Month: February 2008

British Columbia Introduces a Carbon Tax

Wow, I am already proud of my future destination, a carbon tax, no less. One that will start off at $10 per tonne of carbon (2.4c per litre of gasoline, or about 9c a gallon) and rise by a factor of three in a few years…

VICTORIA – Finance Minister Carole Taylor introduced an escalating carbon tax on most fossil fuels Tuesday, one she says recycles revenues back to taxpayers and businesses and is designed to ignite an environmental social movement in British Columbia and across Canada to fight climate change.And she’s handing every British Columbian $100 in June as seed money to get them thinking green.

The Canadian Press: BC introduces carbon tax, but off-sets increased fuel costs with tax cuts

The carbon tax advocacy center sets the required starter tax as 10c a gallon, BTW, so this measure by BC is no joke, it’s a serious effort to rein in CO2 emissions from the province. Carbon taxes are in general regressive as they are flat taxes, so the poor pay the same as the rich, but obviously will suffer more. So, what is the BC government doing to ensure that the poor don’t suffer?

The carbon tax revenue, estimated to hit $1.8 billion over three years, will be returned to taxpayers through personal income tax and business tax cuts, she said.The government will introduce legislation that requires it to table an annual plan that shows how the carbon tax revenue will be returned to taxpayers, Taylor said

Good words. But Taylor needs to realize that in the absence of well designed tax offsets, the people and businesses of BC will be at a temporary competitive disadvantage. It’s tricky to be an early adopter, but I am optimistic that BC will be the better for it.

Wonderful, now the rest of Canada (and the US) needs to follow suit. And, I look forward to blogging about Canada already, exciting!

Thanks of course to the grist for alerting me…

Update: An economist allays my regressivity and harm to business fears

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Duke Energy and Cliffside

NC Warn produces a good cheatsheet on Duke Energy‘s deceptions about the Cliffside coal fired power plant.

For more than a year, Duke Energy has tried to sell the idea that building a large coal-fired power plant near Charlotte would somehow be “good for the environment.” Following the January 29th state approval for construction to begin, the deception increased. By masking the new unit’s pollution behind upgrades already required by state law at an existing Cliffside furnace – and the retirement of four very small units that sit idle most of the time – Duke has misled the public, media and elected leaders into thinking that building a new unit will reduce a range of harmful emissions.


To summarize, CO2 emissions are set to increase significantly (factor of 12) if this plant is approved. So, in my book, this is a loser project that does not deserve even consideration. The facts are simple. This country is less than two years away from putting a price on carbon through some kind of carbon cap-trade scheme. All three major candidates for president support some kind of scheme, though McCain does not seem to know if the legislation he supports has an emissions cap or not (typical of him, he does not have any policy expertise or attention to detail whatsoever). So, the ground rules on what constitutes a cost effective option and what represents a major money making boondoggle are going to change very soon. Our state officials, thanks to the miracle of the internets, have all the knowledge to make a decision based on a reality that is coming soon. So, their reluctance to consider CO2 is puzzlingly short sighted. Duke Energy has some vague promises to sequester the carbon. But the fact of the matter is that the technology does not exist, and there’s no guarantee that it will exist any time soon in any cost effective fashion.

Even if you’re a big believer in the technology advances that will no doubt occur into the future, you have to admit that carbon emissions cannot be free any more. So, unless the federal government puts a price on the carbon, you cannot objectively support a project that will give these emissions away for free. Don’t tell me that Duke Energy will have to pay for the carbon it emits from Cliffside. It may have to, but it will pas all costs along to consumers and win anyway. So the tax payers of North Carolina are stuck with an expensive, dinosaur technology power generating option that is incredibly polluting for years to come. All because the state officials did not have the foresight to wait a year or two.

You can make the same argument for mercury. The current EPA “plan” for mercury is in tatters as it violates the clean air act. A change in administration (no McCain this time, only Clinton or Obama) is no doubt going to cause a tightening of mercury rules, a long overdue prospect. Why would the state approve a plan that would result in an increase in mercury emissions knowing fully well that federal regulation in this matter is unsettled? What ever happened to the conservative wait and watch approach?

