Green Growth 50: Learning From Companies Boosting Profits While Cutting Emissions

More companies are investing in renewable energy to power their operations and offset their carbon emissions...Getty Images

EBay at its very core pioneered the circular economy — of finding new homes for treasures that might otherwise have ended up at the dump. “Avoiding items going into a landfill is very important to our customers,” says Steve Priest, CFO of eBay. “Driving the circular economy is part of everything we do.” But finding new shelves for Beanie Babies is just a small component in eBay’s sustainability efforts, which prioritize slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

In eBay’s case, these are mostly tied to electricity used to power vast data centers. Since 2017 eBay has cut its carbon emissions by 29% to 88,000 tons per year. The e-commerce giant became carbon neutral this year, and is aiming to achieve a 100% renewable electricity supply for all its offices and data centers by 2025.

This goal might actually be attainable in the next few years as eBay’s biggest clean energy projects yet come online. The White Mesa Wind Project in Texas (a joint venture with Apple, Sprint and Samsung) began operating this year, producing 75 peak megawatts for the four companies, enough to power 20,000 homes.

Meanwhile the Ventress Solar Project in Louisiana, a virtual purchase power agreement between eBay, McDonalds and BP’s Lightsource division, will generate 345 MW. “We collaborate with our tech peers when some sustainability issues come up, where banding together makes more sense,” says eBay’s chief sustainability officer Renee Morin.

Such efforts have earned eBay the no. 11 spot on our inaugural Forbes Green Growth 50 list. Using emissions data from Sustainalytics and financial data from FactSet Research Systems, we honed in on U.S. companies with market caps greater than $5 billion, that started with more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2017, and have since successfully reduced their emissions while simultaneously growing profitability (as measured by an absolute increase in net income or operating income from 2017-2020).

Going in, we figured these criteria would produce a list of more than 100 companies. But green growth is harder than it looks — both Weyerhaeuser and Edison International, ranking no. 21 and no. 10 on our list, grew earnings less than 2% since 2017.

Is there a connection between cutting carbon emissions and boosting earnings? eBay’s Priest thinks we’ve reached the point where companies that don’t care about green will find it nearly impossible to deliver growth. “Customers want to be associated with corporations that take their environmental responsibilities very seriously. Those that do will continue to drive loyalty from their customer base.”

This is a strategic emphasis echoed by Stephan Tanda, CEO of Aptar, which took the no. 1 spot on the Green Growth 50. Aptar makes myriad drug delivery systems and dispensing products for consumer goods, especially foods and cosmetics. “We look at everything we do through a sustainability lens.” Most of Aptar’s facilities in Europe are already certified landfill free. By the end of the year Aptar is looking to achieve “80% disposal avoidance.”

It’s a business that involves reconciling contradictions — most of their products are plastic, which he says actually has a pretty low carbon footprint relative to alternative containers. A new Aptar product is a “monomaterial” lotion pump with no metal parts, entirely recyclable.

Consumer demand for such new products is arguably more impactful than the kind of government policy circus on display at the recent COP26 meetings in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Governments don’t impact what we do that much. Consumers and patients and customers demand what we do,” says Tanda. They will pay for the carbon transition because it is what they want. Listening to the consumers is how Tanda aims to “future proof our business.”

That approach has worked for electricity giant AES, which landed no. 15 on the Green Growth 50 list after reducing emissions by 22%, replacing coal-fired power plants with wind, solar and batteries — “a winning combination that can decarbonize 90% of the grid,” says Chris Shelton, president of AES Next. Because the costs of renewables kept going down, they were able to shift customers over under a “green, blend and extend” program.

AES also operates a kind of inhouse venture capital operation. Its Fluence utility-scale battery joint venture with Siemens recently went public and now sports a $6 billion market cap — the company behind some of the biggest battery installations in the world.

There used to be a large group of companies “in denial” about mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. “That group is vanishing fast,” with companies moving over to the “bargaining” group, where they want to know the minimum they have to do to get by and keep activists off their back — that’s the insight of Chris Romer, cofounder of Project Canary, which installs laser-based sensors at industrial sites to monitor methane leakages.

The landmark ESG moment, he says, was last year’s ExxonMobil annual meeting, where shareholders voted in more green-friendly board members.  There’s no going back. Romer says manufacturers can already earn multiples of their monitoring and certification costs by selling “green” products at a premium.

Even on the Green Growth 50, some companies are less enthusiastic than others. Nicotine giant Altria for example, positioned at no. 35 on our list, seems to be doing just enough, having cut emissions by 10% in the studied time period. But according to its most recent sustainability report, Altria’s renewable energy use is just 2.3% of its total, a surprisingly meager ratio.

Altria also demonstrates how hard it can be to stick to a well intentioned program. The company was making great strides toward reducing the amount of waste it was sending to the landfill. In 2018 it nearly hit its 21 million pounds goal. But 2019 wrecked the trend, when Altria delivered 87 million tons to landfill — mostly rubble from a headquarters renovation. Their next challenge: reducing litter from cigarette butts.

