Two Americans win Nobel Economics prize on Climate Change work

Per an article this morning in Reuters, “Americans William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, pioneers in adapting economic theory to take better account of environmental issues and technological progress, shared the 2018 Nobel Economics Prize on Monday.”

Romer, with New York University, and Nordhaus, with Yale, developed models on the economic impact of dealing with climate change. Reuters cited the Nobel Academy in Stockholm, “‘Their findings have significantly broadened the scope of economic analysis by constructing models that explain how the market economy interacts with nature and knowledge.'”

This news is important as Americans still provide global leadership inspite of the dearth of leadership in the White House and EPA. America is moving forward on renewable energy, but our efforts are in spite of the absence and antagonistic actions of federal leadership. Arguably, more than any other issue, voters must ask their candidates where the stand on climate change actions and protecting the environment.

It is interesting that this came today as the headline article in The Charlotte Observer is “NC Leaders share concern about climate change.” These are 60 business, advocacy, former government and university leaders who have been brought together to speak to various problems. 45 of them responded to the question of climate change and, of the 45, only two naysayed climate change – one called it a hoax, while the other said it is real, but the jury is out on man’s influence. Think about that – 43 out of 45 define the problem and offer solutions.

Per these leaders, ideas include ceasing building on lands prone to flooding. NC has had two 500 year floods in two years, the same with Houston, Texas. Miami may be inescapably lost to continued flooding due to rising seas and porous limestone. The term we must understand as well is “sunny day flooding,” which happens more and more throughout the year.

These Nobel prize winners note we have to address the problem now while the costs are more manageable and can be sustained. The best teachers are the Dutch, as they have managed sea water encroachment for years. But, the impact also includes more and intense forest fires and the faster depletion of already dear water sources.

We have major problems occurring that Washington is not talking about and, in some cases, is making it worse. We must address climate change and invest more in  renewable energy, consider better coastal and flood plain building and consider a carbon tax. We must address fresh water loss that is hastened by climate change that is affecting farmers and other Americans. And, we must address pollution by companies and the growing mountain of plastic.

There are economic models that call to mind the old Fram oil filter commercial – you can pay me now or pay me later. Now, is far cheaper. Ask your politicians more questions and vote accordingly. If they do not admit there are problems, do not vote for them.

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Atlantis will be a reality

Back in the early 1970s, an interesting and different song by Donovan called “Atlantis” hit the airwaves. It spoke of the destroyed world consumed by the sea. As sea level rises, the city of Miami will become a future Atlantis.

Earlier this week, on a PBS Newshour piece called “Will climate change turn Miami into a future Atlantis?”, Henry Briceno, a research scientist from Florida International University, used the phrase to define his city, “we are doomed.” Sadly, this is the second scientist I have heard define Miami’s future demise.

Hurricanes have caused Miami planners to build for strong winds. Yet, they have not paid enough attention to the encroaching seas. Miami is built on porous limestone, so sea water can more easily come in. Sunny day flooding has occurred more frequently and pumps and pipes attempt to take the water back out to the bay. It is even worse during the spring and fall when the moon’s impact on tides is stronger.

Miami’s Dade County and three adjacent counties are investing $200 million to recycle the water back to the bay. Yet, It is not enough and maybe too late. New Orleans is taking advice from Denmark on their water management lessons, but Miami’s limestone is a huge problem. Plus, the sea water will find its way into the Biscayne aquifer which will cause drinking water issues.

This is no longer a future issue. Sunny day flooding causes the streets of Miami Beach to be several inches deep in sea water quite often. Other coastal cities are seeing more sunny day flooding, as well.

Future models show an alarming picture for Miami and the Everglades. Sadly, too many are turning a blind’s eye. In the sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore and the Miami Beach mayor were standing in flooded streets, while the governor would not take their calls after asking staff to never use the term climate change. You would think the governor of a state surrounded on three sides by water would be concerned about climate change.

Donovan’s song may need to be re-released. Or, maybe the words can be updated for new coastal cities like Miami.

Calm before the storm

Sitting four hours inland in North Carolina, we are in a holding pattern with Hurricane Florence. She will hit hard and large on the Carolinas coast and may linger over the eastern parts of the two states dumping a lot of water which will overwhelm the water systems. In Charlotte, we are as yet unaware what kind of storm effect we will get and may not know for a few days, but the current model shows us on the north side of the eye, exposed to winds and rain.

Best wishes for all, but especially those closer to the shore. I commend the efforts to keep us informed and get us prepared. We should all batten down the hatches, ready our homes, and leave, if needed and required. But, the recovery will be an elongated effort as it has been with previous hurricanes.

With this said, our country could be doing a lot more to address these emergencies. We could fund FEMA through the normal budget and not have to rely on event funding. A former FEMA person said we rely too heavily on an on call work force, especially when multiple disasters hit. Last year’s multiple hurricanes proved problematic and it showed, especially in Puerto Rico. There is a metaphor in Puerto Rico that still exists one year later of hundreds of unopened crates of water sitting on a runway.

