Or at least we’re getting to the beginning of the end of the rare earth supply crisis. Lynas has actually switched on its separation plant in Malaysia:
Lynas has been embroiled in lengthy environmental and safety disputes with local residents since construction began two years ago. Its $800 million plant, which opponents say is environmentally hazardous, began operations late last month after long delays caused by legal challenges and safety disputes.
That one plant will, when fully operational, provide some 15-20% of world demand. Which is a serious bite into the previous Chinese 97% dominance of the industry.
Just to give a bit of background. Rare earths are not rare (nor are they earths). There are deposits all over the place and there are streams of rare earths that can be extracted from all sorts of waste products of other mining processes. I’m opening (admittedly, a very small one) myself in February 2013.
China has supplied, in recent decades, up to 97% of the world’s usage. Quite simply because no one else could be bothered to do the mining at the prices that the Chinese were willing to accept.
China also has 35% of the world’s reserves: but that’s a very misleading number. This doesn’t mean 35% of all the rare earths there are. It means 35% of all the deposits that anyone has bothered to go out and measure, weigh, drill and test. “Reserve” is not at all the same as resources.
via The Rare Earth Crisis Is Over – Forbes.
The study, “Peak Farmland and the Prospects for Sparing Nature,” is by Ausubel, Iddo K. Wernick and Paul E. Waggoner and will be published next year as part of a special supplement to the journal Population and Development Review, published by the Population Council.
Drawing on a host of data sets, the authors conclude that a combination of slowing population growth, moderated demand for land-intensive food (meat, for instance) and more efficient farming methods have resulted in a substantial “decoupling” of acreage and human appetites.
Here’s the optimistic opener:
Expecting that more and richer people will demand more from the land, cultivating wider fields, logging more forests, and pressing nature, comes naturally. The past half-century of disciplined and dematerializing demand and more intense and efficient land use encourage a rational hope that humanity’s pressure will not overwhelm nature.
via Scientists See Promise for People and Nature as ‘Peak Farmland’ Looms – NYTimes.com.
An agreement by almost 200 nations to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 will be far more costly than taking action now to tackle climate change, according to research published on Wednesday.
Quick measures to cut emissions would give a far better chance of keeping global warming within an agreed U.N. limit of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times to avert more floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels.
“If you delay action by 10, 20 years you significantly reduce the chances of meeting the 2 degree target,” said Keywan Riahi, one of the authors of the report at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.
via Cost of combating climate change surges as world delays – study | Reuters.
In the tiny tortillerias of this city, people complain ceaselessly about the high price of corn. Just three years ago, one quetzal — about 15 cents — bought eight tortillas; today it buys only four. And eggs have tripled in price because chickens eat corn feed.
Meanwhile, in rural areas, subsistence farmers struggle to find a place to sow their seeds. On a recent morning, José Antonio Alvarado was harvesting his corn crop on the narrow median of Highway 2 as trucks zoomed by.
“We’re farming here because there is no other land, and I have to feed my family,” said Mr. Alvarado, pointing to his sons Alejandro and José, who are 4 and 6 but appear to be much younger, a sign of chronic malnutrition.
Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel.
via In Fields and Markets, Guatemalans Feel Squeeze of Biofuel Demand – NYTimes.com.
CBO estimates that a carbon tax that yielded $103 per ton of carbon released would cost the average low-income family (lowest 20%) about $425 per year. Top 20% families would end up paying $1,380 per year. This is on the regressive side since it would represent 2.5% of the after-tax income of lower income families and less than 1% of the income of higher income families. CBO considered two types of rebate schemes
The first type includes options that would direct some carbon tax revenue back to households in a manner that would benefit households in all income brackets, not just those at the lower end of the income distribution. Such possibilities include using carbon tax revenue to:
- Reduce income tax rates,
- Provide income tax rebates,
- Provide payroll tax rebates, and
- Increase incentives for energy-saving investments.
- The second type includes options that would specifically target low-income households. Those options include using carbon tax revenue to:
- Increase Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) payments,
- Provide an additional fixed payment to households that are eligible for SNAP payments, and
- Increase payments made to households through the existing Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
via Carbon Tax Getting Serious Consideration As CBO Seeks To Address Regressiveness – Forbes.
