Author Topic: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change  (Read 4363 times)

Glenstache

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An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« on: March 15, 2016, 04:59:13 PM »
Original MMM Blog Post
http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2016/03/15/mother-earth/

There have already been a few threads on this topic over in Off Topic that have somewhat predictably gone off the rails. Following in the pattern of MMM's blgo post, here's how those conversations seem to go:

Mustache 1: Climate change is a problem and we should do something about it. The science is increasingly pointing towards bad outcomes, and there is broad consensus among the scientific community crossing multiple disciplines.
Mustache 2: The science community is <biased>, <doesn't account for all the good>, <just want more research dollars>, <there is no consensus>, <the model is wrong in one respect so I don't believe any of it>, <it will not be as bad as we think>. Therefore, we should do nothing at this point.
Mustache 1: Please provide a valid reference to support that position
Mustache 2: Provides dubious or out of context reference.
Mustache 1: Points out bad reference.
Mustache 2: <contest minor technical point>.
Mustache 1: <responds to minor point with other minor point>
Mustache 2: <contest minor technical point with other minor point>.
Mustache 1: <responds to minor point with other minor point>

Lather, rinse, repeat.

If the debate on the science needs to be rehashed, let's keep that part in the Off Topic threads where those discussions are pointlessly churning along to the amusement of all/none.

In anticipation of the next installment of the MMM blog, I think the more interesting thing to discuss is how climate change will impact mustachian strategies. Are there investing approaches that are or are not recommended, or that may be impacted by climate change? Any decision making to be done as it relates to travel, house size, etc? What will be the mustachian adaptation (chosen or otherwise)?

marty998

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2016, 01:07:31 AM »
You can bet electricity prices will rise, fuel/gas prices will rise, cost of water and related infrastructure will rise.

Thats for starters, so people who have a low-impact lifestyle will not bear the brunt of it as much.

Insurance premiums will also rise as natural disaster costs increase.

Would suggest it is prudent to pop your investments into things that will solve a problem (e.g. recycling), not something that will add to the problem (e.g. plastic manufacturer).

But you never know. Exxon may be taken over by greenies one day and come up with the panacea.


davisgang90

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2016, 05:13:28 AM »
Something I'd like to see is even better incentives for folks to install solar.  I know not everyone has the weather, roof access etc. to pull it off, but especially after seeing Sol's post http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/solar-panel-installation/ about covering more than 100% of his usage, if half the homes in the US had solar panels, we'd make a pretty big dent in our non-renewables. 
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Reynold

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2016, 08:04:51 AM »
Something I'd like to see is even better incentives for folks to install solar.  I know not everyone has the weather, roof access etc. to pull it off, but especially after seeing Sol's post http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/solar-panel-installation/ about covering more than 100% of his usage, if half the homes in the US had solar panels, we'd make a pretty big dent in our non-renewables.

Though you want to be careful to work out whether it is still cost-effective without government subsidies, as people in Nevada recently found out;

http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/01/26/nevada-power

Some place in Europe, like Germany, have also scaled incentives back a lot in recent years. 

bacchi

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2016, 11:00:53 PM »
Solar is growing like gangbusters in China and India. Is that because they have less money invested in centralized power plants and lines?

davisgang90

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2016, 04:19:56 AM »
Solar is growing like gangbusters in China and India. Is that because they have less money invested in centralized power plants and lines?
I'm sure this is the case.  Power where once there was none.
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Syonyk

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2016, 11:14:56 AM »
For the context of this thread, perhaps a fair guideline is, "Assume the climate is changing - it could be humans, it could be natural, but let's assume the data that shows things are changing is correct, and discuss how one adapts"?

In anticipation of the next installment of the MMM blog, I think the more interesting thing to discuss is how climate change will impact mustachian strategies. Are there investing approaches that are or are not recommended, or that may be impacted by climate change? Any decision making to be done as it relates to travel, house size, etc? What will be the mustachian adaptation (chosen or otherwise)?

I've certainly set out to angle my life to be well suited to what I think are the upcoming winds.  Climate change, debt at nearly every level of society, the increasing financialization of all the things, and our increasingly bubble-like economy don't give me warm fuzzy feelings about the future I'm likely to see in my lifetime.

