Carlos Rymer

Sustainability, Life, and More…

Archive for the category “Economics”

An Alternative to Banning Sugary Drinks in NYC

Recently, NYC’s Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, announced a plan to enact a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters, and street cars. This is great news because of the obesity epidemic, which is incurring a huge toll on society, especially children. The Mayor made the case by showing how much sugar a regular bottle of soda contains, and arguing that this ban would go a long way in helping reduce obesity in NYC.

Now, while this is a great step forward, I think it’s fair to ask a question: is a ban the best way to reduce obesity? I would argue that it is not. First of all, preventing people from getting sugary drinks will look like certain freedoms are being taken away, and in addition we will be losing economic activity created by the sales of sugary drinks from this ban. In addition, we’ll be denying sugary drinks to people who lead very healthy lifestyles and actually drink these occasionally.

I think a better way to do this, as discussed in the comments to a post of the original NYTimes article on Google+, is to tax these drinks. If NYC were to instead tax sugary drinks heavily, to the point where it’s cheaper to, say, purchase instead healthier options, then we would be doing two things at once: reducing obesity rates while increasing tax revenues. We could use the tax revenues to do another thing that would help reduce obesity: give people greater access to exercise opportunities. The government could provide incentives to build more gyms, give people with low-income credit to access gyms, build more public courts, create more bike paths, and even subsidize healthier drinks. This approach would go farther in reducing obesity without keeping sugary drinks away from people who may occasionally drink them.

Whether NYC would do this or not is another question. I think the idea of a tax would immediately make the politicians promoting the ban scared of the politics of the matter, even though it can be framed in a way that actually gains political points as well. Maybe some other city will follow up with a better approach that taxes instead of bans.


Just Lead on Climate Change and They Will Follow

It is 2012, and international negotiations on climate change are still at an impasse largely because the world’s two largest economies and emitters (the United States and China) are demanding greater commitment from each other. Domestically, the United States is deeply gridlocked in politics over other issues to the point where climate change is no longer a priority to Congress. Meanwhile, China is moving ahead in securing dominance in the clean energy market. Previously, I argued that if the 2012 U.S. elections aren’t positive in terms of getting enough elected officials who understand the gravity of the issue, we may as well just turn to handing over the clean energy market entirely to the fossil fuel industry in its current form through specific economic incentives. Now, I want to answer the question of whether that’s truly necessary. Does the fate of the climate truly rest on the United States alone?

While it is largely believed that without the U.S. the international community cannot truly address climate change, current economic conditions point to the fact that this may not be entirely true. Yes, the U.S. is still the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, and yes China is reluctant to commit to serious greenhouse gas emission reductions without a fair commitment from the U.S. Yet everything points to the fact that regardless of climate change as an issue, clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and everything else that can help address climate change are engines of economic growth that cannot and are not being ignored. This is why President Barack Obama so often claims that the nation “that leads on clean energy” will “win the future.” It’s no longer about whether this needs to be done; it’s becoming an issue of who is doing it the best and the fastest.

The U.S., while still uncommitted to tough greenhouse gas reductions, is leading in investments in clean energy just as other nations like Germany and China are gearing up to claim market share. Just as recently as 2010, China led the world in clean energy investments. The U.S., thanks to the Obama administration, has also seen investments rise to the point where it surpassed China in 2011. Pressure is clearly building to prevent clean energy jobs from being created elsewhere. It’s arguable that if other nations keep pushing, the U.S. would have no choice other than to follow through on making hard commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It is this fact that gives fuel to the argument that the U.S. isn’t necessarily the decision-maker on climate change.

China, along with other countries, are arguably poised to lead the clean energy market. The challenge would be to not just lead in clean energy, but to make hard commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to send a signal to their markets and the world that they are ready to claim a large share of a market that promises jobs and energy security. If China and other countries suddenly became manufacturing centers that supplied the their own markets and the rest of the world for a host of technologies ranging from solar, wind, geothermal, and even carbon capture, political pressure would lead the U.S. to do what it isn’t doing yet to ensure it doesn’t slip through the cracks in this 21st century opportunity to “win the future.”

It is up to China and other countries to leave behind the argument that they need a strong commitment from the U.S. to begin making hard commitments. If the U.S. decides to stay on technologies of the 20th century, that only helps them in winning the future and eventually making the U.S. a market for instead of a supplier of new technologies. There is in fact a way forward without U.S. gridlock, and it is up for grabs. Some countries are already aware, but they need to move faster and more aggressively if they want to truly claim the front seat of this wave of innovation and growth.

Could Mitt Romney Really Be A Free Enterprise President?

The 2012 Presidential race is on in the U.S., and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, has escalated his attacks on President Barack Obama, claiming that the President has undermined free enterprise and expanded the role of government in the life of every U.S. citizen over the last three and a half years. According to Romney, the U.S. economy needs a leader who will put in place policies that encourage free enterprise in order to grow faster and put people back to work. The problem with this is that Mitt Romney is misleading people into believing that he will support all free enterprises, while the reality is that, like his party, he will focus aggressively on supporting existing free enterprises that have gamed U.S. democracy and undermined free markets.

