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Some economics nerds just realized how much climate change will cost us

A bunch of economists just put down their calculators and concluded that we should act on climate change sooner rather than later. Really.

For decades, economists have suggested that the government should charge a fee on every ton of carbon dioxide that gets emitted, giving companies a bottom-line incentive to change their polluting ways. The conventional wisdom is that we’d ease into it, starting with a low price — say, $40 per ton — and gradually ramp it up over time.

But according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that prevailing wisdom is backwards. The authors argue that a carbon tax should start out steep, above $100 per ton (and potentially above $200 per ton), rise higher for a few years, and then slowly fall over the next few centuries as people get the whole climate crisis thing under control.

Such a high price would encourage countries and businesses to clean up their act much faster. Part of the reason is that we need to make up for lost time. The implication is that the United States and most governments have waited so long to put a price on carbon that a milder approach just doesn’t make much sense.

“To me the most surprising result of the research was how quickly the cost of delay increases over time,” said Robert Litterman, a risk management expert who used to work for Goldman Sachs, in a statement accompanying the study. His team found that if the world procrastinated on a carbon price by just one more year, the damages from climate change would climb an additional $1 trillion. Waiting 10 years would put the price tag at $100 trillion. In other words, the time to act was yesterday (or, like the 1980s).

No one knows exactly how much our planet is going to heat up in the coming decades. The degree of nightmarishness depends on the amount of greenhouse gases we send into the atmosphere and how quickly and ferociously the planet responds with feedback loops that accelerate warming. The euphemism for this is “uncertainty.”

Because studying the climate is a risky business, the researchers borrowed a model from the world of finance, which is hyper-focused on measuring risk (hello β). Their unconventional model considered the damage climate change would bring to agriculture, coastal infrastructure, and human health in the future. Their takeaway: For something as high stakes as the climate crisis, governments should be trying to avoid the worst outcome at all costs.

“We need to take stronger action today to give us breathing room in the event that the planet turns out to be more fragile than current models predict,” said Kent Daniel, a professor at Columbia Business School, in the statement.

The researchers aren’t the first to recommend this “start high, decrease later” approach to implementing a carbon tax, nor are they the first to propose such a steep price. A landmark report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year suggested that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels would take an array of tough climate policies, including a carbon price of at least $135 per ton by 2030, and perhaps as high as $5,500 per ton.

Around the world, carbon prices are either nonexistent or simply not cutting it. Though more than 40 countries have implemented some sort of carbon price, including Canada, Mexico, and Switzerland, their prices are generally considered too low to be very effective.

Even though old-school Republicans and even some oil companies have publicly called for a nationwide carbon tax, it’s not like voters are clamoring for it. Measures have failed in otherwise environmentally-friendly states such as Washington and Oregon in recent years. No carbon tax exists in the United States, though California and a group of states in the Northeast have cap-and-trade programs that serve a similar purpose. Offering an even higher tax would unlikely help a measure’s odds of passing.

So how to square all this? Perhaps a little wordplay will help. A recent study said that people might be more willing to rally behind a plan to tax carbon if proponents simply dropped the t-word and called it “a fine on corporations” instead.

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Some economics nerds just realized how much climate change will cost us

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Youth climate strikers: ‘We are going to change the fate of humanity’

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This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The students striking from schools around the world to demand action on climate change have issued an uncompromising open letter stating: “We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not.”

The letter, published by the Guardian, says: “United we will rise on 15 March and many times after until we see climate justice. We demand the world’s decision makers take responsibility and solve this crisis. You have failed us in the past. [But] the youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.”

The Youth Strikes for Climate movement is not centrally organized, so keeping track of the fast-growing number of strikes is difficult, but many are registering on FridaysForFuture.org. So far, there are almost 500 events listed to take place on March 15 across 51 countries, making it the biggest strike day so far. Students plan to skip school across Western Europe, from the U.S. to Brazil and Chile, and from Australia to Iran, India, and Japan.

“For people under 18 in most countries, the only democratic right we have is to demonstrate. We don’t have representation,” said Jonas Kampus, a 17-year-old student activist, from near Zurich, Switzerland. “To study for a future that will not exist, that does not make sense.”

The letter says: “We are the voiceless future of humanity … We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes.” Kampus helped initiate the letter, which was created collectively via a global coordination group numbering about 150 students, including the first youth climate striker, Sweden’s Greta Thunberg.

