Ozzie Zehner

Author of Green Illusions

Category: Inequality

What You Don’t Know about Inequality

 

Inequality in American society is apparently not well understood by the general public. This motion infographic renders:

1) What people think a fair income distribution looks like

2) What people think income distribution really is

3) Actual income distribution in America

Wealth ultimately arises from natural resource extraction, primarily fossil fuels. So, this film offers a launching point to think about how the earth’s resources should be shared among its inhabitants. Also, how does income inequality affect rates and forms of consumption, investment, growth and other stresses on the non-human world?

See more about energy inequality in this environmental book:

Green Illusions

Why Biochar Isn’t Green

Ozzie Zehner Green Illusions Biochar UTNE Reader

UTNE Reader | Ozzie Zehner

While burning biochar, a rebranded term for charcoal, is less harmful than burning firewood, the fuel source would have a negative impact if produced on a large scale. “Green Illusions,” by Ozzie Zehner, is a practical, environmentally informed and lucid book that persuasively argues for a change of perspective on dealing with climate change. When contemplating alternative energy sources, such as biochar, one must understand its advantages as well as its limitations. The following excerpt comes from chapter 3, “Biofuels and the Politics of Big Corn.”

Even as legislators flood cellulosic ethanol and other biofuel initiatives with funding, some biofuel opportunities go over­looked, mostly because they are boring in comparison. For in­stance, wastewater treatment facilities release methane, the main component of natural gas, but more than 90 percent of Amer­ica’s six thousand wastewater treatment plants don’t capture it. As mentioned earlier, methane is a major greenhouse gas liability since its venom is more potent than that of carbon diox­ide. The sludge output of the average American yields enough power to light a standard compact florescent light bulb without end. So skimming the methane from an entire city’s wastewa­ter would not only prevent harmful emissions but also would produce enough power to run the entire wastewater operation, perhaps with energy to spare. Although not a large-scale solu­tion, captured biogas is a reminder of the modest opportunities to draw upon biofuels without advanced technology.

Another biofuel product that is now starting to gain more at­tention is a convenient replacement for firewood. Burning fire­wood directly is a relatively dirty practice, emitting dangerous particulates, hydrocarbons, and dioxins. In poor countries, the soot from firewood, waste, and dung kills about 1.6 million peo­ple per year. It’s also a local climate changer; soot darkens air and darker air absorbs more solar radiation. But there’s another way to extract energy from wood besides burning it—one that was widely employed before the Industrial Revolution but has since fallen by the wayside—charcoal (recently rebranded as biochar). When processors heat wood above 300 [degrees celcius] with limited oxygen, in a process called pyrolysis, it spontaneously breaks into three useful fuels: biochar, heavy oil, and flammable gas. In addition to its use as a fuel, farmers can till their soil with bio­char in order to reduce methane and nitrous oxide greenhouse-gas emissions. Archaeologists uncovered ancient South Amer­ican settlements in which buried charcoal has been sequestered for thousands of years, lending interest to the concept of using biochar as long-term storage for excess carbon.

In all, there may be many benefits to implementing biochar tech­niques in place of burning wood and waste for fuel directly. But this doesn’t make biochar a global solution. Cornell researcher Kelli Roberts points out that large-scale biochar production, as envisioned by some eager biofuel productivists, could yield unintended consequences. As with other biofuel methods, if producers clear virgin land to grow biochar inputs such as trees and switch grass, the process could ultimately do more harm than good. Alternately, if producers grow biochar crops on ex­isting farmland, farmers may be forced onto new land, yield­ing the same negative effects on virgin land plus the added risk of local food price instability. And then there is the hitch with any method for increasing available energy supply—it inevi­tability leads to growth, expansion, and increasing energy con­sumption—a reminder that smart upgrades in energy practices for local communities may not have the same positive effects if implemented on a larger scale.

 

Excerpted from Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism by Ozzie Zehner, with permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2012 by Ozzie Zehner. Available wherever books are sold or from the Univ. of Nebraska Press (800) 848-6224.

