Boring work of staggering effectiveness

Right along the lines of super unexciting infrastructure fixes to crucial bridges, railways, pipes and water mains is the capping of methane-spewing oil wells, of which we have a leaky and abundant surplus:

Curtis Shuck calls the well a “super emitter,” one of many in a wheat field not far from the Canadian border, a part of Montana known as the “golden triangle” for its bountiful crops. Aside from the scattered rusty pipes and junked oil tanks, the field is splendid and vast, its horizon interrupted intermittently by power lines and grain bins. On these plains, Shuck says, you can watch your dog run away for a week.

He is a former oil and gas executive who nowadays leads a small nonprofit — the result of a personal epiphany — and is tackling global warming one well at a time. That is the approach of his Well Done Foundation, plugging this and then other orphaned sites and trapping the methane underground. The effort started in Montana in 2019 but will expand to other states before the fall.

“When we’re done, it will be like this well was never here,” Shuck said, standing upwind as cement was pumped hundreds of feet down, through a series of pipes stuck in the 7½-inch-wide hole like a straw in a juice box.

30K to cap a well. Well done, Well Done. Plant trees, install solar farms, wind farms, stop dumping sewage, limit runoff, cut back on steaks (sorry! but do), refurbish the train lines, live close to work. Listen to ‘Trane while you walk. Live a little.

What’s it going to take? All of it, every last all of it. Everything.

Image: Abandoned oil storage tanks left behind in Montana. (Adrián Sanchez-Gonzalez for The Washington Post)

Fixing it

Notwithstanding the [late] reckoning with our very own special coup, the one we think we dodged and the very one over which Our Media is fascinated by exactly all the wrong details; the battle between Chicago and lake Michigan; and the new Gilded Age space flights for plutocrat tourists, the economy seems to have magically withstood a pandemic (Narrator: It’s not magic):

Initial unemployment claims came in at 360,000 for the week ending July 10, below the previous week’s revised read of 386,000. That reading matched the consensus forecast among economists, according to Bloomberg.

The decline in the seasonally adjusted number resumes the overall downward trend of the volatile data series after an unexpected rise in initial claims last week. The Labor Department noted that this marks a new pandemic-era low.

While the number of Americans newly filing for unemployment benefits tends to bounce around from week to week, it’s been on a general downward trend after spiking to record-shattering numbers amid the early days of the pandemic last spring. The return to that downward trend matches other data suggesting a steadily recovering labor market.

360K is still a very many lot of people, and yet you ask: after years of making sure our billionaires had enough nest eggs to color-coordinate their space suits, how was it possible to get through a year of very limited economic activity and still be able browse and sniff at the want ads and generally avoid most of the fascist tendencies on offer? Give. People. Money.

CARES and PPP run themselves out by design, which is helping people stay afloat. This is why we’re longing for vacations instead of standing in breadlines. And the infrastructure bill will bring more of this – not gifts and not luxuries – but investments in people and how we live, with recommendations for new arrangements for different needs that WE have made absolutely necessary (see Chicago example above and read the history). Move the monuments. Buy the trains. Pay the carpenters, or become one. As legend has it, the profession has a storied past.

Self-driving boats

Since he began scamming promising people – buyers and not just buyers, but BUYERS – that full self-driving would be available in six months (2016), Elon Musk has played a vital role in one of our great national pursuits. Yes, separating people from their money. But normalizing electric cars, even with the side auto-taxi fraud, is to be lauded. Tesla definitely got the other car makers to get some skin in the game.

There are and long have been many obvious reasons behind the difficulty of self-driving cars that Musk is now copping to, but again the Overton window has been effectively shifted. Quiet electric vehicles are turning up all over the place – on land, on sea, even in the fjords:

But they’ve already made Norway the most electrified shipping nation in the world, thanks to an aggressive government push to cut maritime emissions. The country is home to almost three-quarters of the 274 vessels globally that run at least partly on batteries, according to a state advisory body. Its fleet of 31 fully-electric car ferries is expected to nearly double by the end of the year, says the Green Shipping Programme, a public-private partnership that supports the transition. Even the sightseeing ferries that cruise Norway’s famous fjords are transitioning to battery power.

