Europe Subsidizes Burning Old Trees That Release More Carbon Dioxide Than Released by Burning Coal

(p. A24) Across Central Europe, companies are clear-cutting forests and at times grinding up centuries-old trees in the name of renewable energy. All of this is legal.
In fact, it is encouraged by government subsidies meant to help the European Union reach its renewable energy goals.

In reality, though, burning wood can be even dirtier than burning coal.

New York Times journalists followed six truckloads to the factory on a recent day and watched as logs from one of the continent’s most important conservation areas were churned into sawdust.

Wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste (p. A10) into green power.

Those subsidies gave rise to a booming market, to the point that wood is now Europe’s largest renewable energy source, far ahead of wind and solar.

But today, as demand surges amid a Russian energy crunch, whole trees are being harvested for power. And evidence is mounting that Europe’s bet on wood to address climate change has not paid off.

. . .

And while European nations can count wood power toward their clean-energy targets, the E.U. scientific research agency said last year that burning wood released more carbon dioxide than would have been emitted had that energy come from fossil fuels.

“People buy wood pellets thinking they’re the sustainable choice, but in reality, they’re driving the destruction of Europe’s last wild forests,” said David Gehl of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington-based advocacy group that has studied wood use in Central Europe.

. . .

Scientists have calculated that, per unit of energy, burning wood actually releases more greenhouse gas emissions than burning gas, oil, or even coal.

. . .

(p. A11) The association opposes cutting subsidies or changing the way clean energy is defined. If the European Union no longer considers energy from burnt wood to be carbon-neutral, it would immediately throw many countries off track to hit renewable-energy targets.

That would have major consequences for countries like Italy, the continent’s largest consumer of wood pellets. More than a third of its renewable energy comes from burning plant material. For years, the Italian government has offered tax deductions to encourage buying pellet stoves.

For the full story see:

Sarah Hurtes and Weiyi Cai. “Sacrificing Centuries-Old Trees In Name of Renewable Energy.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 10, 2022): A1 & A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 7, 2022, and has the title “Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy.” Where the wording and content of the versions differs, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

Machiavelli Described the Methods of Tyrants

(p. C12) But anyone who observes politics, business or even the loftiest social institutions will know that the world is rife with backstabbers, hypocrites and ethical ne’er-do-wells all thriving at the highest levels—beyond the reach of law or hashtag.

. . .

Machiavelli’s gift, Mr. Boucheron argues, was “naming with precision that which was happening.” He explains the behavior of tyrants not to excuse them, but to show the rest of us what to look out for, in the clearest terms possible. Machiavelli’s “lucidity,” says Mr. Boucheron, was the “weapon of the despairing.”

Other political thinkers have read Machiavelli this way. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in “The Social Contract” that Machiavelli was not advising tyrants but “instructing the people on what they have to fear.” John Adams credited Machiavelli for helping him think through the likely threats to a young American republic.

For the full review, see:

Philip Delves Broughton. “A Poetics for Tyrants.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 25, 2020): C12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 24, 2020, and has the title “‘Machiavelli’ Review: A Poetics for Tyrants.”)

The book under review is:

Boucheron, Patrick. Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching People What to Fear. Translated by Willard Wood. New York: Other Press, 2020.

Global Warming Makes This “An Exciting Time if You’re a Wine Lover”

(p. B6) . . . rising temperatures have had . . . unforeseen effects. Parts of the United Kingdom, a country not at all known for wine production, are now making sparkling wine — as they did back in Roman times.

For wine connoisseurs, that means changes in the types of wines they’ve long loved and where those wines are produced. The average consumer may not notice but the seemingly stable world of wine has become anything but.

“We’re seeing a broader selection of very interesting wines because of this warming,” said Dave Parker, founder and chief executive of the Benchmark Wine Group, a large retailer of vintage wines. “We’re seeing regions that historically were not that highly thought of now producing some excellent wines. The U.K., Oregon, New Zealand or Austria may have been marginal before but they’re producing great wines now. It’s kind of an exciting time if you’re a wine lover.”

The rising temperatures have certainly hurt some winemakers, but in some wine-growing areas the heat has been a boon for vineyards and the drinkers who covet their wine. Mr. Parker said growing conditions for sought-after vintages in Bordeaux used to come less frequently and sometimes only once every decade: 1945, 1947, 1961, 1982, 1996 and 2000. They were all very ripe vintages, because of the heat. But in the last decade, with temperatures rising in Bordeaux, wines from 2012, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 are all sought after — and highly priced.

And then, there are the wines from previously overlooked regions.

“What I’d say is, currently, there hasn’t been a better time for wine collectors,” said Axel Heinz, the estate director of Ornellaia and Masseto, two of Italy’s premier wines. “The vintages and wine have become so much better. And for us, the changes over the past 20 years have put a focus on many growing regions that collectors weren’t interested in before, like Italian and Spanish wine.”

