Tag Archives: climate change

What We Don’t Know Is Hurting Us

There’s an old saying to the effect that it isn’t what we don’t know that hurts us, it’s what we know that isn’t so.

Misinformation, in other words, is more damaging than ignorance.

I agree–with a crucial caveat. The adage is only true when we are aware of our ignorance–when we recognize what information or skill we lack. As research continues to demonstrate, however, there’s a high correlation between ignorance of a particular subject-matter and ignorance of our own ignorance. (It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

That’s why lawmakers’ allergy to data and preference for evidence-free policy pronouncements are so maddening.

A while back, I read a column making the point that data is inevitably political. The government collects data in order to inform policy decisions, because in order to address issues, it is essential to understand the facts involved, to have a handle on what we academic types like to call “reality.”

The column that I read (and no longer remember where, or I’d link to it) considered the consequences of the Reagan Administration’s decision to stop collecting data on corporate market share. Without that information, policymakers have no idea how large the largest corporations have become. They lack evidence on the degree to which companies like Amazon, Walmart, et al can dominate a segment of the economy and effectively set the rules for that segment. It’s likely that this lack of data is a significant factor accounting for diminished anti-trust enforcement.

The problem goes well beyond economic data. For a considerable length of time, the United States has been mired in one of the nation’s periodic and damaging anti-intellectual periods, characterized by scorn for expertise and empirical evidence.  (Another troubling manifestation of that scorn is the reported evisceration of Congressional staff–the panels of employees with specialized knowledge that advise Congressional committees and individual Representatives on complicated and technical issues.)

Instead of evidence-based policy, we get faith-based lawmaking. Ideology trumps reality. (And yes, I meant that double entendre…)

Last year’s tax “reform” is a perfect example. It was patterned after Sam Brownback’s experiment in Kansas–an experiment that spectacularly crashed and burned. As NPR reported

In 2012, the Republican governor pushed reforms through the state Legislature that dramatically cut income taxes across the board. Brownback boasted the plan would deliver a “shot of adrenaline” to the Kansas economy.

But the opposite happened.

Revenues shrank, and the economy grew more slowly than in neighboring states and the country as a whole. Kansas’ bond rating plummeted, and the state cut funding to education and infrastructure.

You might think that Kansas’ experience would inform a similar effort at the federal level, that it would at least be taken into account even if it wasn’t considered dispositive, but clearly that didn’t happen.

It’s that same dismissive attitude about “facts” and “evidence” and “data”–not to mention science–that is the largest single impediment to serious efforts to slow the rate of climate change.

Some lawmakers who deny climate change ground their beliefs in religious literalism (making them ‘literally” faith-based), but most do so on the basis of the same free-market ideology that led them to dismiss results in Kansas, and oppose even the most reasonable regulations. (There’s a highly convenient aspect to that ideology, since it keeps campaign contributions flowing…but it would be a mistake to think everyone who subscribes to it does so only as a quid pro quo.)

If the country doesn’t emerge from this “Don’t bother me with the facts” era, we’re in for a world of hurt.

And speaking of literalism, the whole world will hurt.

 

 

Are Humans Just Self-Destructive?

Another hurricane is bearing down on the east coast; it’s projected to make landfall in the Carolinas, and to wreak havoc–massive rainfall, flooding–in Virginia and inland.

There are people in Puerto Rico still without power, and the island is still dealing with the aftermath of their hurricane. For that matter, Houston hasn’t completely recovered from Hurricane Harvey.

Only the determinedly ignorant continue to insist that these and other disasters are unrelated to climate change. As we’ve been repeatedly warned by scientists (you know–those elitists who actually know stuff), hurricanes gain strength over the warmer oceans that climate change has produced. Meanwhile, our determinedly ignorant President continues to relax environmental rules; most recently, rules limiting methane emissions.

Vox recently considered the insanity of America’s refusal to face facts. Environmental measures are not only necessary for the planet, they would save money. A lot of money.

$26 trillion by 2030.

That, according to the most authoritative research to date, is the amount of money humanity could save through a global shift to sustainable development.

It’s a lot of money. Before you break your brain trying to imagine it, just pause to make a note that it’s a positive sum (uh, extremelypositive), not negative. Net savings, not costs.

That might come as a surprise since decades of conservative and fossil fuel propaganda have made it conventional wisdom that cleaning up our act is expensive — that it costs more than the status quo. It is the argument hauled out against every single pollution regulation.

As the article points out, that argument has always been overstated, but these days, it’s demonstrably, massively wrong. The costs of fossil fuel extraction and pollution have gotten higher and the costs of clean energy have plunged–making it far less expensive to do the right thing than to continue pandering to uber-wealthy oil and gas interests. (Coal is already effectively dead–killed not by “guvment” regulations, but by the market.)

Arguments about the higher costs of clean energy have been less than honest for quite some time,

But these days, it has gotten almost impossible to make sustainability look like a bad deal.

