Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Resurrected Protester

This is news: Jane Fonda Arrested While Protesting in D.C.

Not particularly a news outlet (Hollywood Reporter – Ryan Parker reporting) I would read but, they have it out front and center in reporting on Ms. Fonda protesting about “the industries that are destroying our planet for profit.”

“I will be on the Capitol every Friday, rain or shine, inspired and emboldened by the incredible movement our youth have created. I can no longer stand by and let our elected officials ignore – and even worse – empower – the industries that are destroying our planet for profit. We can not continue to stand for this,”

It is not the first time Ms. Fonda has been taken into custody. She did protest the Vietnam war and taken into custody. Today Ms. Fonda was arrested with 15 other people for protesting in front of The White House. The protest focused on the lack of action by this administration, big business, and the overall nation on the overall inaction to climate change. Claiming to be “emboldened by the incredible movement our youth have created,” She has moved to Washington to be near the epicenter of the fight for climate change.

Maybe others will follow . . .

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Birds . . .

Not a Human, but a Dance, Atlantic Daily, Ed Yong, September 19, 2019

I do not know about you when you receive a magazine you subscribe to; but when I get mine, I read it from cover to cover. I also send a copy to one who is incarcerated to read and it makes the rounds amongst the inmates. Since I chased prisoners in the service, it is not unusual for me to look after some of them.

Me: This bird has more rhythm than I do. Not a Human, but a Dancer

Among the video’s 6.2 million viewers was Aniruddh Patel and he was was blown away by what he saw. A neuroscientist, Patel had recently published a paper asking why the near – universal trait among human of dancing was seemingly absent in other animals. Some species will jump excitedly to music; but, they are not in time with the music and lack rhythm.

Me: Recently on the show (my wife was watching) “Dancing With the Stars,” Nancy Wilson was asked if she had rhythm and could dance by her partner Her reply was; “I am Black” or of course I do fool. Some people are more equal than others. This definitely plays against my natural skill set as I must admit I lack rhythm and am also envious.

Some animals can be trained to perform dancelike actions such as in canine freestyle, but they do not do so naturally. Some birds will make fancy courtship “dances;” but “they’re not listening to another bird laying down a complex beat,” says Patel, at Tufts University. True dancing is a spontaneous rhythmic movement to external music. Our closest companions, dogs and cats, can not do such. Neither do our closest relatives, monkeys and other primates.

Patel reasoned dancing requires strong connections between brain regions involved in hearing and movement and such mental hardware would only exist in vocal learners or in animals capable of imitating the sounds they hear. That elite club excludes dogs, cats, and other primates, but includes elephants, dolphins, songbirds, and parrots.

Patel: “When someone sent me a video of Snowball, I was primed to jump on it.”

In 2008, he tested Snowball’s ability to keep time with versions of “Everybody” that had been slowed down or sped up. In almost every case, the parrot successfully banged his head and lifted his feet in time. Much like human children, he often went offbeat, but his performance was consistent enough to satisfy Patel.

Snowball was going through his own dance- dance revolution when another team led by Adena Schulz kept exposing him to new music, and learned that he likes Pink, Lady Gaga, Queen, and Bruno Mars.

Patel: “Dancing in human cultures isn’t a purely arbitrary invention,” Instead, he suggests that it arises when animals have a particular quintet of mental skills and predilections which Snowball the parrot exhibits also.

The Quiet Disappearance of Birds in North America, The Atlantic, Science, Ed Yong, September 19, 2019

If the pigeons disappeared from your local park, would you notice? What if the neighborhood finch stopped coming to the feeder? The starling no longer perched on the power line?

According to a new report, birds are disappearing and in large numbers. The total North American avian population has decreased by an approximate 29 percent over the past half century. There are 3 billion fewer birds today than when there were in 1970.

It is not a case of rare birds getting rarer either as the hardest hit species include every day birds such as swallows, sparrows, and starlings. 90 percent of the losses have come from 12 bird families. With the decreased numbers birds, we lose the function they bring to nature such as insect eaters controlling their numbers, plant pollination, those early morning songs, and more.

Researchers plan to investigate what is causing the drop; but, the condition of their habitat such as pollution and the reductions of it due to encroachment of the grasslands and wetlands by humans will probably play a big role. There are also the more mundane (and often preventable) threats, like running into windows and being killed by cats.

