Jeff Bezos offers absurd and hypocritical reason for his massive space plan

Joe Romm writes:

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos recently announced a wildly ambitious plan to ultimately put up to 1 trillion humans in vast cylindrical space colonies near the Earth.

But while the goal is over-the-top, the justification is both absurd and hypocritical. Bezos argued at length on Thursday in a major presentation at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center that we need such a future to save the Earth “if the world economy and population is to keep expanding.”

Bezos’s core argument is that this never-ending growth will drive an unsustainable doubling of energy use every 25 years that will lead to humanity running out of energy in 200 years. But the Amazon chief has apparently missed recent trends in population and energy efficiency that show the rate of growth of energy use has already slowed. Independent projections suggest Bezos is overestimating energy growth by a factor of three.

Even more important, long before the year 2219, much of the earth will be all but uninhabitable thanks to catastrophic climate change — driven in large part by a monomaniacal pursuit of growth at all costs. [Continue reading…]

U.S. fossil fuel subsidies exceed Pentagon spending, says IMF

Rolling Stone reports:

The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.

The study defines “subsidy” very broadly, as many economists do. It accounts for the “differences between actual consumer fuel prices and how much consumers would pay if prices fully reflected supply costs plus the taxes needed to reflect environmental costs” and other damage, including premature deaths from air pollution. [Continue reading…]

Global wealth gap would be smaller today without climate change, study finds

The New York Times reports:

Climate change creates winners and losers. Norway is among the winners; Nigeria among the losers.

Those are the stark findings of a peer-reviewed paper by two Stanford University professors who have tried to quantify the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions on global inequality. It was published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Global temperatures have risen nearly 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, since the start of the industrial age, and the study was aimed at quantifying what effect that increase has had on national economies and the global wealth gap.

Poor countries lost out, while rich countries, especially those who have racked up a lot of emissions over the last 50 years, the study found, have “benefited from global warming.” [Continue reading…]

Trump’s attacks on the Fed aren’t unique. Central banks worldwide are under attack

Fareed Zakaria writes:

Around the democratic world, there is a power struggle taking place that might end up being the most damaging and long-lasting consequence of this era of populism. Elected leaders — from President Trump to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to India’s Narendra Modi — have been steadily attacking the independence of their nations’ central banks. This could end very badly.

A brief history of modern central banking. As the Economist points out, politicians in the 1970s would routinely use central banks to goose the economy before elections to help them win. This helped create a wave of inflation that paralyzed economies and caused untold misery. The middle class saw its hard-earned savings evaporate within a few years.

As a result, over the past three decades, countries around the world have given central banks much greater independence. The United States was one of the leaders in this regard, with Paul Volcker asserting the Federal Reserve’s independence and breaking the back of the “stagflation” that had crippled the U.S. economy during the 1970s.

Today, it is Trump who is leading the charge in the opposite direction. He is attacking the Federal Reserve and asking it not only to cut rates but also to actually engage in emergency measures to boost the economy — at a time of robust growth and low unemployment. To ensure the Fed complies with his wishes, he plans to nominate two candidates to its board whose main qualification appears to be a slavish devotion to the president. [Continue reading…]

The financial sector must be at the heart of tackling climate change

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, François Villeroy de Galhau, governor of Banque de France, and Frank Elderson, chair of the Network for Greening the Financial System, write:

The catastrophic effects of climate change are already visible around the world. From blistering heatwaves in North America to typhoons in south-east Asia and droughts in Africa and Australia, no country or community is immune. These events damage infrastructure and private property, negatively affect health, decrease productivity and destroy wealth. And they are extremely costly: insured losses have risen five-fold in the past three decades. The enormous human and financial costs of climate change are having a devastating effect on our collective wellbeing.

The impact of climate change has compelled governments to act. Catalysed by the Paris agreement, governments around the world are putting policies in place to limit the global rise in temperatures to 2C, and preferably as close to 1.5C as possible. The actions undertaken by individual countries will deliver a collective transition to a low-carbon economy. But this transition brings its own risks. Carbon emissions have to decline by 45% from 2010 levels over the next decade in order to reach net zero by 2050. This requires a massive reallocation of capital. If some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist.

