Category Archives: environment

Environmental Arguments Against the Penny

2021 Lincoln Penny Observse and Reverse - Source: U.S. Mint

As of 2019, roughly one third of polled Americans favor abolishing the penny.

That's still a minority, since over half of Americans responding to that poll favored keeping the penny circulating in the U.S. economy. But with inflation rising and the penny falling in value, the economics for keeping the penny in use are changing. From that perspective alone, it might soon be worth revisiting whether the U.S. Mint should continue stamping out the millions of copper-plated zinc discs it does each year.

That would follow the example of Canada. We learned a lot of economic arguments in favor of abolishing the penny from that country's "Godfather of the Ban-the-Penny Movement".

But we hadn't encountered an environmental argument against the lowest value U.S. coin in circulation until the American Council on Science and Health's Josh Bloom did some back-of-the-envelope math to quantify some of that impact.

Here's a portion of that discussion:

Pennies are not only a nuisance (stores hate them), but they are also an environmentally harmful nuisance. Here are a few facts that support this.

  • The melt value of a zinc penny is one-half of a cent.
  • Even so, according to the US Mint, it costs about 2.4 cents to make one penny.
  • In 2013 alone, this cost taxpayers $105 million.
  • Since 1982, 327 billion pennies have been minted.
  • A zinc penny weighs 2.5 g.
  • Doing the math, 327 billion pennies weigh 1.8 billion pounds
  • Tractor-trailer trucks can transport 80,000 pounds.
  • Given these figures, it required 22,500 full trucks to transport all the pennies that were minted since 1982.
  • A full tractor-trailer truck gets about 5 mpg.
  • Assuming that your average penny must travel 1,000 miles from the mint to wherever it is going (pure guess), it has taken 4.5 million gallons of fuel just to transport all the pennies that have been minted since 1982.
  • One gallon of diesel fuel produces 23.8 pounds of carbon dioxide when burned.
  • So, by simply hauling around all the stupid useless pennies since 1982, 107 million pounds of carbon dioxide has been emitted, plus who knows how much diesel pollution.
  • A whole bunch of zinc is being mined for no good reason. The mining itself causes more pollution.
  • About two-thirds of pennies don't even circulate. They are either thrown out or sitting around in jars.
  • Other countries have dropped the penny and started rounding off to the nearest five cents. It worked out just fine.
  • Some of this math may be correct.

And, these (very) rough calculations do not include the energy needed to mine the zinc ore, transport it to a smelter, purify the ore, transport the purified zinc to the mint, and then make it into pennies.

And that doesn't consider that most the world's zinc, including that used to make U.S. pennies since 1982, is mined in China before being shipped overseas, which also adds to the coin's carbon footprint.

We think the changing economics of pennies will have more impact on whether it makes sense to stop minting them than the environmental case. Exit question: how many people have already begun hoarding the copper pennies minted in 1982 and earlier the way people harvested silver coins out of general circulation after they stopped being minted in 1964?

References

Bloom, Josh. If Cash Is No Longer King What Does That Make Stupid Pennies? American Council on Science and Health. [Online Article]. 16 July 2021.

U.S. Mint. H.I.P. Pocket Change Kids Site: Penny. [Online article]. 2021.

Previously on Political Calculations

Estimated Net Global GDP Lost to Coronavirus Pandemic Exceeds $15.6 Trillion

The triple dip global recession from the coronavirus pandemic continued tracking downward through the end of the second quarter of 2021.

We can see that result in the rate at which carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth's atmosphere. Here, we find the trailing year average of that rate continued to fall through June 2021, as the coronavirus pandemic's negative impact on economic activity continued to take a deep toll.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 1960 - June 2021

Since we're at a quarter end, we'll estimate the net reduction in global GDP that has resulted since December 2019 as a consequence of the pandemic and the actions of governments to cope with it. The net reduction of 0.47 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been entered as the default value for this data in the following tool. If you're accessing this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to our site to access a working version of the tool.

Change in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
Input DataValues
Change in Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere [Parts per Million]
World Population [billions]

Change in Amount of Carbon Dioxide Emitted into Atmosphere
Calculated ResultsValues
Carbon Dioxide Emissions [billions of Metric Tonnes]
Estimated Net Change in World GDP [trillions]

Using these default values, we estimate the net loss to global GDP some 18 months after the first stirrings of the coronavirus pandemic began impacting national economies exceeds $15.6 trillion.

