Thursday, January 23, 2014

State of the Planet Address 2014

On January 28, 2014, the President will give his annual State of the Union Address.  And every year since 2011, the TSAP has been giving our annual State of the Planet Address around January 20.  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, and has been for quite some time now.  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.  We have had numerous wildfires, floods followed by long periods of drought, and a "storm of the century" at least once a year for the past few years.   We need look no further than Superstorm Sandy (which was partly caused or at least enhanced by global warming) to see how crazy our weather has become lately.

None of this is an accident of course.  These problems are man-made, and their solutions must also begin and end 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 towards the planet has to end.  NOW.

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 naysayers' pseudoscience (*cough* Rush Limbaugh *cough*) 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, ASAP.  And it is currently at an unsustainably high level of 400 ppm, 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.  (Note that our proposal to tax natural resources and pay out an Alaska-like citizen's dividend already includes this.)  Yes, prices for various things would undoubtedly rise due to this 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.  

In addition to the ideas in Carbonomics, we also support several other measures to help us end our addiction to fossil fuels once and for all.  Our Great American Phase-Out plan would phase out all fossil fuels by 2030 at the latest, via alternative energy, efficiency, and conservation.  One good idea to further the development of alternative energy would be the use of feed-in tariffs for renewable power sources.

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 continuous power source as well, 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 absolutely need to have fewer kids, or nature will reduce our population for us, and the latter will NOT be pleasant to say the least. 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 let us be clear that we do NOT support draconian and/or coercive measures of population control (like China has used).  We believe more liberty is the answer, not less.   But the current tax and benefit incentives that perversely reward having more than two children need to be jettisoned at once.  Fortunately, America's TFR has recently dropped to below 1.9, though it remains to be seen if that is a secular trend or just a temporary blip.  But clearly we cannot keep growing and growing, that's for sure (in fact, we need to shrink). And our insatiable 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.  Put another way, we need to leave room for Nature, lest it not leave room for us.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Flush the TPP Now!

The latest news on the diabolical machinations masquerading as a "free trade" deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is that "fast-track" legislation has now been introduced to Congress.  We have previously noted how the TPP is a very, very bad deal for everyone but the elites and mega-corporations.  In a nutshell, it would basically remove all obstacles to complete corporate control over all of us.  From worker rights to environmental protection to food safety to Internet freedom and much more, We the People would lose a massive amount of power to our global corporate masters as a result of this Faustian bargain.  The fact that the TPP will most certainly destroy countless jobs in this country (like NAFTA did) is merely an afterthought compared to the rest of its pernicious effects upon our nation (and any other nations foolish enough to sign it).  And fast-tracking this deal would allow it to easily bypass the usual safeguards that would otherwise kill it before it even has a chance of passing.

So tell your representatives in Congress:  Do NOT allow it to be fast-tracked.  Flush the TPP now, before it's too late!

R.I.P. Net Neutrality

Today on January 15, 2014 at 11 am, Net Neutrality kicked the bucket--for now at least.   A federal court struck down FCC regulations designed to prevent broadband Internet service providers from favoring certain Internet services at the expense of rivals.  Essentially, they can now charge more for some services to have access to higher speeds than others, creating "fast lanes" and "slow lanes", and thus making the formerly open Internet more analogous to what cable TV companies do.  And that's not a good thing at all, since a few mega-corporations would be able to afford to use the "fast lanes", while the rest of us get stuck in the "slow lanes", creating yet another unfair advantage for the wealthiest and most powerful among us.  As if they didn't already have enough privileges as it is.  Even the very concept of free speech is at stake as well.

However, all is not lost just yet.  Rest assured that the ruling will be appealed, and also remember that the FCC can simply write new rules that reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, which would get around the court ruling entirely and enable them to restore our free and open Internet with the stroke of a pen.   Of course, that would put them at loggerheads with the corporate giants who currently control broadband, and these companies have tremendous lobbying power in Washington.  And given the venality of most members of Congress these days, the corporations could still potentially achieve victory at our expense.  Our job as concerned citizens is to prevent that from happening.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Legal Weed Off to a Great Start

Two weeks ago on New Year's Day, history was made when retail cannabis shops began selling weed legally in Colorado, who legalized cannabis via a 2012 ballot initiative.  And all indications show that it has been a great success so far, with essentially no significant problems.  There were so many customers buying so much that many pot shops sold out within the first week, but now it seems that there will be plenty of ganja available for the foreseeable future.  In 2013 the feds agreed to look the other way as long as certain protocols were followed in states where cannabis is legal, and it seems that they are keeping their word (for now).  Washington State also legalized cannabis, but it will be a few months before the first retail outlets open over there.

Will any other states legalize cannabis anytime soon?  Probably, and it looks like Alaska and California are among those who are trying to get a legalization initiative on the ballot this November.   Since it's already legal in two states, adding California to the mix would greatly tip the balance in favor of national legalization, if history is any indication.  For alcohol Prohibition, New York and California were the first to repeal it in 1923 and 1932, respectively, and as they say the rest is history.  The latest poll numbers are even more in our favor than they were in 2010, when California's Proposition 19 just narrowly failed.  Thus, it's just a matter of time, and the TSAP predicts that national legalization will occur within 5 years from now, if not sooner.

To all the prohibitionists and drug warriors out there, we have one question for you:  How does it feel to be on the wrong side of history?  Because we wouldn't know about that.