Business & Technology

One hand clapping

Economic naïvete on carbon prices

If you put a price on GHG emissions, will it raise the cost of energy? That question goes to the core of carbon policy. Unfortunately, many people inside and outside the environmental community consistently get it wrong, with potentially disastrous results. Consider: if the answer is yes, then we don't need any incentives for GHG reduction. The costs of carbon-intensive energy will rise, giving we energy users the incentive they need to lower consumption. But if the answer is no, we will find ourselves with a tax on dirty energy but no incentive to reduce its use. That is, we will end up with a greenhouse-gas policy that fails to do the one thing it's supposed to do above all else: lower our greenhouse-gas emissions. The answer, more often than not, is no.

Food prices are high, and so are Big Ag’s profits

Food prices hitting you hard in the pocketbook? Agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland feels for you, it really does — but gee, its profits jumped 42 percent this quarter, so it can’t really empathize. ADM’s …

Dr. Bronner’s says competitors aren’t really organic

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has filed a lawsuit accusing competitors in the personal-care industry of falsely advertising products as organic. The word “organic” is not federally regulated for personal-care products. Dr. Bronner’s, the soap company …

Markets vs. emission reductions

Why secondary carbon markets should be minimized in climate legislation

It is fine and necessary to put a price on carbon, via either a carbon tax or 100 percent auctioned cap-and-trade permits. But in the latter case, when those permits are not sold directly to polluters but are released into a secondary market (either via auctioning or, worse, via giveaways), those markets tend to prioritize maintaining their own existence over reducing emissions. In short, a price is fine; an actual market is not.

Green pay day

Green-collar jobs are real

There's lots of buzz about green-collar jobs these days (sort of like blue-collar jobs, but with a sustainable edge) -- whether you're listening to Obama, McCain, or Clinton; Gregoire, Kulongoski, or Schwarzenegger. You hear this kind of thing a lot: A study conducted by the RAND Corporation and the University of Tennessee found that producing 25 percent of all American energy fuel and electricity from renewables by the year 2025 would produce the following: "$700 billion of new economic activity, carbon emission reduction by 1 billion tons, and 5 million new jobs." Fine and dandy, but, some might ask "where are those five million new jobs? When will we see them?" Some skeptics have begun to ask whether it's bordering on hype. Big projections are just that - big projections. But there's nothing like local industry reporting 2000 new jobs here and 500 jobs there -- right in our neck of the woods -- and a steady stream of investment dollars to keep skeptics pondering the possibilities. So, we're happy to report a real-live green-collar workforce is materializing in the Northwest, and it's likely the wave is just gathering strength. With more policy measures encouraging green-tech investments and training programs it could swell to something much bigger. Looking at Oregon's green-collar boom, Ted Sickinger of the Oregonian calls it a "small tsunami." Some real numbers from Oregon and Washington:

Driven to change

March small car sales up; SUV, truck sales down

Is $3.25 to $3.50 a gallon the long-awaited for inflexion point for driving a shift in U.S. car-buying habits? Obviously we can't know for sure, but the Detroit News reported that "cars outsold light trucks" in March. (One auto industry insider told me yesterday that this was only the second time that has ever happened in some two decades.) Yes, the recession no doubt had an impact on the sales of big, expensive vehicles. But since gasoline prices are going to mostly be going up over the next decade or two, possibly to well above $4 or even $5 a gallon (see "Peak Oil? Bring it on!"), this should be (yet one more) wake-up call to Detroit. What exactly happened in March? According to a blog:

Fly on the Wall Street

Finance, energy, and the environment: markets and opportunities

Last night, I went to a panel at the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street (no, really!) on what's financially hot or soon will be in non-coal, non-oil energy technologies. I love these kinds of events; typically, what comes of them is reality-based information, dealing with who has the money, where it's going (or ought to go), and what will get it there, in order to transform our energy system. I come away from these things more hopeful than from any number of political rallies, because these are people who are walking their talk instead of posing in their Rogan jeans and "Save the planet" t-shirts. The panel was co-sponsored by Sierra Club, so the articulate Carl Pope was one of the speakers, natch. The other speakers were Pete Cartwright, CEO of Advanced Power Projects, Inc.; Daniel Abbasi, head of regulatory and public policy research for MissionPoint Capital Partners ("Financing transition to carbon free economy"); Michael Molnar, VP at Goldman Sachs, responsible for alt. energy and coal sectors in the Energy & Materials Equity Research Business Unit; and moderator Myron Kandel, founding financial editor at CNN. You can read my liveblog-style notes for the whole evening at my own blog. A few juicy nuggets:

Say goodbye to 'cides

Home Depot announces an end to traditional pesticide sales in Canada

For consumers concerned about pervasive toxics in the environment, this has been a very good Earth Week.  Especially if you live in Canada. Home Depot announced this week that it would stop selling "traditional" lawn and garden pesticides in all its Canadian stores. The reason? Consumers don't want them anymore. People in Canada seem to have discovered that you don't need to spread poisons around your yard in order to garden. Amazing! A huge part of that awakening is happening because of committed advocates, particularly from the public health community, that have helped lead hundreds of local by-laws in communities around Canada that have ended the use of "cosmetic" pesticides on lawns & gardens. I am trying to imagine what it would be like to walk into the garden aisle in a big-box home improvement store without the noxious bags of granulated death ... I think I like it. The bell is tolling in Canada for lawn & garden pesticides. I hope we catch whatever they've got.

Market force of nature

Social concerns complicate an issue that, for scientists, is a no-brainer

A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece, now posted at Seed, about a financial mechanism for reducing deforestation and degradation (REDD) and vaster territory it will likely prime for pricing ecosystem services. It's fun to watch the story evolve, as now we're seeing the U.K.-based Canopy Capital sign an agreement to protect a 371,000 hectare chunk of tropical forest in Guyana -- in advance even of a market infrastructure to value all the services provided by this land. For the most part, I see action in this direction as a good thing. Certainly the climate scientists, conservationists, and environmentalists who support "natural capital" schemes have their heads and hearts in the right place. But in the course of reporting for the story, I uncovered a tier of concerns missing, for the most part, from popular media coverage of the subject. Indigenous rights groups and NGOs are highly concerned [PDF] about the implications of what amounts to leasing their land to foreign investors.

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