To understand why Mitt Romney’s message may sound good in theory, it’s important to understand the difference between the theoretical U.S. economic model and the economic model actually in place. While it’s largely assumed that capitalism, a model under which competition among private enterprises maximizes wealth creation, is in full practice in the U.S., it turns out that the reality is very different.

Under completely free markets, private enterprises compete to generate the best products and services at the lowest possible costs. Competition keeps private enterprises from controlling the market and therefore dictating prices. In theory, this actually does lead to greater economic benefits, and there are countries where, in practice, this actually takes place to a significant degree. In the U.S., the economic model in place is actually one where special interests have gamed politics to the point where government has been significantly influenced to protect specific corporate interests, ranging from food & drinks to minerals to energy to pharmaceuticals. This economic model based on corporate power, big corporate players work hand in hand with the government to prevent free enterprises from competing against them. This is why corporations like Exxon, which seems to earn record profits every single year, still receives government subsidies. It is also why other countries with less entrepreneurial and technological capacity are now beating the U.S. in clean energy as its government refuses to provide the same level of support it provides to fossil fuels.

Corporate power is dangerous not only because it discourages free enterprise, but because it undermines democracy by creating the illusion that government intervention in regulating any market is against free enterprise, even when it is to discourage oligopolies and to encourage entry to market by new enterprises. And this is exactly the illusion that Mitt Romney is betting on, telling U.S. voters that his policies will encourage free enterprises to create jobs and spur faster economic growth. In the coming months, Mitt Romney will raise hundreds of millions of dollars from special interests, including Super PACs supported by the likes of the Koch Brothers, to tell U.S. voters that he will be different from the incumbent because he will weed out government intervention in markets to allow free enterprises to thrive. It is misleading and wrong.

The reality is that in the last three and a half years, new enterprises have been getting a better shot at making it than in the eight years that came before the President was elected. The vast majority of jobs are being created in more competitive markets where enterprises don’t largely control the market they are in. What’s more, the President has prudently used government to do its rightful job, which is to intervene where free markets fail and where markets incur high social and environmental costs not reflected in market prices. The President has fought against insurers and pharmaceuticals to ensure prices don’t keep rampantly growing (which they shouldn’t in a truly free market), has worked hard to ensure that enterprises don’t create more problems than the benefits they provide, and has given tax incentives to small businesses that create the vast majority of jobs, not big enterprises that create relatively fewer jobs per unit of output.

Mitt Romney’s campaign will spend hundreds of millions of dollars claiming he’s for free enterprise, but if he’s elected, he will support the same kind of enterprises that will help him win the White House: those that have for many years undermined democracy by abusing corporate spending power to buy elected officials. If U.S. voters really want to encourage more free enterprise, they should know that the President has cut taxes for small businesses several times, reduced corporate abuses in the health and financial markets, helped bring back the Auto industry, and directed government agencies to implement a host of recommendations made by the business community to encourage free enterprise. It’s no coincidence that after the greatest recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. economy has come back largely because employers have added jobs even as the government is shedding them. Mitt Romney’s theory of helping some free enterprises wouldn’t have led to the kind of recovery the U.S. is experiencing. It would have led to the same hole we are just coming out of.

So, to answer the question, yes Mitt Romney could be a free enterprise president. But the free enterprises he would be supportive of already exist, and they’re huge, dangerous, and deceitful. We need a President who’s supportive of all enterprises, not just those who have bought Washington to keep control of the markets.

Are We Already Practically Cooked?

These days, it feels as if the climate debate has entirely fallen off the agenda (even Obama is not allowed to say “climate” anymore). So much has the debate shifted that it feels like we’re already practically cooked, waiting for the climate to warm up to levels that will simply reorganize Earth in a way that won’t be very comforting for anybody. We have gone from the days of Texas mega wind farm Ads on TV and the constant mention of climate and energy in the presidential campaign to a time where climate change is no longer in the agenda of U.S. politics. Obviously, this has thrown people off even as a global movement to address climate change has grown to record levels.

At the same time, we have experienced early warnings of the catastrophic effects severe climate change will bring to society. From floods of biblical proportions in Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia to massive snowstorms in the U.S. and Europe to record low winter sea ice extent in January, we are coming to grips with the reality of climate change. It is becoming all too clear that climate change is already affecting us directly in many ways, from rising food prices causing social instability to massive property losses due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Given these realities, can we say that we are practically cooked? An optimist will rightly say we have to keep hoping, while a pessimist would say there’s nothing we can do. Yet the reality is very different from both of these views. While it may look hopeless, the fact is that a revolution is cooking. The world is realizing that clean energy technologies are not just good because they help fight climate change, but also because they provide real market stability, jobs, and hard currency. In spite of real economic problems, both advanced and emerging nations are joining a race that is set to intensify this decade. And if you’ve heard the trade debate lately, it has a lot to do with just that.

