Understanding Climate Legislation

Six Arenas

Sitting in front of a computer screen in the middle of another Zoom conference on climate change, the exuberance of the presenters is consistently tested by the scope of the legislative endeavors that must pass. The issue is not the cliché that “no bill is perfect,” which is true. Rather, climate change is a threat multiplier across every human activity and endeavor, and its footprint is global. A Green New Deal bill will accomplish much in the coming decade, but no one bill can anticipate nor address all the issues created by human output in the last one hundred years.

At present, we are on a baseline trajectory to raise the median temperature of the earth by 2100 +3.5oC (6.4oF). The baseline is the output of carbon we are experiencing today without any change or mitigation.  Today’s baseline is unsustainable, and the result would be a planet with huge swaths of uninhabitable land and ocean by the end of the century. With the proposed legislation, we will continue to produce carbon, pumping the element into the water and into the air, but the goal is to control and reduce the carbon output to a sustainable +1.5oC (2.7oF).

M.I.T.’s Management Sustainability Initiative divides up the carbon reduction puzzle into six arenas:

  1. Energy Supply
  2. Transport
  3. Buildings and Industry
  4. Growth
  5. Land and Industry Emissions
  6. Carbon Removal

Our legislative endeavors need to force changes in each of these six areas. If all the areas are not addressed, even if only one area is ignored, we will be unable to reach our sustainable goal of +1.5oC (2.7oF). Each area requires a firm legislative shove, often more than one. What follows is an outline of what is contained in each arena and what must be done. Each bullet point requires new aggressive legislation.

Energy Supply

The big four carbon producers that must be reduced to as close to zero as possible are:

  • Coal
  • Oil
  • Natural Gas
  • Bioenergy (e.g. wood, wood pellets)

The energy producers that do not produce carbon are called renewables. They must take over as much energy production as possible:

  • Solar
  • Geothermal
  • Wind
  • Nuclear* (*renewable but not clean)

The lever that forces the energy supply to shift from coal/oil/gas to renewables is:

  • Carbon price/Carbon Tax

We may also need a break-through technology that does not emit greenhouse gases. Several have been proposed but none will be available in the foreseeable future. Funding is through research and development.

  • New Zero-Carbon Breakthrough

Transport

All forms of transportation (ships, planes, trucks, cars) must shift to,

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Buildings and Industry

All mechanicals in buildings and the processes and machines for manufacturing must make the same shift as transportation.

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Growth

Some parts of the world are already experiencing a slowdown in population from an exponential trajectory to a geometric one, although not all populations are decreasing. Economic growth as defined by Gross Domestic Product must also decrease. We need to aim for less people and less stuff, backing away from a growth model for economies.

  • Population
  • Economic Growth

Population tends towards self-regulating when education rates rise in general and when education policies specifically targeting women are implemented. The issues of less manufactured goods are partially addressed in “Right to Repair” laws that create longer-lasting products and the legal ability/capability to repair locally.

Land and Industry Emissions

While energy consumption is tackled above, the pollution generated by industry and agribusiness must all be addressed. Monoculture agribusiness must transform to soil-healthy processes that are not dependent on manufactured fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides.

  • Deforestation
  • Methane, fertilizers, HTC’s, and PFC’s

Carbon Removal

The only known carbon removal technology available today is replanting what we have destroyed on land and in the ocean. We will need new technology to pull carbon out of the air, either enhancing natural removals or manually sequestering carbon. Such technology does not exist yet.

  • Afforestation
  • Technological Carbon Removal

Putting the Points Together

No one bill will address all these issues. Legislation that redirects agriculture hardly seems like a climate change bill but both monoculture farms and beef ranches are huge contributors to the carbon pollution matrix. Government investments in education lead to smaller households in the next generation, an education bill. Shifting government subsidies from coal, oil, and gas to renewables would address the most significant source of carbon production, which is a straightforward energy bill. One bus can remove sixty cars from the daily commute, which would be funded in a transportation bill.

Some solutions will require international treaties and corporate compliance. We should invest in research and development, which would have a side effect of reducing college costs as the Sputnik program did. Corporations are guilty of the worst carbon pumping crimes and they need to fundamentally change or be forced to change into implementors of solutions.

We must pass legislation that does not include wishful thinking. A breakthrough technology just around the corner, hydrogen-powered cars for example, is a fantasy. The technology solution is not around the corner, which is no surprise because we have not invested much in developing such an invention. New technologies require investment and time; we have given neither.

Final Word

Your head should be spinning. At the least, organizing the bullet points in one place presents a clear direction of what sorts of legislation and regulations we need in the next year. Every bill is a battle and we need a lot of bills to become law.

We are asking our legislator allies to cover all these legislative areas when we cannot track them ourselves. Using the M.I.T structure, we can organize progress in each of the six arenas. This tracking helps us help our legislators stay informed and on-track, while keeping ourselves informed as best we can.

