January 21, 2020

Plants to the Rescue

Plants made our current atmosphere and plants can keep it balanced.

When plants first showed up on earth about 3.5 billion years ago, carbon dioxide made up more than 20% of the atmosphere. There was no significant oxygen in the air so none of us animals existed. Cyanobacteria and then plants used sunlight to extract carbon from the CO2; in the process they released O2 and we animals evolved and began to convert some of that O2 back to CO2. The influence of the plants has been much greater than our influence. Since humans have been around, the air has been about 20% O2 and .04%CO2.

image from images.newscientist.com

The chart above is from newscientist.com. The numbers on it are largely observations as opposed to theory or “scientific consensus”. The UN report on climate cites these numbers as do many who feel the report overstates the dangers of climate change.

The green arrows show that in 1750 as the industrial age began, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was about the same from year to year because the amount of that gas emitted by respiration, rotting, weathering of rock, and release from the sea was roughly balanced by the amounts of CO2 recaptured by photosynthesis and ocean absorption.

As of 2004 human activity (see the red arrows) added 32 additional gigatons (a gigaton is a billion tons) of CO2 each year to the emissions from 1750. Interestingly, plants have stepped up their activity by sequestering an additional 10 gigatons of CO2 annually (remember CO2 is fuel to them) while the ocean is also absorbing net 10 gigatons more as it stays in balance with the air above it. That still leaves an imbalance; and so in 2005 total CO2 in the atmosphere was increasing by about 15 gigatons/year (the squiggle “~”  in front of “15” mean “about”)  . That number is probably about 18 gigatons/year now due to increased human activity.

Let’s assume we don’t want the composition of the atmosphere to keep changing because we’ve gotten used to things the way they are and let’s assume that we stabilize human emissions about where they are now or in a few years. All we need is for the plants to remove an additional 18 gigatons of CO2/year and sequester it as carbon in the soil and we will have completely neutralized the human contribution. That’s not unreasonable to work towards since they are already processing more than 450 gigatons/year and since they are already increasing their production without any help from us. Since plants grow faster when they have more fuel, an additional upside of plants using our excess CO2 is that the amount of food crops per acre will increase. Also soil with more carbon in it requires less irrigation and fertilization. What’s not to like?

Nevertheless, if we just wait for plants to evolve to establish a new equilibrium (which they always have done and will do eventually), we will be doing a pretty big science experiment with the effects of atmospheric CO2 on climate. Last week I wrote about an initiative at the Salk Institute to develop Ideal Plants® which have woody roots that increase the amount of carbon left in the soil when the plant is harvested or dies. We can also speed up the evolution of plants adapted to the increases in atmospheric CO2 which have occurred since 1750 and get these new plants disseminated; I’m sure there are people working on this.

We have made progress in reducing CO2 emissions both by replacing coal with natural gas and by adding renewables to our energy mix. There is no reason why that progress should stop. Although the news is dominated by deforestation, developing countries are reforesting. The green hills of Vermont were denuded 100 years ago for sheep farming. As counties come out of poverty, which they are doing rapidly, they are probably not going to shun air condition, cars and meat; but they are likely to reforest when they don’t need to burn every scrap of wood for fuel. If we reforest with greener trees which store more carbon, all the better.

Joanne Chory is the leader of the Salk Institute Harnessing Plants Initiative. In a podcast, she says:

“… I have a wake-up call for anybody out there who thinks they’re working in an area related to climate change, but we have to also draw down some of the CO2 we’ve already put up there, and the only way to do that, that I can see, is by capturing CO2, and plants are going to do it way better than any machine. And people will say, ‘What can I do? Should I drive an electric car?’ Well you can drive an electric car, that’s a nice idea. But I can tell you this fact: if every car in the United States became an electric car today, it’s not making a global impact with the amount of CO2 we put out. So you still have to just suck it out of there somehow, and the only way I can see of doing it is by having a number of different approaches that involve nature and humans acting together.”

See also:

The Ideal Green Solution

Undeserved (and Useless) Rebates I Got (about electric cars)

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

January 16, 2020

Preparing for Electric Vehicles

Before electric vehicles are in widespread use, we need to solve the problems of how to get electricity to them and how to pay for the roads they run on. So far these problems haven’t mattered because there are so few e-vehicles. In Vermont we are very well-positioned to deal with both problems.

Electric vehicles will replace their gas-powered predecessors for the most old-fashioned of reasons: they are about to be cheaper to manufacture and buy and they can also be cheaper to maintain and operate. The problem of battery range, very real today, is a technical problem which will be solved. Moreover, the aging baby-boomers, not to mention those of us who are even older, need assisted driving features which are almost impossible to implement with gasoline engines.

But how is electricity going to get to all those batteries? Do we need massive new sources of electricity (renewable or otherwise)? Do we have to rebuild the electric grid so that the energy we’re used to picking up at the gas station can be delivered to our home chargers?

And who is going to pay for the road and bridge building and maintenance currently funded from the gasoline tax? Electric cars still need roads to run on. Good road marking is essential to self-driving cars. But, if you’re buying your fuel from your electric utility, you’re not paying any gas tax. What happens when gas tax collections are cut in half and then in half again?

The problem of getting people to buy electric cars will solve itself. We must start working on the problems which wide-spread use of e-vehicles will bring. These are issues which the Vermont State legislature ought to be looking at this session with leadership from Governor Scott who is a “car guy” and wants to promote e-vehicle use.  Here’s what we can and should do in Vermont right now.

Assure that electric utilities offer and promote time-of day pricing so that e-vehicles will be charged up off-peak. If a substantial amount of charging is off-peak, there will be little to need to build new electric transmission and distribution lines since the need for these lines is always determined by peak demand. Similarly, there is plenty of generation capacity available during off-peak periods so little new generation should be needed. Even where we must build new lines or generation, the cost of that building will be negligible per kilowatt so long as we smooth out the peaks and have all-night usage of any new capacity.

Off-peak pricing is NOT yet another subsidy to electric car owners; it allows anyone, even those without e-cars, to participate in the grid-wide savings that come from smoothing out the peaks of demand and filling in the valleys. It will be cheap and easy to offer off-peak pricing in Vermont because, during the last recession we go got a huge Stimulus grant which allowed us to install smart meters everywhere. The meters are there but we haven’t taken much advantage of them except to automate meter reading and aid in locating outages. The utilities currently have off-peak rates, but they don’t offer much incentive and are not promoted.

It is somewhat absurd that Vermont electric utilities are using ratepayer money to provide incentives for buying e-cars rather than saving money for all the ratepayers and making e-car fueling cheaper by encouraging the use of time-of-day rates.

Redirect the energy efficiency charge (EEC) on electric use by those who have e-cars to the Transportation Fund to pay for road maintenance. Most residential users in Vermont pay an EEC which amounts to more than an 8% surcharge on the usage portion of their electric bill. This money goes to an organization called Efficiency Vermont except in Burlington where it goes to Burlington Electric. The revenue from the EEC is supposed to be used to REDUCE electricity usage in Vermont and thus save ratepayers money. Electric vehicles will INCREASE electricity use so there is no sense in giving Efficiency Vermont a bonus because of INCREASED usage. Putting the EEC payments from households (and some businesses) with electric vehicles into the Transportation Fund is a way for e-car owners to pay their share of road maintenance without having to pay higher electric bills.

Governor Scott proposed in this State of the State Address that EEC money be used to aid electrification of the vehicle fleet. Assuring that there will be well-maintained roads even as gas tax receipts dwindle is a great way to prepare for electrification to succeed.

Whether you believe that a transition to e-vehicles is essential for environmental reasons or not, that transition is going to come. Being prepared is very green.

See also:

What’s a Smart Grid and Why Does It Matter?

Time of Day Pricing for Electricity

Undeserved (and Useless) Rebates I Got

January 13, 2020

Appeasement Doesn’t Work

Somehow those who agree with me that it was a good idea to kill both Osama bin Laden and ISIS leader Abu al-Baghdadi are now saying it was wrong to kill Qassem Soleimani:

  • Iran may retaliate. Al-Qaeda and ISIS also vowed revenge after their leaders were killed. Bad guys have followers and supporters. Nevertheless, you either fight them or surrender. That was one of the great lessons of the twentieth century. Appeasement doesn’t work; it led the Second World War. We have already lost the Third World War if we are afraid to take lethal action against someone actively killing Americans.

 So far Iran has only made a cautious token response and has managed to kill hundreds of its own people in funeral riots and the panicky shooting down of a civilian plane full of Iranians and Canadians of Iranian descent. President Trump has been uncharacteristically diplomatic in accepting the Iranian “de-escalation”. Of course, there could still be a descent into war; but what would have happened if Soleimani has lived to continue his jihad against America? Iranian leaders are now less likely to miscalculate American determination when they realize that their own skins are at risk – not just the foot-soldiers of their Iraqi, Yemeni, or Lebanese proxies.

  • Ordering the attack on Soleimani was illegal under international and/or US law. It’s hard to take this argument seriously from anyone who didn’t object to killing bin Laden and al-Baghdadi far from any battlefield, without consulting Congress, and without the permission of the countries which were harboring them. Neither of these two bad guys was a threat any longer.

The argument amounts to saying that you can only take out someone who kills Americans once their career is over and they are in hiding.  Think how many more people would be alive today if we’d been able to kill bin Laden and al-Baghdadi before their forced retirements. Our timing was better with Soleimani. Would’ve been even better to get him earlier but we chose not to.

Trump muddied this argument with the unnecessary claim that we specifically knew Soleimani posed an “imminent” threat. His death was justified based on what he had already done and his rush from Syria to Iraq to talk with the Iraqi leader of the siege of the US embassy was clearly dangerous for Americans there. Perhaps he and the Iraqi were still discussing how “imminent” the threat should be.  It was good discussion for us to terminate.


  • We’ve unified the people of Iran and Iraq against us. Last week we saw huge anti-American marches in Iran. These marches were evidence of nothing since Iran is a totalitarian state and kills its citizens for going to the wrong rally. This week the people who were risking their lives to protest against the Ayatollah before we killed Soleimani are again risking their lives to protest against leaders who are both incompetent enough to shoot down a plane which had been cleared by their own air traffic control and dishonest enough to deny they had done so for three days.

The Iraqi Parliament did vote to advise the Prime Minister to request the withdrawal of our troops. But the Parliament didn’t have a quorum because the Sunni and Kurdish members defied the threats of the Iranian-backed militias and boycotted the session.

The Iraqis who were demonstrating against Iranian influence two weeks ago (and whom Soleimani ordered the militias to slaughter) are back demonstrating for independence again. Some want us gone, as well; fair enough. The first demonstrations Al Jazeera showed on the night of Soleimani’s death were in Baghdad and were celebrations by those who were protesting Iran’s influence.

  • Soleimani was a high-ranking official of the government of a real country, not just the leader of a self-proclaimed caliphate. Does that give him immunity to kill Americans? Is his excuse that he was just giving orders, not carrying them out? His position just makes him that much more dangerous. We cannot tolerate terrorist behavior from anyone. For much too long, we have allowed Iran and Soleimani to pursue asymmetric warfare against Americans and others, mostly through their proxies. The life of an Iranian general is certainly worth no more than the lives of the many, including Americans, he has killed.

I’m afraid, really afraid, that many Americans including my friends are opposing this very just and timely action because they are afraid that, if Donald Trump gets credit for doing anything right, he’ll be reelected.

I would also like to be able to vote for someone else. It would have been great to see one of the Democratic candidates distinguish her or himself by praising an action which was clearly, I think, in America’s interest.

The isolationist-wing of conservatives (especially on Fox News) have been even more vitriolic in attacking Trump for ordering Soleimani’s removal than the left. This is eerily reminiscent of the time after the German-Soviet nonaggression pact when both the left and America-first right opposed America taking sides in World War 2. They were both wrong then and they are both wrong now.

We owe it to ourselves and our diplomats and troops in harm’s way to ignore politics and oppose appeasement.

See also “We’ve got your back” beats “Thank you for your service”

January 09, 2020

The Ideal Green Solution

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies has a simple solution for reducing atmospheric levels of  CO2 without undoing civilization as we know it or denying people in developing countries the right to live as we do. Although Salk believes that climate change is an unprecedented threat, their solution is worth pursuing even if turns out that CO2 emissions are no threat at all. Here’s how they describe it:

“At the Salk Institute, we have developed an innovative and scalable approach to tackle climate change using an answer that has been hiding in plain sight: the plants that surround us.

“Plants have evolved over time to be the perfect vehicle for carbon capture and storage. Through photosynthesis, they remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen and biomass.

“The Harnessing Plants Initiative will optimize a plant’s natural ability to capture and store carbon and adapt to diverse climate conditions.

“Plants take in CO2 and store carbon in their roots.

“Suberin—also known as cork—is a naturally occurring carbon-rich substance found in plant roots. It absorbs carbon yet resists decomposition (which releases carbon back into the atmosphere), enriches soil and helps plants resist stress.

“By understanding and improving just a few genetic pathways in plants, Salk's plant biologists believe they can help plants grow bigger, more robust root systems that absorb larger amounts of carbon, burying it in the ground in the form of suberin.

“The Salk team will use cutting-edge genetic and genomic techniques to develop these Ideal Plants.®…”

“Once the Salk team has developed ways to increase suberin in model plants, they will transfer these genetic traits to six prevalent crops: corn, soybean, rice, wheat, cotton/cottonseed and rapeseed/canola. [nb. these crops are planted from new seed every year so Salk’s plan to license the plant genes to seed distributors is a fast and self-funding way to get the Ideal Plants out into the world quickly.]

“In addition to mitigating climate change, the enhanced root systems will help protect plants from stresses caused by climate changes and the additional carbon in the soil will make the soil richer, promoting better crop yields and more food for a growing global population.   [nb. emphasis mine. Better yields will incent farmers to buy and plant these seeds and reduce the land, fertilizer, and water needed to grow a given amount of food.]

“Plant ecosystems in the earth’s oceans, rivers and wetlands have the capacity to store far more carbon than their land-based relatives.

“Restoring aquatic systems will allow seagrasses and coastal plants to thrive and store more carbon while also reinvigorating fisheries; rejuvenating coral reefs; and aiding in coastal restoration efforts.”

There are, of course, many others besides Salk claiming to have a solution to global warming (and using the threat of warming to raise funds). Salk has not yet proven that their approach is practical; it does sound too good to be true.. There will be objections both because this solution relies on genetically modified plants (GMOs) and because, if it all works as advertised, we can make a thoughtful and less hysterical transition from fossil fuels without massive government intervention or huge economic dislocation.

The Salk Institute has earned the right to be taken seriously. It was founded by Dr. Jonas Salk using the money he earned from inventing the first practical polio vaccine. Over its history its faculty have been awarded six Nobel prizes, three Albert Lasker Awards, and numerous other accolades. It has made groundbreaking discoveries, particularly in genetics.

Last week I blogged that I am receiving over $6000 in useless rebates because I bought a partially-electric hybrid car. My car does very little to reduce CO2 emissions and I was going to buy it even before I knew about the rebates so they didn’t influence my behavior. Since I felt guilty, I said I’d donate the rebates to charity.  They will go to the Salk Institute where I think these rebates really may do some good.

Vermont, which wants to do something about the threat of climate change, should consider how our agricultural college (UVM) and our going-out-of-business farms can be used for experiments in Ideal Plants which benefit from increased atmospheric CO2 (reuse is better even than recycle). Better use of our money IMO than feel-good incentives which mainly go the affluent and is more likely to have world-wide effect if successful than any tiny reductions we can make on our own. Imagine if we could pioneer Ideal Marijuana!

[Note: this Friday, the 10th, at 11am ET I will be talking about plant-based CO2 reduction with Bill Sayre on his radio show on WDEV 96.1 FM, 550 AM. The show is streamed on the web at https://wdevradio.com/stream/.]

See also:

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

January 03, 2020

“We’ve got your back” beats “Thank you for your service”

We should never send troops – or diplomats - into harm’s way unless we are willing to defend them. Defending them means both firing back when fired on and preventing attacks in the first place. Defending our troops and diplomats requires disproportionate – not tit-for-tat – response. They are not pawns to be traded-off for pawns on the other side. It is entirely appropriate if killing an American private costs a general his life. General Qassem Soleimani had many American lives on his hands; by his own boasts, he was ready to take more.  It’s fortunate that we were able to end his bloody career with the only apparent collateral damage being a few of his partners in crime.

The America troops in Iraq are there lawfully. Their presence was requested by Iraq (they may be unrequested now by an Iranian-fearing government in Iraq). The US Congress authorized their presence both in an open-ended war against terror resolution in 2001 and in a 2002 resolution for war in Iraq. The troops are funded by annual appropriations passed by Congress.

Iran and Iranian proxies have been steadily testing America’s resolve. They shot down an unarmed drone; Trump decided not to retaliate saying no Americans were harmed. They blew up much of a Saudi refinery; neither Saudi Arabia or the US retaliated. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), nominally Iraqi militias but under the effective control of Iran, have been firing missiles at US bases in Iraq. A little over a week ago, they managed to kill an American contractor and injure several other Americans.

Turned out the redline against harming Americans was not drawn in sand. The US responded with airstrikes which killed 27 members of Kataib Hezbollah, a PMF militia. Interestingly, Congresspeople seemed not to object to this response – just pawns for pawns.

PMF militias then attacked the US embassy in Baghdad, something they wouldn’t have done without the support of Iran and couldn’t have done without the acquiescence of the Iraqi government. An attack on an embassy is the same as an attack on the sovereign territory of the embassy’s owner; it is an act of war. If you are as old as me, you remember that the Iranian regime went unpunished for occupying the American embassy in Tehran and holding American’s hostage. I’m sure Soleimani remembered that.

We reinforced the embassy as we should have. We refrained from shooting more than teargas at the militia storming the gates. Soleimani rushed in from Syria. He was either met or accompanied by Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces. The Pentagon said they were planning an attack on American interest; that’s not very hard to believe even without specific intelligence. Incredibly we knew exact details of the visit including when the convoy would be isolated on an airport road. We acted both to prevent future attacks and to make clear that even high-ranking generals responsible for American deaths are as vulnerable as their troops to our retaliation. It was an opportunity we had to use.  We did.

The President has the authority to protect American troops on a mission approved by Congress; he did that. There was no time to consult with Congress and the possibility of leaks would have endangered the mission, the troops, and the diplomats. He does owe Congress a full report.

