Recycling 2.0, Maine Gets It Done

A collection facility in Bend, Ore. The state is expected to adopt a recycling law similar to Maine’s within weeks. Leon Werdinger/Alamy

When we were making decisions about coffee and chocolates that we would offer in the Authentica shops, which we knew to be best-selling categories for travelers wanting to take something home from Costa Rica, product quality was the top consideration. Packaging was a close second. Relative to what was sold in other shops, we radically reduced the carbon footprint of the packaging, and more recently took another step further down that road. We know that every little effort counts, but we also know that the big game is elsewhere, and we are happy to see a relatively small state making big strides in the USA:

Maine Will Make Companies Pay for Recycling. Here’s How It Works.

The law aims to take the cost burden of recycling away from taxpayers. One environmental advocate said the change could be “transformative.”

Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, signed the new recycling policies into law this month. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Recycling, that feel-good moment when people put their paper and plastic in special bins, was a headache for municipal governments even in good times. And, only a small amount was actually getting recycled.

Then, five years ago, China stopped buying most of America’s recycling, and dozens of cities across the United States suspended or weakened their recycling programs.

Now, Maine has implemented a new law that could transform the way packaging is recycled by requiring manufacturers, rather than taxpayers, to cover the cost. Nearly a dozen states have been considering similar regulations and Oregon is about to sign its own version in coming weeks. Continue reading

When Renewables Are Less Expensive Than Coal…

A solar power plant in Gujarat, India. Renewable energy in the country would be cheaper than between 87% and 91% of new coal plants, the report says. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Looks like we are almost there:

Most new wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal, report finds

Almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year expected to undercut coal costs

Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Continue reading

The Human Touch

The Economist offers this brief thinkpiece on what to make of the recent uptick in interest in craft-made products (unless you are a subscriber to the magazine you will need to sign up for free limited access to the magazine’s website):

Can human creativity prevent mass unemployment?

The market for artisan goods is likely to grow. But organised craft could lose its charm

In “THE REPAIR SHOP”, a British television series, carpenters, textile workers and mechanics mend family heirlooms that viewers have brought to their workshop. The fascination comes from watching them apply their craft to restore these keepsakes and the emotional appeal from the tears that follow when the owner is presented with the beautifully rendered result. Continue reading

The Sinking Cost Of Renewable Energy

Because its costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end. Photograph by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben, as always, for at least one bit of good news in his weekly newsletter:

Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap

Now the biggest barrier to change is the will of our politicians to take serious climate action.

Earth Week has come and gone, leaving behind an ankle-deep and green-tinted drift of reports, press releases, and earnest promises from C.E.O.s and premiers alike that they are planning to become part of the solution. There were contingent signs of real possibility—if some of the heads of state whom John Kerry called on to make Zoom speeches appeared a little strained, at least they appeared. (Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, the most carbon-emitting developed nation per capita, struggled to make his technology work.) But, if you want real hope, the best place to look may be a little noted report from the London-based think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. Continue reading

Cryptocurrency, Carbon & Culpability

According to one source, a single bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of power that the average American household consumes in a month. Photograph by Akos Stiller / Bloomberg / Getty

In my attempt to reduce my own carbon footprint, diet has been the low-hanging fruit I reached for first. But other parts of daily routine have also allowed painless reductions. I remain culpable on too many fronts, and had hoped for an explanation of the environmental issues around cryptocurrency that I could understand; Elizabeth Kolbert is the perfect person to provide it:

Why Bitcoin Is Bad for the Environment

Cryptocurrency mining uses huge amounts of power—and can be as destructive as the real thing.

Money, it’s often said, is a shared fiction. I give you a slip of paper or, more likely these days, a piece of plastic. You hand me eggs or butter or a White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino, and we both walk away satisfied. With cryptocurrency, the arrangement is more like a shared metafiction, and the instability of the genre is, presumably, part of the thrill. Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that was created as a spoof, has risen in value by eight thousand per cent since January, owing to a combination of GameStop-style pumping and boosterish tweets from Elon Musk. On Tuesday, which backers proclaimed DogeDay, the cryptocurrency was valued at more than fifty billion dollars, which is more than the market cap of Ford. Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public last Wednesday; almost immediately, it became worth more than G.M. Continue reading

Cherry Blossoms & Public Policy

UNITED STATES – March 30: Visitors gather to watch the sunrise under blooming Japanese cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the original gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington in 1912. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In Washington, D.C. the cherry blossoms came early this year. Plenty was said, including on Texas Public Radio, about the implications related to climate change. Elizabeth Kolbert has this to say, pivoting from cherry blossoms to both environmental and economic policies in the USA:

Biden’s Jobs Plan Is Also a Climate Plan. Will It Make a Difference?

