Tags: collapse*

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  1. 3D printing is a rising threat for world trade. According to a new ING report, world trade will be 23% lower in 2060 if the growth of investments in 3D printers continues at the current pace. If investments accelerate domestically printed goods could already wipe out 40% of world imports in 2040.
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  2. Earlier studies on this issue, Brandt points out, have highlighted the risk of a “net energy cliff”, which refers to how “declining EROI results in rapid increases in the fraction of energy dedicated to simply supporting the energy system.”

    Axiom: So the more EROI declines, a greater proportion of the energy being produced must be used simply to extract more energy. This means that EROI decline leads to less real-world economic growth.

    It also creates a complicated situation for oil prices. While at first, declining EROI can be expected to lead to higher prices reflecting higher production costs, the relationship between EROI and prices begins to breakdown as EROI becomes smaller.

    This could be because, under a significantly reduced EROI, consumers in a less prosperous economy can no longer afford, energetically or economically, the cost of producing more energy — thus triggering a dramatic drop in market prices, despite higher costs of production. At this point, in the new era of shrinking EROI, swinging oil prices become less and less indicative of ‘scarcity’ in supply and demand.

    Brandt’s new economic model looks at how EROI impacts four key sectors — food, energy, materials and labor. Exploring what a decline in net energy would therefore mean for these sectors, he concludes:

    “The reduction in the fraction of a resource free and the energy system productivity extends from the energy system to all aspects of the economy, which gives an indication of the mechanisms by which energy productivity declines would affect general prosperity.

    A clear implication of this work is that decreases in energy resource productivity, modeled here as the requirement for more materials, labor, and energy, can have a significant effect on the flows required to support all sectors of the economy. Such declines can reduce the effective discretionary output from the economy by consuming a larger and larger fraction of gross output for the meeting of inter-industry requirements.”
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  3. There is this funny story about the “Cobra Effect” based on an anecdote from British colonial time in Delhi.

    Apparently, the officials of the British government were terrified by a large number of venomous cobra snakes in the city. To solve the problem, someone came up with a brilliant idea of an exchange offer to the people of Delhi. Money for dead cobras.

    Guess what happened next? Soon, the enterprising Delhiites were breeding cobras. When the government found out, they scrapped the bounty scheme, whereupon the cobra breeders set the snakes free. And the cobra population went up, not down.

    A similar incident occurred in Hanoi under the French colonial rule. There were too many rats, so the rulers introduced a bounty scheme for, of all things, rat tails. Pretty soon, Hanoi was full of tail-less rats running around. The bounty hunters never killed them. Instead, they just severed their tails, released them back into the sewers, so that they could continue to procreate and make more rats, which of course, increased the rat catchers’ income.

    Why did both situations backfire? Because well-intentioned people who created the bounty schemes didn’t think about second order effects. They didn’t pause, reflect and ask how people will respond to their brilliant-sounding idea.

    Thinking about first-order effects is easy. Thinking about second or higher order effects is hard.

    It’s fascinating to observe how this problem keeps on repeating over and over again. One variant is called “you get what you measure.” For instance, if hospitals are asked to publish their mortality rate, the ones with the highest mortality rates are incentivised to turn away terminally ill patients.

    If someone is paid on a cost-plus basis (e.g. for generating electricity), you can be confident that there will be plenty of gaming in the form of cost padding.
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  4. The largest uncertainties and limitations of our analysis stem from the assumed values for impacts per unit electric energy produced. However, we emphasize that our results for both prevented mortality and prevented GHG emissions could be substantial underestimates. This is because (among other reasons) our mortality and emission factors are based on analysis of Europe and the US (respectively), and thus neglect the fact that fatal air pollution and GHG emissions from power plants in developing countries are on average substantially higher per unit energy produced than in developed countries.

    Our findings also have important implications for large-scale "fuel switching" to natural gas from coal or from nuclear. Although natural gas burning emits less fatal pollutants and GHGs than coal burning, it is far deadlier than nuclear power, causing about 40 times more deaths per unit electric energy produced (ref. 2).

    Also, such fuel switching is practically guaranteed to worsen the climate problem for several reasons. First, carbon capture and storage is an immature technology and is therefore unlikely to constrain the resulting GHG emissions in the necessary time frame. Second, electricity infrastructure generally has a long lifetime (e.g., fossil fuel power plants typically operate for up to ~50 years). Third, potentially usable natural gas resources (especially unconventional ones like shale gas) are enormous, containing many hundreds to thousands of gigatonnes of carbon (based on ref. 6). For perspective, the atmosphere currently contains ~830 GtC, of which ~200 GtC are from industrial-era fossil fuel burning.