Two forces are acting as a pincer, making the decision more and more obvious.

First, the future damages of climate change are coming into clearer focus, and, more to the point, the damages have arrived, here in the present, in brutal fashion.

And second, the costs of sustainable technologies and practices (e.g., solar panels) have fallen at a dizzying rate in recent years, especially in the energy sector.

The article (which is lengthy) goes on to provide the data that supports the point, complete with charts, citations to research and quotations from heads of state, including former (real President) Obama. I encourage you to click through and evaluate the evidence.
In my opinion, the article’s single most telling point was this acknowledgment of the central challenge we face.

For all their numbers, models, and charts, it’s the one thing reports like this can never tell us: how to conjure leadership and political will — how to induce business and political leaders to cooperate for mutual long-term benefit in spite of short-term differences.

But that’s just the basic human moral project, isn’t it? It’s the central dilemma of our nature and our history: how to cooperate across tribal lines, how to construct systems that bind and benefit widening circles of people. If we knew how to accelerate that process, we’d probably be doing it! Or rather, we are accelerating the process, as best we can, but it remains frustratingly slow.

Residents and visitors are currently evacuating the Carolinas. As they drive out–bumper to bumper, according to friends caught up in this particular event–we and they might think seriously about a world in which such evacuations become routine, at least until rising sea levels take back those beaches we like to visit.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

There are crimes, and then there are crimes.

Americans are currently fixated on the antics of a deranged President and the (almost daily) revelations of his closest associates’ corrupt and criminal behaviors. I’m certainly not immune, as anyone who regularly reads this blog can tell.

The problem is, while we are all distracted by the grade-B gangster movie taking place in and around the Oval Office, we’ve lost focus on what is surely the most egregious and damaging crime of all: the administration’s war on science and its sabotage of the fight against climate change, subjects I touched on yesterday.

We are already seeing the effects of our warming planet, but an irrational administration (populated with ex-lobbyists for fossil fuels and religious extremists who reject not only climate science but the theory of evolution) is intent upon rolling back even modest efforts  to move America away from greenhouse-gas-producing energy sources.

A consortium of scientists and environmental organizations is trying to re-focus our attention on the urgent need to move to clean energy–and the imperative of addressing what is clearly the largest challenge we face. 350.org, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Jobs for Justice and several other organizations are sponsoring nationwide “Rising for Climate” demonstrations on September 8th.

Indiana’s march will begin at the Statehouse at 10:00 a.m. The announcement points up Indiana’s “contribution” to the problem.

We, the people, are running out of time. Join us on September 8, 2018 to demand our elected officials take urgent action on human-driven climate change, protecting our health, moving to 100% renewable energy and creating local, equitable jobs for our city, state, country and planet.

Indiana is home to five of the top 22 worst greenhouse gas and toxic super polluter coal plants in the nation. Indiana is the second largest source of industrial greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States and exceed those from 187 countries (more info at www.superpolluters.com). The time to act is now.

We rise in solidarity on Sept. 8 with communities across the globe. We march in advance and in support of the Global Climate Summit in San Francisco. Elected officials in Indiana, hear our message: take action now.

The time for empty declarations of intent and unreasonable transition timelines has closed. It is time to make Indiana fossil-free and create sustainable, equitable jobs!

The march will end at Christ Church Cathedral, and will be followed by a Community Forum beginning at 11:30 AM.

Will these marches change the retrograde policies being pursued by people in the pockets of fossil fuel interests? Of course not. What they will do, however, is what the Women’s March(es) did: focus voters’ attention on important issues, and send lawmakers the message that millions of Americans care deeply about the environment and will vote to punish a criminal unwillingness to protect it. Marches will encourage further activism. They will encourage people who care about the environment to run for office.

And they will promote solidarity, and encourage people who may feel that they are lonely voices for sanity, by providing evidence that they are not alone.

What’s the old saying? A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step?

If you can, take a step. Rise for Climate on September 8th.

 

It’s Who You Know

I have always been irritated by the common saying “It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know.” Not that there isn’t a good deal of truth to it–that’s what networking is all about, when you think about it– but it’s an observation that is often meant to be snide. The subtext is “So-and-so wasn’t really qualified, but he/she knew someone.”

I always assumed that even if “so and so” got the job on the basis of connections, people who failed to perform would soon be shown the door. That naive belief has been crushed by the Trump Administration, where jobs are filled by cronies and actual expertise–not to mention any evidence of intellectual honesty– is far more likely to get you fired than hired.

In all fairness, people who do know what they’re doing aren’t exactly eager to work for the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight. But still.

The Guardian recently took a look at the Department of the Interior.

Prominent US climate scientists have told the Guardian that the Trump administration is holding up research funding as their projects undergo an unprecedented political review by the high-school football teammate of the US interior secretary.

