Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Update on lithium batteries

While yesterday brought the third in the Washington Post's series on the environmental ramifications of lithium batteries (focusing on lithium itself) today has some good news. A group of companies using lithium batteries in their products, including Apple, have created the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) with a goal of addressing social and environmental ramifications of their products. 

There's not a simple set goal yet, and that's because things are complicated. As the piece says, "Exactly what to do about the artisanal mining of cobalt is a matter of heated debate. The practice is rife with dangers. On the other hand, it also helps desperately poor people make a living, particularly in the rural areas of Congo."

Tradeoffs, tradeoffs. Welcome to the world of Economics.

(Here are links to the earlier WaPo pieces on graphite and cobalt.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pumping toxic stuff into the ground can pollute the water. Who knew?

If everything goes right during fracking, and the effluent that comes up the well is relieved of 100% of its gas and the resulting filth is injected in a carefully prepared well that goes deep, deep underground. The wells are to be lined and the material is to be shot far below any water, so it won't eventually seep into the water supply.

Well, it turns out it's not that easy, as the EPA announced today, no doubt on a sped-up timeline to avoid trying to put out a report under their new boss who surely wouldn't allow it.

It's actually pretty important to get this out there, since the EPA has said the opposite before. This is a bit of a win for environmentalists that has taken a lot longer than it should have to get out.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Government: needed to set up markets, & CH4 in the air

Great post today by a top environmental economist on how government is needed to let marketplace solutions work out. In other words, even libertarian economic theory doesn't suggest that destroying the EPA is a good idea.

In other news, environmental monitoring has revealed that although carbon dioxide emissions are declining, methane is actually up. This is really bad: methane does much more damage than CO2 once it's out there. The question now is where all that methane is coming from: some say it might be from emissions related to fracking, while others blame increased agriculture and increased livestock production. Undoubtedly both matter, and the question is how to make things better. Here in the US a good place to start would be by being a little more careful in our fracking: using natural gas is supposed to be less environmentally damaging than coal, but if we don't capture all the emissions done when we frack for gas, we could end up making things worse.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Electric cars

The need to gird ourselves for a Battle Royale on the environmental front makes me want to hide anything that might possibly be used by the other side, but that's not a useful impulse. As an academic it's my job to continue to evaluate the evidence fairly, and as the Guardian points out today, there are some flaws with the existing infrastructure behind electric cars.

First, they will only be as environmentally friendly as their fuel. If coal is burned to produce energy used to run a Tesla, it might as well be driving on gas (well, almost). Elon Musk's long-term plan for his vehicles includes solar-powered charging for the vehicles, but other electric vehicles aren't taking any such steps.

Second, making batteries can be rather nasty for the environment, imposing an additional burden.

If you start off at a deficit and don't get yourself out, you don't end up ahead. We need to take care that electric cars don't end up in that position!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


I don't have the stomach to write much about this- I am literally nauseous- but the choice to run the EPA is profoundly disturbing. With no background in science, no background in economics, Scott Pruitt has spent his career fighting medical care for the poor, undermining same-sex marriage, advocating for environmental damage, and of course most prominently declaiming against climate change, in spite of the work of thousands of scientists.

While our society needs energy, we must also take into account cleanliness and safety in thinking about how we get it. Air pollution kills. Fracking in Oklahoma has caused earthquakes, damaging homes and property, The potential damage of climate change includes droughts, heat waves, more intense hurricanes and other major storms, and rising sea levels, damaging agriculture, infrastructure, insect outbreaks, wildfires, loss of species, and human health impacts.

I'm just stunned that all of those concerns are going to be ignored. I guess the rich will be less affected by all of those things, so why worry?