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Leaving Chapel Hill

I’ve lived in Chapel Hill for over 10 years, encompassing a Ph. D, a marriage, a few jobs, cats, many wonderful friends and a blog that to this day proceeds in fits and starts. But, my time here is finally at an end. I accepted a job offer to move to Victoria, BC. It’s on Vancouver Island and quite breathtakingly beautiful in an almost throwaway fashion!

Photo Courtesy flickr – Allie Wojtaszek’s photo stream.

I am not kidding, the island’s just incredibly beautiful.

Anyways, I will be heading out for a long vacation in Chennai, back for 10 days or so, then leaving end of March to start work. Blogging for the next week or so should be normal (as in, no rhythm, rhyme or reason!). Once I get to Chennai, blogging will be sporadic as my parents don’t have internet and I am too lazy to set up a connection for a month!

Once I get to Victoria, blogging will, of course, resume, though I guess I’ll still remain pseudo anonymous (not that too many people care!). I will be working for a company that works very closely with the EPA and Environment Canada and things get delicate when you work with the government and criticize them! It will be interesting to see where this blog goes, though I will refrain from the usual gee whiz look at that beautiful scenery posting!

If you know people on Vancouver island you can hook me up with, please email /leave a comment. I don’t move that often, and I can’t rely on seeing familiar faces on Franklin Street and the Weaver Street Market any more!

S. is staying in Chapel Hill for a little longer, she loves her work and just started it!

It’s been fun living here, but all good things must pass.

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Harvard Open Access Update

Yes they can, and they did! Harvard votes for Open Access!

Harvard University’s arts and sciences faculty approved a plan on Tuesday that will post finished academic papers online free, unless scholars specifically decide to opt out of the open-access program. While other institutions have similar repositories for their faculty’s work, Harvard’s is unique for making online publication the default option.

Harvard Opts In to ‘Opt Out’ Plan :: Inside Higher Ed :: Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education

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Harvard votes on Open Access

Faculty members are scheduled to vote on a measure that would permit Harvard to distribute their scholarship online, instead of signing exclusive agreements with scholarly journals that often have tiny readerships and high subscription costs.Although the outcome of Tuesday’s vote would apply only to Harvard’s arts and sciences faculty, the impact, given the university’s prestige, could be significant for the open-access movement, which seeks to make scientific and scholarly research available to as many people as possible at no cost.

Harvard Proposal to Publish Scholarly Research Free on the Internet – New York Times

This could be huge. Of course, expect ACS, Elsevier and others to complain, but their lobbyists can’t touch Harvard, with its giant endowment.

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Tom Philpott Speaks at UNC

Tom Phipott is the co-founder and co-director of Maverick Farms, an educational non-profit farm dedicated to promoting family farming as a community resource and reconnecting local food networks”. He also blogs at the grist about food issues. Check him out at UNC tomorrow.

Writing for Public(s):
For whom do we write? why?
How can we write our research in more relevant and resonant ways?

WEDS Feb 13,
4:30-6:30pm, Alumni 313

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100s of turtles die in Andhra Pradesh

  I have written about turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and how they save adult turtles lives previously. So, this story is an utterly avoidable tragedy brought about by the lack of implementation of laws regulating the use of TEDs.

The death of hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles along the Paravada coast in December 2007 had occurred due to failure of the trawlers to install the mandatory turtle excluder device. Lab tests conducted at Andhra University and Veterinary Biological Research Institute, Hyderabad ruled out the largescale death of the endangered species due to consumption of toxic contents discharged by industries located nearby or on account of rise in the seawater temperature.“We didn’t find any abnormal pollution levels. The washing ashore of carcasses was not a localised phenomena as dead turtles were found all along the coast up to Srikakulam during the year-end – the breeding season,” P.J. Vijaykar, Divisional Forest Officer told The Hindu on Wednesday.

The Hindu : Andhra Pradesh / Visakhapatnam News : Olive Ridley death riddle solved

Andhra Pradesh was supposed to be a success story with the TEDs. This from an article by Kartik Shanker, one of SSTCN’s founding members…

In India, the parallel cases of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh demonstrate how a TED programme should not (and should) be implemented. In Orissa, the polarization between the fishing community and conservationists has prevented the introduction of TEDs, while in Andhra Pradesh, TEDs were introduced by the state Fisheries Department with appropriate demonstration and training programmes (see Shanker and Pilcher, 2003).