I can see the pollution part of it in my own neighborhood where grass clippings and leaves besides fertilizer residue are blown into the subdivision streets and washed down the drains leading to the wetlands surrounding us. And when I explain why they should not do such, they get indignant about it with the old “this is my land.” Except when your actions cause harm to the environment, the water supply, and the people around you; your ownership of the land and your actions are not exempt when you cause harm to others. It is called community.

“It is as if all birds are canaries and the entire world their coal mine.”

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What if we stopped pretending the climate apocalypse can be stopped

David Zetland writes in his news letter for The one-handed economist:

What if we stopped pretending the climate apocalypse can be stopped?”  lines up almost exactly with what I’ve been thinking in recent years, i.e., that we’re not making any serious dent in GHG emissions and that it’s better to focus on local community and resiliency. One ironic manifestation of this thinking is that property values in Amsterdam (a city in a region that will be underwater in 50-500 years — the timing will be difficult) may rise rather than fall, as people crowd into a place that’s well run relative to other places that are physically safer but institutionally dysfunctional. How will your future play out?

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Is Doing Environmental Economics Especially Depressing?

Is Doing Environmental Economics Especially Depressing?

We have now learned that on Aug. 27 last week Matin Weitzman hanged himself, leaving a note citing his failure to share in last year’s Nobel Prize as well as his apparently declining mental acuity.  That prize he did not share included William Nordhaus as a recipient for his work on climate economics issues, a topic that Weitzman also worked on, arguably more deeply and originally than did Nordhaus.

Last April Alan Krueger also committed suicide, although we have to this day not learned either how it was done or if he left any notes or if somehow it is otherwise known why he did it, with the only hint of any trouble being that he suddenly stopped tweeting in January, which he had previously done daily.  He is better known for his work on minimum wages with David Card and worked on many topics.  But among his topics was also environmental economics, with he and Gene Grossman publishing an influential paper on the Environmental Kuznets Curve in 1994, although it is nnot fully known that it was actually discovered by Thomas Selden and Song Daqing from looking at data on SO2 emissions by country.  So he was also involved in environmental economics.

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A note on Arctic sea ice

Figure 1

Via mashable:

Alaska’s exceptional summer continues.

The most rapidly changing state in the U.S. has no sea ice within some 150 miles of its shores, according to high-resolution sea ice analysis from the National Weather Service. The big picture is clear: After an Arctic summer with well above-average temperatureswarmer seas, and a historic July heat wave, sea ice has vanished in Alaskan waters.

“Alaska waters are ice free,” said Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.

“This is definitely an extreme year — even by more recent standards in a changed Arctic,” noted Walt Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

In the continually warming Arctic, sea ice has completely melted around the Alaskan coast before, notably during 2017’s melt season, but never this early. “It’s cleared earlier than it has in any other year,” said Thoman. (Sea ice starts regrowing again in the fall, when temperatures drop.)

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The Hurricane/Picture of Dorian Gray: A Perfect Moral Storm in Three Texts

The Hurricane/Picture of Dorian Gray: A Perfect Moral Storm in Three Texts

Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital:

The temporal aspect is particularly striking,’ writes philosopher Stephen Gardiner, who has done perhaps more than anyone to foreground it, in A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change: it catches us in a bind. Given that global warming is ‘seriously backloaded’ (every moment experiencing a higher temperature posted from the past) and ‘substantially deferred’ (the cumulative effects of current emissions arriving in the future), a warped ethical structure arises. The person who harms others by burning fossil fuels cannot even potentially encounter his victims, because they do not yet exist. Living in the here and now, he reaps all the benefits from the combustion but few of the injuries, which will be suffered by people who are not around and cannot voice their opposition. Each generation, reasons Gardiner, thus faces a perverse incentive to ‘pass the buck’ to the next, which also profits from its own fossil fuel combustion while dodging the pain from it, and so on, in a vicious cycle of infliction of harm.

James P. Kossin, “A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed”:

As the Earth’s atmosphere warms, the atmospheric circulation changes. These changes vary by region and time of year, but there is evidence that anthropogenic warming causes a general weakening of summertime tropical circulation.

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Goats and Dogs, Eco-Fascism and Liberal Taboos

When remembered at all, Edward Abbey is mostly thought of as an environmentalist and anarchist but there is no gainsaying the racism and xenophobia on display in his 1983 essay, “Immigration and Liberal Taboos.” The opinion piece was originally solicited by the New York Times, which ultimately declined to publish it — or to pay him the customary kill fee. It was subsequently rejected by Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Mother Jones and Playboy before finally being published in the Phoenix New Times as “The Closing Door Policy.”