We could also recognize what NOAA, Union of Concerned Scientists, United Nations and climate scientists know. Sea rise and warmer oceans due to climate change are creating more and dangerous hurricanes that hit shore from a higher vantage point. One scientist said it is like dunking a basketball off an elevated court. It is easier to do damage. This is especially true with beach erosion.

The term which will and should get more air time is “sunny day flooding.” This represents the increasing number of days that ocean tides are washing into coastal city streets. We must do more about this increasingly costly problem. Hurricanes only make this problem worse as they lay bare already weakened areas.

So, while we brace for Florence, let’s think about how we can plan even more proactively. And, please think good thoughts for those in harm’s way.

Capitalism and socialism coexists

On more than one occasion, I have seen letters to the editor speak of setting up beachheads in the coming election around capitalism vs. socialism. To me, this is a name-calling gimmick to persuade a voter who does not do much homework. Voters that are prone to listen to name-calling as debate will buy into this logic time and again. The irony in this debate is the United States’ economy is a blend of “fettered” capitalism with socialistic underpinnings. So, both co-exist here.

For readers in the either camp, this observation probably surprises them, especially those who are gung-ho capitalists. But, the word in quotes is also important as we do not have unfettered capitalism. If we did, the US President would have run out of money long ago with his many bankruptcies. I believe in capitalism as well, but we need to understand why we ventured down the path of the socialistic underpinnings.

These underpinnings spoke to a nation that was in a great depression and who seemingly got lost in poverty later on. Social security is a low-income weighted pension, disability and survivor benefit program that is funded equally by employers and individuals. To determine the base level benefit, 90% of average wages are used for the earlier wages then added to 32% of the next tier of wages which are added to 15% of the highest wages up to a limit.

In the 1960s, LBJ’s “War on Poverty” added Medicare and Medicaid to the mix, with Medicare helping retirees and Medicaid focusing on people in poverty. Then, we can mix equal measures of unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation and food stamps which are now called SNAP benefits. Each of these programs are forms of “social insurance” benefits. That is socialism designed to keep people fed, housed and protected.

Taking this a step further, utilities are so needed to our communities, they are either co-ops or fettered capitalistic models where rate increases must get approved by a state governing board. Companies like Duke Energy and Con-Ed must get permission before they change their rates. For the co-op model, the customers own the business.

But, the word “fettered” enters into the mix on other businesses as well. To prevent monopolies, insider trading, interlocking boards, collusion, the misuse of insider knowledge by investors, etc. rules are set up to provide governors on capitalism. Then, there is that bankruptcy thing, where a business or person can claim bankruptcy to pay debtors what they can and restart. I use the President as an example, but his experience is a good one, as he filed for bankruptcy six times on various investments.

I want people to think about our country in this context. We want people to earn their keep and be fully functioning tax paying citizens. Yet, we have programs in place to keep them out of the ditch. As we considering changes to programs, we should consider what they are accomplishing and how changes could make them more effective. And, we must understand that things must be paid for, so how do we get the best return on the investment into those stated goals?

For those that have followed my blog for some time, you know I have been involved for many years in helping homeless working families find a path back to self-sustainability. We help the homeless climb a ladder, but they climb it. Yet, we are also successful in keeping people housed on their own after two years of leaving our program because we measure things and make improvements. The ultimate goal is self-sustainability, so we measure how we can be the best financial stewards toward helping people achieve that purpose.

We need social underpinnings to help people be fed, housed and protected. Some need to be temporary in nature, while others are longer term like Medicare and Social Security. There is a cost-benefit to these equations, but we should understand that we have poverty problem in our country. We must also understand technology advances will continue to change the paradigm on employment as it has throughout the industrial age placing additional pressures to even more wage earners. Not providing ladders out of poverty or ways to avoid it would be a bad path to follow for our country.

 

While my guitar gently weeps

George Harrison of The Beatles was overshadowed by the prolific song writing duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Yet, he was an excellent song writer as well. One of his best songs he wrote paired him with Eric Clapton – “While my guitar gently weeps.”

I use this song as a metaphor as many of us are exhausted by the US President and his daily lying and bullying, that we just feel like weeping. But, while we weep, important things are not getting done and some things that should not be are occurring. So, while our collective guitars gently weep;

– our planet continues to heat up and wildfires become more prolific, drought areas become more parched, farms are more at risk, and our coastal cities have many more days of sunny day flooding;

– our oceans have islands of plastic both above and below the surface, landfills are teeming with plastic, especially after China stopped taking plastic shipments at the first of the year and our coral reefs are dying due to a multitude of factors;

– our US debt has passed an unhealthy level of $22 trillion and is expected to grow to over $33 trillion by 2027, with this fiscal year deficit getting closer to $1 trillion, likely exceeding it next year (this is on annual budget of $4 trillion);

– our allies no longer trust the US and its bullying President, so we will continue to suffer as other countries and companies therein seek other avenues for their supplies and products looking for market stability – they will deal with us, of course, but are finding other sources, as well; and

– our democracy is under threat by a regal minded and thin-skinned man who lives in the White House who denigrates any person or entity that does not adequately genuflect to his greatness, which is far more perception than reality.

