The Weiner Component #75 – Social Costs: Pollution & Global Warming

Vernon - Sunset

Vernon – Sunset (Photo credit: Drriss & Marrionn)

English: Duke Energy Center

English: Duke Energy Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If an individual or group of people want to start an industry, be it electrical power, producing automobiles, some form of food production, frozen or fresh, or whatever, they need a facility, machinery, labor, and the means of selling their product.  There are all sorts of costs in producing the item.  In order for the business to function and prosper they need to make a profit. If everything falls in line the industry grows and develops.

But there is another factor that is generally not really considered and that is the social cost of this production.  This is what making this item costs society in terms of pollution and global warming.  These costs can generally be put into dollars and cents.  They are expensive amounts paid by the public.  These social costs are the byproducts of the production, generally types of pollution created in the production of the particular product.  They are specific costs to the immediate and general society in the form of bad or unhealthy air, toxins in the drinking water, poisonous particles in the air or, for that matter, any other contamination which affects human life upon the planet.

Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that causes adverse damage.  It can take the form of chemical material, radioactivity, noise, light, or heat.  Awareness of pollution grew after World War II due to radioactive fallout from atomic warfare and testing.  Also London has traditionally had heavy smog which limited visibility and apparently ability to breathe.  In 1952, the Great London Smog killed at least 4,000 people.  This resulted in environmental legislation in both England and the United States.   Congress, in the mid-fifties and early 1970s passed a Noise Control Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.  Most industrial nations have tried to control global warming.  It is generally believed by most scientist that the strange patterns of weather that many sections of the planet are experiencing are a result of global warming.

Interestingly, in the United States the Republican Party and its members do not believe in global warming. Apparently the conclusions of most environmental scientists throughout the world has no meaning for them. As far as they are concerned no climate change has anything to do with pollution, all the millions of tons of CO 2 or other gases released into the atmosphere do not in any way affect climate.  If there are changes it has nothing to do with human behavior.  This is like arguing that if a person is shot, his death is caused by the fact that he stopped breathing rather than the bullet that went through his heart killed him.

One group of the major funders of Republican politicians are the big industries and the billionaire industrialists, like the Koch Brothers who spend multi-millions on local, state, and national elections.  It is to their interest that the social costs of production not be turned back on to the producers; this would limit their profits, probably from the multi-billions to the multi-millions.  I suspect that by spending millions they are saving themselves the billions of dollars that the public picks up as the social costs of production.  For a Republican to be against global warming is one major way of ensuring that he will receive large contributions when he is running for public office.

In the summer of 2013 President Obama pledged to limit emissions that effect climate change.  Since the House of Representatives have taken no action, in late March of 2014 the White House announced a strategy to limit releases of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.  This is the most recent in a group of climate change initiatives.  This move lays the groundwork for a group of regulations that could affect agriculture, as well as the oil, gas, and the coal industries.

Methane, the major component of natural gas, is estimated to be more than twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels at trapping heat in the atmosphere.  While methane emissions are 9% of the country’s greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere, they are expected to increase.  The administration’s strategy to reduce Methane Emissions has been to lay out a timetable for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of the Interior, Energy, and Agriculture to bring this about.  These policies should improve public health and safety, and provide more energy to power communities, farms, factories and power plants.  Since Congress has deadlocked on climate legislation President Obama is using his executive powers to deal with sources of greenhouse gases.

The City of Vernon is an industrial municipality of 5.2 square miles located several miles southeast of Downtown Los Angeles in Southern California.  Located within this city is the battery recycler, Exide Technology.  This company is again being condemned for contaminating nearby homes with lead and threatening the health of more than 100,000 people with its arsenic emissions.  As a result the South Coast Air Quality Management District has ordered Exide Technologies to limit its operations by 15% and later temporarily shut down the factory.  Community members have been urging regulators to close the plant permanently ever since it was revealed last year that its arsenic emissions posed an increased cancer risk.  The latest trouble comes less than two weeks after state officials revealed soil test had found elevated levels of lead in the yards of homes north and south of the plant and at a park near a preschool.  All of this seems to be a longtime problem caused by Exide Industries.