We can do this.

Lessons of the Book Search

In the process of researching a new article-maybe-book, a down-the-rabbit-hole investigatory thread emerged. The origin of the thread begins with the novelist Herman Wouk (The Winds of War), a 20th century author of deserved literary repute. Mr. Wouk was also an Orthodox Jew, proud and practicing his faith so personally that he wrote a non-fiction text “This is My God.” His book is a well-written introduction to a Jewish theistic God concept, which is an accessible recommended read. In his introduction, Mr. Wouk explains  that his book is in response to a derogatory text promoting agnosticism. The hunt began.

The book that invokes Herman Wouk’s ire has almost disappeared from library shelves in the first decades of the 21th century; in contrast, Mr. Wouk’s book is still in print and easily available. Homer W. Smith was a biologist in the first half of the 20th century who wrote three books of some publishing success. The third was “Man and His Gods,” published in 1955 and running at 485 pages before the index. However, what makes the book stand out is that the Forward is written Albert Einstein. The book sold well in its day.

As Dr. Einstein stated, Professor Smith attempts “to portray man’s fear-induced animistic and mythic ideas with all their far-flung transformations and interrelations.” One of the major arguments of the book is that Western religions are a magnet for all destructive fears that have haunted humankind. Further, these religions are also a significant broadcaster of these pernicious narratives that promulgate terrible results such as war and widespread unhappiness. The book is a thoroughgoing condemnation of religion and its application up through the beginning of the 20th century.

One can clearly understand why Herman Wouk despised this text.

There is no doubt that Professor Smith was extraordinarily well-read. Besides the Bible and biblical scholarship, he was intimately familiar with Enlightenment philosophers, the volumes of Gibbon’s “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Darwin along with his milieu of detractors and supporters, Medieval magic and literature on the Devil, literary criticism, Christian theology and metaphysics. He saves some of his highest praise for the eleventh edition of Encylopedia Britannica, published in 1910-1911. (p. 483)

“Man and His Gods” is an archetypal text of its time. The writing is long-winded, and the grammar is complex, which was typical of the academic presentation of the day. Reviewers of that decade would declare that the book was erudite and well-written, whether or not they agreed the provocative argument.

The thesis is that knowledge and rationalism trump religion and superstition. Most of the text is a review of the religions of Western world and the Ancient Near East through history using the lens of 20th century rationalism. Professor Smith hoped to put the final nail in the coffin of superstitious religion with this book. He did not.

A funny thing happened though, which is why there was a hunt. “Man and His Gods” has nigh disappeared. In a dash of irony, I believe that the book would have certainly slipped away totally, despite a forward by Einstein, if Herman Wouk had not mentioned the text by name in his introduction. If Mr. Wouk had simply dropped a few sentences explaining his angry motivation for writing his book, time would have accomplished his goal for him.

I went searching for the text. My university lists a copy of Dr. Smith’s text in its catalogue, having purchased it in 1956. According to their records, the book was never checked out of the library. After I and the university librarian perused the shelf, we both concluded that the book had been stolen, probably decades ago. The Library of Congress (Card no. 52-5512) has a copy, buried in one of their offsite repositories. Having access to an academic national search function, someone located a copy at SUNY-Buffalo. Ten weeks after an initial request, I was holding the book.

The book did not meet my needs though. I was seeking a text that explained and promoted agnosticism in the 20th century. Dr. Smith’s text is the other side of the coin, exclusively attacking theism and orthodox religions. He states that rationalism is the better/best way, yet he offers no arguments for this stance. While the book may have made a splash at the time of publication, this lack of a positive argument may explain why the book disappeared from the great discussions on religion, culture, and individual relevance.

Having read through the book only to find the book only to find disappointment, I am reminded of a quote from the end of Ecclesiastes. “The making of many books is without limit and much study is a wearying of the flesh.” (Eccl. 12:9) Homer W. Smith taught me two lessons: first, erudition easily falls into hubris and second, pre-determined conclusions can produce a myriad of ever-escalating mistakes and misreadings.

Mr. Wouk’s book also taught me a lesson: Anger is a tool and it should never be a reason.

How the USA Lost Its College Mojo

The government intervention in full-blown love affair between college degrees and the middle class (and lower classes) began in the aftermath of the Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The G.I. Bill after World War II started the movement of greater accessibility to college but Sputnik launched a new era of education. Leadership in government, industry and academia were panicked that the Red Menace may have eclipsed the mighty, rising American Democracy. Coincidentally, universities and colleges across the United States were bursting with some of the best talent that the world had ever known at the time of the launch. Thirty-three thousand German Jewish scientists and artists, the epitome of European intellectualism, had been expelled from Nazi Germany in 1933 and they, along with their talented American students, were bringing American intellectual prowess to the fore on the world stage. Then Sputnik announced itself with a plaintive beeping from outer space.