The Administration has an ambitious vision for combatting global warming, but it’s only a start.

Illustration by João Fazenda

The first known reference to Japan’s cherry blossoms comes from the country’s oldest surviving text, the Kojiki, completed in 712. Japan was trying to shrug off the influence of its more powerful neighbor, China, and cherry blossoms became a symbol of Japanese identity, in contrast to the plum blossoms of the Chinese. By the early ninth century, the practice of cherry-blossom viewing had become so well established that the date of the peak bloom appeared in Japanese poems and other literary works. Continue reading

Amazon’s Plastic

Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images

Commerce is taking place more and more over the internet, and one company is controlling so much of it that choices they make about packaging for shipment have an outsized influence on the planet. We hope they will listen to what these two professors recommend:

Amazon Uses a Lot of Plastic. It Doesn’t Have To.

The world’s biggest online retailer must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.

The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone. Continue reading

Fossil Fuel Divestment Debate Settled

Protesters have argued that you shouldn’t try to profit off the end of the world. New analysis shows that, in any event, you won’t. Photograph by David Grossman / Alamy

This is a short read with a big implication; as always we are grateful to Bill McKibben for his weekly newsletter:

The Powerful New Financial Argument for Fossil-Fuel Divestment

A report by BlackRock, the world’s largest investment house, shows that those who have divested have profited not only morally but also financially.

In a few months, a small British financial think tank will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of a landmark research report that helped launch the global fossil-fuel-divestment movement. As that celebration takes place, another seminal report—this one obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the world’s largest investment house—closes the loop on one of the key arguments of that decade-long fight. Continue reading

What BlackRock Really Means

Click on text above to go to the article at Politico

BlackRock, shmackrock. Now we can see clearly that advocating for market solutions, BlackRock’s CEO just meant that he did not want any public solutions to the climate crisis, because those would be inconvenient for him and his shareholders. Phooey on that. We should have been more skeptical, rather than optimistic, about what the financial titan meant all along, which Bill McKibben hinted at a couple months ago:

Annals of a Warming Planet

On Climate, Wall Street Out-Orwells Orwell

It was likely too much to hope that the Biden Administration, as it tries to get a handle on climate change, might find some help from Wall Street. Instead, last week, we saw financial heavyweights turn in a performance so rigid and so short-sighted that it makes one wonder whether capitalism in anything resembling its current form can, or should, survive. Continue reading

The Dasgupta Review, An Important Milestone In Quantifying The Value Of Nature

Hats off to the UK for commissioning the study, and to Professor Dasgupta for completing it. Sometimes a profession, like economics, takes time to catch up with the real world. Better late than never, like the guide to investing in nature, we are happy to see academia putting rigor into the analysis of how valuable nature is. Seemed obvious, even without these new studies, but this is what it takes to counter the disinformation promoted by extraction-intensive industries and their investors:

The Dasgupta Review is an independent, global review on the Economics of Biodiversity led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta (Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge). The Review was commissioned in 2019 by HM Treasury and has been supported by an Advisory Panel drawn from public policy, science, economics, finance and business. Continue reading

The Little Book of Investing in Nature

A pdf version of The Little Book of Investing in Nature is available and the case for why this might be of value to you is in the book’s forward section:

How does this book help? As the impacts of human activity on the natural world have become increasingly clear in recent years, alongside human dependences on a healthy environment, the conversation has shifted from “Should we save nature?” to “How do we pay for it?”. Few in government or business today doubt the inherent value of nature or the importance of managing it sustainably. The interest in halting the loss of biodiversity is enormous and is coming from unexpected quarters. Continue reading

The Ministry For The Future, Reviewed In Yale Climate Connections

Yale Climate Connections is a nonpartisan, multimedia service providing daily broadcast radio programming and original web-based reporting, commentary, and analysis on the issue of climate change, one of the greatest challenges and stories confronting modern society.

Today, within the time I have enjoyed my first cup of coffee, I have made two discoveries: a new (to me) source for stories to share here (click the banner above to go to Yale Climate Connections) and a book review that gets me wondering whether science fiction is a genre I have time for after all (I thought not, but click the image below to go to the review for yourself).

(Kim Stanley Robinson inset photo: Gage Skidmore)

In The Ministry for the Future, his twentieth novel, science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson creates something truly remarkable: a credible, very-near future in which humans effectively solve the problem of climate change.

Climate lukewarmers may be tempted to interpret this upbeat summary as support for their technological optimism. That would be a mistake. Though it ends well, the story Robinson tells is harrowing.

I first heard about the book yesterday in a conversation with the author:

The most important book I’ve read this year

How climate change will force humanity to rethink capitalism, borders, terrorism, and currency.