On a Saturday morning in Stavanger, along Norway’s west coast, a new ferry, the Rygerelektra, is in the harbor preparing for a tour of some nearby fjords. Measuring 42 meters long with seating capacity of nearly 300, the ferry, is owned and operated by Rødne Fjord Cruises. It is among a group of vessels from several of Norway’s leading maritime companies that are driving a shift towards zero-emissions fleet and supporting Norway’s ambitious economic reinvention away from oil and gas to alternative energy source.

They acknowledge the challenges of large-scale fleet charging, though promising technology already exists. And then, they can’t resist the temptation:

“In Norway, we need to transition from oil exports to sustainable products and services, while still utilizing the competence we have gained from the oil industry, says Pia Meling, vice president of sales and marketing at Massterly, the autonomous shipping company. “We would like to compete on the renewables and in clean shipping in particular.” Massterly’s vision is one of zero-emission, autonomous vessels moving everything from passengers around Norway to containers across oceans.

Emphasis added because I guess they can’t help it. But really, who knows where the over-promise of auto-taxis might lead? Self-driving boats are certainly more possible, if not theoretically easier – at least until you get to a crowded harbor. But hey, in the open water? Sure. In six months, we’ll be…

Calls coming from inside the House

May 26 – already an annual celebration chez Green – got another star on its sidewalk this year when a Dutch court case and corporate board meeting became a dessert topping that’s also a floor polish:

It started in the morning, when news came in from the Netherlands that a Dutch court ruled in a case against Shell, ordering the oil giant to cut emissions 45% by 2030 in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The case had been brought by activists, led by Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of Friends of the Earth. Organizers ultimately signed up 17,000 co-plaintiffs to the case and mobilized hundreds of thousands more to support the effort.

While the ruling will surely be appealed, and doesn’t go nearly far enough to address Shell’s decades of human rights and climate abuses, it’s a monumental win. It will also help validate what many have dismissed as a long shot legal strategy to hold polluters accountable for their climate crimes. I remember back in Paris in 2015 when we hosted a mock tribunal for ExxonMobil in a warehouse far from the official UN Climate Talks. To see an actual court hold Shell accountable today felt like watching our fantasies play out in real time.

The same could be said for what happened this afternoon at the ExxonMobil shareholder meeting, where an outside effort succeeded in replacing at least two of Exxon’s board of directors with candidates dedicated to decarbonizing the company. I’m honestly skeptical that a few new board members can radically reform a corporation that has long been one of the greatest barriers to climate action, but it’s still a stunning rebuke. The vote was effectively a referendum on Exxon’s business model of “drill, baby, drill,” to which investors said, “thanks, but no thanks.”

A similar thing happened (same day) with a shareholder revolt at Chevron – not overturning any policies just yet but worried about the optics of the dirty work. Some media, cough NPR cough, puzzle over this with a ‘what does it mean?’ contrariness, looking for a way to defend even the energy companies’ rights and status quo. And not to get too Cassandra about this but the dust is settling a bit differently. When the most intractable, no one to blame, just-business energy providers can be re-directed from inside, a lot more becomes possible. Money does have uses. Keep up the pressure.

Asset Class not in Session

Exotic financial instruments. Linking ‘investors’ and funding to projects to weave profits out of insurance or management strategies designed to ease or hasten climate adaptation… doesn’t actually work:

That’s because of the nature of the underlying “asset.” Sure, in theory, you could securitize the construction of a seawall and capture returns via fees from wealthy coastal dwellers or local councils. But seawalls are not widgets. Each has to be uniquely designed for a specific location and its conditions. There are few economies of scale.

