Taking the Slow Boat

photo of crowds on a beach

People sunbathe at Levante Beach on July 22, 2015 in Benidorm, Spain. Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images Europe

This being Amurrika and all, I started linking to the business press a little more regularly sometime ago, to be aware of how the world looks to those who see everything through the prism of money. Bloomberg Green has some good reporters and this digression on Mass Tourism’s Carbon Impact is valuable:

a model built by and for the masses, one that thrives on low-cost flights, all-inclusive hotel resorts, giant buffets and endless sangria. Spain, the world’s No. 2 destination with 83.7 million visitors in 2019, is a magnet for mass tourism (it’s no coincidence that package tours were invented not far from where I was standing). In total, the industry flew, accommodated, fed and entertained a good chunk of the world’s 1.5 billion tourists last year.

Globally, it was a booming sector before the pandemic, growing at about 4% every year, employing 10% of the world’s workers and representing 10% of global gross domestic product. The enormous cruise ships, fossil fuel-powered planes and the hotels in remote, water-scarce locations make it incredibly carbon intensive too. Total footprint is estimated at around 8% of overall human emissions.

The sector’s climate record before the pandemic was already discouraging. Efforts to lower the carbon footprint have mostly been limited to climate neutrality pledges and headline-grabbing small steps like eliminating mini-shampoo bottles, replacing plastic straws with paper ones and serving sustainable food on flights.

Just calculating the impact is hard. Any serious account should include carbon emitted directly from tourism activities, but also from the whole supply chain, also known as Scope 3 emissions. That would involve food, accommodation, transport, fuel and shopping.

Scope 3 emissions are an important benchmark, and we should be aware of how to think about carbon footprint. As for global travel, I have been an active participant for more than twenty years. I remember at one point looking into the cost/feasibility of traveling to Europe by ship instead of plane for a completely different set of reasons. Considering it again, it still makes sense – and is completely unaffordable vs. comparable flights. The reality of mass tourism is a conundrum – yes, people need to travel, to expand their mindfulness of and about the world. Yes, small communities without other industries need viable economic lifelines. Yes, it creates an environmental disaster in more ways than ten.

Things Fall Apart. Look at the photo up top. Look at what has become of Venice. Without factoring in the true costs of these experiences – cruise ships, quick trips, cheap tour packages – the viability of these this places and practices have already fallen into great peril. They are at risk, even as they continue unchanged. The cruise ship industry is revving their engines, despite the inherent contradictions of scale. We need to re-think broadly. Disperse the destinations. Stay longer, take longer to get there. Yes, it costs more. These experiences already costs more than we think.

Record melt of Greenland ice sheets in 2019

Alaska, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, the Narrows from Schrader to Peters Lake.

After a two-year slowing period through 2018, Greenland’s ice sheet lost a record amount of mass last year, according to a study published on Thursday:

That loss of 532 gigatons of ice – equivalent to about 66 tons of ice for each person on Earth – was 15% more than the previous record in 2012.

Greenland’s ice melt is of particular concern, as the ancient ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels by at least 20 feet (6 meters) if it were to melt away entirely.

The study adds to evidence that Greenland’s icy bulk is melting more quickly than anticipated amid climate warming. Another study last week indicated the island was no longer getting enough annual snowfall to replace ice lost to melting and calving at the glaciers’ edges.

“We are likely on the path of accelerated sea level rise,” Sasgen told Reuters. “More melting of the ice sheet is not compensated by periods when we have extreme snowfall.”

The study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, used data collected by satellites to the gravitational force of the ice mass, which scientists can use to calculate how much snow and ice is locked within.

Other research has shown the melting is being helped by water pooling atop the ice and at meltwater streaming between the ice sheet and the bedrock beneath.

These studies are helping scientists refine their projections of how climate change will impact the Arctic, and how quickly. Sasgen compared the sobering process to getting difficult news from a doctor.

“It’s always depressing to see a new record,” Sasgen said.

But the studies offer insight into “where the problem is, and you also know to some extent what the treatment is,” Sasgen added.

Emphasis added, good grief. We know what we need to do, and if we reduce CO2 to limit global warming, then all these other concerns including sea level rise and ocean acidification can also be reduced.

But of course,

the Department of Interior approved plans to open ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for leases to drill for oil

Event though, “At current and foreseeable oil prices, the industry’s appetite to drill in ANWR will be exceptionally low and quite possibly will be zero.” So we know what we need to do. Vote – by mail, carrier pigeon, with your honey, whatever it takes.

Image: Via Getty Images.

