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economics

KUZMINSKI: Let’s Build On Sustainable Assets, Not Unsustainable Liabilities

Column by Adrian Kuzminski,

Friday, September 21, 2018

Let’s Build On

Sustainable Assets,

Not Unsustainable Liabilities

Adrian Kuzminski

Otsego County needs a new direction for energy and economic development. An important step to that end was taken last week when the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee endorsed the idea of setting up an energy and economic development task force.
Kudos to them! A county-wide task force would give us two things we don’t have now: long-term economic planning and a wide range of interests and expertise systematically participating in local decision-making.
We’re increasingly recognizing how vulnerable we are. We depend on long supply lines for food, energy and necessities. As climate change accelerates, those supply lines become less reliable.
We read, almost daily, of one disaster after another regionally, nationally, and internationally: mega-hurricanes, severe droughts, enormous wildfires, melting polar ice, mass extinctions, etc.
No place is immune from climate change, not even Otsego County. Nonetheless, our quiet corner of the planet looks more and more like a refuge compared to many in other places, and that may be our greatest asset.
In fact, climate change may have some advantages for us: milder winters, a longer growing season, plenty of water.
We may be more resilient as well – thanks to a lower population density – than overdeveloped areas, including coastal cities in the South and drought-prone regions in the West, which now bear much of the brunt of climate change.
We need an economic plan that builds on sustainable assets, not on unsustainable liabilities.

Parker Fish/The Freeman’s Journal – Flanked by Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham, left, and county Rep., Liz Shannon, D-Oneonta, Irene Weiser reported on the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force to the county board’s Intergovermental Affairs Committee Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Our sustainable assets include, above all, an uncrowded, serene, clean, safe, attractive and relatively stable environment – something increasingly rare in a world of accelerating climate change.
We have an underutilized rural base, including agriculture, forestry and the potential of value-added products. Farming has not recovered from the death-blow to the dairy industry, it’s true, but if local boutique and organic farmers had more financial support and better distribution systems, they could be more competitive and develop new local products.
We have a high-quality health care system, and we often forget it is our major industry. Even so, it has yet to realize its full potential as a magnet for medical and nursing care.
Bassett Healthcare, as an integrated medical system, provides a superior level of care that could be coupled with additional facilities for assisted living. An aging population will demand it, and we could supply it.
We have, in Oneonta, institutions of higher learning that could be further developed and better folded into the community. Curriculum innovation and more partnerships between the colleges and local institutions and businesses – after the model of the Hartwick College nursing program – could make it possible for more students to stay on in our communities after graduation, as we see in other college and university towns.
Tourism has become the main interface between Otsego county and the world. Our cultural attractions – events, concerts, festivals, galleries, and museums – could be expanded even further. But tourism works only insofar as the powerful symbiosis between our cultural assets and the historical aura and natural beauty of the area is maintained.
Tourism needs to be kept proportional and diversified, so as not to overwhelm the fabric of local life.
And, perhaps most important of all, we have a steady in-migration of people looking for second homes, or retirement living, or the opportunity to conduct internet-related businesses and raise families in a new setting, away from the urban madness.
These new immigrants are attracted by the natural assets they find here, as well as good schools, good healthcare, a lively cultural scene, and a vibrant civic life worth being a part of.
They want sustainability, which we can offer, in contrast to the increasingly unsustainable systems they’re looking to escape.
If I were to make an optimistic prediction about the future of our communities in response to the growing ecological and economic crises, I would look to a synthesis of high-tech internet with a rural, family-oriented lifestyle.
Such a synthesis would realize participation in the global economy with the virtues of small town and country living.
If this is to be our future, if these are the people we want to attract, then we need universal broadband to sustain the economy, as well as renewable energy to preserve a clean and beautiful local environment.
That’s where our investments ought to be going.

Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

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ZAGATA: Rising To The Fly On Natural Gas

Column by Mike Zagata, August 31, 2018

Rising To The Fly

On Natural Gas

Mike Zagata

One of the main reasons that local brook trout don’t get very big is that they tend to rise to and take the first dry fly that is drifted over them.
During my professional career, I have avoided “rising to the fly,” but my fellow columnist, Adrian Kuzminski, in his Aug. 23-24, 2018 article, floated one that was just too tempting. He was commenting on my article the week before, where I stated, “To date, we don’t know if those green plants, found on land and in fresh and marine waters, aren’t able to process the carbon dioxide that is being produced. If there was more of it, could green plants produce more oxygen and sugar, or if there was more than they could process would it affect the climate? Answering those questions will take some good minds and pretty heavy-duty computers.”
He twisted that to read, “Zagata admits as much by worrying if plant growth will absorb the extra CO2”.
So it’s time, once again, to look at the science.

Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel. It produces CO2 (carbon dioxide) and H2O (water) when it is burned. That is exactly what animals, including us, do during the process of respiration. We take in food, digest it, and, in the presence of O2 (oxygen), burn it in our cells to produce energy needed to sustain us and CO2 and H2O are the waste products. Our blood carries the dissolved CO2 to our lungs and we exhale it and also inhale new Oxygen. Some of the dissolved water also gets exhaled and some gets filtered out by our kidneys and leaves our body as urine.
That means that each of us are polluters – we emit the same gases that are produced when we burn natural gas. We also pollute when we create mulch piles or manure piles or eat beans, as they give off methane as a byproduct of decomposition.

Many homes in our area heat with propane – a heavier version of methane that also yields CO2 and H2O when burned – and it is transported to our homes by truck.
We drive to our meetings in cars fueled by gasoline, a fossil fuel, to plan on how to best protest against the next attempt to bring energy into our area – and these protests are not limited to just fossil fuels. We have protested against renewable energy sources as well, including wind turbines and biomass.
It is likely that, once we realize just how visually unattractive solar farms are and how much they adversely impact farmland, forests and wildlife habitat, we will protest against them as well.
It will be easy to do, because solar energy doesn’t totally replace the need for energy derived from fossil fuels – the sun doesn’t shine at night, so when the temperatures drop below zero during periods of darkness, the “grid” that supplies our energy relies on energy from fossil fuels like coal.
And what about those hazardous wastes in the solar panels that must be disposed at the end of their useful life?

Why is it that it’s still OK to pull up to the gas tanks and fill our cars with gasoline, a non-renewable fossil fuel, that, when burned, yields some nasty air pollutants like NOX (Nitrous Oxides) and SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide) but it’s not OK to burn natural gas – and gasoline is delivered by trucks?
Even if you’re the most rabid anti-gas person, that can’t make sense to you.
Why is it still OK to heat our homes with fuel oil, a non-renewable fossil fuel that emits far more air pollutants than methane or natural gas, when burned? And, it’s delivered by trucks.
Why is it still OK to use propane to heat our homes or fuel our barbecue grills? It’s a non-renewable fossil fuel and, because it’s heavier than air and thus stays close to the ground when leaked, may lead to a potentially explosive situation. And, it’s delivered by trucks.
Shucks, why not just vote like the County Board and ban all trucks transporting any kind of energy. It doesn’t take long to figure that one out now does it?

The other issue that those against natural
gas like to wave like a red flag in front of a bull is that of fugitive emissions – the natural gas that allegedly leaks from pipes, wells, etc.
If you were a company that produced (drilled for) or transported (pipeline) natural gas, would you knowingly allow it to leak? The company that produces the gas and the company that transports that gas make their money by selling the gas to customers. Does it make sense to you that they would knowingly allow gas to escape and thus not be available to be sold?
If you were a shareholder in a company that did that, would you be happy about it? If the paper allowed me more space, the story about the “studies” that claimed gas was leaking would be fascinating to debunk.

All of us are tempted, like the young brook trout, to rise to the fly and devour it. In the future, before rising, please take the time to reflect on what is being said and ask yourself, in light of what you know about the topic, does it really make good sense?

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in Davenport.

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ZAGATA: Exotic? Natural Gas As Common As … Manure

Column by Mike Zagata for August 17, 2018

Exotic? Natural Gas As

Common As … Manure

Mike Zagata

It’s amazing that the natural gas opponents all talk about wanting to protect the environment by moving from natural gas to “renewables.” Is it that they are misinformed or have an agenda?
It’s difficult to tell, but here’s what the science tells us. Natural gas, or methane, is naturally occurring. It is emitted from volcanoes, manure piles and humans. It is the cleanest burning fuel yielding carbon dioxide and water.
If we remember our high school biology, it is carbon dioxide and water that green plants use in the process of photosynthesis to produce oxygen and sugar – two very important products for humankind and all animals that breathe oxygen and consume green plants containing sugar for food.
To date, we don’t know if those green plants, found on land and in fresh and marine waters, aren’t able to process the carbon dioxide that is being produced. If there was more of it, could green plants produce more oxygen and sugar, or if there was more than they could process would it affect the climate?
Answering those questions will take some good minds and pretty heavy-duty computers.

Because the proposed Constitution Pipeline has not been built and there is an increasing demand for clean-burning natural gas, companies are looking for ways to serve customers.
One of those ways involves compressing the natural gas to reduce its volume and then transporting it in specially developed canisters. That approach is being used in our area and some people are concerned about it.
Here’s what we know. There have been accidents with trucks carrying this gas and there haven’t been any releases – the safety mechanisms built into the trucks and containers have worked as expected. That is a good thing.
Is the same true for the fuel oil, propane and gasoline trucks that have traveled our highways for decades? There have been accidents and spills, but not the outcry facing the current use of trucks to transport natural gas. Why is that?