For the full story, see:

Paul Sullivan. “Climate Change’s Impact by the Bottle.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 4, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 3, 2021, and has the title “Change May Be Coming to Your Favorite Wines.”)

World Population Decline Will Slow Global Warming

(p. 1) All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.

Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.

Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.

A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women.

For the full story, see:

Damien Cave, Emma Bubola and Choe Sang-Hun. “World Is Facing First Long Slide in Its Population.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 23, 2021): 1 & 17.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 24, 2021, and has the title “Long Slide Looms for World Population, With Sweeping Ramifications.”)

Illuminators Were in MORE Demand AFTER the Arrival of the Printing Press

(p. C9) In “The Bookseller of Florence,” Ross King relates the fascinating story of a bookstore run by Vespasiano da Bisticci, a Florentine born in 1422, whose shop on the Via dei Librai, or Street of Booksellers, sat at the center of Florence’s golden age and its valiant recovery of ancient knowledge.

. . .

Before long, Vespasiano established a bookshop selling beautifully made manuscripts of newly fashionable Roman classics for prosperous clients. He was well placed: Florence, “the new Athens on the Arno,” was a city where an astounding seven of 10 citizens could read.

. . .

Vespasiano’s life straddled two eras. Before the dawn of movable type in Europe, readers relied on manuscripts, painstakingly copied by hand with goosequills on parchment made from animal skins. After, they flocked to buy cheaper books printed on presses. Meanwhile, scribes either became early adopters—trading their inkpots for composing sticks—or found themselves surprisingly busy rubricating and illuminating innumerable books rolling off the new presses. By the time the presses made their way south of the Alps, Vespasiano was in his early 30s and, for whatever reason, chose not to embrace the new technology.

Printing came to Florence later than elsewhere, possibly due in part to Vespasiano, who continued to sell only books copied out on parchment. Still, competition from printed books began to tell on his sales. Then, just when it seemed he might be edged out of the market, there arrived a redeeming commission by the count of Urbino, Federico da Montefeltro, for “the finest library since antiquity,” one that would keep Vespasiano’s team of dozens of scribes and illuminators busy for nearly a decade, well into the era of the printing press. Montefeltro, a wealthy mercenary—who at the age of 15 had seized a fortress long believed impregnable—was also a bookish man, like many in the Renaissance. He retained five men to read to him as he ate, and even a poet to sing his praises. Among the many books created for his library was Vespasiano’s masterpiece, the Urbino Bible, one of the most lavish illustrated books of all time.

For the full review, see:

Ernest Hilbert. “Wise Men Fished There.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 24, 2021): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 15, 2021, and has the title “‘The Bookseller of Florence’ Review: Manuscripts and Medicis.”)

The book under review is:

King, Ross. The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2021.

Fierce Competition in a Hazelnut-Cream-Filled Duopoly

(p. B1) MILAN — As Marianna Farina and her husband did some Christmas shopping on a windy night in Milan, she noticed lots of people walking around with small brown packages of cookies.

“I was curious,” she said. “Because I had heard about the cookie wars.”

She had found her way to a promotional pavilion set up to hype the introduction of Pan di Stelle Biscocrema, a new hazelnut cream-filled cookie by the venerable Italian breakfast brand, famous for its round cocoa cookies dotted with 11 white sugar stars.

About a month earlier, Nutella, the juggernaut of hazelnut spreads, had encroached on Pan di Stelle’s turf by introducing, after what the company said were 10 years and 120 million euros (about $133 million) in research and development, Nutella Biscuits. Ms. Farina had tried and liked them. Now she bit into the Pan di Stelle cookie. She liked it, too.

“It’s a tough one,” she said.

. . .

(p. B6) And so the Christmas cookie battle between two cultural and culinary touchstones, Pan di Stelle and Nutella, and their superpower parent companies, the pasta giant Barilla and the chocolate giant Ferrero, strikes right at the Italian aorta.

“When it comes down to Barilla and Ferrero, there can be a war,” said Michele Boroni, a marketing expert in Milan. “It’s a competition between Italy’s last food giants that have remained Italian.”

. . .

But in January 2018, Barilla made a move. It introduced jars of Pan di Stelle Crema, a spread made from “100 percent Italian hazelnuts and ‘dreamlike’ chocolate,” the company’s news release said.

Ferrero was not about to let the aggression go unanswered. The company raised the stakes in early 2019 by quietly dipping across the Italian border and testing Nutella Biscuits in other countries. In April, it rolled out the cookie in France to start spreading buzz and demand among Italians living and traveling abroad.

“This is our modus operandi,” said Claudia Millo, a Nutella spokeswoman.