Stronger performers included Eli Lilly, which ranked eighth on our list after the pharmaceutical company swapped out old light bulbs for LEDs at three plants, saving 330 mwh per year. And Bristol Myers Squibb, which heats its Munich, Germany office building with 100% geothermal energy, found itself at no. 13. Church & Dwight, parent company of Arm & Hammer, has meanwhile placed third on the list, having achieved its goals of no more PVC in packaging, and offsets carbon emissions by planting millions of trees in the Mississippi River Valley.

I’m an assistant editor based in New York covering money and markets for Forbes. In the past, I covered minority communities for the Boston Business Journal

Christopher Helman

Tracking energy innovators from Houston, Texas. Forbes reporter since 1999.

Source: Green Growth 50: Learning From Companies Boosting Profits While Cutting Emissions

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Bitcoin Could Churn Out 130 Million Tons Of Carbon, Undermining Climate Action. Here’s One Way To Tackle That emission

The power demands and carbon emissions of bitcoin mining could undermine global efforts to combat climate change if stringent regulations are not placed upon the industry, a Chinese study has found. By 2024, mining of the cryptocurrency in China alone could use as much power as the entire nation of Italy uses in a year, with greenhouse gas emissions equalling those of the Czech Republic.

But rather than recommending increased taxation on bitcoin mining to curb emissions, or simply an outright ban on the practice, the paper, published today in the journal Nature, suggests that miners should be encouraged to shift their operations to regions that provide abundant low-carbon electricity.

The research is significant because China carries out at least 65% of the world’s bitcoin operations. Shouyang Wang, one of the report’s authors and chair professor at the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told Forbes.com:

“While everyone has focused on bitcoin’s great profitability, we want people to become more aware of its potential issues and start thinking about these questions: is this industry actually worth the associated environmental impact, and how can we make profitable bitcoin mining operation more sustainable in the future?”

Using simulation-based models, the researchers found that, short of any policy interventions, bitcoin mining in China will peak in 2024 consuming 296.59 terawatt hours of electricity—as much as a medium sized country—and generate 130.50 million metric tons of carbon emissions. The authors further note that this consumption and the resulting emissions could derail China’s efforts to decarbonize its own energy system.

“It is important to note that the adoption of this disruptive and promising technique without [taking into account] environmental concerns may pose a barrier to the worldwide effort on GHG emissions management in the near future,” Wang said, adding that the research team was “surprised by the energy consumption and carbon emission assessment results of bitcoin blockchain operation in China.”

But the solution to the challenge, the authors argue, is “moving away from the current punitive carbon tax policy to a site regulation policy”—in essence, ensuring that mining operations move to areas that guarantee high rates of renewable electricity. Under such a policy, they found, only 20% of bitcoin miners remained in coal-intensive energy regions, resulting in lower carbon emissions per dollar earned, compared to a higher taxation scenario.

Under the site regulation model, the researchers found bitcoin operations generated 100.61 million metric tons at peak, as opposed to 105.19 million tons under an additional taxation scenario. Wang said government regulation of the industry was needed, but that bitcoin miners would likely be amenable to his team’s proposed solution.

“Site regulation should be carried out by the government, placing limitations on bitcoin mining in certain regions that use coal-based heavy energy,” Wang explained. “That being said, we think that there are enough benefits to this policy which will incentivize the miners to move their operation willingly. For example, since energy prices in clean-energy regions of China are lower than that in heavy-energy regions, the miners can effectively lower their individual energy consumption cost, which would increase their profitability.”

That isn’t to say, however, that regulation is the only method by which China should be reducing the emissions impact from bitcoin mining. “The government should also focus on upgrading the power generation facilities in clean-energy regions to ensure a consistent energy generation,” Wang said. “That way, the miners would definitely have more incentives to move voluntarily.”

Crunching The Numbers

Bitcoin operates by using blockchain technology—publicly recorded peer-to-peer transfers on encrypted computer networks—which eliminates the need for centralized authorities or banks. Bitcoin miners use arrays of processors to determine results to algorithmic puzzles that verify transactions that are added to the blockchain, for which they are in turn rewarded in bitcoins.

With the value of a single bitcoin having risen from $1 in April 2011 to around $60,000 in April 2021, and with yesterday’s news that the value of the cryptocurrency market has exceeded $2 trillion for the first time, the financial incentives to mine bitcoin are obvious.

But there is a finite supply of bitcoins: they are limited to 21 million in total. To control the currency’s circulation, the supply of new bitcoins is halved every four years, which also halves the miners’ rewards. This has helped ignite fierce competition, attracting an increasing number of bitcoin miners to get into the race, utilizing ever more powerful processing arrays requiring more electricity.

So, in at least one sense, bitcoin is self-regulating. Or as Wang puts it, “this is the industry’s natural built-in way of phasing itself out.”

Silver Linings?