From the end of March 2021 through June 2021, the coronavirus pandemic affected the large economies of India, China, and Japan, significant parts of Europe, and several nations in South America. Diminished economic activity correspondes with reduced rates of carbon dioxide being added to the Earth's air.

With other regions in the global economy experiencing strong recoveries, the negative impact being experienced in the regions coping with the pandemic has to be large enough to offset the increasing carbon dioxide emissions coinciding with their increased economic output.

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 6 July 2021. Accessed 6 July 2021.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our series quantifying the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Earth's economy, presented in reverse chronological order.

Coronavirus Pandemic Sends Global Economy Into Triple Dip Recession

When we last covered the state of the global economy, we found it had just begun rebounding after having entered a double-dip recession. Deeply impacted regions like North America and the Eurozone were showing signs of recovery, boosted by the arrival of COVID vaccines.

Two months ago, that recovery could be measured by the increasing rate at which carbon dioxide was being added to the Earth's atmosphere. Two months later we find that sign of improvement has reversed, indicating the global economy is experiencing a triple dip recession.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 1960 - May 2021

What happened to reverse the global economic recovery?

From the end of March 2021 through May 2021, the coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head in India and several nations in South America, including Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia.

Daily Confirmed New Cases (7-Day Moving Average) - Outbreak evlotuion for the current most affected countries, 1 January 2020 - 18 June 2021

Of these countries, India suffered the most extreme spread of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infections in the period from March through May 2021, the severity of which hammered its economy. And by extension, the global economy because India has become the fifth largest national economy in the world.

Data for the changing concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere indicates that negative impact on India's economy was very large. It more than fully offset the rate at which CO2 is being added to the Earth's air resulting by the other regions of the world whose economic recoveries are well underway.

References

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Daily Confirmed New Cases (7-Day Moving Average) Outbreak Evolution for the Current Most Affected Countries. [Online Database]. Accessed 19 June 2021.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 6 April 2020. Accessed 19 June 2021.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our series quantifying the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Earth's economy, presented in reverse chronological order.

The World’s Largest Emitter of Carbon Dioxide

China is, by far and away, the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere.

That factoid was recently driven home by the Rhodium Group's latest report on the topic, updating their annual data through the 2019 calendar year. The following chart indicates the share of net CO₂ emissions by the world's top emitting countries or regions:

Rhodium Group - Figure 1 - 2019 net GHG emissions from the world's largest emitters

The Rhodium group estimates that China's net carbon emissions exceeded the output of the 34 developed nations that make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The chart above represents something of a snapshot in time of the pre-coronavirus pandemic world of 2020, which saw CO₂ emissions fall in many developed countries around the world.

But not in China, according to the Rhodium Group's preliminary 2020 estimate:

Based on preliminary energy and economic data, we estimate that China’s GHG emissions increased by 1.7% in 2020. While this is well below the 3.3% emissions growth that China averaged over the past decade, it is a worrying sign that the world’s largest GHG emitter’s focus on a fossil-fueled industrial recovery is at odds with its long-term goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2060.

By contrast, the Rhodium Group's preliminary estimates indicate a 10.3% decline in net U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020, putting the U.S. below its 1990 level of emissions. That figure is consistent with a new year-over-year estimated reduction of 10.4% for just U.S. fossil fuel generated CO₂ emissions during 2020.

Pointing to the link between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth, China's economy is estimated to have grown by 2.1% while the U.S. economy shrank by 3.5% in real terms from 2019 to 2020.

Double Dip Global Coronavirus Recession Sees Second Bottom

The global economy appears to have begun recovering after entering into a double dip recession in December 2020, which looks to have bottomed in February 2020.

That assessment is based on the latest data on the changing concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere recorded at the remote Mauna Loa Observatory. The trailing twelve month average of the year-over-year change in atmospheric CO₂ levels has begun to rise again, indicating a return to net economic growth for the Earth's economy beginning in March 2021.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 1960 - March 2021

We have to emphasize "net" economic growth since the change is not uniform across the globe. Many nations, particularly in the Eurozone, continue to experience recessionary conditions from government-imposed lockdowns as they see rising rates of infections combine with the fiasco of their failure to acquire adequate supplies of COVID vaccines.

As long as that situation continues, the global recovery will be much slower than the regional recoveries now underway.

Previously on Political Calculations

Here is our series quantifying the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Earth's economy, presented in reverse chronological order.