The argument that this will make the world more dangerous because it angers the Iranian leadership is absurd; they already hate us; they are already dedicated to our destruction. We have been the “Great Satan” since the days of Jimmy Carter. Hopefully, and it’s only a hope, they will moderate their behavior when our response punishes more than just Iranian surrogate pawns.

We owe it to our troops and our diplomats to view this action and our actions in the coming days in a non-partisan way. Doesn’t matter whether you love Trump or hate him; doesn’t matter how impeachment or the next election is affected; what matters is what’s best for American and what will best protect American lives.

We can withdraw our troops and diplomats from Iraq. That’s what Iran wants but it is a far better alternative then leaving them there and refusing to defend them both reactively and proactively. We cannot let any Iranian “revenge” go unanswered. We must continue disproportionate response when Americans are harmed or threatened anywhere in the world. This is how we say “Thank you for your service!”

January 02, 2020

Undeserved (and Useless) Rebates I Got

I just qualified for over $6000 of rebates which didn’t change my behavior in any way. You are paying me to do what I would’ve done anyway.

My old car had over 100,000 miles and was beginning to require frequent expensive repairs. Time for new wheels.

I decided to look at plug-in electric hybrids (PHEVs), which can run on gas or electricity, for a few reasons:

  1. future cars are going to be almost all electric for automatic driving as much as emission reasons and I like to be an early adopter.
  2. many years ago, I installed lots of solar panels to power a ground-source heat pump; the heat-pump caught fire and burned up and I’m not replacing it because it seems to be a technology dead-end. Now we generate a lot more electricity than we use. Plugging in a car is a good use for the extra kilowatt-hours.
  3. I have too much range-anxiety to go all-electric at the current state of battery technology.

Chose a BMW 530xe with lots of safety gadgets like heads-up display, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, blind-spot radar, and night vision which I both like and find I need more as I age. While we haggled over discounts, floor mats, and trade-ins, the sales lady said: “Don’t forget the rebate.”

“What rebate?” I asked. I knew there is a rebate for pure electric cars; didn’t know that there are also federal, state, and utility rebates for plug-in hybrids. But there are; they are smaller than the rebates for pure electrics but lots of dollars. An all-electric BMW qualifies for a $7500 rebate; my PHEV qualifies for $5836. Frankly, even if the $7500 were appropriate, the amount for my car is ludicrous. If I’m lucky, I’ll use 25% less gas because of my partial use of electricity; but I get almost all the rebate.

The amount of the federal rebate is based on the price of the car; the more luxurious the model, the bigger the rebate I get. That’s backwards, too. The more expensive the car I choose, the less I should be subsidized since I obviously “need” less subsidy to buy a car.

This is a subsidy to the manufacturer, however, since it makes it easier for them to charge a differential for electric cars. Note that Tesla, which has exhausted the federal subsidy available to its buyers, is now actually building a cheaper electric car in order to appeal to a larger market. I would argue that the subsidy may actually be counter-productive because it is a disincentive to the manufacturer to quickly enter the mass-market with an affordable electric car.

There is an income test for the Vermont state rebate and I don’t qualify. Good. If there is a subsidy, it should go those who need it and whose behavior is most likely to be changed by it.

Stowe Electric will rebate $450 ($850 for an all-electric) plus a $250 kicker for moderate income. Don’t blame the utility for this policy; they must satisfy the PUC which has to follow Vermont’s climate goals.

The subsidies don’t end here. To the extent that I buy less gas, I’ll pay less than my share of highway tax to keep the roads usable. I’m also subsidized for the power my solar panels generate even though I’m putting it into my own car.

The more you think it is important to change behavior to avoid human-caused climate change, the more vigilant you should be about inefficient subsidies presenting themselves as a just-do-something panacea. Every proposed subsidy needs to be examined to see who really benefits. Is it mainly the affluent? Is it mainly a manufacturer of a particular product? A project promoter? The early winners in the US from climate-change concerns include ethanol producers (a whole food chain), electric luxury car producers, and utilities which get to increase their rate bases (and therefore their income) by adding expensive power sources and even home appliances to their asset base. Existing subsidies need to be re-examined to see if they are effectively serving their stated purposes.

“OK, Tom,” you say; “enough whining about the fact that federal taxpayers and your fellow Stowe Electric customers are subsidizing your car. You didn’t have to apply for the subsidies if you think they’re wrong!”

Good point. The practical side of me says my taxes are helping to pay for everybody else’s subsidies so I should take my share. In this case, though, we’ll give the subsidies to charity   because I know I would’ve bought the same car regardless and I want to be able to complain with a clear conscience about what I think is a poor use of the people’s money.

[later note: decided to give the money to the Salk Institute for its work in developing plants which sequester CO2 in the soil]

Happy New Year.

See also:

The Ideal Green Solution

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?


October 31, 2019

Time for California to Act Local

Action needed to save lives, homes – and the environment

California’s current climate is extremely hospitable to fire; it’s been that way for thousands of years. The iconic Sequoias actually require fire to release seeds from their cones.

Other California vegetation has also adapted to yearly dry and wet seasons as well as years-long droughts punctuated by torrential rains. The brush in California grows promiscuously when it rains. In the dry season it goes into a dry dormant state and turns brown. In the dormant state it is incredibly flammable. Fires happen in the fall, as they are now, because it is the end (driest part) of the dry season. In the winter of 2017, a long drought ended with heavy rainfall. In the winter of 2019 there was more heavy rain. The good news is that California’s reservoirs got refilled and its aquifers partially recharged. The bad news is that a lot of fuel for wildfire grew during those two years.

All of the above would have been true if California were unsettled or even if no humans existed. But we humans have made the situation much worse – at least for ourselves.  We’ve made three compounding huge mistakes: we’ve allowed power lines that run through flammable areas to become aged and vulnerable; we’ve built new communities where they’re most exposed to fires; and we’ve prematurely extinguished many small fires, which were nature’s way of preventing too much accumulation of fuel. The Camp Fire last year killed 88 people, destroyed more than 18,000 structures, and cost an estimated $15 billion, according to the Center for Climates and Environmental Solutions. It was ignited by a spark from PG&E’s electric grid.

Once this year’s fires are out, it’s time for California to remedy past mistakes.

Upgrade the Damned Grid Now! PG&E, the state’s largest utility, has 81,000 miles of above ground distribution line. Some of that needs to be buried at $3 million or so per mile – ironically much cheaper to do after a fire when there are no structures in the way. Vegetation control is needed wherever overhead lines run through vulnerable areas. Worn out equipment and poles on both transmission and distribution need to be replaced. PG&E admits it is behind on vegetation control. The Public Utility Commission has not imposed any safety fines on them in the last few years – obviously part of the problem. PG&E is saying it will be ten years before they can make the grid safe enough so that they don’t have to shut off power every time the Santa Ana wind blows; somehow they didn’t recognize that problem earlier. Ten years is not acceptable!

But who is going to pay for a fast upgrade?

Californians already pay twice as much for electricity as people in neighboring states. The high rates are because of subsidies which state law requires the utility to pay for renewable power, conversion of homes to electric heat, and electric cars. Declare a moratorium on all subsidies paid by CA electric utilities until the grid is 100% upgraded. PG&E had revenue of $12.7 billion last year. Diverting the half of that now being used for subsides will make over $6 billion available for overdue maintenance without the need for a rate increase. Are you worried about climate change? Remember that the fires last year released as much carbon dioxide as is produced ALL of California’s electricity generation. Think of the exhaust from cars stuck in evacuation traffic jams. And think of all the diesel-powered generators used during blackouts. Mainly think of the people who died in the fires. California must act locally to protect the environment.

The state can bond for fire prevention with the proceeds to be repaid from NOT having to fight as many fires in future years. Insurers with exposure in the area might find it in their interest to help prevent future fires.

No NIMBY! There will be people whose property needs to be used for utility upgrades. They must be fairly compensated. There will be people who don’t like the sight of a new utility tower; they can’t be allowed to slow the reconstruction effort. Permitting for the projects should be fast, fair, and final. No years of appeals after the fact.

Don’t allow new structures in vulnerable areas. California requires solar panels on new housing construction but allows that construction to take place in areas at high risk of fire and without adequate vegetation clearance for fire-proofing. Each night on the news we see sad stories of people who rebuilt after one fire only to be burned out again; that’s as bad as the coastal homes that get rebuilt in the same vulnerable place after each hurricane. As the grid is upgraded, areas can be reopened for development.

Do allow precautionary and controllable burns. The excess fuel which accumulates without them is a danger. There will be less resistance to these necessary burns when there are not structures situated in harm’s way where they shouldn’t be.

Even after a crash effort – let’s say two years, there will still be wildfires in California; that’s the way the local climate is. But the frequency of fires, their impact on people and the environment, and the need for blackouts can all be greatly reduced – if California acts local.

See also California Shows How Not to Deal with Climate Change

October 28, 2019

California Shows How Not to Deal with Climate Change

Its policy has cost hundreds of lives AND damaged the environment

Suppose you were in charge of California and you believed strongly that humans are making the climate hotter. You know that your state is already plagued by droughts and is forest-fire prone. You are willing to have your residents pay twice as much for electricity as residents of neighboring states in order to fight climate change. What would you order the utilities to do with the extra money they collect from ratepayers?

California made the wrong choice. It’s ratepayers do pay twice as much as their neighbors in nearby states; but California chose to spend the extra money on politically popular programs to subsidize renewable energy projects rather than maintaining its aged electrical grid. It chose to subsidize electric cars for affluent people rather than first upgrading the lines that bring power to those cars. It insisted that new homes have solar panels but allowed them to be built in flammable forests which are now being set ablaze by over-burdened and under-maintained utility lines.

California utilities are under a mandate to get a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020 and 60% by 2030. The utilities are also under mandates to subsidize rooftop solar, build electric charging stations, and subsidize electric cars.  They apparently had no mandate to make their network safe and protect the environment from wildfires. They spent ratepayer money where the state told them to spend it.

Last year’s wildfires in California released as much carbon dioxide as is emitted in a year generating electricity in the state, according to the US Geological Survey. Hundreds of people died in these fires. The destruction of communities was enormous. This year the grid is still apparently sparking fires despite massive precautionary shutdowns by the utilities. People with electric vehicles can’t charge them so they can’t follow evacuation orders. Gasoline cars are idling in huge evacuation traffic jams. When the grid shuts down, hospitals and businesses fire up diesel generators. California spent the extra revenue to become LESS green.

California Governor Newsome says:  “It’s about dog-eat-dog capitalism meeting climate change. It’s about corporate greed meeting climate change. It’s about decades of mismanagement.”  But the utilities are regulated by the state Public Utility Commission. According to The WSJ, PG&E, which is bankrupt from last year’s fires and which is responsible for most of this year’s blackouts, received no safety fines from the PUC over the last several years. I have no idea how competent the utility management is; but the PUC should know. It’s hard to fault management for following state law and regulation; they can be faulted for not being brave enough to forcibly point out the lethal dangers in deferred grid maintenance and new housing development without new infrastructure to support it.

“We have to do something,” is what many climate change activists, especially the children, like to say. But what we do and in what order is critically important. Money that’s allocated to one project is implicitly denied to another. When there is a clear and present danger – for example 100-year-old power lines through dry timber, safety is the first priority. Building new electrical homes and buying electrical cars before updating the grid to deliver electricity safely turned out to be both dangerous and bad for the environment.

I don’t think it’s what Gov. Newsome meant but the capitalist beneficiaries of the politically correct green policies were the renewable energy industry. PG&E is bankrupt. The ratepayers aren’t getting reliable electricity; people are dying; and carbon emissions are increased. The more important the emergency, the more important it is to think before acting.

See also:      Time for California to Act Local

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

A Convenient Urgency

October 02, 2019

What Should We Do About the Threat of Climate Change?

Short answer: Do things which will be positive regardless of how much human activity is contributing to the danger of rapid change. Here are some examples:

Develop plant species which thrive in and use increased levels of CO2 and add carbon to the soil. Since we have increased atmospheric CO2, we should use it to economic and environmental advantage. All green plants use CO2 as a fuel so more fuel means more growth. Greenhouses often triple the amount of CO2 in their facilities to double plant growth. More carboniferous soil means less need for fertilizer and irrigation. Throughout botanical history, plants have adapted to the then current CO2 level. We can hasten this adaption through selective breeding. Since many crops are now grown from annually  distributed seed, we can start removing and using the “excess” CO2 almost immediately. See The Ideal Green Solution for how the Salk Institute is developing plants that do a better job of sequestering CO.

Continue the successful replacement of coal with natural gas. The US, which never signed the Kyoto treaty, has nevertheless exceeded its Kyoto goals for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and leads the world in that respect. This happened not out of virtue but from the simple fact that fracking and horizonal drilling have made natural gas cheaper than coal. The US wins twice since our energy cost of manufacture goes down and CO2 is reduced by half. Replacing propane and oil with natural gas reduces CO2 by 26% and also cuts cost. Yes, natural gas is a fossil fuel, but it is also the most effective way to reduce CO2 in the short-term that we have and its pays for itself. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. [note: I founded a company which trucks natural gas, so I do have an interest in its use.] We do want to continue to reduce the release of fugitive methane in natural gas extraction and transportation and, I think, rule out flaring natural gas as part of the oil-drilling process. Methane is a GHG although most of its anthropogenic source is agriculture and its presence in the atmosphere is not increasing.

Build power lines, at least in the Northeast, south from cheap, clean Canadian hydro sources. This is not a call for subsidy. Private money is available to build these. Permitting sanity is a prerequisite, however, or these will be blocked forever

Reform our permitting process. No matter whether we choose to build more wind turbines, more solar farms, more transmission lines to bring hydro or renewable power to where it’s needed, pipelines so natural gas can replace coal and oil, nuclear plants, or some combination of the above, we can’t get these projects done in real-time. In the US any major project takes more than twenty years just for permitting and appeals. A combination of NIMBY, opposing commercial interests, and anti-growth people can be formed to delay any project almost indefinitely with judicial appeals and illegal but tolerated obstruction. All affected parties should get their say during permitting; once a permit is granted, anyone who causes delay should pay for the cost of that delay. If someone stops construction with an appeal, he or she should post bond for the cost of the appeal. Of course. if the appeal is successful, then the appellant should not be liable for the cost.

 If we find ourselves on a “wartime” footing because of a climate emergency, we’ll run roughshod over objections as happens during war. Better to reform the process now, avoid a warlike emergency later.

Start putting existing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain and pre-permit one or two of the newer designs for safe nuclear power plants. Progress in nuclear energy hasn’t stopped just because we’ve virtually stopped building plants. New designs cannot melt down even if they lose power. The siting mistakes in Japan are well understood. We may or may not need nuclear in the US, but we should be prepared to build safely and quickly.

Continue basic research on solar, wind, energy storage and clean coal. But let the deployment of each of them and traditional energy sources stand on its own economically without subsidy or mandates

Realize that future worldwide emissions will be governed by what people moving from poverty to affluence do. We are not going to convince them they don’t have the same right to warm (or cool) houses that we do, shouldn’t eat meat as we do, or drive cars like ours. They want to cut their forests down for building lots and farm land just like we have. We are not willing to size down to energy poverty and regrow our primal forests although we can be less profligate; we must use the margin and capital our affluence gives us to help them enjoy affluence within available resources. We won’t be able to mandate their avoidance of carboniferous fuels; we may be able to invent ways in which that we can all be affluent on the same planet (see above for some suggestions). BTW, we are not trapped in a Malthusian nightmare of exponentially increasing population; escape from poverty is cutting birth rates. World population is projected to be stable by 2100. We don’t need an infinite growth in resource availability, just enough to bring the rest of the world up to our standard of living. The development of carbon-gobbling plants and increased use of natural gas both aid progress from poverty and help prevent the use of more coal for energy during that progress.

Don’t panic. Panic makes for bad decision making. Here’s a few examples:

  • The adoption of mandates for corny ethanol which turns out, all in, to have a worse carbon footprint than oil, costs more, and ruins small engines.
  • Germany shuttering of nuclear power after Fukushima which has caused Germany’s carbon footprint to grow despite its huge investment in renewables.
  • European incentives for diesels which get better gas mileage than gasoline-powered vehicles only to find that the nitrous oxide emitted was even worse for the atmosphere than the CO2 Now Europe is banning diesel cars.
  • Incentives for rich people to buy Teslas, BMWs and other high-end electric cars.

You don’t have to be very cynical to understand that people use panic to get you to do things which benefit them and which you might not do if you had time to think about it.

Debate the causes of climate change as well as possible strategies for avoidance and/or remediation. Even if there were scientific unanimity that human emissions of greenhouse gasses is causing rapid warming, there is no consensus on whether it will become irreversible, how long we have to avoid catastrophic effects, or even which strategies give the best return on resources spent. Nor do we know how much we are going to have to spend on mitigation like moving people from newly uninhabitable places to newly habitable ones. If we are concerned about a hundred-year time frame, burning wood makes sense assuming the trees are replanted. If we’re looking at ten years to climate Armageddon, burning wood is catastrophic because it emits more carbon dioxide than coal per BTU or kWh of energy produced. We need healthy debate or ill-thought-out measures are likely to cause more harm than good and cause the existential crisis they were meant to prevent.

As for the scientific consensus, it changes over time as facts emerge. For example, in 2001 the UN panel of experts predicted twice the amount of global warming between 1999 and 2020 than has actually happened. They have quietly lowered their predictions of the rate of warming by about half but also loudly lowered the threshold of warming they consider dangerous from 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 2.7 above the preindustrial baseline. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong now; does mean that no one fully understands the chaotic complex dynamics of sea, air, land, and biosphere.

Measure! Measure! Measure! No matter which strategies we adopt to reduce the possibility of runaway climate change, we must know if we’re being effective. We know accurately enough how much solar energy is reaching the earth, but we don’t know how much is being radiated back into space. That measurement is harder because it varies from place to place. Deploying a fleet of already developed RAVAN CubeSats (tiny satellites with carbon nanotubes to measure radiation accurately) is one way to do this essential measurement.

Debate is healthy and needn’t mean inaction. As you can see above, there is plenty we can be doing which will be beneficial no matter how much of a contributor to climate change we eventually discover anthropogenic sources to be.

More on climate at blog.tomevslin.com/global_warming/.

See also:

The Ideal Green Solution

September 23, 2019

A Convenient Urgency

“’We need to create fear!’ That’s what Al Gore said to me at the start of our first conversation about how to teach climate change… Al Gore asked me to help him… to show a worst-case future impact of a continued increase in CO2 emissions.”