So, this occurrence in Andhra Pradesh is quite disheartening and speaks to the large gaps that lie between legislation, policy and implementation in India.

Cross Posted at SSTCN

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Conventional Biofuels are Evil, Part 43124

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Studies Deem Biofuels a Greenhouse Threat – New York Times

I think it is time to conclude that anyone who talks up biofuels is a) affiliated with an agri-biotech firm b) Big farmer c)Lobbyist, or d)Politician beholden to a,b and c.

It’s not even close. Clearing hitherto productive forest/grassland for biofuel growth  releases 93 times the amount greenhouse gases saved by the use of this biofuel. Diverting farmland for biofuel use makes things worse as the crop substituted will then be grown on land cleared.

The studies do give sugarcane and biofuel from agricultural wastes a cautious maybe. Corn ethanol and palm biodiesel will lead to the destruction of our ecosystems, make food more expensive and scarce, and actually exacerbate global warming.


  1. Joseph Fargione, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Peter Hawthorne. Land
    Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt. Science, page 1152747, 2008.
  2. Timothy Searchinger, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, and Tun-Hsiang Yu. Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change. Science, page 1151861, 2008.

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Sunita Narain on the Tata Nano

nano.jpg Unless you have been living under a rock recently (hey, nice way to start a blog post, insult your reader(s)), you must have heard of the Tata Nano, the much ballyhooed cheapest car ever built. People ask me (after all, I am Indian and pretend to know a lot about the environment) what I think of the Nano. Well, it’s hard to summarize in an elevator pitch. Obviously, given the state of public transportation in the cities, people want private vehicles to travel in, more convenient, fewer people to jostle against, etc. People previously riding scooters and motorcycles (and carrying entire families in a two wheeler) would prefer this car. But, traffic’s going to get worse, and cars occupy a lot of road space while not carrying that many people.

Anyway, my thoughts aside, Sunita Narain (one of India’s most famous environmental activists) and director of  The Center for Science and Environment (India’s most active Environmental NGO) writes one of her typically insightful editorials in Down to Earth, the CSE’s flagship publication.

Let’s take the ‘affordability’ question first. The fact is that cars—small or big—are heavily subsidized. The problem is that when economists (including those who run the government) fret and fume about mounting subsidy bills, they think of farmers—fertilizer, electricity and food—not our cars. But subsidy is what they unquestionably get.The subsidy begins with the manufacture of cars. When we read about the Singur farmers’ struggle to stop government from acquiring their land for the Tata car factory we don’t join the dots. We don’t see this as the first big subsidy to motorization. The fact is, in Singur the manufacturer got cheap land, interest-free capital and perhaps other concessions—the Left Front government in West Bengal never made public full details of its attractive package. This brought down the cost of production and allowed the manufacturer to price the Nano at Rs 1 lakh

The Nano-flyover syndrome | Editor’s Page | Down To Earth magazine

All very true. Cars are heavily subsidized, taxation, parking, you name it, money quote…

Since cars take up over 75 per cent of the road space, even though they move less than 20 per cent of the people, it is obvious whom this expenditure benefits the most.

Yes, cars are not a very efficient way to move people, they’re convenient because Indian cities are not being planned to prioritize public transport that is convenient, safe and clean. India’s  per capita income (nominal) is about a $1000 per year and the nano, even in its cheapest form, is about 3 years worth of the average income. So, your average Indian, even if she lives in a city and makes twice this average, will not buy this car. So, she’s stuck on the bus which crawls ever so slowly due to all these nanos flitting about. Or, she’s on a scooter/bike facing ever increasing pollution due to these cars and risking life and limb as traffic pushes vehicles closer and closer together.

But of course, this seems to be the pattern of development and optimists will argue that at some point in time, the infrastructure will catch up to the point that there will be room for all these cars and money for all the people to buy all these cars. But as Ms. Narain points out, 20% of Delhi is already covered with roads (hard to get that number in context though, I have no idea what percent of NYC is road covered, for instance!), so finding room to build more roads is going to be hard.

Something’s gotta give, I don’t know what!

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