There was a rush to prioritize American intellectual and technological innovation. The challenge for the leaders of that time was finding a methodology that harnessed the resources of the country to meet the needs of what they believed was a decades-long race into space. They discovered that were neither enough engineers or scientists in the specific bleeding-edge STEM fields nor enough classes for new students to learn these disciplines. Everyone agreed that expanded, elite education (and a tremendous amount of money to the military-industrial complex) was the necessary element to win the space race. They were thinking long-term, looking for promising students in public school and pushing them through the college process.

The United States reinvested in a part of the scientific process called Basic Research. They paid professors through their colleges to do basic research in university laboratories with their graduate students and promising undergraduates at their sides. Colleges built laboratories and hired more professors. The students from the public schools came, understanding that a secure financial future could be had with a college degree.

The plan worked. The United States put a man on the moon in 1969 and then several times more. No other country or corporation has been to the moon since.

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, he came with a certain set of ideas about the relationship between government and industry. During his tenure as governor of California, he had been a great supporter of the state college system but he did not follow the same pattern as President of the United States. As president, Reagan argued that the government was paying for basic research that benefited private industry but the government received nothing in return. Advanced research as done by industry was proprietary. Private industry would use the basic research as a foundation for their own specific, advanced research but they did not contribute to the basic research funding. President Reagan decided that industry could pay for their own basic research and cut funding to universities for research so deeply that private college undergraduate tuition jumped up as much as 33% between 1982 and 1984.

The cutting continued unabated through this year. Tuition has surpassed a boundary from affordable to unaffordable even in state schools. Tenure for professors is rapidly disappearing and adjuncts cannot make a living wage. Federal loan programs for college and graduate schools are predatory with alarming interest rates. Aberrant and predatory pro-profit post high school institutions have monetized education.

Over the weekend, the Department of Education announced a new program of debt forgiveness for victims of the for-profit Corinthian College. The expected tab is as high as $3.5 billion. All sides of the education debate can agree that this allocation is wasted taxpayer money as far as investing in workers and jobs for the next years. The money invested by students and the government in this for-profit corporation has disappeared into a black hole of high finance.

Would it or would it not have made sense to spend taxpayer money on basic research in universities that would have kept tuitions lower and the quality of education higher? Would it not have been better fiscal policy to pay professors and colleges to produce boring and laborious research while training students in those laboratories? Professors are not paid just to teach; they are paid to produce research and train the next generation in scientific theory and in practical application. Private industry and for-profit colleges are not engaging in nor plan to engage in such costly activity. The long term prospects for the country’s economic health have been endangered by short-term shareholder priorities.

Ronald Reagan was wrong. Thirty years later, college students are either dropping out because of the lack of funds or they are saddling themselves with unbearable debt. The emerging world economy demands a college degree or two just as states are ratcheting up education cuts. Reagan’s model of higher education is failing and the youngest generations are being sacrificed.

In the pragmatic realities of the world, the U.S. government was going to spend billions of dollars in higher education. The post-Sputnik model worked and generated the enormous benefits that we still enjoy in the science, technology and engineering sectors. We need to return to this older model, not as a matter of a political ideology, but as a matter of investing in American prosperity in the coming decades.

The Favorite Book 2

The evolution of the ebook is a heated discussion. While there is the convenience of traveling with an e-reader like the IPad or a Galaxy tablet, there is a visceral loss of paper and ink. Scribbling in the margins does not work on an e-reader but hauling a bunch of books around in a backpack or a messenger bag is a series of frustrations too.

Even more, reading an ebook is a subtly different set of mental processes than a print book, especially non-fiction. In a print book, I may tag a sentence with a pencil in the margin that stands out for retrieval or further review. Often I read a sentence of which I am unsure and I let it remain unmarked although I tag the page number or the page itself in my memory, waiting to see if the next pages prove or disprove the relevancy. This is the process of reading a book and its arguments closely. If the sentence proves relevant, I will flip back a page or two because I am haphazardly counting pages as I continue to follow the argument of the sentence or the paragraph.

I find that in an ebook, the pages look altogether much more similar – the page with the large paragraph followed by the two small paragraphs blends away. Further, I am less conscious of swiping pages compared to turning pages. I lose track. Short arguments work well on an ebook but long, involved arguments are easier to comprehend on printed pages. These minor differences frustrate my long-time developing methodology for studying. The fixes that others have suggested are time-consuming and loss of time defeats the purpose.

The paper-based thesaurus is superb at presenting a lot of information quickly and taking the reading to further information just as speedily. Most online thesauri stink and fail either criterion, a lot of information quickly or access to expanded but related information just as rapidly. I say “most” because I was recently sent to a website that is a holy grail of computing promises; namely, transforming a process done with paper and ink into a better process in digital format. The ebook format excels.

Check out graphwords.com. Plug in a few common words and watch the maps blossom across the screen. Please, though, don’t blame me for all the time you spend with this word engine.