Thursday, March 30, 2017

Coal and Other Countries

People are up in arms about Donald Trump's latest executive order concerning pollution.  It is indeed a very depressing move.

It should be kept in mind, however, that Trump is reversing not some long-ago implemented set of standards but rather a plan that never went into effect in the first place and was introduced late in Obama's tenure, the Clean Power Plan.

Why did Barack Obama wait until June 2014 to first propose the Clean Power Plan, as opposed to, say, late January 2009, when the Democrats had narrow control of the Senate and substantial control of the House, and President Obama's approval rating stood at near 70%?  That's a question I'll leave historians and centrist Democrat apologists to answer I suppose.  The point is: Donald Trump's executive order is reprehensible, but it doesn't tear down a long-standing institution.  (His proposed budget for the EPA is a far more egregious attack than his executive order, seen in this light.)

It would have been nice to have that Clean Power Plan, I gotta say.  It would have gone part of the way to meeting the aims of the Paris agreement on global climate change, which itself would have gone part of the way to making sure we don't all die of starvation.  

Global climate change is nice for now for those folks who won't have to shovel as much snow out of their driveways in the winter. It won't be as nice for those same folks when groceries start disappearing from the shelves and meat, in particular, becomes a luxury item.

Why is Donald Trump rolling back the Clean Power Plan?  Does he actually think this will help save the hapless coal miner?  Because it won't.  Look at the historic trend:

(Incidentally I couldn't find this nice graphic online!  Had to take a snapshot with my phone.  Pardon the lack of a crisp image. Send one to me if you have one.)

There are more than four times as many jobs created every month as there are people total working in coal mining.  One month of job growth also eclipses all those currently employed in oil and gas extraction.  From the point of view of "saving jobs," saving the decrepit coal-mining industry means nothing.  It means diddly squat.

(If you'd like to read my proposal to eliminate the coal industry entirely while paying coal miners their current full wages to simply not mine coal at the minimal cost of around $13/year, it's contained in this post, and is not a long read.  In fact, given these new BLS numbers, there are fewer coal-industry employees than I had previously projected - so a plan to pay them their full wages for life to just not destroy our clean air or water any further will be even cheaper than I thought!)

With the GOP and Trump administration in full-on sell-out mode under the cover of "save the coal miner" (whatever happened to "drill, baby, drill"?) it falls to other countries to pull our collective fat out of the fire.

Trump voters like a strong leader.  It is clear from the first few months of his administration that Donald Trump plays a strong leader on television but isn't actually capable of leading with strength.  The Chinese, by contrast, actually have a strong leader.  And he's decided to put his heft into cutting down on pollution.  Publicly, at least, he's committed China to being the world's anti-pollution leader, which makes sense, because not too long ago China overtook the United States as the world's leading polluter.  With Donald Trump taking his toys and going home, those of us with children or hoping to have children should keep our fingers crossed that Xi Jiping means business.

This Fortune article makes clear that China has actually made some substantial progress curbing pollution and is ahead of its own goals.  Regardless, look at how dependent China is on coal:

Now look at the United States:

It would be much, much easier for the United States to kick coal to the curb than it would be for China to do so.  Not only does China rely on coal to a much larger extent for its power, it relies on coal to a much larger extent for its employment than we do.  It has a "rust belt problem," just like we do:

"The unexpected economic slowdown and the prolonged global recession has been a new challenge. It is complicating efforts to convince people to put in costly pollution equipment and to think about energy-saving technologies.  Emphases added mine:

"China is officially growing at about 7%, but that hides quite a big range of experience. In some places - in the 'rust belts' - growth has really decelerated, perhaps even to 2%. 

"The priority obviously then is to prevent layoffs and factory shutdowns. They have to worry about social stability if there is high unemployment.

"The issue really is spending a bigger part of the government's budget on pollution control equipment. Governments today are rich enough that this is no longer such a very big issue. We are not talking about building houses versus building pollution control equipment. This is no longer the stark choice facing China today." (Mun Ho, economist at the Harvard University China project, quoted by the BBC)

Who else might do the job America, like a spoiled child that won't eat its vegetables, refuses to do?  Who else but the "surrender monkeys" themselves, the French!

France is pouring billions into fusion research, specifically, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).  Skeptics might say it's wasted money, it may amount to nothing.  But if fusion power is developed, it could be a source of totally clean power for mankind FOREVER.  

The total estimated cost of ITER is around $22 billion.  Let's say that's all wasted money, that fusion power just doesn't work out.  Well, that's about the cost of the Trump administrator's proposed wall on the Mexican border that won't actually prevent any immigrants who are determined to get into the United States for doing so.  As far as wastes of money go, ITER has a lot more upside.

The United States' stake in ITER is around $4 billion, over the course of ITER's total development, i.e., an indeterminate period of time, but many years, guaranteed.  I'm going to suggest that number should be closer to $400 billion.  Because I repeat: if fusion power is successfully developed, it means limitless clean power for mankind FOREVER.

More to come on this topic soon, of course.  For now, let me just say I hope the Middle Kingdom overcomes the odds, and as always: vive la France.

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