TBH, I think "investing in the markets" is a long term strategy that is not hugely wise at this point.  I certainly still have some exposure to markets, mostly as a hedge against inflation, but I'm not sure the regular, consistent returns of the past 50 years or so will be a thing for very much longer, and I'm not counting on them.  I'm not sure my 401ks will be worth much in 25 years, and I'm not really counting on them.

Instead, I'm focusing on creating a low and flexible cost of living, with an ability to provide for a good bit of our own needs, and a useful, diverse skillset of "things I know how to do well."

This looks like a house in a more remote area, gardens, flexible working from home, and a bunch of hobby projects mostly revolving around low energy use/efficient energy use.  So solar heating, earth tube cooling, low energy transport (electric bikes being my preferred style), and some greenhouse/aquaponics work for year round food production.  I'd like to dig some root cellars as well, though the rock makes this difficult.

Consider it "investment in tools, property, skills, and knowledge" instead of in markets.  I'd rather have, for instance, a decently equipped electronics repair lab, than another $1500 in an index fund.

My wife & I are also raising our kid (one so far, may have more at some point) "analog" or "low tech."  We don't have any game systems.  We generally don't do that much with digital entertainment (though I admit e-ink readers are nice).  Instead, we regularly play board games with friends and family, and enjoy things like tabletop role playing games.  They don't require an internet connection, there's no DRM involved, and they can be played with a candle, if you care to.

I generally agree with JM Greer that the arc of civilizations is consistent over history, and evidence indicates that we're on the backside of ours.  So getting used to rougher times and less energy/less stuff is a useful thing to do.  Mustachians, in general, are already along this curve, so should be somewhat less affected if consumer goods are rarer in the future.  Meanwhile, I'm sure we all know people who will be very upset if they can't get a new bulb for their 4k home theater projector.

A lot of my plans involve working towards anti-fragility - which can be generally seen as the opposite of efficiency.  "Efficient" is generally one small bump away from not working, whereas anti-fragile systems take more space and raw energy, but tend to work better in the face of disruptions.  So, for instance, grid power plus a small solar/battery backup system for lighting and airflow.  Gardens, greenhouses, and grocery stores.  A variety of methods of getting around.  And redundant tools.

Something I'd like to see is even better incentives for folks to install solar.  I know not everyone has the weather, roof access etc. to pull it off, but especially after seeing Sol's post http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/solar-panel-installation/ about covering more than 100% of his usage, if half the homes in the US had solar panels, we'd make a pretty big dent in our non-renewables.

I'm not really a huge fan of home scale solar.  It doesn't cause any major problems at low penetration levels, but 50% of the US having solar panels is simply not compatible in any way with our current grid infrastructure or power management.

Nevada figured out that paying people obscene amounts of money to put solar panels on their roof wasn't a long term winning strategy, and fixed it.

The problem is, most people with rooftop solar are *not* off grid.  They're still grid tied.  And only a small amount of your power bill goes to "power" - the rest of it goes to grid maintenance/upgrades/overtime/etc.  It generally costs a power company $0.02-$0.04/kWh for power - the rest of the consumer cost assumes you're using a decent amount of power, pulling it through the grid, and goes to pay for infrastructure.

What rooftop solar does is say, "I'm not going to buy your power, but I am going to use your grid."  As a backup, as a way to get power to other users, etc.  Nevada (and I expect other states will follow) is saying, "Fine.  If you want to do that, then you need to pay for the grid maintenance in your flat connect fee, and I'm going to pay you like I'd pay any other power producer, not like a special snowflake."  It's quite reasonable, if your goal is a stable power grid.

Also, solar panels have a generally fixed energy cost to produce.  How much energy they produce in their lifetime depends heavily on where they're installed.  Optimally, you'd put them in places with insane amounts of sun, not in places that are grey and cloudy 6 months of the year (like, say, Seattle).  I'd rather see panels going up in Eastern Washington, where it's sunny year round, then going on rooftops in Seattle, where it's grey and crappy for long chunks of the year.  The losses of transmitting the power over would be outweighed by the increased per-panel annual production where there's sun.