Nations are betting that whoever is the best at developing high-end clean energy products will win precious advantage this decade. That is why emerging nations like China are throwing a lot of money at clean energy and why the Obama administration opened an investigation into the matter, why Secretary Steven Chu wants the cost of solar energy to drop 75% by the end of the decade and Vice President Biden announced over $50 billion for new and improved high-speed rail lines, and why investments by major corporate players are now focusing a lot more on innovations that will change how we move around and use energy. From surging wind and solar manufacturing in China to the big bets automakers are making on EVs and plug-in hybrids, the race is clearly on.

My personal bet is that this race is set to intensify in dramatic ways, with investments surging over the next few years and game-changing innovations driving a shift away from fossil fuels and energy waste. While the question of whether this will be enough to slow and reverse climate change remains, it is clear that we aren’t practically cooked yet. In addition to this race, we will need to find ways to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere or adapt to a significantly warmer world, and my hope is that the fruits of this global race will create enough capacity for us to figure out how to do that in a way that is beneficial and does not change global ecological stability. In five years, we will know whether in fact we won’t be cooked by a fast warming planet in the future. Stay tuned for those news.

Our Bet On Clean Energy Innovation

The time to decide on a strategy to remain as #1 is slowly coming to an end. The U.S. has seen a jolt in economic activity as a result of the Recovery Act, but it’s all too clear that this alone won’t bring the U.S. economy back to sustainable growth over the long-term. We have entered a period where huge deficits are in order and the private sector won’t make a comeback where it used to prosper. Instead, something new must arise to fill the gap in economic activity after the U.S. government can no longer sustain the economy by issuing debt. The Obama administration has repeatedly said that it is “confident” that clean energy is the only sector that can fill that economic gap and pave the way to lower deficits, a higher trade surplus, and a better overall fiscal status.

Until very recently, the climate movement in the US, largely led by youth, was the main reason why clean energy had a future. The idea was that we had to develop clean energy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and slash our oil bill, which was financing “terrorists” and making the trade deficit worse. The youth climate movement was successful in making it clear that we better develop a clean energy economy to also create the jobs of the future and become the leader in this all-too-important sector. So today, the Obama administration understands that developing clean energy is all about creating jobs in the US and cleaning up the Federal books (though more importantly it’s about preventing runaway climate change). Whether “clean energy” means wind, solar, and geothermal or nuclear, clean coal, and biofuels is another debate. We know that nuclear, clean coal, and biofuels would not produce enough jobs compared to wind, solar, and geothermal, so I assume the outcome will be a mix, as Obama actually intends in his strategic political plan.  However, Obama may be overoptimistic in thinking that the US can win the clean energy race under his plans.

First of all, unlike other industries of the past that generated big economic growth (think cars, Internet, IT, etc.), clean energy is something the entire world knows about and is working hard to get its hands on. While it takes Washington years to make any decision on clean energy, Asia and Europe have already been racing to develop the best clean energy technologies in the world. Out of the top 10 clean energy companies in the world, only one or two are from the U.S., while increasingly more and more Chinese clean energy companies are going public. That’s because China made the decision to take this market a few years ago, and it’s already succeeding.

According to the Apollo Alliance, a US labor organization that promotes a clean energy economy, the US already imports over 70% of all components for renewable energy projects. Most of this manufacturing is happening in China, which has already become the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar components. With an economy that’s less than half the US economy, China is already spending more than twice as much than the US on clean energy, and plans to ramp it up further. And while experts have believed that China would focus on manufacturing while the US focuses on innovation, China is spending big on creating breakthrough technologies as well. Already, it is funneling $1 billion into the world’s first clean coal power plant that will capture carbon dioxide, and only because there’s less red tape in China to begin construction of such a plant.

The Breakthrough Institute has analyzed how much the U.S. would need to spend in order to remain competitive in this sector and truly create the technologies that will lead the market. According to its analysis, the U.S. will spend about $175 billion over the next five years on clean energy, including R&D and tax incentives. On the other hand, China alone plans to spend $397 billion, leaving the other “Asian Tigers” out. This leaves the U.S. at a significant disadvantage, making it highly unlikely to create the leading clean energy technologies that can fill it’s economic gap. Even passage of a climate bill in Congress, which would certainly put all serious action until at least 2014, would be insufficient to close this gap.

In the end, the numbers do show that the Obama administration’s bet on clean energy will probably not hold out. Asia will end up taking all the manufacturing jobs and exporting their technologies to the U.S., and the U.S. will have to look elsewhere for innovation in order to fill the economic gap. And while cloud computing has its promises, it will not create a market big enough to fill the gap. So, I wouldn’t bet on clean energy making it for the U.S. economy, even if there was a change in Washington. It is time for a drive in innovation in a variety of sectors, not just clean energy. It’s really the only way out.

Author’s note: I didn’t make any mention of EVs and high-speed trains because they’re in the transportation sector. While they are clean technologies, I wanted to focus on clean energy. Readers should know that the US is also behind in these other clean techs.

Eliminating the Income Tax

The global economic downturn has created the need to spur spending and investments. Despite central banks all around the world lowering interest rates to commercial banks to spur lending, we have not seen the kind of economic recovery that people expected, at least in the developed world. One of the reasons why the recovery has been particularly slow, especially on the jobs front, is because people are still generally cautious about spending and businesses are not investing nearly enough to create new jobs. I’m not a trained economist, but it doesn’t take an experienced one to know what is preventing more jobs from being created in the United States.

