Toward a Candidate Consensus on Climate

The climate is a foundational issue. Beto O’Rourke deserves praise for putting a policy out there. Jay Inslee deserves credit for making it the central issue of his campaign.

The basic problem isn’t hard to understand. We burn carbon fuels, and that releases CO₂. The carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, warming the planet. It accumulates in the oceans, making them more acidic. We have to burn less carbon.

Given we still want to have stuff from far away, and that transportation is one of the largest sources of pollution, transportation is a big target to change. Electrification of transport, coupled with renewable generation of electricity, is the logical step toward carbon neutrality.

But we also know that humans are stubborn, particularly wealthy humans that make a lot of money selling carbon. Economists recognized that getting them to go along is difficult because they can simply lie about the science, buy politicians (or even the whole Republican Party), and stall any real change. So, economists propose a variety of pricing systems, whereby carbon emissions are priced.

Think of it like a gold rush. Someone shouts, “There’s gold in them-thar hills,” everyone goes for it. Already there’s some gold in decarbonizing, but there’s less than there would be if the actual costs of carbon were recognized as part of the economy. By adopting some form of carbon pricing, the greed of man is leveraged to turn gas guzzlers into sippers or even into electrics or hydrogen fuelcells.

Think of it like a tower-building contest. Right now, the contestants are paid per foot, so if you have a tower that’s barely over one foot-mark, it would take more effort to get to the next one. By pricing carbon, it’s like changing it to being paid by the inch. If you can add six inches, it doesn’t make another foot, but it’s still worth it. And you add up all the six-inch additions that all the tower-builders can add, and it’s a lot more than if just a few of them could add a whole foot.

But the main thing is focus. We need leaders, both in the White House and in the congress, who will speak often about the need to address the issue. It’s time for legislation. It’s time to reject anyone who calls it a Chinese hoax.

The consensus is to make carbon more expensive, and in doing so to make alternatives, including reductions in use, clean energy, and carbon sequestration more attractive.

The Old Carbon Deal

I’m here today to present my plan to change the climate. This is the Old Carbon Deal! I hope you’re excited. I know I am. I hope all the media outlets are ready to ask questions about feasibility. I hope lots of suit-and-tie folks are going to write long, important articles about the wisdom of my plan.

First off, the cost. By the year 2100, it will cost at least 10% of GDP per year (the equivalent of almost $200 billion in today’s dollars) directly. That’s economic output, and doesn’t count the damage costs to infrastructure, which will be more like a trillion dollars. That includes things like losses from crop failures, dealing with flooding, etc. It will cost even more indirectly, including from warfare and international economic disruption.

The best part of the cost is that someone else will pay for it! Who doesn’t like free stuff?! Gas prices will stay cheap, big corporations get a huge subsidy, and it’s the poor, like all those island nations you never learned in school, and future generations that pick up the tab!

Poor people who live in drought-stricken and famine-devastation will seek out places that support and sustain human life, disrupting borders and governments. They won’t have a choice—dying isn’t a solution to their problems. They won’t care about the law. Starvation doesn’t negotiate. That will create conflict. Their malnourishment will help spread disease. Their lack of educational opportunity will increase strife and lower their ability to integrate in new lands. More than 350 million people globally will be exposed to deadly heat stress by mid-century, including in parts of the United States.

Temperatures will rise more than 2°C on average, and the oceans’ waters will follow the temperature. Those nice beaches you visited as a child will be washed away. Some coastal cities will have to close up or try to move themselves or undertake expensive remediation. Those who try to stay will face repeated failures that run up the costs even further.

There will be freshwater shortages, further straining agriculture and industry. Livestock will be subject to heatwaves and feed shortages and droughts, too. Nobody will ban cows, but there’ll be a lot less red meat to go around all the same.

Okay, so that’s the costs of my plan. But what benefits does it have? It will shorten your lifespan, making every living moment that much more precious. It will increase disease, making universal healthcare more imperative. New York will feel like Arkansas. People will wear fewer clothes, saving on laundry costs (which will be higher due to water shortages). It will make the rabble believe in a wrathful God.

It may also lead to uncontrolled feedback that could result in even more warming and misery! As oceans rise, their surface area grows, and they absorb more heat! The melting of tundra and permafrost can release more CO₂! The death of ecosystems may result in even less natural carbon storage capacity!

Okay, you’re sold. You want in on this wonderful Old Carbon Deal. What do you have to do to make it happen? Nothing. If we do absolutely nothing, we will enact this climate change plan.

The media doesn’t like the Green New Deal. I don’t blame them. It’s a dud. Let’s do this here Old Carbon Deal. It sounds like a real winner to me.

Immigration Demands Negotiation

The president set forth his demands in the immigration hostage crisis, and the legislators may capitulate. But we’re supposed to have debates on these topics and then some loud-mouth just issues demands and good-bye public discourse.

What should the US immigration system look like? Should we go all Canada and ignore their population size and general geographic differences? Should we do away with borders altogether?

The first problem with this four pillar approach is that immigration isn’t a single thing as the simple-minded would like to see it. There are various goals, some conflicting but just as often parallel. Diversity, for example, should not be competing with labor needs, because diversity is important in its own right.

Why do we need diversity? The US being a globally active nation, needs to stay well-linked to every corner of the earth. Whether for employers that are seeking to do business or for intelligence community needs, it’s incredibly useful to have people here that are connected and familiar with other places we don’t have deep roots in.

