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Articles by Jon Rynn

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The Power to Rebuild the Middle Class, from Praeger Press. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science and lives with his wonderful wife and amazing two boys, car-less, in New York City.

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  • The economy needs to be green to be 'fixed'

    As is often the case, The New York Times serves as a good example of the mistaken assumptions underlying conventional wisdom. In his Sunday Magazine cover story, "The Big Fix," Times economic columnist David Leonhardt combines many of the misconceptions surrounding the idea of "green jobs." As I fretted in a previous post, some writers, including Leonhardt, seem to be setting up some sort of cosmic battle between green jobs, cap-and-trade, and economic growth:

    Of the $700 billion we spend each year on energy, more than half stays inside this country. It goes to coal companies or utilities here, not to Iran or Russia. If we begin to use less electricity, those utilities will cut jobs. Just as important, the current, relatively low price of energy allows other companies -- manufacturers, retailers, even white-collar enterprises -- to sell all sorts of things at a profit. Raising that cost would raise the cost of almost everything that businesses do. Some projects that would have been profitable to Boeing, Kroger or Microsoft in the current economy no longer will be. Jobs that would otherwise have been created won't be. As Rob Stavins, a leading environmental economist, says, "Green jobs will, to some degree, displace other jobs."

    Later in the article, he kinda sorta argues that this might all be necessary in the long-term .. but first, let's deconstruct his arguments.

  • Government investment in the Midwest will grease the skids for cap-and-trade

    The New York Times, in an article entitled, "Geography is dividing Democrats over energy," makes much of an alleged split between policymakers on the coasts, vs. those in the Midwest and Plains states. Somehow coal and manufacturing are grouped together, challenging a concern for global warming:

    "There's a bias in our Congress and government against manufacturing, or at least indifference to us, especially on the coasts," said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio. "It's up to those of us in the Midwest to show how important manufacturing is. If we pass a climate bill the wrong way, it will hurt American jobs and the American economy, as more and more production jobs go to places like China, where it's cheaper."

    Since many, if not most, of my posts attempt to explain why manufacturing and green issues are mutually reinforcing instead of at loggerheads, I find this all very troubling. The problem seems to be that a cap-and-trade policy would make coal more expensive, thus making electricity for manufacturing more expensive. In addition, cap-and-trade might make energy-intensive industries, such as steel and chemicals, more expensive as well.

    I think the way to square this circle is to pair cap-and-trade with direct governmental investment to assist coal dependent areas turn to green energy. In other words, if cap-and-trade legislation was passed along with funding to build the wind and solar systems needed to replace the coal plants (and the attendant electrical grid upgrades), then nobody would be worse off. In fact, the Midwest and other manufacturing states would prosper by manufacturing the very wind turbines and solar panels that would be used to replace the coal plants as well as generating any potential on-site solar and wind power. But that would require big bucks from the federal government.

    Unless cap-and-trade is accompanied by direct funding for clean energy construction, I'm afraid cap-and-trade will be in big trouble in Congress.

  • A detailed look at building, industry, transportation, and land-use greenhouse-gas emissions

    Greenhouse gases come in two basic flavors: carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, and emissions from land use -- agriculture, forests, peat bogs, and waste management. Fossil fuels are primarily used for energy in three sectors: buildings, industry, and transportation. Transportation is almost entirely oil-based -- according to the International Energy Association, about 0.1 percent of transportation energy currently comes from electricity.

    Just to make things complicated, people use fossil fuels to make electricity to use in buildings and industry. Well, actually, we use fossil fuels to make electricity -- and -- we use fossil fuels to make heat to use in buildings and industry. In my previous post, I presented some pretty exciting tables summarizing this global state of affairs (and the accompanying Google workbook). Now, in part 2, a detailed look at building, industry, transportation, and land-use emissions:

  • Slicing and dicing global greenhouse gas data

    Say you said to yourself, "Gee, I wish we could prevent global warming." Your next thought might be, "Gosh, where do greenhouse emissions come from?" Well, I asked myself just that question a while back. So I decided to jump into the IPCC Working Group III Assessment Report, and I've posted a Google workbook, called "GreenhouseGasEmissions," which should let you know just about everything you always wanted to know about the global sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

    The biggest surprise to me was the sheer number of major sources. I don't know whether it would be easier to slay a few big greenhouse gas monsters or a bunch of medium-sized ones, but we're basically stuck with the latter.

    Speaking of monsters, according to my calculations, all coal-fired power plants together are responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gases (all of these figures are for 2004, in CO2 equivalent megatonnes, from IPCC Working Group III reports, and any errors are mine). Shutting down all coal-fired power plants would decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent -- but that would still leave 82 percent, and I'm assuming we want to get as close to zero human-made greenhouse gas emissions as possible.

    Amazingly, the fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) used to provide heat for buildings and industry are responsible for 21 percent of greenhouse gas emissions -- more than all the coal-fired power plants. In a way, that statistic understates the importance of using carbon-free sources like wind, solar, and geothermal for electricity generation, because if we want to switch transportation from oil to electricity, we will have to replace transportation's oil, responsible for 14 percent of emissions, with electricity sources that do not include the use of fossil fuels. And if we want to eliminate the emissions from heating, we will have to use carbon-free electricity and also redesign/retrofit buildings.

    Forests might be some of the cheapest of the "lowest hanging fruit" to save, since they account for almost 16 percent of emissions. But I'm worried about what to do about belching livestock -- how do we get rid of their 4 percent? It might be easier to prevent the 5 percent of all emissions caused by the overuse of nitrogen-based fertilizers.

    Before we get into details, however, let's take a stroll through the basics of greenhouse gas accounting.