It has until recently proved difficult to determine the total emissions impact of bitcoin mining. Industry advocates have long claimed that miners tend to rely on low-carbon energy due to its relatively low cost, but those claims have been disputed.

Now, using more advanced modeling techniques, Chinese researchers have been able to more accurately estimate the energy uses of specific industry operations. According to the China Emissions Accounts and Datasets platform (CEAD), for example, bitcoin mining accounts for more than 5.4% of emissions from electricity generation in China.

In response, various policy solutions have been suggested, including heavier taxation of bitcoin mining operations. The new research suggests site regulation could be the preferable option. But did Wang think this could result in too many miners moving into areas with abundant renewables, gobbling up energy supply?

“There would be an influx of bitcoin miners into clean-energy regions,” he said. “However, we don’t think that this increase in bitcoin mining operations would place burdens on the local energy grid. The energy-generation infrastructures in the clean-energy regions of China are still being improved and developed … we think that increases in energy generation capacity would outpace the increase in bitcoin mining operations in these regions, which would reduce the potential burdens.”

Even so, with a forecast of 100 million tons of carbon emissions at the industry’s peak, would it not simply be better, in environmental terms, to ban the practice outright?

“We think that simply banning bitcoin mining altogether is not ideal,” Wang said. “Even if bitcoin mining is completely banned, its increasing profitability would drive miners to continue their activities through other measures, such as stealing electricity. That is why we are suggesting a push for moving the miners to clean renewable energy regions would be more ideal.”

Asked whether future cryptocurrency operations could potentially result in the same or similar energy demands as bitcoin, Wang offered a note of optimism.

“Cryptocurrency communities have become increasingly aware of the carbon emissions generated through mining activities,” he said. “As a result … we think the development of these new consensus algorithms would improve the energy efficiency of cryptocurrency mining activities, which would be beneficial for China’s sustainability efforts.”

 

My key interests are in decarbonization and the development of circular economies.

Source: Bitcoin Could Churn Out 130 Million Tons Of Carbon, Undermining Climate Action. Here’s One Way To Tackle That

.

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Fake Meats: How Sustainable Are They

CREDIT: PETER AND MARIA HOEY -Plant-based meats claim to offer the sensory experience of real meat at a fraction of the environmental cost. Are they really as green as they say?

Marketed to meat lovers, plant-based burgers like Impossible and Beyond claim to taste like the real thing and to have far lighter environmental footprints. Here’s what the numbers have to say.

If you’re an environmentally aware meat-eater, you probably carry at least a little guilt to the dinner table. The meat on our plates comes at a significant environmental cost through deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and air and water pollution — an uncomfortable reality, given the world’s urgent need to deal with climate change.

That’s a big reason there’s such a buzz today around a newcomer to supermarket shelves and burger-joint menus: products that look like real meat but are made entirely without animal ingredients. Unlike the bean- or grain-based veggie burgers of past decades, these “plant-based meats,” the best known of which are Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, are marketed heavily toward traditional meat-eaters. They claim to replicate the taste and texture of real ground meat at a fraction of the environmental cost.

If these newfangled meat alternatives can fill a large part of our demand for meat — and if they’re as green as they claim, which is not easy to verify independently — they might offer carnivores a way to reduce the environmental impact of their dining choices without giving up their favorite recipes.

That could be a game-changer, some think. “People have been educated a long time on the harms of animal agriculture, yet the percentage of vegans and vegetarians generally remains low,” says Elliot Swartz, a scientist with the Good Food Institute, an international nonprofit organization that supports the development of alternatives to meat. “Rather than forcing people to make behavior changes, we think it will be more effective to substitute products into their diets where they don’t have to make a behavior switch.”

There’s no question that today’s meat industry is bad for the planet. Livestock account for about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions both directly (from methane burped out by cattle and other grazing animals and released by manure from feedlots and pig and chicken barns) and indirectly (largely from fossil fuels used to grow feed crops). Indeed, if the globe’s cattle were a country, their greenhouse gas emissions alone would rank second in the world, trailing only China.

Worse yet, the United Nations projects that global demand for meat will swell by 15 percent by 2031 as the world’s increasing — and increasingly affluent — population seeks more meat on their plates. That means more methane emissions and expansion of pastureland and cropland into formerly forested areas such as the Amazon — deforestation that threatens biodiversity and contributes further to emissions.

Graph shows global meat consumption from 1961 to the present and projected to 2050. It rises steadily throughout that period.

Global demand for meat continues to rise with little sign of slowing. Much of the increase comes from middle-income countries, where consumers use their increasing wealth to put more meat on their plates.

Not all kinds of meat animals contribute equally to the problem, however. Grazing animals such as cattle, sheep and goats have a far larger greenhouse gas footprint than non-grazers such as pigs and chickens. In large part that’s because only the former burp methane, which happens as gut microbes digest the cellulose in grasses and other forage.

