All posts by Greg Laden

Bjorn Lomborg’s Little Idea

Bjorn Lomborg is famous for downplaying the importance of climate change, and the urgency of acting on it. I don’t know anyone who quite understands why he does this. If you want to know more about him, click here.

You will remember his comment a while back about how sea levels actually went down for a while, but nobody ever talks about that. He was wrong. Sea levels are rising over time, but they do go up and down within that larger framework. His sea level comment prompted me to create the following graphic:

Lomborg’s latest is to make the incorrect claim that the recent and ongoing unprecedented, traumatic, and destructive fires in Australia are just kind of average. Nothing to see here. His claim is based on a misrepresentation of cherry picked data. Australia does have a lot of fire, so it is easy to find a way to describe this year’s as not abnormal. What is different, and worse, this year is where the fires happened, the kind of habitat that burned, and the timing. (See this.) The Twitter thread that Lomborg started, and many others chimed in on, is here.

And, here is the graphic I could not resist making in response. I’ve replaced the Picard Face-palm with the Greta Stern Look. This might be a thing from now on.

The graphic used in that image is a screen shot from this video:

Activists: Two books you should read

All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States by Meaghan Winter.

Democrats have largely ceded control of state governments to the GOP, allowing them to rig our political system and undermine democracy itself.

After the 2016 election, Republicans had their largest majority in the states since 1928, controlling legislative chambers in thirty-two states and governor offices in thirty-three. They also held both chambers of Congress and the presidency despite losing the popular vote. What happened?

Meaghan Winter shows how the Democratic Party and left-leaning political establishment have spent the past several decades betting it all on the very risky and increasingly foolhardy strategy of abandoning the states to focus on federal races.

For the American public, the fallout has been catastrophic. At the behest of their corporate patrons, Republican lawmakers have diminished employee protections and healthcare access and thwarted action on climate change. Voting rights are being dismantled, and even the mildest gun safety measures are being blocked.

Taking us to three key battlegrounds–in Missouri, Florida, and Colorado–Winter reveals that robust state and local politics are the lifeblood of democracy and the only lasting building block of political power.

American Resistance: From the Women’s March to the Blue Wave by Dana Fisher.

Since Donald Trump’s first day in office, a large and energetic grassroots “Resistance” has taken to the streets to protest his administration’s plans for the United States. Millions marched in pussy hats on the day after the inauguration; outraged citizens flocked to airports to declare that America must be open to immigrants; masses of demonstrators circled the White House to demand action on climate change; and that was only the beginning. Who are the millions of people marching against the Trump administration, how are they connected to the Blue Wave that washed over the U.S. Congress in 2018?and what does it all mean for the future of American democracy?

American Resistance traces activists from the streets back to the communities and congressional districts around the country where they live, work, and vote. Using innovative survey data and interviews with key players, Dana R. Fisher analyzes how Resistance groups have channeled outrage into activism, using distributed organizing to make activism possible by anyone from anywhere, whenever and wherever it is needed most. Beginning with the first Women’s March and following the movement through the 2018 midterms, Fisher demonstrates how the energy and enthusiasm of the Resistance paid off in a wave of Democratic victories. She reveals how the Left rebounded from the devastating 2016 election, the lessons for turning grassroots passion into electoral gains, and what comes next. American Resistance explains the organizing that is revitalizing democracy to counter Trump’s presidency.

Divestment in Fossil Fuels is Happening, A Little

BlackRock Inc is the world’s largest investment management company. It is headquartered in New York City, handling nearly seven trillion dollars in assets.

BlackRock is about to move away from investment in fossil fuels.

Bill McKibben notes, in a piece in the New Yorker, “If you felt the earth tremble a little bit in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, it was likely caused by the sheer heft of vast amounts of money starting to shift. “Seismic” is the only word to describe the recent decision of the asset-management firm BlackRock to acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and begin (emphasis on begin) to start redirecting its investments…By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history.”