Never having to say you’re sorry

bull's eye view photo

For Wall Street, that’s what it means apparently. Torn over whether a Biden win brings joy or misery. Really.

Those with the rosier outlook point to Biden’s mostly pro-business inner circle, his significant campaign contributions from the financial industry and his longtime support of credit card companies located in his home state of Delaware. Plus, a Biden victory would likely be driven by U.S. voters seeking change because they believe the country is a mess. Wall Street thinks it has a strong argument to make that reining in lenders would be a fatal mistake when unemployment is sky-high and the economy remains ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

The enthusiasm, however, is tempered by fears over how much sway Biden will give progressives and their firebrand leaders, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. That’s especially true when it comes to picking appointees to run the powerful agencies that police banks and securities firms, jobs that the activists are mobilizing to fill with industry critics. At a minimum, progressives want to ensure that the days are long over when Democrats appointed officials like Robert Rubin, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, who is a key Biden adviser.

The stakes for Wall Street couldn’t be higher. Centrist regulators would be less likely to overturn rule rollbacks approved under Trump that have saved financial firms tens of billions of dollars. Progressive agency heads, on the other hand, could pursue what the C-suite calls the “shame and investigation agenda.” Policies like taxes on trading, curbs on executive pay and even breaking up behemoth banks would be back on the table.

To wonder whether ‘Wall Street’ has some understanding of our current morass, much less the words ‘joy’ or ‘ misery,’ is to weep. Of course they do. Always check the business press if you’re wondering at all about the soul of a consumer society. Mantra for post-2016 world: it’s always worse than you think.

Image: Replica golden calf. Subtlety is NOT their strong point.

What does Bruised Red mean?

More ridiculous by the day, wasted time, wasted lockdown, wasted lives for reasons unexplained. People are not human resources.

Stuffed in a new thing:

He didn’t mean to use the word enemy, but now that he had, it was difficult to take back. What’s worse is that he was less confused than ever. Sides had been taken and _____ knew, like people always know, what side they are actually on. The more dangerous slide waited at the very beginning of every turn, steeper for those shod with the wrong footing or none at all, quick decisions about direction that appeared at first correctable were only so because of the misplaced training. Maybe the training had all been designed, at the turn away from classical disciplines, to produce this very result, but choosing that cynicism inferred a luxury it had also already eliminated. The speed and efficiency were proportional to the devastation. People completely bought into how fast everything was happening even though nothing outside of them had changed. Nothing beyond their own habits and consumptions against missing out, losing something nonexistent, closing an opportunity – ideas that had long been propagated on the under-educated.

Requiescat in pace, John Lewis. The great man.

Patience or patients

The good news wrapped in the bad: COVID-19 seems to mutate slowly enough that a vaccine could be available by yearend or early 2021.

Opening schools for in-person instruction, at every level, would seem best AFTER that time. Do we have the ability/courage/wisdom to wait it out? Only complete answers accepted. Show your work.

Image: Plants listening to Puccini in Barcelona, via the Guardian.

Powering Down

Necessarily ambitious climate targets to meet the Paris Agreement goals earlier must actually be designed to surpass them. As we’ve said often these efforts are results of broad collective action, by governments:

The centerpiece of Leonore Gewessler’s plan is a radical revamp of Austria’s public transportation networks, giving residents nationwide access to buses, trains and subways for a flat yearly fee that works out at 3 euros ($3.38) a day, encouraging citizens to leave their cars at home. Austria’s minister for climate, energy and transportation policy, is drafting new laws that’ll redistribute billions of euros toward more ecologically-friendly activities in the euro area’s sixth biggest economy.

“That’s the project that is very dear to my heart,” said Gewessler in her first interview in her ministry since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Road traffic remains a “key concern” for Austria to meet its goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2040—a decade earlier than the target set by the European Union.

Note when this is happening – now. Even and especially during the pandemic. The localities we’ve heard about where streets have been restricted to pedestrian-only traffic requires another couple of steps to complete the process. Paired with (cheap!) alternative transportation options, this will seem like another thing we just had to do. (Narrator: Because. It. Is.)

Image via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Continuous Profile

Take him back to Tulsa, indeed.

Raise your hand if you thought the original Juneteenth date was a coincidence. Wow. No Takers.

