U.S. CO2 Emissions Drop to Twenty Year Low

Mostly as a result of the inexpensive American natural gas, U.S. CO2 emissions dropped to 1992 levels. We are also driving less. We reached “peak gasoline”in 2006 and from now on will use less. See the chart below.  I wrote about this here, here & here, among other places.

The interesting thing is that the U.S. is now the world leader in reducing emissions w/o those muscular measures called for in Kyoto. We are doing better than everybody else because of market forces. They really do work also in environmentalism.  

This is not really new news, but here probably is the first place you are reading about this. Back when the U.S. was the “word’s bigger polluter” we had updates every day.

There was an interesting paragraph in the report of the drop. Bold italic are mine. “Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.” 

Those international experts who claimed that the U.S. “had no plan” just don’t understand how planning works. We have the most superb, sublime and subtle planning mechanism in the world – the free market – and we have the we have the worlds most intelligent, involved and imaginative planners too – the American people. That is why we always beat the centralized planners in practice, if not in theory. 

One more thing from the AP article – “How much further the shift from coal to natural gas can go is unclear. Bentek says that power companies plan to retire 175 coal-fired plants over the next five years. That could bring coal’s CO2 emissions down to 1980 levels. “

We have achieved in environmentalism much more than I dreamed of when I was a bit of a radical environmentalist in the 1970s. We exceeded all the predictions. If anyone had told me back then of the U.S. in 2012, I would not have believed them. I was similiarly pleasantly surprised by how fast we brought down “acid rain” or closed the “ozone hole”. Now we are doing the same with CO2. It is easy to underestimate the imagination and power of freedom. I used to read the writings of the socialists of the early part of the last century. They made bold predictions about how good things could be if we abandoned the free market and went with planning. We have greatly exceeded their slow-moving dreams. We have the best planning system, even if it is too hard for some dreamers to understand.

São Paulo: Trees and Training (SESC &SENAC)

I am back from my time in São Paulo.  I am not telling anything new when I say the city is big, but I think that it is easy to overlook how green it is in many places.  Most of the streets in the old part of the city are shaded by big trees.  There really is not enough room for them, or would not be enough room in an American city.  This is something good and bad about Brazil.  The good part is that there are lots of trees. The negative is that the tree roots pull up sidewalks. Some of the sidewalks are like an obstacle course.  Overall, however, it is worth it to have the trees.

We visited another SESC, this time SESC Belenzinho.  It is housed in a building that used to be a textile factory in a neighborhood that used to be a little degraded. The SESC anchors that area and has improved the neighborhood.   I wrote about SESC here & here. These are like workers clubs. As you can see from the picture up top, there are lots of nice amenities. The picture just above shows the solar water heaters that produce all the hot water used in the facility.  Below shows some of the old neighborhood around SESC.  This was a neighborhood of Italian immigrants, many of whom moved away, some back to Italy. The ownership of the land under the buildings shown is in doubt. SESC wants to buy the land to expand, but it is taking time. This is complicated by squatters.  The people living in the houses are not owners, but once they sit there it is hard to move them out.

We also went to SENAC, which is the training part of the SESC partnership.  It works a lot like a technical school or university.  Tuition is low.  This branch of SENAC is also built in an old factory. This actually makes a very good campus, as you can see below.

They have lots of computer labs and work with businesses. Reminds me in many ways of community colleges int the U.S.  But there really is no exact equivalent, since SENAC is funded by mandatory contributions from businesses but is not government run.   Below one of the computer areas.

Below is the campus water tower painted to show the old São Paulo neighborhood.

São Paulo Traffic

It would be possible, in theory at least, to attend four or five outside appointments a day in Brasília.  This would never be possible in São Paulo because of the traffic. During the workday, it is impossible to get from the Consulate to almost anywhere in less than an hour. Worse yet, travel is unreliable. You cannot be sure how much time it will take, so you have to allocate lots more time for every movement. 

Perpetually jammed traffic is a serious impediment to doing business in São Paulo. I have read that it affects businesses and I can see how it affects our operations. I don’t have a solution; nobody does. I think we can mitigate the pernicious effects by planning to concentrate appointments in particular parts of town. This is not always an option, of course. 

I can see how the traffic patterns could create biases.  If I were here, I think I would favor places and people who were easier to access, simply because the cost of serving them is so much lower. I am not sure how bad this would be. After all, we have lots more opportunities for contact than we can satisfy.  Why spend two hours in traffic to accomplish the same things you could do by spending a half hour. It is frightfully expensive to be tied up in traffic.  If you just figure the price of the car and driver at about what it would cost to sit in a taxi, you are looking at around $75 in this alone. Of course, our cars and drivers may cost more.  And we need to use the cars and drivers sometimes to guarantee connections.  I also suppose if we only took taxis it would eventually become a kind of security risk.  But the bigger cost is our time. When you figure in all the direct labor and indirect upkeep costs, I bet an hour in traffic costs the government a lot more than $1000 an hour, significantly more if there are a few people in the car.  

Of course, we have to be in São Paulo and we have to work in São Paulo, but we have to consider the constraints. Because of the traffic, I would guess that it would take five people to do the same work that four might be able to do elsewhere, assuming equal ability and effort.  Of course, São Paulo has the advantage of proximity to lots of university, firms etc.  I am not sure who the advantages and the disadvantage balance out. There are lots of new buildings going up, so evidently many think the balance is on the side of staying.

In São Paulo, you certainly need to plan your logistical day more precisely. I thought about staggered work hours, but there seems to be no time during a reasonable workday that the traffic is significantly lighter.  Of course, that might help with commutes, but would not address the central problem of fighting traffic to get to appointments during the work day.

Speaking of my own temporary São Paulo commute, I did find a better way to get from the hotel to the consulate; it saved me at least twenty minutes and usually around R$15 too. Taxis are allowed drive in the bus lanes along some of the major streets. If you travel along Av Nove de Julho (July 9 Avenue, named for the day in 1932 when the Paulistas rose the “Constitutionalist Revolution” in revolt against Getúlio Vargas) from the hotel, you bypass traffic and get to the consulate faster.  In theory it is a big longer and at slower speed, but in fact it is much better. One of the taxi drivers explained it to me and I explained it other taxi drivers less familiar with the route.  It is good to know a little about where you are going.  

One more taxi story.  You learn a lot talking to taxi drivers.  I was talking to a driver who, even though I explained São Paulo roads to him, recognized that I was a foreigner, tipped off by my outrageous accent.  After he found out that I was American, we went through the usual small talk about roads in America and Brazil and how Brazil has become a much better place.  But he also asked about education.  He was unaware of the Science w/o Borders program and when I explained, he asked if I could help his son, who was in his second year in engineering.  I could not help. I told him that SwB was something Brazilians could be proud about, since it was entirely a Brazilian initiative.  We were trying to help as best we could, I told him, but he could go to his own government.  They were accepting just about everybody who was qualified. He promised to tell his son. He was only a little concerned that his son might be sent to a country not the U.S.  He had great confidence in the U.S.; in others, not so much.  I assured him that our friends in UK, Canada, Australia and others offer excellent opportunities too, but, of course, if you can go to the U.S. that should always be the first choice.  It is good to know that the cab driver has a son in university. I am not sure we would have found that twenty years ago.  He wasn’t sure his son’s English was good enough, but that is another longs & sad story. 

My pictures are just of SP, not the traffic. 

Empowerment through Hip-Hop

I didn’t understand the program when it was offered by our colleagues at ECA in Washington but I think I am becoming a believer.  Our goal is to connect the American nation with the Brazilian nation, to have confidence that people will do the right thing when they are connected and that they understand things that government official like us do not.  This was certainly the case with hip-hop.  Everything I knew about hip-hop came from what I saw on TV.

We found seven young hip-hop dancers to participate in an exchange in the U.S.  They will meet American hip-hop dancers to exchange experience and styles. They came in for their visas and pre-departure meeting, so I had a chance to have lunch with them.

They were from Rio, Brasília & Belém. They professed their admiration of American hip-hop and told me that their interest in the music and dancing had made them interested in American society in general.  Although their dancing styles are based on American models, they explained that each hip-hop dancer develops his/her own particular styles and that they have regional “accents.”  Those who really know can tell the difference. Dancers who come from Belém have difference dance accents from those who come from Rio, for example. One reason they thought it would be so useful to travel to the U.S. was to pick up on the varieties of hip-hop in the U.S.  There is a kind of evolutionary synergy, which means that not only do the accents vary over geography, but also over time. Hip-hop is in a perpetual state of development.

Dance is a language I don’t know.  In fact it is a language that I don’t usually even know is speaking.  That is why we need to make the connections with those who know.

I asked the dancers if she could show me what they did and the pictures are from that.  They are a bit blurry, wince they were moving fast.  Somebody asking if I could do something like that. I am sure I could fall to the floor, but I would not quickly be able to jump back up.

