The site uses cookies that you may not want. Continued use means acceptance. For more information see our privacy policy.

Earth Day 2022

Another year in the books for the planet we all call home.

Please register to vote (Vote.gov). Please vote for candidates who will fight carbon pollution.

Month after month, year after year, we read about the climate crisis. The greenhouse effect was taught to me in school so long ago I barely remember the teachers’ names. And every year more carbon goes up, while many politicians still do not take the problem seriously.

Even as we face catastrophe, we learn the fascinating bits: how tree rings can tell us wet and dry years, or how layers of sediment in the oceans hold tiny shells that confess the atmosphere of their day, as do bubbles trapped in polar ice. (See Wikipedia: “Paleoclimatology”: Proxies for climate.) And it feels like sitting in a doctor’s office, being told of the scans and chemistries used to diagnose us, the doctor waving a slide rule as they tell us our odds of survival from a cancer or a heart attack unless we make a change.

We learn when distant cities will be underwater. How they will be flooded, first during storms, then tides. After that it won’t be flooding, it will have become part of the sea. There are maps showing the water moving in, from a centimeter every few years to a centimeter every year and beyond, if the carbon keeps flowing. The waters will skip the hills and makes them islands, for awhile anyway. If the waters keep going up, the new islands will be drowned. We see an artist’s rendering of what a mall looks like under ten feet of water.

The other disasters: major hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, the arctic vortex, droughts and floods. The own-goals: deforestation, methane leaks. And all the tips for reducing our carbon footprints. Less meat, reusable bags, changing lightbulbs, recycle, buy used. The media talks them up and then moves on to the latest politics, celebrity. We forget long enough to feel better, partying between hangovers.

The people making decisions aren’t worried, because they’re not paid to cut carbon. They’re paid to make sales. There are few jobs on the planet where the compensation goes up if the carbon goes down. They are renewable electricity generators, mostly. But the world has not put a price on carbon pollution. If it did, most everyone would earn more by cutting carbon, and the crisis would end. That’s the theory.

For those selling carbon offsets to wealthy people seeking to allay their guilt, there’s no extra money for lower carbon. Car makers don’t get a better price for making a more efficient car (though in some markets their days to sell carbon-powered vehicles are numbered). Oil drillers don’t have to pay for venting methane, as farmers don’t pay more for wasting water.


On Earth Day 2022, the situation looks the same as it has for decades. There are some modest efforts, far short of what’s needed. At the rate we are going, we will reach carbon neutrality later than needed, but we will get there. Not so optimistic, but not so pessimistic. We’re betting that knock-ons won’t turn out worse, that there’s no domino effect that will push us over a cliff.

It all feels like a missed opportunity, a lucrative one that the business community and the politicians were too dumb to take up. One that many of them agitate against out of some bizarre obligation to a sick system. There are many solutions that all miss the mark in one key area: the votes needed to pass anything.

Please register to vote (Vote.gov). Please vote for candidates who will fight carbon pollution.

The 2020 Climate Forums, Part 1

Some thoughts about the candidates’ answers at the first presidential climate forum.

Seven hours (minus commercial time) of candidate town halls on climate change.

What I wanted to see was realism, ideas, passion, and purpose on the issues of the climate. I saw a lot of that from almost all the candidates. Plans are something we need to see move through congress, and just because a candidate has a good plan doesn’t mean that happens. But, taken as a starting point, they are still useful and the candidates did a lot to discuss where they’re coming from.

Here’s a ranking of how I saw the candidates who participated. The ranking is in terms of the ideas they brought that differed from the pack, positive or negative, but not as an overall view of their plans. In general, all of their plans are good, particularly compared to inaction, and we need to act. The = # preceding a name means a tie.

  1. Booker
  2. = 1 Warren
  3. Yang
  4. Buttigieg
  5. = 4 O’Rourke
  6. Castro
  7. = 6 Harris
  8. = 6 Sanders
  9. Biden
  10. = 9 Klobuchar

I appreciated Booker and Yang speaking about the role of nuclear power. It’s not a perfect technology, and we should handle the waste responsibly by having a permanent repository, whether that’s Yucca Mountain or somewhere else. But it is carbon-neutral, and it cannot be ignored in our immediate and pressing need to deal with the problem of putting out too much carbon. Those who spoke against it, or who seemed to suggest that a permanent repository is a non-starter seem to deny the fact we already have a wealth of radioactive waste to store, and that even if we phased out all nuclear yesterday, we would still have the responsibility to handle that waste. They lost a point, accordingly.

Booker also spoke credibly on a number of other initiatives including farming, reforestation, and his record as mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Warren spoke out on the need to do carbon-trade balancing—accounting for carbon in imports and exports, which is important. But she lost half a point for suggesting that all American-invented technologies related to climate would be exclusively manufactured in the USA. If we should eat local, we should also manufacture local, or at least leave the door open to it. (This will happen eventually as automation and fabrication technologies shift, but in the meantime we need to cut carbon more than we need trade protection. Licensing patents and technologies would allow us to spend the fees on other means to create jobs.)

Yang got a half-point for kind-of-implying the need for a treaty on geoengineering, which is something that is necessary and would include the fact that climate change and carbon pollution are already a form of geoengineering, as unintentional as it may be.