    We conclude that nuclear energy — despite posing several challenges, as do all energy sources (ref. 7) — needs to be retained and significantly expanded in order to avoid or minimize the devastating impacts of unabated climate change and air pollution caused by fossil fuel burning.
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  5. Barry Saxifrage, National Observer, Sep 21 2017 - 12:00

    I read lots of articles these days pointing to the rapid expansion of renewable energy as a reason to be hopeful about our unfolding climate crisis. Unfortunately, the climate doesn't care how many solar panels and wind farms we build.

    What determines our climate fate is how much climate-polluting fossil fuels we decide to burn. Renewables are great but only if they actually replace oil, gas, or coal. Sadly, rising renewables haven't stopped our fossil fuel burn, or our atmosphere's CO2 from continuing to rise. Instead, the new business-as-usual is one in which we keep expanding both renewables and fossil fuels at the same time.

    The best available science says we need climate pollution "reductions of 90 per cent or more between 2040 and 2070." (see International Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment report.)

    But the latest energy data clearly shows we aren't reducing fossil fuel burn. Just the opposite. We keep cranking the tap open wider every year. In a recent article, I dug into the latest "BP Statistical Review of World Energy" to illustrate the climate-sobering fossil fuel side of this story:

    Fossil fuel use continues to rise every year
    Fossil fuels continue to supply at least 85 per cent of global energy use
    Oil and gas are expanding more than other energy sources

    After reading that article, Canadian energy expert Dave Hughes pointed me to the equally sobering renewable energy side of the story. Here it is.
    Demand growth swamps renewables

    Hughes notes that while renewable energy is growing, global energy demand is rising much more.
    Global energy demand vs renewables

    To illustrate, I created this new chart on the right from the BP data.

    The orange line shows the increase in global energy demand since 2009.

    Compare all that new demand to the top green line showing the increase in renewable energy. As you can see, renewables expanded only enough to cover about a quarter of new demand.

    In fact, all the expansion of renewables over the last seven years isn't enough to cover even the single-year demand surge of 2010. Sure that was a big year for demand as the world emerged from a global recession. But those last seven years have also been the all-time biggest years ever for renewable energy.

    The situation looks even worse if you don't like the idea of relying on expanding hydropower dams. That's because hydropower expanded more than any other renewable over those years. The lower green line shows the increase from all the non-hydro renewables: wind, solar, biofuels and biomass.

    So, any guesses what filled that huge gap between renewables and demand? Yep.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-09-25)
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  6. Practically, since time immemorial, cities have been the hubs of social innovation because their high population density and diversity provide the friction that impels creativity and experimentation.

    The new demographic findings make clear that proponents of a more solidaristic economy will need to shift their gaze from relatively familiar urban contexts to the suburbs that sprawl out into metropolitan hinterlands. This will not be a trivial exercise and scaling out vestiges of the new economy beyond urban neighborhoods will surely be challenging. The large property parcels and privatized spaces that characterize most suburbs will be difficult obstacles to overcome. The lack of public transportation imposes multifold complications.

    However, other suburban features may offer interesting opportunities. The outsized proportions of homes in many outlying communities, coupled with the inordinate costs associated with their upkeep, suggests that these residences could be architecturally reorganized as multi-family dwellings (not unlike how expansive and opulent urban townhouses of the nineteenth century came to be subdivided for more modest apartment-style living). Indeed, there are already documented cases of this process taking hold in some locales. Another latent resource may be the large number of vacant shopping malls that are becoming ubiquitous features of the suburban landscape (for a discerning glimpse see the website deadmalls.com). Reminiscent of the conversion of industrial lofts during an earlier era, these disused facilities offer the prospect of inexpensive space amenable to repurposing for new uses.

    To be sure, this will be a difficult lift, but to turn our back on the suburbs is to ignore the fact that a majority of Americans live in these communities (an estimated 53 percent of the total population and now once again increasing). To be sure, few were built with equity and sustainability as cornerstones of their design plans (and in many cases such considerations were actively resisted), but to airbrush them away is to tacitly — and improbably — suggest that only urbane centers are ready to participate in the new economy.
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  7. determining when radical physical changes in the Earth system happened provides a basis for determining which human activities were responsible, and thus what measures humans might take to prevent the change from reaching catastrophic proportions. In this article I offer an overview of the issues and stakes in the “when it happened” debate.

    in fact, a dozen or more proposals for dating the Anthropocene have been made to the AWG. While they differ substantially from each other, the starting dates under serious consideration fall into two broad groups that can be labelled Early and Recent, depending on whether the proposed starting date is in the distant past, or relatively close to the present.
    An Early Anthropocene?

