Monday, August 01, 2022

They really hate our guts

In the U.S., people eat more protein than they need to. And though it might not be bad for human health, this excess does pose a problem for the country’s waterways. The nation’s wastewater is laden with the leftovers from protein digestion: nitrogen compounds that can feed toxic algal blooms and pollute the air and drinking water. This source of nitrogen pollution even rivals that from fertilizers washed off of fields growing food crops, new research suggests.

When we overconsume protein—whether it comes from lentils, supplements or steak—our body breaks the excess down into urea, a nitrogen-containing compound that exits the body via urine and ultimately ends up in sewage. Maya Almaraz, a biogeochemist at the University of California, Davis, and her colleagues wanted to see how much of this nitrogen is being flushed into the U.S. sewage system because of a protein-heavy diet. The researchers combined population data and previous work on how much excess protein the average American eats and found that the majority of nitrogen pollution present in wastewater—some 67 to 100 percent—is a by-product of what people consume. “We think a lot about sewage nitrogen. We know that’s an issue,” Almaraz says. “But I didn’t know how much of that is actually affected by the choices we’re making way upstream—when we go the grocery store, when we cook a meal and what we end up putting in our bodies.”

Once it enters the environment, the nitrogen in urea can trigger a spectrum of ecological impacts known as the “nitrogen cascade.” Under certain chemical conditions, and in the presence of particular microbes, urea can break down to form gases of oxidized nitrogen. These gases reach the atmosphere, where nitrous oxide (N2O) can contribute to warming via the greenhouse effect and nitrogen oxides (NOx) can cause acid rain. Other times, algae and cyanobacteria, photosynthetic bacteria also called blue-green algae, feed on urea directly. The nitrogen helps them grow much faster than they would normally, clogging vital water supplies with blooms that can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, other animals and plants. And when the algae eventually die, the problem is not over. Microorganisms that feast on dead algae use up oxygen in the water, leading to “dead zones,” where many aquatic species simply cannot survive, in rivers, lakes and oceans. Blooms from Puget Sound to Tampa, Fla., have caused large fish die-offs.

Although it is possible to treat algal blooms, many of the current methods—such as spraying clay particles or chemicals over the surface of a bloom to kill and sink the algae—are not always effective at eliminating all of the harmful growth. Some of these methods can even lead to additional pollution. So the best strategy for dealing with the effects of nitrogen pollution is prevention, says Patricia Glibert, an oceanographer at the University of Maryland, who was not involved with the new study.

One option for preventing nitrogen from getting into the environment is improving wastewater treatment plants. The technology exists to remove 90 percent of nitrogen from wastewater, but only 1 percent of all U.S. sewage is currently treated this way, partly because the technology is so expensive. Equipping plants in China to remove nitrogen from three quarters of the country’s urban sewage cost more than $20 billion. Almaraz and her team suggest, however, that curbing nitrogen pollution could be approached more quickly with a change in eating habits that could save billions of dollars in the long term.

Their new study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, broke down protein requirements by age (adults 50 to 70 years old need the most) for the current U.S. population and projected future populations out to 2055. By midcentury, the country’s population is expected to be larger overall and to have a greater percentage of older people. The researchers calculated the amount of nitrogen that would enter the environment if people ate today’s average American diet and if they instead reduced their protein intake to only what is nutritionally needed. This shift in diet alone could reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching aquatic ecosystems by 12 percent today and by nearly 30 percent in the future, according to the study’s results. Such a change could also help reduce damaging nitrogen pollution while wastewater infrastructure catches up.

“Many people think that we need to all switch to becoming vegetarians. Obviously, that’s not practical. That’s not something that is really ever going to happen,” Glibert says. Rather than cutting out any foods entirely, she suggests consumers could switch to a “demitarian” diet—an approach that focuses on reducing the consumption of meat and dairy, which currently make up about two thirds of the protein eaten in the U.S. “Enjoy your steak, enjoy your burger but go modest on your meat consumption in your following meal,” she says.

“One cool area that opens up here is how human behavior can influence our environment,” Almaraz says. “I think it can be really empowering to people to understand that, ‘hey, my choices—once those add up with other people making similar choices—can actually have a positive impact.’”


Inflation Reduction Act—or Radical Green New Deal?

Make no mistake, the so-called Inflation Reduction Act unveiled Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will do nothing that its supporters state—in fact, it will do quite the opposite.

If passed, the act will increase the prices that Americans pay for energy, make the United States less energy secure, and do absolutely nothing for the environment. Perhaps more insidious, it will hurt Americans who live in coal-rich states, like Manchin’s West Virginia, the most.

Focusing on just the energy and climate section of the act, the top-line numbers are staggering. Like Oprah Winfrey handing out gifts to her studio audience, the act would use $369 billion in taxpayer funding to dole out favors to every special interest in Washington, D.C.

Renewables—you get $30 billion!

Utilities—you get $30 billion!

Doors and windows—you get 10 years of subsidies!

Transportation—you get tens of billions of dollars!

The list goes on for hundreds of pages and details a combination of tax credits, subsidies, and regulations for the energy choices preferred by the D.C. elite, such as wind and solar, while increasing the costs to access more reliable, more abundant energy sources like gas and oil on federal lands.