Institutions and businesses in Oneonta are facing curtailment during periods of unusual cold and heat.
What that means is that there isn’t enough gas being delivered by NYSEG to meet current needs – no less to support any new demand that might arise if a business that could provide jobs wanted to locate here. As it stands right now, they won’t locate here because there isn’t enough natural gas or three-phase power.
Some say Otsego Now should be condemned for trying to remedy that situation. Instead, they would like to form a committee to study it and dilute the momentum – the oldest trick in the book. If you want to delay something, form a committee of folks with widely different opinions and interests.
The anti-fossil fuel crowd will tell us renewables are the environmental panacea – they are without issues. Really, now?
It takes about 20 acres of solar panels to produce enough electricity for about 1,000 households – and we still need fossil fuels to produce the electricity needed to heat or cool our homes at night and to recharge our electric vehicles as off-peak power is cheaper.
New York’s population is about 20 million. If we multiply 20 acres by 20 million and then divide by 1,000 we get 400,000 – the number of acres that would be covered by the solar panels needed to produce enough daytime only electricity for New Yorkers.
That’s 400,000 acres that used to be forests, farmland and wildlife habitat. And what about having to dispose of the hazardous wastes in the solar panels that once produced electricity?
We could use hydro-power, but that means building dams that impede the progress of fish trying to move upstream to spawn.
We could use wind power, but that means using windmills that kill migrating birds.
We could use woody biomass, but that, along with the other “renewable” energy projects that have been brought forward for this area, was shot down by those who oppose anything that might lead to prosperity for our area.
All of a sudden, it isn’t so simple – in fact it’s downright complicated and might take some time to get it right. In the meantime, we have an abundant supply of gas – natural gas or methane – to serve as a bridge to get us where we all want to be – warm or cool depending on the time of year and pollution free.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

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KUZMINSKI: Money Made Out Of Thin Air, But Be Sure To Repay Lenders

Column by Adrian Kuzminski on May 11, 2018

Money Made Out Of Thin Air,
But Be Sure To Repay Lenders

Adrian Kuzminski

You’ve got to have money to make money, the saying goes. If you have money, you can invest (or speculate) in something you hope will produce a profitable return. If you don’t have money, you’ll need to figure out where you can get some.
There are two basic options for most people: work and debt, and they usually go together. Earning money by working, by selling your manual or intellectual labor, is what most people do. But it’s usually not enough.
Most people also need to borrow money. You have to repay with interest as time goes on, but you can use the borrowed money right off the bat to invest in something you need or want, like a house, a car, an education, or a business.
The ability to borrow money is fundamental to modern societies, and is part of what makes them modern.
Until the invention of modern finance in early 18th century Britain, it was hard to borrow money. Banks were few and far between, and most loans were private affairs between individuals.
Money in circulation was largely limited to inelastic precious metals. What happened in England was the creation of a set of interlocking institutions: a central bank, national debt, stock and bond markets, and institutionalized lending.
Together these made it far easier for private banks to issue loans to the public. These loans, which circulated as bank notes, or currency, pumped money into the economy.
This was no small thing. It started the industrial revolution. The “English System” of credit, as Alexander Hamilton later called it, made it possible for English landowners and manufacturers to borrow large sums to improve their estates and industries. The British economy exploded.
The hitch was that borrowers still had to pay interest on their loans – a kind of private tax – even though the money which the private banks lent was created out of thin air.
When you borrow money, even today, say for a mortgage, the bank isn’t giving you money that it already has on deposit. Rather it’s giving you a line of credit backed almost entirely by the likelihood that you’ll repay it with interest.

“Charging Bull,” in New York City’s financial district, has become a symbol of our monetary system.

The effect is to concentrate wealth in the hands of creditors. It’s tolerable for debtors as long as they remain productive enough to cover their loans and interest, and still leave a profit for themselves. A loan provides a way, not otherwise available, to appropriate new assets and put them to use.
That works as long as the economy is growing as fast as the interest rate. When loans get too far ahead of productivity, however, and can’t be repaid, we have a crash.
Up to now, crashes have weeded out the less efficient investors, and allowed the rest to restart the process. That was possible as long as opportunities for economic growth remained.
For better or worse, after a long run of 250 years, the credit-based industrial revolution may be coming to an end. We have a finite planet with finite resources, weighed down by pollution and environmental degradation, struggling to support over seven billion people.
As the rate of production decreases, it gets harder and harder individuals and governments to pay off their debts. The federal government – with its $20+ trillion debt – isn’t even trying anymore. There is increasing concern that the overall debt burden is getting too big for the economy to absorb.
In the old days, not paying debts led to insolvency and bankruptcy. More recently, government bailouts have replaced bankruptcy – provided you’re too big to fail.
In 2008, only one major company – Lehman Brothers – was allowed to go under. The other big players, from AIG to General Motors to the big banks, were bailed out. Since it was politically impossible to raise taxes, this was done by increasing the federal debt.
However the debt crisis may be resolved, the need for credit will remain.
One alternative is public banking. The idea is to lend money not for profit, as private banks do, but at little or no interest, as a public service. We need to transition to a steady-state as opposed to a growth economy, and no-interest loans might help get us there while still meeting the need to invest in our future.
But that’s another column.

 

Adrian Kuzminski, former Hartwick College philosopher-in-residence and Sustainable Otsego moderator, resides in Fly Creek.

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