Pigs and chickens are also much more efficient at converting feed into edible flesh: Chickens need less than two pounds of feed, and pigs need roughly three to five pounds, to put on a pound of body weight. (The rest goes to the energy costs of daily life: circulating blood, moving around, keeping warm, fighting germs and the like.) Compare that to the six to 10 pounds of feed per pound of cow.

As a result, the greenhouse gas emissions of beef cattle per pound of meat are more than six times those of pigs and nearly nine times those of chicken. (Paradoxically, grass-fed cattle — often thought of as a greener alternative to feedlot beef — are actually bigger climate sinners, because grass-fed animals mature more slowly and thus spend more months burping methane.)

Building fake meat

Plant-based meats aim to improve on that dismal environmental performance. Stanford University biochemist Pat Brown, for example, founded Impossible Foods after asking himself what single step he could take to make the biggest difference environmentally. His answer: Replace meat.

Comparison of greenhouse gas footprints of meat, plant-based meat and plant foods.

Researchers trawled through the scientific literature to find every available study measuring the greenhouse-gas footprint of meats and meat alternatives. Beef is by far the most emissions-heavy option, while plant-based meats and plant foods generally are linked to much lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions for production of a given quantity of protein. In the chart, (n) refers to the number of studies for each category of protein.

To do that, Impossible and its competitors basically deconstruct meat into its component parts, then build an equivalent product from plant-based ingredients. The manufacturers start with plant protein — mostly soy for Impossible, pea for Beyond, and potato, oat or equivalent proteins for others — and add carefully selected ingredients to simulate meat-like qualities. Most include coconut oil for its resemblance to the mouthfeel of animal fats, and yeast extract or other flavorings to add meaty flavors. Impossible even adds a plant-derived version of heme, a protein found in animal blood, to yield an even more meat-like appearance and flavor.

All this requires significant processing, notes William Aimutis, a food protein chemist at North Carolina State University, who wrote about plant-based proteins in the 2022 Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. Soybeans, for example, are typically first milled into flour, and then the oils are removed. The proteins are isolated and concentrated, then pasteurized and spray-dried to yield the relatively pure protein for the final formulation. Every step consumes energy, which raises the question: With all this processing, are these meat alternatives really greener than what they seek to replace?

To answer that question, environmental scientists conduct what’s known as a life cycle analysis. This involves taking each ingredient in the final product — soy protein, coconut oil, heme and so forth — and tracing it back to its origin, logging all the environmental costs involved. In the case of soy protein, for example, the life cycle analysis would include the fossil fuels, water and land needed to grow the soybeans, including fossil fuel emissions from the fertilizer, pesticides and transportation to the processing plant. Then it would add the energy and water consumed in milling, defatting, protein extraction and drying.

Similar calculations would apply to all the other ingredients, and to the final process of assembly and packaging. Put it all together, and you end up with an estimate of the total environmental footprint of the product.

Process diagram showing the many inputs that go into making plant-based meats.

Plant-based meats are highly processed products in which proteins, fats, starches, thickeners, flavoring agents and other ingredients are mixed and formed into foods that resemble traditional meat products such as burgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets.

Unfortunately, not all those numbers are readily available. For many products, especially unique ones like the new generation of plant-based meats, product details are secrets closely held by the companies involved. “They will know how much energy they use and where they get their fat and protein from, but they will not disclose that to the general public,” says Ricardo San Martin, a chemical engineer who codirects the Alternative Meats Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. As a result, most life cycle analyses of plant-based meat products have been commissioned by the companies themselves, including both Beyond and Impossible. Outsiders have little way of independently verifying them.

Even so, those analyses suggest that plant-based meats offer clear environmental advantages over their animal-based equivalents. Impossible’s burger, for example, causes just 11 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that would come from an equivalent amount of beef burger, according to a study the company commissioned from the sustainability consulting firm Quantis. Beyond’s life cycle analysis, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, found their burger’s greenhouse gas emissions were 10 percent of those of real beef.

Indeed, when independent researchers at Johns Hopkins University decided to get the best estimates they could by combing through the published literature, they found that in the 11 life cycle analyses they turned up, the average greenhouse gas footprint from plant-based meats was just 7 percent of beef for an equivalent amount of protein. The plant-based products were also more climate-friendly than pork or chicken — although less strikingly so, with greenhouse gas emissions just 37 percent and 57 percent, respectively, of those for the actual meats.

Similarly, the Hopkins team found that producing plant-based meats used less water: 23 percent that of beef, 11 percent that of pork and 24 percent that of chicken for the same amount of protein. There were big savings, too, for land, with the plant-based products using 2 percent that of beef, 18 percent that of pork and 23 percent that of chicken for a given amount of protein. The saving of land is important because, if plant-based meats end up claiming a significant market share, the surplus land could be allowed to revert to forest or other natural vegetation; these store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and contribute to biodiversity conservation. Other studies show that plant-based milks offer similar environmental benefits over cow’s milk (see Box).

Chart compares land-use footprints of meat, plant-based meat and plant foods.

