Make America Alone

Unless you are on a diet or workout regimen, you cannot shrink to greatness. Yet, that is precisely the path America is on under the leadership of a man who announces his intent to make the country great again. Instead, he is pursuing a path of making America alone.

Jim Melville, the US ambassador to Estonia announced his resignation last week. Ambassador Melville, a 33 year state department veteran who has served under six Presidents, four of them Republucan, cited his reasons on Facebook. He said he could not support a President who has belittled NATO comparing it to NAFTA and saying it was formed to tap the American piggy bank. He also noted the President’s attack on the European Union as shameful.

Melville is not a lone voice. Other long service ambassadors have departed under this regime and there are a scary number of open diplomat positions. I have made reference to the number of Americans attending global conferences is dwarfed by the number of Chinese who are “working the room.” Diplomats both glean and share information to benefit a country.

This becomes even more troubling when the ultimate US diplomat sitting in the White House is bullying and lying about long time allies, imposing unwise tariffs on such allies and other trading partners, resigning from an important United Nations human rights committee, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord leaving us as one of three countries to do so, ignoring our allies on not staying with the Iran deal and leaving or discrediting two major trade agreements, one of which went forward without us.

An EU ambassador noted many months ago that America’s strengths are its military and allied relationships. So, going it alone is not a wise move. What is further troubling is this is the path Vladimir Putin wants us to go down, but he is not the biggest benefactor of America’s retrenchment. This path leads to an ascendant China, which has been forecasted for many years. The US President is helping them blaze the trail.

Making America alone is not a fruitful path, at least for America. Please think about that. If you agree, reach out to your Senators and Congressperson.

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Wind waltzes across Texas

Relatively unknown to many Anericans is the rapidly growing success of renewable energy in America. California is the significant leader in solar energy and Texas is the predominant wind energy state.

As reported on CBS Morning News this week, there are 24,000 renewable energy jobs in Texas mostly in the wind sector. That is more than 1/3 of coal jobs in the whole country. Further, over 16% of the electricity produced in Texas comes from wind energy at the end of 2017.

What may be surprising is former Republican Governor Rick Perry deserves credit for pushing a bill to expand the electric grid to draw power from the wind turbines. This action is vital as to power cities, the electricity has to be transferred from the plains areas where wind blows so strongly.

This makes Perry’s relative silence on the subject frustrating in his role as the director of the Department of Energy. He is doing the heavy lifting for the President as he pushes for more coal use. With the renewable energy jobs growing at double-digit per annum clip, one would think Perry might want to talk about expanding the nationwide grid.

Let me close with a reminder of the town of Georgetown, TX that is 100% powered by renewable energy. Republican Mayor Dale Ross noted in the CBS news interview that he is a Reagan Republucan, but breaks with his party on climate change. Ross, a CPA, wants to meet with the President as his Town Council voted to select the lesser and more predictable cost model for energy which is renewable energy.

Too many people debate renewable energy as a jobs vs. environment issue. This is an old argument and is no longer true. The market forces and development have made renewable energy more affordable. As a result, the jobs are growing. Just think of the wind waltzing across Texas.

Pope is at it again

Last week, Pope Francis again revealed why he is a global leader. Leveraging the biblical teachings that God wants us to take care of our environment, he reiterated his concerns on climate change to oil executives. Per a Wall Street Journal article called “Pope Francis Criticizes Continued Search for Fossil Fuels at Meeting with Oil Executives,” he encouraged oil executives to find ways to leave fossil fuel energy in the ground. Per the WSJ article:

“’Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!’ he said at a Vatican climate change conference attended by top executives including Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods, BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

At the conference, co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and featuring nearly 20 speakers Friday and Saturday, the pope said that an estimated 1 billion people still lack electricity and noted that access to energy is an essential resource for escaping poverty. But he warned that a failure to reduce the use of fossil fuels would lead to a ‘spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.’

The poor ‘suffer most from the ravages of global warming,’ he said, through water shortages and extreme weather which in turn drive mass migration, among other ways.
Pope Francis commended oil and gas companies for adopting policies that account for ‘assessment of climate risk’ and he encouraged the practice of environmentally sensitive ‘green finance’ investment strategies. But he warned that ‘markets and technology’ wouldn’t be sufficient to stop climate change, since our ‘current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.’

Earlier this year, BlackRock’s Mr. Fink in a letter urged chief executives at global companies to ‘make a positive contribution to society.’ The world’s largest asset manager has played a key role behind the scenes in insisting that companies take action to respond to climate change.