The strikes have attracted some criticism, and Kampus said: “We wanted to define for ourselves why we are striking.” Another member of the coordination group, Anna Taylor, 17, from north London, U.K., said: “The importance of the letter is it shows this is now an international movement.”

Taylor said: “The rapid growth of the movement is showing how important it is and how much young people care. It is vital for our future.” Janine O’Keefe, from FridaysForFuture.org, said: “I’ll be very happy with over 100,000 students striking on March 15. But I think we might reach even beyond 500,000 students.”

Thunberg, now 16 years old and who began the strikes with a solo protest beginning last August, is currently on holiday from school. She was one of about 3,000 student demonstrators in Antwerp, Belgium, on Thursday, and joined protesters in Hamburg on Friday morning.

In recent days, she has sharply rejected criticism of the strikes from educational authorities, telling the Hong Kong Education Bureau: “We fight for our future. It doesn’t help if we have to fight the adults too.” She also told a critical Australian state education minister his words “belong in a museum.”

The strikes have been supported by Christiana Figueres, the U.N.’s climate chief when the Paris deal to fight global warming was signed in 2015. She said: “It’s time to heed the deeply moving voice of youth. The Paris Agreement was a step in the right direction, but its timely implementation is key.” Michael Liebreich, a clean energy expert, said: “Anyone who thinks [the strikes] will fizzle out any time soon has forgotten what it is to be young.”

In the U.K., Taylor said more than 10,000 students went on strike on February 15: “I’m anticipating at least double that on March 15.”

The strikes would not end, Taylor said, until “environmental protection is put as politicians’ top priority, over everything else. Young people are cooperating now, but governments are not cooperating anywhere near as much as they should.” She said students were contacting her from new countries every day, including Estonia, Iceland, and Uganda in recent days.

Kampus, who was invited to meet the Swiss environment minister, Simonetta Sommaruga, on Wednesday, said: “The strikes will stop when there is a clear outline from politicians on how to solve this crisis and a pathway to get there. I could be doing so many other things. But I don’t have time as we have to solve this crisis. My dream is to have a life in peace.”

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Youth climate strikers: ‘We are going to change the fate of humanity’

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Ryan Zinke’s new gig could be a disaster for the environment too

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Trump’s former secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, departed Washington in January amid a barrage of ethics investigations. It didn’t take long, but Zinke has managed to find a new gig that sees him going from one controversial enterprise (the Trump administration) to another: He’s now a cryptocurrency guy (yes, really).

In an interview with Vice News, Zinke, sporting MAGA socks, made his post-government business debut as the managing director of Artillery One, a little-known blockchain and cryptocurrency investment company based out of North Carolina. He said he’s hoping to make the private crypto company “great again.”

But making something great again implies it was great at some point in the past.

It’s no secret that cryptocurrencies, of which Bitcoin is the first and most valuable, have a huge environmental toll. Most are maintained by a network of specialized computers that crunch mathematical puzzles, or “mine” to log transactions and make new coins. All those computations take a massive amount of energy: At its peak, Bitcoin was consuming the same amount of energy every year as nearly 7 million U.S. homes.

But the libertarian fantasy currency had a wild year in 2018, with more than $480 billion of value wiped off the entire market. With a lower financial worth, Bitcoin only demands the same amount of energy as powering 4 million US households. (Which, you know, is still not ideal.)

Somehow evaluating power-sucking cryptocurrencies in a swanky hotel in Switzerland, as he’s doing in the Vice News clip, seems all too appropriate for Zinke. After all, his legacy at the Interior Department is putting 13 million acres of public lands in private hands for dirty fuel development, rescinding environmental protections, shrinking national monuments, and … an extensive hat collection.


Ryan Zinke’s new gig could be a disaster for the environment too

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Climate change caused the “Great Dying,” aka the planet’s worst extinction

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The “Great Dying” was just as bad as it sounds. In the planet’s worst mass extinction 252 million years ago, up to 80 percent of all species died out, including up to 96 percent of ocean species. Trilobites, sea scorpions, and spiny sharks disappeared forever. The rapid reorganization of life on Earth spawned all kinds of unimaginably nasty things, like a giant burp of toxic hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere released from decaying marine animals.

For the first time, a new study in Science draws parallels between the cause of this horrific, planet-changing event and the global warming we’re experiencing today. “It is beyond deniable that climate change is linked to extinction,” lead author Justin Penn said in an interview with Grist.