Scientific funding above $50,000 now has to be vetted by an additional review,  to ensure–in Secretary Zinke’s words–that expenditures “better align with the administration’s priorities”.

As we’ve seen, protecting the environment and America’s public lands are not among those priorities. Neither is climate science.

Zinke has signaled that climate change is not one of those priorities: this week, he told Breitbart News that “environmental terrorist groups” were responsible for the ongoing wildfires in northern California and, ignoring scientific research on the issue, dismissed the role of climate change.

Steve Howke, one of Zinke’s high-school football teammates, oversees this review. Howke’s highest degree is a bachelor’s in business administration. Until Zinke appointed him as an interior department senior adviser to the acting assistant secretary of policy, management and budget, Howke had spent his entire career working in credit unions.

Howke looks to be a perfect fit for an administration intent upon protecting the fossil fuel industry while dismantling efforts to understand and combat climate change. I’m sure the administration considered his utter lack of scientific background or experience evaluating grant proposals to be a feature, not a bug.

Funneling every grant over $50,000 to a single political appointee from departments that range from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the [US Geological Survey] to the Bureau of Reclamation suggests a political micromanagement approach,” said David Hayes, an interior deputy secretary in the Obama and Clinton administrations who now directs the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the NYU School of Law. He described it as “political interference” that is “both unprecedented and pernicious”.

Trump’s cabinet, staff and political appointees may represent the most extensive collection of petty criminals, buffoons, religious zealots, White Nationalists and know-nothings ever assembled. Certainly, concepts like ethical service and the public good are entirely foreign to them. It’s reminiscent of the old song: they all get by (i.e. keep their jobs)  with a little help from their friends.

And they try to be “helpful” in return. Earlier this year, political appointees at the National Park Service attempted to censor a scientific report by removing every mention of the human causes of climate change.

What is that great quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson? Reality doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not.

If we don’t rid ourselves of this horror show of an administration very soon, America–and the planet–are totally screwed.

And The Hits Keep Coming…

Every day, it seems, the Trump Administration sheds an advisor who is–whether or not one agrees with that person’s policy preferences–seemingly sane, and announces yet another appointee who is either deeply corrupt or factually-challenged or both.

The war being waged on public schools, the blithe disregard for the consequences of a trade war, the evisceration of HUD’s mission to help the poor, the reinstatement of a failed and flawed drug war–all of this is depressing. But the assault on the environment, the rollback of regulations that protect American air and water, is arguably the most sustained assault on science and sanity.

This morning’s media reported on a speech made by Interior Secretary Zinke, in which he asserted (without evidence) that wind power was largely responsible for global warming.

Last week, we learned that Trump and Pruitt had nominated a Dow Chemical executive to run the Superfund program.

Today’s report of rampant corruption comes, not surprisingly, from the EPA. Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have nominated an attorney from Dow Chemical, one of the nation’s worst polluters, to run the Superfund program that cleans up after that company and many others.
In addition to his blog, Ed Brayton writes for a newspaper in Michigan, and his reaction to that nomination was based upon his reporting.

Dow is based here in Michigan and I’ve been reporting on them for many years. To call them environmental criminals is an insult to criminals. They are responsible for the enormous damage done by dioxins and furans, particularly in the Saginaw Bay area where their plants are located. The Tittabawassee River is massively contaminated, as are the soils around it. They have dragged their feet on cleaning it up for decades. Even the Bush-era EPA got so frustrated with them that they ended negotiations on just studying the problem in 2008. That contamination has spread from the Saginaw and Tittabawassee rivers into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, helping spoil one of the world’s most important freshwater reserves.

The Hill reports that the entire administration is being stacked with climate change deniers.

Even as leading scientists, environmentalists and most Democrats accept research that shows climate change accelerating — and as some see it contributing to the two mammoth hurricanes that have threatened the United States this year — some in Trump’s administration have openly raised doubts.

Administrator Scott Pruitt has questioned carbon dioxide’s role as a “primary contributor” to a warming climate, something accepted by most researchers. He’s also called for a public debate over climate change science, a proposal that has caused scientists, environmentalists and former regulators to bristle.

“I think it’s going to have a chilling effect on science overall because it’s going to elevate those scientists who are in the vast minority and give them a stage that, frankly, they don’t deserve,” said Christine Whitman, President George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator, who called the proposal “shameful” in a Friday New York Times op-ed.

“It’s wasting taxpayer money and making it an even more difficult issue for the average person to wade through, which I think is part of the political agenda, to make the case that we don’t need to do anything about this issue.”

The EPA has removed its climate science website. Pruitt has put a political appointee in charge of reviewing grants, and that official is reportedly targeting grants that focus on climate change. The EPA keeps rolling back regulations that protect our air and water. The list goes on.

What is it that Neil DeGrasse Tyson says? Reality doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not.

There’s another saying: Reality bites.  And that doesn’t bode well for our children or grandchildren–or for the planet.