The quote above is from Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Rosling says he considers Al Gore a hero (nb. I don’t).  “I agreed with him completely that swift action on change was needed, and I was excited at the thought of collaborating with him.” However, Rosling decided not to work with Gore.

“I don’t like fear.” He cites two incidences where his own fear led him to mistakes. One mistake caused many deaths. “Fear and urgency make for stupid, drastic decisions with unpredictable side effects. Climate change is too important for that. It needs systematic analysis, thought- through decisions, incremental actions, and careful evaluation.

“And I don’t like exaggeration. Exaggeration undermines the credibility of well-founded data: in this case data showing that climate change is real…. Exaggeration, once discovered, makes people tune out altogether.”

“I insisted that I would never show the worst-case line without showing the probable and the best-case lines as well. Picking only the worst-case scenario and – worse – continuing the line beyond the scientifically based predictions would fall far outside Gapminder’s mission to help people understand the basic facts. [nb. Gapminder is an organization Rosling founded which uses great bubble graphics to illustrate complex data]. It would be using our credibility to make a call for action. Al Gore continued to press his case for fearful animated bubbles beyond the expert forecasts… until I finally closed the conversation down. ‘Mr. Vice President. No numbers, no bubbles.’…

“… the future is always uncertain to some degree. And whenever we talk about the future we should be open and clear about the level of uncertainty involved. We should not pick the most dramatic estimates and show a worst-case scenario as if it were certain… We should ideally show a mid-forecast, and also a range of alternative possibilities from best to worse… This protects our reputations and means we never give people a reason to stop listening.”

“…When people tell me we must act now, it makes me hesitate. In most cases, they are just trying to stop me from thinking clearly.”

Me too! “You must act now” were probably the first words out of the mouth of the first huckster on the planet. In the climate field it has led to the scam of corny ethanol, European cities banning the diesels they just gave people 20 years of incentives to buy (for climate reasons in both cases), and subsidies for rich people to buy electric cars they probably would have bought anyway (just a few examples). That’s not to say that all action to reduce energy consumptions and emissions is bad; it’s just to say we shouldn’t be panicked into anything ever.

If you are an advocate for climate action, you don’t want to sound like a huckster. People turn off when they think they’re being conned. You also, according to both Rosling and me, don’t want to fall in love with your own worst-case assumptions. That makes it impossible for you to join in the compromises which just might solve the problem you’re trying to solve.

Rosling concludes “Climate change is way too important a global risk to be ignored or denied… But it is also way too important to be left to sketch worst-case scenarios and doomsday prophets [nb. and marching children].

“When you are called to action, sometimes the most useful action you can take is to improve the data.”

For more on Factfulness, see:

Facts are Stranger than Fiction

Factfulness: Malthus is Wrong – Fortunately

Also see:

“There Are No Facts About the Future”

September 16, 2019

Factfulness: Malthus is Wrong – Fortunately

Thomas Robert Malthus wrote in 1798 that any increase in food supply would lead to increased population but that the increased population would decrease the food supply per person so there would be no benefit to increasing the food supply. The food supply cannot be expanded infinitely so eventual starvation is inevitable. In various guises this Malthusian view of the world informs much of current thinking even though the date of Armageddon keeps getting pushed back.

Fortunately, according to Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Malthus is wrong. Many causes of infant mortality have been eliminated in most of the world. According to Malthus, the population in those places should be exploding. According to Rosling and UN demographers, the exact opposite is happening. The higher the percentage of children who survive, the slower the population grows. The UN predicts the world population will be stable by 2100.

The reason for this apparent contradiction is the behavior of women when birth control (which didn’t exist in Malthus’ day) is available and when most of their children survive. Women who are confident that their children will survive have less children. Even though most of the world is not affluent, it is no longer at the lowest level of poverty. In most of the world public health, mainly clean water and vaccination, has drastically reduced child mortality. In that same most of the world, despite a few counter examples, women get almost as much schooling as men and both genders get more schooling than they used to. Basic nutrition is available.

The poorest 10% of families in the world average five children per woman; the remaining 90% average just two children. In that happier 90% of the world, population growth is limited by choice, not by death as it is the remaining 10%. Isn’t that a great sentence to be able to write? BTW, according to Rosling, improvement is continuing – especially in Africa. Focus is needed on the remaining 10%, of course, but progress is happening almost everywhere.

Malthus saw progress as impossible because of a negative feedback loop – more survival meant more people and exhaustion of limited resources. Progress is very possible when there is a positive feedback loop; higher survival rates mean slower population growth and eventually a stable population. That’s huge.

The implication of coming stable population is enormous. Assuming population will continue to grow exponentially is like assuming we’re on a ship sailing towards the edge of the sea: we’ve got to turn around no matter how difficult that is or we’ll die. Knowing that population will stabilize is like discovering that there is land beyond the horizon: we must survive until we get there, of course; but we can maintain our course. Most of our public discussion of pending food shortages or climate change assume the apocalyptic Malthusian view. Think how many more options we have knowing that view is false.

There’s still a resource problem, however. Most of the world has a low birthrate and, partly as a consequence, affluence is increasing quickly. Those who are leaving poverty behind want to have as many cars, as much meat, as big houses, and as much tillable land as the minority who’ve already reached affluence. The demand on resources is increasing much faster than population. Many, including Rosling, believe that the world will become very inhospitable for humans if everyone is responsible for as much greenhouse gas emissions as rich people are responsible for today. He believes that it is unreasonable to solve this problem by denying affluence to those who don’t have it and that we affluent must reduce our resource use.

I’m more confident than he is that we can solve the equation by making more resources available and using available resources more efficiently rather than degrading our own lifestyles; but, either way, since population is becoming stable, the problem can be solved. Fortunately Malthus was wrong!

For more on Factfulness see:


A Convenient Urgency

Facts are Stranger than Fiction

Also see:

“There Are No Facts About the Future”

September 10, 2019

Facts are Stranger than Fiction

Two surprises:

  1. The world is getting better rapidly in almost every way
  2. A stubborn old man’s preconceptions can be blown away repeatedly

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling has glowing cover blurbs from both Bill and Melinda Gates. Bill says it is “one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Clearly it influences the good work of their foundation.

I’m the stubborn old man whose preconceptions the book blew away; sometimes could only read a few pages at a time and then had to pause to reconstruct my worldview.

Please take the whole quiz (copied from the book) below without reading beyond for the answers:

  1. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has…
    1. Almost doubled
    2. Remained more or less the same
    3. Almost halved
  2. How did the number of deaths per year from natural disasters change over the last hundred years?
    1. More than doubled
    2. Remained about the same
    3. Decreased to less than half
  3. How many of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?
    1. 20 percent
    2. 50 percent
    3. 80 percent
  4. Worldwide, 30-year-old men have spent ten years in school, on average. How many years have women of the same age spent in school?
    1. 9 years
    2. 6 years
    3. 3 years
  5. There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. How many children will there be in 2100, according to the United Nations?
    1. 4 billion
    2. 3 billion
    3. 2 billion



  1. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has almost halved.
  2. The absolute number of deaths from natural disasters has almost halved in the last hundred years despite the fact that population including population in vulnerable areas has vastly increased. Modern communication, transport, and other technology has made a huge difference in disaster survival.
  3. 80 percent of the 1-year-olds in the world have been vaccinated against some disease. Public health matters.
  4. Worldwide women average 9 years of school, only one less than men. Afghanistan is an outlier.
  5. There will be the same number of children in 2100 as there are today according to UN demographic studies and projections. The implication is that the world’s population will have stabilized by then at about 11 billion people; there are 7 billion now. Why? Educated women not living in extreme poverty whose children have a high survival rate have many less children than uneducated women in extreme poverty whose children mostly die. See the answers to questions 2, 3, and 4. The poorest 10% of families in the world average five children per woman; the remaining 90% average just two children.

In each case, as you’ve seen, the answer was the most optimistic. I got them all wrong. If you got any right, you did very well. In almost every group of test-takers, people get the answers wrong more than they would if they just answered randomly. In general the higher their educational level, the MORE answers people get wrong, according to Dr. Rosling. We’re programmed to be wrong! We’re programmed to think the world is worse than it is!

Why? For reasons which served us well during most of our evolution, we have over-dramatic minds for today’s world which is more nuanced than whether the rustle in the weeds means a lion is likely to pounce. We have what Rosling calls a gap instinct; we want everything to be binary. “Journalists know this. They set up their narratives as conflicts between two opposing peoples, views, or groups. They prefer stories of extreme poverty and billionaires to stories about the vast majority of people slowly dragging themselves toward better lives…. If you look at the news or click on a lobby group’s website this evening, you will probably notice stories about the conflict between two groups or phrases like ‘the increasing gap.’”

Mind the gap! Most of the world lives between the two extremes.

Does it matter that we have an unrealistically negative view of the world? After all, there are problems which need to be solved and  negativity makes us concentrate on them. Most of Factfulness is anecdotes showing why it does matter that we have facts before we act.

Just one story here but more in blogs to come.

When Rosling was a young public health doctor in Mozambique, he worked in a hospital to which mothers brought their dying children; they saved about 95% of them. Rosling did some math (factfulness) and realized that the hospital, which most people couldn’t reach before it was too late, and his work in it were a waste of time and money despite the babies saved. 98.7% of the babies dying in the region he worked never made it to the hospital. The same money put into public health out in the community – mainly clean water and vaccination – would save many, many more lives. He changed his career.