In the Great Dying, global temperatures rose by more than 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees F) over the span of a few thousand years — a blink of an eye in geologic terms. Human activity has “only” warmed the planet about 1 degree Celsius over the past 150 years, and we’re on course for about 3 degrees (5.4 F) of total warming by 2100.

Penn and his University of Washington colleagues found that, should we continue unabated fossil fuel use, we could unavoidably kick off another crisis like the Great Dying by about 2300. Fast forward another thousand years, and we could be looking at all of the extinction, just much, much faster.

Here’s how the worst mass extinction in Earth’s history went down: A series of massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia emitted huge quantities of greenhouse gases, rapidly warming the planet. When water warms, its capacity to retain oxygen is reduced. Think of the air bubbles that form on the bottom of a pot being heated on the stove and then escape. The same thing, hypoxia, happened to the oceans 252 million years ago on a massive scale.

The researchers found that during the Great Dying, the oceans lost about 76 percent of their oxygen. So far, modern oceans have lost only about 2 percent of oxygen, but with continued rapid warming, that is going to quickly worsen, according to Penn’s findings.

Earlier this year, a different study projected how blowing past Paris Agreement goals would change our oceans. The researchers had to extend their modeling effort far beyond 2300 — the furthest out most climate models go — because they found that the impact was still getting worse.

That study found that ocean oxygen will keep declining until about the year 3000, even if fossil fuel emissions cease in the next few decades, because our current rapid phase of warming is causing ocean circulation to slow down. Beyond that, it could take about 6,000 years for ocean oxygen to recover to a new equilibrium state. Going that long without oxygen “would mean quite dramatic things for marine life,” says Gianna Battaglia, a climate scientist at the University of Bern in Switzerland and the lead author of the paper earlier this year.

For Penn, who hasn’t yet finished his PhD, his work on this latest study has renewed his desire to publicly communicate the dire urgency of climate change. “I’m pretty optimistic in my view of life in general,” he says. “Even though we’ve shown the direct connection between warming and mass extinction, we’ve also identified the solution to that problem. There is a way out.”

According to his coauthor and PhD advisor, Curtis Deutsch, that way out looks like a massive mobilization on the biggest problems facing the ocean and humanity.

“To portray this slow-motion ecological collapse as fundamentally a climate problem bothers me,” Deutsch says. “Climate change is not the problem, climate change is a symptom of the problem.” To truly solve the problem of mass extinction would take fixing other problems like overfishing, plastic pollution, and other stressors on the marine environment, Deutsch says.

Studies such as this one are like a time machine, propelling us first backward, to reckon with a reality that has already occurred, and then forward, projecting the known consequences of our current actions.

What happens in the next decade really, really matters. New data on Wednesday showed that, as of 2018, humanity’s carbon emissions are still accelerating upwards — tracking more or less with the worst-case scenario envisioned nearly a decade ago by climate scientists. In addition to jeopardizing human civilization, the results from Penn and his colleagues show we are setting a course of ecosystem annihilation that will play out over thousands and millions of years.

Some people frame climate change as a problem that’s bad for humanity, but ultimately the Earth will pull through. Sarah Myhre, a climate scientist who works in the same University of Washington lab group as the authors, is uncomfortable with that line of thought.

“This is not just about temperature. It’s about changing the biological, chemical, and physical identity of the planet forever,” she says of the study. “It’s about changing the Earth in a way that has no precedent, and it’s permanent.”

It’s entirely within our control to steer the planet on a different path away from the brink. Reading about this may make you may feel powerless, but collectively, our choices are the most powerful geological force in our planet’s history.

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Climate change caused the “Great Dying,” aka the planet’s worst extinction

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Trump administration’s climate report raises new questions about nuclear energy’s future

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This story was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Call it the nuclear power industry’s thirst trap.

The United States’ aging fleet of nuclear reactors ― responsible for one-fifth of the country’s electricity and most of its low-carbon power ― has never been more necessary as policymakers scramble to shrink planet-warming emissions. Yet the plants are struggling to stay afloat, with six stations shut down in the last five years and an additional 16 reactors scheduled to close over the next decade. So far, new coal- and gas-burning facilities are replacing them.

The nuclear industry blames high maintenance costs, competition from cheaper alternatives and hostile regulators concerned about radiation disasters like the 2012 Fukushima meltdown in Japan. But the country’s most water-intensive source of electricity faces what could be an even bigger problem as climate change increases the risk of drought and taxes already crumbling water infrastructure.

