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The plastic crisis has deep corporate roots: to protect our planet, they need to be exposed

The plastic industry uses powerful tactics to convince us it’s not that bad, but in reality many of their green solutions aren’t working.

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Plastic pollution is a growing global problem. Shutterstock

This spring, I taught a new undergraduate course in environmental sociology. Most of my students took the course because they were curious to see what their desire to live more sustainably had to do with sociology.

By the third week – after a deep dive into the troubling connections between fossil capitalism (the dependence of capitalism on fossil fuels), waste colonialism (the unjust international trade and disposal of hazardous waste between countries) and environmental injustice – a few students said glumly that they had thought the course would be more optimistic.

During the fourth week, we explored the well-documented history of climate denial and deception among fossil fuel companies, as well as the related “deceit and denial” tactics of the tobacco, lead and chemical industries. “Do you think it’s really true?” one student asked me imploringly. “Do you think that businesses are really that unsustainable and will never change?”

I hesitated. I wanted my students to consider complex environmental problems from a critical sociological perspective, but I didn’t want to lead them down a pessimistic path. “Well,” I admitted, “I did just write a book about the plastics industry with the subtitle ‘how corporations are fuelling the ecological crisis and what we can do about it’”.

It’s hard to avoid pessimism when you witness firsthand the obstinacy of socially and environmentally damaging industries. Early in 2019, I attended a plastics industry conference in the wake of the marine plastic crisis, prompted by public outrage over viral images of marine wildlife choking on plastic. The crisis prompted a swift response from plastic-related corporations, who attempted to frame the problem in terms of littering and waste rather than overproduction. “We need to get the image of plastic in the oceans out of the public’s mind,” exclaimed a corporate executive at the conference. “We need to make plastic fantastic again.”


Read more: The ocean is full of tiny plastic particles – we found a way to track them with satellites


Since the dramatic rise of plastic production across the world after the second world war, petrochemical and plastics companies have fought to expand and protect their markets through creating demand for plastic products, denying toxic risks and shifting blame for pollution onto consumers. And despite increasing public awareness of (and regulations on) plastic pollution, the global plastic crisis is only getting worse.

My new book, Plastic Unlimited, sheds light on the corporate roots of this crisis. In it, I address the concept of the “corporate playbook” used by big oil, big tobacco, and, more recently, big plastic.

Playbook tactics

The corporate playbook often contains a common repertoire of strategies used by controversial industries to conceal or cast doubt on the harmful effects of their products. Champions of these strategies have been dubbed “merchants of doubt” and accused of offences from downplaying the health risks of smoking to funding climate change denial.

As researcher David Michaels wrote in his exposé Doubt is Their Product, “the manipulation of science by the plastics industry was at least as flagrant and as self-serving as any other industry” he had researched – including the tobacco industry. Michaels was referring to the vinyl chloride scandals of the 1960s and 1970s, when leading chemical companies conspired to hide evidence about the toxic health effects of the vinyl chloride monomer on workers in chemical plants.

A person wearing protective equipment and a white coat turns a metal wheel
Chemical workers have been unknowingly exposed to dangerous substances. Shutterstock

Big industry’s track record continues today. It has denied the toxic hazards of myriad petrochemicals and plastic products, funded climate misinformation campaigns, misled the public about the effectiveness of recycling, and lobbied to thwart and delay environmental regulations. During the pandemic, it also lobbied to promote single-use plastic bags as the “sanitary choice”.

Leading corporations also use offensive tactics, including directing attention to their role as so-called innovators in green tech. Take the circular economy, for example. It sounds like a great idea to try to eliminate waste by shifting from a linear “take-make-waste” economy to one in which existing materials are reused for as long as possible. But, crucially, no global or national policy visions of a circular economy for plastics go so far as to call for limiting plastic production altogether.


Read more: Plastic pollution is a global problem – here's how to design an effective treaty to curb it


In fact, the plastics industry promotes the weakest form of the circular economy – recycling – which means plastic production can keep going, despite the reality that most items going into a recycling bin will end up being burned or dumped.

What’s more, recycling uses a lot of energy. Chemical recycling, for instance, involves returning plastics to their original molecular states to be used again. Although it’s promoted as a solution to the plastic crisis, it’s a toxic, carbon-intensive process that’s effectively the same as incineration.

