Asheville Next City That Has Voted To Go Beyond Coal

by Nicholas Brown

Asheville is the next city to go beyond coal.

On Tuesday, the city council of Asheville, North Carolina voted unanimously to shift the city from coal to clean energy. The vote was on a resolution to work with Duke Energy, the owner of a coal power plant in Asheville, to phase out the use of coal-fired power stations in the city.

Asheville’s coal power station is the most significant greenhouse gas emitter in the city. Also, a local riverkeeper discovered that coal ash containing toxic chemicals from the plant’s coal ash ponds leaked into the French Broad River and groundwater.

“Duke’s toxic coal ash problem is another reason why Asheville needs this plant phased out,” said Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper who discovered the coal ash contamination. “The only way to permanently address toxic coal ash waste is to stop burning coal, and the city’s resolution is the first step toward that goal here in Western North Carolina.”

There is no “clean” way to use coal for electricity. CCS is the cleanest potential option — the coal industry promoted but then, ironically, got upset when the EPA mandated it. But that doesn’t deal with the environmental harm that comes throughout the coal mining and waste disposal processes.

According to Grist, Ian Somerhalder and Mary Anne Hitt commented publicly on the need to transition from coal to renewable energy, especially solar and wind. Ian’s comments included, but were not limited to: “Let’s double down on solar energy, let’s build wind turbines, let’s weatherize our homes.” He also pointed out that the fear that intensified storms and heat waves might be caused by climate change is the primary driving force behind climate change mitigation efforts.

Whether or not climate change was confirmed to cause these issues, would you want to wait and find out? I wouldn’t. Ian Somerhalder is thinking progressively, and realizes that prevention is better than cure. On top of that, climate change is only one of multiple issues caused by coal power plants.

This coal phaseout campaign was supported by the French Broad Riverkeeper, Western North Carolina Alliance, Ian Somerhalder, and, of course, the Asheville Beyond Coal Campaign.

Follow me on Twitter @Kompulsa

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This article, Asheville Next City That Has Voted To Go Beyond Coal, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Nicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.

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America: Why the High Unemployment?

by John Brian Shannon

In 1970, of the 89,244 new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.A., 84.9% of them were built in North America, while only 15.1% of them were manufactured in other countries and shipped to this continent for purchase and registration.

In 2012, of the 14.4 million new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.A., 44.5% of them were built in North America, while imports accounted for 55.6% of registrations. Read here.

By any measure, this is an ongoing paradigm shift — which directly relates to American unemployment statistics since 1970.

A total of 15.4 million car and light truck sales are expected in the U.S. for calendar year 2013 — the best year since 2007. By 2014, U.S. sales are expected to reach 16 million, with imports continuing to increase their market share in the U.S.

Since the first Model T Ford rolled off the Dearborn, MI assembly line, millions of  workers have been employed by American automakers – including some workers who worked for the same company their entire career. Fathers who worked at Ford, GM or Chrysler from their childhood until retirement, found their sons and daughters good-paying jobs with their old employers. Unemployment in the 1945 – 1975 era was generally quite low — and that, in the midst of an economically damaging Cold War which negatively affected many parts of society including the unemployment rate, not incidentally.

Generally during the post-war boom, everybody worked, everybody earned a paycheque, and almost everybody contributed to the economy. About late 1973 or early 1974 this began to profoundly change in the United States and in the Western nations generally.

Not to blame the American auto manufacturers for the Arab Oil Embargo, as the Big Three had been assured of low petroleum prices by foreign governments and several domestic administrations — hence the big, V-8 powered cars of the era and their consequently-low MPG figures were popular with both manufacturers and consumers.

But American consumers are a fickle lot. Once the gas price shot upwards in the aftermath of the Arab Oil embargo, Datsun (now Nissan), Toyota and Honda nameplates began selling as fast as the ships could deliver them from Japan.

If only the foreign vehicles were of inferior quality! But they’re not. If only they used more fuel than their U.S. equivalents. But they don’t. The corporate fuel economy average for foreign and domestic makes still favours imported vehicles. Not by the wide margin it once did — and not that GM and Ford haven’t scored impressive MPG victories in some categories, because they have.

But, to put it bluntly, many employed Americans prefer their foreign-built cars. (“And those millions of now-chronically-unemployed Americans will just have to get by.”)

It’s not just cars and trucks either. Historically, most home electronics sold in the U.S.A. including televisions, smartphones and computers were also ‘Made in the U.S.A.’  — but not these days.