Here is his letter

It is not a full-on divestment. For that matter, this might be greenwashing as much as anything else. But a major player in the financial market has declared fossil fuel and related investments risky because of the environmental damage they induce, because that damage is to be mitigated, and thus, assets are to be stranded. More or less. For example with respect to “Exiting Thermal Coal Producers” BlackRock says,

Thermal coal production is one such sector. Thermal coal is significantly carbon intensive, becoming less and less economically viable, and highly exposed to regulation because of its environmental impacts. With the acceleration of the global energy transition, we do not believe that the long-term economic or investment rationale justifies continued investment in this sector. As a result, we are in the process of removing from our discretionary active investment portfolios the public securities (both debt and equity) of companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal production, which we aim to accomplish by the middle of 2020. As part of our process of evaluating sectors with high ESG risk, we will also closely scrutinize other businesses that are heavily reliant on thermal coal as an input, in order to understand whether they are effectively transitioning away from this reliance. In addition, BlackRock’s alternatives business will make no future direct investments in companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal production.

McKibben agrees that this is that this change is not as powerful as it needs to be, noting that :BlackRock’s actual policy changes are modest compared with Fink’s rhetoric. At least at first, the main change will be to rid the firm’s actively managed portfolio (about $1.8 trillion in value) of coal stocks; but coal, though still a major contributor to climate change, is already on the wane, except in Asia. The companies that mine it have tanked in value—even Donald Trump’s coddling has been unable to slow the industry’s decline in this country. So an investor swearing off coal is a bit like cutting cake out of your diet but clinging to a slice of pie and a box of doughnuts.”

BlackRock is not to be congratulated here. This is not enough, and for much of the damage done, it is too late. The barn-door closers at BlackRock are still liable for being among the entrenched power and money brokers that have destroyed this planet for the future. This action will help the rest of us to rebuild our world a few decades sooner, and it may help some of them survive the turnover that has to happen eventually. In short, if you are an activist working toward divestment, know that your work is just starting, but now you have a new tool to use in convincing the complacent that there is a problem, and a partial solution.

Election Season Starts Friday!

As we begin primary voting in Minnesota (early voting here starts Friday, January 17th) we are reminded that the actual election season, not just the never ending campaigning season, is upon us.

One thing you should know before discussing the primary process, there are new rules for how delegates are to be awarded.

The total number of delegates in play on the first vote will be 3,768. To gain the nomination, a candidate will have to get a majority of this this number, or 1884 plus one or more, on the first vote. There are the usual “pledged” delegate vs. “unpledged” (the latter sometimes called “superdelegates”) but with fewer of the latter than in previous years, and they will not be voting on the first ballot. If no candidate meets the 1884+ threshold on the first ballot, all the delegates are released from prior pledges, and superdelegates are thrown into the mix. Then, 4,532 delegates are in play, and a majority, or over 2266, will be required to win.

That is something of an oversimplification. If a single candidate goes into the convention with something like 2,267 pledged delegates, then superdelegates will be allowed to vote. Notice how close the supermajority of pledged and the 50% threshold of all, are. It feels like astrology, but I digress.

Among the pledged delegates, there is a 15% threshold rule per state in allocating delegates. If a candidate gets 15% or more of the vote/caucus delegates, they are in the running for allotted delegates. Then, among those who pass 15%, the delegates are allotted proportionately. If no one gets 15%, then the threshold shifts to one half of whatever the front runner got. So, if the leading candidates gets 12%, then the new threshold is 6%.

Here are two of many possible examples of what could happen in a given state.

The Iowa Caucuses are on February 3rd. In polls, Biden and Sanders are about even, with Buttigieg and Warren competing for third place and all seem to be at or above the threshold. However, the difference between public opinion polls and outcomes is potentially large in a caucus state, because the variation affected by “ground game” is directly reflected in polls when there is a primary, but not in a caucus. In Iowa, keep an eye on Klobuchar, who claims to have a wining or at least result-surprising ground game in the Corn State. That is not a false claim. In other words, anything can happen in Iowa. Iowa will be deciding the commitments for some 41 pledged delegates.

