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

The Wealth of a Nation

One of Sandwichman’s good questions prompted my revisiting an earlier writing of mine on wealth (circa 2000?). Extensively revised to the extent that it is hardly recognizable; here is, a, second, best effort.

Herein, the terms wealth and capital are thought of as being interchangeable.

For thousands of years, humans lived off the bounty of nature. Some societies still do, but, today, and for centuries now, most societies have lived off that bounty much abetted by their own endeavors, and the endeavors of others.

A society’s wealth includes all of its resources. Those resources include the individual and collective knowledge, skills, creativity, talents, and energy, of the society’s members; i.e., all aspects of its innovative and productive capacity. Those resources also include the society’s repositories of knowledge, such as: universities, libraries, museums, laboratories, government agencies, cultural centers, commercial entities, and the management of all. These resources also include a society’s infrastructure such as: housing, education facilities, transportation facilities, utilities, production facilities, medical facilities, entertainment facilities, government facilities, commercial facilities, and the management of all. The natural resources: the land, atmosphere, and environment within a society’s domain are, and most importantly so, among a society’s resources. The well-being of a society’s people is, in and of itself, a societal resource.

Are we headed to fresh water shortages?

(Dan here…I lifted reader Michael Smith piece on water use in open thread Dec. 22. The topic is well worth writing about…AB used to discuss this issue regularly starting in 2008 during the severe drought in the US when the southeast was contemplating court action amongst themselves to ensure their own supplies.. Search “water” in AB for a sample)

Michael Smith writes:

I should probably write a longer piece on this but I’ll try to summarize the best I can.

Had lunch with a prominent client scientist in my region that frankly scared the crap out of me. The hydrologic cycle is being seriously disrupted.

Here is what we know:

The Powell 100th meridian has moved east, by a lot.

Approximately 85% of our produce comes from drought areas (Mexico, California, etc)

Approx. 50% of water usage is due to agriculture and most of that happens in western states. My farm is in cow town, Texas and we have very poor surface water and rain patterns, so we pump from the aquifer.

Major municipalities are being forced to stop pumping from aquifers. City of Houston vs. Dow Chemical Co. is and interesting case where the fight over land to impound water is being fought over.

Monarch Butterflies are Disappearing from the Environment

Conservationists were disappointed on Tuesday when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would not recommend putting the monarch on the threatened species list. It’s not that the species isn’t edging to extinction—the monarch meets criteria to be considered threatened, the service admits. But there are “higher priority listing actions.”

Rachael BaleANIMALS Executive Editor, National Geographic. The Big Question is: Why IS The U.S. Letting These Monarch Butterflies Disappear?

Every fall, the iconic orange-and-black monarch butterflies begin their migration to warmer weather. In central Mexico, monarchs by the hundreds and thousands have been arriving from the eastern U.S. and Canada, coating oyamel trees so densely that the bark can’t be seen. In the space of 10 minutes this past October, one volunteer counted 505.

On the California coast, it’s a different story. At a time when western monarchs (which live west of the Rocky Mountains) should be showing up in droves to spend the winter in groves of eucalyptus and Monterey cypress, there is mostly silence. Fewer than 2,000 have been counted this year, down from last year’s count of 30,000. And way down from the four million that wintered there in the 1980s. It’s a drop of 99 percent.

And despite the spectacle in central Mexico, even eastern monarchs, which last year numbered about 60 million, have dropped by 80 percent in recent decades.

Deniality

Le dénialité est trop cher.

Denial isn’t specific to Americans, though we do seem to be better at it than most. We are now at least 30 years into severe climate change, yet 30-40% of Americans are in denial; assumedly, still looking for, waiting for, a return to normal. Not only are we not going back to the way it was 30 years ago; under the best of scenarios, no one of the next 5 generations will see the weather and climate of 1990 again. Under less than best of scenarios, neither the current generation nor the following 3 generations, will see weather and climate return to those of today. Still we see these professional deniers push and shove their way into any public discussion to argue that we can’t afford to take the necessary steps to halt Climate Change because the changes would be too costly. This lot deliberately tries to lead us to believe that their employers’ sunken costs are somehow our own.

The real cost of our not doing enough 30 years ago is the cost of the damage done during those 30 years plus the cost of doing today what still needs to be done. Putting it off just makes it ever more expensive. Still and yet,we hear politicians, economists and the self-anointed say that we can’t afford to do what we need to be doing about Climate Change. If we don’t, in another 30 years, we will have borne all the added damage that will have been done and be facing a situation where no amount of money will be enough. The cost of Climate Change will always be increasing until Climate Change is reversed. We’re well into shorter periods of doubling for temperature change, the number of wildfires and the acres burned, extended periods of drought, displaced people, … i.e., the price of not doing whatever it takes is doubling; so the price of doing whatever it takes. It is the not doing something about Climate Change that we can’t afford. We simply must stop burning fossil fuels.

—Extending—

Trump, although perhaps better known for his lying, is also a known Climate Change denier. Most of his supporters are in deep denial about Climate Change; many of them support him because of his denial. The Trump presidency itself is a consequence of our collective denial of Climate Change (that and a few or more other things). Since taking office, Trump has taken several actions that increase greenhouse gas emissions; thereby increasing the rate of Climate Change, increasing the damage.

