China's Belt and Road Initiative

China Unveiled Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Five Years Ago.

Since then, countries hailed it as a transformative tool for soft power. Many compared the BRI to the Marshall Plan and welcomed the new idea believing it would expand markets and stabilize the region. Despite the profound potential to promote connectivity and increase commerce, the associated risks are severe and the catastrophic implications -- as it relates to climate change -- threaten the ecosystem of our entire planet.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a project of enormous scale and reach. Considered a gargantuan development project, the purpose of the BRI is to improve China’s trade and transport links to the rest of the world through large-scale infrastructure projects. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the $150 billion a year spending project in 2013 in an attempt to create a 21st-century version of the famed Silk Road. This also includes the estimated $900 billion of loans that China underwrote in 71 countries.

However, the Initiative relies heavily on coal. This emphasis is especially worrying. CoalSwarm, an environmental NGO, estimated Chinese firms are involved in the construction, ownership, or financing of at least 16 percent of all coal-fired power stations under development outside China. By the end of 2016, China was involved in 240 coal-fired power projects in 25 of the 65 countries collaborating with China on BRI projects.

“Chinese banks’ and companies’ investments in coal abroad are a cause of major concern because of their potential to lock in more climate warming emissions in our carbon-constrained world,” said Huang Wei, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. “It is a complicated web of involvement, but ultimately all investments in coal, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, are bad for everyone involved — recipient country, China and the planet as a whole,” Huang told CNBC.

Eco-friendly policies at home, however, do not necessarily translate to green policies abroad.

In 2012, the year the Chinese Communist Party elected Xi Jinping its leader, the party listed “ecological civilization” as one of the five goals in the country's overall development plan at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. In 2016, President Xi called for the Belt and Road to be “green, healthy, intelligent and peaceful.” In a 2018 speech, President Xi urged policymakers at the National Congress of the Communist Party to promote eco-friendly policies that ensure “harmony between human and nature.” Xi continued to promote policies that ensure “green, low-carbon and circular development,” “promote afforestation,” “strengthen wetland conservation and restoration,” and “stop and punish all activities that damage the environment” — in short, “to build an ecological civilization that will benefit generations to come.”

China’s coal consumption prevents achieving goals set in the Paris Agreement because of the Belt and Road Initiative.

In the Paris Agreement, 195 countries agreed to limit the increase in global temperatures by modifying the way firms conduct business. The standout phrase is moving temperatures from pre-industrial levels to below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The energy think tank, Climate Tracker, confirmed statements made by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Both estimated at least 59% of coal power worldwide must be retired by 2030 to limit a worldwide temperature rise to 1.5°C. By achieving a temperature rise of only 1.5°C instead of 2.0°C, some of the greatest consequences are curbed.

While it is well-known that fossil fuels are the biggest single contributor to the global rise of carbon emissions, it would be inspiring to witness global actors like China to elevate green practices to a higher level and decrease reliance on the coal industry. To China’s credit, they are taking steps to promote green energy. In 2014 alone, China added 20 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity, 11 GW of solar and 22 GW of hydro-power capacity. The next year, reforms to the electricity market removed coal’s guaranteed hours. Further, grid operators were encouraged to give priority to renewable energy over coal. These reforms were welcomed by climate advocates, but China’s promotion of coal in BRI projects threaten to undo the global community’s efforts to combat climate change.

China may be promoting “ecological civilization” at home, but it must address the urgent climate consequences of its expansionary agenda. Now.

How Alcohol Impacts Our Environment

In 2017, Americans spent $234,380 M on alcohol alone, and this is steadily rising.

Alcohol is a staple to the lives of many Americans, serving as one of the largest industry in the U.S. Therefore, it matters which alcohol we choose to drink and the resulting environmental impact.

Beer accounts for 80.5% of alcohol consumption by volume, but only emits 62% of alcohol emissions. Wine volume, on the other hand, accounts for 16% of the alcohol consumption, but has an emission contribution of over 27%. Spirits (including whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum, etc.) has a total volume consumption of 3.5% but an emission of 6.7%.

Tara Garnett, Co-author for the Food Climate Research Network.

However, different alcohol is consumed at different volumes (as describe in the Water Footprint article). The below charts show the interpretation of Tara Garnett’s research by accounting for serving sizes.

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 5.05.18 PM.png

As we can see from the chart above, based on serving size, alcohol emissions across the three types — beer, wine, and spirits — are about the same amount. However, major alcohol companies in the industries of beer, wine, whiskey, and vodka are beginning to make changes to reduce these emissions as well as correcting detrimental environmental effects from their companies.

Beer such as Budweiser, Corona, and Stella Artois created by Anheuser-Busch, CEO Carlos Brito, accounts for about 50% of the beer market in the U.S.