For the full story, see:

Jason Horowitz and Anna Momigliano. “A War in Italy With Cream In the Middle.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 26, 2019): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Italy Is in a Hazelnut Cream-Filled Civil War.”)

In Italy Regulators Ban Gelato in Cones but OK Gelato in Cups

(p. A10) Europe is lifting its lockdowns, but the new rules to battle the coronavirus are baffling Europeans as the continent goes into a familiar mode: regulatory overdrive.

. . .

When Italian beaches reopened in late May, windsurfing was allowed but tanning was banned. Except at other beaches, where it was the other way around.

. . .

In Lerici, a town of pastel houses on the Italian Riviera, Mayor Leonardo Paoletti spent months coming up with a plan.

. . .

“Where the virus is, or not, is irrelevant. What matters is that there are rules, and the job of us mayors is to enforce those rules,” Mr. Paoletti said.

Some rules confuse even the mayor. Take ice-cream cones. Rules on them vary widely across Europe. Many people don’t know whether they’re allowed or not.

In Lerici, some gelato sellers were reprimanded by a central government regional representative office for offering cones instead of only paper cups.

“I don’t see why,” said Mr. Paoletti. As far as he is concerned, ice cream can be served in cones.

“At this point, nothing makes sense to me anymore,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Margherita Stancati, and Valentina Pop. “Europe Reopens With Rules for Ice Cream in Italy, Dates in Denmark.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 10, 2020): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2020, and the title “Moving to Reopen, Europe Goes Into Regulatory Overdrive.”)

Incumbent Italian Firms Invest in Cronyism, Not Innovation

I heard an intriguing paper at the January 2020 AEA meetings in San Diego. It shows that, at least in Italy, big incumbent firms protect their position more through investment in cronyism than through investment in innovation. The abstract of the NBER working paper version of the paper appears below.

Do political connections affect firm dynamics, innovation, and creative destruction? We study Italian firms and their workers to answer this question. Our analysis uses a brand-new dataset, spanning the period from 1993 to 2014, where we merge: (i) firm-level balance sheet data; (ii) social security data on the universe of workers; (iii) patent data from the European Patent Office; (iv) the national registry of local politicians; and (v) detailed data on local elections in Italy. We find that firm-level political connections are widespread, especially among large firms, and that industries with a larger share of politically connected firms feature worse firm dynamics. We identify a leadership paradox: When compared to their competitors, market leaders are much more likely to be politically connected, but much less likely to innovate. In addition, political connections relate to a higher rate of survival, as well as growth in employment and revenue, but not in productivity – a result that we also confirm using a regression discontinuity design. We build a firm dynamics model, where we allow firms to invest in innovation and/or political connection to advance their productivity and to overcome certain market frictions. Our model highlights a new interaction between static gains and dynamic losses from rent-seeking in aggregate productivity.

The abstract quoted above is from:

Akcigit, Ufuk, Salome Baslandze, and Francesca Lotti. “Connecting to Power: Political Connections, Innovation, and Firm Dynamics.” NBER Working Paper #25136, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Oct. 2018.

Italy Regulates Irregular Pasta

(p. D8) BARI, Italy — The grandmothers set up shop early. Out of ground-floor kitchens that opened directly onto the street, they came out singing old songs, sweeping the stone floor and scattering their homemade orecchiette, the city’s renowned ear-shaped pasta, on the mesh screens of wooden trays

. . .

The scene — the grannies, the handmade pasta, the curved stone street — evoked the southern Italy of popular imagination.

. . .

But local officials suspect that the pasta street, in the historical part of town known as Old Bari, is the scene of a crime that has prompted the orecchiette crackdown scare of 2019.

According to the mayor’s office, in mid-October police inspectors busted a local restaurant for serving untraceable orecchiette, a violation of Italian and European Union regulations that require food in restaurants to be clearly sourced. The police fined the restaurateur and forced him to trash three kilos of pasta, or about seven pounds.

The November news reports (“Strong hand against the handmade orecchiette in Old Bari” wrote La Repubblica) immediately worried the sharp-elbowed women of Bari, who are permitted to sell small plastic baggies of pasta for personal use, but who are not licensed to deliver large, unlabeled shipments to restaurants.

The women don’t earn much to begin with, and fear having to wear hairnets, issue receipts and pay taxes. People here are asking if the Italian zeal for regulations, however often ignored, will end up overpowering the local pride in a custom that has brought Bari — where many families have their go-to pasta lady — tourists and much-needed good press.

. . .

“These women work 10, 15 hours a day, seven days a week to support their unemployed husbands and sons,” said Francesco Amoruso, 76, whose mother, one of the street’s venerable pasta makers, died last year at age 99. “And this is who they come down hard on?”

. . .

In the evening, as the women brought their trays of pasta into kitchens adorned with St. Nicholas shrines, Diego De Meo, 44, the owner of the restaurant Moderat, across from City Hall, waited for the evening rush.

