The Toxic Bubble of Technical Debt Threatening America

Climate change will soon expose a crippling problem embedded in the nation’s infrastructure. In fire-ravaged California, it already has.

The wind-driven Kincade Fire burns near the town of Healdsburg, California.

The wind-driven Kincade Fire burns near the town of Healdsburg, California. STEPHEN LAM / REUTERS

In Northern California, the fires have come again, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing by mandate. They’ve been aided by a historic wind event that a forecaster told me was “off the charts,” with offshore winds showing up as six standard deviations away from normal in National Weather Service models. On Sunday, the wind gusted to 100 miles an hour on a mountaintop near the Kincade Fire. It was like a dry hurricane, and the satellite images showed the fire pushing and expanding in response. The fire might keep growing for days more, maybe even a week.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company, better known as PG&E, has a well-documented history of neglecting the maintenance of its equipment, and as with last year’s deadly Camp Fire, early reports suggest that the company’s lines could have started the Kincade Fire too. Even so, hundreds of thousands of residents have had their power shut off to try to prevent fires from starting.

PG&E makes for an easy villain, or “a steaming pile of terrible management and debt.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the company paid out executives and shareholders while foregoing important systemic upgrades. (The Journal’s editorial board, however, blamed Sacramento’s policies of supporting solar installations, which could have pulled the focus away from grid maintenance.)

And sure, let accountability fall on PG&E, the California Public Utilities Commission, and whomever else. The problem is far, far deeper though, and it extends way beyond the local situation.
A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books. SOURCE
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Copenhagen Wants to Show How Cities Can Fight Climate Change


The beginning of a ski run on the roof of Copenhagen’s new trash incinerator, which will help heat buildings in the city. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

COPENHAGEN — Can a city cancel out its greenhouse gas emissions?

Copenhagen intends to, and fast. By 2025, this once-grimy industrial city aims to be net carbon neutral, meaning it plans to generate more renewable energy than the dirty energy it consumes.

Here’s why it matters to the rest of the world: Half of humanity now lives in cities, and the vast share of planet-warming gases come from cities. The big fixes for climate change need to come from cities too. They are both a problem and a potential source of solutions.

The experience of Copenhagen, home to 624,000 people, can show what’s possible, and what’s tough, for other urban governments on a warming planet.

The mayor, Frank Jensen, said cities “can change the way we behave, the way we are living, and go more green.” His city has some advantages. It is small, it is rich and its people care a lot about climate change.

Mr. Jensen said mayors, more than national politicians, felt the pressure to take action. “We are directly responsible for our cities and our citizens, and they expect us to act,” he said.

In the case of Copenhagen, that means changing how people get around, how they heat their homes, and what they do with their trash. The city has already cut its emissions by 42 percent from 2005 levels, mainly by moving away from fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity. MORE

The Green New Deal Is What Realistic Environmental Policy Looks Like

In the 21st century, environmental policy is economic policy.

Supporters of a Green New Deal gathered late last year in Washington.CreditCreditJim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock

Everyone is lining up to endorse the Green New Deal — or to mock it. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have all endorsed the resolution sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

Conservative critics predictably call it “a shocking document” and “a call for enviro-socialism in America,” but liberal condescension has cut deeper. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, essentially dismissed it as branding, saying, “The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?” Others have criticized it for leaving out any mention of a carbon tax, a cornerstone of mainstream climate-policy proposals, while embracing a left-populist agenda that includes universal health care, stronger labor rights and a jobs guarantee.

What do these goals have to do with stabilizing atmospheric carbon levels before climate change makes large parts of the world uninhabitable? What has taken liberal critics aback is that the Green New Deal strays so far from the traditional environmental emphasis on controlling pollution, which the carbon tax aims to do, and tries to solve the problems of economic inequality, poverty and even corporate concentration (there’s an antimonopoly clause).

But this everything-and-the-carbon-sink strategy is actually a feature of the approach, not a bug, and not only for reasons of ideological branding. MORE

How infrastructure could build Canada’s clean economy

Over the next decade, $180 billion is earmarked for roads, bridges and other public projects. It’s a massive opportunity to cut emissions.

Image result for How infrastructure could build Canada’s clean economy

Photo: Shutterstock/by Randy Hergenrether

Public infrastructure – airports, bridges, transmission lines, wastewater systems – is everywhere, which makes it an obvious target for cutting emissions. The sheer amount of ground it covers means we could make a real dent in Canada’s carbon footprint by changing the way governments make infrastructure spending decisions. And yet it’s an opportunity seldom discussed.

The Government of Canada plans to invest $180 billion in public infrastructure over the next decade. It’s a key opportunity to get our public infrastructure spending right. If we don’t, we risk being locked in to the wrong path for decades – with expensive retrofits being our only option to later cut pollution and ensure our buildings and bridges can stand up to increasingly severe weather events.

The advantages of smart infrastructure spending are detailed in a new report from Clean Energy Canada, which draws on expertise from professionals and stakeholders.

Here is why we should target public infrastructure in our climate-change efforts, and push governments to spend dollars differently:

The Government of Canada has prioritized increasing infrastructure investment and cutting pollution across the country. The 2016 federal budget saw the launch of the Investing in Canada Plan, the federal government’s long-term infrastructure strategy. This plan marks a historic new investment of $180 billion over the next 12 years in five key priority areas: public transit, green and social infrastructure, trade and transportation, and rural and remote communities.

This policy primer will make the case for why we should look to public infrastructure to build the clean growth economy. It will also provide advice to government on how to do that. MORE

Oslo starts 2019 as Europe’s eco capital

The Norwegian capital plans to cut emissions by 95 percent by 2030, despite being one of Europe’s fastest growing cities. As European Green Capital 2019, it hopes to set an example for others.

Oslo - Stadtzentrum mit Tram (picture-alliance/NurPhoto/G. Yaari)

Oslo’s waterfront was once a mass of shipping containers and a vast intersection jammed with cars pumping out fumes.

Today, traffic is diverted through an underwater tunnel, and much of it is made up of electric or hybrid cars. Above, the scene is becoming dominated by a new Edvard Munch art museum and central library — both due to open in 2020.

The new development has impressive environmental as well as cultural credentials, with all new buildings meeting energy efficiency standards for low energy use, explains Anita Lindahl Trosdahl, project manager for Oslo’s Green Capital year. MORE