A person stands looking at cuboids of crushed plastic bottles
Recycling is less effective in fighting climate change than commonly believed. Shutterstock

Here’s some good news: in March 2022, the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi agreed on a mandate for a new global treaty to address the crisis. This was a landmark achievement towards creating legally binding measures to prevent toxic plastic pollution.

Many scientists, activists and organisations insist that any resulting treaty must include a cap on plastic production. The negotiations will be challenging, however, given businesses’ vested interests in keeping regulations focused on waste rather than production. Now, it’s urgent that we push back against greenwashing and work towards a global mandate for limiting unsustainable plastics growth.

Alice Mah receives funding from the Leverhulme Trust and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and has previously received funded from the European Research Council.

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Government

‘Ding, Dong Inflation Is Dead’… But Probably Isn’t So Don’t Get Your Hopes Up Yet

‘Ding, Dong Inflation Is Dead’… But Probably Isn’t So Don’t Get Your Hopes Up Yet

Authored by Bill Blain via MorningPorridge.com,

“Inflation…

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'Ding, Dong Inflation Is Dead'... But Probably Isn't So Don't Get Your Hopes Up Yet

Authored by Bill Blain via MorningPorridge.com,

“Inflation is everywhere a misunderstanding of what actually caused it..“

The pace of US CPI inflation moderated slightly, but it’s too early for the market to conclude rate hikes are over. There are many imbalances still to resolve – especially in consumer credit. Meanwhile, the new UK premier’s clumsy attempts to blame the BOE raise questions.

Markets surged last night on the back of lower-than-expected US inflation. Markets globally rallied, anticipating a slowdown in the pace of Fed Interest Rate Hikes, and a resumption of the long bull Equity market. Bonds rallied. Joy, joy… joy..

Oh dear. It may be well to remember the Happy Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz singing Ding Dong, Inflation’s Dead…” but, that occurs right at the start of the film… before things get “challenging”. I’m not saying End-of-the-World.. just not-quite-as-rosy-as-you-hope!

The pace of US consumer price inflation fell to 8.5% y-o-y, down from 9.1% in June. It’s well to remember what the CPI number shows is fast prices are rising, not how much they have risen – it’s a subtle, but critical difference…

8.5% Inflation means prices are still rising, (Doh!), just less quickly than last month. Rising prices mean the Fed, and other Central Banks still have to address them. (Which is why expecting Central Banks to mellow rate rises/tighter monetary policy on a single snapshot number is a foolish hope.) 8% inflation sounds so much better than 9%, but it’s still inflation; an imbalance between supply and demand that prices are trying to correct. Result: central banks will keep raising rates to stun demand – if they are brave enough to court criticism from politicians.

The US number shows there are still significant inflationary pulses – and concurrent consequences – surging through the US economy. The lower number will focus analysts on just how quickly the inflation pace will start to fall. The oil shocks in the 1970s lasted effectively a decade. The first 1973 shock took around three years to abate, and was followed by an even stronger price shock in 1977 that took till the early 80s to resolve.

A one-month reversal in a longer-term inflation trend is not unusual – it’s far too early to say a one-month slight improvement in the pace of rising prices means the top has been crossed. But the inflation charts do show it is unusual to get consecutive months of declines, and then a sharp increase again. Its more common for inflation to remain stubbornly high for a number of years following an upspike. (That said… in time of “policy experimentation”, like 2010, an upspike was swiftly followed by a down spike.)

What the US CPI number did confirm is the US economy is in a very different place, and a different stage, to Europe and the Global economy. The key difference is the US report showed energy prices are normalising and reducing as petrol prices moderate. Jet fuel costs declined bringing down the cost of travel. In Europe – there is little chance of energy price moderation – if anything consumer energy bills will become increasingly chaotic and damaging to sentiment. Queue the great divergence between US and Europe – and what that means in terms of investment opportunities.

On the other hand; the US numbers show rising interest rates are impacting consumers cash, food prices continue to rise sharply while housing costs are also spiking. Ah… common experiences Europe and the US share.

The CPI numbers suggest the US economy is still in trouble. Over the past few months I’ve been watching things like Auto-loan delinquencies – as rates rise, and car prices surged on the back of availability and supply chain issues (primarily the shortage of chips), car financing costs became increasingly unaffordable. Auto-loan defaults are rising – but they have not become a crisis because – thus far – the used-car market can very quickly absorb repossessed cars. The reality is 20% of US autoloans go to sub-prime borrowers – who are the ones living pay-check to pay-check, and following years of declining real income (and now a crashing real-income shock) lack the financial resilience to keep paying.