He said he didn’t know which restaurant was caught serving contraband orecchiette but talked about how those little irregular, handmade pasta ears had “a little magic in them.” He suggested that trying to regulate Bari was like trying to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“Sometimes the irregular is what makes things beautiful,” Mr. De Meo said.

Pressed further for a hint on the identity of the offending restaurant, he paused awkwardly. “It was me,” he blurted out, adding that he alerted other restaurants, many of which he said bought orecchiette from the women.

“Look, it’s correct, it’s the law,” he acknowledged, referring to the fine. But while his business was unaffected, he felt bad for the women of Bari who he said “are perplexed.”

For the full story, see:

Jason Horowitz. “A Crime of Pasta, but the Suspects’ Lips Are Sealed.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has no date posted, and has the title “Call It a Crime of Pasta.” In the last several sentences, where the versions have slightly different wording, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

When Labor Market Regulations Increase, Firms Hire Fewer Workers

(p. B5) “It’s serial stagnation,” said Nicola Borri, a finance professor at Luiss, a university in Rome. “The economy doesn’t contract, it doesn’t grow. Italy is a country that is weak, that is old, where there is no investment in new ideas.”

. . .

Thirty-five miles east of Naples, in the town of Avellino, Sabino Basso has halted plans to hire 30 more people at the olive oil bottling plant started by his great-grandfather.

Mr. Basso’s company buys olive oil from growers in Italy, Spain and Greece, exporting 80 percent of its wares to countries around the globe — especially the United States, where Walmart is a major customer. He had planned to increase marketing and online sales.

But then Five Star tightened legal requirements for companies that hire workers on temporary contracts, effectively limiting stints to one year. The change was aimed at forcing businesses to hire permanent workers.

Mr. Basso was aghast. All but five of his 100 workers are permanent, he said. The others are apprentices, a status that has allowed him to hire using temporary contracts.

“In order to understand if I want to keep people their whole lives, I have to test them,” he said. The new rules did not allow him sufficient time. “I just stopped hiring.”

For the full story, see:

Peter S. Goodman. “History, Views and ‘Serial Stagnation’.” The New York Times (Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 9, 2019, and has the title “Italy’s Biggest Economic Problem? It’s Still Italy.”)

“The Grapes Are Beautiful, the Heat’s Good for Them”

(p. A4) A 2016 study by NASA and Harvard of grape harvest dates going back to the 1600s found that climate change pushed harvests forward drastically in France and Switzerland in the second half of the 20th century.

. . .

(p. B5) Claudio Roggero, who as enologist at the Castello di Neive, decides, among other things, when to pick the grapes, strolled with satisfaction through the corridors of vines, saying the grapes looked perfect.

“If I left these grapes another week they could have been like this,” he said stopping in front of a rare sunburned bunch. “It’s very dangerous.”

In the middle of August, a thermometer planted in one of their vineyards showed heat in excess of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. “It went off the charts,” the wine estate’s owner, Italo Stupino, 81, said as he looked over the hills.

Mr. Stupino also pointed at vineyards destroyed by a hailstorm in April, and yet he expressed doubt that global warming drove the change.

“I believe it up to a certain point,” he said with a shrug. “The temperature goes up and down. We had hail in April, and I remember some hot, hot Augusts as a boy.”

That sentiment ran through the hills.

In Monforte d’Alba, just outside the town square, Giovanni Rocca stepped out onto his hills and happily chewed a grape he picked from his vineyard.

“The grapes are beautiful, the heat’s good for them,” he said, arguing that the vintage, which he said would probably come 10 or 15 days earlier than usual, was likely to yield a lower-quantity but higher-quality Barolo.

His son, Maurizio, 37, also spoke of the benefits of the sunshine. But he added that temperatures above 100 degrees “are not good for the wine; the berries become unbalanced and too fat, with too high an alcohol content.”

He said that they knew how to deal with anomalies, but that if intense heat waves became permanent, “We’ll have to plant bananas and pineapples.”

. . .

An enclosed observation deck hangs like a giant helicopter cockpit over the hills of Alba at the headquarters of the Ceretto family, which produces nearly a million bottles a year.

The company’s employees will be out in the fields a week earlier than usual to pick arneis grapes for its wildly popular Blangé white wine, said Roberta Ceretto, 44.

But she was mostly unbothered by the heat, saying that while her employees might not be able to go on vacation in August in the future, the quality and culture of the area’s wines would survive.

“The dinosaurs didn’t go extinct in 20 years,” she said with a smile.

For the full story, see:

Jason Horowitz. “LA MORRA JOURNAL; The Harvest of a Changing Climate.” The New York Times (Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 22, 2017, and has the title “LA MORRA JOURNAL; In Italy’s Drought-Hit Vineyards, the Harvest of a Changing Climate.”)