Wednesday, November 09, 2016

In Praise of the Global Economy's Enlightened Attributes

Sustainable Rural Development in an Interconnected World

By Jonathan Braun

Globalization was understandably a dirty word in the hard-fought U.S. elections as voters expressed righteous anger over Corporate America’s morally indefensible hollowing out of the U.S. economy under the banner of free trade. While much of the anti-Globalization sentiment is justified—there is nothing progressive about race-to-the-bottom offshoring—we should not allow anger to blind us to the wondrous, unprecedented flow of goods and services and ideas and capital that characterizes the Global Era.

Simply put, Enlightened Globalization is a positive force that develops, rather than destroys, communities.

I write from experience, as a member of the Baby Boomer generation who was fortunate to have been born and reared in an unusually internationally influenced neighborhood, Manhattan’s Upper West Side, in America’s greatest and most cosmopolitan city, New York—U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump’s hometown. Growing up in the shadow of Columbia University, where I would earn a master's degree from the nation’s most prestigious journalism school, I was early on exposed to people and cultures from other nations. The experience was truly transformative.

As an undergraduate student of international relations at the City College of New York, for example, I was introduced to Japanese Buddhism; and my enduring interest in Japan eventually led to my developing a long and productive relationship with a veteran Japanese entrepreneur and his network of business associates and institutional investors. Together, we started and successfully managed pioneering, privately owned and publicly traded companies in the fields of natural medicine, Internet broadcasting, and energy and natural resources.

Our involvement in renewable energy is a virtual advertisement for the global economy’s best—that is to say, its most humanistic—attributes. On a rail-served, biofuels-approved property in northeastern New York State’s rural Washington County, where responsible forestry operations play a vital role in the local economy, we’re developing a job-creating, job-preserving project that will produce sustainable, woody biomass-derived pyrolysis oil (bio-oil) for co-processing in an East Coast petroleum refinery in order for it to be able to send renewable products downstream, and for a Canadian company’s co-located specialty chemical plant. The pyrolysis oil is a fossil oil substitute. It's also a more sustainable substitute than vegetable oils because inedible woody biomass that results from responsible forestry operations does not compete with food crops for precious land and water resources.

The pyrolysis oil technology that we have selected, following a global search, was developed and commercially proven in the Netherlands; a large U.S. subsidiary of a multinational company that is based in France will provide a turnkey engineering and construction solution. Japanese investors will provide a portion of the project’s equity; one of these could be a strategic investor interested in co-processing pyrolysis oil in Japan.

In addition to producing pyrolysis oil, our Renewable Fuels and Chemicals Manufacturing Center will produce bio-coal (torrefied biomass) using a roasting-like technology, called torrefaction, that is similar to pyrolysis. The torrefaction technology provider is American; the equipment, made in America.

Just as bio-oil can be co-processed in oil refineries, bio-coal can be co-fired in coal power plants to reduce carbon emissions. There is pent-up demand in the United States and abroad for qualifying test batches of bio-coal; and our plant will be set up to export these samples by rail to customers across North America and by ship via the NY State ports of Albany, on the Hudson River, or Ogdensburg, on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

So much for logistics. The project’s public relations potential is enhanced by the fact that Washington County is the birthplace of the first U.S. Consul General to Japan, Townsend Harris, who also founded my alma mater, CCNY, as an institution of higher learning for the children of New York City's ever-growing immigrant population. A wealthy merchant, Harris is credited with opening Japan to foreign trade and culture and is remembered with reverence to this day by the Japanese people.

Harris was born in 1804 in a village in what is now the town of Hudson Falls, NY, not far from the site of our project. He died in 1878. The merchant-diplomat, whose family moved with him to New York City when he was a boy, could never have imagined that Japanese investment in the corner of New York State from which he hailed--which was part of the Dutch colony of New Netherland before it was part of the British colony of New York--would one day fuel the production of renewable energy for a future industry such as petroleum refining.

Is such a development merely a case of historical coincidence, or, is it, as my Buddhist friends might say, proof of the incomprehensible Mystic Law of simultaneous cause and effect that underlies all life and the workings of the universe?

I’m inclined to think it’s the latter; but of this, at least, I'm certain: my project is made possible by the global economy, and I'm grateful to be part of it.

The promise of the incoming Trump administration's trade policy is that after experiencing globalization's distinctly negative and unenlightened--downright destructive--side for so many years, millions of American workers, including legions of left-behind rural residents, will at last be able to make a similarly positive statement: My company ... my job ...  is made possible by the global economy, and I'm glad to be part of it. 

Jonathan Braun is Chairman of NextCoal International, Inc. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The involvement of a French engineering firm adds to the renewable fuels and chemical project's inherent historical interest, given its geographic location and focus on energy independence. French aid to the American Revolution, much of which passed through a neutral Dutch West Indies port, contributed to General George Washington's survival against the British military offensive in 1776 and 1777 and was a key factor in the defeat of General Burgoyne's expedition down the Champlain Corridor that ended in a British disaster at Saratoga, about 50 miles southwest of the project site in Hampton, NY, near the present-day NY-Vermont border. Burgoyne's defeat was a major turning point in the Revolutionary War.