If you had told me on Tuesday morning that I was about to spend my day at a standing room only event that had nothing to do with the election, I would’ve said, “But, I’m not planning to go to a David Petraeus news conference!” Ah, but it turns out that there are other topics that bring out the masses. I did, in fact, spend the day at a standing room only event that had nothing to do with the election.
The topic? Carbon taxes, of course.
Yesterday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a conference to talk about anything and everything related to the economics of carbon taxes. Normally, a full-day conference with more than a dozen speakers on a tax issue in DC will be lucky to get more than a few dozen attendees, even with a free lunch. Carbon taxes, though, are different. The enthusiasm for this issue is such that there were over 200 attendees, many of whom stood for half the day.
What makes carbon taxes different? Simply put, people across the political spectrum now know that putting a price on carbon is an indispensable tool for dealing with our climate and budget problems, and that a carbon tax is the most politically viable path forward. This dynamic has created an exciting amount of momentum that now needs to be turned into policy.
via How Would We Implement A Carbon Tax? (Almost) Everything You Need To Know | ThinkProgress.
The European Union backed down Monday from a plan to levy carbon emission surcharges on international flights entering or exiting the Continent.
Monday’s move came in the face of strong protests from the Obama administration, India, China and other nations that have protested the Emissions Trading System, or ETS, calling the tax an attack on sovereignty.
The EU instituted the unilateral plan in hopes of forcing a trade agreement.
But Monday’s surprise announcement from the European Commission for Climate Action appeared to be aimed at averting a global trade war.
Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the EU is hopeful an international agreement can be hammered out.
“I’ve just recommended in a telephone conference with the 27 member states that the EU ‘stops the clock,’” Ms. Hedegaard said. Her proposal still awaits approval from parliaments and ministers.
She warned that unless the International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the United Nations, approves a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft by next year, the tax will be reinstated.
via EU backs down on airline carbon tax – Washington Times.
In the wake of Tuesday’s historic presidential victory, a newly reelected President Barack Obama can continue his efforts to protect our nation’s public health from the ravages of pollution. Voters rejected Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s high-profile campaign proposals to rely on antiquated, dirty, coal-fired power plants and overturn other new public health safeguards. The president’s new mandate provides his administration with the backing to complete unfinished Environmental Protection Agency safeguards before his inauguration on January 20, 2013, to a second term of office.
A number of vital proposed health safeguards from power plant, vehicle, and industrial pollution still linger in administrative limbo. It is unclear why these rules were held up, but now that the president will remain in the White House, this unfinished business must be completed. These actions would clear the regulatory slate, enabling the administration to address two big problems in its second term:
Reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants and other industrial sources
Strengthening the ozone smog health standard to provide more protection for children, seniors, and other vulnerable people
via Five Essential EPA Pollution Rules To Finalize In Obama’s First Term | ThinkProgress.
World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned. [Guardian]
Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heatwaves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.
“We’ve not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With food consumption exceeding the amount grown for six of the past 11 years, countries have run down reserves from an average of 107 days of consumption 10 years ago to under 74 days recently.
In previous elections, candidates from both parties have campaigned on pledges to be environmental presidents. This time, neither candidate is talking much about cleaning up the air or protecting scenic lands. [NPR]
via October 15 News: World Grain Reserves ‘At A Very Low Level, Leaving No Room’ For Extreme Weather, Warns UN | ThinkProgress.
The tie between energy supply, population, and the economy goes back to the hunter-gatherer period. Hunter-gatherers managed to multiply their population at least 4-fold, and perhaps by as much as 25-fold, by using energy techniques which allowed them to expand their territory from central Africa to virtually the whole world, including the Americas and Australia.
The agricultural revolution starting about 7,000 or 8,000 BCE was the next big change, multiplying population more than 50-fold. The big breakthrough here was the domestication of grains, which allowed food to be stored for winter, and transported more easily.
The next major breakthrough was the industrial revolution using coal. Even before this, there were major energy advances, particularly using peat in Netherlands and early use of coal in England. These advances allowed the world’s population to grow more than four-fold between the year 1 CE and 1820 CE. Between 1820 and the present, population has grown approximately seven-fold.
via The Oil Drum | The Long Term Tie Between Energy Supply, Population, and the Economy.