The Obama administration should be praised for taking the downturn to a stop. The Stimulus package clearly spurred an increase in productivity and brought job losses to a halt. With another year to go, it is expected that it will continue to at least keep the economy recovering at a reasonable pace. But as we see what’s happening with Obama’s agenda, from health care to climate change to financial reform, we know that people really would like to see a faster economic recovery. The question then would be if a faster economic recovery is possible. In the short-term, probably not. The government can choose to provide more stimulus, especially for local and state governments, but it can’t do anything innovative that can really create a big change in a short period of time.

Nevertheless, the government can secure faster economic growth over the long-term (say the next decade) if it did a few things. Surely, we need health care reform, financial reform, and a tax on carbon to spur innovation in clean energy. But we also need to reform a tax code that prevents jobs from being created and discourages saving and investing. After all, a lack of saving and too much overspending is what caused the economic crisis in the first place. It would therefore be prudent to encourage saving and investing, and discourage overspending to prevent future bubbles and secure steady, long-term economic growth.

So how do we do that? Robert Frank, a Cornell economics professor at the Johnson School, explains why eliminating the income tax would be a good thing. It would spur higher levels of consumer spending as incomes would be higher. This would have the effect of putting more dollars into the economy, which in turn would create more jobs. For those on the upper income brackets, it would lead to an increase in saving and investing as those with more money will have a higher amount left over after total consumption. This, too, would have the effect of creating more jobs.

Now, in a time like this we would like to have higher spending, but for the long-term, when economic growth is stable, it would not necessarily be too good to encourage overspending. This could lead to what we saw with the residential real estate market, where over-lending led to overbuying until the bubble burst. On top of that, eliminating the income tax without creating an additional source of government revenue would balloon the federal deficit, something that would be politically and fiscally unsustainable. So, in place of the income tax, professor Frank suggests implementing a “progressive consumption tax.” The idea here is pretty simple. You get a tax on how much you spend on goods and services annually, and the more you spend, the higher your tax bracket.

A progressive consumption tax would have the effect of increasing revenues for the government, especially from higher spenders. In effect, this would shift the tax burden away from the middle class and into the highest earners. While this may seem a bad thing for very wealthy people, in reality it may turn out to be good for them as well. Here’s why. A higher tax on big spenders would provide an incentive to spend less on luxury (reader: “what?” author: “wait, read on”) and invest more on things that provide actual returns, which would not only create more jobs, but also bring up wealthy people’s productive assets. When the financial markets crashed, a lot of people lost more than what they should’ve lost because they had not invested in productive assets. Instead, they had overspent on luxury, fueling others from lower income brackets to overspend as well and therefore fueling bubbles. So, in the end, it’s better to have an incentive to invest in productive assets than one to overspend on luxury. And this is what a progressive consumption tax would do.

In effect, these tax changes, coupled with new taxes on externalities to get rid of waste and harm, would create new and better jobs, increase federal revenues, lower unnecessary government spending, slash the federal debt and deficits, and create a more competitive environment in which society can prosper. Now, what are the chances of this being considered in the short term? Definitely closer to zero than to one hundred. The upcoming elections, the Obama agenda, and the public’s discontent with government will make something like this unlikely to come up soon, but talking about it consistently to give people an idea of what it would mean could increase its chances of becoming reality in the future.

The Real Crisis Isn’t New

With the collapse of the financial markets in September 2008, society marked a new chapter in history books. This new chapter covers what we know as the great economic crisis, as measured in flowing US dollars. Economies all around the world either contracted or slowed their growth as measured in gross domestic product (GDP). Lives were directly impacted everywhere as millions of jobs were shed, entire industries collapsed, and the ability to purchase goods and services significantly declined. Many will look back and say that lax government regulations on banks spurred the housing bubble that largely brought down the number we so much have trusted to measure how we’re doing: the GDP. But in reality, those of us who understand what was going on decades before this “economic crisis” know that the real crisis is nothing but old and persistent.

The problem with marking a new chapter in history because of the GDP measure is that it fails to capture reality in big ways. While there was more money flowing before and therefore people could at least purchase basic goods and services to live, the real value that measures our satisfaction with life was never increasing; in fact, in many cases, it was declining. GDP, a very old measure of economic performance, unfortunately does not measure quality of life as we assume. In the past, it was true that higher GDP coincided with higher quality of life, but that goes mainly for developing countries. Clearly, if a poor farmer goes from having to work tirelessly to grow food to living in an urban city with basic services met easily, there’s a big change in quality of life. But when you already have basic needs met, GDP doesn’t always coincide with higher quality of life, and that’s exactly why we’ve been wrong to think that the crisis is new.

Since the 1970’s, it’s been pretty clear that quality of life in the United States has remained flat or even worsened. We may have more purchasing power, but our satisfaction with our lives really hasn’t improved. Social problems, for instance, have increased in severity as more people suffer from modern diseases, more work has meant less leisure, and technology obsession has meant less time being outside, spending time with people we care about, and doing the things we actually want to do.