Figures from the Fed show US Household debt is increasing – up 2% in Q2 2022 to $16.15 trillion (!). Officially, that’s because of repressed spending during the pandemic.

In reality, it’s cash-strapped US consumers are living off credit. Much of that credit is real: mortgage and auto-lending, but other numbers like credit cards and  from new DeFi lenders showing rising shadow-banking sector lending problems. The default crisis impacting lenders like Klarna comes on the back of cash-strapped consumers using credit to buy their daily milk, bread and petrol. You can’t repossess a bag of shopping.

The inflation driven economic threat in Europe is also about consumers. Years of low incomes, wage constraints, and job insecurity across much of Southern Europe leaves a massive number of consumers with precious few savings. The middle classes have been decimated by rising costs, consumer debt, and taxes.

(It’s a truism: if you can afford a lawyer and an accountant, you can avoid taxes… which is why tax gatherers, like the UK HRMC go for the weakest targets to collect unpaid dues. It takes less effort to extract a million in taxes from 10 struggling middle-class businessmen that it takes to get Amazon to pay a single cent. If there businesses collapse – so what, the tax got its money…)

Who is to blame for inflation?

The UK’s prime minister in waiting, Tank Girl Liz Truss ,says it’s all the Bank of England’s doing. Which is somewhat harsh.

  • I was unaware Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey triggered the Russian invasion of Ukraine after first persuading Angela Merkle to close her nuclear plants and give German energy security to Vladmir Putin. `I though the Energy shock and food inflation shock were exogenous.

  • I was unaware it was Andrew Bailey who decided Tory MPS could give billions of govt money to their chums to not deliver functional PPE to the health service during the pandemic.

  • I was unaware it was Andrew Bailey who came up with (actually brilliant) furlough scheme to preserve jobs and consumer security (that was a very clever civil servant who has got zero credit for his efforts.)

  • I was unaware it was Andrew Bailey who set the government’s spending plans…

What I thought was Andrew Bailey and his colleagues at the Bank of England were maintaining a low interest rate economy to keep the pandemic economy functioning through the challenging pandemic years, and to keep the gilt market looking attractive so the UK Debt Management Office could continue to fund the Government’s funding schemes – all the while fretting about how to normalise ultra-low interest rates put in place to stimulate the economy in the 20-teens without destabilising everything.

Liz Truss doesn’t think so. That’s why she will not be getting my vote. (Not that I have one to give her.. but that’s not the point.)

The point is our next prime minister and First Lord of the Treasury will be chosen by 160,000 rank and file conservative party members. They are generally older, well-off, white, male and Eurosceptic. 63% are male. 80% are in the wealthy ABC demographic. 58% are over 55 and remember the Glory of Margaret Thatcher with religious reverence.

Which is why I think someone has been whispering in Tank Girl’s ear – I suspect the Minister for the Spanish Inquisition (Jacob Rees-Mogg). Now, Tank Girl wants to remove the Bank’s independence and replace inflation targeting with money supply targeting. Christ-on-a-bike: did I just drop through a worm hole into 1981? Big hair, shoulder pads, Duran-Duran and economic disaster…

I fear She opened the door into the Treasury’s Black Museum – and unlocked the box of Tragic Economic Mistakes, unleasing the Zombies of Monetarist Economic thinking like Mad Paddy Mitford (who says her plans are brilliant – unsurprisingly) and Tim Condon. Oh dear. Lord spare us…

If so, then we really are rubber ducked. Monetarism, ahem,  was such a success back in the 1980s – NOT! In the form of Thatcherism, the consequences are today’s broken Britain, the imbalance between London and the regions unknown outside the M25, the rebellious Scots and a host of long-term structural problems.

If someone had unleashed the Zombie Vampyres of Monetarism, then I’ll be sure to carry my crucifix, a sharp pointy wooden stake, and flask of Lagavulin (my holy water) when next in London.

Although its only August, the Christmas shops are already opening. I am tempted to write to Santa now. “Dear Father Christmas… I have been a very good boy all year. Please can we have a completely new UK Government?”

Tyler Durden Thu, 08/11/2022 - 07:20

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Commodities

Bitcoin Is The Best Distraction From This Financial Collapse, Says Franklin CEO

Bitcoin is the best distraction from this financial collapse according to Jenny Johnson, President and CEO of Franklin Templeton. She said that the current…

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Bitcoin is the best distraction from this financial collapse according to Jenny Johnson, President and CEO of Franklin Templeton.

