Category Archives: economics

WHAT WILL BE CHICAGO’S LEGACY ON CLIMATE CHANGE?

By Kyle Burkybile

Reposted from DoGood4Chi

 

 

Humans have been able to eradicate diseases that threatened to wipe us off the planet. Most of us have supercomputers that fit in our pocket and allow us to contact friends and family across the globe in just seconds. We are able to see and document planets, stars, and galaxies that are billions of light years away. We have accomplished extraordinary things in our relatively short time on this planet. As a species, we have been able to conquer and reshape our physical surroundings for hundreds of years, often using fossil fuels to power our tools and machines. That, combined with the seemingly endless natural resources available within U.S. borders has helped us to become the richest country in the history of the world. Why then is the issue of climate change different than any other challenge we’ve faced before as a species?

The distinction this time around is we are creating such an elegant chaos that humanity will not be able to counteract the effects generated by the planet’s warming of even a few more degrees. We’re dealing with centuries of consequences compounding upon themselves and quickening their pace just as we’re fully understanding our own impact in the equation. Climate change is going to touch every single person on this planet. Even in Chicago, which is positioned next to the largest freshwater resources in the world, we are battling for our water security. Invasive aquatic species such as Asian Carp have the potential to devastate our lake ecosystem, microplastics have contaminated 94.4% of all tap water samples tested in the US as recently as September of 2017, and an aging citywide water distribution system has been leaking lead into our water supply. Can you say with certainty that you personally will never have to deal with rising prices for water that is safe enough to drink? If you answered yes, would you be willing to bet your or your children’s lives on it?

With all that said and even assuming a worse case scenario, climate change will not be what destroys our planet. With a >99.9% certainty, Earth will outlast us and a percentage of its species would adapt and thrive in the worsening conditions we could see in 5, 50, 500, or even 5,000 years without massive climate change interventions. Our planet has weathered ice ages, meteorites striking and covering entire continents in shadow & clouds of ash, and other periods of extreme changes before, yet life has found a way. Most scientists agree, the Earth will be swallowed into the sun when it reaches the next stage in a star’s life cycle and turns into a red giant, generally expected to happen within the next 5 to 7.5 billion years. Personally, it would be easier for me to bet on humanity finding a way to colonize other planets beyond our solar system if we had that much time to innovate in the type of technology advancements that would allow us to terraform another life-supporting planet. However, humans may not even make it another 100 years if we continue to ignore the warning signs that over 97% of climate scientists, whose entire job is to analyze any and all information available on the subject, have been raising for decades.

It is becoming harder to grow staple crops in large swaths of historically fertile land because of excessively hot temperatures during growing seasons. We are sapping our freshwater resources so fast that major cities are on the verge of running out of water entirely. The refugee crisis is worsening with every day, as millions of people are being displaced from their ancestral homes by civil wars and infighting over dwindling resources. Natural disasters caused a total of $306 billion in damages during 2017 alone, the highest total in U.S. history. This is only a handful of examples that don’t even get into the extinction of species and how their losses affect the global food web, increased disease rates due to conditions where mosquito-borne illnesses thrive and smog-filled cities where residents are forced to wear oxygen masks to even go outside, or lost arable land and potential for food production as we see entire islands being swallowed up in the ocean. Not to beat a dead horse, but the point is this – you have to try not to see the writing on the wall and ignore the inescapable reality of climate change and its consequences.

It’s easy to paint a very bleak picture of our future, especially if we don’t act collectively and immediately to mitigate the effects of climate change. In the past year alone, huge strides have been made in the fossil fuel divestment revolution. New York has joined the growing movement recognizing the danger of continuing to operate an economy based on fossil fuel consumption. Andrew Cuomo and the State of New York have announced that they plan on divesting almost $400 billion in state budget and pensions away from fossil fuels and reinvesting in clean energy tech. Illinois began implementing the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), which is a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation that positions our state as a leader in the Midwest. The bill requires electric utilities to become more efficient, funds job training in the renewable energy sector, lowers consumers’ utility bills, increases access to financing options, and creates incentives for billions of dollars in green energy investments. Chicago even hosted the 1st annual North American Climate Summit, which had mayors from dozens of North American cities in attendance at the Chicago History Museum. Their objective was to discuss how cities that are committed to the ideas of the Paris Agreement, which President Trump pulled the US out of in June, could continue operating toward those goals. Why then, is Chicago not actually joining the rising tide of the green revolution by committing to 100% fossil fuel divestment with a clear and firm deadline right now?