The entire bill is predicated on misperceptions (or misrepresentations) about energy markets. Not only does the act’s energy section commence with the extension of energy tax credits for technologies that we are continuously told are already competitive, but it also dictates a series of new labor and wage regulations. This is odd given how many times President Joe Biden tells us about the good-paying jobs his environmental agenda will create.

Both can’t be true. Either renewable energy is competitive and creates good, high-wage jobs—in which case the act is unnecessary—or we are being lied to, and the act is simply a cynical effort to line the pockets of special interests, empower Washington bureaucrats, and disempower American individuals and businesses in the name of advancing a leftist agenda.

All of this leads to less energy security, and here is why:

American energy consumers, i.e., families and businesses, value affordability and reliability in their energy choices. In a system of free enterprise, America’s energy companies compete for that business and put a premium on what consumers want. The result is America’s current system of energy production that, when allowed to operate with minimal government interference, powers the American economy with the affordable and reliable energy we all want.

The American free enterprise system will also yield the sorts of technological advances that Biden and his fellow Green New Dealers say they want. That’s because as Americans’ preferences shift, the market will respond with firms offering new products to meet that demand.

And while that new solar panel or electric vehicle might be more expensive at first, competitive pressures will force manufactures to develop new business practices and innovations to bring prices down. The result is more energy choices, lower energy prices, and a strong, more secure energy economy.

But the Inflation Reduction Act replaces this proven system with the historically disproven approach that empowers politicians and bureaucrats to attempt to control the economy through legislative fiat and financial bribery.

The problem is not just wasted taxpayer dollars but how these policies distort long-term investment decisions.

Huge government subsidies directed to certain industries make those industries attractive investments, and private investment starts flowing to things government wants rather than toward what Americans value.

This starves proven energy sources and promising new ones of new investment while bankrolling energy sources and products that consumers would otherwise not want.

Over time, the market shifts from offering competitive products independently to offering costly and less reliable products that rely on taxpayer support.

This is not just theory. Despite decades of subsidies and government-sponsored publicity, wind and solar remain dependent on taxpayer support and government mandates.

Or consider the petroleum refining industry, which has lost significant production capacity in recent years. This isn’t because Americans no longer value affordable gasoline but because political leaders like Biden have mandated that refiners blend in ethanol and have stated repeatedly a desire to end the gas and oil industry.

Americans are now less secure because these policies are undermining the refining industry’s incentive to expand current capacity as well as invest in future capacity, which leaves America’s energy infrastructure unable to keep up with demand. The result is higher prices at the pump. The Schumer-Manchin-Biden act would make the situation worse with its massive biofuel subsidies.

According a summary of the act distributed by Senate Democrats, the bill would “reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030.” My Heritage Foundation colleagues recently produced a study that looked at an eerily similar policy.

Using a clone of the model used by Biden’s Energy Information Administration, they analyzed the impact of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 44% by 2030, and the results are staggering.

In summary, they found that such carbon dioxide reductions would cause annual average job losses of 1.2 million with peak annual job losses reaching 7.8 million. Add to that $7.7 trillion in lost economic growth. That’s an income loss of $87,000 per family of four—and an average increase in household electricity expenses of 23%.

Because the target of the Schumer-Manchin-Biden approach is carbon dioxide and coal, the negative impact would be exacerbated in states that rely heavily on consuming, extracting, or refining conventional fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal.

Consider West Virginia, which is not only the nation’s second-leading producer of coal but also gets 88% of its electricity from coal. It’s not hyperbolic to predict that the Schumer-Manchin-Biden plan would be devastating for the state.

Some might argue that the massive economic costs are worth it if we “save the planet.” But here is the thing: The planet is not in environmental peril. Even the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change downgraded its most extreme climate projections to a low likelihood in its most recent assessment.

Real-life numbers back this up with the death toll from climate-related disasters decreasing 96% over the past century. And even if that weren’t the case, this bill would do nothing to help.

In fact, eliminating all conventional fuel-based carbon dioxide emissions would have virtually no impact on global temperatures, even taking the assumptions of global-warming alarmists at face value (which we absolutely should not). Indeed, my Heritage colleague, Kevin Dayaratna, used the climate model developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research to demonstrate this fact.

Every American should be very clear on what the so-called Inflation Reduction Act will and will not do. It will line the pockets of special interests, it will advance a radical leftist agenda, and it will make Americans poorer and give them fewer energy choices. And it won’t live up to its promises: It will not have any impact on the climate and it will not make Americans more energy secure.


Why we can’t afford the rich world’s fossil fuel hypocrisy

The rich world’s fossil fuel hypocrisy is on full display in its response to the global energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While the wealthy G7 countries admonish the world’s poor to use only renewables because of climate concerns, Europe and the US are going begging to Arab nations to expand oil production. Germany is reopening coal power plants while Spain and Italy are ramping up African gas production. So many European countries have asked Botswana to mine more coal that the country will have to triple its exports.