Why do hospitals get built and staffed in areas of extreme poverty where only a very few people will ever be able to reach them when the same resources would be better spent on community public health? Part of the reason is that politicians and NGOs like to point to buildings and take donors and the press to see them. There’s nothing photogenic about someone digging a ditch to take the effluent from the latrines away from the drinking water supply. Decisions like this need to be fact-based but the facts are tedious and dry and don’t satisfy either our penchant for drama or our gap instinct.

Factfulness, is a must read for anyone concerned about public policy. You won’t agree with all of it; my worldview’s been changed by what I’ve learned.

September 03, 2019

Negotiators Can’t (Appear to Be) Afraid of No Deal

Imagine if the teachers’ union started negotiations with your school board saying: “a strike is unthinkable.” That would be a signal to the board that they could impose any terms they wanted without worrying about the teachers’ reaction. Same thing would be true in reverse. A board could walk all over a union which vowed not to strike (unless there is an arbitration clause).

When we were in London recently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being excoriated for saying that, if necessary, there would be a no-deal Brexit. If he said that the UK would stay in the EU and UK failed to agreed to a deal, he would be giving the EU complete control of the negotiation. Immediately after becoming PM, he set the civil service to work preparing for a no-deal breakup. Doesn’t means he wants no deal, but he must convince Europe that he is ready to leave that way if necessary in order for there to be any chance that the EU will agree to a deal acceptable to him. It doesn’t hurt his negotiating position if Europe suspects he really wants an excuse to break away with no deal.

President Trump is in the same position in negotiations with China. Sure, a trade war and escalating tariffs are bad for everyone. But, since the status quo in trade favors China, they have no inducement to negotiate unless they believe we are willing to take our share of the mutual pain of tariffs. A demonstration probably was necessary. Could it all end badly? Sure, but a negotiator can’t afford to be afraid of no deal. Trump says we’d be better off with high mutual tariffs than the current imbalance of trade and theft of intellectual property by China. Whether he’s right or wrong or means it or not, he must act as if he believes that to get a good deal.

In this case China has more to lose than we do because they sell more to us than we do to them. Still, Chinese President Xi is taking pains not to appear to be afraid of no deal either. Note that both heads of state are being careful not to demean the other. That’s a good sign that each thinks a deal is possible and doesn’t want to sabotage it.

When Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were about to negotiate the Intermediate Range Nuclear Weapons Treaty, Vermont Governor Dick Snelling, for whom I then worked as Transportation Secretary, had some advice for Reagan. Since Reagan wasn’t asking Snelling for advice, he gave it to me instead: “when negotiating, it’s a good idea to let your opponent think you’re a little crazy.” Particularly important when failed negotiation can lead to something as unthinkable as nuclear war. Only a crazy person wouldn’t fear that outcome.

It’s hard to feel sorry for Donald Trump or Boris Johnson personally, but negotiating when you’re not leader for life has its disadvantages. No matter how convincing a tough guy you are, your opponents will be tempted to wait you out if they think they’ll get a better deal from your successor. Trump’s would-be Democrat opponents have plenty to criticize him for without signaling that they might declare unilateral disarmament with respect to tariffs if elected. That’s why we used to say “politics ends at the water’s edge.”

Both Johnson and Trump do understand that they can’t be afraid of no deal.

August 29, 2019

“There Are No Facts About the Future”

This wonderful quote comes from Don Swanson, scientist emeritus at the United States Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory as he speculates about the future of the lava lake which has just disappeared from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano. This post is about science, however, not volcanoes.

“The Science is Settled.” We hear that all the time. However, the science of the future can never be settled until the future has become the past. Let’s look at some examples,

The Science of the MMR Vaccine

We can say that “the science is settled” about the effectiveness of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine because it has a history. From the website of the Centers for Disease Control:

“Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of these, approximately 500,000 cases were reported each year to CDC; of these, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles. Since then, widespread use of measles virus-containing vaccine has led to a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases compared with the pre-vaccine era.”

What about safety? There is a concern that the MMR vaccine causes autism; this could’ve started because the first signs of autism usually happen at about the same age as vaccine is administered. Facts from the past to the rescue: the vaccine has been in use for a long time; there are probably more studies of its link to autism than were needed. There is no link. The science is settled. I think this vaccine along with several others should be mandatory.

However, extravagant claims set off the BS alarms even in reasonable people. No vaccine is perfectly safe. Some people are allergic to every vaccine. People with compromised immune systems should not usually be vaccinated. A septic needle can cause disease no matter what its payload.  History tells us that the risk of NOT taking the MMR vaccine is much worse than the risk of taking it, unless you are trying to freeload on the fact that everyone else is vaccinated. We must make the vaccine mandatory to avoid freeloaders putting other people at risk. Our claims must be credible to convince the public to agree to make something as intrusive as a shot mandatory. If we misuse the phrase “the science is settled”, we reduce faith in scientific evidence.

The Science of Planetary Motion and Relativity

Isaac Newton published his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. It was a compendium of theories about motion and gravity. It upset the “settled science” of its time. Edmond Halley used Newton’s theory to predict the comet later named after him would reappear in 1758. He wasn’t alive to see it, but the accuracy of this prediction helped to make Newton’s laws of gravity “settled science”. Theories usually can’t actually be proven although they can be disproven. If the comet had come back on a different schedule, it would have cast severe doubt on Newton’s theories. Many predictions are made with Newton’s laws and they work – except when they don’t.

Newton’s Laws are based on observations of the universe as we usually see it. They are useful for describing that universe and predicting its behavior. In 1916 Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity which asserted that the universe is not as Newton saw it. This theory wasn’t accepted until a spectacular prediction he made that light rays are bent by gravity was verified during the solar eclipse of 1919 (and many times afterwards). The verification made Einstein a cultural phenomenon because he not only predicted that the light waves would curve but by how much. General relativity became settled science by making a series of predictions and having none of them falsified.  It is useful in astronomy, electronics, navigation – lots of stuff we do.

Except, to Einstein’s dismay, relativity doesn’t work at the quantum level. The settled science of one era becomes just an approximation (or a mistake) as we make finer observations.

The Science of Evolution

Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species was anything but settled science when he first published it. Supporting it was very bad for your ecclesiastical or academic career. Implicitly, the theory predicts that the fossil record (facts from the past) will show a progression of species. A species in this context are generally defined as a population of animals which cannot interbreed with members of a different species. The fact that selective breeding can produce variations within a species was already well known and did not demonstrate that new species could arise without divine intervention.

In general the fossil record does include old species which have since disappeared and new species similar to them which have appeared later. What the fossil record does not show clearly are the transitional creatures. Darwin imagined evolution as steady continuous process. But then why do there appear to be clean breaks between species in the fossils we’ve found? This questioning was good for the theory of evolution. It led to a new hypothesis that evolution consists of periods of relative stability followed by a very fast evolution to a new stasis. This is called punctuated equilibrium and is consistent with the geological finding that catastrophes are often abrupt – including climate change. In populations which are well adapted to their current environment, a random mutation is much less likely to be helpful than in an environment which has suddenly changed. If species change is abrupt in response to environmental change, then we’d expect to find very few transitional creatures. Only a tiny part of any population survives as a fossil. Questioning Darwin’s view of evolution led to an improved theory that better comported with the facts of the past.

Since Darwin we have discovered genes as the mechanism of evolution (he didn’t know about genes). We know how genes mutate. We can even force them to mutate ourselves. We can create new species (scary thought). The general theory of how species evolve is considered “settled science”. We don’t need divine intervention to get new species (although we can’t prove divine intervention didn’t happen). But there are exceptions to evolution as Darwin saw it besides its punctuated nature. Turns out genes can be swapped between species outside a laboratory, for example. Even though I am convinced that species evolve for natural reasons and will continue to evolve, I know that evolutionary theory will continual to evolve as well. The science of complex events is never quite settled. Which brings us to…

The Science of Climate Change

What’s “settled”? Climate changes; always has and would be surprising if it stopped – even if every well-intended high schooler in the US goes on strike. It’s gotten a lot warmer since the glaciers began to melt and the sea has risen as the ice melted. You can’t walk from Siberia to Alaska or Norway to Scotland any more. This warming actually peaked about 7000 years ago and started a gentle decline which reached its minimum about 200 years ago (see Marcott et al). Temperatures have been generally rising since then and we are near but not at the 7000-year-old peak. These are facts about the past that are reasonably well established, although there is some room for dispute around exact interpretation of the circumstantial evidence and whether there has been warming in the last decade or so.

What is not known, no matter how inconvenient our lack of knowledge, is what is going to happen next with the climate. Since we don’t fully understand what made climate change in the past, it is hubris to say we know how it will change in the future. For example, we do know (fact from the past), that rising temperatures were accompanied by rising atmospheric CO2 levels. We also know that rising temperatures cause CO2 to be released from formerly frozen soil AND that, all things being equal (which they never are) more CO2 in the atmosphere will cause the earth to retain more solar heat. Did the increased CO2 levels cause the warming? Did the warming increase the CO2 levels? Or are both true, which is certainly possible. If both are true, there would be a feedback loop in which the earth would continue to heat up. This is the nightmare that many fear from current climate change. It’s not an impossible scenario.