Exide Industries is one of the world’s largest producers, distributors, and recyclers of lead-acid batteries.  Plants are located all over the world in sixty countries.  One of the plants in the east coast of the U.S. has been permanently closed down.  At Vernon, at a public meeting, on March 19, 2014, residents demanded that the plant be shut down.  Emotions ran high.  The concern was that the densely populated neighborhood around the Exide plant has been in danger for years.  In April 2013 the plant in Vernon, California was shut down for arsenic, lead leakage, and emissions.  In June of 2013 the plant filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The company is still functional today.  Who will eventually end up paying the social monetary costs of both the cleanup and the medical problems of the local citizens?

Duke Energy, Which is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, has 7.2 million customers.  It services Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, North and South Carolina, and Florida.  In 2002, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst identified Duke Energy as the 46th largest corporate producer of air pollution in the United States, with roughly 36 million pounds of toxic chemicals released annually into the air.  The Political Economy Research Institute ranks Duke Energy 13th among corporations emitting airborne pollutants in the U.S.  In addition Duke Energy is virtually daily dumping toxic coal ash into some of the rivers in North Carolina which supply drinking water to cities in the state.

Following a February 2, 2014 coal ash spill that was the third largest of its kind the U.S. Attorney’s Office opened a grand jury investigation into Duke Energy and North Carolina regulators in the administration of Governor Pat McCrory.  McCrory had been an employee of Duke Energy for 28 years, received funding for his campaign from Duke Energy, and many critics have said his administration has intervened on Duke’s behalf to settle lawsuits over environmental violations.

North Carolina regulators on Thursday, March 20, 2014, cited Duke Energy, saying the utility deliberately dumped 61 million gallons of toxic coal ash waste into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, which provides drinking water for several cities and towns in the state.  The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the giant utility, who was responsible for a massive spill from a different coal ash containment pond Feb. 2, and had illegally pumped the ash from two coal ash ponds at its Cape Fear plant in Moncure, N.C into a canal that feeds into the Cape Fear River.

The State agency stated that Duke Energy had been getting away with the dumping by telling regulators it was part of routine maintenance.  The inspectors determined that 44 million gallons of toxic waste had been pumped from one pond for 78 days and 17 million gallons from a second site for 31 days.  Duke Energy, the nation’s largest electric utility, also has been cited by state regulators for a February 2 spill, which coated the Dan River with toxic coal ash sludge on the North Carolina-Virginia border for about 70 miles.

According to a United Nations committee, climate change is already affecting every continent and ocean, posing immediate and growing risks to people.  The longer society delays attempts to reduce the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases the more severe and widespread the harm will be.

Global warming threatens food and water supplies, security and economic growth, and will worsen many current existing problems, including hunger, drought, flooding, wildfires, poverty and even war.  Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.

On Sunday, May 4, 2014, the Los Angeles Times, on its front page published an article stating the scientists were trying to develop or find a breed of chicken that could successfully survive in warmer climates.

Can we ever solve this problem?  Are we forever going to have to pay the social costs of most types of production?  In all cases where pollution of any kind exists it is cheaper for the companies involved to pay fines and for cleanups of contaminated areas that it is for them to stop polluting.

The problem can be easily solved.  If it becomes less expensive for the companies and individuals creating the pollution to also pay the social costs of production than to continue polluting then that will occur.  If it were less expensive for Duke Energy to move and bury its coal ash in areas away from bodies of water and to install scrapers into its chimneys that remove the toxic particles from the smoke then they would do so.  Of course this would raise the cost of their products but it would also improve the health of the people in North Carolina and beyond.

In terms of global warming the same principle holds true.  In the United States the greenhouse gases that we emit are helping to change the temperature of our planet.  The bulk of this change is being done by the discharges of automobiles.  It is long past the time to consider other forms of mobility than the combustion engine.  There is, for example, electric power.  It may be time to consider major changes in motive power for automobiles.

Companies like Exide Technology may have seen their usefulness expire.  There are new technologies available now.  Do we still need this type of battery?  Can the company change over to modern times or must it go out of existence.

It always strikes me as innocuous that some people know instinctively that there is no such thing as global warming but regularly go to doctors and both follow their advice and take the medications prescribed.  They trust science and doctors to the point of putting their lives in their hands.  How can a belief in science exist on the one hand and instinct on the other?  These people have an interest in global warming not really existing.  Their interest is either profit from what they are producing and selling or in not wanting to be responsible for the social costs of their pollution.  Others, who indirectly benefit from these polluters like politicians or the company employees would also support this position.  Self-interest, either directly or indirectly, has strongly supported pollution.  Isn’t it time to pass beyond that point?