Researchers compared the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of protein for meat, plant-based meat and plant foods. Once again, beef towers above the rest, largely because grazing animals need a lot of land to forage. Plant foods are shown to require more land than plant-based meats, but this difference is not meaningful because the estimates for plant foods include crops grown in low-yielding countries, while plant-based meats rely on ingredients grown under high-yield conditions.

A caution on cultivation methods

Of course, how green plant-based meats actually are depends on the farming practices that underlie them. (The same is true for meat itself — the greenhouse gas emissions generated by a pound of beef can vary more than tenfold from the most efficient producers to the least.) Plant-based ingredients such as palm oil grown in plantations that used to be rainforest, or heavily irrigated crops grown in arid regions, cause much more damage than more sustainably raised crops. And cultivation of soybeans, an important ingredient for some plant-based meats, is a major contributor to Amazon deforestation.

However, for most ingredients it seems likely that even poorly produced plant-based meats are better, environmentally, than meat from well-raised livestock. Plant-based meats need much less soy than would be fed to actual livestock, notes Matin Qaim, an agricultural economist at the University of Bonn, Germany, who wrote about meat and sustainability in the 2022 Annual Review of Resource Economics. “The reason we’re seeing deforestation in the Amazon,” he explains, “is because the demand for food and feed is growing. When we move away from meat and more toward plant-based diets, we need less area in total, and the soybeans don’t necessarily have to grow in the Amazon.”

But green as they are, plant-based meats have a few hurdles to clear before they can hope to replace meat. For one thing, plant-based meats currently cost an average of 43 percent more than the products they hope to replace, according to the Good Food Institute. That helps to explain why plant-based meats account for less than 1 percent of meat sales in the US. Advocates are optimistic that the price will come down as the market develops, but it hasn’t happened yet. And achieving those economies of scale will take a lot of work: Even growing to a mere 6 percent of the market will require a $27 billion investment in new facilities, says Swartz.

Steak hasn’t yet been well done

In addition, all of today’s plant-based meats seek to replace ground-meat products like burgers and chicken nuggets. Whole-muscle meats like steak or chicken breast have a more complex, fibrous structure that the alt-meat companies have not yet managed to mimic outside the lab.

Part of the problem is that most plant proteins are globular in shape, while real muscle proteins tend to form long fibers. To form a textured meat-like product, scientists essentially have to turn golf balls into string, says David Julian McClements, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an editor of the Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. There are ways to do that, often involving high-pressure extrusion or other complex technology, but so far no one has a whole-muscle product ready for market. (A fungal product, sold for decades in some countries as Quorn, is naturally fibrous, but its sales have never taken off in the US. Other companies are also working on meat substitutes based on fungal proteins.)

Comparison of the environmental footprints of plant-based burgers vs beef burgers, showing much lower impact for plant-based products.

The environmental impact of the two leading plant-based burgers, from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, is much less than a comparable beef burger, according to detailed studies commissioned by the two companies. Other experts note that these studies are difficult to verify independently because they rely on proprietary information from the companies.

McClements is experimenting with another approach to make plant-based bacon: creating separate plant-based analogs of muscle and fat, then 3D-printing the distinctive marbling of the bacon. “I think we’ve got all the elements to put it together,” he says.

Some critics also note that a shift toward plant-based meat may reinforce the industrialization of global food systems in an undesirable way. Most alternative meat products are formulated in factories, and their demand for plant proteins and other ingredients favors Big Agriculture, with its well-documented problems of monoculture, pesticide use, soil erosion and water pollution from fertilizer runoff. Plant-based meats will reduce the impact of these unsustainable farming practices, but they won’t eliminate them unless current farming practices change substantially.

Of course, all the to-do about alternative meats overlooks another dietary option, one with the lowest environmental footprint of all: Simply eat less meat and more beans, grains and vegetables. The additional processing involved in plant-based meats means that they generate 4.6 times more greenhouse gas than beans, and seven times more than peas, per unit of protein, according to the Hopkins researchers. Even traditional, minimally processed plant protein such as tofu beats plant-based meats when it comes to greenhouse gas. Moreover, most people in wealthy countries eat far more protein than they need, so they can simply cut back on their protein consumption without seeking out a replacement.

But that option may not appeal to the meat-eating majority today, which makes alternative meats a useful stopgap. “Would I prefer that people were eating beans and grains and tofu, and lots of fruits and vegetables? Yes,” says Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy organization supporting healthy eating.

“But there are a lot of people who enjoy the taste of meat and are probably not going to be won over by tofu. If you can win them over with Beyond Meat, and that helps reduce climate change, I’m all for it.”

Source: Fake meats: How sustainable are they?

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Related contents:

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A Complete Breakdown of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly In The Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act is the Walt Whitman of federal legislation: like the great American poet, the bill contradicts itself; it is large and contains multitudes. It represents the most significant climate investment in U.S. history, but it also paves the way for a massive expansion of oil and gas drilling on federal lands and in federal waters.