That finding, highlighted in the landmark climate change report that the Trump administration released with apparent reluctance last Friday, illustrates the complex and at times paradoxical realities of anthropogenic, or human-caused, warming. It also stokes an already hot debate over the role nuclear energy should play in fighting global warming, a month after United Nations scientists warned that carbon dioxide emissions must be halved in the next 12 years to avoid cataclysmic climate change leading to at least $54 trillion in damage.

The report ― the second installment of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated update on the causes and effects of anthropogenic warming from 13 federal agencies ― devoted its entire third chapter to water contamination and depletion. Aging, deteriorating infrastructure means “water systems face considerable risk even without anticipated future climate changes,” the report states. But warming-linked droughts and drastic changes in seasonal precipitation “will add to the stress on water supplies and adversely impact water supply.”

Nearly every sector of the economy is susceptible to water system changes. And utilities are particularly at risk. In the fourth chapter, the report’s roughly 300 authors conclude, “Most U.S. power plants … rely on a steady supply of water for cooling, and operations are expected to be affected by changes in water availability and temperature increases.”

For nuclear plants, that warning is particularly grave. Reactors require 720 gallons of water per megawatt-hour of electricity they produce, according to data from the National Energy Technology Laboratory in West Virginia cited in 2012 by the magazine New Scientist. That compares with the roughly 500 gallons coal requires and 190 gallons natural gas needs to produce the same amount of electricity. Solar plants, by contrast, use approximately 20 gallons per megawatt-hour, mostly for cleaning equipment, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

Nuclear plants are already vulnerable to drought. Federal regulations require plants to shut down if water in the river or lake that feeds its cooling drops below a certain level. By the end of the 2012 North American heat wave, nuclear generation fell to its lowest point in a decade, with plants operating at only 93 percent of capacity.

The availability of water is one problem, particularly for the majority of U.S. nuclear plants located far from the coasts and dependent on freshwater. Another is the temperature of the water that’s available.

Nearly half the nuclear plants in the U.S. use once-through cooling systems, meaning they draw water from a local source, cool their reactors, then discharge the warmed water into another part of the river, lake, aquifer, or ocean. Environmental regulations bar plants from releasing used water back into nature above certain temperatures. In recent years, regulators in states like New York and California rejected plant operators’ requests to pull more water from local rivers, essentially mandating the installation of costly closed-loop systems that cool and reuse cooling water.

In 2012, Connecticut’s lone nuclear power plant shut down one of its two units because the seawater used to cool the plant was too warm. The heat wave that struck Europe this summer forced utilities to scale back electricity production at nuclear plants in Finland, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. In France, the utility EDF shut down four reactors in one day.

“Already they’re having trouble competing against natural gas and renewable energy,” said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Add onto that high water temperatures, high air temperatures and drought. It’s just another challenge.”

But water has yet to pose an existential crisis. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that it considers climate change when reviewing applications for nuclear plants’ construction or operation permits and that it has never rejected one over concerns about dwindling cooling water resources.

“For plants on lakes and rivers, the basic consideration will continue to be whether or not the water level in that body is high enough to meet the conditions of the license,” said Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “To this point, there have been no indications in the NRC’s analyses to suggest that plants would have to deal with the potential for the water bodies to no longer be able to fulfill their function.”

If or when that situation arises, a plant would have to propose a plan to maintain the requirements of the license, likely by reducing water intake and cutting electricity production, he said.

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There are ways to make nuclear plants more efficient with water. Closed-loop systems already cool 40 percent of the country’s reactors. For more than a decade, regulators and industry players have been discussing the feasibility of air-cooled condensers, which use electricity generated by the plant to power air conditioners that cool reactors without water. But the technology siphons roughly 7 percent of the power produced by the plant and has yet to be installed at any U.S. nuclear station, according to the industry-funded Nuclear Energy Institute.

Another approach is to use recycled water. To cool its three reactors, the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona sources most of the 20,000 gallons it uses per minute from reclaimed sewage from a treatment plant near Phoenix — a technique hailed in 2016 as “a feat of engineering” amid a drought.

Breakthroughs like that could make nuclear an attractive option for powering solutions to water scarcity in the years to come, such as desalinating brackish or saltwater and moving it to drought-parched regions.