The absurdism of this fascist performance art expresses the thin smallness of this entire four-year escapade of MAGA authoritarianism led by a needy, under-educated man-child. We can be grateful in many ways for the incurious incompetence on continual display. People joke about slogans that sounded better in the original German, but the sheer unstudied pettiness of it makes the earlier epoch seem practically elegant by comparison:

ONE HUNDRED years ago, on the early morning of March 23, 1919, a small crowd gathered in the Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan, a few blocks west of the Duomo. Many had arrived from other cities the night before, drawn to hear a charismatic young journalist, former socialist, and recent war veteran, who—with a vigor that would mark his discourses for two decades to come—duly trumpeted the ambitions of a new political movement. As a self-declared “anti-party,” Benito Mussolini’s Fasci Italiani di combattimento (Italian Combat Fasci or, simply, Fascists)1 aimed to yoke growing social unrest to an unabashed nationalism, freshly stoked by the country’s victory in World War I alongside the Entente powers (Britain, France, and Russia). Dubbed the Sansepolcristi for their presence at this fateful first meeting, the so-called Fascists of the first hour counted among their number syndicalists and ex-soldiers, even a few women and Italian Jews, as well as artists and writers such as the painters Achille Funi and Primo Conti and the Futurist poet-impresario, F.T. Marinetti.

For the preceding ten years, Marinetti’s Futurists had upended Italian culture in every imaginable domain, from painting and poetry to clothing, music, architecture, photography, and theater. A political phenomenon as much as an aesthetic crusade, Futurism lent Fascism much of its early ideological impetus: anti-Communist and anti-clerical, interventionist and irredentist, hostile to academic pedantry and cultural patrimony alike.

Substitute ‘reality TV’ for ‘Futurists’ in the above for a more accurate, recent rendering.

Image: author photo, Rome.

June 4, 1989

crowds on a green football pitch

A very weird time, compared to now. Both in its strange surreality at the time, and within the context of the even more bizarre and dangerous fascism of today, the protest and massacres of hundreds during the student-led movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989 are a haunted monument to breakdown.
The Chinese state de-legitimized itself with the actions of the People’s Liberation Army on that day and the days that followed. It was only for the people to forget and become accustomed to the new stance of the state, and begin to defend it against further incursive protest. Fortunately, even with all of their successful efforts along so many economic fronts, the state has performed woefully in the fight against memory.

Many millions of Americans watched in awe at the courage of the protestors in the square, their wonderful, makeshift Lady Liberty, and then in horror as the square was cleared. Did we understand the source of the bravery of the individuals, the solemn esteem, honor and homage they presented to some of our very own institutions and well-noted principles in yearning for their own? We allowed ourselves to be flattered, perhaps even extended pre-virtual hand of support, of course otherwise held harmless. The protestors are right! How dare the Army? How dare the government kill its own people!

Having fetishized liberty and freedom practically of all meaning, what remains of our ability to reject, to fight oppression and coercion, to remember? We know what we are seeing this week. Can we recognize it?

Image: Hongkongers remember Tiananmen dead in Victoria Park, June 4, 2020

Green Swan

Whatever the phenomenon is called, the broad effect of the slowdown in the face of the current pandemic demonstrates a version of the combined efforts needed to address climate change:

The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show, a transformation partly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, with profound implications in the fight against climate change.

It is a milestone that seemed all but unthinkable a decade ago, when coal was so dominant that it provided nearly half the nation’s electricity. And it comes despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to try to revive the ailing industry by weakening pollution rules on coal-burning power plants.

Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led electric utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40 percent in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80 percent. And the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom.

Now the coronavirus outbreak is pushing coal producers into their deepest crisis yet.

As factories, retailers, restaurants and office buildings have shut down nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand for electricity has fallen sharply. And, because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response.

We can acknowledge this without cheering or crowing. The U.S. has been dragging our feet on everything climate-related, saying through official policy and propagandistic news sources alike that any reductions in energy use or shifts in methods of production was impossible. Belittling every international effort to spite progress has made us the pariah state envisioned on and indeed championed by the right. And now it is happening anyway, through a combination of forces, some truly awful – others, like coal becoming obsolete, by their very own economic reality. A combination of tactics will be required to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, it would be great if one of them didn’t have to be a plague.

Image: painting by Anna Lubchik

Wasn’t Just Orwell

Bertolt Brecht:

Under Ni-En’s [Stalin’s] leadership industry was being constructed without exploiters and agriculture collectively organized in Su [the Soviet Union]. But the associations [parties] outside Su decayed. It was not the members who elected the secretaries, but the secretaries who elected the members. The political line was decreed by Su and the secretaries paid by Su. When mistakes were made, those who pointed them out were punished, but those who committed them remained in office. Thus they were soon no longer the best, merely the most compliant… Those in authority in Su no longer learned any facts, because the secretaries no longer reported anything that might not be welcome.

Me-ti, the Book of Twists and Turns.