I'm quite the fan of solar, but either at a home scale backup system (not grid tied), or at industrial levels, run by power companies, so they can keep their grids intact and running.  I am actually a fan of the power grid.

If you want to tell the power company to take a flying leap, great.  Go fully off grid.  You won't have to pay them a dime.  But, you're not going to have the same "I turn the switch on and things work" level of energy awareness either - you'll need to actually pay attention to your energy consumption and match it with the production.  Sunny afternoon?  Do whatever.  Third cloudy day a row in the winter?  Maybe not the time to use the electric dryer.

Not a popular opinion, I'm aware.

Solar is growing like gangbusters in China and India. Is that because they have less money invested in centralized power plants and lines?

Generally.  China has serious air quality issues in most of their cities as well, and their government still has the ability to say, "We are doing X" - and X happens.  Quickly.

India has a comically corrupt and unstable power grid, so solar is appealing in that it's reliable, and you can have a little bit of energy even where there's no grid.

===============

I agree that there's an insane amount of sunlight striking the earth.  However, it requires very serious amounts of non-renewable materials to turn it into the forms of energy we find useful.  Solar panels don't spring out of the air.  And the mining involved in getting the materials needed is an ugly, ugly process - both energetically and in what it does to the local environments.

===============

And if I'm wrong?  Well, then, I still live somewhere I enjoy living, with some damned fine home grown food, and a lot of interesting hobbies that don't have to pay the bills because the stuff I kept in the markets pays for my low basic cost of living.  Damn.  I can deal with that.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2016, 11:16:49 AM by Syonyk »
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tyort1

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2016, 02:55:04 PM »
Syonyk, you seem kind of angry about the whole thing.  You are right that solar is not the answer to everything, but I think it makes a lot more sense than just keeping things the way they are.  I also agree with you that solar farms at the industrial level are what we need to make the full switch over. 

But, in the mean time, it makes sense to do rooftop solar.  In fact, it's the fact that SO MANY people are switching that is driving any change at all with the power companies.  That is a good thing.  Local solar helps in a 2nd area - it allows for a more distributed approach to power generation which helps the power companies enormously during hot days (i.e., 'peak demand' time), which results in less stress/overload on the grid.  Finally, the cost of solar is fixed - once you make them, pay for them, and install them, they produce the energy you need till they die. 

For now we are still tied to the grid, but eventually batteries will become cheap and easy to install, so you won't need the grid after all.
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Telecaster

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2016, 03:11:15 PM »
Here is some interesting news, Palo Alto CA is pondering a long term contract (potentially 40 years, with options) to buy solar for $0.04/kWh.   Even for wholesale pricing that's cheap. 

The advantage of solar is the fuel price doesn't change.  That makes long term contracts desirable, and brings down the price. 


http://cleantechnica.com/2016/02/23/palo-alto-california-approves-solar-ppa-hecate-energy-36-76mwh-record-low/

MoonShadow

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2016, 03:18:18 PM »
I was thinking that a REIT that concentrates in investing in regions of Canada that have not had much development so far, due to a cold climate, would be a great long term play.  There is a whole lot more coastal frontage in Canada than there is in the US.

Syonyk

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #10 on: March 19, 2016, 03:22:24 PM »
Syonyk, you seem kind of angry about the whole thing.

I'm not particularly angry.  Sad, perhaps, that we didn't make the decisions before I was born that would have moved things onto a sustainable path.

I do get pretty well annoyed at people who say, "Solar on the roof, solves everything!" with zero understanding of power grids, islanding issues, and the costs of using the grid as a storage battery.

Quote
You are right that solar is not the answer to everything, but I think it makes a lot more sense than just keeping things the way they are.  I also agree with you that solar farms at the industrial level are what we need to make the full switch over.

Using less energy makes radically more sense than solar.  I would much rather see solar thermal collectors on people's roofs than PV panels.  You can provide most of your hot water in almost all areas with solar (use a bit of natural gas or grid for backup in the winter), and you can provide an awful lot of winter heat.  If you've got earth tubes for cooling, you can use the thermal energy to help vent the house in the summer, and cool it through the earth tubes.