It includes a new minimum tax designed to ensure that large corporations pay at least 15 percent of their profits to the federal government, but it also showers corporations in tax subsidies that will push many more firms’ tax rates below 15 percent (and in some cases below zero). It is disappointingly modest in its aspirations, but it will arguably be—along with the Affordable Care Act—the most ambitious piece of legislation signed by a Democratic president in more than a half century.

Advocates for climate action and tax fairness should celebrate the bill’s enactment, which will likely occur later this week, after the House votes on the measure. But they should not exaggerate the bill’s accomplishments or sugarcoat the compromises that Democrats made to secure the support of swing senators. Glorifying the Inflation Reduction Act would, moreover, lead Democrats to draw the wrong lessons from the bill’s phoenix-like rise out of the legislative ashes. The bill succeeded not in spite of its shortcomings, but because of them.

Emissions and Prescriptions

The sprawling legislation—spanning more than 700 pages—is difficult to summarize succinctly, but if one had to choose a three-word phrase to describe the bill, “Inflation Reduction Act” would not be it. Moody’s Analytics, whose estimates are often cited by President Biden, projects that the Consumer Price Index, a key inflation gauge, will be 0.33 percent lower at the end of 2031 on account of the legislation—a reduction in the inflation rate of approximately 0.03 percentage points per year.

For comparison’s sake, CPI inflation was 9.1 percent in the twelve months ending in June 2022. So the bill will likely reduce inflation (as advertised), but the effect will be a drop in the bucket—a very small drop in a very large bucket. A better three-word summary would be “Climate, Medicine, Taxes.” To a first approximation, the bill amounts to a $370 billion climate investment paid for by prescription drug savings and tax changes. The bill’s three baskets can be analyzed separately, but the baskets are so tightly woven together that any normative assessment of the legislation must account for all three.

Let’s start with climate. The bill lays out a smorgasbord of tax credits for clean energy, nuclear power production, electric vehicles, and other technologies that will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. According to estimates from the Rhodium Group, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will be 40 percent below 2005 levels if Congress enacts the bill—compared to 30 percent below 2005 levels if Congress does not act. That’s a meaningful difference. It implies that U.S. emissions will be approximately 14 percent lower in 2030 with the bill than without.

But the claim by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.)—repeated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) on Sunday—that the bill will “reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030” is misleading at best. Three-quarters of that 40 percent reduction has nothing to do with the bill. And the legislation still falls short of fulfilling the United States’ commitment under the Paris Agreement to cut emissions to half of 2005 levels by the end of this decade. In other words, the Inflation Reduction Act is a down payment on our Paris pledge, but a large balance remains due.

Most troublingly, the bill bars the Interior Department from issuing any new right-of-way for wind or solar energy development for a decade unless the department also offers up a total of 20 million acres of land and 600 million acres of ocean area for oil and gas leasing. To put those acreages in perspective, 20 million acres is roughly the size of South Carolina; 600 million acres is more than Alaska and Texas combined. “Drill, baby, drill”—once a slogan of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin—is about to become official federal policy.

If there is a saving grace, it’s that the giveaway to oil and gas firms is so extravagant that most of the acres offered for leasing won’t attract any bids. Still, the irony of an oil and gas drilling expansion in a bill that aims to reduce U.S. carbon emissions is rich. If this was the price of Manchin’s backing, then it was a price worth paying. But Manchin’s support certainly did not come cheap.

An Offer that Drug Companies Can’t Refuse

The medical portion of the bill represents a real achievement—though again, it is an achievement that comes with caveats. The bill extends a pandemic program that reduced health insurance premiums for 13 million low- and middle-income Americans, but the extension lasts only three years, after which individuals and families who purchase health insurance through Obamacare exchanges will face another benefits cliff.

The bill also facilitates free access to adult vaccines for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and it imposes a $2,000-per-year cap on out-of-pocket drug costs under Medicare Part D. But even as it makes federally subsidized health insurance more generous to current enrollees, the bill still leaves more than 2 million low-income adults in a “coverage gap”—too poor to claim credits on the Obamacare exchanges, but ineligible for Medicaid under their own state’s laws.

The bill’s medical cost savings come primarily from a provision that requires pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to accept steep price cuts for a handful of prescription drugs purchased through Medicare. The bill describes this as the “Drug Price Negotiation Program,” but “negotiation” is somewhat of a euphemism. The manufacturer of a drug selected for “negotiation” must accede to Medicare’s proposed price or else pay a 1,900 percent excise tax on all sales of the drug. That’s a negotiation only in the Vito Corleone sense—an offer one can’t refuse.

Drugmakers complain that the Medicare price cuts will discourage investment, resulting in fewer new cures and treatments. That’s about as true as the claim that the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce inflation—it’s probably correct, but the effect is likely to be marginal. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the number of new drugs approved over the next 30 years will be approximately 1 percent lower as a result of the legislation.

Without trivializing the consequences for patients who would otherwise stand to benefit from those drugs, that’s a cost worth bearing if it makes space in the budget for transformative climate investments.

