Climate Strike

I’ll take the day off here in solidarity, by republishing a post I wrote eleven years ago this month:

As a country we’ve made a living bragging about how ambitious we are, how audacious our concepts of freedom, liberty and happiness are as to make their fulfillment just a matter of conquering a lesser will.

Well, here’s the way to defuse most every geopolitical conflict for the next century or so, at least until things even out and Republicans can get elected again and start whining about socialism or how unjust their tax burden is. Cheap desalination powered with clean energy is the key to making the fossil fuels conundrum exit stage left. As the article points out these are massive public works projects with very sophisticated interactions with the natural environment; The question is not will they work, but do we have the will to make them work.

In the speech by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday that had all the Republican house members whining and crying with hurt feelings, she recalled that people around the world constantly tell her that the greatest emerging market in the world is rebuilding the public infrastructure of the United States of America. She said it could be done in a fiscally responsible manner. Even with only what we know how to do right now, it could also be done in a highly innovative manner, geared toward sustainably shifting our transportation and land-use conventions in the permanent direction of clean water and low-carbon power.

Building a green house isn’t green, but takes a lot of green. The reviewer says it at the end:

Maybe the real meaning of being green is closer to what modest Kermit had in mind: learning to make the best of what we already have rather than having to create, spend and construct something “eco-friendlier.”

Yes it is. One household living off the grid does not a difference make; we need to get the grid off the grid. Meanwhile, live close to work, know where your food comes from, spend and buy accordingly.

Image: Climate strike in Sydney, September 20, 2019. Photo from Kym Chapple on Twitter

Tenther limits

Apparently, the 10th Amendment Sovereignty Movement is all well and good until it begins to effect air pollution requirements:

Because of California’s historical air pollution problems, the federal Clean Air Act gives California the right to establish stricter guidelines than the federal government — so long as it gets a waiver from the EPA. The Obama administration granted the state such a waiver on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, although the state and federal governments wound up agreeing on a joint plan to reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent by 2025.

Almost from the day he took office, though, Trump has vowed to roll back the Obama standards, and laid plans to revoke California’s waiver.

That prompted California in July to engineer a major coup: Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen cut a deal with Newsom and the California Air Resources Board to reduce carbon emissions at a far swifter rate than the Trump administration wants. The deal represents a compromise on the original Obama standards by giving the automakers an extra year, until 2026, to meet the climate change targets.

Newsom later announced that Mercedes Benz is on the verge of agreeing to the same standards as the other four companies.

The announcement reportedly infuriated Trump. Earlier this month, lawyers for the EPA and the federal Department of Transportation sent a letter to Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols, saying the deal with the automakers appears to be “unlawful and invalid.” Separately, numerous media reported that the U.S. Justice Department had launched an antitrust investigation into the four carmakers’ participation in the deal.

Let’s make sure to stipulate just what we’re talking about here – the ability of the nation’s largest state to reduce carbon emissions. Civil right, gun control, healthcare, and voting standards must all be subservient to the wishes of purity-driven state governments.

Reducing carbon emissions and protecting people, the environment, companies and the Clean Air Act itself is a bridge too far.

When at all costs

Quite likely, that the news of Oil’s decline will arrive long after it has actually begun to happen. That’s mostly the way most things work – just ask all the Hillbillies people Elegying worried that the demographics of the U.S. are changing!

Even so, BNP Paribas has startlingly concluded that the economics of oil “are now in relentless and irreversible decline”:

The report is good news for humanity because it means peak oil demand may be less than a decade away, which in turn means ambitious climate goals will be more affordable than previously thought.

But the bank’s analysis, “Wells, Wires and Wheels,” is devastating for Big Oil. It concludes that “the oil industry has never before in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with EVs poses to its business model.”

But one of the most startling findings is that because the cost of running EVs on solar or wind power is dropping so rapidly, the only way gasoline cars can compete with these renewable energy-powered EVs in the 2020s is if the price of oil were to drop to $11 to $12 per barrel. The current price of oil is over $50.

Even worse for oil, this economic analysis doesn’t even factor in many of the other benefits of running cars on renewable power rather than oil. These include the vast public health benefits of not breathing air pollution from burning oil, along with the benefits of not having huge oil spills and of not destroying a livable climate.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer, more thoughtful and civic-minded group. It would honestly have been much better had we just thanked them around 1967 and made the direct move to the obvious as it had already by then been long-imagined. But no. There were markets to dominate and profits to lose and wars to fund, thus the long drawn out halftime show that just embarrasses everybody with the need for enormous flags, jet flyovers and pale people in native costumes. Can’t enjoy this show and take no pleasure in their decades-late demise.

