets of assumptions, including different natural gas prices going forward, a price on carbon, whether or not the competing natural gas fired generation would need to built new, or whether it existed already with its capital costs paid off, and whether or not the production tax credit for wind ends up being renewed.  In all of the scenarios considered, they found substantial coal fired generation that should be shut down on purely economic grounds, above and beyond the 288 generating units that are already slated for retirement in the next few years.  They also found that some companies — especially those in traditionally regulated monopoly utility markets in the Southeast — are particularly reluctant to retire uneconomic plants, perhaps because they can effectively pass on their costs to ratepayers, who remain none the wiser.

Climate Change and the Insurance Industry

http://flickr.com/photos/that_chrysler_guy/8139133299/

As the entire eastern seaboard slowly recovers from its lashing by Sandy, insurance companies are bracing for the hurricane’s aftermath and the possibility of another Katrina-scale loss.  If there’s any major incumbent business with an incentive to publicly acknowledge the risks and costs of climate change, it’s the insurance industry, and especially the re-insurers — mega-corps that backstop individual insurance companies by pooling their risks globally.  These companies can do the math, and what they’ve seen over the last couple of decades is a steady upward trend in both the number of extreme weather events and the resulting insured losses that they’ve been on the hook to cover.  The situation is well summarized in a new report from Ceres, entitled Stormy Futures for U.S. Property/Casualty Insurers.  They suggest that insurers face an existential risk from climate change.

Continue reading Climate Change and the Insurance Industry

Suburbs == Ponzi scheme

Charles Marohn of Strong Towns on Grist, explaining the way in which American suburbs are a giant Ponzi scheme.  Essentially, since WWII there have been several rounds of up-front financing for suburban expansion, including federal dollars, and debt leveraging supposed future increases in tax revenues resulting from the growth.  Along with these capital investments come long-term O&M obligations.  Unfortunately, the obligations are too large, and we’ve only been able to meet them with new influxes of capital, but that’s flamed out.  Sprawl is inherently expensive to build and maintain, and doesn’t create enough real value to support itself in the long run.  How long will it take to internalize this reality culturally?

Feds underestimate costs of carbon pollution

NRDC blogs about a new study on federal use of discount rates in calculation of carbon costs, which suggests we grossly underestimate the present value of reducing emissions.  Did you even know that the feds had put an internal price on CO2?  They behave as if it costs $21/ton to emit.  But that’s based on a discount rate of around 3%, which is the highest rate OMB suggests using for inter-generational costs.  Part II of the very detailed NRDC post is here.