Except, crap.  Some people think such things are "ugly."  And they're on the boards of HOAs.  So, sorry!  Can't hang your laundry out to dry.  Can't have solar thermal.  It's against the HOA rules.  Property values, you know!

Quote
But, in the mean time, it makes sense to do rooftop solar.  In fact, it's the fact that SO MANY people are switching that is driving any change at all with the power companies.  That is a good thing.  Local solar helps in a 2nd area - it allows for a more distributed approach to power generation which helps the power companies enormously during hot days (i.e., 'peak demand' time), which results in less stress/overload on the grid.  Finally, the cost of solar is fixed - once you make them, pay for them, and install them, they produce the energy you need till they die.

I disagree with you.  It only makes sense to do rooftop solar if there are utterly absurd government subsidies for it.  In Washington, the maximum subsidy is $0.54/kWh produced.  For every kWh produced.  This is beyond idiotic.  There are radically better uses for that money than throwing up solar panels in Seattle, where you have clean power to start with, and don't have much sun at all in the winter.

The grid is not designed for distributed generation.  It's designed for centralized generation.  It will tolerate small amounts of distributed generation, but maintaining stability in a significantly decentralized grid is a challenge, at best, and we simply don't have the signaling going about needed to do it.  Everyone's rooftop solar just dumps as much into the grid as it can, and leaves the utility to take up the slack - which may whip around quickly on a partly cloudy day.  Having to make a coal plant try to load follow, or spin up turbines to idle in case they're needed, is not particularly efficient.

With grid scale industrial solar, at least the company running it knows what it's going to do.

I agree with you that the cost of solar is fixed at production time.  Which is why I'd like to see them installed places that will lead to the greatest lifetime production, not the greatest "Look at how Green(TM) I am!" cred in neighborhoods.

Quote
For now we are still tied to the grid, but eventually batteries will become cheap and easy to install, so you won't need the grid after all.

I'll say the same thing to you I say to everyone who expresses this view: Go read some Home Power Magazine articles from people who actually are off grid.  It's a very different style of life than "there is always power," and you shape your activities around the power, not around when you'd find most convenient.

Also, most off grid homes use propane or biomass for supplemental heating in the winter when solar gain doesn't work - and they're almost entirely designed around solar heating/passive cooling, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of homes in the US, which are aimed "at the street" - at best.

To take a typical suburban home off grid requires an infeasibly large amount of solar and battery, and will still have major compromises, because the house is not designed for that.
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Syonyk

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2016, 03:23:31 PM »
Here is some interesting news, Palo Alto CA is pondering a long term contract (potentially 40 years, with options) to buy solar for $0.04/kWh.   Even for wholesale pricing that's cheap. 

That's much more reasonable than paying homeowners $0.54/kWh.
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tyort1

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2016, 04:05:41 PM »
So your main points seem to be that homes would be better off if they were designed differently.  But they aren't.  And they never will be.  So you might as well not even bring that up.  Even though I mostly agree with you on those points.  I mean, if only things were different, then things would be different!  But they aren't.

Using far less power, well duh - we are on the MMM forum.  How many crazy wasteful people do you think are on this forum?  I've already done a ton to get our total usage down to minimal levels, and I bet most people here have too.  Obviously the vast majority on this forum will agree with you on this point (as do I).

The whole point of using the grid as a battery is entirely beside the point, IMO.  The main thing is this - for every person that puts up solar RIGHT NOW, that is one less person tied to oil, coal, and gas.  This is a very good thing.  Arguing about rates and net metering and using the grid or not, that's all just logistics.  The utility companies will adapt, kicking and screaming, to the new paradigm because this is what people want.  And don't give me that crap about this not being possible without government assistance.  THE UTILITIES THEMSELVES WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE WITHOUT GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE.  They are there to serve US, not the other way around.