I currently predict, and this is a pure thumb suck estimate, that the four current front runners (Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren) will roughly split Iowa’s 41 pledged delegates, with Sanders taking the largest share, and Warren the smallest share.

Then comes the famous New Hampshire Primary, on February 11th. New Hampshire has 24 pledged delegates, a very small number, but the Granite State is famous for being a tail wagging the giant sausage making political dog of democracy. There is a good chance that New Hampshire will break in a very similar way as Iowa, with Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg all reaching the threshold and sharing delegates with Biden and Sanders getting equal numbers at the top, Warren third, and Buttigieg fourth. But, either Warren or Buttigieg, or both, could fail to meet the 15% threshold. The latest Boston Herald poll has Buttigieg way below that number and Warren near it. Other recent polls have both below it. New Hampshire may well be the make or break moment for Buttigieg.

Then comes the Nevada Caucus on February 22nd. As usual, Nevada has less polling than other states, but there is enough to identify Biden, Sanders and Warren as, once again, the top tier, but with Warren repeatedly polling at just below the threshold. Buttigieg hovers just below them, and not looking like he’d get the 15% threshold. There is a good chance Biden and Sanders will split Nevada’s 36 pledged delegates roughly evenly. This could be a make or break caucus for Warren. But, maybe not.

Then, on Feb 29th, we have the South Carolina primary. The first two events are mainly white semi-rural or rural people deciding who should be president. Nevada Democrats have significant diversity but mainly Hispanic, and a strong labor component. But elections are won or lost on the basis of African American support in this country, and South Carolina is the first event with significant African American participation. Here, Biden is way ahead of everyone else, with Sanders and Warren sharing a distant second place, and hugging that 15% threshold a little too closely for comfort. It is possible that Biden will walk away with all of South Carolina’s 54 pledged delegates. Recent polling has shown Steyer as a factor in this state, and if that is correct, it could be Biden and Steyer splitting those delegates at about a 2:1 ratio. That all depends on if we believe Steyer is for real. I, personally, am not sure.

At this point, what we know now will still be true: Biden and Sanders are front runners. Warren is a factor, likely Butigieg is a factor. If nothing unusual happens, we will be entering Super Tuesday with a Biden-Sanders fight. However, Warren could outperform and pop, or Butigieg could take the threshold in three of these four states, or Steyer could buy his way in, er, I mean, well, whatever, you know what I mean. The point is this: We are watching a horse race with two odds-on horses, both old white guys but one progressive and one centrist, and one of them likely to win. But, there are these two or three other horses in the race that could woosh by either or both of them in these first four furlongs.

But then, Super Tuesday comes along. Sixteen entities, mostly states, vote on Super Tuesday, for a total of 1357 pledged delegates. Using information from polling, or if no polling exists, the thumb-suck-estimate method, assuming that no candidate has an unexpected break-through event in early states (or otherwise), and assuming that Biden, Warren, and Sanders are the only candidates likely to be viable for most of the primaries (Klobuchar will take a good number of Minnesota votes), the following shows a reasonable estimate of the outcome of Super Tuesday. Remember, this is based only on polls (this is not a predictive model) and polls are sparse in many of these states.

This is, in my view, the “null model” of what is going to happen between now and the day after Super Tuesday. It is a model to be defied by individual candidates, broken by the voters, altered by circumstances, manipulated by the Russians, etc. There is more uncertainty in this season’s Democratic primary than seen in the recent past, especially with a couple of billionaires showing up at the last second to buy the presidency, and according to the polling, making a dent.

Browner Nation USA

My family recently moved into what was long known to be the bestest of all public school districts in Minnesota, and also, long known to be the whitest in the Twin Cities area. We moved here because it is where my wife works, and we got lucky, tricking the owner of a run down old town house to sell it to us for about 30% off market value. So, whitest, most privileged, in what is considered to be a white state by people who have heard of Minnesota but never been there.