“That’s energy intensive,” said Matt Wald, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute. “If you want to do that without adding carbon emissions, you’re likely to look at nuclear power as a way to do that.”

That, however, gets to the heart of the biggest question looming over the nuclear industry: Is it, given the radioactive waste it produces, clean energy?

For the growing number of states and municipalities pledging to use 100 percent renewable energy by the middle of the century, the answer is maybe.

Hawaii became the first state to adopt a 100 percent renewable electricity rule in 2015, pledging to quit gas and coal by 2045. The law makes no mention of nuclear, probably because the archipelago state has no reactors and requires a minimum two-thirds vote from both houses of the legislature to approve the construction of a nuclear plant or radioactive waste site.

The 100 percent clean electricity bill that California passed in August mandates that the state generate 60 percent of its electricity from renewables like wind and solar by 2030. But it gives regulators another 15 years after that to complete the overhaul with energy sources considered nonrenewable, including nuclear power, large hydropower dams, and gas-fired power plants that capture and store emissions.

statute that Atlanta passed in June to get the city to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 is vague, listing nuclear as a source of clean energy but vowing to get all its power from renewables.

For the Sierra Club, the environmental giant making a huge push to get cities and states to go all renewable, nuclear power is “a uniquely dangerous energy technology for humanity” and “no solution to climate change.”

“There’s no reason to keep throwing good money after bad on nuclear energy,” Lauren Lantry, a Sierra Club spokeswoman, said by email. “It’s clear that every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable, and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, energy efficiency, battery storage, and smart grid technology.”


Trump administration’s climate report raises new questions about nuclear energy’s future

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Human Universe – Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen


Human Universe

Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: May 7, 2015

Publisher: William Collins

Seller: HarperCollins

Top ten Sunday Times Bestseller ‘Engaging, ambitious and creative’ Guardian Where are we? Are we alone? Who are we? Why are we here? What is our future? Human Universe tackles some of the greatest questions that humans have asked to try and understand the very nature of ourselves and the Universe in which we live. Through the endless leaps of human minds, it explores the extraordinary depth of our knowledge today and where our curiosity may lead us in the future. With groundbreaking insight it reveals how time, physics and chemistry came together to create a creature that can wonder at its own existence, blessed with an unquenchable thirst to discover not just where it came from, but how it can think, where it is going and if it is alone. Accompanies the acclaimed BBC TV series. Reviews Praise for Professor Brian Cox: ‘Cox’s romantic, lyrical approach to astrophysics all adds up to an experience that feels less like homework and more like having a story told to you. A really good story, too.’ Guardian ‘He bridges the gap between our childish sense of wonder and a rather more professional grasp of the scale of things.’ Independent ‘If you didn’t utter a wow watching the TV, you will while reading the book.’ The Times ‘In this book of the acclaimed BBC2 TV series, Professor Cox shows us the cosmos as we have never seen it before – a place full of the most bizarre and powerful natural phenomena.’ Sunday Express ‘Will entertain and delight … what a priceless gift that would be.’ Independent on Sunday About the author Professor Brian Cox, OBE is a particle physicist, a Royal Society research fellow, and a professor at the University of Manchester as well as researcher on one of the most ambitious experiments on Earth, the ATLAS experiment on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. He is best known to the public as a science broadcaster and presenter of the popular BBC Wonders trilogy. Andrew Cohen is Head of the BBC Science Unit and the Executive Producer of the BBC series Human Universe. He has been responsible for a wide range of science documentaries including Horizon, the Wonders trilogy and Stargazing Live. He is an honorary lecturer in Life Sciences at the University of Manchester and lives in London with his wife and three children.

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Human Universe – Professor Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen

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The Perfect Movie for Your Earth Day Date Night

Mother Jones

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While Hollywood has been on a roll with climate change films, most of them have concentrated on the planet’s impending doom. The team behind the new French documentary Tomorrow takes a different tactic. “I discovered that showing catastrophes—explaining what is going wrong in the world—is not enough,” co-director Cyril Dion tells Mother Jones. “We also need to have energy and enthusiasm to build another future.”

It was a challenge to convince others’ of this opinion, Dion says: “Nobody believed in a positive documentary about ecology, economy, and democracy.” Instead, the Caésar-award-winning film, originally released in France in 2015, was partly crowd-funded. As French actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) implores in the film, “This movie is about thousands of people changing the world so we would like it to be financed by thousands of people willing to do the same.”