Tax Changes and an IRS Infusion

The biggest revenue raiser in the bill—according to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis—is a new 15 percent minimum tax on the “book income” of large corporations. “Book income” refers to the earnings that corporations report to investors under generally accepted accounting principles. If large corporations pay less than 15 percent of their accounting profits under normal tax rules, then the 15 percent minimum tax potentially kicks in.

Manchin told Fox News Sunday that the new 15 percent minimum tax “does not raise taxes.” He added: “I’ve made sure that there are no tax increases in this whatsoever.” That’s an absurd claim. Corporations often pay less than 15 percent of their profits in taxes for entirely legitimate reasons—for example, because the tax code allows writeoffs for depreciation and stock compensation in different years than when those deductions are permitted for accounting purposes. For those corporations, the Inflation Reduction Act certainly does raise taxes—to the tune of $313 billion over 10 years.

The burden of the new corporate minimum tax will be borne in large part by high-income households that own stock. Raising taxes on large corporations and using the revenue to help avert a climate catastrophe is, on balance, a good trade. But President Biden’s claim that the bill “ends” the practice of profitable Fortune 500 companies paying no corporate income tax is just not correct. Carveouts for various business tax credits ensure that many corporations will continue to pay sub-15 percent rates. Indeed, the clean energy credits in the Inflation Reduction Act will likely cause many profitable electric utilities to pay zero or less in federal income tax.

Other tax provisions in the bill are more praiseworthy. A new 1 percent excise tax on corporate stock buybacks marks an important step toward plugging a gap in current law that allows foreign investors—and some U.S. shareholders—to avoid U.S. tax on corporate cash distributions when those payouts take the form of stock repurchases rather than traditional dividends. An $80 billion increase to the budget of the Internal Revenue Service will help to restore an agency that has been starved for cash in recent years, and the expenditure will likely pay for itself several times over.

But the bill fails to deliver on Democrats’ larger tax reform ambitions. A last-minute decision to preserve a tax preference for the private equity industry—part of a deal to win over Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)—was just the latest way in which Democrats scaled back the bill’s tax components. Ultimately, the Inflation Reduction Act does virtually nothing to curtail the strategies that enable some billionaires to pay near-zero personal income tax rates.

If there is one lesson to be drawn from the Inflation Reduction Act, it’s that passing major legislation through a closely divided Congress will often require self-contradiction. The bill is a devil’s bargain, but if it were ideologically pure, it would also be a dead letter. That’s no justification for making misleading statements about the bill’s contents, as top Democrats unfortunately have. But a clear-eyed view of the bill’s achievements and shortcomings serves to emphasize the fact that here, as elsewhere, the perfect and the good are enemies. Thankfully, the good appears to have won out this time.

By Daniel Hemel

Source: Inflation Reduction Act: A complete breakdown of what the bill will (and won’t) do.

Related contents:

US House of Representatives passes Inflation Reduction Act in narrow vote 

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The World Meteorological Organization Has No Immediate Plans To Name Heatwaves

As extreme heat stifles communities around the world this week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that it has “no immediate plans” to give heatwaves names. The July 19th announcement seems to pump the brakes on growing calls to come up with a strategy for ranking and naming heatwaves around the world.

In the US, heat kills more people than any other weather-related disaster. Globally, it kills 5 million people a year. But heat spells haven’t always spurred the same careful preparations people might take to, say, shelter from a major storm. The goal of naming heatwaves would be to make it easier to communicate the risks they pose to the public so that people can take measures to stay safe. In the US, heat kills more people than any other weather-related disaster

For decades, names have played a big role in early warnings for dangerous storms. Warning people about hurricane “Sandy” or “Harvey” just became a lot easier than identifying a storm by latitude and longitude. The US’s National Hurricane Center started giving Atlantic storms monikers from an official list in 1953. Currently, the WMO maintains rotating lists of names for the Atlantic and other regions.

Some advocates want to apply a similar naming mechanism to heatwaves. Seville, Spain, is set to become the first city in the world to test out the idea later this year. Officials in Athens, Greece, and California have contemplated doing the same. But the WMO apparently has some reservations, saying that it’s “currently considering the advantages and disadvantages of naming heatwaves.”“What has been established for tropical cyclone events may not necessarily translate easily across to heatwaves,” the WMO said in its news release this week. “Caution should be exercised when comparing or applying lessons or protocols from one hazard type to another, due to the important differences in the physical nature and impacts of storms and heatwaves.”“False alarms” are one concern for the WMO. Heatwaves can be forecast up to 10 days out in many parts of the world. But if the forecast for an extreme heatwave is inaccurate — maybe it’s not as hot as expected or it hits a different region than anticipated — then people might lose faith in the warnings and stop heeding them.

“False alarms”

The other caveat with heat, the WMO says, is that heat-related deaths can happen even when it’s not extraordinarily hot outside. If someone is continuously exposed to more sweltering conditions, say, in the workplace or in a home without air conditioning, they can become ill even if there isn’t an officially declared heatwave.

To prevent confusion ahead of a potential disaster, the WMO also says that any “pilot heatwave naming” should at least be tied into a country’s official warning system in the absence of a broader international framework.

Seville is piloting a project this year that will test a new alert system to warn residents ahead of a heatwave. Extreme heat events will be categorized based on their severity, and those forecast to have the greatest impact on the city will get a name. The first five have already been chosen: Zoe, Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao, and Vega.

“We are the first city in the world to take a step that will help us plan and take measures when this type of meteorological event happens—particularly because heat waves always hit the most vulnerable,” Antonio Muñoz, the mayor of Seville, said in a June 21st press release.

Parts of Europe literally buckled and burned under a brutal heatwave this week — even in places with typically milder summers. In the UK, record-breaking temperatures buckled train tracks and even an airport runway. London’s fire service responded to more blazes in a day than it had since World War II, according to Sadiq Khan, the city’s mayor. And 100 million people in the US are under heat alerts today.

Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more intense as greenhouse gas emissions heat our planet. More than a third of heat deaths can be attributed to climate change, according to research published last year.

Source: The World Meteorological Organization has ‘no immediate plans’ to name heatwaves – The Verge

Critics by EPA

A persistent period of unusually hot days is referred to as an extreme heat event or a heat wave. Heat waves are more than just uncomfortable: they can lead to illness and death, particularly among older adults, the very young, and other vulnerable populations (see the Heat-Related Deaths and Heat-Related Illnesses indicators).

Prolonged exposure to excessive heat can lead to other impacts as well—for example, damaging crops, injuring or killing livestock, and increasing the risk of wildfires. Prolonged periods of extreme heat can lead to power outages as heavy demands for air conditioning strain the power grid.

Unusually hot days and heat wave events are a natural part of day-to-day variation in weather. As the Earth’s climate warms, however, hotter-than-usual days and nights are becoming more common (see the High and Low Temperatures indicator) and heat waves are expected to become more frequent and intense.2 Increases in these extreme heat events can lead to more heat-related illnesses and deaths, especially if people and communities do not take steps to adapt.3 Even small increases in extreme heat can result in increased deaths and illnesses.4

About the Indicator

This indicator examines trends over time in four key characteristics of heat waves in the United States:

  • Frequency: the number of heat waves that occur every year.
  • Duration: the length of each individual heat wave, in days.
  • Season length: the number of days between the first heat wave of the year and the last.
  • Intensity: how hot it is during the heat wave.

Heat waves can be defined in many different ways. For consistency across the country, Figures 1 and 2 define a heat wave as a period of two or more consecutive days when the daily minimum apparent temperature (the actual temperature adjusted for humidity) in a particular city exceeds the 85th percentile of historical July and August temperatures (1981–2010) for that city. EPA chose this definition for several reasons:

  • The most serious health impacts of a heat wave are often associated with high temperatures at night, which is usually the daily minimum.5 The human body needs to cool off at night, especially after a hot day. If the air stays too warm at night, the body faces extra strain as the heart pumps harder to try to regulate body temperature.
  • Adjusting for humidity is important because when humidity is high, water does not evaporate as easily, so it is harder for the human body to cool off by sweating. That is why health warnings about extreme heat are often based on the “heat index,” which combines temperature and humidity.
  • The 85th percentile of July and August temperatures equates to the nine hottest days during the hottest two months of the year. A temperature that is typically only recorded nine times during the hottest part of the year is rare enough that most people would consider it to be unusually hot.
  • By using the 85th percentile for each individual city, Figures 1 and 2 define “unusual” in terms of local conditions. After all, a specific temperature like 95°F might be unusually hot in one city but perfectly normal in another. Plus, people in relatively warm regions (such as the Southwest) may be better acclimated and adapted to hot weather.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calculated apparent temperature for this indicator based on temperature and humidity measurements from long-term weather stations, which are generally located at airports. Figures 1 and 2 focus on the 50 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas that have recorded weather data from a consistent location without many missing days over the time period examined.

The year 1961 was chosen as the starting point because most major cities have collected consistent data since at least that time. Figure 3 provides another perspective to gauge the size and frequency of prolonged heat wave events. It shows the U.S. Annual Heat Wave Index, which tracks the occurrence of heat wave conditions across the contiguous 48 states from 1895 to 2021. This index defines a heat wave as a period lasting at least four days with an average temperature that would only be expected to persist over four days once every 10 years, based on the historical record. The index value for a given year depends on how often such severe heat waves occur and how widespread they are….

Related contents:

National Night Out 2022 is a success despite extreme heat WIBW

02:30
22:54 Sat, 06 Aug

Reporter – Climate change: Europe’s first heat officer Deutsche Welle

16:55 Sat, 06 Aug
05:36 Sat, 06 Aug
20:07 Fri, 05 Aug
08:38 Sat, 06 AugChina Taiwan Climate Crisis

13:50 Thu, 04 AugEPA Supreme Court Climate Crisis

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