There’s also no established norm about how the costs of climate adaptation projects should be shared among those who are being protected. Will enough residents willingly pay for our theoretical seawall, either directly or via their taxes? Who’s being protected, and at whose expense? Structures that protect one stretch of beach can often create problems further along the coastline.

Adaptation doesn’t fall into a neat category. It can mean investing in infrastructure or designing programs to protect nature. It can involve constructing big sea walls, but it can also be about retaining trees on city streets, or ensuring access to clean drinking water. Right now these measures are too small to interest big pension funds and asset managers. A report by UNEP and others found only about two dozen projects larger than $25 million over the last few years.

Important to separate the reality that climate measures are necessary, and will necessarily save money down the road, from the notion that they represent just another opportunity to build a new revenue stream. The article wisely links climate to justice, and as much as it pains many Americans, there is no way around that. It has been true for even longer than it’s been evident – and it’s been evident for a very long time: people cannot live without justice. Racial. Climate. Economic. These are non-negotiable bonds, in the common parlance. We will do it for its own sake, because it benefits people. THAT’s the return. Clean up the rentier class soiling the revenue stream, the water will run clearly.

Image: Photograph: Emory Kristof/National Geographic/Getty Images

The Land of Recurring Contributions

All those sayings, aphorisms, cute quotables about giving back, making a contribution… That’s not what they meant:

I clicked on the link so you don’t have to, and discovered that my $75 contribution will keep happening every month automatically unless I unclick an already helpfully checked box that makes my contribution recurring.

As the kids say, it’s all over the internets, but no one has as much contempt for Republican voters as Republican politicians and right-wing media. Unsurpassed.

Schooling ≠ Education

Surrounded by moral quandaries and crises, we look up from fast food containers unable to ponder greater questions beyond the value menu. Did these questions sneak up on us, or have they been there all along and we just eliminated the practice of engaging them? Cornel West and Jeremy Tate bring light and a bit of heat in the WAPO on the removal of classics at Howard University:

Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture. Those who commit this terrible act treat Western civilization as either irrelevant and not worthy of prioritization or as harmful and worthy only of condemnation.
Sadly, in our culture’s conception, the crimes of the West have become so central that it’s hard to keep track of the best of the West. We must be vigilant and draw the distinction between Western civilization and philosophy on the one hand, and Western crimes on the other. The crimes spring from certain philosophies and certain aspects of the civilization, not all of them.
The Western canon is, more than anything, a conversation among great thinkers over generations that grows richer the more we add our own voices and the excellence of voices from Africa, Asia, Latin America and everywhere else in the world. We should never cancel voices in this conversation, whether that voice is Homer or students at Howard University. For this is no ordinary discussion.

Howard University is not removing its classics department in isolation. This is the result of a massive failure across the nation in “schooling,” which is now nothing more than the acquisition of skills, the acquisition of labels and the acquisition of jargon. Schooling is not education. Education draws out the uniqueness of people to be all that they can be in the light of their irreducible singularity. It is the maturation and cultivation of spiritually intact and morally equipped human beings.

So much of higher education has folded in the face of market pressures, political interference, and fraud that it finds itself all but unrecognizable to former guises. Not wanting to be recognized as what you are can leave you paralyzed when you’re unwilling to defend against impotent charges like teaching social justice. Such charges are softballs and should be parked deep in the cheap seats. But lack of engagement – reading, writing, arguing – makes us afraid of politics, and bullies. We abandon the classical education model at our peril, leaving everyone unable to navigation complexities and only further clearing the path to the bottom-line. Only 99 cents!

Trade school is not an admonition.