There is, of course, many other reasons to weep. We need to address real problems and not cause other ones. We are exhausted by the focus on one man 24×7. It is truly all about The Donald.

I sure wish to hear George and Eric playing this song and make it all better.

What is this 314 Action?

You do not have to be an engineer to know that 314 with a decimal added after the three is Pi. So, it should not be a surprise to learn that 314 Action has something to do with math or science. What it represents is an attempt to get more scientists elected to office. Their mission statement is below.

“314 Action was founded by members of the STEM community, grassroots supporters and political activists who believe in science. We are committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science.

Why ‘314 Action’? Because Pi is everywhere. It’s the most widely known mathematical ratio both inside and out of the scientific community. It is used in virtually everything we encounter in our daily lives — and like Pi, science is all around us. Too often, legislators choose to ignore science in favor of convenient beliefs or intuition. We are committed to electing more leaders who will use their training as STEM professionals to influence policy-making. Evidence-based reasoning should be the foundation of legislation related to issues like climate change, and gun violence.

314 Action is also devoted to aggressively advocating for a pro-science agenda in Washington, D.C. and in local and state legislatures. We will leverage our network of pro-science advocates to organize and effect change in areas where science is being maligned or disputed. As a unified STEM and pro-science community, we can combat the all-too-common attacks on basic scientific understanding.”

It greatly troubles me that our country is in desperate need of more STEM education and professionals. Yet, the current party in power denigrates scientists who are not supportive of their recommendations. That is more than a tad hypocritical. Under Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency has done a great deal to forget the word “Protection” in its name. Several judges have admonished Pruitt’s team efforts for the EPA’s lack of homework and data behind its recommendations. This will likely continue under his successor.

Science matters. Data matters. Scientists endeavor to get it right. They question themselves regarding the veracity of their research and find fault when shortcuts to research were taken. I was listening to NPR earlier this week about the efforts journalists go through to get it right. One said, when you read a source, look how they handle mistakes. Do the admit, correct and make visible the mistakes? If they don’t, find another source. Scientists are like that. I think we could use more than a few in our legislature and other offices.

Below, is a link to their endorsed scientist candidates. This is rather refreshing.

http://www.314action.org/endorsed-candidates-1/

Two interesting climate change stories

In the sea of news about all things Trump, we lose sight of other things going on. Two stories caught my eye this week about climate change that deserve more oxygen, pun intended. On Monday, The Charlotte Observer published a front page story called “Rising sea erodes property values at beaches.”

Per the Observer, “Scientists have found that $7.4 billion was lost in home values across North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Florida because of sea level rise flooding from 2005 to 2017.

“Scientists at First Street Foundation – a technology nonprofit dedicated to increasing awareness of seal level rise – used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Geological Survey, local governments, the National Weather Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers to estimate flood risks.”

The “peer reviewed” study showed 616,626 homes lost value during this time. Per the Observer, “The study is the first of its kind to show depreciation of homes values has already taken place in the United States…” The article noted this is a concern to not only the homeowners, but the municipalities and counties where property taxes have (and will) decline through reevaluation.

Last week, an article in Yahoo Finance called “Kids around the world are suing governments over climate change – and it’s working,” it was noted the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a US lawsuit to move ahead.

As reported in Yahoo, “Back in 2015, a group of 21 young Americans decided to sue the US government over climate change. In Juliana v. US, the plaintiffs argue that the government has violated ‘the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property’ by adopting policies that promote the use of fossil fuels—despite the knowledge that carbon dioxide emissions are a primary cause of global warming.

“That might sound like an extreme claim. But in the years since, the lawsuit has kept succeeding against all odds. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on July 20 denied the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss the suit, and the case remains set for trial 0n October 29.” Yahoo notes the plaintiffs range in age from 11 to 22.

These two stories stand on their own. The first confirms with peer reviewed data, climate change is impacting coastal properties now and has been for at least twelve years. This is not a future thing. Most of this burden has been borne by the state of Florida, which is interesting as their governor forbid his staff from mentioning the words climate change or global warming in speeches or articles.

The second says these kids get it. The US government is lax on doing definitive measures and planning to address climate change. I am reminded of the multi-partisan plan developed by Denmark to address climate change impact over the long term, as it had to last beyond the current leadership. The kids have gotten to the next step with the Ninth Circuit Court saying their case has merit. Well done to all. It is sad the kids have to resort to this kind of measure when adult leaders fail to act or accept funding based on them not acting.