A single person in the rich world uses more fossil fuel energy than all the energy available to 23 poor Africans. The rich world became wealthy by massively exploiting fossil fuels, which today provides more than three-quarters of its energy. Solar and wind deliver less than 3 per cent of the rich world’s energy.

Yet the rich are choking off funding for any new fossil fuels in the developing world. Most of the world’s poorest four billion people have no meaningful energy access, so the rich blithely tell them to “leapfrog” from no energy to a green nirvana of solar panels and wind turbines.

This promised nirvana is a sham consisting of wishful thinking and green marketing. The world’s rich would never accept off-grid, renewable energy themselves – nor should the poor. Consider the experience of Dharnai, a village which Greenpeace tried to turn into India’s first solar-powered community in 2014.

Greenpeace received glowing, global media attention when it declared that Dharnai would refuse “to give in to the trap of the fossil fuel industry”. But the day the solar electricity was turned on, the batteries were drained within hours. A boy remembers wanting to do his homework, but there wasn’t enough power for his family’s one lamp.

Villagers were prohibited from using fridges or TVs because they would exhaust the system. They couldn’t use electric cookstoves, so they had to continue burning wood and dung, which create terrible air pollution. Across the developing world, millions die from indoor pollution that the World Health Organisation says is equivalent to each person smoking two packs of cigarettes every day.

Greenpeace invited the state’s chief minister to admire their handiwork. He was met by a crowd waving signs demanding “real electricity” (the kind you can use to run a refrigerator or a stove, and that your children can use to do their homework) and not “fake electricity” (meaning solar energy that could do none of these things).

When Dharnai was finally connected to the power grid, more and more people dropped their solar connections. An academic study found a big reason was that the overwhelmingly coal-powered grid electricity was three times cheaper than the solar energy. What’s more, it could actually power appliances people wanted such as TVs and stoves. Today, the disused solar power system is covered in thick dust and the project site is a cattle shed.

To be sure, solar energy can charge a cell phone and run a light, which can be useful – but it is often expensive. A new study on solar lamps in India’s most populous state shows that even with hefty subsidies, solar lamps are worth much less than their cost for most people. In rich countries such as Germany and Spain, most solar and wind would never have been installed if not for subsidies.

Solar and wind are incapable of delivering the power needed for industrialisation, powering water pumps, tractors and machines – all the ingredients needed to lift people out of poverty. As rich countries are now also discovering, solar and wind energy remain fundamentally unreliable. No sun or wind means no power. Battery technology offers no answers: globally, there are only enough batteries to power global average electricity consumption for one minute and 15 seconds. Even by 2030, with a projected rapid battery scaleup, they would last less than 12 minutes. For context, every German winter, when solar is at its minimum, there is near-zero wind energy available for at least five days, or more than 7000 minutes.

This is why the rich world is on track to continue to mostly rely on fossil fuels for decades. The International Energy Agency estimates that even if all current climate promises are delivered, fossil fuels will still constitute two-thirds of the rich world’s energy in 2050.

The developing world sees the hypocrisy, as elegantly formulated by Nigerian Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo: “No one in the world has been able to industrialise using renewable energy”, yet Africa has “been asked to industrialise using renewable energy when everybody else in the world knows that we need gas-powered industries for business”.

Instead of immorally blocking the path for other countries to develop, rich countries need to invest substantially in the innovation needed to ensure that green energy costs drop below fossil fuels. This way, everyone in the world will be able to afford to switch to renewable alternatives. Insisting that the world’s poor live without fossil fuels is virtue signalling that plays with other people’s lives.


New climate agreement

Just a week ago it was generally believed that the chances of the United States passing its crucial climate bill were dead, sunk by a Republican Party that does not care and a Democratic senator with a deciding vote who had walked away from negotiations, the West Virginian coal man Joe Manchin.

Then, on Wednesday Australian time, came the shock announcement that Manchin and the Democratic majority leader in the senate, Chuck Schumer, had come to an agreement in negotiations everyone believed had long since failed.

The bill that had once been named the Build Back Better, had been shrunk and rebranded as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

But even in its new form, the IRA would be the single largest emissions’ reduction action ever taken by US congress.

In analysis from the research firm The Rhodium Group, it’s estimated the bill will cut US emissions to 31-44 per cent below 2005 levels in 2030, compared to 24-35 per cent under current policy.

“I am pleased to report that this will be, by far, the biggest climate action in human history,” said one of senate’s climate champions, Brian Schatz of Hawaii.

In simple terms, the climate elements of the bill work by pumping US$370 billion in public funding into climate and energy programs. It includes subsidies to help Americans dump the use of gas in the home and adopt electric vehicles.

Crucially for Manchin, the bill is likely to have a deflationary impact. It does this by pulling more money out of the economy than it injects, by hiking some company taxes and improving public spending on drugs; and by increasing the availability of clean energy.

Critics say that despite its vast scope the bill requires far too little climate action, done far too late. This is true, as it is of all advanced economy climate efforts. And they condemn it for the inclusion of a requirement for the government to hold lease sales for oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

Either way, the deal should be celebrated, and the world should hope that it survives a vote with the support of another crucial Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema, who has declared she may seek changes.




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