Pope Francis’ meeting with oil executives and investors comes almost exactly three years after the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he called global warming a major threat to life on the planet and said it is mainly caused by human activity. In that document, which as an encyclical ranks among the highest levels of papal teaching, the pope blamed special interests for blocking policy responses and indicted the market economy for plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations.”

With the US President announcing his intention to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, other global leaders, like Pope Francis are continuing the push. Ironically, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted (the day before Trump’s announcement to leave the Accord) to obligate the company leadership to inform them of what they are doing to address climate change. Fortunately, US cities, states and businesses are picking up the baton dropped by the President. The US has passed the tipping point on renewable energy, in spite of the President and his EPA head’s efforts.

Pope Francis should be commended for leading the charge. Taking care of the least of us has been a mantra of this leader. I recognize he is not perfect, but is concern for people and the environment is meritorious. And, unlike Messrs. Trump and Pruitt, the pope is a scientist, with a Masters in Chemistry and has worked as a chemist.

Messers. Trump and Pruitt – it is the Environmental Protection Agency

Almost one year ago, the President of the United States announced a plan to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord making the US a very isolated country on the world stage. That announcement both betrays and galvanizes further the significant efforts and science behind America’s push toward renewable energy and conservation.

Yet, that is only part of the attack by this administration on our home planet. Under the tutelage of Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency, has decided to have an all out war on science and the environment. The orchestrated removal of climate change science data accessible by the EPA website and the repositioning, demotion or firing of some scientists, is indicative of a parent wanting to mask the fact they do drugs from their kids.

Pruitt has also tried successfully and unsuccessfully to let companies pollute waterways and the environment with fewer repercussions. The fact we have a global water shortage is irrelevant. He has also championed the ability for industry to question the EPA’s data. That may sound good, but industry has challenged data for years and, as a country, we do not adhere to the Precautionary Principle.

This principle states that if it is believed an industry is polluting the environment, then they must prove they are not before going further. In the US, industry has to be proven they wronged people many years after the fact. The reason Erin Brockovich is so famous is it is rare to win against industry. The sad part is people have died or been made ill by then. The Pruitt change is to let industry cherry pick data more easily. I should note the flame retardant industry used a study that had nothing to do with that issue to show the retardants were safe – it was proven they cause cancer in firefighters, toddlers and mothers.

Last week, a new report came out that noted the Outer Banks of North Carolina will be the hardest hit region by rising tides by the end of the century. Yet, the report eliminated any reference to man’s influence of climate change. It should be noted a few years earlier, the NC General Assembly refused to accept a similar finding, but paid for a report that used the past 100 years sea level increase as a guide for the future showing an increase of 8 inches versus 39 inches per the scientists. Apparently, that report has been proven faulty.

Finally, a report by the United Nations has estimated the failure to address climate change will cost the world $100 trillion in US dollars. Some have cried foul over this number, but I would add a study sanctioned by the world’s largest pension scheme (plan) investors in 2010 estimated the cost of repairing climate change problems in the $10 trillion to $20 trillion range. The key word in both is trillion.

We should recognize these numbers are guesses backed by science and some rationale. I would quibble less if the numbers are toward either end and focus on the observation that doing nothing will cost money and a lot of it. Hurricanes are more severe now when they hit shore from elevated sea levels. The costs to fix the damage run in the tens to hundreds of billions range. When you multiple just the hurricanes by these cost fixes, then one can see how the numbers can rise.

If that does not scare, there is a new term that should called “sunny day flooding.” These are days when high tides flood the streets of coastal cities when no storm is present. These days are increasing significantly in places like Miami, Hampton Roads, Charleston, New Orleans, etc. In the next fifteen to twenty years, some of these cities may have fewer non-flooding days than flooding ones.

So, Messers. Trump and Pruitt, you can choose to play ostrich all you want, but the people that care about our home need to move forward. It would be nice if you were an enabler rather than a blocker.

US is going alone again

Unless we alter our course, this period of time will be remembered as when the US ceded its global leadership role. We are following a path of nativism and retrenchment. And, there is one thing for certain – we cannot shrink to greatness.

First, we drop out of an Asia/ Pacific trade partnership early in the Trump presidency. The remaining countries proceeded without the US and inked a deal at the end of last year. Why is this important? When approached to do a bilateral agreement, Japan told Trump to reenter the Asia/ Pacific agreement.

Second, last June we decided to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, leaving an agreement with pretty much the rest of the world. Even ExxonMobil told us to stay in the accord. Fortunately, businesses, cities and states are picking up the dropped baton, but more is needed from our DC leaders.

Third, we do our darnedest to restrict immigration into our country from several countries and are actively seeking to expel both undocumented immigrants and children who came forward under DACA. What we fail to understand is immigration is accretive to our economy and this is a key part of our ideals.