Mayor Emmanuel and his sustainability department have already publicly committed to running all of the City’s public buildings on 100% renewable energy by 2025. This pledge is an encouraging promise from the City; however public buildings represent only 8% of  Chicago’s total energy usage. Additionally, the amount of our City’s operational budget still tied up in fossil fuels is less than one percent. But that <1% represents upward of $80 million dollars, and another $330 million goes through the City’s largest pension funds. We could be in a lot worse shape, but even more aggressive action is needed in order to send a message to both fossil fuel companies and our own federal government. Over 60 U.S. cities and municipalities have already made the 100% Fossil Free pledge, and Chicago needs to join that group immediately. Mayor Emmanuel himself has been quoted saying, “I want Chicago to be the greenest city in the world, and I am committed to fostering opportunities for Chicagoans to make sustainability a part of their lives and their experience in the city.”  It’s time for him to follow through on those words and commit to divesting Chicago completely away from fossil fuels. I urge you to make this issue an important factor in your voting choices both in this election cycle, and all those in the future. Chicago’s mayoral elections are coming up in 2019. Let’s hold Rahm (or whomever leads the Second City in one year’s time) accountable to leave a legacy of climate change activism to be proud of for future generations.

Even conservative estimates of fossil fuel reserves remaining on Earth gives us under 100 years left at our current pace of consumption. Since the beginning of 2017, the percentage of financial experts who believe a theoretical carbon bubble will burst within the next 5 years has doubled, leaving personal and governmental investments in those industries severely devalued. Even some of the largest fossil fuel companies have begun joining the movement, although their motives are most likely motivated more so by public opinion than their consciences. Knowing what the impending future holds for fossil fuels, doesn’t it make fiscal sense for Chicago to go all in on the type of technologies that our future economy will be based on, rather than ones we will soon have to leave behind? For a city that continuously has to raise property taxes and is losing residents by the thousands in recent years, this seems like a no-brainer.

The case for fossil fuel divestment has made moral sense for quite some time now. It has become increasingly clear to anyone paying close attention that now it makes economic sense, as well.

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The Fiscal Case for Fossil Fuel Divestment

Reposted from Chicago 350
By Larry Coble and Joe Antoun, CFP

Picture1

Executive Summary

Human civilization is swiftly proceeding toward the culmination point of a long-developing and holistic revolution in the energy sector for power generation, transportation and storage technology. With renewable energy sources, such as Solar PV and Wind generation gaining market share and experiencing dramatic price drops and projected to become the cheapest form of power generation by 20202, the installation and operation of alternative energy technologies will continue displacing 20th century carbon emitting energy generation facilities and transportation systems utilizing oil, coal and natural gas. According to a Morgan Stanley report of July 6th, 2017,

“Numerous key markets recently reached an inflection point where renewables have become the cheapest form of new power generation,” the bank said in a note.

“A dynamic we see spreading to nearly every country we cover by 2020. The price of solar panels has fallen 50% in less than two years (2016-17).”

Renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, are quickly becoming as cheap—even cheaper—than their carbon-intensive counterparts like coal.3

Rapid buildout and utilization of renewable technologies will create seismic shifts and disruptions in markets for energy and transportation, leaving incumbent technologies and fossil fuel assets experiencing diminished utilization, followed by becoming stranded and written off on balance sheets as losses. With the author’s having researched the topic from a multiplicity of sources from the business press, think tanks, investment houses, government agencies and academia, this paper reports the latest findings on the financial and technological viability of the following renewable energy technologies:

  • Solar PV
  • On-Shore Wind Generation
  • Battery Storage
  • Electric Vehicles (EV’s), including Automated versions

While the paper explores the current and future status of the above technologies, the document studies the future of fossil fuels and related infrastructure and the financial stakes of maintaining investments in oil, coal and gas.

While the transition from a fossil fuels to renewables is occurring, the shifts will not necessarily follow a slow trend path. The evolution of the marketplace may occur rapidly with sudden leaps, causing swift adaptation of newer technologies and displacement of older, fossil fuel based equipment and economics, much like smart phones rapidly displaced flip phones and land lines.4 Over the next 3 – 10 years, the energy technology revolution will begin displacing, sometimes swiftly, coal, oil and lastly gas as the prominent fuels for economic activity, allowing for renewables and storage technology to increasingly dominate the economic investment landscape for energy generation and transportation.

Key Findings:

  • Coal has lost 90% of its Market Capitalization and will not recover due to economic forces favoring renewable technologies. Increased world-wide regulations will further exacerbate the decline in coal utilization but will not prove the decisive factor in the future.5 Costliness of coal versus wind and solar will drive the fossil fuel from the marketplace as well as the infrastructural age of most coal burning power plants.6
  • Oil will hit peak demand between 2020 and 2023 with an estimated 2 million barrels per day(mbd) being removed from the market and the potential of 25 – 30 mbd by 2030, causing a slump in prices and driving costly oil fields from production, thus leading to diminishment in oil company valuations, especially corporations heavily invested in expensive Tar Sands and Shale extraction.7/ 8
  • Electric Vehicles (EV’s) and Autonomous Electric Vehicles (A EV’s) are poised to increase market share globally due to improvements in battery technology, scalability, lower manufacturing costs, advantages of longevity and the Transportation as a Service (TaAS) model of ride sharing already prevalent in major cities through companies such as Uber and Lyft. Worldwide regulations to meet COP21 climate goals will accelerate the changeover process from Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) to EV’s.9
  • Natural Gas will experience competition from cheaper renewable technologies such as Solar PV and On-Shore wind for power generation. Both renewable technologies will prove less costly to install, maintain and operate than conventional natural gas by 2020. According to Business Insider and Morgan Stanley, Solar and Wind “will be the cheapest source of power in the world in less than three years.”10
  • Battery Storage technology: “Demand for energy storage from the utility sector will grow more than the market anticipates by 2019-20,” the report from Morgan Stanley asserts. The demand for storage is expected to grow from a less than $300 million a year market to as much as $4 billion in the next two to three years. Battery Storage Technology will create conditions for “wind and solar to become a dependable rather than an unpredictable source of energy.”11

The following paper collates the findings of the business press, analyses from major investment houses, think tanks, government agencies and academic studies into a document depicting the rapid shifts and disruptions occurring in the energy and transportation sectors across the United States and the globe. The document attempts to gather and illustrate the growing consensus of financial, energy and transportation analysts regarding the forthcoming and ineluctable changeover from a fossil-fuel based economy to a system powered by renewable resources and the technology designed to capture, distribute, store and operate in the forthcoming new energy economy. While this document depicts a snapshot of market conditions in late 2017, the rapid shift toward energy sectors dominated by renewable energy technologies will only accelerate across the globe, leaving incumbent fuel sources and equipment with ever diminishing roles, moving to unviability and eventual elimination from the economy.

Thoroughly footnoted and utilizing reporting and analyses from esteemed outlets and organizations, the document outlines the multiplicity of reasons investors, especially cities, their operating budgets and their attendant pension funds should heed the gathering trend lines and begin the process of divesting from the fossil fuel energy sector. With renewables poised to gain increasing market shares, the oil, coal and gas sectors will undergo reduced demand trending toward zero due to economic and regulatory pressures from markets and government respectively, leaving assets in the ground and facilities designed to explore, mine, process and burn fossil fuels increasingly diminished in value and heading towards non-utilization, stranding and worthlessness.

Read the whole report here.

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Save the Date: Renewable Energy Panel, April 17th

Panel

Sponsored by the DePaul Institute for Nature and Culture

More details coming soon . . .

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Monsanto Still Trying to Discredit Rachel Carson

The Deafening Criticism Against Silent Spring

The Saturday Evening Post
Published: September 27, 2017

Attacks on Silent Spring and the ideas it put forth are still numerous. Their intentions, however, are sometimes more transparent, like the website http://www.rachelwaswrong.com, which alleges “her extreme rhetoric generated a culture of fear.” The site is run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is in turn sponsored by corporations from Monsanto to Murray Energy to the Charles Koch Foundation. An article titled “Rachel Carson’s Genocide” in Capitalism Magazine speaks to another side of sensationalism.

 

Read the article here.

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The Upside Down World

by Jeff Tangel

The comfort of the rich depends on an abundant supply of the poor.    –Voltaire

 . . . and the working, and middle classes.   –Tangel

In the comic hit movie, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Mike Myers’s Fat Bastard character—who, as you might expect is always hungry—turns to Mini-me and demands, in his bellowing mock-Scottish bravado, “I’m bigger than you—and higher up the food chain.  Get in my belly!”  And then licks his chops while singing, “I want my baby back . . . baby back, baby back . . . ribs.”

Perhaps this is a telling example of being utterly absorbed in, and deeply confused by one’s worldview.  Mini-me simply scoots away of course, ironically into the loving arms of Dr. Evil, leaving Fat Bastard un-sated, yet nevertheless deliriously full of himself.

Despite appearances—and our hubris—we humans “on the top of the food chain” are actually the most dependent beings in existence—we rely on everyone and everything “below” us.   Author Michael Pollan’s lengthy and eye-opening essay for the NYT Magazine, “Some of My Best Friends are Germs,” reveals to us that we humans are, in reality, a mere 10% ourselves. The other 90% is actually an ongoing project of other beings, primarily bacteria and microorganisms going about their business.[1]

But for them we’d be nearly-nothing.

So what sense does it make to imagine ourselves at the top of anything?  Don’t we ordinarily think of dependent beings at some sort of bottom?  The child and the invalid are dependent on their caretakers.  So too are we humans dependent on the entire structure of ecology—which, as we are just beginning to understand, includes not just the flora and fauna all around us, but other people too.  Perhaps we can understand Max Ehrmann’s line from the Desiderata in a new way.

“You are a child of the universe . . . ” indeed.

And wealth works similarly, reflecting in parallel the imagined hierarchy we impose on Nature.  The wealthy hallucinate, seeing themselves as independent, as above everyone else.  But in reality, the wealthy are wholly dependent on all of the people “below” them, from their own workers to the teachers who educated those workers, to the people who maintain and operate buildings, the means of transportation, systems of exchange, and so on, and on and on . . .

Monopoly

The wealthy are utterly dependent on the entire infrastructure of nature/culture—they are dependents—more so than any other economic strata.  Think about this. Please.

The wealthy are not inter-reliant; the wealthy are held aloft by the compliance and work and servitude of others—some of whom they pay, or exploit, or from whom they simply receive unacknowledged and unearned benefits.  Yet many strut about the world, full of themselves, like Fat Bastard(s), as if they fashioned it all from their own hands.

Thus, shouldn’t we think of the wealthy as residing at the bottom of our society? And therefore, shouldn’t they be treated just like many of them treat the poor?

Reality bites! 

Of course I’m just having fun.  We certainly can’t cure dystopia with the “technologies” that created it.  We need to treat the rich the way most of us try to treat the poor: we help them because we feel for them.  I know, I’m asking a lot. But most of us are chock-full of empathy—plenty to go around—even if it doesn’t show that often.  For me, the older I get—the more I’ve seen—the more I cry, as if the world has been waiting for me to notice.

We need to dismantle the illusory hierarchy that encourages destructive arrogance, leaving the wealthy empathically poor and all of us poorer, so we can welcome them into human inter-dependency.  As Thict Nhat Hanh might say, such a generous and compassionate act could bring multiple benefits, to those helping as well as to those helped.  Who knows how far that wind may blow?

How do we help the wealthy and ourselves at the same time? We refuse to participate in their charade. We drop out of their hierarchically structured economy-world and build a new world that acknowledges our relational dependence on each other and all others; the whole nature/culture shebang. To start, this may take the form of public banking, co-ops and so on, but we can’t limit ourselves to economics. We need a new way to live, one that recognizes our inter-relational dependence.

 

Intertwined-4

Fortunately, the world is a rich place for ideas. But to unlock real creativity and enable a critical and kinetic mass, first we have to be unchained from the hegemony of imagined hierarchy. We have to begin to see more clearly. Start with this:

Humans are the most dependent beings, and the wealthy are the most dependent humans.

The older I get the more I come to understand that reality is the opposite of the proffered convention—because the profferers of convention have a vested interest in keeping the world structured just so.  The poor suffer a lack of justice, which is what Voltaire meant when he said: The comfort of the rich depends on an abundant supply of the poor.

But willful poverty—call it minimalism if you like—as both a personal and political act, is something to be achieved. Or better, it is something to be created, with others, as one might make art from detritus.  Finding satiety for yourself, and providing satiety for others, is a means and ends united; the wholeness of the individual secure in the inter-reliance of the community of beings. Think of this as an emancipating intervention, a reclaiming of justice by refusing to aid and abet the accumulators—the wealthy—and heal them, and us, at the same time.

Free from the servitude that feeds Fat Bastard, the willful poor weaken him and are empowered to seek authentic concert with the world—real relationships with each other and the ecosystem—and thereby change the world.

This won’t be easy.  Begin with the dismantling of illusory hierarchy that is itself a direct cause of suffering and planetary degradation.
 holypalace


Jeff Tangel
is an Adjunct Professor at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, an Associate of  DePaul’s Institute for Nature and Culture, and a regular contributor to Environmental Critique.  His individual blog is The Tecumseh Project.  E-mail tangel@sxu.edu

[1] Some of My Best Friends are Germs, Michael Pollan, NYT Magazine May 15, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/say-hello-to-the-100-trillion-bacteria-that-make-up-your-microbiome.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 accessed June 13, 2013

 

Image Sources:

  1. New York Times: https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/04/voting-in-and-out-monopoly-games-faux-riche/?_r=0
  2. Richelle Gribble, Intertwined-4: http://richelle-gribble.com/interdependent/
  3. David Friedman, The Holy Palace: http://www.kosmic-kabbalah.com/holy-palace

 

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Opinion: Chicago’s Newest Skyscraper Deepens Local Divide Over Globalization

By Jeff Tangel

Re-posted from South Side Weekly, April 12, 2017

Last August, construction started on the Jeanne Gang-designed, Chinese-funded downtown skyscraper Wanda Vista, which will be the third-tallest building in Chicago when it is completed. The building has been heavily promoted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, but for some, it has become a symbol for the divisive effects of globalization on local economies once reliant on now-outsourced jobs, from manufacturing and engineering, to tech support and reading x-rays.

 

workers


S
am Wilson is seventy-three years old, tall and gregarious with an infectious elfin laugh. Whenever he shows up to volunteer at the Canaan M.B.C. Food Ministry in Englewood, where we work, he announces with a challenging grin, “The real man is here.”  Everyone laughs.

Sam came to Chicago as part of the second Great Migration, arriving in 1960, an eager young man of seventeen from Senatobia, Mississippi. Work was easy to find back then, and he quickly landed a job as a janitor for FS Tiger, a Jewish family-owned clothing manufacturer. FS Tiger was one of many similar Chicago companies that made high quality clothing for local and national markets. Everyone needed clothing, so the work was good.

Young Sam was a good worker. “I see so much more you can do, Sam,” FS Tiger’s foreman Mr. Wagner told him—and so he was well-paid, mentored, and regularly promoted. The family came to rely on his skillful ability to cut mounds of expensive fabric with exacting detail, and often sought his guidance on how best to conduct important parts of their business. When the company was struggling, Sam saw a way to turn fabric waste into revenue by selling scraps to a cap manufacturer across the street. And so a small ecosystem flourished.

Continue reading here.

Image Source: South Side Weekly 4/12/17, photo by Steven Vance  (cropped)
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Conscious Decoupling

by Meg Holden (from Center for Humans & Nature)

The means to stave off ecological disaster from an unstable climate with much more energy in it, without utter shock, hysteria, and abdication of our North American ways of life, is to decouple economic prosperity from resource use. Crazed, desperately inventive scientists, cloistered away in parts of the world like Snowmass, Colorado, and Wuppertal, Germany, have come up with equations to help us achieve this decoupling. Double the efficiency of the resources you use, cut overall resource use in half, and then swap out 50 percent of the remainder of energy used, for renewable sources.

Continue reading here.

See the City Creatures blog here.

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