The basic point of this article is that it is time to include the social costs of all types of production in the manufacture of any item for sale or use by the society.  This may immediately raise prices but in the long run would result in   a healthier and far better functional society.  It would probably be less expensive this way.

 

 

Scientific studies on climate helped establish...

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The Weiner Component #70 – Intentions of the Framers of the Constitution

English: First page of Constitution of the Uni...

One of the major objects, if not the major object, of the framers of the Constitution was to create a government of the majority with protections for the minorities.  A true Democracy is supposed to express the will of the majority.  The major reason for education in our society was to create a population capable of reasoning and therefore able to elect the best people capable of representing them.

Today instead the object of government as applied by the far right and the evangelicals is to create a government where they, the minority, rule and set the standards for the majority.  Through the use of seemingly endless amounts of money in advertising, gerrymandering, and outright prefabrication they have been able sway elections to give themselves the power to impede necessary reforms and cause untold misery in the nation.

The Republican Party has been vociferously attacking Affordable Health Care (Obama Care) since they were able to gain control of the House of Representatives in 2011.  With the upcoming Midterm Election in November of 2014 the leadership of the Party has promised to make that a major issue, destroying Obama Care.

In a March Special Election in Florida, in an overwhelmingly Republican District, the Republican candidate just barely won the election.  Interestingly he treated his victory as one in which he totally trashed the Democratic candidate and the overall bulk of the population in his District voted to get rid of Obama Care.  The reasoning by the candidate and the party seems to be fallacious.  Presumably the new basis of the November Election in 2014 will be to elect Republicans so they can do away with Obama Care.

This seems to be in the opinion of many of that group a way to regain control of Congress.  The concept is fascinating since the entire concept of Obama Care was originally developed by the Heritage Foundation, a Republican Think Tank, and initially set up in Massachusetts under Republican Governor Mitt Romney.  It would seem that the reason for attacking Obama Care is to gain political power In Washington, D.C.

Interestingly, if we take the different parts of Obama Care and discuss them with the general public we find that they like the parts.  For example, keeping a child on their parents medical plan until he or she is 26 if the youngster is going to college, insurance companies not being able to reject people because of a prior condition, overall lower insurance rates for most people, no maximum limit in terms of what the insurance company has to spend on any condition, etc., etc.  But then if you ask them what they think about Obama Care the answer is that they don’t like it.

What seems to have happened is that the Republican prefabrications, like death panels and other nonsensical statements, which the Republicans have repeated over and over again, have, more or less, taken hold.  A good percentage of the people do not associate Affordable Health Care with the benefits it’s so far provided.  It can also be stated that the Democrats have not provided enough positive information to the public compared to the Republicans who have given redundantly endless negative statements.

In addition to using Obama Care as a means of gaining political power the wealthy Republicans like the billionaire Libertarian Koch Brothers have begun, through groups they fund, utilizing television and other forms of advertising as early as March for the oncoming November Election.  The probability is that billions will be spent on the Midterm Election.  And most of this money will be spent by the Republicans attempting to buy power by trying to gain control of the Senate and keeping control of the House of Representatives.  This is also true for state elections.

Will they gain control?  An interesting question!  We’ll have to wait and see.  Can the American voter be bought by propaganda and go against his/her own economic interests?

If the Republicans are successful the country will have total gridlock for 2015 and 2016.  They will not have a supermajority in the Senate and the Democrats will do what they, the Republicans, have done from 2009 on, filibuster the bills they are against and the President will veto the bills he is against.  They might try to impeach him as they did President Clinton; but, I suspect, they will have a problem doing so.  Of course they might be able to push through some strange laws, that the President would consider unconstitutional and break, as they did in 1868 with President Andrew Johnson.  But that did not effectively work then even with supermajorities in both Houses of Congress.

If the Republicans were to gain control of Congress in 2015 they would have to find positive reasons for running the country and they would also have to be able to work with the President.  At this point none of this seems possible.  All they have done since 2011 has been to impede all programs for which Obama could claim credit.  They haven’t been for anything except lowering taxes for corporations and the upper 1%.  The Republicans have done an outstanding job of keeping the country in a recession, attacking woman’s rights, and limiting benefits in entitlement programs for the poor and needy.  Paul Ryan, for example, has defined sloth as a racial thing.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

 

 

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