Climate news floods Florida

Even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture knows that without studies showing its dangers, climate change is not really happening, news outlets in Florida are banding together to talk about the weather:

Now six Florida news organizations — The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, Palm Beach Post, Orlando Sentinel, and WLRN — are forming a partnership to cover climate change stories together. They’ll start out by sharing content across their newsrooms, but over time are hoping to collaborate on reporting as well. The partnership may also expand to include universities and nonprofit newsrooms.

“We aim to be the ProPublica of environmental reporting for our state,” Nicholas Moschella, editor of The Palm Beach Post, said in a statement.

Many of the participating news organizations have worked together in some capacity in the past. The Miami Herald and WLRN have had an editorial partnership for 15 years and share newsrooms, for instance, and the Herald, WLRN, Sun Sentinel, and Post are already partners on The Invading Sea, an investigation into sea-level rise. “This is an opportunity to maximize our ability to cover the biggest story of our lives,” said Julie Anderson, executive editor of the Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel, both Tribune papers.

Just for scale, the  U.S. is also surrounded on two sides by water and supposedly split down the middle by… indecision.

Afford to do, afford not to do

What is the concept of afford, and does it work both ways? The question is not whether it can work two ways, but for the concept to be meaningful at all, it has to be fully operational with regard to meaning.

We’re not just deciding what to spend money on — wait, yes we are! In so doing, any action must be considered in the context of its opportunity cost, and with further unpacking of the consequences of not spending money on certain things, the consequences this decision assures.

For instance, Mr. Sarda said, it’s relatively straightforward for businesses to calculate the potential costs from an increase in taxes designed to curb emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Indeed, this is one of the most common climate-related risks that companies now disclose. But it’s trickier to take scientific reports about rising temperatures and weather extremes and say what those broad trends might mean for specific companies in specific locations.

Previous studies, based on computer climate modeling, have estimated that the risks of global warming, if left unmanaged, could cost the world’s financial sector between $1.7 trillion to $24.2 trillion in net present value terms. A recent analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change warned that companies are reporting on these risks only “sporadically and inconsistently” and often take a narrow view of the dangers that may lie ahead.

The financial context of whether or not to do something – can we pay for doing the thing – extends in validity only as far as this framing is reversed: can we afford not to do something.

That is, the so-called cost of addressing climate change – or homelessness – large problems who’s answers supposedly involved gross amounts of expenditure that could be determined to be too large must also be considered in their reverse outlines. What is the cost of doing nothing? Is this affordable? Here the concept actually has meaning and may provide a constructive way forward.

But if we decide not to spend money on ameliorating climate change expressly because the measures are deemed prohibitively expensive, and yet the broad effects of climate change prove to be even more expensive than the proposed steps, then the affordability argument is invalid, if not disingenuous. While it may be the case that some consequences are unknowable in advance, that truth equally invalidates the affordability argument in advance. If it can’t be known whether a step would be worth it, it likewise cannot be known whether ignoring a step might be a price too high.

TL;Dr – Decisions made to ignore the effects of climate change must be taken for a reason other than the affordability argument.

Beyond the warnings

The existential lemmings on whose wings we rest tumble coughing now out of the otherwise silent mines. That immovable force – we can never produce enough energy otherwise – having been eclipsed, the spewing and disappearances of species continue. The rout of rainforest canopy and wetlands picks up speed. The kids have noticed. The storms have worsened and the strategies to counter rising waters seem more absurd. The right-wing politicians have dusted off the petro-industry playbooks and memorized every formation; the left-side politicians are demanding still too much of confused citizens – move, exercise, drive less, pay more. Still, the little birds fly into the caves and we ride their feathers into the harden, cracked walls. They look out not for us, so who will?

Third parties to save us — insurance companies, geo-engineering, aliens — all of the same dubious provenance. We strengthen ourselves into a learned weakness, a precarious primordial of recent vintage. That con we have worked on ourselves has worked, and to call it out is to ask for more butter on the popcorn after the movie has begun. We are up the tree. The suspensions are disbelieved. Are we just watching and waiting? Does a watched tide rise?

The con – an abuse of confidence. To persuade by deception, cajolery. Flimflam, to use a technical term. We have successfully used it on ourselves, against ourselves, celebrated the winnings and scorned the sad losers who were taken. Who continue to be played. Who continue to be us.

