Wednesday, January 25, 2012

State of the Planet Address 2012

On January 24, 2012, the President gave his annual State of the Union Address.  Every year since 2011, the TSAP has been giving our annual State of the Planet Address.  Yes, we know it is a bit of a downer to say the least.  So sit down, take off your rose-colored glasses, and read on:

Our planet is in grave danger.  We face several serious long term problems:  climate change, deforestation/desertification, loss of biodiversity, overharvesting, energy crises, and of course pollution of many kinds.  Polar ice caps are melting.  Rainforests have been shrinking by 50 acres per minute.  Numerous species are going extinct every year.  Soil is eroding rapidly.  Food shortages have occurred in several countries in recent years.  Weather has been getting crazier each year, most likely due to climate change. And in 2010, we had the worst oil spill in the entire history of the world, leaving widespread and severe environmental damage in its wake that will persist for years to come. 

None of this is an accident of course.  These problems are man-made, and their solutions must also begin with humans.  We cannot afford to sit idly by any longer, lest we face hell and high water in the not-too-distant future.  Our unsustainable scorched-earth policy towars the planet has to end.

While we do not invoke the precautionary principle for all issues, we unequivocally do for the issue of climate change and any other environmental issues of comparable magnitude (we support the Rio Declaration's version, to be precise). With no apologies to hardcore libertarians or paleoconservatives, in fact. We are not fazed one bit by the Climategate scandal as it does not really "debunk" the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming. The only serious debate is about how fast it will happen, and when the tipping point will occur. It is not a matter of if, but when. And the less precarious position is to assume it is a real and urgent problem. We need to reduce CO2 emissions to the point where the CO2 concentration is at or below 350 ppm. And it is currently at an unsustainably high level, and growing.

Solving the problem of climate change will also help to solve the other ecological crises we are facing, for they all ultimately have the same root causes, not least of which is our insatiable addiction to dirty energy.  However, there is a right way to solve it, and several wrong ways.

The TSAP endorses the ideas embodied in Steve Stoft's new book Carbonomics, most notably a tax-and-dividend system that would tax carbon (i.e. fossil fuels) at the source, and give all Americans an equal share of the revenue generated from this tax. Every dollar raised will be used this way without exception. Yes, prices for various things would undoubtedly rise due to this embedded tax, all else being equal, but the dividend will allow Americans to pay for this increase. The average American would in fact break even, but those who (directly or indirectly) use less energy than average will effectively pay less tax, while the energy hogs will effectively be taxed more, as they should be. Thus it is certainly not a regressive tax, and may even be mildly progressive. This is both the simplest and most equitable way to reduce carbon emissions as well as other forms of pollution, not to mention waste of dwindling non-renewable resources. The real challenge is getting the feds to accept something that won't directly benefit them (in the short term).  Carbonomics also includes other good ideas, such as improving how fuel economy standards are done, and crafting a better verison of the Kyoto treaty.

Though not a part of Carbonomics, we also support raising the federal gasoline (and on-road diesel) tax, raising it a penny a week for two years until it is a dollar higher than it currently is but using that to fund alternative energy sources and public transportation along with highway funding (and including a limited prebate). We call this idea "a penny for progress".

We support ending net deforestation completely, and putting carbon back in the ground through carbon sequestration. One method is known as biochar, a type of charcoal made from plants that remove carbon dioxide from the air, that is subsequently buried. This is also an ancient method of soil fertilization and conservation, originally called terra preta.  It also helps preserve biodiversity. 

We've said this before, and we'll say it again. We need more nuclear power plants as well. Nuclear emits no greenhouse gases directly, and even indirectly it pales in comparison to fossil fuels. Done properly, it is just as green as solar photovoltaic power, produces less radiation than coal power, and is much safer than in the past (and even those dangers were exaggerated). Since nuclear plants take many years to build, we need to get cracking ASAP. Nuclear power is not a substitute to renewables; it is a necessary complement to them since we need a base-loading power source, not just intermittent power. Our nation's irrational fear of all things nuclear needs to die NOW.  Right now.

But the biggest elephant in the room (make that the elephant in the Volkswagen) is overpopulation.  It does not make for pleasant dinner conversation, but it must be addressed or else all other causes become lost causes in the long run. We need to have fewer kids, or nature will reduce our population for us, and the latter will NOT be pleasant. The TSAP believes in voluntarily reducing the total fertility rate (TFR) to 1.5-1.9 children per woman to do so, along with reducing immigration dramatically, but we do not support draconian and/or coercive measures of population control (like China has used). But the current tax and benefit incentives that reward having more than two children need to be jettisoned at once. We believe more liberty is the answer, not less.   Fortunately, America's TFR has recently dropped to 1.9 (though that is probably just due to the bad economy rather than a secular trend).  But we cannot keep growing and growing, that's for sure (in fact, we need to shrink). And our addiction to economic growth (despite being recently decoupled from well-being) is also part of the problem.  Growth for the sake of growth is clearly one of the most asinine obsessions our nation (and world) has ever had.

Bottom line: we need to take the environment much more seriously than we do now. We ignore it at our own peril.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Facts About the State of the Union

President Obama gives his annual State of the Union Address tonight.   In addition to watching it, you should also look at the following link to get the facts about what has gone on since his last State of the Union Address in 2011:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Down With SOPA!

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), along with its companion bill Protect IP Act (PIPA), is currently being debated in Congress.  This bipartisan effort, ostensibly to fight internet piracy and counterfeit goods, has been mired in controversy since its inception.  While supporters (mainly those in the entertainment industry) hail it as a necessary step to take, opponents (most Internet users and virtually all of Silicon Valley) fear that it would amount to censorship of the Internet.

Regardless of how you feel about piracy (and counterfeiting), SOPA's vague language goes way beyond that.  It essentially creates a "Great Firewall of America" that would blacklist not only pirate sites, but potentially any site worldwide with user-created content if corporations claim that such content may have been pirated.  Internet service providers could be required to block IP addresses of certain sites and monitor Internet traffic, effectively making such sites disappear from the Web.  The potential for collateral damage (not to mention abuse) is enormous, and there are also security implications to consider.  Such a bill would be a blatant violation of the First Amendment's guaranteed right to freedom of speech.  Additionally, SOPA is unnecessary--there are other means to defeat the foreign and domestic "rogue sites" that are the primary targets, and one alternative bill (the OPEN Act) does so by cutting off funding to such sites (from ads and credit cards) without actually censoring the Internet or any part of it.

It should go without saying that the TSAP opposes this bill, which would chill the free exchange of ideas and essentially end the Internet as we know it.

UPDATE:  It appears that SOPA has been shelved by Congress for now.  And we hope it never rears its ugly head again.