She said that the current status of the economy is really dire, and bitcoin is “the finest diversion” from it. She also complimented blockchain technology as an excellent breakthrough that will soon have a good effect on a variety of businesses.

Franklin Templeton, a multinational investment company with approximately $1.5 trillion in assets under management, was founded in 1947. Along with conventional financial services, the organization also offers cryptocurrency choices.

Bitcoin Is The Best Distraction

The current economic crisis, according to Jenny Johnson, is the best disruption I see occurring to monetary providers at this time, she said in a recent interview. In her opinion, bitcoin, which many have referred to as a hedge against inflation and even as digital gold, could divert customers’ attention away from the problems.

Johnson, though, believes that governments won’t permit BTC to overtake other foreign currency options.

“It’s extra like faith, and individuals are going to debate it,” she argued.

The CEO contends that blockchain technology, however, will actually be a “game changer since she thinks it would have a pretty dramatic positive impact on virtually every industry.

Johnson then reassured consumers that Franklin Templeton continues to offer cryptocurrency services and has no plans to stop doing so.

The Disaster

Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread and caused a health catastrophe a few years ago, the entire world has been suffering. In addition to the millions of lives lost and the disruption of social life, the epidemic also had a negative impact on the world’s financial system.

To keep the economy afloat during the crisis, some central banks (most notably the US Federal Reserve) began creating enormous amounts of fiat money. But two years later, this procedure, together with a number of other factors, caused inflation rates to soar in practically every nation on the planet.

When Russian forces launched a purported “special military operation” in Ukraine in 2022, the situation only became worse. Nearly 25% of Ukrainians fled their war-torn country and settled abroad as a result of the conflict between the two countries.

The West, led by the USA, accused Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, for the assault and severed its financial ties with the largest landlocked nation on Earth. Dubious Russian oligarchs and billionaires were also sanctioned under the guise of being part of Putin’s inner circle.

Russia, on the other hand, stopped supplying gas to some European nations, many of which lack other sources of energy. A contributing element to higher electricity prices is the fact that, when energy prices rise, practically all other prices do as well.

In times like these we really need a lot of distractions.

Read the latest news in crypto.

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Economics

Inflation: A Play In Three Acts

Inflation: A Play In Three Acts

By Simon White, Bloomberg Markets Live commentator and reporter

Today’s drop in inflation potentially sets…

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Inflation: A Play In Three Acts

By Simon White, Bloomberg Markets Live commentator and reporter

Today’s drop in inflation potentially sets the stage for less tightening - or even easing - in the medium term, leading to a resurgence in inflation later in the cycle, eventually requiring a significant re-tightening of monetary conditions. Even if today’s fall in consumer-price inflation means we are over the peak, and it continues to slow, we are still probably only in the first act of a three act play.

The 1970s are an imperfect analogy, but they have one crucial aspect in common with today: the monetization of large fiscal deficits. Runaway inflation is almost always preceded by large government borrowing financed by the central bank.

Both the late 1960s and the last few years saw rising fiscal deficits facilitated by a central bank that thought it had more room to ease than it really did, as was the case in the late 1960s and early 1970s; or one that decided to ignore rising inflation altogether, as the Fed did with its recent maximum-employment/average-inflation-targeting framework.

Once the conditions for high inflation are there, the economy is at the mercy of “events”, whether that be the Arab Oil Embargo in the early 1970s, or the pandemic and the Ukraine war in the current period.

We are now in Act I, where inflation is high and rising. We will soon enter Act II, where a respite in inflation hoodwinks the Fed into believing it can take its foot off the tightening pedal prematurely. This sets the stage for Act III, where price growth stops falling, and takes off again, this time making new highs.

But what’s maybe happening under the surface here? A way to think about this is to quantitatively break up inflation into cyclical and structural components.

Cyclical price pressures should soon start to ease, taking the headline number down. But, as the chart below shows, the estimate for structural inflation is very high, making up almost half the headline number.

If almost half of current inflation proves harder to shake, the cyclical-driven fall in the headline number would only be cosmetically positive. Once the cyclical components start contributing positively again, they would reinforce the stickier, structural inflation, potentially leading CPI to new highs.

This would be Act III, and we know from the Volcker era how that has to end.

 

Tyler Durden Wed, 08/10/2022 - 18:40

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