Over a backdrop of twee music, the upbeat Laurent and Dion serve as our tour guides into everyday communities that have taken creative steps to reduce their contribution to climate change: permaculture farming in France, urban farming in Detroit, a new democratic experiment to let Untouchables and high-caste live together in India, and a political revolution and rewritten constitution in Iceland. Despite Laurent and Dion’s earnestness to identify answers, however, viewers may find that the film does not fully address the magnitude and urgency of the situation—which small-scale, local solutions alone cannot fix.

Nonetheless, change is perhaps most powerful when it is community-driven. The most novel innovation proposed is the possibility of “local currencies” that never leave one geographic area, thus encouraging the type of localized production and consumption that the filmmakers believe to be essential to a sustainable future. The Swiss WIR, an alternative currency system that stays in Switzerland, has been a successful model for such a system since the 1930s. In the years following the 2008 recession, interest has risen in alternative currency systems insulated from the volatility of global markets. “Rather than money just pouring out of your local economy as though it were a leaky bucket, a local currency recognizes that getting money to stay in your local economy as long as it can, and be passed around as many times as possible, is of huge benefit,” Rob Hopkins, a British environmental activist featured in the film, tells Mother Jones.

By focusing on experiments already in the works, Tomorrow presents climate change as a challenge with clear remedies rather than an inevitable apocalypse.

The film opened in New York and Los Angeles on April 21.

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The Perfect Movie for Your Earth Day Date Night

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Is It Finally Time For a UBI?

Mother Jones

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UBI is having a moment. Not a big moment, mind you, but a moment nonetheless. Why?

UBI stands for Universal Basic Income, and it’s just what it sounds like. It guarantees everyone, rich and poor alike, a certain minimum cash income and replaces the alphabet soup of current welfare programs. No more food stamps. No more Section 8. No more unemployment compensation.

On the right, UBI got a boost a few years ago from Charles Murray, who championed the idea in his book In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State. On the left, the rise of Bernie Sanders has given it a bit of new momentum, even though it’s not part of Bernie’s campaign platform. It’s also gotten some attention thanks to planned experiments in Finland and the Netherlands, and a referendum for a national UBI in Switzerland this summer. On his Freakonomics podcast last week, Stephen Dubner suggests it’s “an idea whose time finally may have come.”

So what are the pros and cons? Here’s a quick, extremely non-exhaustive rundown.


#1: A UBI eliminates bad work incentives.

There’s a problem inherent with all means-tested welfare benefits: they phase out as you make more money. Suppose you make $15,000 per year, and above that point you lose 50 cents of welfare benefits for every dollar you earn. This means that working more hours or taking a more challenging job doesn’t pay much. On net, a raise of $5,000 per year only gets you $2,500 of actual compensation. This reduces the incentive to work harder in order to escape poverty. But a UBI is different: Since you continue to receive a UBI no matter what your income, it has no effect on work incentives.

#2: A UBI reduces admin costs.

Means-tested programs all have to be administered, and that costs money. A UBI reclaims nearly all of that. The government just sends out a monthly check to every citizen, and that’s it. Admin costs are minuscule.

#3: A UBI allows the poor to live freer lives.

Poor people no longer have to endure a demanding gauntlet of welfare offices and complicated forms. They don’t have to prove their income is low, or that they have kids, or that they’re actively looking for work. Nor do they have to accept only the specific forms of welfare the government feels like giving them. They just get a check every month, and they can spend it as they please.


#1: It costs a fortune.

A reasonable UBI would probably amount to about $10,000 per year, which works out to a total cost of $3.2 trillion. Of course, we’d also eliminate lots of welfare payments, so the net cost would be less than that. But even accounting for that, it would probably require the federal income tax to be doubled or tripled. That’s a pretty tough sell.

#2: It can’t replace everything.

You can—barely—live on $10,000 per year. But that won’t pay for health care. It won’t pay for public schools for our kids. We’ll still have to keep some welfare programs around even with a UBI. On the plus side, as long as these programs are universal, they generally retain the benefits of a UBI: low admin costs and no bad work incentives.

#3: What about children?

This is tricky. Option A is to simply include them like everyone else. But this provides a substantial incentive to have children in order to get their UBI, and that’s not something most voters are likely to accept. Option B is to give children a smaller UBI than adults. But would that be enough to provide for them properly? Nobody wants kids to suffer because their parents are poor. How do you ensure that?