    The first Early Anthropocene proposal was advanced by U.S. geologist William Ruddiman, who argues that the Anthropocene started when humans began large-scale agriculture in various parts of the world between eight and five thousand years ago. Those activities, he believes, produced carbon dioxide and methane emissions that raised global temperatures just enough to prevent a return to an Ice Age.9

    Other Early Anthropocene arguments suggest dating the Anthropocene from the first large-scale landscape modifications by humans, from the extinction of many large mammals in the late Pleistocene, from the formation of anthropogenic soils in Europe, or from the European invasions of the Americas in the 1500s. Some archeologists propose to extend the beginning of the Anthropocene back to the earliest surviving traces of human activity, which would take in much of the Pleistocene, and others have suggested that the entire Holocene should simply be renamed Anthropocene, since it is the period when settled human civilizations first developed.

    This outpouring of proposals reflects humanity’s long and complex relationships with the earth’s ecosystems—many of the proposed beginnings are significant turning points in those relationships, and deserve careful study. But the current discussion is not just about human impact: “the Anthropocene is not defined by the broadening impact of humans on the environment, but by active human interference in the processes that govern the geological evolution of the planet.”10 None of the Early Anthropocene options meet that standard, and none of them led to a qualitative break with Holocene conditions.

    Even if Ruddiman’s controversial claim that the agriculture revolution caused some global warming is correct, that would only mean that human activity had extended Holocene conditions. The recent shift out of Holocene conditions, to a no-analogue state, would still need to be evaluated and understood. Noted climatologist James Hansen and his colleagues make this argument clearly in a recent paper:

    Even if the Anthropocene began millennia ago, a fundamentally different phase, a Hyper-Anthropocene, was initiated by explosive 20th century growth of fossil fuel use. Human-made climate forcings now overwhelm natural forcings. CO2, at 400 ppm in 2015, is off the scale … Most of the forcing growth occurred in the past several decades, and two-thirds of the 0.9 C global warming (since 1850) has occurred since 1975.”11

    The Early Anthropocene has been promoted by anti-environmental lobbyists associated with the Breakthrough Institute, because it supports their claim that there has been no recent qualitative change and thus there is no need for a radical response. In their view, today’s environmental crises “represent an acceleration of trends going back hundreds and even thousands of years earlier, not the starting point of a new epoch.

    Moving in exactly the opposite direction, the IGBP’s 2004 book Global Change and the Earth System included several pages of graphs showing historical trends in human activity (GDP growth, population, energy consumption, water use, etc.) and physical changes in the Earth system (atmospheric carbon dioxide, ozone depletion, species extinctions, loss of forests, etc.) from 1750 to 2000. Every trend line showed gradual growth from 1750 and a sharp upturn in about 1950. The authors said that “the last 50 years have without doubt seen the most rapid transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in the history of the species,” but did not explicitly connect that to dating the Anthropocene.14

    In 2005, Will Steffen, principal author of that book, together with Crutzen and environmental historian John McNeill and others, coined the term Great Acceleration for the dramatic social-environmental changes after 1950. The name was a deliberate homage to The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi’s influential book on the social, economic, and political upheavals that accompanied the rise of market society in England.15

    In 2007, in a journal article provocatively titled “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?,” Steffen, Crutzen, and McNeill republished the Great Acceleration graphs, and suggested that the second half of the twentieth century should be viewed as Stage 2 of the Anthropocene. Updated versions of the 2004 Great Acceleration graphs were prepared this year by the IGBP. As in the original graphs all the trend lines show hockey stick-shaped trajectories.
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  8. il calo delle nascite va avanti dal 2008, anno in cui sono nati 9,8 bambini ogni mille abitanti contro i 7,8 del 2016. Anche i decessi sono calati, dopo il picco del 2015, a 32mila unità, in linea con i trend degli anni precedenti che, appunto, confermano la longevità crescente degli italiani. Che cosa ne deriva? Un movimento naturale della popolazione che segna un altro saldo (nati meno morti) negativo per quasi 142mila unità. E se il saldo naturale è positivo per i cittadini stranieri (quasi 63mila unità), per i residenti italiani il deficit è molto ampio e pari a 204.675 unità. La popolazione si restringe: 60.589.445 persone residenti, di cui più di 5 milioni di cittadinanza straniera, pari all'8,3% dei residenti a livello nazionale (10,6% al Centro-nord, 4,0% nel Mezzogiorno). Rispetto al 2015 il calo è di 76.106 unità, determinato dalla flessione della popolazione di cittadinanza italiana (96.976 residenti in meno) mentre la popolazione straniera aumenta di 20.870 unità.