Most of the clothing, plastics and extruded metals purchased in the U.S. are now manufactured in Asian and Southeast Asian nations, where countries like Indonesia rely heavily on textile exports to us and other Western nations.

Much of the American conversation these days revolves around the old austerity vs. stimulus debate which reporters and op/ed journalists are required by their respective organizations to cover.

Meanwhile the 80-ton elephant in the room is the trillions of manufacturing dollars which have transferred from the West to Asia since 1970 — and the manufacturing jobs that have gone with them.

Will the Collapse of the Western Manufacturing Base Create a Worldwide Depression?

by John Brian Shannon

The Eastern economies have traditionally been the manufacturers and purchasers of downmarket goods in their own region, while Western economies have traditionally been the manufacturers and purchasers of upmarket goods in their particular region.

Over the past 40 years Asia has taken much of the West’s upmarket manufacturing base, so much so, that the West has lost fully 50% of the manufacturing jobs it once enjoyed previous to 1980. That is the single most important reason why there is significant unemployment, under-employment and worryingly, under-reported unemployment (people who no longer look for work) stats in the Western economies.

Which obviously leaves a big hole in the economy of the West, translating into lower Western economic performance and recessions in North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand since the 1970’s.

The fact that many Western corporations are making huge amounts of money at this (outsourcing their manufacturing to Asia – resulting in better corporate profits due to the much lower labour rates there) is now a complete side-issue.

It has now come down to this; The once broad base of Western consumers with generous amounts of disposable income is changing to an ever-broadening base of Western consumers without much disposable income.

If things continue, soon it will impact the Eastern economies — as there won’t be enough people in the West with enough disposable income to afford much of those upmarket goods and services! Translating into reduced economic performance there.

For now, China and India are the only significant economies in the entire world which maintain a healthy growth rate. They have been the economic engines of the world since 1998. Here in the West, we have suffered two recessions since then — and that, with China and India firing on all cylinders and their admirable growth rates of at least 8% per year and sometimes much higher than that.

The U.S. growth rate was an anemic 2% last year and is expected to come in at 1.5% to 1.6% next year. The U.S has not seen any growth rate over 4% since the 1980’s. Europe and Canada have posted similar percentages over that same time-frame.

If demand for Eastern-produced goods slackens any further in the West, the Eastern economies will see recession too. At that point, with the West still mired in the fog of recession — the entire world economy will tailspin resulting in a worldwide depression. This is the fear of many economists — including economists in Asia.

Which is why I favour keeping some significant amount of manufacturing here in the West, as manufacturing produces (relatively speaking) a lot of jobs — while removing resources from the ground and shipping them to Asia produces relatively few jobs.

Oil refineries here cost 12 – 13 billion dollars, while in China they cost 1 billion dollars. No new refineries are planned for the West for obvious reasons. As much as I’d like to say otherwise, there is precious little chance of adding value to our petroleum exports when new refineries are so expensive here.

Which is why we need to find ways to add value to our other resources.There are many North American resources that are being exported away and some would say, squandered away. We need much more focus on a value-added economy. We need to add value to our diminishing resources before they leave our Western economy.

One way, is to manufacture products out of our resources — and then sell them abroad, to enhance our balance of payments, which would contribute to enhancing our GDP, thereby lowering our overall debt-to-GDP ratio. Those ratios are killing us right now in the West.

Another good way to improve our Western economic picture is to tariff all resource exports and use that money to fund infrastructure projects, which would contribute much to the economy, but only temporarily. After all those projects reach completion in about ten years, workers (consumers with disposable income) will again be unemployed or under-employed, just as they are now. What then?

Some economists have suggested a Goods and Services Tax for the U.S. economy and to use those windfall tax funds for national infrastructure programs, as was done in Canada so successfully from 1990 – 2004. I am one of those people. However, with the latest projected U.S. growth rates set to be 1.5% to 1.6% for next year, that means there is a lot of fragility in the economy and some economists say a large, useful Goods and Services Tax might stall the recovery process. A smaller tax would be much less useful, but the taxation rate could be increased as the economy builds positive momentum. Even with those limitations, it is still a good option for the U.S.

It keeps coming back to the fact that we need to add more value to our economy, especially to our export economy on a long-term sustainable basis. We need to create MORE jobs from the resources we extract and from our agriculture and forestry industries — or eventually there won’t be enough demand for Asian-produced products and when those Asian sales sag due to lack of demand in the West, it will hit the fan everywhere.

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John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, the Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his personal blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Check out his economics blog at:
https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Follow John on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

How Does China Do It?

by John Brian Shannon

Why do all the jobs keep going to China? Everyone wants to know.