Every morning I go to the bus stop with my blond and pale-skinned Nordic son, who goes to the elementary school in this district. He is the token white kid born in the USA at that bus stop. The other kids are: Indian, of an Indian family, he was born in the US but none of his family were. Ironically, he has a thick Indian accent while his older brother, born in India, talks like a standard American teenager. Funny how that works. Two kids whom I had guessed were from Indonesia, not really English speakers a year ago when they moved here, but now are very American-English savvy. “Yes, everyone thinks they are Indonesian” their born-in-China mom told me. “But I’m Chinese and my husband is from Somalia.” Indonesia is, of course, about half way between the two, so that makes total sense. Then, one kid from Russia, speaks very little English, but it is fun to hear her speak Russian every day with one or two additional English words thrown in. Today it was “Bla bla bla kid’s play area bla bla bla.” Then, the little girl who speaks mostly French, just moved here from Quebec. My son’s school is white-minority, but probably plurality, with Asian (mostly south Asian) probably being second, with African-American, African-from-Africa, and Hispanic rounding out most of the rest. But, as noted, about half of the “white” kids are not from the US, or at least, their parents are not.

How many teachers and administrators are there in the school system who are not white? I’ve personally never met one but there is a rumor of an African American woman in the High School admin, and one of the teachers at my son’s Elementary school is African American, and maybe another one is kinda Hispanic. Not the Spanish Teacher, Mrs O’Reilly, though. She’s Irish American.

We hear about how “America will be not white majority in” some future year kinda far off. Most recent projections say 2045, but don’t believe it. It will be sooner. And, now there is a report that non-Hispanic white kid ratio has risen to about 50-50. From what I see, don’t believe that easier. That transition is happening too fast for demographers, who are always a few years behind in their data, to measure. The results of the 2020 census will be very interesting!

White supremacy is one of this country’s major problems. It is rearing its big ugly head these days for the reasons cited above. I think that problem will get worse before it gets better. But, in 20 years from now when the US is a very brown nation, most of the White Supremacists will learned to shut up, or will have died off. Or both.

We’ve been here before. This was once a white minority sub continent. Our brief history of mighty whiteness was a mixed bag, to be sure.

See: Older People Projected to Outnumber Children for First Time in U.S. History (2018)

Children of color projected to be majority of U.S. youth this year (2020)

E. Jean Carroll vs Donald Trump: He said she said?

My close personal friend E. Jean Carroll is not going to go away. Trump lawyers tried to deflect her law suit, but they were rebuffed by a judge in a ruling Thursday.

Carroll says she is “filing this lawsuit for every woman who’s been pinched, prodded, cornered, felt-up, pushed against a wall, grabbed, groped, assaulted, and has spoken up only to be shamed, demeaned, disgraced, passed over for promotions, fired, and forgotten. While I can no longer hold Donald Trump accountable for assaulting me more than twenty years ago, I can hold him accountable for lying about it and I fully intend to do so.”

Trump says, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.”

I guess it is just another he-said, she-said.

More

Solar Power, Jobs, Costs, Economy

Solar energy will become an increasingly important part of the equation, as deploying this form of electricity generation creates jobs and lowers energy costs.

In Iowa, solar is starting to compete with wind for being cheap and a good investment, and as a course of more and more safe and cheap electricity. “Invenergy, a major developer of large renewable generation projects nationwide, began construction in December on three solar arrays with a total capacity of 750 megawatts. It may at some point add three batteries with a capacity of 190 MW.”

In Ohio, a 36 acre solar array will reduce electricity costs for the 2,700 people who live in Grafton.

Looking for work near Flint, Michigan? The Shiawassee solar farm is looking to hire 250 people right now.