The COVID-19 pandemic itself is an indirect consequence of this denial. Climate Change has severely diminished viable habitats for many species, putting pressure of these species, putting different species in closer proximity. President Trump denied the pandemic; told America that it would go away. It didn’t; it won’t. His is one of the biggest denials by an American president of all times. As a consequence of the pandemic, of Trump’s lying about and public denial of it, and also because of a large segment of the American public’s denial of it; more than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 to date. Most of these deaths could have been avoided. Yet, Trump lies to us about aerosol transmission, susceptibility of children to COVID-19, availability of a vaccine, … These lies themselves are a form of denial; a denial of reality. So, too, the believing of those lies by some thirty-plus percent of Americans. If we had provided masks and imposed obligatory wearing, tested, and did contact tracing, the death toll would have been <30k. The damage to our economy would have been ~ -3% GDP. We know this because of South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, … America’s denial of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a very high price. It will keep doing so until: we make the wearing of mask obligatory for close proximity, have rapid result accurate testing, and do effective contact tracing; or, until almost everyone is vaccinated with a highly effective vaccine.

Is our denial inherited? Probably. In our past: The Capitalists lied about capitalism and the people believed them, died early for capitalism by the tens of thousands. Slave owners lied to themselves. Slave owners lied to poor white southerners and those poor white southerners believed them, fought and died for them. More lately, many Americans let Fox News lie to them and tell them what to believe. What are they thinking letting someone tell them what to believe? How could someone let tell them what to think?

America has been in decline for 50 years now, yet a majority of us wait for things to get back to normal. Oh, and by the bye, that was Normal we just passed, the town just before that was called Normal, and, that town straight ahead is called — Normal. Sorry, guess you can’t get to normal from here.

Meanwhile, climate change is heating up nights faster than days

Climate change is heating up nights faster than days in many parts of the world, findings that could have “profound consequences” for wildlife and their capacity to adapt to the climate emergency, researchers say.

 

The climate crisis is heating up nights faster than days in many parts of the world, according to the first worldwide assessment of how global heating is differently affecting days and nights.

The findings have “profound consequences” for wildlife and their ability to adapt to the climate emergency, the researchers said, and for the ability of people to cool off at night during dangerous heatwaves.

The scientists compared the rises in daytime and night-time temperatures over the 35 years up to 2017. Global heating is increasing both, but they found that over more than half of the world’s land there was a difference of at least 0.25C between the day and night rises.

China’s climate announcement

Easily lost in the news of the day, from the NYT:

President Xi Jinping of China pledged on Tuesday that his country would adopt much stronger climate targets and achieve what he called “carbon neutrality before 2060.” If realized, the pledges would be crucial in the global fight against climate change.

This may be mostly PR, but it may signal a significant increase in China’s commitment to decarbonization.  We will learn more as details are provided and China’s next 5-year plan is released in 2021.

If this does reflect an increased commitment to decarbonization, it could be as important as the outcome of the U.S. election for the future of the climate, for several reasons:

China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.  This is (I believe) the first time it has committed to net zero publicly.  A 2050 target would be better than 2060, but a real commitment to hit 2060 would be a huge improvement.

If China moves away from fossil fuels, it may put some pressure on states that participate in its Belt and Road Initiative to scrap plans for new coal fired power plants.  These states have their own agendas and other options, but Chinese pressure would help.

A clear Chinese commitment to clean energy may help persuade Americans who see China as both a military and economic threat and as having relatively competent leadership to prioritize climate policy.

Finally, if China is committed to a green energy transition, this opens the door to formation of a “climate club” that includes the United States, Europe, and China.  Working together, these countries and others could pressure holdouts to reduce their emissions (by imposing tariffs on their exports, for example).  This is critical.  There are many countries in the world that will not voluntarily cut back on their use of fossil fuels.  Asking nicely will not work.  International climate policy needs more stick and less carrot, and switching to a new regime will be much easier if the Chinese are on board.

The Combination of Things

What about all the forest fires in the West? The most proximate cause of these fires is high temperatures along with associated lightning and high winds; both of which, directly or indirectly, can easily ignite a fire in tinder dry forests.

Beyond beyond being dry, many western forest are far from being healthy. There are large areas in the southern Sierra Nevada Range where the forest are dead and gone; they were the first to go. There is less damage to the forest as one goes farther north; still, going east on Highway 108 up over the Sonora Pass, it is not unusual to see forest areas where upwards of half the trees are dead or dying. Most are dying from infestations of bark beetles. Healthy trees can survive bark beetles, but these trees were first weakened by long periods of drought. The damage has being worsening for decades.

Drought is not new in the West; there is ample scientific evidence of at least two extended periods of drought in California over the past 1200 hundred years. There is the possibility that we are entering such a period now. It is far more likely that what we are seeing is what has long been predicted by climate Change Models. Speaking of models, has everyone seen ProPublica’s, ‘New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States’ https://projects.propublica.org/climate-migration/ ? Poor Texas. Near the end of the piece, future predictions down to every county in the US. And the models will only get better at predicting with more and better data.

Colorado weather

CBSNews  Denver officially broke a record with 101 degrees on Saturday7 (Sept. 5) tied a record with 97 degrees on Sunday and came within two degrees of the record with 93 degrees on Sunday. Overall it was one of the hottest Labor Day weekends on record in Colorado.

DENVER (KDVR) —  We set two record lows in Denver.  The first occurred Tuesday night (Sept. 8) at 31 degrees.  This ties 1962 for the earliest first freeze on record.  The second record low occurred Wednesday morning at 31 degrees.

What is Looting?

“Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance.” — Guy Debord, “The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy.”

The photograph used in Andy Warhol’s 1964 print, “Race Riot” was taken by Charles Moore and was published in LIFE magazine in May of 1963. Warhol used it without permission and Moore sued. Eventually there was an out-of-court settlement. The scene depicted was not a “Race Riot” as Warhol’s presumably ironic title claimed. It was a police attack ordered by Police Commissioner “Bull” Connor on a nonviolent demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama.