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Forum Post: A New Manhattan Project

Posted 1 year ago on Feb. 9, 2013, 3:24 p.m. EST by LeoYo (4840)
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A New Manhattan Project

Saturday, 09 February 2013 10:40 By Thom Hartmann, The Daily Take | Op-Ed


Something interesting is happening in Australia.

A new study by the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance has found that unsubsidized renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels like coal and gas.

In fact, it’s a lot cheaper.

Data shows that wind farms in Australia can produce energy at AU$80/MWh. Meanwhile, coal plants are producing energy at AU$143/MWh and gas at AU$116/MWh.

Unlike the United States, where energy companies can pollute and have the costs (from illness to environmental degradation) picked up by the taxpayers, Australia has a carbon tax, which partially explains why renewables have a price advantage. But the data shows that even without the cost of carbon tax factored in; wind energy is still 14-cents cheaper than coal and 18-cents cheaper than gas.

And this is in a nation that relies more heavily on coal than any other industrialized nation in the world. But that coal reliance will soon change, as companies in Australia are quickly adopting new, cheaper renewable energies. As the study found, banks and lending institutions in Australia are now less and less likely to finance new coal plants, because they've simply become a bad investment. And, while Australian wind is cheapest now, by 2020 - and maybe sooner - solar power will also be cheaper than coal and gas in Australia. The energy game is rapidly changing in that country. Michael Liebrich, the chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted, “The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date.”

Well, here’s a news flash: That perception has been out of date for a while now – even right here in the United States.

According to the Energy Information Administration, looking ahead to 2016, natural gas is the cheapest energy in the United States at roughly $66/MWh. Coal comes in second at $94/MWh. But right behind coal is renewable wind at $97/MWh, which in large part accounts for why U.S. wind energy production has tripled since 2000. And, unlike in Australia, none of those US prices account for the externalities associated with fossil fuels like pollution, cancers, military protection, or global warming. In America, the fossil fuel industry has made sure those externalities are paid for not by the coal and gas energy producers, but instead by you and me. The fossil fuel industry doesn't pay a penny of the cost of rapidly accelerating climate change. Or the healthcare costs from exhaust- and refinery-driven diseases and deaths from air, water, and other pollution. Not to mention the community costs of decreasing property values when a coal plant is put in your backyard. Nor do they put a cent toward the cost of our Navy keeping the oil shipping lanes open or our soldiers “protecting” the countries that “produce” all that oil. All of these externalities come with fossil fuel production, but pretty much don't exist with renewable energy production. And those externality costs are not only not paid for by the fossil fuel industry – they're never even mentioned in the corporate-run “news” media in America.

Research from the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences concludes that the total cost of these externalities, if paid by the polluters themselves, would raise US fossil fuel prices by as much as nearly $3/MWh. And that’s an extremely conservative estimate. Which puts wind power on parity with coal in America.

The trend lines here are pretty clear: Buggywhip, meet automobile! Renewables are getting cheaper, and fossil fuels are getting more expensive.

Which is why we as a nation need to throw everything we have at making renewable energies our primary way of powering America into the 21st century.

Think of it as a new Manhattan Project. We need green energy, local energy, and a 21st century smart grid to handle it all.

Over time, the marketplace will do this for us. But with just about every developed country in the world ahead of us, and our dependence on oil making us more and more tightly bound to Middle Eastern dictators and radicals, to wait and hope big transnational corporations will help birth a new America is both naïve and stupid. Instead of depending on them, we should be recovering from them the cost of those externalities – a carbon tax – that can be used to build a new energy infrastructure in America.

Let’s take a lesson from Australia and the Eurozone, which have both set up carbon taxes to make 19th century energy barons pay for at least some of the damage they've done. And then use that revenue for a green energy revolution here in America.

Considering the threats of climate change, war, and disease, only an idiot – or a fossil-fuel billionaire like Charles or David Koch – would want us to bring in more oil with a pipeline or take any other steps to continue America's dependence on dirty and costly last-century fuels.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.