Land-Grant Universities

I had a long talk with the head of public schools in Mato Grosso about universities in the U.S.   He was unaware of the history of land-grant institutions, but impressed when I told him that the Morrill Act was passed as long ago as 1862.  It established the land-grant universities.  The first was Iowa.  All the states have one.  In 1890 the act was extended to create what have become historically black colleges.  IMO the Morrill act was one of most important acts of Congress in American history, although generally unknown.  I attended the land-grant University of Wisconsin but I don’t recall ever really being aware of its history.  

Our great research universities that have contributed so much to our strength in science and innovation are almost all based on land-grants.  Our agriculture was immensely helped.   One reason we can help feed the world is the foresight of this act in 1862.  America would be a very different place w/o this and not as good a place.  I think it is important to recall these important steps in history.  They are too often forgotten and real achievements are taken for granted. 

I compared our land-grant institutions to what Brazil is doing with its Institutes of Science and Technology and with its Science w/o Borders.  We are lucky to be here at this time.  

I suppose that important legislation like the Morrill Act and even the Homestead Act got lost in the horror of the Civil War.  We remember Lincoln for saving the Union, but his legislative achievements beyond that were enough to make him a success.

My picture is a hot air balloon near the shopping center in Campo Grande. 

Mato Grosso do Sul & Campo Grande

Mato Grosso do Sul shares a frontier with Paraguay and Bolivia and the population reflects the kinds of influences that shaped the demography before the borders were firmly set, but there has also been lots of immigration, internationally and from other parts of Brazil.  The Youth Ambassadors that I met for pizza talked about their varied descent.  Besides the semi-indigenous mix of the base population, they had ancestors from Japan, Germany, Italy, France and the Arab world. 

The football/soccer teams in Mato Grosso are not very good, so the Mato Grosso fans tend to support better teams from other places and the fan loyalties tell a little about the cultural influences in the state.  The São Paulo team, Corinthians, from just across the border, is one of the most popular.  This is not surprising given the proximity, but also held is high esteem is Grêmio, a team from Porto Alegre.  Grêmio’s popularity reflects the large scale immigration from Rio Grande do Sul.  The Gauchos could trade a small farm in Rio Grande do Sul for a very large one in Mato Grosso do Sul.  It was people who considered themselves frontier people moving to a new frontier.  According to what people told me, some interior cities such as São Gabriel do Oeste are essentially Gaucho cities.

The geography of Mato Grosso do Sul around Campo Grande is reminiscent of the plains of Texas.  It is flat or with long hills and grassy with isolated groves of trees.  As the plane landed, I noticed that the farm fields were enormous and in the geometrical shapes that indicate topography without many natural obstacles.  The climate is like Brasília, cerrado with distinct wet and dry seasons.  It was hot during the day, but got chilly at night.  I opened the window in my hotel room and did not need air conditioning.

Campo Grande is a middle sized city of around 800,000.  It is clean with wide well-maintained streets, mostly arranged in a grid pattern, which spreads out the traffic and makes it easy to get around.  Near my hotel, the streets were named after Brazilian states, which made it easy to remember.  I walked up Alagoas Street to Mato Grosso Avenue.  It was only a couple kilometers from the Park Hotel, where I stayed, to the pizza place where I met the local Youth Ambassadors.  The streets are straight with sidewalks all the way. 

I took a taxi back because it was a little late. When I asked the taxi drivers to tell me about the best things in Mato Grosso, the first factor he mentioned were the roads and highways. I suppose that reflected his particular line of work; a guy who drives for a living notices roads, but he seemed to be right concerning the roads in the city.  He assured me that this was also the case for highways in the countryside. He admitted that highways in the state of São Paulo were better, but pointed out that the good highways in São Paulo were toll roads, while those in Mato Grosso were free.  My driver credited the leadership of Campo Grande mayor, now Mato Grosso governor, André Puccinelli.  He also said that Puccinelli was generally a “mestre-de-obras” who built parks and cleared out the favelas, and indeed I didn’t see any favelas in Campo Grande. 

The economy in Mato Grosso and Campo Grande is mostly based on agriculture and the processing businesses associated with that.  Twenty-five years ago, it was almost all cattle, but the state has now diversified into row crops such as soy and corn. There is also a strong forestry sector, mostly based on quick rotation genetically superior eucalyptus used for fiber.  Fibria, one of the world’s largest producers of cellulose, has lots of operations in Mato Grosso do Sul as does JBS Friboi, the world’s largest beef producer. Campo Grande has a big military installation that you see right as you leave the airport.  The bases lie on both sides of the road.  One of our Youth Ambassadors told me that he attended the military school, which he said was an excellent school.  It was good enough to produce a YA in any case.