The prime responsibility for climate policy will continue to sit with governments. And the private sector will determine the success of the adjustment. But as financial policymakers and prudential supervisors, we cannot ignore the obvious risks before our eyes.

That is why 34 central banks and supervisors – representing five continents, half of global greenhouse gas emissions and the supervision of two-thirds of the global systemically important banks and insurers – joined forces in 2017 to create a coalition of the willing: the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS).

On Wednesday, this coalition’s first comprehensive report seeks to translate commitments to act on climate-related financial risks into concrete action. [Continue reading…]

Federal Reserve official: Climate change is an ‘international market failure’

Eric Holthaus writes:

Climate change was already worrying enough — now a report from the U.S. central bank cautions that rising temperatures and extreme storms could eventually trigger a financial collapse.

A Federal Reserve researcher warned in a report on Monday that “climate-based risk could threaten the stability of the financial system as a whole.” But possible fixes — using the Fed’s buying power to green the economy — are currently against the law.

Glenn Rudebusch, the San Francisco Fed’s executive vice president for research, ranks climate change as one of the three “key forces transforming the economy,” along with an aging population and rapid advances in technology. Climate change could soon hit the banking system “by storms, droughts, wildfires, and other extreme events” making it harder for businesses to repay loans.

Rudebusch warns that crops and inundated cities have already started to hurt the economy: “Economists view these losses as the result of a fundamental market failure: carbon fuel prices do not properly account for climate change costs,” he writes. “Businesses and households that produce greenhouse gas emissions, say, by driving cars or generating electricity, do not pay for the losses and damage caused by that pollution.”

A hefty carbon tax alone wouldn’t be enough to fix the problem — what he calls an “intergenerational and international market failure.” [Continue reading…]

‘Reduced consumption is going to have to be a part of the equation’ for climate action, J.P. Morgan executive warns

Bloomberg reports:

The world isn’t cutting carbon emissions anywhere near quickly enough, a senior executive at J.P. Morgan Asset Management told clients this week — and changing that will require far harder choices than most people realize.

In his annual “Energy Outlook” report, Michael Cembalest, chairman of market investment and strategy for the asset management group, wrote that the U.S. needs to reduce its use of carbon much faster — a view he shares with the authors of the Green New Deal, including first-term Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Yet Cembalest says the advocates of that plan have downplayed the difficulty of achieving their goals. The Green New Deal’s objective of reaching zero net greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 2030, he writes, is “not in the realm of the possible.”

“People are not getting the full picture about what’s feasible,” Cembalest said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think more sacrifices are going to be needed than people still understand.” [Continue reading…]

As costs skyrocket, more U.S. cities stop recycling

The New York Times reports:

Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities.

Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States. That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. After that, Thailand and India started to accept more imported scrap, but even they are imposing new restrictions.

The turmoil in the global scrap markets began affecting American communities last year, and the problems have only deepened. [Continue reading…]

Capitalism without competition is not capitalism

Imagine an economic system in which people come first

The Verge reports:

New York congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez believes that people should welcome robots taking their jobs — but not the economic system that can make it financially devastating. During a talk at SXSW, an audience member asked Ocasio-Cortez about the threat of automated labor. “We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work,” she said in response. “We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”

The congresswoman referenced a proposal from Bill Gates, who has discussed a tax on robots that replace human workers. (While she stated that Gates suggested taxing robots at 90 percent, that’s not a number we’ve found in his statements.) Gates isn’t the only person who’s floated a robot tax. French politician Benoît Hamon suggested taxing automated productivity gains and using the money for a universal basic income. More generally, large parts of Silicon Valley support basic incomes as a fix for automated unemployment.

Nobody’s specifically implemented an automation tax so far, though. In 2017, the European Parliament rejected a proposal that would tax robots and use the money to re-train workers, arguing that it would slow innovation. Ocasio-Cortez argued that a “robot tax” might just be a less politically charged way to propose higher taxes on businesses. “What [Gates is] really talking about is taxing corporations,” she said. “But it’s easier to say: ‘tax a robot.’” And while Gates’s vision involves freeing up humans to take other jobs, Ocasio-Cortez downplayed paid work altogether. [Continue reading…]