That conversation was also a kind of review, but it was not until I looked for more information about the book this morning, and found that review by Michael Svoboda, that I got thinking about the genre of science fiction, and the sub-genre of climate fiction.

Ending Perverse Subsidies

The wealthiest landowners – those receiving payments over £150,000 a year – will face the sharpest cuts. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

We post so much about farming on this platform that it could be considered a major topic of interest. Subsidies, less so, but just as with farming there are both better and worse forms of subsidies. We favor reforming the perverse ones, and so cheer this news:

Environment to benefit from ‘biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’

£1.6bn subsidies for owning land in England to end, with funds going to improve nature

Wildlife, nature and the climate will benefit from the biggest shake-up in farming policy in England for 50 years, according to government plans.

The £1.6bn subsidy farmers receive every year for simply owning land will be phased out by 2028, with the funds used instead to pay them to restore wild habitats, create new woodlands, boost soils and cut pesticide use.

The wealthiest landowners – those receiving annual payments over £150,000 a year – will face the sharpest cuts, starting with 25% in 2021. Those receiving under £30,000 will see a 5% cut next year. Continue reading

Beware Of “This Is Big” & Other Snappy Catchphrases

The Miniature Science series of ads, created last year by the very talented folks at BBDO on behalf of their client ExxonMobil, are snappy.

By now most people who pay attention to climate science are aware of ExxonMobil’s active role in creating doubt about the emerging facts that their own scientists established about mankind’s impact on climate. In addition to actors like that giant petrochemical company, there are also behind-the-scenes, complicit creatives who have provided essential messaging to strengthen the deception. In a new essay, Bill McKibben turns his attention to those folks, and expects accountability:

If money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns, then P.R. campaigns and snappy catchphrases are the kindling. Illustration by Lia Liao

When “Creatives” Turn Destructive: Image-Makers and the Climate Crisis

Past sins are past no more: an overdue historical recalibration is under way, with monuments being pulled down, dorms renamed, restitution offered. People did things, bad things; even across the span of centuries, they’re being held to account, and there’s something noble about that. The Reverend Robert W. Lee IV, for instance, recently backed the removal of his famous ancestor’s statue from Richmond, Virginia. The memorial, he wrote, “is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change.” Such a response raises an uncomfortable question: What are we doing now that our descendants will need to apologize for? Might we be able to get ahead of the sin this time? Continue reading

Sociology As A Moderator Of Economics

Zeynep Tufekci speaking at a conference in Munich. “I’ve just been struck by how right she has been,” said a Harvard epidemiologist. Credit: Felix Hörhager/Picture Alliance

By the time Zeynep Tufekci appeared in our pages last year I had been reading her analytical essays and op-eds for a while, and found her perspective on technology consistently clarifying. My instinctive apprehension about social media, which I could not explain, combined with my vague optimism about technology more broadly, which I also could not explain–found something to orient with in her writings. Now she makes an appearance through the lens of a keen observer of our media. What is keen about the observation is the attention to the sociological foundations of her perspective. With all that economics has done, for better and for worse, the influence of that dismal science has been ascendent for much of the modern era. Sociology has never had the prestige or influence in the USA that the field of economics has, and this profile hints at what this may have cost us:

How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right

Dr. Tufekci, a computer programmer who became a sociologist, sounded an early alarm on the need for protective masks. It wasn’t the first time she was right about something big.

Dr. Tufekci at a 2017 conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. Credit:Julia Reinhart/ Getty Images

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans in January that they didn’t need to wear masks, Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar, a professor at the Mayo Clinic and the editor of the Blood Cancer Journal, couldn’t believe his ears.

But he kept silent until Zeynep Tufekci (pronounced ZAY-nep too-FEK-chee), a sociologist he had met on Twitter, wrote that the C.D.C. had blundered by saying protective face coverings should be worn by health workers but not ordinary people. Continue reading

Ivy-League Activism

Harvard, with an endowment of more than $40 billion, has resisted calls to drop fossil fuel investments from its portfolio. Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

This successful petition campaign is in good company. Bravo Harvard for taking fact-forward action.

Climate Activists Gain Seats on Harvard Oversight Board

The candidates were the first ones elected through a petition campaign since 1989, when anti-apartheid activists put Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the panel.

Bucking tradition, a group of climate activists has won three seats in an election to an important governing body at Harvard University, the Board of Overseers, the university announced Friday.

The slate of candidates ran on a platform that included calls for the university to drop fossil fuel investments from its portfolio, part of a divestment movement that has swept college campuses for the better part of a decade.

Harvard, with an endowment of more than $40 billion, has resisted those calls. In April, the university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, said that divestment “paints with too broad a brush” and instead announced that Harvard was setting a course to become greenhouse-gas neutral by 2050, a move that he correctly predicted would not satisfy those seeking total divestment.

