Monthly Archives: March 2015

Sustainability and Jobs

Our new attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, was off to Washington recently to testify against the EPA clean power plan. As part of the plan Arkansas will be required to reduce our carbon emissions by 44 % over the coming decades. This will be achieved by burning less coal, thus cleaning the air and reducing climate forcing. From her press release:

“Arkansas is uniquely positioned on this topic because of our rich natural heritage. In the Natural State, we place a high value on clean air and clean water as we protect our state for future generations, and as Attorney General, I will not sit idly by while this administration pushes policy objectives that will ultimately hurt job growth and Arkansas’s ability to compete across the country and the globe.”

Installing solar panels

Installing solar panels

It is odd that she opposes a plan which will do exactly what she favors; that is, clean the air and water and protect our state for future generations. One can only assume from her statement that she thinks that we will have fewer jobs and be less competitive by burning less coal. But is that the case?

If one assumes that much of the energy not produced by by burning coal is replaced by sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar, what is the tradeoff on jobs? Or how about jobs created by avoiding the need for energy in the first place? How many jobs are there in becoming more efficient?

wind turbine blade

wind turbine blade

There are currently about 174,000 jobs in the coal industry including mining, transportation and power plant work. Compare that to about 172,000 jobs in the solar industry – fabrication, sales, installation and maintenance. An important comparison is the jobs per power produced. The solar power in the United States represents only 0.7 % of installed capacity where as coal power is at about 40 %. If we divide jobs by installed capacity, solar wins hands down – about 10 times as many jobs in solar compared to coal when capacity factor is considered.

The comparison for wind and jobs is similar. There are about 100,000 jobs in wind, and with about 6 % of the capacity, wind produces 5 times as many jobs as coal. Both wind and solar are expanding rapidly, where as coal jobs are declining.
It is difficult to calculate the number of jobs in efficiency which replaces energy production. That said, efficiency is estimated to produce about 4 times as many jobs to avoid burning coal as coal jobs.

It seems fairly clear that renewable energy and efficiency produce 4 to 10 times as many jobs as coal. If our attorney general is concerned about jobs she should have gone to the house hearing to endorse the clean power plan, rather than oppose it.

One final factor should be mentioned. There are no fuel costs for renewables and efficiency, but Arkansans pay in excess of 650 million dollars a year to import coal from Wyoming. Renewables such as solar and wind would keep those millions of dollars here. That’s money which will remain in the Arkansas economy and make us more, not less competitive.


Whistling Past the Graveyard

“Whistling past the graveyard” is an old expression used to exemplify willful ignorance; more specifically, trying to remain cheerful in the presence of a known threat. It’s use here applies to those in denial about the risks of global warming and the concomitant changes in climate.

a natural whistler

a natural whistler

Denial ranges from simple willful ignorance up to and including malicious lying about both the current reality and future risks. The simplest denial is to not participate in society by not being informed about important issues which affect us all. Another level is those who try their best to find a justification for their denial. Websites abound for those folks. There are numerous sites designed to appear to be promoting free enterprise or unfettered capitalism but are actually front groups.

Those promoting active denial are essentially all guided by the fossil fuel industry. The Heartland Institute has created a school curriculum that employs numerous half truths to promote the notion that there is a real scientific controversy.

Frank Luntz has advised members of the Republican Party that denial should take the form of
pointing repeatedly to a lack of scientific certainty. In reality there is very little uncertainty and essentially no controversy. Denial ranges from sublime to the ridiculous, for example witness Senator Inhofe’s snowball show on the senate floor recently. He brought a snowball into the senate chamber to make that point that it was cold outside, hence global warming is a hoax.

The absolutely worst form of denial is that which comes through taxpayer funding. The Miami Herald recently reported that the Florida State “ DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports. This is according to “former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.”

Of course Governor Scott of Florida denies any such order. He was noncommittal when asked if the DEP plans for or even believes in global warming. He also refused to say whether he personally believes global warming is a problem.

In 2012, the Republican dominated legislature in North Carolina passed a law to the effect that state scientists could only use data from the year 1900 forward to project sea level rise and then only extrapolate out linearly. The scientists have been denied the use of the best data and computer modeling.

At the national level, the republican led House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to a Defense Department funding bill: None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order…

“Facts don’t cease to exist because they are ignored” Aldous Huxley

Transportation Efficiency

Prices for transportation fuels are down for the short term but will rise, and hence the costs for transportation of all the commodities we consume will rise. Transportation costs can be reduced in a couple of ways. Reduce the distance goods must be transported and increase the efficiency of transporting goods. Additional costs to consider are things such as the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and traffic fatalities associated with each transportation modality.
Increased reliance on locally-produced foods, among other goods, is a commendable goal. Not only does this strategy reduce transportation costs, but also builds community by supporting a local economy. This can go only so far, however, as some goods simply can’t be produced locally. Oranges will still need to be shipped to Vermont and maple syrup to Florida.

Transportation efficiency is best compared by using a figure called the ton mile-per-gallon; that is, the distance one ton of freight can be hauled with the consumption of one gallon of fuel (diesel). The numbers are for barges 576, rail 414, and trucking 155. An efficiency ratio is something on the order of 4:3:1 respectively. Barges are four times and rail transport three times as efficient as trucking. Data on barge traffic is included for the sake of comparison, but inland waterways are limited to essentially the eastern half of the U.S.

Not only is trucking the least efficient and most polluting, but also the most dangerous. An interesting statistic is fatalities per ton-mile. How many people will die as a result of the transportation of goods per billion ton miles? For barges .03, rail .65 and trucking 4.35. There are about seven times as many fatalities associated with trucking compared with rail transport.

Just as barges are limited to a large degree to the eastern U.S., rail transport has its limitations. Rail networks are not nearly as extensive as the highway system plus truck transport generally results in a faster delivery schedule.

The best solution to increase efficiency, increase safety and lower pollution due to transportation would be a much better integration of rail and truck transport. The objective would be to move freight long distances by rail, then use the trucking industry for the depot to retail outlet part of the haul.

Infrastructure changes are needed to expand the rail systems, meaning greater costs, but this would be offset by lower costs for highway construction and maintenance. Transportation safety would be greatly increased by getting most of the long haul trucks off the highway, thus reducing the number of truck car collisions.

There would still be a need for the trucking industry to move goods from an expanded rail system but these trips would be made with smaller trucks and for shorter distances. Trucking jobs would be more attractive because short haul trucking means that the drivers get to go home daily. Greatly increased integration of the trucking and rail industries can result in lower costs, cleaner air, and greater safety.