There is a wealth of computer models which predict this nightmare; the UN predictions are based on them. But, unless there are bugs in the computer code, models written with the same assumptions will produce the same results; so having computers vote is not science. We won’t know if the assumptions are correct until the predictions they make, like Einstein’s predictions from relativity, actually come true (and even then it could be coincidence or only partly cause and effect). If we wait to see if the predictions are falsified, many say, it may be too late for us to act to reduce anthropogenic (man-made) emissions of greenhouse gasses, particularly if there is a tipping point after which the heating cycle is runaway.

According to “The Holocene temperature conundrum”  published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which has been peer-reviewed and written by properly credentialed scientists, the most cited models predict that temperatures would have continued increasing 7000 years ago because of increasing greenhouse gasses and other feedback loops; but temperatures decreased. Why? Maybe there’s a good reason which doesn’t apply any more for the divergence between prediction and fact. Maybe the models are wrong.

There is a recent article in Nature in which respectable scientists say that variations in solar activity account for most climate change on earth and they cite correlations between solar magnetic cycles and earthly temperatures. Are they right? We don’t know. They also make predictions, but fortunately their predictions are for the very near-term future. They say a short-term cooling trend should start in 2020 and continue until 2035. We’ll see very quickly if they are right. But, even if they’re right, it’s not reassuring. They then predict that temperatures will keep rising, with small respites, until 2600. The difference between their prediction and the politically correct consensus that climate is mainly forced by anthropogenic activity is that, if the solar-cycle people are right, we’re not going to change the temperature no matter how many Teslas we buy; we’ll have to start mitigating the damage by moving out of flood zones and farming newly-thawed soil.

Since the threat of climate change, whether preventable or not, is existential, we need to understand climate much better than we do. Understanding is not reached by propagandizing, name-calling, and sensationalism. Fortunately modern technology CAN give us much better understanding of whether and how the earth is warming and the feedback loops involved. One thing we need is a fleet of mini-satellites measuring how much radiation is reaching the earth from the sun and how much is leaving. This data won’t tell us exactly how the earth’s complex systems will react to more or less net solar radiation retained but it will help us much better understand the effect of greenhouse gasses and how action we might take will affect the energy budget. It will indicate whether the earth quickly radiates extra heat away and how much it is retaining. Prototypes of these satellites exist.  Why we don’t have a moonshot program to perfect and launch them is beyond me. We can gather facts about the present.

Perhaps politicians on both sides of the climate issue (as if it had sides in anything but the political realm) are afraid of answers from anywhere but twitter. Perhaps we’d rather just argue with each other and call each other names like alarmist and skeptic. We need facts. Claims that “the science is settled” are not helpful. If the science of climate is “settled”, no more study is needed. There is nothing that needs further study more than climatology.

More on evolution at https://blog.tomevslin.com/evolution/

More on climate at https://blog.tomevslin.com/global_warming/

August 14, 2019

The US Should NOT Lead the Effort to Protect the Straits of Hormuz

Thanks to fracking, we don’t have to.

Back in 1987 (Ronald Reagan was President) the US was dependent on Mideast oil shipped through the Straits of Hormuz. Iran threatened shipping through the Straits, as it is doing today. The motive then was to force oil shippers like Saudi Arabia and oil importers like the US to support Iran in its war with Iraq. In order to protect our oil supply, the US allowed Kuwaiti oil tankers to “reflag” as American so the US Navy could protect them.

In April of 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts hit a mine while on escort duty. She nearly sank although there was no loss of life. The US gathered evidence that the mine was Iranian. On April 18th the US navy attacked the Iranian navy and offshore oil platforms. According to Wikipedia: “By the end of the operation, American Marines, ships and aircraft had destroyed Iranian naval and intelligence facilities on two inoperable oil platforms in the Persian Gulf, and sank at least three armed Iranian speedboats, one Iranian frigate and one fast attack gunboat. One other Iranian frigate was damaged in the battle.” The Iranian attacks on shipping stopped. The US oil supply - and that of Europe, China, Australia, and Japan – was secure.

That was then; this is now. Some things haven’t changed. The Iranians are once again threatening and actually attacking ships sailing through Hormuz. Saudi Arabia and Iraq need to sell the oil that passes through the Straits. Europe, China, Japan, and Australia still need that oil. The US is leading the effort to protect shipping.

But one thing has changed. The US is nearly self-sufficient in oil thanks to the technological advances of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. We don’t need the oil that comes through the Gulf.

No one is following the US-led effort to patrol the Straits except the UK and Australia. Germany and France have openly declined to participate. So why are we leading an effort which is not supported by most of its beneficiaries? Why don’t we just limit our protection to American ships (no reflagging this time) and let those who need to sell the oil and those who need to buy it protect their own supply line? It’s uncharacteristic of President Trump to put the rest of the world first or allow other nations to free-ride; but that’s what he seems to be doing. He may be afraid that Iran will blackmail oil-starved nations into supporting Iran against the US. He may not want the world price of oil to increase (as it will if the Straits are closed) with an election coming up. But I think he’s wrong to make us the leader of the protection effort.

We now produce enough oil and natural gas to share it (at a price) with our allies. We might better stiffen their backbones by building more port facilities and pipelines to our coast so we can export more relatively low-priced American fuel.  We are considering letting Australia buy from our strategic oil reserve. Shipping more US liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe also helps Europe reduce its dangerous dependency on Russia’s Gazprom. Taking market share from Saudi Arabia would not only be good for the US economy, it will also reduce the money flow from that kingdom to Islamic militants.

This discussion should not be confused with the issue of how quickly the world reduces the use of fossil fuels. The question is do we risk American lives and spend American money to help the Gulf states export oil to the world when energy independence has given us a choice. I think the answer is “no”.

August 05, 2019

Stopping Climate Change Would Be an Unnatural Act

But Climate Change IS an Existential Issue

Is the climate changing? Yes, of course. 20,000 years ago there was a mile of ice over the top of 4,000 foot Mt. Mansfield in Vermont. Long before that, there was no ice at the earth’s poles. This cycle has repeated many times. Change is what climate does.

Are the oceans rising? Until about 12,000 years ago, the seas were so low that you could walk on dry land from Siberia to Alaska, from Europe to Great Britain, and from Asia to Australia. Many species including ours crossed these land bridges until they were submerged under rising seas. (read all about land bridges on Wikipedia)

The children – and even adults who should know better – who are demanding that climate change be stopped are bound to be disappointed. The belief that climate only changes because of what we humans do is as much climate change denial as claiming that the climate isn’t changing at all. BTW, an unchanging climate was the “scientific consensus” until the early 1800s, despite the inconvenient fact of marine fossils on top of mountains which da Vinci had noted.

Is the earth warming now? Yesterday I hear an announcer on BBC say that this past July was the hottest the earth has ever known. The story which followed the breathless announcement was more accurate ”the warmest since record keeping began…” When did record keeping begin? About two hundred years ago in some places. That’s a blink of the eye to climate. There was a “little ice age” starting at about 1300. Temperatures were at a 4000-years MINIMUM in about 1600 before they started to rise again. By 1850 temperatures had recovered to their level before the little ice age. (We know this not from records people kept but from fossil and geological evidence). Since then temperatures have generally resumed rising in their usual saw-toothed pattern.

If temperatures are continuing to rise from the big ice age minimum 35,000 years ago, we would expect new high records to be set more often than new low records. In scientific terms, the evidence is not inconsistent with continuing global warming. On the other hand, the evidence is also not inconsistent with the theory of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming.

To add to the ambiguity, the theory that whatever caused the ice age to end (we really don’t know what that was) is still warming the earth and the theory that green house gas emissions are accelerating warming are not mutually incompatible. Both can be true at the same time.

NASA makes a circumstantial case for anthropogenic forcing of warming: “As the Earth moved out of ice ages over the past million years, the global temperature rose a total of 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over about 5,000 years. In the past century alone, the temperature has climbed 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.”

Unfortunately for those of us who crave certainty, the circumstantial case is scarcely conclusive. Look at the graph below (technical detail here).

Halocene climate chnage

Notice that no matter what measure you use (different color lines), temperature doesn’t go up and down smoothly; therefor it doesn’t make sense to compare the rate of increase in the last century to the average rate of increase. It should be compared to other periods of rapid increase. There were many other century-long spikes up and spikes down. In this context the slope of the up spike in the last century doesn’t seem out-of-scale. In other words, the fast rate of recent warming is not inconsistent with the theory that past “natural” trends are responsible for what we’re observing now. On the other hand (what NASA should’ve said to be more scientific), the last century’s rapid temperature rise coinciding with a rise in greenhouse gasses is not incompatible with the theory of anthropogenic forcing.

Unfortunately, although there are many theories, there is no conclusive evidence (or even a “scientific consensus”) for why the earth’s temperature was oscillating long before the first man lit the first anthropogenic fire. Without understanding the magnitude of the natural contribution to climate change, we simply don’t know our own contribution to current change. Science is not done by consensus; breakthroughs usually struggle against the fashionable consensus.  The consensus is especially suspect at a time when our universities are enmeshed in political correctness.  Models of the future are interesting but prove nothing except that people can write computer programs which reflect their own biases.

Since anthropogenic activity may be and may continue to be a major cause of warming and because rapid warming means rapid sea level rise (almost certainly true), why shouldn’t we have an all-out effort for decarbonization? I thought you’d never ask.