My pictures show Campo Grande up top.  The bottom picture is the pizza place pizzaria l’aqua in boca where I met the Youth Ambassadors.  The pizza was good  but I didn’t like its signature stuffed crust with cheddar cheese.

The Marvelous City

Espen and I are in Rio de Janeiro. This is the first time for him. I have been here a few times, but never really as a tourist.  So this time we went up to the Corcovada to see Christ the Redeemer, the iconic symbol of Rio. It seems very peaceful and serene in the pictures.  In real life it is teaming with people. 

You have two options. You can take the train or take a car to a parking lot and then take a van to the top.  We took the car-van option.  I think the train might have been a better option.  There was a big line at the place where you get the van too.  I suppose that there is no way to avoid the crowds if you come on a weekend.

It is worth seeing at least once. The statue is as massive as it seems in the photos and the view from the top is spectacular. The day was a little hazy, but it was still good to look out over Rio. Espen commented that the city below us looked like the kind of thing you see in a game like Sim-City.

Sugar Loaf

I never yet visited Sugar Loaf, Rio’s iconic hill, so we decided to take the cable to the top.  It costs R$53 per person, worth the trip. The lines were not long. The view from the top was very nice as you can see from the picture above. 

The weather held while we were up on Sugar Loaf but it rained hard soon after we got back to town. The outdoor cafe where we were eating was less pleasant with the rain spraying in. 

Taxi drivers in my experience in Brazil have been honest, but when we wanted to go to tourist places like Sugar Loaf, Corcovada or even the airport, the drivers quoted a “fixed price.” I don’t know what advice to give. I understood that the prices were too high. I complained, but I cannot help looking like a tourist at the tourist locations. It is important to reiterate that I have not had this problem throughout other parts of Brazil. In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised when cab drivers almost always round the fare down and not tried to get tips. In fact, even in Rio I have had good experience when in town on business. It is evidently just around the tourist places.  

Library of the Forest

The guy who runs the library of the forest was an IVLP; we made a good choice. He is clearly a local leader.  The library is more than a collection of books; it is a community center. Kids come to learn about their history and the local environment.  Researchers come to study sciences and history.  They have a theater where they show movies and have presentations.  The library is home to a variety of discussion groups.

Rio Branco is a small city where people know each other and Macros is even more connected than most.  It slowed us down when we went to a local restaurant, as he stopped to talk to patrons and people on the street.  This is the kind of place where one person can make a difference. 

I got to thinking about outreach and engagement.  We make an effort to reach out to young audiences on the theory that we can have influence because they have not yet made up their minds about a lot of things.  Does the analogy work for communities?  A place like Acre is young. Lots of things are new, still inchoate, like the school in Nova Eperança I mentioned earlier. The initial condition sets the pattern for the future.  Inputs have bigger influences here than any time.  

New Hope

We stopped off at a school called Nova Eperança or “New Hope” located in the town of the same name.  The school building is only a few months old and it houses kids of all ages.  You can see the village below. It is cute. The picture takes in most of the village, BTW.  The school serves the surrounding rural area. The teachers were enthusiastic to meet us.  I made a few comments referring to Science w/o Borders and the Youth Ambassador program. 

We had along with us Philippe Storch, one of the 2011 Youth Ambassadors. You see him in the picture below helping perhaps a future Youth Ambassador move a bench, The students were interested in him, since he was a local boy made good.  He told them that any one of them could also become a Youth Ambassador if they studied hard.  This is technically true, but long odds. I suppose that the odds are better in Acre than most other states. We choose at least one Youth Ambassador from each state, so in sparsely populated Acre you have a better chance than in crowded São Paulo with more than 40 million.

The enthusiasm in the school was palpable. The principal told me that he made a special and public gesture by enrolling his own daughter to show his confidence in the public schools. I didn’t ask and he didn’t say, but I am not sure there are many options nearby anyway.  If you look at the picture of the bus and the bridge, you notice that road is not exactly suitable for lots of traffic.  This is the place at the end of the world.  The kids recited a poem about their school.  It was something we might have seen back in the U.S. in a century ago, a little corny and old fashioned but nice.  The kids and their parents of this little town have seen improvements in their lives and they have learned to expect better. I think they will get it.