Look, this is a big change, no doubt.  But it's a necessary one.  If we want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil (and thus let us revert back to not giving a crap about the Middle East again), and at the same time reduce the burning of our non-renewable energy sources, this is the way to do it.  Personally I can't wait to get my panels up, and then get a couple of EV's.  Not that I drive very much after finding MMM, ha.
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Syonyk

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2016, 04:24:29 PM »
Solar is a radical financial loss for homeowners without serious, serious government subsidies.

I think utilities would probably still exist without the government.

Getting off oil is nice, but if you're replacing it with minerals mined from shitty places with godawful human rights, and storing it in battery chemistries using cobalt (50% of which is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo), you've just shifted the problem, not solved it.
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tyort1

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2016, 04:43:16 PM »
Again, the subsidies are there, so why carp about what things would be like, if things were different (but they aren't).  The subsidies are there, take advantage of them.  I know that the utilities (and most large businesses) aggressively pursue and take advantage of every tax shelter and subsidy available.  Why the hell shouldn't we do the same?

Your Congo example is not correct.  Saying that mining for materials in a crappy country is the same thing as f'ing over the earth on a massive scale, continuously and forever via oil/gas/coal/etc is completely wrong.

Is mining in Congo an OPTIMAL outcome?  No, of course not.  But is that MUCH BETTER than the status quo?  Hell yeah it is.  Anyway, I don't think we'll agree on this topic so I'll let you have the last word if you want.  Others can make up their own minds (and they will, anyway, of course).
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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #15 on: March 19, 2016, 05:48:59 PM »
Solar is a radical financial loss for homeowners without serious, serious government subsidies.

I think utilities would probably still exist without the government.

I don't think they would, at least not in recognizable form.

Back in the day, all you needed to be a telephone company was a string and two cans.  Great!  Low barriers to entry, anyone can do it, plenty of competition, which should drive down prices and increase service. The only problem is that it didn't work.  If you had a different phone company than say, the fire department, you couldn't call the fire department.  Or people calling Macy's would be connected to Gimble's, because Gimble's bribed the phone company.

That is why today in virtually every country, virtually all utilities are:

1) Owned by the government
2) Quasi-government agencies, or
3) Tightly regulated by the government

I can't think of any counter-examples.

Quote
Getting off oil is nice, but if you're replacing it with minerals mined from shitty places with godawful human rights, and storing it in battery chemistries using cobalt (50% of which is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo), you've just shifted the problem, not solved it.

Most oil is extracted from shitty places with godawful human rights.  But something like 98% of car batteries are recycled.  That's a huge improvement over simply blowing it into the atmosphere and then going back to get more. 

Syonyk

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #16 on: March 19, 2016, 05:51:44 PM »
And, right now, lithium battery recycling involves selling shit batteries to vapers.
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alsoknownasDean

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #17 on: March 20, 2016, 03:45:53 AM »
There's definitely an incentive if the price of electricity in your area is high enough.

I'm a fan of solar power, not just because of the green aspect, but because electricity here is expensive (both per kilowatt hour rates and network fees). Solar power is growing very quickly here in Australia, despite a significant reduction in government incentives and feed in tariffs. In my state, the feed in tariff is 5c/kWh, yet my retail cost for electricity (mostly from brown coal) is 23c/kWh.

Using less in the first place is definitely worth doing though.

Using less energy makes radically more sense than solar.  I would much rather see solar thermal collectors on people's roofs than PV panels.  You can provide most of your hot water in almost all areas with solar (use a bit of natural gas or grid for backup in the winter), and you can provide an awful lot of winter heat.

Chalk this one up to 'depends'.

My parents have solar hot water, but it doesn't work all that well when you're getting up at 6am to get ready for work and the sun doesn't rise until half past seven in the winter. It's got an electric boost, but the main thing that boosts is their power bills.

Probably works better if you shower in the evenings :)
« Last Edit: March 20, 2016, 04:06:25 AM by alsoknownasDean »

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Re: An Interview with Mother Earth on Climate Change
« Reply #18 on: March 21, 2016, 09:25:14 AM »
I'll second having a well tooled home shop and the skills to take care of your family and friends. Pay for it by avoiding repair shops and hiring handy-people. At the same time, doing it all for yourself helps build the skills.