Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Earth Day in the age of Trump

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Elizabeth Kolbert reports in the New Yorker:

Next week, millions of Americans will celebrate Earth Day, even though, three months into Donald Trump’s Presidency, there sure isn’t much to celebrate. A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”

The list of steps that the Trump Administration has already taken to make America polluted again is so long that fully cataloguing them in this space would be impossible. Here’s a sample:
In February, the Department of Energy delayed putting into effect new energy-efficiency standards for, among other things, walk-in freezers, central air-conditioners, and ceiling fans. The new standards, according to the department’s own estimates, would prevent the emission of nearly three hundred million tons of carbon dioxide while saving consumers almost twenty-four billion dollars over the next three decades. (Ten states, led by New York, have sued the Administration over the delay.)
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department announced their intention to roll back fuel-economy standards for cars that were set to go into effect in 2022.
Earlier this month, the E.P.A. announced its plans to review—and presumably revoke—President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a set of regulations aimed at reducing pollution from power plants. The Clean Power Plan would not only have cut carbon emissions by almost nine hundred million tons a year but also, according to E.P.A. figures, prevented more than thirty-five hundred premature deaths and ninety thousand asthma attacks annually. The plan is central to the commitments that the United States made under the Paris climate accord, which the Administration may or may not formally abrogate, but which it has apparently already informally abandoned.
Meanwhile, the Administration has proposed slashing the E.P.A.’s budget by thirty-one per cent, which is even more than it has proposed chopping the State Department’s budget (twenty-nine per cent) or the Labor Department’s (twenty-one per cent). The proposed cuts would entail firing a quarter of the agency’s workforce and eliminating many programs entirely, including the radiation-protection program, which does what its name suggests, and the Energy Star program, which establishes voluntary efficiency standards for electronics and appliances.
The zeal with which the Administration has attacked the environment recently prompted the comedian Bob Vulfov to imagine a set of National Geographicheadlines from the year 2030. “These Striking Photographs Show the Best On-Fire Lakes from Around the World,” one read. “Five Ways the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Should Use Its $400 Budget” was another.
How is it that a group as disorganized as the Trump Administration has been so methodical when it comes to the (anti) environment? The simplest answer is that money focusses the mind. Lots of corporations stand to profit from Trump’s regulatory rollback, even as American consumers suffer. Auto manufacturers, for example, had argued that the 2022 fuel-efficiency standards were too expensive to meet. (This is the case even though, when they accepted a federal bailout, during the Obama Administration, the car companies said that the standards were achievable.) Similarly, utilities have argued that the power-plant rules are too costly to comply with. Coal companies will probably benefit from the rollbacks. So, too, will oil companies, and perhaps also ceiling-fan manufacturers, though, in the case of the appliance standards, the affected manufacturers were at the table when the proposed regulations were drafted.
But, while money is clearly key, it doesn’t seem entirely sufficient as an explanation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2017 at 2:36 pm

“The Evolution of Everything,” a must-read book

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I’ve been nattering on about meme evolution, but in The Evolution of Everything, Matt Ridley lays it out in detail, tracing the evolution of memes and other things. Evolution, in a word, is how the universe works. His chapter titles tell the story. Let TEO stand for “The Evolution of”. The chapters in order

TEO the Universe
TEO Morality
TEO Life
TEO Genes
TEO Culture [i.e., memes—and the rest are specific subcategories – LG]
TEO the Economy
TEO Technology
TEO the Mind
TEO Personality
TEO Education
TEO Population
TEO Leadership
TEO Government
TEO Religion
TEO Money
TEO the Internet
Epilogue: TEO the Future

The Prologue is well worth reading, and you can use Amazon’s “Look Inside Feature” to read it. Lucretius rightly is recognized as the origin of our thought in modern times, Lucretius having learned from Epicurus.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2017 at 8:10 pm

What makes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse angry?

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Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker:

Sheldon Whitehouse is a politician with a great name, a bad haircut, and a pissed-off attitude. The second-term Democratic junior senator from Rhode Island has built his career around two seemingly unrelated issues—climate change and money in politics—and he’s just written a book to demonstrate how intimately connected they turn out to be.

Whitehouse, who is sixty-one years old, has an aristocratic bearing and a background that belies his everyday fury. He’s descended from the Crocker railroad fortune, his father was a career diplomat (which included stints as ambassador to Laos and Thailand), and Sheldon himself is the product of St. Paul’s and Yale. Good breeding, however, has not assured him good manners, at least politically.
At one level, climate change is almost a parochial issue in what’s known as the Ocean State; the Atlantic is getting bigger all the time, and, consequently, Rhode Island, which is not too big to start with, is shrinking. “It’s unbelievably important to Rhode Island,” Whitehouse told me in a conversation the other day. “Right now our coastal-resources agency is predicting nine to twelve feet of sea-level rise in this century. A little girl born in Providence today is going to live long enough to see that happen. And that’s before the storm surges that are sure to come as well.” (As it happens, Whitehouse’s wife, Sandra Whitehouse, is a marine biologist, who has reinforced his grasp of the science of global warming.)
Whitehouse arrived in the Senate in 2007, at a time when the recognition of global warming, as well as the fight against it, often had bipartisan support. “When I was sworn in, we had Republican-sponsored climate-change bills all over the place,” he told me, “You had John McCain running for President in 2008 on a strong climate platform. You could see American democracy actually starting to work at solving a difficult problem.”
But the momentum on the issue stopped suddenly in 2010, he said, with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. As Whitehouse sees it, the Supreme Court ruling in that and other related cases freed corporate interests, especially oil-and-gas companies, to browbeat Republican legislators into withdrawing support for any climate-change legislation. “The fossil-fuel industry acted like a sprinter off at a gunshot,” he said. “They told the Republicans, ‘Game over, no more crossing us or we will fuck you up.’ “ Whitehouse saw the 2010 defeat, in a Republican primary, of Bob Inglis, a congressman from South Carolina who had embraced climate science, as a critical event. “Americans for Prosperity”—the political organization tied to the Koch brothers—“said publicly that anybody who crossed them on climate change would be severely disadvantaged,” Whitehouse said. “They took credit for the political peril that they had created in stopping any Republican from going the green-energy route.”
Whitehouse’s book (written with Melanie Wachtell Stinnett) is called “Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy,” and it spells out, in considerable detail, the extent of corporate influence over a variety of issues, mostly wielded through campaign contributions. In the book, Whitehouse explains his support for tighter laws mandating disclosure of political contributions by corporations and others—which is one area that the Supreme Court, at least for now, still allows Congress to regulate. “A lot of the Citizens United problem could be solved if we knew where the money came from for all these ads,” he said. “The companies create these entities with fake names—like ‘Citizens for Nice Puppies’—which means that the sources of the money are unaccountable.”
Still, the over-all message of the book is plainspoken and bleak—describing a bad situation that is getting worse, especially since the election of Donald Trump and his installation of climate-change deniers across the government. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2017 at 1:09 pm

A Louisiana Town Plagued by Pollution Shows Why Cuts to the EPA Will Be Measured in Illnesses and Deaths

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Sharon Lerner reports in The Intercept:

When the Environmental Protection Agency informed people in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, last July that the local neoprene plant was emitting a chemical that gave them the highest risk of cancer from air pollution in the country, the information was received not just with horror and sadness but also with a certain sense of validation.

For years, many of the people living on this little square of land between the train tracks and the Mississippi River levee have felt they suffered more than their share of illnesses. Troyla Keller has a rash and asthma that abate every time she leaves the neighborhood and worsen when she returns. Augustine Nicholson Dorris had breast cancer and seizures. And David Sanders has trouble breathing, a tumor on his thyroid, and neurological problems. “It took a lot away from me,” said Sanders, whose speech is slurred, when I visited the area a half-hour west of New Orleans in February. Several people spoke of shuttling their children and grandchildren to the nearby ER for asthma treatments. And many residents also frequent the neighborhood’s two busy dialysis centers. A third is under construction.

“Everybody felt there was too much sickness,” said Robert Taylor, 76, whose wife had breast cancer and is now struggling with multiple sclerosis. Taylor’s daughter Raven suffers from gastroparesis, a relatively rare autoimmune disorder that has left the 48-year-old unable to digest food and bedridden, after an attempt to treat the condition surgically led to a staph infection. But there were plenty of other unusual conditions, too. Trollious Harris, who has spent most of her life a few blocks from the Taylors, suffers from myasthenia gravis, another autoimmune condition, which has caused her muscles to weaken. Kellie Tabb has a rapid heartbeat and recently met two other people in the area who have the same condition.

“Everybody has had someone that has died of cancer,” said Taylor’s daughter Tish as she stood in the doorway of the family’s home on East 26th Street. To an outsider like me, the neighborhood looked festive, with kids playing on neatly mown lawns and Mardi Gras beads adorning many of the doors. But when Tish, who is 53 and has lived on the block since she was 4, looked at the nearby houses, she saw the people who had fallen ill. “Mr. Henry died of cancer, and he had two sons who were diagnosed with it, too. And Miss Sissy, who lives down the block toward the river, she had pancreatic cancer and died this month. Ms. Diane died of cancer, too,” Tish said, ticking off the casualties on her fingers.

“Something is clearly not right with this area,” said Lydia Gerard, whose husband developed kidney cancer at age 64 that recently metastasized and spread to his chest. Gerard herself suffers from sudden bouts of diarrhea and anemia as well as vitiligo and other autoimmune problems. Her lips and eyes often swell inexplicably and she has itchy welts on her arms and legs that get better when she goes to work 30 miles away — and come back with a vengeance when she returns home. While I was interviewing Gerard and her husband in their two-story home, I also broke out in hives.