#4: What about the elderly?

Should retirees be folded into the UBI? If so, their pensions would be quite a bit lower than they are now. If not, we’d basically be guaranteeing a higher UBI for old people than for young people. Would that seem fair to most people?

#5: Money is a sadly vulnerable commodity.

It’s an unfortunate but painful truth that poor people are often vulnerable to having cash taken away from them. It can be stolen, of course, but more likely it’s simply confiscated by someone they’re living with. This is obviously a problem with earnings of all kinds, but one advantage of existing welfare programs is that it provides a minimum floor to this. A drunk and abusive husband can’t take away your Section 8 voucher or your food stamps or your Medicaid in order to blow it on beer and smokes.

This is just the briefest outline. And it may be that in the near future we no longer have much choice about this anyway. As robots take away more and more jobs, a UBI may be the only realistic answer to a nation full of robots that can replace low-skill workers at almost no cost. If we get to a point where a substantial number of people flatly don’t have the skills to perform any job for any wage, what are we going to do? The most likely answer is that we’ll end up with a UBI whether we like it or not. And that makes it worth thinking about right now.

See original article: 

Is It Finally Time For a UBI?

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Move Over, Monsanto: The Pesticide and GMO Seed Industry Just Spawned a New Behemoth

Mother Jones

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US chemical titans Dow and DuPont have agreed to a $130 billion merger. Once combined, DowDuPont (as it will be known) intends to split into three parts, including one devoted solely to agriculture. The announcement likely triggered corner office gasps in Basel, Switzerland, and in St. Louis, Missouri—hometowns of the globe’s two-largest pesticide and seed companies, Syngenta and Monsanto. That’s because Dow and DuPont are both sprawling conglomerates that contain massive ag divisions. Combining them into a “leading global pure-play Agriculture company” (as the companies’ press release puts it) will create a gargantuan new rival for those market-leading agribusiness titans.

To highlight the gravity of the deal, here’s a snapshot of the industry’s pre-merger position. After waves of mergers and buyouts in the ’90s and early ’00s—coinciding with the emergence of genetically modified seeds—the global seed landscape shook out like this:

The companies that rose to dominate the space—Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont—also sold pesticides, and lots of them. While these giant chemical companies’ rationale for moving into GM seeds was to diversify away from reliance on peddling bug- and weed-killing chemicals, the two business lines always had a certain synergy. That’s because the era’s blockbuster GM trait was herbicide resistance—the companies engineered corn, soybean, and cotton varieties that could thrive even when they’re doused with these companies’ own branded herbicides. The rapid adoption of these crops gave rise to a plague of herbicide-resistant weeds, a boom in herbicide use, and a new iteration of crops, including ones from Monsanto and Dow, engineered to resist multiple herbicides.

Earlier this year, Monsanto made a bold, sustained push to buy out its rival Syngenta. The combined company would have been truly enormous, controlling something approaching a third of both the seed and pesticide markets (see charts here). Syngenta’s management ultimately fought off the bid in August, but rumors of coming mergers and buyouts in the agribiz sector have swirled ever since. With the Dow-DuPont deal, those prophecies have proven thunderously true. The new firm will mash up DuPont’s seed heft with Dow’s fat share of the pesticide market. Let’s call it DowDuPont Agri. Here’s a sketch of its girth, made by crunching numbers in the above charts. Antitrust regulators may shave the final company a bit—DuPont and Dow both sell corn seeds, for example, and there is speculation that Dow’s relatively small corn seed business might have to be sold off.

Note that in this scenario, the same three mega firms—Monsanto, Syngenta, and DowDuPont Agri—will control more than half the global seed market and nearly half the pesticide market. The GMO seed industry once vowed to wean industrial agriculture off its reliance on pesticides. But as I wrote in May, when the globe’s biggest seed company (Monsanto) was hotly pursuing marriage with the globe’s biggest pesticide maker (Syngenta), the industry now appears to be betting big on a pesticide-soaked future.

And the new company will likely—unless antitrust authorities make it sell off overlapping business segments—emerge as a bigger seed and agrichemical player than the two that currently stand atop the market.