The Western nations are short of jobs. At present, 150 million jobs have left Europe and North America over the past 40 years and have been relocated to Asia.

This trend has been in play for a few decades, but it began in earnest back in 1973 when the Arab Oil Embargo caused millions of Americans to purchase economical Japanese cars instead of Detroit’s offerings at the time – the thrilling but thirsty American gas guzzler.

Since that time, not only Japan but South Korea too have exported cars to the Western democracies by the millions. The market share of imported cars registered in 1960’s North America was microscopic but now sits at over 50%. China is now exporting cars worldwide and they are increasing their market share in Western nations.

That about covers the automotive market discussion.

But it is not the entire story. There are other factors at play some of which I will cover below and in future blogs. It’s a big topic… trust me.

For another example, when the West decides to design, engineer and build a new fighter plane at a cost of 100 billion U.S. dollars (a hypothetical number, just for comparison purposes) up to one-third of that money is diverted to corporate profit and doesn’t influence the final product.

When communist China decides to design, engineer and build a new fighter plane at a cost of the equivalent of 100 billion U.S. dollars (a hypothetical number, just for comparison purposes) all 100% of that investment goes towards the design, engineering and build quality of the fighter plane.

This is but one example which can be demonstrated many times over. It’s not just fighter jets. Every military ship, airplane, vehicle, guns, ammunition, along with civilian cars and trucks, industrial mining equipment, farm machinery, electronics, railway cars, locomotives and even the railway tracks can be built for less in China.

Communist corporations which do not have to make accommodations for profits have an advantage over ones that must make accommodations for profits. On the hypothetical American example above, 30% of 100 billion U.S. dollars is… drum roll please… 30 billion dollars! That is a lot of R&D money diverted to corporate profit from product testing, build quality – or marketing and advertising which almost always results in more sales.

Anything we can manufacture, China can manufacture at a lower cost when compared to the Western manufactured item. Thirty percent is just the beginning as some items can be manufactured for 1000% less than comparable products in Europe or North America.

During a telephone interview in February, a sitting Member of the Parliament of Canada told me that it is much cheaper for North American oil companies to dig up the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, transport that material to China for refining and then transport it back as finished products to North America.

It’s easy to do some quick math here. The Canadian Enbridge Northern Pipeline is projected to cost over 5 billion dollars if it gets built. The plan is to pipeline the material to Canada’s west coast (highly diluted with petroleum condensate) and ship it across the ocean to China where it can be refined into pure gasoline, motor oil, diesel fuel and other products normally made from conventional petroleum.

Super-tankers will pick up the tar sand/condensate mixture, which is called ‘dilbit’ once it is mixed together into a consistency which will flow through the pipeline system and transport it in that form to China, where new refineries are being built to receive the dilbit material. New Chinese oil refineries cost 1 – 2 billion Canadian dollars (equivalent), while new North American refineries with their higher land, construction, permitting, labour and emission control costs are estimated in the 12 billion Canadian dollar range – which is why no new refineries are planned for North America.

New SuezMax super-tankers cost between 500 and 900 million dollars a copy, depending on how many barrels of oil they carry and whether they are single-hulled ships or an infinitely safer design – the double-hulled super-tanker. Some super-tankers carry over 1 million barrels of toxic dilbit. Expect China to run 24 – 32 new super-tankers between the west coast of Canada and China 365 days per year.

After refining in China, SuezMax super-tankers will return the finished products to North America for distribution throughout the western United States and Canada’s western provinces.

Even with all these additional transportation costs and other activities – the gasoline, diesel and other products will cost 30% less than when compared to Canadian or American oil refineries performing the same refining operations here.

It remains to be seen whether the oil companies will pass along those cost savings to consumers.

John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his personal blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com

Check out his economics blog at: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com

Follow John on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada

JOBS: The Key to Capitalism’s Success

by John Brian Shannon

As we all know, several political/economic models are in use in the early 21st century. A little refresher for you first, if your high-school political science classes didn’t especially thrill you.

The capitalist system employed by the Western nations and some other nations, is often referred to as the Free Enterprise system, the Free Market system, Wealth Accumulation, Capital Accumulation or the Open Economic model – depending on the context of a conversation. Politics can vary within capitalist systems – which are often a variant of democracy (civil rights enshrined in a constitution, the right to vote, rights to property and person and freedom of expression) form part of this model. Socialist parties represent the “left wing” and conservative “right-wing” parties are represented along with independent candidates as elected by the registered voters.

