Why Germany Should Abandon Coal

On January 31st, Germany’s Coal Commission debuted its recommendations to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2038. The plan, derided by some as "dumb" is hardly that. This plan is not perfect, but it confronts two important challenges: healthcare cost containment and greenhouse gas reduction.

Without equivocation, coal is harmful to society.  Between coal dust inhaled by miners that causes lung cancer to air pollutants released from coal-burning facilities, the economic calculus is clearly negative.  Containing healthcare costs requires a market-based solution and it starts with either capturing the negative consequences of an economic action or prohibitive legislation or both.

For example, Canada has employed a successful revenue-neutral carbon tax since 2008 in British Columbia.  The revenue-neutral carbon tax shifted the taxation burden from ‘desirables’ such as taxing income or sales to ‘undesirables’ such as greenhouse gas emissions.  Further, the policy was shown to have a negligible effect on economic growth and led to a 15% reduction on provincial emissions. Simply put, if Germany does not move forward with the precedent established by Energiewende (Ammendment to the EEG) and the Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz (EEG or German Renewable Energy Act), the society will absorb the cost through increased healthcare taxes or less healthy citizens.  

Germany’s plan to address climate change, a critical threat to the environment, starts with the reduction of fossil fuel emissions.  It is universally well-known that climate change is linked, inextricably, to fossil fuel consumption. Emissions release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, increase carbon dioxide levels, trap heat, and raise temperatures.  

Further, the failure to shift away from an archaic and inefficient energy source is speculated to lead to dire results.  In a U.N. report, higher temperatures are predicted to cause life-threatening heat waves, water shortages, coastal flooding, and mass migration. Germany is well-equipped to rely more in renewable energy resources. In 2018, 40% of Germany’s electricity mix came from renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower. Coal-fired plants release more greenhouse gases per unit of energy than any other energy source, according to Green America, an energy advocacy group whose mission is to harness economic power to create a “socially just and environmentally sustainable society”.

Over the next 20 years, members of the Coal Commission, private sector, and other government officials will be able to curtail dependence on coal.  Chancellor Merkel would be wise to adopt the commission’s recommendations.

This article was co-written by Matthew Minor and Ryan Harden.

Implications of Animal Consumption

The consumption of animal products is globally pervasive.

Whether a cultural cornerstone, a religious requirement, or simply because people like the taste of them, animal products are consumed in disturbingly high amounts worldwide. While the consumption of animal products is a widespread practice, it is important to internalize the stresses being placed on the environment by the animal agriculture industry.

Simply put, animal product consumption is taxing on the environment. Negative implications include large water footprints, significant greenhouse gas emissions, and various other agricultural requirements. To elaborate, in a study of meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans, researchers found the greenhouse gas emissions of individuals adhering to a plant-based diet to be approximately three times less than those of individuals with a ‘high-meat diet’. In this study, the researchers defined a ‘high-meat diet’ as consumption of a minimum of 100 grams of meat per day. In other words, a ‘high-meat diet’ individual that eats a three ounce portion of meat is 85 grams of the way there. Or, another way of thinking about it, a three ounce portion of meat is roughly the same size as a deck of cards. So, as a threshold, this is fairly easy to surpass. Additionally, animal products account for roughly ⅓ of the water footprint of all agriculture worldwide. This is further magnified by the finding that the water footprint per calorie of beef is about 20 times larger than that for cereal and other starchy root vegetables. This analysis using ratios should be more than just thought-provoking for our readers — it’s an excessive and, generally, wasteful practice.

In the European Union, researchers modeled the environmental implications of a transition towards a more plant-based diet. They found that doing so would reduce nitrogen gas emissions by about 40% and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 25 and 40%. While this study simply used theoretical models, their is unequivocal certainty that the reduction in our society’s consumption of animal products would have profoundly positive effects on the environment.

Every action, every choice we make, is attached to an environmental consequence — including eating! Therefore, we should all strive to be aware of the foods we are putting into our body and know that they will not only have an effect on our health, but an effect on the health of our planet. By choosing which foods to consume, we are also choosing to either endorse foods that support the sustainability of the environment or foods that harm the environment. When we purchase more foods that harm the environment, we are sending the signal that we want those foods to be produced in higher quantities and that we support the industries that support those foods. To paraphrase a common saying, we are putting our money where our mouths are when we eat.

Which industries do you want to support? Those that strive for environmental sustainability or those that drain our limited resources and harm our planet?

Crisis Management

Secretary Pompeo wants the State Department to get its swagger back.

While the State may start to swagger again it also needs agility and adaptability to face down three big trends. Chaos, complexity and convergence will have profound implications for the United States and the world order in the mid-21st Century.

First the world may be tipping to chaos. More than 65 million people are displaced; the highest number since World War II. Displaced populations often accelerate local conflicts into broader regional wars. The world is also experiencing a substantial increase in the number of disasters — both natural and political. Right now four concurrent famines place 20 million people at grave risk. The near future may likely be more chaotic than any time since World War II.

A chaotic world coupled with rising nationalism pose a complex threat to liberal post-World War II institutions. The Syrian crisis continues to challenge the nation-state order in the Middle East. Rising powers and the proliferation of non-state actors seek to destabilize political and economic systems. Yet, the United Nations and international financial institutions are in desperate need of reform; these institutions operate on an outdated model which does not align with the challenges of the mid-21st Century. This trend may move international systems from order to uncertainty.

Despite chaos and complexity, technology, public and private finance, as well as rapid advances in power and water are converging forces to change the human experience in frontier markets. Specifically, community access to power and water coupled with agriculture and technology can fundamentally change economic and political development. The convergent world has seen rapid transformation in standards of living, education and health to previously vulnerable populations.

Given chaos, complexity and convergence, America will certainly remain the dominant power in the decades ahead. Yet, as President Trump’s election demonstrates, American voters have little appetite for big civilian attempts to nation build in far off lands. America canassert its interests abroad while not bankrupting its future at home simply by being smarter and more efficient in responding to many of the most complex crises.

First, leverage the private sector to help fix a humanitarian assistance system that is overwhelmed and failing. The United Nations estimates that the humanitarian architecture costs $25 billion — and yet there remains a fundamental need for leadership, adaptive technology, forensic audits, causal impact analysis, and better results. The continued spread of conflict particularly in the Middle East also underscores the requirement for new and creative solutions that bridge the divide between humanitarian relief and much cheaper, more efficient development assistance. It is time to bring start-up culture to the humanitarians.

Second, Senators Corker and Coons are leading a bipartisan effort to reform America food aid to make it far more efficient. Allowing for local purchase of food in a crisis zone, if available, would save millions of lives while lowering costs. There is, however, much more which can be done to improve food aid. For instance, expanding the use of iris scans, mobile payments, RFID chips, electronic vouchers, drone technology and operating systems reform could dramatically improve impact over cost. Additionally, the famine early warning system based on satellite forecasting has directly saved hundreds of thousands of lives but was developed in the 1985 and now currently fails to adequately capture crowdsourced and big data analytics. Collectively, food aid reform — from procurement to distribution — is ripe for disruption change.

Third, encourage private-public partnerships to transform the water, power and agriculture nexus. If Google can map all streets, then it is time to map all water sources in Africa. Water technology, including desalination, efficient use and re-use technology, remains largely untapped in semi-arid environments in the Middle East and Africa. The relationship to water and power with solar, wind or biomass can change fundamental economics for communities. The relationship between water and power is on the tipping point of massive change in many frontier markets.

Finally for high priority crises, the Administration must begin by building expeditionary embassy teams. Think Rumsfeld after 9/11 and his small military units deployed in Afghanistan. The decade ahead will demand something similar in diplomacy — small, professional, resourced, and adaptable teams which can be deployed as interagency crisis responders in theaters where the US military is engaged, where the U.S. partners closely with allies on cross-border crises, or where there is a protracted crisis.

The mid-21st Century is coming. U.S. leadership, resolve and innovation can shape the most complicated challenges ahead to favor American interests — but policy leaders will need to hack the systems that served us since World War II.

This article was originally written by Dave Harden and published on Medium.

Water Footprint

What you eat, can save the environment.

Many vegan promoters on Youtube and elsewhere, advocate that our food choices could help save our environment. Although there is truth to their claim, the other side likes to argue how much water some fruits, vegetables, and nuts take in comparison to other meats and dairy.

Before switching out your beef for almonds blindly, take a minute to truly understand the eco-friendly nature of this transition. Beef requires 1,847 gal/lb. Almonds, on the other hand, take about 1,929 gal/lb. Additionally, chocolate takes a whopping 2,061 gal/lb.

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While many like to point to these facts to justify their meat and dairy consumption, no person honestly would have the same amount of almonds or chocolate as they would beef.

Waverly Harden, Chief Operating Officer of Counter Current

On average, a serving size of beef consists of 0.5 lbs (1,031 gallons of water) whereas a serving size of almonds is 14 grams (58 gallons of water) and chocolate is 25 grams (103 gallons of water). Based on serving size consumption, meat and dairy take about 10 fold the amount of water of fruits and vegetables.

Processed foods require even more water than their raw food counterparts. Meat consumption alone in the United States accounts for 30% of our entire nation’s water footprint. Granted beef is at the highest end of water consumption as are almonds and chocolate for vegan foods. But the proportions do not change much for lower water consuming meat and dairy to raw vegan foods. Thus, substituting to whole, plant-based foods really would help relieve the limited water supply. For those who have already made the switch, refining choices of nuts, oils, and other fruits and vegetables would help reduce our water footprint too.

What we eat has a big impact on our environment. Whether we look at water footprint or the production of greenhouse gases, we need to be conscientious consumers. If you are interested in your personal water footprint calculator, click here!