Besides being a likely human carcinogen, chloroprene, the gas the plant has been releasing into this community for 48 years, is known to weaken immune systems and cause headaches, heart palpitations, anemia, stomach problems, impaired kidney function, and rashes. So the EPA’s news, bad as it was, provided a form of relief. After all these years, a government agency was helping to explain the residents’ strange predicament. The people living next to the plant might be sick, but at least they weren’t crazy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2017 at 2:46 pm

Lead/Crime Update: White Folks and Alabama Prisoners

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I think the lead/crime hypothesis is standing up very well. Here’s the latest from Devin Drum.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2017 at 7:07 pm

One of the most troubling ideas about climate change just found new evidence in its favor

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And the GOP under Trump are killing all efforts to fight climate change: mileage requirements, emissions controls, the EPA—all slated for destruction. We’ll bee burning more fossil fuel than ever because the oil and coal industries want to monetize their underground reserves as fast as they can while it is still legal.

Keep in mind that if we were to stop burning all fossil fuel today, global warming would continue unchecked for 60 years due to the CO2 and methane already in the atmosphere and the greenhouse heating they cause. (This effect has been well known for more than a century and is not in the least controversial—at least not until the GOP made climate-change denial a badge of loyalty.

So, basically, I think we’re doomed. Not immediately, but take a look around after 25 years have passed.

Chris Mooney reports in the Washington Post:

Ever since 2012, scientists have been debating a complex and frankly explosive idea about how a warming planet will alter our weather — one that, if it’s correct, would have profound implications across the Northern Hemisphere and especially in its middle latitudes, where hundreds of millions of people live.

The idea is that climate change doesn’t merely increase the overall likelihood of heat waves, say, or the volume of rainfall — it also changes the flow of weather itself. By altering massive planet-scale air patterns like the jet stream (pictured above), which flows in waves from west to east in the Northern Hemisphere, a warming planet causes our weather to become more stuck in place. This means that a given weather pattern, whatever it may be, may persist for longer, thus driving extreme droughts, heat waves, downpours and more.

This basic idea has sparked half a decade of criticism and debate, and at the cutting edge of research, scientists continue to grapple with it. And now, a new study once again reinforces one of its core aspects.

Publishing in Nature Scientific Reports, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University and a group of colleagues at research institutes in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands find that at least in the spring and summer, the large scale flow of the atmosphere is indeed changing in such a way as to cause weather to get stuck more often.

The study, its authors write, “adds to the weight of evidence for a human influence on the occurrence of devastating events such as the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heat wave, the 2011 Texas heat wave and recent floods in Europe.”

But what does it mean for global warming to alter the jet stream? The basic ideas at play here get complicated fast. The study itself, for instance, refers to “quasi-resonant amplification (QRA) of synoptic-scale waves” as the key mechanism for how researchers believe this is happening — terminology sure to impart terror in nonscientists worldwide.

On the other hand, some of this isn’t all that complicated. The Northern Hemisphere jet stream flows in a wavy pattern from west to east, driven by the rotation of the Earth and the difference in temperature between the equator and the North Pole. The flow is stronger when that temperature difference is large.

But when the Arctic warms up faster than the equator does — which is part of the fundamental definition of global warming, and which is already happening — the jet stream’s flow can become weakened and elongated. That’s when you can get the resultant weather extremes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2017 at 12:27 pm

Rapid meme evolution re: diversity

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I blogged this article by Liza Mundi in the Atlantic, “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” I highly recommend that you read it, and I looked at it from a meme’s-eye view. Roughly, Silicon Valley and high-tech companies in general have the meme of “disruptive change” because when there is such a shift, there is much money to be made. So they have more or less worked out a template that has worked for “disruptive change,” since they want to minimize risks. That is, spot the unexploited advantage, and exploit the hell out of it, bringing in all the tools of managing/unleashing disruptive change: e.g., transparency, regular statistical measures, definition of success, etc. Now they see the practical advantage of a diverse workforce (spelled out in “How to Break Up the Silicon Valley Boys’ Club“) that are measurable. (From that link: “And study after study has shown that greater diversity leads to better outcomes, more innovative solutions, less groupthink, better stock performance and G.D.P. growth.”)

So here they go with disruptive change toward greater diversity and inclusivity: because it’s profitable (always the acid test).

So they are driven by the disruptive change memeplex to (in effect) construct and new memeplex (meme-engineering, in fact) by systematically bringing about a cooperative diverse culture. The companies that succeed at that will (based on the measures mentioned in the article) succeed in the marketplace.

What’s interesting is that it’s happening so rapidly. The broad acceptance of gay marriage seemed to an outside observer to go quite quickly, though I can imagine many couples finding that it took way too long. But it’s pretty much here within, what? a decade?

Now while this new memeplexes are being created (and here I’m thinking about the cooperative and very diverse workplace, there are many who live in regions being left behind in meme evolution. They are not part of the process, so the new meme has little hold on them. These are the people who still won’t accept gay marriage, who don’t want trans people using restrooms appropriate to their gender (and for that there’s a well-tested solution that everyone accepts: gender-neutral restrooms, as on a plane), etc. These things are too new, it happened too quick, and they are not part of the meme.

It’s going to be worse with the effective diverse workplace (EDW): this impacts their employability. If they can’t accept diversity, tomorrow’s workplace is apt to be jarring, at least at the most successful companies. It’s another divide like access to digital technology and media.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2017 at 2:19 pm

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