In the capitalist system, greed is the primary agent of economic change. If you want to eat, you work for money to buy your food. If you would rather drive to work than walk, you work for money to buy a car and insurance. An individual “works” to earn “profit” to purchase goods or services. The underlying premise being, that if an individual has a decent education and works “smart” and “hard” you will accumulate wealth over time. Western corporations and governments operate in a similar fashion.

So, why isn’t it working?

“It IS working!” wealthy Western individuals emphatically state.

“It IS working!” Western corporations emphatically state.

“It IS working!” Western governments emphatically state.

And in those cases, it most emphatically IS working!

But the rest of us are not. Working, that is. You know… jobs, working, making a living, paying the bills, making the rent… and all the rest of it.

You will recall my words from a previous paragraph; “An individual “works” to earn “profit” to purchase goods or services. The underlying premise being, that if an individual has a decent education and works “smart” and “hard” you will accumulate wealth over time.”

All good there. Except what happens in the capitalist system when there aren’t enough jobs?

The short answer is; A failed economic system. Ever more wealth becomes concentrated in a ever smaller percentage of the general population. You guessed it — 1% of the Western population will always agree that the Open Economic system works well for them.

For Western nations it is death by a thousand cuts and only in the interests of economic survival will our present system evolve into something very unlike the present model and it may take as long as 50 years to do so.

Let me back up a bit.

I promised you a political science refresher and here is the other half of it. The Communist system, sometimes called the Statist model, the Centralized Economic model, or the Closed Economic model, does not employ greed as the primary driver of human activity. Profit, either at the individual or corporate level is unknown and all economic activity is considered the property of the state. The only things that really matter to a communist is the national GDP and the sovereignty of the country. Of course, civil rights and personal freedoms are enshrined in the constitutions of communist countries – although at the end of the day personal rights can be and often are subjugated in the best interests of the state.

For one example of this, in the former USSR alcoholism rates were astonishingly high. But this was never reported in the Soviet media as it was thought that publicizing this knowledge would emotionally depress workers across the nation – and thereby suppress economic output. Therefore and officially, in the former USSR there was no alcoholism – and hence, the government-owned hospitals failed to devise a treatment for a disease which only occurred in the decadent West! If a citizen of the former USSR arrived at a hospital or doctor’s office for treatment of his alcoholism, he was told that he suffered from “an imaginary disease” and was counseled to stop “trying to get attention” by emulating Western behaviors. And no doubt put on some sort of watch list for good measure.

Eventually the former USSR collapsed mainly due to internal forces. However, some communist nations remain and are thriving. China has surpassed India, France, the UK, Germany, Japan and every other country except for the United States in GDP and accumulated wealth – and has done so by employing the statist economic model. According to most economics Professors, China will surpass the United States GDP by 2040. That’s 28 years from now in case you are a Chinese economist counting the days.

The main reason for the dramatic growth-driven economic performance in China is that many Western corporations have chosen to do business in China rather than the West – due to lower land and construction costs, lower labour rates, the lower costs associated with a relaxed or non-existent regulatory environment (depending on the industry and region of the country) and other cost-lowering factors associated with operating a business in China.

Beginning about 1999, U.S. corporations especially, have embraced the opportunity to lower their costs by closing their North American factories and building brand-new factories in China – sometimes with significant communist Chinese government assistance! Other western corporations too, have been closing our factories by the thousands in America and Europe and relocating their manufacturing operations to China – and on account of this economic activity, the Western economies combined are at present, 150 million jobs short of full employment. This trend of creating jobs in communist China whilst simultaneously creating higher unemployment in the Western democracies will continue as long as Western voters don’t complain too much.

By 2030, the Western democracies will be much-weakened in comparison to a still-booming China and the other Asian nations. At that time, Asia will be supplying almost all the manufactured goods for the Western economies which will by then, have lost 300 million jobs to Asia.

Also by 2030, perhaps as many as 700 million Westerners will be retired persons receiving some form of Social Security – while millions of younger people won’t be old enough to join the workforce. It will be a time when less than half of the West’s population will be employed and able to support the Western economies. From the Western point of view, this trend gets worse until 2060 when economic performance is expected to plateau in Asia.

A paradigm-shift has been taking place right under our Western noses for three decades now and we have just now begun to notice. China will soon be the dominant world power – and we handed it to them in exchange for higher profits for Western corporations.

It’s said; “He who has the gold makes the rules” – and it is shaping up to be a very different world indeed.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada