Imagine, just for a moment, that you live in an apartment building that offers a special lunch deal. Every morning, the landlords put out a tray of 100 sandwiches for their tenants. They’re darn good sandwiches -- each one costs $10 to make. Yet the landlords offer a discount, so that hungry tenants can buy a sandwich for just $3. If you don’t want a sandwich, you don’t pay anything. But if you do want a sandwich, you get a bargain!
Well, not if you remember one of the key rules of economics: There is no free lunch. There isn’t even a below-cost lunch. The building owners are going to have to pay for the sandwiches somehow. And since their only source of income (besides the sandwich fees) is rent, that means that they’ll do their best to make up the money they lose on sandwiches by charging higher rent.
But perhaps the most important coal export story has gotten surprisingly little attention -- the collapse of Pacific Rim coal prices. With the latest price decline, I think we can definitively call the hype over Northwest coal export projects for what it always was: a bubble.
But to see why the inflated hopes for Northwest coal exports were the product of a bubble mentality, you have to look at the long-term price trends.
Editor's note: The coal industry is desperate to ship its product to Asia because demand here in the U.S. has dropped. Three coal export terminals are currently proposed for Washington and Oregon (down from six a year ago). Before they can be built, their environmental impacts must be evaluated. Climate activists have been calling for broad evaluations of the myriad impacts, while industry wants just narrow studies done. Today comes word that the environmental impact study for one of the proposed terminals will be wide-ranging and rigorous -- a win for anti-coal activists.
Hot off the presses: The three “co-lead” agencies in charge of reviewing the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal at Cherry Point, Wash., have published the scope of their review. The major takeaway is that it’s bad news for the coal industry.
The industry did win an empty victory with the Army Corps of Engineers, the sole federal agency at the table, which opted for a narrow scope of review. But in the end it doesn't much matter. One of the other lead agencies, the Washington Department of Ecology, is going to require in-depth analysis of four elements that the coal industry had desperately hoped to avoid:
A detailed assessment of rail transportation's impacts on representative communities in Washington and a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts.
An assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington.
A general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters.
An evaluation and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion.
Of those, two stand to be particularly damaging for would-be coal exporters: rail impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. There’s not a lot of wiggle room with either of those elements.
You’ve probably heard of peak oil, and maybe even peak fish. But have you heard of “peak middle-aged people”?
That’s right: The Census projects that the aging of the baby boomers is sending the population of 45- to 54-year-olds in the United States into reverse. In fact, that age group reached its near-term peak in 2010. Even as the overall population is expected to grow, we’ll actually have fewer 45- to 54-year-olds in 2030 than we do today:
This demographic shift will almost certainly affect driving trends.
There’s some good news in BP’s most recent Statistical Review of World Energy: in the US, total greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels fell 1.8% from 2010 to 2011. And in even better news, total US emissions have fallen by more than 7 percent from their 2005 peak. (Note that Barry Saxifrage recently spotted the same trends in data from the International Energy Agency.) But there’s also some really, really bad news. In fact, here’s the most frightening chart I’ve seen in weeks, created by Sightline pal Devin Porter, showing total climate-warming emissions from fossil fuels consumed in the US and China: Just as …
I’ve been thinking about upgrading to an electric car for awhile now. And in today’s market, there are plenty of models to choose from.
But having a lot of options makes for a complicated decision! Each model of electric car has its own unique mix of efficiency, charging time, and driving range -- and since buying a car is a big decision, I want to find the model that makes the most sense for my family. To add to the confusion, there doesn’t seem to be any single, unified source of information on the many electric car options out there.
So, for my own convenience -- and hopefully yours -- I pulled together a table with basic stats on the major electric and plug-in hybrid cars:
“They think of a car as a giant bummer,” said Mr. Martin. “Think about your dashboard. It’s filled with nothing but bad news.”
True dat. I’m not young anymore, but looking at my gas gauge is one of the biggest downers of my day. Though as I’ve argued before, a big part of waning interest in cars among young people stems from economics rather than cultural shifts: Gas and cars are expensive, youth unemployment is high, and young peoples’ wages are down. And besides, new licensing laws have made it more difficult and costly for many teens to get a license, while making driving a lot less appealing. (When I was 16, the lure of cruising around with friends was a major impetus for getting my license -- but today licensing laws in many parts of the country forbid teens with new licenses to drive with a bunch of friends.)
Regardless of the reasons, the latest figures show that driving is continuing to decline -- not simply among young people, but across the board.
Photo: Cyril PlapiedCross-posted from Sightline Daily. Tuesday's news carries a story that I've been expecting for a while: Connecting Washington, a task force convened by Washington's governor, has called for $21 billion in new transportation investments over the next 10 years. I haven't seen the recommendations themselves, only the news report. But it looks like the money would get spread around a bit -- with some for ferries and some for transit -- but from what I can gather, most of the money would be slated for roads. So in the upcoming months, I expect we'll be hearing a lot …
Photo: Joost J. Bakker IJmuidenThis post originally appeared on Sightline Institute's blog. Here's an interesting study (not free, unfortunately) by University of Washington engineering professor Stephen Muench, reviewing the literature on the energy and CO2 impacts of road construction. His study looks mostly at the construction phase itself, rather than the use of the road. In a nutshell: Manufacturing roadway materials generates somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of the CO2 emissions associated with road building. Transportation of equipment and materials to the job site accounts for 10 to 30 percent, and construction activities at the job site itself account for …
How do the Leaf's emissions stack up?Finally. If you don't like being dependent on oil -- but find that you do need to drive -- you've got at least one decent option. The Nissan Leaf is the first mass-produced, mass-market electric vehicle to hit the U.S. sales floors in ... well, essentially forever. (Yeah, I know about the Tesla and the EV1. But the former is too expensive to be in the range of most families, and the latter was never really offered for sale -- you could only lease it.) The Leaf's a bit pricey, but for many families …
Clark Williams-Derry is research director for the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, a nonprofit sustainability think tank working to promote smart solutions for the Pacific Northwest. He was formerly the webmaster for Grist.