Read on: Utne.com

 

An environmental book John Perkins is endorsing:

Green Illusions

What do you know about slavery today?

We generally think of slavery as something of the past but slavery in its many forms persists today, perhaps in your own community. This is the topic of a new film, Not My Life. I got a chance to see the film before its October debut at the United Nations Film Festival, where it is an official selection (you can too with a donation).

Director Robert Bilheimer asserts that his film “probes the dark, hidden, and often unspeakable realities of human trafficking and modern-day slavery– multi-billion dollar global industries that earn their profits.”

Not My Life presses beyond conventional portrayals of trafficking to expose the complexity of human exploitation and the very systems of power that reproduce it.

Green Illusions

Can’t Drive? Can’t vote.

Can’t Drive? Can’t vote.

OZZIE ZEHNER

In the United States, democracy is designed for those who can drive – especially in states with new voter ID laws.

Suburbia is upping the bar of democracy for poor Americans according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law [PDF]. For instance, a third of Mississippi residents without vehicle access live more than ten miles from an ID-issuing office. In a state with little public transit infrastructure, the stresses on democratic representation become monumental.

The report points out that “voter ID laws are especially burdensome for citizens in high-poverty areas. Not only are these eligible voters among the least likely to have photo ID, they are also among the least likely to have access to government services, such as public transportation.”

Of the voter ID states, Pennsylvania is the largest investor in transit at $94.77 per resident. Compare that to New York, which invests $224.85 per capita in transit, the nation’s highest.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin spends $22.31 per capita on transit.  Indiana just $8.63. Mississippi and Georgia invest less than a dollar. The State of Alabama invests nothing.

Fran Taylor from DC Streets Blog claims that “new state laws mandating photo ID for voters threaten to disenfranchise nondrivers, and the skewed elections that would result could lead to political control by forces hostile to transit, cities, and even Safe Routes to Schools.” As fossil fuel prices become more volatile, so may legislative support for the very transit investments we’ll need to deal with the shocks – investments that citizens overwhelmingly support.

The United States is a country of freedom and democracy for all. If you can get there.

Read reviews of my new environmental book:

Green Illusions

When is “green” technology a bad thing?

I spoke about electric cars, solar cells, population growth, and capitalism with Brian Edwards-Tiekert, a radio journalist who has won multiple awards for his feature reporting and radio documentary work on environmental issues | 30 min | Link: Ozzie Zehner on Berkeley Public Radio

See more about the environmental book John Perkins is endorsing.

Green Illusions

The Real Costs of Car Use

I enjoyed this 4-minute video from the Mexican office of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy that exposes some of the basic injustices behind transportation funding. The video explains why building more roads won’t reduce congestion and uncovers the real impact of free parking. Thanks to StreetsBlog and Copenhaganize for bringing this video to my attention.

Discover more about Green Illusions here.

Green Illusions

Updated: New Images and Updates from UC Davis Ongoing Protest

UC Davis protest in the university’s main quad on Monday November 21st (photo by Aaron Norton)

Davis, CA – Thousands of students are overflowing the Quad, a central square on the University of California Davis campus today, to ask Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign following a teargassing of students by police last week.  Over 60,000 people have signed a petition for her resignation.

Fighting back tears, Katehi spoke to the crowd, which was jeering, hissing, and shouting for her to resign.  She apologized, made a brief reference to the 1973 protests that ripped through her Alma mater campus in Greece, and then left after being swamped by reporters.

The UC Davis English department has issued a recommendation to ban city police activity on campus and disband the campus police force. Protesters are also calling for a federal investigation into the teargassing, arguing that prosecutions should be made.

Students are currently deliberating on a general strike which would take place on the Monday following Thanksgiving.

– Ozzie Zehner

GreenIllusions.org.

Green Illusions

Harvard Students Walk Out on Economics Professor

Photograph by Jacob Rus

Harvard students attending an introductory economics course recently walked out to protest a “bias inherent” in the lectures.  The course, Economics 10, is taught by Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw.  The course is required for several concentrations including Economics as well as Environmental Science and Public Policy.