On top of all this, add to it our ever-increasing total debt to our children and grandchildren. While we think we’re better off, entire communities continue to deteriorate and many have been destroyed, perhaps forever. While we think we have made it pretty far, entire ecosystems will probably never be what they once were. And while GDP has grown, we’ve never really been able to reduce our gross economic debt at all, even during the “great” Clinton years. We have ignored to invest in people, decided that destroying vital ecosystems is more important than using the services they provide, and wasted money in special interest giveaways (wars, lax regulations on banking, insurance companies, food subsidies, etc.). All of this under a political framework that supposedly should work pretty well. The fact is that it hasn’t and it probably never will unless it’s drastically changed (Note: I strongly believe in the power of democracy AND markets!).

So, when we put together the real value that comes closer to measuring actual quality of life, we realize that we’ve been in a real crisis for more than three (as in 3) decades. The difference between the “financial crisis” and the “real crisis” I refer to here is that one couldn’t be hidden from people while the other could. The financial crisis couldn’t be hidden from people because they felt the impacts directly. They saw their own lives change for the worse. The “real crisis” was hidden from us because we always said GDP was growing, and since people had basic needs met and didn’t think their social deterioration was really a result of their society’s decisions (but rather personal or community decisions), not that many people could figure out that we were going right into a cliff, as we continue to do. The figure below, from an organization called Redefining Progress, shows the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) for the last several decades.

The differences between GDP and GPI are not complex. GDP measures the value of total final products and services (whether they’re purchased or not), including the use of dangerous weapons to kill innocent civilians, the destruction of mountains to extract coal, and even the care provided to those affected by the same epidemics we indirectly promote. It also includes corporate profits handed as giveaways, NASA missions to find life on other planets, and lobby money to make sure politicians continue to keep this “real crisis” from ending. GPI, on the other hand, is the GDP figure minus all the bad things I just mentioned and more, except for a few. GPI takes into account the cost of ecosystem services we destroy and the cost of social deterioration. An improvement would be to also deduct a portion of lobby money to keep the status quo, “life discovery” NASA missions, and the appropriate portion of corporate giveaways that do nothing to improve lives.

The central idea behind this measure (GPI) is sustainability, the fact that we are fools to measure quality of life simply by our valuation of the goods and services we produce ourselves, regardless of their actual impact on society. Sustainability is a wake-up call that reinforces the notion that to improve quality of life, we have to balance out several needs. Those include the need to preserve valuable ecological services, the need to enhance communities and social cohesion, and the need to have working institutions instead of decision bodies masked with “progress as measured by GDP” in the surface.

The biggest mistake we can do is to come out of this “financial crisis” thinking that restoring GDP growth is success. We have to first recognize that we’ve already put a huge ecological and economic burden on our children in the form of climate change, the loss of vital ecological services, and a staggering economic debt that nobody knows how it will be paid. Then, we have to decide to stop investing in things that don’t really matter for people’s well-being now and in the future and invest in people themselves, in restoring ecological services, and in preventing economic waste. It doesn’t just mean changes at the government level; it also means cultural changes in main street and beyond. The Obama administration is quietly making a change in that direction, but unless it decides to actually talk about it, the “real crisis” will stay with us and perhaps worsen for decades to come.

Un Estimulo Verde en Republica Dominicana

green-jobs2La crisis economica mundial que azota al mundo es resultado de un desarrollo insostenible originado en Estados Unidos y replicado en muchos otros paises alrededor del mundo. El financiamiento facil que existia para comprar viviendas fuera de las areas urbanas, lo cual contribuyo significativamente al desplazamiento urbano que existe en todo el mundo, ahora se ha convertido en la amenaza mas grande al bienestar humano. La falta de planificacion urbana y control sobre el desplazamiento urbano en Estados Unidos creo un valor falso que suma a decenas de trillones de dolares estadounidenses.

A la misma vez, tal desplazamiento urbano promovio la dependencia del petroleo, ya que para vivir fuera de las zonas urbanas se requerian mas y mas vehiculos para el transporte privado. La carrera para construir viviendas sin algun plan o control tambien incentivo la ineficiencia energetica, requeriendo un mayor consumo de energia. Todo esto ha llevado a los paises que han seguido este modelo, entre ellos Republica Dominicana, a sufrir el impacto de la dependencia de los combustibles fosiles, el cambio climatico, y el desplazamiento urbano.

Con un nuevo lider mundial en Estados Unidos (Barack Obama), existe esperanza de salir de esta situacion en la cual debemos hacer mucho a la misma vez que tenemos que impedir el deterioro de la calidad de vida de todos. En Estados Unidos, el gobierno ha respondido con un Estimulo Verde. Tal estimulo verde dirige billones de dolares a las energias renovables, eficiencia energetica, transportacion publica masiva, educacion, nuevas tecnologias, proyectos ambientales, y empleos verdes. En las palabras del Presidente Barack Obama, estas inversiones no son por razones politicas, “son inversiones en las necesidas que por tanto tiempo han sido ignoradas.” El Estimulo Verde contempla crear millones de nuevos empleos verdes que aportaran al redesarrollo sostenible de ese pais.