Because of its high influence in the beer market and significant usage of electricity, Anheuser-Busch has announced that their current $400 M expenditure on electricity will come from 100% renewable electricity by 2025. This initiative to expand recyclable content, improve water efficiently, and working directly with local farmers will reduce carbon emissions by a whopping 25%. What is especially important is that this market of affordable beers mostly effects working-class, white men in the mid-America, many of whom renounce human caused global warming. By impacting this specific market, Anheuser-Busch is drastically shaping middle America’s eco-consciousness.

E. & J. Gallo Winery, producer of Barefoot wine, the most popular wine brand in America, is also making great strides towards eco-friendliness.

Responsibility for energy and water consumption at E. & J. Gallo Winery became a priority since 2014. They won the Corporate Social Responsibility Award in recognition for their leading contributions towards water and energy sustainability. They reduced their energy consumption by 10%. Today, they are the leading force in the wine industry while maintaining their eco-cautiousness. In 2018 alone, E. & J. Gallo Winery sold $667 M worth of Barefoot wine in the U.S. and saved more than 11 M kilowatt hours of electricity since 2015.

Irish Distillers, producers of Jameson, the #1 whiskey brand in the U.S, are investing 20% of their funds to expand projects focused on using energy and water more efficiently.

They are requiring that the barley and malt used in their distillery meets the Irish Grain Assurance Scheme to promote environmental protection to safely grow and transport grain for their whiskey distilleries. In redesigning their Jameson bottles, they reduced the glass by 30% to save 435 tons of glass and reduce energy to produce them. Additionally, 98% of their bottles in Dublin are recycled at Dublin’s bottling plant. Through this amazing progress to reduce material waste and encourage recycling that waste, they won the Best Packaging Prevention Initiative in 2009.

However, some alcohol industries, like Tito’s Handmade Vodka, are not as progressive as Carlos Brito, E. & J. Gallo Winery, and Irish Distillers.

In fact, Tito’s, the first Mad in USA Certified alcohol brand, faced many convictions and settlements for their illegal disposal of industrial waste. In 2003, the company was convicted of a misdemeanor and paid a $50,000 fine for disposing of oil down a drain at their shop. In 2012, the company illegally drained production waste into a creek in Austin. Their settlement resulted in a $50,000 fine from the state, $11,728 restitution for damaged properties of landowners nearby, and $1,120 for state sampling analysis of the creek. After facing $300,000 fine for their daughter company, Heartland Automotive Inc, they decided to make a change. They company spent $235,000 to improve and handle their industrial waste and storm water disposal appropriately.

As of today, Tito’s Handmade Vodka is working towards supporting relief programs for California Wild Fires and Hurricane Michael, matching donations of up to $25,000, and has developed the Vodka for Dog Program to help protect dogs and provide them with better living conditions. They are beginning towards the right track of that of their peers!

What we decide to consume on a daily basis has greater ramifications than we perceive. When it comes to alcohol, it is worth the time to take a few minutes and conduct some research! As always, live your values by drinking responsibly and taking care of the environment at the same time! Cheers!

The Green Deal

The Green New Deal.

For the past week, every media pundit has focused on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 70% tax rate. To most, when she floated a 70% marginal tax rate, many were thankful that she only represents one vote in Congress. However, she is bringing attention to the single most important issue — climate change. Without a stable ecosystem, we cannot have a functioning government and nation-states will fight for vital resources. There will be no winners.

“…transition of the United States economy to become greenhouse gas emissions neutral and to significantly draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality.”

Google Document Draft by Ocasio-Cortez’s Team

Ocasio-Cortez and her team have an ambitious plan. That’s a good thing. Society ought to have lawmakers who want to make a difference. That’s why we elect them into office to serve as our voice.

Unfortunately, even if Ocasio-Cortez has the requisite political will for a “Green New Deal”, there are lots of logistical uncertainties that can make a bill dead on arrival. Like everything, there is always an economic trade off. In this particular case, by shifting from a society that uses fossil fuel in tons of products to none, a lot of people will not be able to afford the cost of living adjustments.

Logically, one may ask, who is responsible for taking care of those who will be left behind? Is it the role of the government to subsidize the transition by providing favorable incentives to businesses? Is it the role of individuals in society to help those who have less make the transition?

Traditional Republicans — who favor small government — may not get behind such a monumental shift that requires such a large-scale shift. Remember, the tax reform bill lowered corporate taxation from a top level of 35% to 21% across the board. A Green New Deal would likely mean more government spending.

Traditional Democrats — who favor larger government — ought to get behind legislation that is more expansive than Senator Markey’s 2009 ‘Cap and Trade’ Bill. However, the background noise that unemployment is fairly high is not true. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in December 2018 was a shockingly low 3.9%.

We, at Counter Current, want radical change. We want an environment that is protected. We hope Ocasio-Cortez is able to get actual change accomplished — the same standard we want out of all our law makers — but a lot of the necessary logistical questions remained unanswered.

We need Republicans as much as we need Democrats. There is an existential threat to society that can only be solved through compromise and real solutions. Let’s stop demonizing each other.