Below is an excerpt from the students’ open letter:

“Today, we are walking out of your class, Economics 10, in order to express our discontent with the bias inherent in this introductory economics course. We are deeply concerned about the way that this bias affects students, the University, and our greater society…

…Harvard graduates play major roles in the financial institutions and in shaping public policy around the world. If Harvard fails to equip its students with a broad and critical understanding of economics, their actions are likely to harm the global financial system. The last five years of economic turmoil have been proof enough of this.

We are walking out today to join a Boston-wide march protesting the corporatization of higher education as part of the global Occupy movement. Since the biased nature of Economics 10 contributes to and symbolizes the increasing economic inequality in America, we are walking out of your class today both to protest your inadequate discussion of basic economic theory and to lend our support to a movement that is changing American discourse on economic injustice.”

See more about the book John Perkins is endorsing here.

Green Illusions

The 7 Biggest Economic Myths

Robert Reich here at UC Berkeley recently spoke at Occupy SF and it got me to wondering what he’s up to these days.  Here’s the answer. This is a video of some economic myths he’s identified and turned into a 3-minute film.

Journalist Sam Smith commented on the MoveOn.org-produced video – “Demagogues through history have known that big lies, repeated often enough, start being believed ­unless they’re rebutted. These seven economic whoppers are just plain wrong. Make sure you know the truth – and spread it on.”

So, I guess I’m taking his lead. But as always, I’m interested in critiques of these talking points as well. I’ve included the transcript:

1. Tax cuts for the rich trickle down to everyone else. Baloney. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both sliced taxes on the rich and what happened? Most Americans’ wages (measured by the real median wage) began flattening under Reagan and have dropped since George W. Bush. Trickle-down economics is a cruel joke.

2. Higher taxes on the rich would hurt the economy and slow job growth. False. From the end of World War II until 1981, the richest Americans faced a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent or above. Under Dwight Eisenhower it was 91 percent. Even after all deductions and credits, the top taxes on the very rich were far higher than they’ve been since. Yet the economy grew faster during those years than it has since. (Don’t believe small businesses would be hurt by a higher marginal tax; fewer than 2 percent of small business owners are in the highest tax bracket.)

3. Shrinking government generates more jobs. Wrong again. It means fewer government workers – everyone from teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and social workers at the state and local levels to safety inspectors and military personnel at the federal. And fewer government contractors, who would employ fewer private-sector workers. According to Moody’s economist Mark Zandi (a campaign advisor to John McCain), the $61 billion in spending cuts proposed by the House GOP will cost the economy 700,000 jobs this year and next.

4. Cutting the budget deficit now is more important than boosting the economy. Untrue. With so many Americans out of work, budget cuts now will shrink the economy. They’ll increase unemployment and reduce tax revenues. That will worsen the ratio of the debt to the total economy. The first priority must be getting jobs and growth back by boosting the economy. Only then, when jobs and growth are returning vigorously, should we turn to cutting the deficit.

5. Medicare and Medicaid are the major drivers of budget deficits. Wrong. Medicare and Medicaid spending is rising quickly, to be sure. But that’s because the nation’s health-care costs are rising so fast. One of the best ways of slowing these costs is to use Medicare and Medicaid’s bargaining power over drug companies and hospitals to reduce costs, and to move from a fee-for-service system to a fee-for-healthy outcomes system. And since Medicare has far lower administrative costs than private health insurers, we should make Medicare available to everyone.

6. Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Don’t believe it. Social Security is solvent for the next 26 years. It could be solvent for the next century if we raised the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax. That ceiling is now $106,800.

7. It’s unfair that lower-income Americans don’t pay income tax. Wrong. There’s nothing unfair about it. Lower-income Americans pay out a larger share of their paychecks in payroll taxes, sales taxes, user fees, and tolls than everyone else.

See images from my upcoming book at GreenIllusions.org

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