En la Republica Dominicana, un estimulo verde dominicano es necesario ademas de las soluciones aprobadas en la Cumbre Nacional recientemente concluida. Las agencias gubernamentales y empresas privadas deben comprometerse a invertir mas en areas innovadoras que incrementen la competitividad del pais. Se debe invertir para aprovechar la innovacion juvenil; transformar el sistema electrico a base de la eficiencia energetica y las energias renovables; planificar e implementar estrategias efectivas de desarrollo urbano que eviten el desplazamiento urbano; promover mejores practicas en todos los sectores productivos; incentivar la innovacion tecnologica y el acceso al Internet y otras tecnologias de comunicacion; y promover la creacion de los sectores economicos del futuro.

En algunos aspectos, ya Republica Dominicana cuenta con algunos componentes de lo que pudiera ser un estimulo verde. El pais cuenta con una la Ley 57-07 que incentiva inversiones en la produccion de energia renovable. La Comision Nacional de Energia ha trabajado intensivamente para buscar inversiones en energias renovables, aunque no ha destacado la importancia de invertir tambien en la manufactura de tecnologis de energias renovables y en la investigacion y desarrollo de tecnologias emergentes. El pais tambien cuenta con una Secretaria de Estado de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales dispuesta a cumplir la ley y maximizar el uso sostenible de nuestros recursos naturales para beneficio de la poblacion. Finalmente, el pais tambien cuenta con organizaciones no gubernamentales y empresas privadas dispuestas a trabajar para un futuro sostenible.

Lo unico que falta para un estimulo verde es un compromiso nacional para tal. Un compromiso nacional debe ser complementado por acciones directas para garantizar innovacion y crecimiento en el sector agricola, una transformacion del sistema de educacion para que sea demandado por la juventud, un proceso de planificacion urbana que culmine en incentivos para la densidad urbana, la promocion del transporte publico masivo, incentivos al emprendedurismo, y un impulso a la creacion de nuevas tecnologias y servicios que puedan ser exportados al resto del mundo. Todo esto tiene un gran potencial de generar empleos verdes y promover un desarrollo sostenible en el pais que lo libre de la dependencia de los combustibles fosiles, varios problemas sociales, y la amenaza de un estancamiento economico.

Republica Dominicana debe de tomar los pasos necesarios para liderar la region en desarrollo sostenible. La crisis economica que afecta al mundo en estos momentos demuestra que el pais no puede seguir bajo un modelo insostenible que no valora los servicios ecologicos ni el bienestar social. La unica forma de salir de la actual crisis sin volver a retornar a ella en un futuro es mediante acciones concretas que garantizen el desarrollo sostenible a nivel nacional, en las zonas urbanas, suburbanas, y rurales, tanto como en el manejo de las areas protegidas y las relaciones con el resto del mundo. El desarrollo sostenible requiere una partida a las politicas tradicionales y un compromiso al cambio, la innovacion, y las oportunidades que demanda este siglo.

La Economia Real

pibDesde el 1987, cuando se publico el reporte “Nuestro Futuro Comun” por la Comision Mundial de Ambiente y Desarrollo de las Naciones Unidas, el termino “desarrollo sostenible” ha ido tomando una posicion central en discusiones sobre el futuro de la sociedad humana. Segun el reporte, el desarrollo sostenible es “desarrollo que satisface las necesidades del presente sin comprometer la capacidad de las generaciones futuras para satisfacer sus propias necesidades.” Se trata de optimizar el desarrollo socioeconomico y el uso y manejo de los servicios ecologicos a un nivel adecuado para incrementar la calidad de vida de los humanos por un tiempo indeterminado. Por esta razon (la optimizacion de los tres pilares: ambiente, economia, y sociedad), ha sido dificil convencer a los que ven el desarrollo economico y los que ven la preservacion ambiental como prioridad a comprometerse para la optimizacion de desarrollo humano. En general, el tema de la “economia” ha dominado todas las acciones en las ultimas decadas, referiendose al incremento del producto interno bruto como es calculado hoy.

Las teorias economicas surgieron a causa de la depresion mundial que se vio en los 1930s. En los Estados Unidos, se vio la necesidad de tomar medidas para sostener la estabilidad de la economia y prevenir otra depresion en el futuro. En pocas palabras, el mundo aprendio a manejar lo que hoy llamamos la “economia” con cifras medidas directamente de las actividades economicas. Desde entonces, la prioridad ha sido incrementar el producto interno bruto, la cifra que representa la produccion total de bienes y servicios finales en una area definida en un año. En decadas recientes, se ha clarificado que esto no indica especificamente la calidad de vida de la poblacion en general, y por lo tanto gobiernos han tomado politicas que reflejen las cosas que el producto interno bruto no puede medir, tal como la salud personal, la recreacion, el valor de la familia, la proteccion ambiental, entre otras.

