The Real Eschew

Given the vicissitudes of the news cycle over the last four months, this is a pretty solid distribution of issues over the last four debates. As long as Health Care stays in the top three or four, voters might be able to stay focused on the ridiculous costs of living, and even of dying, quite frankly.

And Democrats can actually do several things at once, as long as one of those things is holding criminals accountable for crimes.

Bonus Fun Fact: subpoena means “Under Penalty.”

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.

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.

Multi-state Cabbage truck pile-up

I’ll admit this is one collision of green I had not [truly] considered, but Is the human race too dumb to survive?

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) questioned Duffy on the factors that contribute to sea-level rise, pointing out that land subsidence plays a role, as well as human activity. Brooks then said that erosion plays a significant role in sea-level rise, which is not an idea embraced by mainstream climate researchers. He said the California coastline and the White Cliffs of Dover tumble into the sea every year, and that contributes to sea-level rise. He also said that silt washing into the ocean from the world’s major rivers, including the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Nile, is contributing to sea-level rise. “Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up,” Brooks said.

Most everyone who has reckoned with the possibilities seems to understand that, whatever the fate of humans, the planet will eventually survive. So when we talk about the destruction of the planet, we’re thinking of our own, rather than that of the 3rd Rock itself. I’ve been grappling with this in a different but very related context recently – that is, how to best communicate with the public (industry, citizens, local governments) about the solutions to the challenges wrought by climate change, when the posture of state leaders more resembles that of Congressman Brooks. The stock response is: Stop talking about that! Despite the best efforts of Rembrandt, Descartes, Heisenberg, Jessie Owens and Emily Dickinson, maybe we’re just too dumb. Perhaps we can set a date at some point in the [near] future when we can begin talking about sea level rise, erratic weather, internal displacement, clean water, energy… but maybe that’s just negotiating with stupid. In which case, stupid has already prevailed and Groundhog Day is a truck that drives around town all day, picking up the same cabbages that fell from it earlier this morning.

A trolley of Folly

Via the powder blue Satan, an instant classic in the emerging genre of parody far superior to the original:

I was reminded of this when—I can see certain readers rolling their eyes already—I read the news, last September, that numerous California cities, including Oakland and San Francisco, had filed lawsuits against Exxon, BP, and several other oil companies. The cities argue that rising sea levels, caused by global climate change, driven by fossil fuel consumption, will cause billions of dollars in property damage, and that “big oil” should foot the bill for costly infrastructure projects to shore up below-sea-level neighborhoods and oceanside communities.

If you believe the science is settled and the models are correct, of course it makes sense to take a page from the “Big Tobacco” lawsuit playbook. If it were the case that Exxon and the others were acting in ways that could ruin much of the California coastline, with full knowledge of the certain results of their conduct, it would indeed be just to ask them to foot the bill for protecting our cities and communities.

But I can’t help but think of those Navy prognosticators, who probably knew more about computers than just about anyone else in the United States government but didn’t know what Silicon Valley was up to right at that very moment.

The only real way to push back against the gratuitous provocations of the NYT editorial page or the dogsh*t political coverage at NPR is to send it up, up and away. Merely disagreeing only confirms their primary, fundamental fallacy: “Hey! If both sides are criticizing us, we must be right!” – a sweet spot only further plaqued with the appearance of even-handed contrarianism. This is more like transmitting articles through a ridicule device. One can only hope it embarrasses the other Stephens and his colleagues, if for nothing else the flimsiness of their shoddy talents.

No Escape

Imagine there’s a video game, where the player must decide which tools to use to dig themselves out a hole without acknowledging that holes exist OR that the player is trapped in one and hence needs the tools. The point of the game (beyond your apparent need to never face 30 contiguous seconds of not looking at your phone) is to let players experience what it feels like to be a member of the House Science Committee:

Despite this reputation, the environment and energy subcommittees called four honest-to-God climate scientists to testify about one of the most controversial solutions to climate change: geoengineering. These technofixes, which could reflect sun back into space or draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, all with the intent to cool the planet, were front and center. Committee members were actually eager to hear about it and where the federal government could spend to help prop up research.

There was just one tiny problem: None of the Republicans could bring themselves to acknowledge that carbon dioxide is the root cause of climate change. Nor could they bring up that reducing carbon emissions is a way more proven and cost-effective avenue to address climate change. It was at once comical and damn terrifying.

Level three is when comical and damn terrifying meld into one confused emotion. Welcome to level three.

Impervious surfaces

Include our brains. This report about Houston from last year outlines how unchecked development remains a priority in the famously un-zoned city, creating short-term economic gains for some while increasing flood risks for everyone:

The area’s history is punctuated by such major back-to-back storms, but many residents say they are becoming more frequent and severe, and scientists agree.

“More people die here than anywhere else from floods,” said Sam Brody, a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher who specializes in natural hazards mitigation. “More property per capita is lost here. And the problem’s getting worse.”

Why?

Scientists, other experts and federal officials say Houston’s explosive growth is largely to blame. As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater. That has led to an excess of floodwater during storms that chokes the city’s vast bayou network, drainage systems and two huge federally owned reservoirs, endangering many nearby homes — including Virginia Hammond’s.

We must learn to do better, but long-term thinking tends to challenge us more than anything.

Fiction and the carbon economy


The concept of imaginative fatigue in the Anthropocene presents a kind of heady platform for lighting into all kinds of literary corruption and gatekeeping issues that are holding the rising waters in place, out of view or at least off the page:

This makes itself evident in the paucity of fiction devoted to the carbon economy, something the Brooklyn-based Indian writer Amitav Ghosh addresses in his marvelous recent book, The Great Derangement, writing, “When the subject of climate change occurs . . . it is almost always in relation to nonfiction; novels and short stories are very rarely to be glimpsed within this horizon.” Ghosh, who has depicted the precarious ecology of the Sundarban mangrove forests of Bengal in his novel, The Hungry Tide, says that this absence has to be “counted as an aspect of the broader imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of the climate crisis,” a failure so pervasive that he calls our era, “which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness . . . the time of the Great Derangement.”

I agree with the reviewer that any discussions about the ‘ravages of the carbon economy’ would necessarily include story lines on the failure of capitalism. And talk about a contrivance. Who would believe that? Perhaps at no point have we ever been so self-hemmed in – constrained by our own no-go areas. Does any writer today imagine Zola or Hugo, or Anatole France or, good grief Racine, adhering to such constraints? Is it only fear? Will the publishers and agents love us no longer? What then? Asking for a friend of the fate of the world.

Image: Author photo of the flooded Seine, June 2016.