This year, April 22 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
I had a couple of people ask me what I was doing to celebrate it and the truth is I did nothing different than I always do. The idea of taking one day a year to be kind to the planet and live in a sustainable way seems a bit trite. We need to do more. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is killing tens of thousands of people, is costing trillions of dollars in lost economic activity and is being mishandled and politicized by some of the most powerful people on the planet. The environment is still being degraded at an ever-accelerating pace. The amazon burns and humans encroach further into wild areas every day.
It just doesn’t much feel like a time to celebrate – yet.
Instead, I try to live my life in a pretty earth-respectful way every day. The natural world has been under near-constant attack by humans for a very long time. There is some self-destructive part of human nature that seems to think we must tame or even destroy nature in order to advance our civilization. Maybe historically that was partly true, but now we have nothing to prove; humans already have all the power. There is nothing we can’t tame, alter or destroy, and often, those who are the best at it are celebrated and revered. But that is changing.
Thankfully, some of the industries that have done the most damage now appear to be in decline.
In number one spot this week, we find the article Oil Companies Are Collapsing, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing. That’s quite the headline from a respected outlet like the New York Times. To be honest, even 10 years ago I would have thought it pretty much impossible, but there it is. Despite oil prices of negative dollars per barrel, demand is lower than it has been in decades. The pandemic is keeping people at home. Most people aren’t commuting to work anymore and hardly anyone is traveling by air for any reason.
Despite low demand and lower prices, the oil industry kept sucking oil from the ground only to run out of places to store it (the irony of the storage shortage is somewhat amusing; it was already stored in the ground where it belongs). As a result, the oil companies that have been running on low profit margins but still benefiting from historically high per barrel prices are failing. Fracking companies and Canada’s tar sands are in the worst trouble of all. Highly leveraged against the historic high barrel market price and low margin businesses to begin with, the cost to extract is now higher than the value of the product they produce and creditors want their loans repaid – with interest.
Through all this, the clean energy industry continues its growth, with only minor setbacks. While industry analysts bemoan the fall of traditionally sound fossil fuel investments, solar and wind quietly and cleanly contribute their electrons to the world’s electrical grids. The solar industry is not immune to the current global economic situation though. Far from it. There have been setbacks such as interruptions to installations due to the required social distancing of workers, or difficulty obtaining access to capital required to develop new plants. Despite this, the fact remains that renewable energy is cheaper and faster to install and cheaper to produce. The global demand for clean technology is high. People will always need electricity and as our society evolves, demand will only increase. Solar and wind are now displacing traditional power generation from coal or LNG and the trend is expected to continue. As fossil fuel declines, the long-term prospect for investment in renewable energy is very good.
On a lighter note, another form of energy that society thrives on is coffee. At least it gets me started in the morning. I recently discovered a small company on Kickstarter called Alpaca Coffee. Their goal is to produce ethically grown coffee that is distributed in completely plant-based and biodegradable packaging. Using their methods, the waste created by the coffee industry could be completely eliminated. And it is a very big problem; not only are the plastic bags used by the industry made of plastic, they are usually made from multiple types and then foil-lined – extremely difficult to recycle. I personally have been searching for an alternative and now buy roasted coffee beans in bulk to reduce the waste, but I could never find a way to completely eliminate it.
Alpaca coffee solves this problem and is a young startup in the fundraising stage. I have no connection to the company, but I have personally backed this product and look forward to receiving my first shipment when production starts.
The only way to make a good cup of coffee better is to know it is sourced ethically and is not contributing to the world’s pollution problem. Please check them out and support a small company that is trying to make a big difference.
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