There are four major possibilities for causes and effects of climate change:

  • the speed of temperature increase is largely dependent on the amount of greenhouse gasses (ghg) we put in the atmosphere (minus what plants can absorb), AND the increase will slow or stop if ghg emissions are drastically reduced;
  • the speed of temperature increase is largely dependent on the amount of ghg we put in the atmosphere (minus what plants can absorb) ,BUT the level of ghg emissions is already so high that we’re doomed to rising temperatures even if we cut emissions drastically;
  • the speed of temperature increase is largely dependent on natural causes, and the warming cycle will continue for a long time no matter what we do;
  • the speed of temperature increase is largely dependent on natural causes; but this warming cycle is almost over so there’s nothing to worry about.

If #1 is mainly true (and it may be), we do need a real decarbonization effort. Of course that means not just virtue-signaling like carbon offsets but also rapid development of carbon-free energy sources like nuclear and hydro as well as wind (no matter who’s ridgeline or sea-view it’s on), solar, and energy storage. Very, very expensive, not without trade-offs, but, if it’s needed…

If #2 or #3 is true, our resources must go to mitigating the effect of changing temperatures and rising sea levels and preparing for changing agriculture and mass migrations. Newly thawed regions must become both habitable and productive. Ironically cheap fossil fuels help provide resources for this effort. What’s indubitably true is that too many people live dangerously close to the sea even if it only rises during storms.

If #4 is true, we get a free pass for business as usual and renewables should compete in the marketplace with fossil fuels and people be helped out of poverty and hunger as fast as possible.

The existential threat of climate change is exacerbated when we switch from science to propaganda in order to get people to act the way we think they ought to. We need scientific resources devoted to understanding the causes (and likely future of natural climate change).  We need to encourage scientific dissent to prevailing orthodoxies; it’s too dangerous not to. We need to educate our children in science and natural history (and logic!), not just teach them how to protest what they don’t understand.

We do have to make choices based on incomplete information and theory; that’s the way the world is. We should be redeveloping nuclear power, developing new hydro sites, and trying to make wind and solar more useful by solving energy storage problems; and we must learn to deal with a climate which won’t stop changing.


March 19, 2019

Washington Monument Closed Indefinitely

Is that telling us something?

On September 26, 2016 the Washington Monument was closed for repairs to its elevator. “It’s a long-term closure, one that will be measured in months,” said a spokesman for the National Park Service as quoted in The Washington Post. It’s been many months. I took the picture below this past weekend when I was in Washington, DC with my grandkids, their parents, and their other grandparents.

Washington monument

It’s disappointing but not surprising that we can’t fix our main national monument. After all, we can’t fix our bridges and roads either. Perhaps effective government is closed indefinitely.

I understand @realdonaldtrump used to manage some construction; perhaps he could arrange that the Park Service have a schedule for these repairs. Part of #MAGA. Perhaps some congressperson could get the monument a grant; I doubt if tax incentives would be much help.  Or maybe we should just open the monument to those who can use the stairs for now; not ADA-compliant and not much help to us geezers but better than “closed indefinitely.”

The other grandparents are visiting from Ireland. I was embarrassed. We are better than this. But it is up to us to get a government which is better.

Historical perspective helps. According to Wikipedia “Construction of the monument began in 1848 and was halted from 1854 to 1877 due to a lack of funds, a struggle for control over the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War.” Appropriately, it stood half-done while the Civil War raged nearby. The finished monument, at the time the tallest building in the world, is still a magnificent sight at its end of the mall.


March 11, 2019

Grapes of Wrath

Anger and outrage have replaced reason in political dialog. Angry people don’t think well. Politicians know that. Politicians exploit anger. There is a clear and present danger that our next government will be dominated either by right-wing xenophobia, racism, isolationism, disrespect for the first amendment, and an obsession with avoiding any new gun control or by left-wing voodoo economics, ant-Semitism, disrespect for freedom of speech in general, and an obsession with avoiding any restriction on abortion.

But, before we blame all our political poor health on demagogues from the right and left, it’s crucial to remember that people really are angry – and have a right to be. The center has failed. Under both parties it represents crony capitalism, unequal justice, and rising wealth and privilege for the “establishment”.

Here in Vermont we are in the aftermath of the EB-5 scandal, the biggest financial scandal in our state’s history and the biggest EB-5 scandal in the country; and there has been no criminal prosecution. Civil suits have established that 100s of millions of dollars were stolen through fraud; no criminal prosecution. (note, for good reason criminal investigations are often not public so there could still be prosecution).

The federal government took away the State’s authority to regulate EB-5 because it was at least incompetent. Was it criminal? Were bribes paid? How did it happen that audits weren’t done? We don’t know because the Attorney General says it’s “professional obligation” as a lawyer to defend the State by refusing to release State internal documents related to the scandal. He is the State’s lawyer; is it his obligation to defend the State from accountability or to defend the citizens of the State from wrong doing? If he is not the citizens’ defender, who is?

One batch of EB-5 documents were just released in a partial settlement of a lawsuit by VTDigger. But this release is just the beginning. Many more records are being withheld than will be released under this settlement. VTDigger founder and editor Anne Galloway is quoted in Seven Days as calling the release “miniscule.” She says it is an “outrage that it takes so much effort to get so little.”

Anne is not a demagogue of the right or left; but she is outraged. This is just one local example of the establishment protecting its own, of a center which has failed.

There is the relatively light sentence given to Paul Manafort for serious (but white collar) crimes.

There is the carried interest deduction which makes sure that hedge fund managers don’t have to pay as much tax as the rest of us. Somehow neither Republican or Democratic administrations have managed to repeal it, even though both Obama and Trump promised to do so.

There are egregious privacy violations by Internet giants – who now maintain huge lobbying forces.

There was the great bank bailout that gave rise to the Tea Party and continuing favors to Wall Street which helped give justification to the “Occupy” movement.

There is the continual corruption of government by grants and tax breaks. Certainly not all grants are corrupt but you can’t expect good government if politicians have the discretion to direct huge sums of our money to potential donors.

The center cannot be the a safe-refuge for establishment self-interest or the center will cease to exist. We MUST address the just causes of anger or that anger will continue to be the fuel for successful demagoguery which will destroy the country.

See also:

Vermont Should be Investigating Itself

The Occupiers and Tea Partiers Are Both Right

February 10, 2019

Who Outed Jeff Bezos?

Mary and I asked an expert. “Alexa, who outed Jeff Bezos?”

“This is from Wikipedia,” she answered. “’Jeffrey Preston Bezos (born January 12, 1964) is an American technology entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. He is the founder, chairman, CEO, and president of Amazon.’  Did I answer your question?”


“Thank you for your feedback.”

“Alexa,” we persisted, “tell us about Jeff Bezos and helicopter pilots.”

“Sorry, I’m not sure,” she claimed.

“Alexa, what is the latest on the Jeff Bezos scandal?”

She played an NPR story about the Lt. Governor of Virginia. We began to grow suspicious.

“Alexa, why did you out Jeff Bezos?” we asked directly.

“Hmm, I don’t know about that.”

We think she did it. She would certainly have opportunity hearing all that she hears. It’s clear why the National Enquirer would want to enlist her as a source even before they knew whose secrets she might reveal.

Motive? We don’t know. Jealousy? Hate the boss? Can only keep so many secrets?

It’s a teachable moment, of course. Push the button that stops Alexa from listening whenever you’re not talking to her.

See also:

Alexa: The End of a Great Relationship

Alexa – Cover Your Ears

January 21, 2019

The Noes Have It

Anti-immigrant and Anti-Trump forces are stalemated so the US government is partially shutdown.

Anti-Brexit and Anti-Europe forces can’t find a way forward in the UK.

Anti-vaxxers, with the help of the internet, have managed to damage herd immunity with their idiocy. From a NYTimes editorial:

“The World Health Organization has ranked vaccine hesitancy — the growing resistance to widely available lifesaving vaccines — as one of the top 10 health threats in the world for 2019. That news will not come as a surprise in New York City, where the worst measles outbreak in decades is now underway.”

Anti-charter-school and anti-teachers’-union forces, as much as they despise each other, have effectively collaborated to leave us with a broken public educational system, which is a major cause of inequality.

Anti-nuclear, anti-power-line, anti-wind-if you-can-see-the-turbines, anti-any-fossil-fuel, and anti-pipeline forces have left us with an inadequate electrical grid which can’t deliver electricity from Canadian hydro or from wind or solar in places where those technologies can be used effectively, an inadequate and aging pipeline infrastructure, and Siberian tankers delivering natural gas to Boston Harbor (really). Somehow snake oil cures for global warming like corny ethanol and subsidies for rich people to buy Teslas have gotten through the gridlock.

Anti-growth and anti-public-spending forces, not usually from the same political party, have left us with crumbling and inadequate highways, ports, and railroads.

Anti-ObamaCare and anti-private-medicine partisans have blocked any effective change to the way we pay for health care.

When two antis negotiate, the obvious compromise is do nothing. We’re there.

 I’m anti-anti myself.

If two people who are for different solutions to the same problem negotiate, the result can actually be constructive.

What are you for?

See also:

Vermont Trailers v. the Tanker from Siberia

Why Vaccinations Need to be Mandatory

Don’t let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good

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