Pero en las ultimas dos decadas, se ha venido desarrollando un mejor conocimiento sobre “externalidades,” costos producidos en la economia que no son refejados en el mercado pero que si tienen un precio en la calidad de vida de los humanos. Tipicamente, estas pueden incluir la contaminacion del aire y el agua, la congestion urbana, efectos a la salud humana, modelos de desarrollo que producen desigualdad economica, entre otras. Esto nos ha llevado a concluir que en realidad la economia humana esta basada en gran parte en contribuciones sociales y ambientales que no son reflajadas por los mercados. Entonces la meta, en algunos casos, ha sido incluir estas “externalidades” en los mercados por medios fiscales, tipicamente impuestos o restricciones directas por parte de los gobiernos. Por ejemplo, para reducir el “smog” urbano en las grandes ciudades de los Estados Unidos y Europa, los gobiernos instituyeron programas para limitar las emisiones de dioxido sulfuro, efectivamente imponiendo un precio a esa externalidad que fue pagada por el sector privado y el publico.

De esta manera, la “economia” basada solamente en el producto interno bruto y en mercados sin “externalidades” no es real. Las “externalidades” se quedan afuera del mercado pero son pagadas directamente por el publico en una reduccion de la calidad de vida con problemas que incluyen la salud (la depresion, la obesidad, problemas respiratorios), el transporte (la congestion, los efectos del desplazamiento urbano), el acceso a recursos, y muchas otras. Uno de los mejores ejemplos es el dioxido carbono, el principal gas de efecto invernadero que esta causando el cambio climatico. El cambio climatico ya esta teniendo efectos que cuestan a nuestras calidad de vida y cuyos costos incrementaran en el futuro.

La economia real entonces es una en la cual todo lo que tiene valor, incluyendo lo social y lo ambiental, es parte de los mercados. El sector privado en realidad no tiene el potencial de incorporar las “externalidades” por la realidad de la competicion. Pero en el caso de incluir “externalidades” en los mercados, los gobiernos tienen la responsabilidad y el poder para hacerlo, mediante politicas fiscales y requerimientos, de forma que mejore la igualdad economica. Se ha estimado que los servicios ecologicos tienen un valor global de US$33 trillones anual. Aunque no se ha estimado el valor del capital social de la sociedad, se puede establecer que es una gran suma por el valor que la sociedad le pone a los valores sociales. De esta forma, la economia real es una basada en el mercado que existe hoy mas las “externalidades” que los gobiernos deberian incorporar en el mercado por medio de impuestos o requerimientos. No es necesario, como algunos dicen, tener un valor especifico para los servicios ecologicos y los valores sociales. Solo se requiere un valor minimo que todos puedan estar de acuerdo ya que esto seria mejor que no tener ningun valor que pueda dar incentivos a los mercados.

La incorporacion de “externalidades” en los mercados de forma directa es algo que puede ser politicamente favorable. Aunque la palabra “impuesto” no es bien recibida, la realidad es que impuestos a las “externalidades” negativas podrian reducir la desigualdad. Esto es porque los ingresos pueden ser todos devueltos a las familias con mas necesidades de ayuda fiscal. Tambien pueden ir para incentivar nuevas tecnologias y practicas que sean mas eficientes y que tengan menos “externalidades,” asi como la innovacion empresarial. De esta forma, las personas y entidades con mas recursos economicos podrian pasar tales recursos a las necesidades mas importantes de una sociedad, algo que seria politicamente favorable, especialmente en paises en desarrollo con alta desigualdad economica donde la mayoria de la poblacion quisiera ver tales transferencias de recursos. Esto produciria mejor capital humano y incentivario a todos los sectores productores a innovar y ser mas competitivo que sectores en el exterior. Esto se ha visto, por ejemplo, en Alemania, el pais lider en tecnologia solar y eolica por los incentivos fiscales que el gobierno ha ofrecido.

La economia real no es imposible lograr. Politicamente, se puede usar la inclusion de “externalidades” para promover la innovacion y distribuir recursos para hacer una sociedad con menos desigualdad economica. Para medir la economia real, ya existen indicadores como el “verdadero indicador de progreso” (VIP) y el “indice de bienestar economico sostenible” (IBES), los cuales ya estan en uso en algunas regiones. Estos indicadores incluyen, ademas del producto interno bruto, los servicios ecologicos, trabajos voluntarios, tiempo libre para el ocio, el tiempo con la familia, la salud, y otros indicadores de la calidad de vida humana. La economia real no es una idea que require verificar su factibilidad para ser aplicada a la sociedad. La realidad es que el desarrollo sostenible requiere del entendimiento de la economia real y de la aplicacion de sus principos para incluir “externalidades.” Es la unica forma que podremos salir con exito de los enfrentamientos el siglo 21.