Superior Wisconson is building a new community solar project. “The solar garden, named Superior Solar, will be built on land SWL&P owns at 2828 Hammond Ave., near Heritage Park. The 2.5-acre site was chosen because the local distribution grid can handle the additional energy. At 470 kilowatt hours, it’s large enough to power about 115 homes. All SWL&P residential and business customers are eligible to participate.”

In Indianapolis, 10 low or middle income homeowners are about to get free solar. This is a pilot project. “We really want to make sure that the program is a step in a more inclusive and more equitable direction for our clean energy transition,” said Zach Schalk, Indiana program director for Solar United Neighbors. “Folks who are able to invest in solar can install solar on their roofs for the most part, but that leaves a lot of people behind who can’t afford to make that investment on their own. So, we think that solar energy should be able to benefit not just folks who have a lot of money to invest.”

Books I read this year.

Everybody is doing it, so here is mine.

This list does not include children’s books (usually STEM) that I reviewed, books Huxley and I have read (which is mainly Lord of the Rings this year, frankly… taking forever), computer or technology books, or video game references or books. It also does not include manuscripts or books that pre-date 1900 and you probably can’t find anywhere, unpublished material, and racist volumes that I read because I hate them but wont’ link to them (and similar). I list one John Sanford book to represent several that I read (I decided to read them all over, in order … yes, I had a reason for that, and it was great fun. But that was like 20 books.)

I’ve read 100% of 80% of these books, substantial parts of others. I have not included books I only read a few chapters of, such as a biography of FDR and one of Washington, and some books on Minnesota history.

They are not in any particular order. I probably missed a few. One I finished during the current year but I started it in 2019.

What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal

Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation by Anderson, Terry L., Leal, Donald R. (2015) Paperback

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Time in Ecology: A Theoretical Framework [MPB 61] (Monographs in Population Biology)

The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War

Lethal White (A Cormoran Strike Novel)

Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic

The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 (The Revolution Trilogy)

Junction City, Off the Record: Tales From Ogden, Utah’s Notorious Underworld in the Roaring ‘Twenties

Junction City, Off the Record: Tales From Ogden, Utah’s Notorious Underworld in the Roaring ‘Twenties

The Importance of Small Decisions (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Red Sparrow: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 1)

Grant

The Blizzard of 88

Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times

Hidden Prey (The Prey Series Book 15)

Fear: Trump in the White House

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Know What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake

How To Go Viral and Reach Millions: Top Persuasion Secrets from Social Media Superstars, Jesus, Shakespeare, Oprah, and Even Donald Trump

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings (Penguin Classics)

A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth

Harbinger

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Superlative: The Biology of Extremes

Food or War

Our Changing Earth: Why Climate Change Matters to Young People

In Search of Sungudogo

Climate Change New Year’s Resolutions

Inspired by a post at the Northeast Metro Climate Action Facebook page, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions related to climate change.

1) Normalize climate concern. When a relative or friend smirks at the idea of buying electric, or scoffs at the link between climate change and severe weather events, don’t sheepishly demure. Correct them. How you do that is something I can’t give you advice on, as it depends on the person and your relationship. But don’t let it pass, ever, in 2020.

2) Foreground climate concern. Don’t wait for Uncle Bob to say something stupid. Take opportunities to say something smart and poignant, or ear-catching and clever, or inspiring and helpful. For example, don’t just say “wow, I got 65 mpg on the trip here in my hybrid.” Add to that “That is equivalent to almost two thousand pounds of Carbon Dioxide.”

3) Learn something and tell something. There are multiple resources you can use to learn about both climate denialism and climate change itself. I’ve put some resources below. And, when you do learn something, be sure to mention it incessantly at every social event and opportunity. OK, maybe not EVERY one, but at least, now and then.

4) Take personal action. Each one of these, or sets of them, can each be considered a new year’s resolution. A few suggestions.

