Learning to See the Future

A Clear Price Signal to Visualize the Optimal Energy Investment Shift

[The Note for July 2014]

The single most significant obstacle to moving major investment capital into clean energy is uncertainty about the future market value of doing so. Will such a move put a business at a competitive advantage or at a relative disadvantage, if everyone else is buying cheap fuel that fits seamlessly into the prevailing infrastructure? What has long been missing is a way to move market-dominant private-sector capital into clean alternatives. In a sense, the biggest challenge everyone is facing, when thinking about the future, is how to visualize the future itself, and how to trust that one’s visualization is reliable. The most cost-effective and practically efficient way to do this is with a clear, decisive price signal that allows market players to more clearly visualize an optimal investment-transition trajectory.

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Price Carbon to Empower Main Street

The Note for June 2014 ]

The transition to a clean energy economy requires a number of significant changes to the status quo. Most central to motivating the transition is the project of revealing the hidden costs associated with how we get energy from carbon-based fuels. As it stands, the whole of civilization and a vast web of natural systems are financing the business model that makes lots of money for a few people and provides us with what appears, due to pervasive market distortions, to be cheap energy. The market fails in this way, because costs remain hidden from view. Consumers, businesses, investors and public policy planners cannot make appropriate decisions about cost efficiency, because they cannot see the costs in dollar amounts.

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Intangible Innovations Drive Pervasive Change

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[ The Note for May 2014 ]

When we try to judge what comes next, economically, scientifically, politically and culturally, we have some very specific and significant limitations. We can only use past experience and our perceptions about our current situation to make judgments about what has not yet happened. We can only quantify what is quantifiable, and what is not observable can hardly be quantified. When we think about future roads, we tend to look at roads we have now; when we think about future energy, we tend to look at combustible fuels as the most commonplace and naturally occurring way of harvesting energy for human uses. When we think about economic behavior, we tend to assume that all future values will be related to what we are already observing now. The intangible element of human thought, innovation, collaboration and discovery, is generally left out, leaving us looking through a very problematic blind spot.

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Fight Tyranny by Decentralizing Power

Local Clean Energy to Oppose Carbon Resource Bullying

[ The Note for April 2014 ]

When Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin sent military and paramilitary forces to the Crimean Peninsula, to protect Russian naval interests there, a demand began to spread for Europe and the US to impose sanctions on Putin’s government. This led many to assume that Europe, and Ukraine more specifically, would need an infusion of natural gas supply from North America, to provide an economic cushion against Russia’s use of gas supplies as a bargaining chip. But feeding more supply into the global fossil fuel system that empowers Mr. Putin (and his misuse of needed fuel to impose his will on foreign states) disempowers Ukraine, while prolonging Europe’s reliance on carbon-based fuels. Putin treats Ukraine as both a transit point and a dependent client, a combination that serves to pressure Europe and expand his reach. What’s more, it has been estimated that while such a move would do nothing to reduce Putin’s clout, and might empower him further, it would also cost US consumers and businesses an additional $62 billion over just the first year of the supply transfer.

On March 18, Thomas Friedman called for “a new moonshot”, in his column in the New York Times. Physicist Peter Fiekowsky had suggested the same months earlier, detailing the feasibility, with coordination and commitment from across our society, of transitioning to 100% clean, renewable fuels. Fiekowsky showed this “new Moon shot” could be the unifying narrative that builds not only civic and economic cooperation, but also the technical and scientific knowledge required to build a truly resilient prosperity in harmony with nature’s life support systems. In his column, Friedman showed the transition would provide a real counterweight to the reflexive bullying tactics of petrostate authoritarians.

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The Writing is on the Wall

[ The Note for March 2014 ]

We are used to thinking of oil, and other hydrocarbon fuels, as highly valuable mineral resources that almost guarantee major profitability. We have been taught to see things that way by a dizzying array of special incentives, protections, direct subsidies and market conditions, that combine to make it possible to cover most of your costs in the fossil fuel business using other people’s money, while the overall framework of our economic activity blocks out meaningful competition. The perception that fossil fuels are “cheap”, that they are the most “convenient” way to access, transport and release naturally occurring energy, and that investors are virtually guaranteed high returns, is a major contributing factor to the dominance of fossil fuels the world over.

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Superabundant Natural Efficiencies are Worth More than Money

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[ The Note for February 2014 ]

Before we can get into the value of natural systems, we have to learn to see what is brought into being through processes prior to all human intervention, and we have to be honest about whether any part of those processes is really able to be replaced by human invention or intervention. To produce rainwater, for instance, across most of the world’s land area, would be so costly an experiment as to render the numbers we now assign to gross domestic product (or overall spending within a given economy) functionally obsolete.

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Climate Security is Fiscally Conservative

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[ The Note for January 2014 ]

Once upon a time, it was thought that doing nothing about our unsustainable use of fossil energy would cost us nothing. Doing nothing was free, it seemed, but action might be costly. We now know (from unprecedented storm surges, continent-wide rashes of wildfires, tornadoes, floods and crop failures, food price spikes, and record disaster relief spending) that inaction is unaffordable.

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You Already Pay a Carbon Tax

…to the oil companies.

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[ The Note for December 2013 ]

It is estimated that nearly $5 trillion per year is spent to support the fossil fuel industry globally by governments (in the form of subsidies, tax credits and other industry support spending) and through hidden “externalized” costs paid by governments and consumers alike (some from health, some from degradation of vital natural resources, some from political and economic turbulence, disruption and waste). It costs a lot of money to make fossil fuels appear to be a “low-cost” way to make historic profits and provide energy. You are paying that hidden carbon tax every day, as part of the cost of almost everything you do.

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Liberate Capital from Carbon Risk

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The Note for October 2013

If we do not work collaboratively and thoughtfully to change current practice, trillions of dollars of private investment capital will remain stranded in outmoded fossil fuel operations. Those carbon-focused business lines carry with them diverse varieties of long-term risk, linked to the pervasive externalization of costs and secondary impacts, related to the use of fossil fuels. Such exposure is known as carbon asset risk. We need to liberate that capital to protect future life and build the creative collaborative clean energy economy that will sustain us in a low-carbon future.

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