Buttigieg, in a question about his use of private flights in campaigning, spoke about the need for ground transportation including trains. Rail is important, so he got a point for that. The fact is that even the airlines should want us to build out rail, so they can save money on vouchers and have improved throughput by having a fully functioning, diverse transportation system. Everyone who complains about leg room or baggage fees should be in favor of rail.

O’Rourke was the only one who favored cap and trade over a direct carbon tax. There are arguments both ways, and either is useful, but I think there are some market effects possible with cap and trade that can be missed with direct taxes. On the other hand, there are hybrid approaches possible. The main downside of the tax approach seems to be that companies will seek to conglomerate on the basis of the tax rather than any inherent economic need, which can worsen an existing and awful feature of our corporate tax code. In any case, point for not bandwagoning on the tax.

Castro lost a point for suggesting that flood insurance should be subsidized in a way that suggested moral hazard. We can’t do that. We just can’t. There are other moves to make for folks who live in places that are no longer viable, but embracing it is simply folly.

Harris also spoke against nuclear power and waste. She did highlight some of her achievements as a district attorney and attorney general.

Sanders was among the candidates who stated unequivocally that some houses shouldn’t be rebuilt, and we have to face that fact. It’s part of the larger issue around rural-vs-urban and balancing freedom and subsidy in ways that make sense, some of which are climate-related and others of which are just fundamental issues we’ve never really worked out as a nation. For example, in some places farmers commute to the farm, rather than living there. On the other hand he was one of the more expressedly opposed to nuclear power. Again, it has problems, but it’s just not reasonable to condemn it given the challenge.

Biden’s main problem is this fundraiser with a fossil-fuel-tied host. That and he didn’t really seem to have a lot to say on the issue beyond a kind of “trust me” outlook.

Klobuchar lost points for her stances on nuclear power and fracking. While natural gas is better than coal when responsibly extracted, it’s not great and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not responsibly extracted in too many cases. If the industry wants to be a bridge, it needs to show itself to be a safe one, not a rickety one. She did a good job talking about the opportunities with farms, as did several other candidates.


The climate is a big deal, and the Democratic candidates have set themselves apart from the Republicans by showing themselves to be thoughtful and studious on the issues. The challenge will come in implementing any of their plans, should a Democrat be inaugurated in 2021. But that’s always been a challenge, so long as Republicans have denied reality. It’s hard to move a couch when the other person carrying it doesn’t believe in the stairs.

In general, the 2020 Democratic candidates form a healthy slate. Most of the candidates are worth considering, and it’s hard to pick a favorite out of the pack. We will see how the debate goes this Thursday, and one hopes a few of the climate issues (maybe nuclear power, for example) can be brought up to help the candidates further explain how they approach the issue.

As to plans, they will be changed to become law. And they will be changed after they are law. Some changes good, others bad. There will be mistakes and unexpected wins, both. But we have to act on it. The Republicans fail to even propose plans on many of the pressing issues of the day, where for every single one there will be at least a few Democratic proposals.

That failure is a fundamental problem for our nation. The Republicans that cannot plan cannot lead. And yet there they are, in the driver’s seat of our nation, pressing nobs, turning buttons, and doing a whole lot of damage and nothing particularly useful. It is a shame.

1619 and Hard Choices

On the difficulty of navigating entrenched institutional harms as an individual.

The thing I think most about when I think about slavery is the hard choices that people faced, and the many failures and successes they had in thought and action that contributed to history arriving to us as it did. The best histories draw out those choices, and they remind us of our own challenges on issues like climate change or having a generally horrible president.

Consider, for example, the southern tradesman who made farm equipment. Maybe he believed in abolition, believed slavery a grave and indecent institution, and yet he was powerless (in his mind) to stop it. He had choices. He could speak out against it to all who could hear, mostly his customers, losing their business. He could move north or west or overseas, giving up all he had worked for and risking his family’s future. He could do the little things, trying to raise the issue indirectly through microaggressions against the institution.

There were plenty who did all of them, and more who ignored their call, and others still who did worse. One tell that’s worth noting is that those die-hard slavers bothered to make arguments about the intellect of the enslaved and other pseudoscientific endeavors in that vein. That’s a good sign they knew everything was not right. Nobody bothers to excuse the digging of dirt, for nobody is afraid that the dirt is capable of offense. But those who went through major efforts to distinguish and codify the condition of the enslaved Africans seemed often in doing so to admit their guilt.


Today’s hard choices are often on the backs of Republicans who are faced with the institution of Trumpism. The stakes are not now as high as with slavery, at least in terms of numbers, but they are more dear to us in that they are real to us today. And the same options avail the average Republican as then. And the same excuses bubble in their minds, that their livelihood depends upon them going along with the wickedness. Or that they would risk too much for not themselves but for their family. Or that they are merely powerless, too insignificant and too busy.

And today’s hard choices are on all our backs, with climate change. That we do not and cannot decipher the choice between metal straws and paper straws and maybe we should all just carry around funnels and pour liquids in our mouths that way. Or that we need the SUV rather than something more efficient, because roads are dangerous. Or we need the SUV to show we’re not sissies into that green revolution shite.


That’s where I come to mostly when I think about slavery. The stain on the fabric of society that it represented, and how we have our own stains today, most of which are not as directly evil, but still significant and still we face the same sorts of difficulties in navigating them, which acts to slow our ability to wash clean our body and act surely for our own and our children’s betterment.