  • Turn the heat down, use less hot water, all of that. Get a programmable thermostat if you don’t have one already.
  • Insulate things. Every thing.
  • Get a home energy audit from your power company. They may give you free stuff, or great discounts, on LED lights.
  • Every light in your home should be an LED light. BUT don’t just remove the incandescent bulbs and screw in expensive LED bulbs in every case. Consider replacing built in fixtures with the new fangled fixtures that don’t actually take a bulb of any kind. Like this one.
  • Don’t automatically use warm or hot water when you do your laundry, and keep the loads reasonably filled.
  • Over time, replace all appliances that use gas with electric, and use heat pumps instead of traditional heating and cooling. This can save you loads of money, too. Remember this: There is no series of moral steps that lead to installing a natural gas appliance of any kind (including stove tops) in 2020.
  • Drive and fly less, replacing high CO2-footprint transport with less energy demanding ways. One long distance family trip in an airplane is worth a LOT of CO2. If your family does that every year, just stop it. Do it every three years or less, find a different, less planet-destroying way to amuse yourself!

5) Keep up the pressure on your representatives. Remember, a lot of climate related fight-backs happen at the state level, some even at the local level. Find out if your city is in any sort of program to its reduce carbon footprint (in Minnesota, it is called “GreenStep Cities“). If it isn’t, make them joint one. Join your state level environmental political group (in Minnesota, that would include the DFLEC, but feel free to suggest other choices below in the comments). There is a misconception that contacting your state or federal rep is meaningless because, either they are already on board and your message isn’t necessary, or they are totally against addressing climate change, so your message is useless. Neither one of these things is true. Anti-climate science representatives need to be pressured, and your contact is pressure. Pro-environmental representatives need to be able to say “I got a zillion calls and notes from my constituents, so no, I can’t compromise on this important climate related bill.”

6) Give a few bucks to candidates who support aggressive action on climate change. Then contact their opponent and tell them why they did not get your money. Do the same thing with campaign-supporting volunteer time. Hit the streets.

7) Change your diet sensibly and effectively. Clearly, eating less meat will reduce your carbon footprint. When you do eat meat, the smaller the animal the better with respect to carbon footprint. That’s easy. But not all diet decisions are easy. People may over-estimate the importance of local eating, especially if they are driving their SUV to the grocery store two or three times a week, and don’t go to the nearest store because it doesn’t have their brand of cranberry juice. It is not clear that there is a difference, or what the difference is, between organic and non-organically grown food. One of the biggest things you can do is to monitor and manage the food you do buy so that very little is wasted because you let it go bad in the back of the refrigerator. Americans waste about a third of our food this way. Resolve to develop an effective, personal, method to avoid this.

Learning Resources:

Books:*
The basics of climate change: Dire Predictions, Second Edition: Understanding Climate Change by DK Publishing (2-Jun-2015) Paperback

A long list of things that can be done by individuals, governments, corporations, etc.: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Personal financial decisions: Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®

The fundamental political problem: The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

On Line Classes:

Making Sense of Climate Denial

Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact

If you are in Minnesota, and want to organize a talk on climate change, contact me. I do one, and I work with Phil Adam, and he and I have multiple offerings in the area of climate change and energy, and there are other local excellent speakers I can put you in touch with. Church? Rotary club? Local environmental group or Indivisible group? Let me know what you need.

Chernow’s Rockefeller Bio So Cheap JD Rockefeller would Buy It

JD Rockefeller believed himself to be something of a gift from god, a gift to capitalism. I’m not big on the god thing, but Ron Chernow is a gift of some kind to the art of biography. He writes big thick books that are actually about 25% less thick than they look because the last quarter is footnotes. He is famous for writing the biography that became the famous musical known as Hamilton. You know of whom I speak.

I recently read Rachel Maddow’s excellent and compelling, must read Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. You must read it. Rockefeller’s story is an important part of the contextual lead-up that Dr. Maddow does so well, and for this she leans, appropriately, on Chernow’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. So, when I saw that Titan was available on the Kindle, cheap, I thought you should know too, and now you do!