Image: Cardinal Sin by Banksy

Be Moved

If you build it, will they take them? Trains, that is, super, high-speed and just regular intra-city transit. And Buses. Buses! But before even the lowest-frills fancy stuff, fix the bridges:

Most, if not all, Americans support the idea that bridges shouldn’t collapse as you drive over them, yet there are 44,741 bridges in the United States that are rated “poor” by the Federal Highway Administration. Nearly 45,000! That’s out of about 616,000, meaning that about 1 in 14 bridges indexed in the United States receive the government’s lowest rating.
But wait! It gets worse. The three ratings used — good, fair, poor — are simply reflections of the lowest rating a bridge gets on the condition of its deck, superstructure or substructure. (If you think of a standard highway bridge, the deck is what you drive on, the superstructure is what supports the deck and the substructure is what holds up the rest of it.) Those values are assessed on a zero-to-nine scale, with the average score for all three components being about 6.5 nationally.

There’s handy searchable map at that link where you can see the bridges in your area that need maintenance. Yikes! There‘s a are multiple tons of them.

It’s also important that the Biden Infrastructure bill includes, among many other things, no money for expanding roads. Stop expanding already uncross-able roads and intersections. The BIKE is the answer, not the ambulance. This is one of the subtle keys to the shift in transit. And I’ve written previously about taking Amtrak below Richmond, VA. The trains themselves are very dated, but it’s the rickety tracks beneath them that feel like such a hazard. It’s a disgrace, and like the state of the postal system, it’s decline by design. It’s been left in purposeful, deliberate disrepair.

So there’s plenty to fix, and feel good about while we’re doing it. Not feel triumphant – it’s not necessary. Just responsible for taking care of our sh*t and making it useful. Buy yourself a nice pen with what’s left over and write someone a letter. You might get one back. Write the next one on the train. Feel romantic, be moved.

The President Show

Look what you can do instead of hosting The President Show:

Second, the rescue bill has quietly become an infrastructure bill. It devotes $350 billion to supporting state and local governments. These funds, initially proposed to plug COVID-19-created holes in public budgets, in many cases now exceed those holes. So the Senate has allowed states, cities, and counties to spend that money on improving services such as water, sewage, and broadband. Because many water systems are vulnerable to climate change and must be adapted, this is de facto climate funding. The bill also contains $31 billion for tribal governments and Indigenous communities, including line items for new infrastructure, housing, and language preservation.

Downtown in our quaint little burg, one of the main streets in the central business district has been a mess for about three months, with sidewalks and the street alternately under massive excavation as sewers, power and water lines are replaced and updated. It’s a huge mess on a one way street in a tiny downtown and it’s not apparent when it will be completed. But that’s how badly needed it was, likely long overdue precisely because it’s such a hassle. Some of what is being replaced was likely original – whatever that might mean in this context. There’s a reason people/governments don’t want to do this. It’s hugely disruptive and expensive. But also absolutely necessary. There are likely 10,000 places this needs doing. So fix them, get started. And robots can’t do this work, btw. More boring accomplishments, please.

And then let’s dance to this music.

Where it goes, Nobody knows

We will soon say the same for 2020, but not before the assholes get take one more chance opportunity to blow it all the way out:

If you consider (ridiculous, but consider it generously for the sake of discussion) the “risk” of doing just a little bit “too much” for poor and middle class people (a check that phases out starting at $75K is that), versus the risk of doing too little or, quite soon, absolutely nothing more, and consider how people are lining up on that choice… Well, they would prefer plunging the economy into a deeper recession and the misery of millions of people on the off chance people might realize government is actually capable of doing things for them.
The people complaining about a $2000 check (and, I know, this was likely never going to happen, but the people complaining about it are so frightened of the possibility that they won’t even let it be used as a rhetorical club) are going to be responsible for what is coming, as is everyone who puts up even minor roadblocks to the few options that are available.

People who never met a tax cut for rich people they don’t like have the nerve to lie and claim a $2000 check that phases out benefits wealthy people too much.

Green means everything when you don’t have much, but acquires a different sort of power if you are rich(er) enough to believe in its all-encompassing corrupting influence on the poor. How, indeed.

GOParty orthodoxy: Deficits are immoral, but moral deficits, properly timed, can be convenient.

Just GO already.