Candidates for the six-year terms on the board are customarily nominated through the Harvard Alumni Association. These candidates were elected through a petition campaign, the first to successfully do so since 1989, when a group seeking divestment from South Africa put forward Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Continue reading

Nature, Human Capital & Wealth

20200718_GDC100_1-Artboard_1

GDP per person, 2014, $’000, log scale                                                          *High-emissions scenario

The Economist, which we have been sourcing from all along, in an earlier era sometimes seemed dogmatic on the topic of markets solving all problems, now frequently could be described as considering all the angles:

The world’s wealth is looking increasingly unnatural

As natural wealth is used up, economies will rely more on human capital

Nature’s bounty is not easy to count, partly because she was kind enough not to bill us for it. Some economists, however, have attempted to put a dollar figure on the value of the world’s land, forests, fisheries, minerals and fossil fuels—or what is left of them. Their work has fed into the Inclusive Wealth project, initiated by the United Nations, directed by Managi Shunsuke of Kyushu University and advised by Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge. They estimate the world’s natural capital amounted to over $91trn in 2014, or over $13,000 per person. (The estimates use 2005 exchange rates and prices.) New Zealand has more natural capital per person ($380,000) than oil-rich Kuwait ($362,000) or Saudi Arabia ($180,000). Gabon has more than anywhere else. Continue reading

Bureo & Tin Shed Ventures

tsv-main-logoBureo is news to us, and we like good news. We are always on the lookout for fellow travelers, and while Tin Shed Ventures is by no means new it is news to us. And newsworthy based on the partners they have chosen:

Tin Shed Ventures is Patagonia’s corporate venture capital fund, which invests in start-ups that offer solutions to the environmental crisis. Originally launched as $20 Million and Change in May 2013, Tin Shed Ventures partners with businesses focused on building renewable energy infrastructure, practicing regenerative organic agriculture, conserving water, diverting waste and creating sustainable materials. Continue reading

More Rigor Needed In Green Finance

20200620_LDP501

Thanks to the Economist for keeping it real:

The trouble with climate finance

Green investing has shortcomings

The financial system and climate change

The financial industry reflects society, but it can change society, too. One question is the role it might play in decarbonising the economy. Judged by today’s fundraising bonanza and the solemn pronouncements by institutional investors, bankers and regulators, you might think that the industry is about to save the planet. Some 500 environmental, social and governance (esg) funds were launched last year, and many asset managers say they will force companies to cut their emissions and finance new projects. Yet, as we report this week (see article), green finance suffers from woolly thinking, marketing guff and bad data. Finance does have a crucial role in fighting climate change but a far more rigorous approach is needed, and soon. Continue reading

A Corrective History Of Coffee

200427_r36287

The literature of coffee has produced a new genre: corrective history. Illustration by Ilya Milstein

An essayist’s review on one of our favorite topics is a nice surprise for a start to a new week:

The War on Coffee

The history of caffeine and capitalism can get surprisingly heated.

What would life be without coffee?” King Louis XV of France is said to have asked. “But, then, what is life even with coffee?” he added. Truer, or more apt, words for the present moment were never spoken, now usable as a kind of daily catechism. At a time when coffee remains one of the few things that the anxious sleeper can look forward to in the morning (What is life without it?), giving as it does at least an illusion of recharge and a fresh start, the charge has invariably slipped away by the time the latest grim briefing comes (What is life even with it?). Imagining life without coffee right now is, for many of us, almost impossible, even though the culture of the café that arose in America over the past couple of decades has, for some indefinite period, been shut down.

The growth of coffee as a culture, not just as a drink, can be measured in a unit that might be called the Larry, for the peerless comedy writer Larry David. In “Seinfeld,” which he co-created in 1989, coffee came as a normal beverage in a coffee shop—bad, indistinct stuff that might as well have been tea. (Paul Reiser had a nice bit about the codependency of coffee and tea, with tea as coffee’s pathetic friend.) Then, on “Friends,” the characters gathered in a coffee-specific location, Central Perk, but the very invocation of a percolator, the worst way to brew, suggested that they were there more for the company than for the coffee. Six or so Larrys later, by 2020, the plotline of an entire season of David’s own “Curb Your Enthusiasm” turned on a competition between Mocha Joe’s and Latte Larry’s—the “spite store” that Larry opens just to avenge an insult over scones, with many details about a specific kind of Mexican coffee bean he means to steal. The audience was expected to accept as an obvious premise the idea that coffee was a culture of devotion and discrimination, not just a passable caffeinated drink.

This change is real, and is reflected in the numbers. As Jonathan Morris documents in his recent book, “Coffee: A Global History” (Reaktion), epicurean coffeehouses in the United States numbered in the hundreds in 1989, and in the tens of thousands by 2013. Continue reading