But I may soon have to rev up Datawrapper again and redo those charts. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the DuPont-Dow tie-up could “spur agricultural rivals to forge their own partnerships, further shrinking the handful of companies that dominate the global seed and pesticide business.” As recently as mid-November, Monsanto execs were publicly contemplating another bid for Syngenta, and some prominent Syngenta shareholders are pushing the company to reconsider its refusal to merge with Monsanto in the wake of the new merger, the Journal reported last week. “The synergies in terms of costs, distribution, and R&D would create huge value for shareholders and establish a dominance that would be difficult for any competitor, including a Dow/DuPont, to rival,” one fund manager whose firm owns Syngenta stock told the Journal. But the hottest takeover rumor involving Syngenta involves not its US rival, but rather China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina, a vast state-owned enterprise.

There’s also talk of Monsanto making a play for the agrichemicials division of German chemical giant BASF, which owns a juicy 12 percent of the global pesticide market (see chart above). In the wake of the Dow-DuPont merger, I am left to wonder: What new, yet even more massive beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward our corn fields to be born?

See more here – 

Move Over, Monsanto: The Pesticide and GMO Seed Industry Just Spawned a New Behemoth

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Mexico just shamed the rest of the world with its climate plan

Mexico just shamed the rest of the world with its climate plan

By on 30 Mar 2015commentsShare

Mexico is the first developing country to formally make its climate action pledge ahead of U.N. negotiations to be held in Paris later this year. And its plan is actually pretty ambitious, analysts say.

Mexico on Friday said it intends to have its greenhouse gas emissions peak by 2026 and then begin to decline. It will cut its “black carbon” emissions — particulate pollution generated by burning fuels like wood and diesel — in half by 2030. The net effect is that, by 2030, Mexico’s emissions will be 25 percent lower than if the country had continued without making any changes, and by 2050, emissions will be 50 percent below 2000 levels. The country is also working on reducing its “carbon intensity” — the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP.

“That would make Mexico’s announcement a bit more ambitious than what is expected from China, but not as ambitious as what the U.S. will offer,” InsideClimate News’s John Cushman notes, referring to the November 2014 agreement between the Obama administration and China. Developing countries like China and Mexico are expected to allow their emissions to keep rising for a few years while their economies grow and their people rise out of poverty, whereas rich nations like the U.S., which have done most of the polluting in the past, are expected to start cutting emissions right away.

“While the devil is in the details, Mexico’s plan to peak its emissions by 2026 is particularly encouraging and should inspire others to follow a similar course,” said Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute, a think tank that’s tracking progress toward a 2015 climate deal.

As part of the process of working toward a climate pact, 190 countries are each submitting their own plan for how they intend to voluntarily reduce emissions (in wonk speak, the plans are known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs). In the years ahead, the U.N. will monitor each country’s progress toward realizing its plan, though the international body won’t have much power to penalize countries that don’t meet their goals. Developing countries and the European Union had pushed for a binding treaty that would punish nations that don’t curb emissions as agreed, but Obama would never be able to get that sort of treaty by the current U.S. Senate, so, in order to keep the U.S. in the game, the U.N. is now working toward a nonbinding agreement.

The U.S. is expected to submit its plan by the U.N.’s deadline, the end of the first quarter of 2015 (that’s tomorrow!), but other nations are not on track to do so. Still, not everyone is dragging their feet: The E.U., Switzerland, and Norway have outlined their INDCs, representing more than 10 percent of global emissions. And once the U.S. submits its plan, a third of world emissions will be accounted for.

Analysts tracking the process say many countries’ delays are probably at least partially strategic: If a country gets its commitment in at the last minute, the world has less of a chance to ask it to commit more. China and India, the world’s first and third biggest polluters, plan to submit their INDCs this summer.

Mexico’s contribution — and China’s anticipated contribution, based on last November’s joint announcement with America — set the reductions for the developing world on a fairly ambitious path. That’s encouraging, given that differences between rich and poor nations have scuttled past attempts at a climate deal. But some developing countries (India, notably) have been difficult to pin down on their likely commitments.

It will take commitments from all of the world’s major polluters, rich and poor alike, to put us on something even resembling a sustainable path — and with so many INDCs as yet undeclared, it’s impossible to determine if 2015 will be the year that the U.N. finally pulls off the climate deal its been attempting for decades. And even under a best-case scenario, diplomats have repeatedly warned that any deal likely won’t be enough to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold scientists say we must meet to fend off the worst climate impacts.

Still, gotta start somewhere, and Mexico’s announcement is an encouraging step. Olé!



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Mexico just shamed the rest of the world with its climate plan

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