Fourth, we have introduced tariffs on our allies and trading partners. Not only are we acting like a bully, we are acting unwisely, so say 1,140 economists including Nobel laureates and Presidential advisors. We could be precipitating a retrenchment of the global economy, of which we are a key part. The economists say this is how recessions start.

Fifth, by pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, we are heightening global risk. But, we also have turned our back on our allies who asked us to work with them to stay in the agreement. With the reimposed sanctions any EU countries doing business with Iran will also be sanctioned. This will invite sanctions by the EU on the United States’ companies doing business there.

The President views the world in a transactional way which is why he prefers bilateral agreements. He must win the transaction. In multilateral agreements, everyone wins some and loses some. He also does not value diplomacy as we have retrenched in those capabilities. The hard work is done by these folks and China is lapping us in their diplomatic efforts.

We cannot go this alone. We should pay attention to the words of French President Emmanuel Macron when he spoke to the US Congress. He beseeched us to remain involved working with others.

 

While Trump distracts, Pruitt pees in our swimming pool

One of my greatest fears of this President going in has been a retrenchment on dealing with climate change and environmental protections. While other concerns have surfaced on his watch, my initial fears are warranted. Selecting Scott Pruitt, a state attorney general who has sued the EPA multiple times, is not conducive to protecting the environment.

Announcing the future pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord was an ominous step. Taking climate change science information off the EPA website is another. Reshuffling climate change scientists to less productive positions is another.

Yet there is more. Allowing coal companies  to dump pollutants in our waterways is a metaphor for the new EPA. Pruitt is letting people pee in our pool. And, just this week, there are two announcements worth noting.

First, The Huffington Post has reported an internal memo from a direct report to Pruitt  that tells EPA people to play down the science behind the climate change conclusions. This is not dissimilar to the governors of Wisconsin and Florida telling their staffs they could not use the terms climate change and global warming in dealing with the public. And, it is not dissimilar to George W. Bush’s Council on the Environment altering reports that used the words global warming or climate change.

Second, it is reported that the miles per gallon requirements placed on new cars introduced by President Obama will be rolled back. US car companies celebrate the announcement, but the environment and people will suffer. And, what is not discussed, our auto industry will fall behind as foreign car companies will move ahead with better mpg requirements. It should be noted, twelve states are prepared to sue the EPA on this change should it go through, one being California.

Pruitt is supposed to be the leader of the EPA. His people have to be one demoralized group to see a man who obviously cares less about the environment, let industry pollute more. Yet,  on a bright note, cities, states and businesses are moving climate change and environmental issues forward, more than picking up the slack caused by this anemic administration.

 

 

Mr. President, listen to the Department of Defense and CIA

One of the hardest jobs of any employee is managing up when they have a boss who is not very good at his or her role. Business is littered with stories of high performing individuals who fail miserably as managers. The President is not an exception as he has always been a better salesperson than manager as reported by financial reporters and biographers.

The folks working beneath him are doing their darnedest to keep him between the white lines and on message. Too often, he derails an effort by tweeting or being less than truthful or aware of the issues. Yet, there are two consistent messages that are being ignored by the boss from two important groups, which are making us less safe and secure.

First, the Department of Defense reiterated its recurring message that climate change is a key threat to national security due to destabilization and impact on readiness. As reported in Reuters yesterday, the DoD said 1,700 of its bases (about half) are threatened by wild weather patterns due to climate change. Per Reuters, “‘Changes in climate can potentially shape the environment in which we operate and the missions we are required to do,’ said the DoD in a report accompanying the survey.”

Yet, what is the President doing about? He is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, he has promoted more fossil fuel through words and actions, he has naysayed the climate science and his EPA director has removed climate change intellectual capital from the websites while firing, driving out or repositioning climate scientists.

Second, Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, said on Sunday, not only is there no question the Russians influenced our recent election, but he is certain they will do it again this fall. Yet, what is the President doing about it?

Although our Congress overwhelmingly voted on sanctions on Russia over the summer, the President said this week he would not impose those sanctions saying the threat is enough. And, in response to a request by Congress on the people who might be sanctioned, a cut and paste list was provided by the Treasury department. The term for this is called “phoning it in.” This on top of the President denying the intelligence, lying about his involvement, changing his stories multiple times and trying to undermine the efforts of the FBI and Special Prosecutor. All while the Russians continue their efforts.

These are threats to our national security and democracy, but we are failing to act. I am not alone in this view, but the Russians      have attacked our country though social media and cyber warfare and our Nero fiddles. His own DoD says climate change is a threat, but Nero’s response is to enable the threat, not circumvent it.

So, as the President fails to act, what are we going to do about it?