    Le proiezioni
    Sulla base di questi dati trovano conferma le proiezioni sulla popolazione in età da lavoro: nel 2040 sarebbe pari al 56,9% del totale della popolazione mentre nel 2015 era pari al 64,5%. Vuol dire che tra poco più di vent'anni forze lavoro minori dovranno pagare le pensioni a grandi coorti di baby boomers: gli over 64enni saranno oltre il 31% del totale contro il 27,7% del 2015. Chi si preoccupa del fatto che la tecnologia o i lavoratori senior rubano posti ai giovani si faccia due conti. Se per comporre un quadro di finanza pubblica compatibile con la crescita e capace di garantire il calo del debito il “sentiero è stretto”, l'ipotesi di frenare il declino demografico diventa un esercizio pressoché impossibile. Per lo meno nel breve termine.
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  9. f there is any indication of the cultural import and effect of the “millennials” – a term I dislike for reasons I will explain later – look no further than America’s malls. The Baby Boomer hubris and NIMBYism that sent malls into further and further orbits from city centers has come home to roost and it promises to change the face of retail in a big way.

    First, some statistics. I point to Columbus, Ohio because it’s where I’m from and I have plenty of data points. First, Sears is pulling out of two of Columbus’ once-mighty malls, Eastland and Westland. These “directional malls,” built between 1964 and 1969, were once the jewels of the city. Far enough from downtown commerce they let suburbanites stock up at any of their many anchor stores – J.C.Penney, Sears, K-Mart – and then eat at a fast casual spot like Red Lobster and, later, Outback. This self-contained world further became the locus for youth culture in the suburbs – a place to hang out that wasn’t outside – and, ultimately, became a symbol of a failed way of life.

    These mall suburbs are now magnets for the poor. Two forces are at work here. First, young people are moving back into the city center resulting in a rise in housing prices and the closure of many rent-stabilized buildings in the once-moribund Downtown area. Further, subsidized housing has ground in districts around – you guessed it – the old malls.

    From the Dispatch:

    Seven of the 16 ZIP codes within Columbus’ pre-1950 boundaries have lost subsidized households since 1994, according to housing authority data. Meanwhile, 33 of the remaining 35 ZIP codes in Franklin County have gained households using rent vouchers. That includes large gains in the three ZIP codes near Westland Mall (43228), the old Northland Mall site (43229) and Eastland Mall (43232).

    And don’t think fast food is safe. The old slop is rapidly aging, as Bob Dylan once wrote. To wit: the CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings – a chain that started in Columbus, Ohio as Buffalo Wings & Weck (BW3) and, in my gastronomic opinion, has since gone far downhill – said that lack of interest in casual dining joints like BWW and Applebee’s is slowly forcing a further contraction.

    “Casual-dining restaurants face a uniquely challenging market today,” current CEO Sally Smith wrote in a letter to shareholders. “Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants. Mall traffic has slowed. And, surprisingly, television viewership of sporting events (important for us, especially) is down.”

    In short, the rate of store closures is expected to double in 2017, a worrying trend for those who want cheap, bad food in a sterile, marble-clad environment prominently featuring plastic trees.

    Smith blames millennials. I blame Smith. As has been pointed out many times – most recently in Generation of Sociopaths that the demographics, the policies, and the preferences of the Baby Boomers rode a wave of absolute financial success from the nadir of World War II into the golden 1960s. The habits laid down in those years – the desire for cheap, fast food, the screen as babysitter, the penchant to trade the nameless (but often racist) anxiety of the city for a suburban lawn – defined the rise of fast commerce and will define its fall.

    In short, technology has made us not want to go to the mall by bringing everything – from food to clothing to toilet paper – to our homes. But what comes next? Our species will never survive if it sits on the couch all day eating take-out from Seamless, streaming Netflix, and ordering from Amazon. Small town Main Streets have already been gutted by malls and there is little hope that Old Man Jenkins’ Five and Dime is opening back up. So what comes next?
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  10. Millennials are threatening dozens of industries.

    They don't buy napkins. They won't play golf. They aren't buying homes or cars. And they're not even eating at Buffalo Wild Wings.

    Millennials' financial decisions have been heavily covered by media organizations — something that has infuriated many of the generation, as news that "millennials are killing" another industry has become a common headline.

    "This is just some more millennial-blaming B.S.," one reader wrote in response to a recent Business Insider article with the headline "Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee's."
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