But to hear critics of immigration tell it, we should just forget about the rest of the world. It’s a lost cause.

Any immigration policy that does not account for topics like diversity, not just in humanitarian or pastoral terms, but in terms of development and practicalities, is a policy that hasn’t been studied by anybody with any serious care for the issue.

The other biggest flaw in these hard-liner EZ-Bake immigration policies is that they conflate the broken existing law with some immutable rule and use that as their jumping-off point to set the new policy. This sort of adherence to the past does not serve the current needs in exactly the same way that the new tax landscape was based on 1980s thinking.

We cannot afford to continue to look at issues off of yellowing newsprint when we have computers that provide real-time views of the world. The Republican policy on immigration used to make some sense, if it was a bit authoritarian. But the policy under Trump and the T-as-in-Trump Party is cruel and wasteful.

As with 99% of this administration’s policies, the damage done, they will be wiped off the map. But it is a shame that the damage must be done at all, particularly when they could see electoral benefit from adopting a rational policy instead. Stupid is as stupid does.

Another massacre. Still no action, not even on mental health, by the government.

What creates a slaughter? There are the instigator with some motive, the weapon, and the victims. If you remove any of these, there is no carnage. Leadership, particularly Republicans, from the president to the House and the Senate, have not acted to remove any of them, and they therefore cannot expect this violence to end. Their thoughts and prayers are welcome, but action is still required.

You can move forward on mental health, which might help. The main problem is that if a person is motivated to attack, the treatment ineffective, there is no recourse to stop them without better laws that could result in them not acquiring the weapon. And Republicans can’t have that. Indeed, they weakened such laws as soon as Trump took office.

That said, we should have better mental healthcare for its own sake, to obliterate the suffering in the minds across this country, for the same reasons we need universal healthcare: it’s the right thing to do.

You can remove the weapon. But you can’t with Republicans in charge.

Or you can remove the victims. Without innocent people to shoot, there can be no attack. They can be hidden, or protected, or made difficult to hit. Schools can be transformed into prison fortresses. Jill can learn her ABCs during count and Jack can learn to count by counting the number of gates he passes through on his way to class.

The obvious solution is to remove the weapon from the equation. Republicans suck at math and call the weapon an invariant. In November, we should vote out as many of them as it takes to break this stalemate and protect our nation from this bullshit.

Speaker Paul Ryan’s GOP Policy Proposals

At US House Speaker Paul Ryan has begun pushing policy for the future of the GOP. First was a report on poverty, then one on national security, and more to come. Here are some thoughts on what’s there so far.

First, the rhetoric is the same. You get throwaway lines like, “American foreign policy is failing at nearly every turn.”

On Poverty

“No amount of government intervention can replace the great drivers of American life: our families, friends, neighbors, churches, and charities.” The latter line falls after a paragraph that points out, “In [the sense of their rate of escaping poverty], Americans are no better off today than they were before the War on Poverty began in 1964.”

In other words, the great drivers and the government have both failed to move the needle. Guess that means less government intervention is the solution. Must be the onerous regulation of everything that has thwarted the vast, private anti-poverty efforts. Huh?

The document seems to mostly focus on the same-old of workfare, but there are some potentially-useful bits. Social Impact Financing is a start-up model of privatizing social services, whereby providers (and their investors) are paid with public funds if they achieve something. One can imagine such a program having positive impacts, though it’s unclear whether they can do so in a way that avoids inviting regulation (i.e., if they take advantage of the poor to maximize public payments).

More importantly, however, is that the report fails to get away from the sort of separate-but-equal that is all too common in policy. The VA, for example, has many problems that would vanish if the bulk of care were provided in the same system everybody else uses. If the average American was in-queue next to a veteran and saw them shafted, the law would change much more quickly. More importantly, the social-mixing and ready-for-tomorrow benefit of, e.g., welfare recipients working through an embedded institution rather than a separate system.

In plain language, a welfare recipient should not see a difference in their financial rituals during versus after welfare unless that ritualistic change itself has some positive end in mind. They should receive welfare through normal banking channels, for example. The whole purpose of welfare should be to normalize the right behaviors as a person escapes poverty. It should be gamified, made to feel like a logical process (in both the common sense and in the sense of a deductive process reaching a conclusion).

National Security

If the poverty document was mostly about workfare, this one is warfare. The document looks at terrorism, border/immigration, and cyber defense. It’s a much weaker document in terms of program recommendations.

“Decisively tackling emerging threats before they metastasize.” Why didn’t Obama think of that?! Might as well just say, ‘Keep Americans safe.’ The document is much more antagonistic toward the Obama administration, while offering no real criticisms (again, the same thing the GOP has done for eight years).

If I were Ryan, I’d go to the folks that wrote the poverty paper and have them make a new national security paper. The poverty piece wasn’t great, but at least it was more than banal polemic.

The parts where this document make sense still read as too obvious and generally agreed to by both parties. “Our ultimate goal must be to transform developing countries from aid recipients into trading partners.” Yes. Agree. Do you have some new ways to invigorate those efforts?

With four more releases planned for the “A Better Way” policy campaign (on the economy, the Constitution, health care, and tax reform), so far it looks like a middle-Republican effort and about what one would expect. We’ll see if there are any real departures from the status quo.