Rationally Speaking, We Are All Apocalyptic Now

Friday, 08 February 2013 00:00 By Robert Jensen, Truthout | Op-Ed


If we are rational and consider objective scientific evidence of environmental collapse including groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, ocean dead zones, species extinction, bio-diversity reduction and climate disruption, we need to be apocalypticists, argues Robert Jensen.

We are all apocalyptic now, or at least we should be, if we are rational.

Because "apocalyptic" is typically associated with religious fanaticism and death cults - things that rational people tend not to take literally or seriously - this claim requires some explanation. First, a definition: The term is most commonly used in reference to the Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse of John, the final book of the Christian New Testament. The two terms are synonymous in their original meaning - "revelation" from Latin and "apocalypse" from Greek, both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something that had been hidden.

Second, the formulation "we are all (fill in the blank) now" has long been a way to assert that certain ideas have become the norm: "We are all Keynesians now," said Milton Friedman in 1965, for instance, or to express solidarity: "We are all New Yorkers now," said many non-New Yorkers after 9/11.

Rather than claiming divine inspiration, we can come to greater clarity about the desperate state of the ecosphere and its human inhabitants through evidence and reason. It is time for a calm, measured apocalypticism that recognizes that the ecosphere sets norms, which we have ignored for too long, and that we need to develop a new sense of solidarity among humans and with the larger living world.

So, speaking apocalyptically need not leave us stuck in a corner with the folks predicting lakes of fire, rivers of blood or bodies lifted up to the heavens. Instead, it can focus our attention on ecological realities and on the unjust and unsustainable human systems that have brought us to this point.

This "revelation" is simple: We've built a world based on the assumption that we will have endless energy to subsidize endless economic expansion, which was supposed to magically produce justice. That world is over, both in reality and in dreams. Either we begin to build a different world, or there will be no world capable of sustaining a large-scale human presence.

If that's not clear: When we take seriously what physics, chemistry and biology tell us about the health of the living world on which we depend, we all should be thinking apocalyptically. Look at any crucial measure of the ecosphere - groundwater depletion; topsoil loss; chemical contamination; increased toxicity in our own bodies; the number and size of "dead zones" in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species and reduction of biodiversity; and the ultimate game-changer of climate disruption - and ask a simple question: Where we are heading? Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing the planet beyond its limits.

If we look honestly at the state of the world, it is difficult not to conclude that we are in end times of sorts - not the end of the physical world, but the end of the First-World way of living and the end of the systems on which that life is based.

I know that invoking the terms "apocalypse" and "end times" triggers many people's experiences with arrogant religious people who preach about deliverance fantasies. My message is not about a rapture that can be predicted, but about ruptures in the ecological and social fabrics that are underway and accelerating.



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[-] 1 points by grapes (2629) 1 year ago

A revenue-neutral carbon tax is an idea that has been proven overseas and its time has come. Those coal-interest barons who had botched up the exporting of wind-generated electricity from the upper Mid-West of the U.S. will be left behind crying due to their hurt at the bottom-line because they did not learn the art of compromise and technological advancement has overtaken them.

[-] 1 points by grapes (2629) 1 year ago

A revenue-neutral carbon tax makes a lot of sense because it sticks the costs of externalities where they properly belong. It can even the playing field for all energy producers and let us achieve a more just economic system. Due to the costs being visible to the energy producers who presumably have savvy personnel perusing costs with eagle eyes, they can seek ways to minimize their carbon-tax burden -- probably hiring technologists to come up with many different solutions over time. These energy producers have the economies of scale as well as the know-how to make these solutions pay off monetarily and socially. Due to the revenue neutrality of the carbon tax, citizens who are not intensive users of energy will benefit and the morons who drive full-size pickup trucks on city streets just to ferry passengers will pay. Over time, the transition to renewable energies will occur at the pace driven by the profit motive because some forms of renewable energies (wind and solar) have become eminently close to being profitable (utility companies were known to build wind farms years ago to avoid the problems associated with coal [too bulky to transport for some mountainous areas -- without railroads or barges coal does not make much economic sense] and we have surely improved wind technology quite a bit meanwhile).

Sandy-Athena came to flood Manhattan and now we got Nemo in the Northeast. What project should sprout from Manhattan to meet the new Poseidon challenge? The New Manhattan (or the New Amsterdam) project, of course!