Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Inevitability of Donuts and Green Energy and Why Coal is Like Mariah and Renewables are Like Bruno

A schenck. Click for photo credit.
As everyone close to me knows, largely because they are tired of hearing (what I think are) amusing stories from this period of my life, I worked many different types of jobs to put myself through years of college. One of the worst and shortest jobs was as an assistant in a bakery in Milwaukee.

This wasn't any bakery. This was one of the best German bakeries in the city. Just like well-known bakeries in particular cities, such as Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, this bakery had a wide reputation among bakery lovers. The bakery was famous for its schnecks, as they are called in Milwaukee, which are known as baked donuts and danish in other cities. Their fried donuts were quite good, but their schnecks and coffee cakes were really scrumptious. 

Glaze is yummy, but not when you are coated in it.
Click for photo credit.
I interviewed with the father and son who ran the bakery in early January shortly after moving to Milwaukee where I was starting my masters in Geology. When the duo told me that I got the job, they asked me to show up at 1 am at the back door of the bakery to start the night's work. The day I started, I walked the several blocks through sub-zero temperatures to find that the owners were not there. I waited on that cold dark January night until they showed up shortly after 1:30 am. That should have been my first warning sign.

I only spent two days (really nights and mornings) working at the bakery before I gave up. The work was hard and I returned home covered in a goo-like coating of powdered sugar frosting, flour, frying oil, nuts, and fruit filling. Yet the hard work was not the problem. The issue was that the father and son argued all night long. They yelled at each other. They complained about the other's work ethic. They never stopped bickering. I was stressed out enough as I tried to figure out how to carry 100 pound bags of flour from the basement on rickety wooden stairs without worrying about their very loud and disruptive family quarrels. As I shaped beautifully risen schnecks for the ovens, it was hard to focus on the creative process of baking. I hated it, quit, and found a job as a night security officer in a nursing home. Talk about quiet. I went from complete madness to complete serenity.

There is an inevitability of donuts. Click for photo credit.
But, the donuts kept getting made. 

The father and son never stopped producing donuts just because I walked away from an unhappy situation. Each day, the inevitability of the donuts was something on which Milwaukee depended. Consumers didn't realize that the father and son created a difficult workplace and they certainly didn't care if I worked there or not. The schnecks and donuts were in their proper places in the cases each morning.

This brings me to this article in the New York Times that was published today in the Science section titled "Weak Federal Powers Could Limit Trump's Climate Policy Rollback." Check it out here.

These bright spots are solar collectors on the Nevada/California
border. Today, California gets nearly 30% of its energy from renewable
energy sources. It is not going backward regardless of federal policy.
Click for photo credit.
As I have been saying and writing for years, the real action in the United States on green energy is in local and state level governments and in the private sector. The United States federal government has largely been absent on green energy policy except for some relatively minor (say compared with Germany and China) executive initiatives set forward by President Obama. Sure, those actions were important and did great stuff for wind and solar. But, for the last generation, states and cities have been driving policy. In addition, dirty fuels like coal are not economically or environmentally acceptable. If you were an investor today, would you invest in old technology like coal or would you invest in green energy and technology? This article from Bloomberg clearly tells the story. The return to coal energy is really a political chimera. Coal is Mariah Carey's performance on New Year's Eve and green energy is Bruno Mars at the Superbowl. Everyone in the biz gets it and understands it, but the rhetoric on Mariah and coal keep the vibe moving forward like they still matter. Coal and Mariah will always have a place in the world, but are they really as relevant as they were 20 years ago?

So regardless of national policy, green energy will continue to advance in this country because it is economically and environmentally sound to use it. This is something that states and cities have understood for decades. Green energy is as inevitable as donuts. And as much fun as Bruno Mars at a Superbowl halftime show.

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