Planta de Carbon Mineral en Haina No Tiene Justificacion

coalCon recursos abundantes de viento, luz solar, y tierra, y una Ley de Incentivos a las Energias Renovable que ya ha atraido mas de US $2 billones en proyectos de energia eolica, energia solar termica, produccion de modulos solares, etanol, y biodiesel, se habia supuesto en la Republica Dominicana que nuestro mensaje a los combustibles fosiles (petroleo, carbon, y gas natural) era claro. Con todo el movimiento que se esta viendo en la surgiente industria de energia renovable y el paro del proyecto de carbon de 1,200MW que la CDEEE queria implementar, es claro que el pais ha entendido que quiere un futuro energetico donde nuestras necesidades energeticas sean suplidas domesticamente, sin contribucion al cambio climatico, y con la creacion de cientos de miles de nuevos empleos. Pero recientemente, la empresa Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) termino un acuerdo con la generadora electrica de Haina para construir una planta a base de carbon mineral de 240MW por un valor de US$500 millones, lo cual es plenamente una contradiccion al interes nacional de crear trabajos y combatir el cambio climatico mediante la creacion de una industria de energia renovable dinamica.

Es interesante analisar esta inversion del punto de vista economico de la empresa Koreana. Sin discutir el impacto del carbon mineral en las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero en el pais, es facil ver que esta es una inversion sin justificacion economica. La Ley de Incentivos a las Energias Renovables ofrece un marco legal para las energias renovables que les da prioridad sobre cualquier otra fuente de energia. En otras palabras, la red electrica del pais y los distribuidores de combustibles tienen como obligacion aceptar energia (electricidad o combustible) proveniente de recursos renovables antes de aceptar energia derivada de combustibles fosiles. Como va la situacion con las energias renovables (tomando en cuenta que el gobierno aun no ha aprobado el reglamento a la Ley de Energias Renovables), la matriz energetica del pais sera abastecida con energias renovables en 10-20 años.

Poco despues de la aprobacion de la Ley de Energias Renovables, inversiones superando los US $2 billones fueron anunciadas, con una capacidad electrica de 1,600MW y una produccion de combustibles de mas de 100 millones de galones anuales en diversos proyectos. Hoy, la capacidad electrica del pais, basada en gran parte en petroleo, es de alrededor de 3,500MW, mientras que el consumo de combustibles es alrededor de 900 millones de galones anuales (incluyendo la gasolina, el gasoil, y el gas natural). A este ritmo de inversion en energias renovables, es razonable concluir que las energias renovables son el futuro de la matriz energetica del pais y que sacaran a los combustibles fosiles de nuestra matriz energetica. Si la empresa Koreana entendiera esto, no veo como creen que van a recuperar su inversion cuando requieren 20 años de operacion.

Alrededor del mundo, desde los Estados Unidos a Malasia, le gente estan demonstrando su oposicion al carbon mineral por su contribucion al cambio climatico (que ya esta afectando a la Republica Dominicana y puede eliminar nuestra industria turistica con la subida del nivel del mar), su impacto en los ecosistemas montaneros de donde se extrae el carbon mineral, y el maltrato de los empleados de empresas de carbon mineral (quienes tienen que trabajar largas horas en condiciones gravemente peligrosas). En la Republica Dominicana, debemos aclarar nuestra oposicion al carbon mineral tambien. Debemos organizar demonstraciones, dar a conocer sobre los impactos negativos del carbon mineral a la poblacion mediante la prensa y el Internet, y pedirle a nuestro gobierno que apruebe legislacion que impida la construccion de plantas electricas basadas a carbon mineral.

Los argumentos relacionados a los bajos precios del carbon mineral ya no pueden dominar la discusion sobre la matriz energetica. El precio del carbon ha subido por mas de 50% en los ultimos anos, de US $55 por tonelada a mas de US $100 por tonelada. Ademas, el precio que tiene el carbon mineral en su quema por la emanacion de dioxido carbono es muy alto. Las tormentas tropicales Noel y Olga y la sequia que asota al pais son advertencias de lo que ha de venir.

Con nuevos anuncios de los cientificos mas reconocidos del mundo de que las masas de hielo se estan derritiendo mas rapidamente de lo pensado y que el mundo debe moverse mas rapidamente para eliminar las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero, es claro de que el cambio climatico lleva una urgencia dramatica que nos impide seguir usando combustibles fosiles sin consecuencias catastroficas. A riesgo esta nuestra industria turistica que se basa en nuestras costas y nuestro sector agricola. Como uno de los paises mas importantes del Caribe, es nuestra obligacion enviar un mensaje al resto del mundo de que nosotros queremos evitar las consecuencias del cambio climatico y desarrollar una industria de energia renovable que nos lleve hacia el desarrollo sostenible.

Como ciudadanos, es nuestra obligacion asegurar de que nuestro pais envie este mensaje. Debemos comunicar este mensaje a la poblacion y asegurar de que el gobierno Dominicano impida la construccion de proyectos de carbon mineral en el pais. Tambien es nuestra obligacion asegurar de que el gobierno avanze con sus promesas de aprobar el reglamento que regira las energias renovables bajo el marco legal de la Ley de Incentivos a las Energias Renovables. Con el precio del petroleo superando los US $115 por barril, no tenemos tiempo que perder. Tenemos que movernos rapido en el desarrollo de una industria de energia renovable que pueda crear muchos empleos, proveer nuevas oportunidades a nuestras areas rurales, y asegurar nuestro crecimiento economico continuo y equitativo.

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