Various white nationalist blogs applaud what they view as Abbey’s foresightedness and forthrightness regarding immigration, presumably oblivious to how those views relate to his ideas about wealth inequality, industrial development and authoritarianism. Conversely, Abbey fans on the left who seek to insulate his nature writing from the taint of his anti-immigrant bigotry ignore the way in which, as Michael Potts put it, “a xenophobic and racist image of the immigrant as pollution… map[s] cultural and ethnic prejudices on to an idealised landscape.” (Dumping Grounds: Donald Trump, Edward Abbey and the Immigrant as Pollution) Abbey’s admirers on both the right and the left thus resort either to blinkers or lame apologetic to redeem him for their political preferences.

My interpretation is that Abbey was a curmudgeon and contrarian whose intended target was liberal hypocrisy. Immigrants were merely “collateral damage” of his colorful diatribes. In the pursuit of being provocative, though, he revealed more than he bargained for about his prejudices. It is precisely this flawed complexity, though, that makes Abbey’s writing a kind of Rosetta Stone for deciphering the dire social hieroglyphics of our time. Presumably, Abbey did not think of himself as racist. He was indignant when accused of racism. But the institutions of the society he grew up in transmit racism in their DNA.

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Climate Equity: What Is It?

Climate Equity: What Is It?

While action against climate change languishes, the rhetoric keeps getting more intense.  For several years now it hasn’t been enough to demand climate policy; we need climate justice.  We will not only eliminate fossil fuels in a decade or three, we will solve the problems of poverty and discrimination, and all in a single political package.  It sounds good, but what does it mean?

You might look for an answer in new legislation introduced by AOC and Kamala Harris, the Climate Equity Act.  As reported yesterday, it establishes a federal Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability, whose job would be to evaluate all proposed regulations according to their impact on low income communities.  No doubt this would bring more attention to issues at the intersection of green politics and social justice, which is all to the good, but creating new layers of oversight still doesn’t answer the question, what is climate justice?

Is justice about taking care of, say, the bottom 20% of the income distribution?  The bottom half?  Some other number?  And what counts as an impact?

The first thing to notice is that, by limiting matters of justice to low income communities, the bill reinforces a politics that divides the world into the socially excluded, the poorest and most vulnerable, on the one hand and everyone else on the other.  The majority of voters are effectively enlisted as allies of those at the bottom.  This is the consequence of drawing the line where they do.  A very different politics was proposed by Occupy, placing 99% of us in one camp and the top 1% in the other.

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Pledging Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030 or 2050: Does it Matter?

Pledging Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030 or 2050: Does it Matter?

We now have two responses to the climate emergency battling it out among House Democrats, the “aggressive” 2030 target for net zero emissions folded into the Green New Deal and a more “moderate” 2050 target for the same, just announced by a group of mainstream legislators.  How significant is this difference?  Does where you stand on climate policy depend on whether your policy has a 2030 or 2050 checkpoint?

I say no.  Neither target has any more than symbolic value, and what the government does or doesn’t do to prevent a klimapocalypse (can we use this interlingual word?) won’t depend on which one gets chosen.

Endpoint targets have no constraining power at all.  A 2030 target won’t be met or unmet until 2030, and by then it will be too late.  Same, and worse, for a 2050 target.  Moreover, the whole target idea is based on a misconception of how carbon emissions work.  The CO2 we pump into the atmosphere will remain for several human generations; it accumulates, and the sum of the carbon we emit this year plus next plus the one after and so on is what will determine how much climate change we and our descendants will have to endure.  (The relationship between our emissions and the earth system’s response is complex and may embody tipping points due to feedback effects.)  Every additional ton of carbon counts the same, whether it occurs today or just before some arbitrary target date.

What we need instead is a carbon budget, an announced total quantity of emissions we intend to hold ourselves to, starting right now and continuing through the end of the century.  That way, whether we’re living up to our pledge or scrapping it is put to us each year based on how quickly we’re using up our quota.  It sets the meter running now.

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Climate Chaos?

Dan here.  You will be reading more of him soon…David Zetland has contributed here on water issues via Aguanomics. He now publishes his blog The one-handed economist.  He is a native Californian who moved to Amsterdam several years ago. David is an assistant professor of political economy at Leiden University College, a liberal arts school located in The Hague. He teaches courses in social and business entrepreneurship, cooperation in the commons, and environmental, growth and development economics.

Here is a more informal piece on his newsletter:

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