There’s an element of art, of savvy, of dereliction, of due course, of just desserts, of merit! These all leave out something essential: the self-foist of the entire scam. Simultaneously reaping the rewards and the whirlwind will test our major faculties and they drown our lesser ones, not to mention facilities of all kinds along the coasts. Houston, (and not only) you have a problem. This is not, strictly speaking, the kind of conflicting ideas we intended to grapple with, and proof that even our depraved intentions can be misaimed and still solidly struck.

So here, now. New generations of impatient voting age beings, empowered unto political consciousness in less-than-snowy winter scenes; small generations of very rich old-timers, still mostly in charge of the levers and very reluctant to cede any power, electrical or otherwise; large-generations of status-Aquarians, just first-world enough to ignore the consequences, afford the luxuries sponsored by scaremongering and similar fictions about themselves and a way of life that is itself choking and smoking as it runs on fumes. The power of disbelief striking both ways against hearts closed and minds distracted, the practiced fear infects everything with the same virus of futility.

But there has never been such an as if. Surrounded by impossibility, we insist on the one option we don’t have– to do nothing. Afraid of words – we say little. Worried over violence, we arm everyone. Silence and furrowed brows however have very little effect on temperature, air quality or the lack of bees. The Zombie Lie as an actual tall tale about the living dead has been particularly devious. Almost like the promise behind ‘streets of gold,’ only more guttural in its vicarious appeal. A simple, harmless fiction, availed of increasingly bad writing and unnecessary plot devices, taking the place of minimal engagement with a far more-frightening reality. An obvious choice, maybe. Blunt, obtuse, with so many abstracted until-they-aren’t dimensions, there are a million ways to continue to ignore, to contest even on the basis of spite, and even when that spite is self-directed.

Susceptible to self-loathing, that’s where it happens. Start again. Unpack, separate and not the recycling. Investigate the fraud if you think it’s real, but be honest about what you find. Never was a corner that was not a part of a much larger room. If that’s where you, turn around.

Contradiction Valediction

The newer approach of media to report the widespread destruction of the natural world and the ‘unprecedented pace’ of extinctions,

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Countervailed by the older approach of companies using lawsuits to kill any actions to hold them responsible for the climate change they helped cause:

The stated goals of the Climate Leadership Council (CLC) include a $40-a-ton fee on carbon dioxide emissions in return for the gutting of current climate change regulations and “protecting companies from federal and state tort liability for historic emissions”.

Microsoft has become the first technology company to join the CLC, which includes oil giants BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and ConocoPhillips among its founding members. Handing legal immunity to these oil companies would squash a cavalcade of recent climate lawsuits launched by cities and counties across the US, including one by King county, Washington, where Microsoft is based.

The name of the consortium alone has Orwell blanching in the afterbar, as Whitman and Descartes stroke their beards. The recent talk about the demise capitalism has no better illustration. Who are these companies negotiating with? Similar to President Garbage – an antagonist without a conscience, who are congressional investigators negotiating with? There are laws? Backed by what, if a shameless head of state or a group of corporations guard their power with only impunity? Fighting something isn’t a basis on which you will prevail, thought both seek to codify their impunity by its mere existence. Look at these defenses. They are but dares. What say us?

Image: elephant in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy at the foot of Mount Kenya. AFP/Getty

Acting Globally

Some [many] people want to do away with the social safety net, and especially any generosity remaining therein, to rely instead on the goodwill and support of charities to take care of those in need. There’s a cognitive dissonance about the reality that government-funded programs to help people are somehow perverse, yet giving to charitable organizations is not. Not that these fine citizens care about the lack of harmony between their world view and their actions.

But individual personal virtue can never displace collective action, particularly on the scale of a country the size of Ecuador, much less the United States. And the very same concept holds with regard to environmentalism:

Environmentalism-as-personal-virtue was a bad route. It isn’t a substitute for collective action. People don’t like being told how to live their lives, especially as you don’t have to understand this stuff all that well to get that we’re almost all big hypocrites. We make some easy choices and ignore the rest. We can make slightly better choices, but there’s no solar powered plane to fly me to Europe.

Yes, you can do things – live closer to work, own fewer cars – but not on the scale that’s needed to turn the tanker! Sprawl creates culprits of us all. Vote against it. Don’t move out there. Campaign for carbon-pricing, rail, renewable energy infrastructure and more affordable housing – built in the right places. Massive progress on things we’ve already figured out is what’s needed. Plus, less vehicles means fewer bumper stickers and perhaps, perhaps! even the need for them.

Unsprawling

So the New Green Deal is already getting a lot of attention and push-back – both to the good. It’s at least bold enough in some ways to get noticed, if not bold enough in others. For so long, the conversation has been muted by a sense of futility that is quite self-indulgent. Nonetheless…
Not far enough? Correct:

But the Green New Deal has a big blind spot: It doesn’t address the places Americans live. And our physical geography—where we sleep, work, shop, worship, and send our kids to play, and how we move between those places—is more foundational to a green, fair future than just about anything else. The proposal encapsulates the liberal delusion on climate change: that technology and spending can spare us the hard work of reform.

The Environment

America is a nation of sprawl. More Americans live in suburbs than in cities, and the suburbs that we build are not the gridded, neighborly Mayberrys of our imagination. Rather, the places in which we live are generally dispersed, inefficient, and impossible to navigate without a car. Dead-ending cul-de-sacs and the divided highways that connect them are such deeply engrained parts of the American landscape that it’s easy to forget they were, themselves, the fruits of a massive federal investment program.

Sprawl is made possible by highways. This is expensive—in 2015, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year in reduced business activity, environmental damage, consumer expenses, and other costs. Leaving aside the emissions from the 1.1 billion trips Americans take per day (87 percent of which are taken in personal vehicles), spreading everything out has eaten up an enormous amount of natural land.

Tell them what they could win, Jonny:

But the good news is that if we do account for land use, we will get much closer to a safe, sustainable, and resilient future. And even though widespread adoption of EVs is still decades away, reforms to our built environment can begin right now. In short, we can fix this. We build more than 1 million new homes a year—we just need to put them in the right places.*

Unsprawling America isn’t as hard as it sounds, because America is suffering from a critical, once-in-a-lifetime housing shortage. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last year that the U.S. has a national deficit of more than 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for families most in need. Of course, if we build those homes in transit-accessible places, we can save their occupants time and money. But the scale of housing demand at this moment is such that we could build them in car-centric suburbs, too, and provide a human density that would not just support transit but also reduce the need to travel as shops, jobs, and schools crop up within walking distance.

Walking distance needs to become an old/new catch phrase. Also, as another Slate article proclaims, plane trips CAN be replaced by train trips. Not LA to NYC, and not even NYC to Chicago. But most trips under 500 miles and all trips under 300 miles could be taken out of the equation with an updated modest-speed rail system. 100 miles per hour cuts what is a four-hour drive to three (math!), plus airports are never in city centers – you always have to drive in. Bump up the speed to even 150 mph and, well, a 2 hour trip. Math!

Image via Alon Levy on the twitters.

What does The New Green Deal mean?

On the local level, if you find yourself sitting in traffic day after day, or wonder why you can’t take a train to the airport, you often understand at least the short answers to these questions, even if you personally object to them. In this way, The Way Things Are (also known as Why We Can’t Have Nice Things) seem set in stone. Unchangeable, immutable facts of life, if not singular fibers in a hand-basket to the not-so-good place. I know stuff I can do that is planetarily positive that also makes a huge difference to me personally but not a dent in the broader problem. This dissonance can be paralyzing, and often results in people abandoning even the former, achievable, highly-recommended personal actions.

National-level solutions seem just as if not much more difficult. But are they?

Young activists, who will be forced to live with the ravages of climate change, find this upsetting. So they have proposed a plan of their own. It’s called the Green New Deal (GND) — a term purposefully reminiscent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original New Deal in the 1930s — and it has become the talk of the town.

the exact details of the GND remain to be worked out, but the broad thrust is fairly simple. It refers, in the loosest sense, to a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy. It is meant both to decarbonize the economy and to make it fairer and more just.

But the policy is only part of the picture. Just as striking are the politics, which seem to have tapped into an enormous, untapped demand for climate ambition.

This is not Pollyanna, but it’s also difficult to criticize anything when nothing else is going on or has worked – especially with ‘nothing’ not being an option.

And while Roberts is certainly correct that this is not new, and the politics of it might sound a little gimmicky, the emphasis on the politics might be the key. Plus, novelty is not what is required – it’s quite well-established which policy changes could work best. It’s the will that has seemed out of reach. The Green New Deal agitation might be just what is needed to get the gears moving. Ambitious enough, broad enough, frightening enough (backed by newly-elected officials) to get the attention of you idling in your car because maybe it comes across like a different story on Nice People’s Radio, much less something more foxxy. It’s backed by our leading new firebrand already – adding to the fright she causes but also lending weight to that fright. Maybe it will give us to a chance to at least ask, “Who Knows?” That would be quite a bit more than we have been doing.