Monday, January 29, 2018

State of the Planet Address 2018

Every year since 2011, the TSAP has been giving our annual State of the Planet Address in mid-to-late January.  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 thanks 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.   And it is only getting worse every year.  In fact, 2016 has been the hottest year on record, and 2017 was the hottest year without an El Nino.  Look no further than the three record-breaking storms in the past dozen years:  Katrina (2005, highest storm surge), Sandy (2012, largest diameter), and now Harvey (2017, a 1000-year flood, and overall worst hurricane on record), followed by Irma and Maria which devastated Puerto Rico, for a taste of the not-too-distant future.

In fact, on the other side of the world, the worst monsoon season in recent memory has recently displaced 41 million people due to record flooding.  Thus for many, the future is sadly already here to one degree or another.

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.  Yesterday.

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.  In fact, for something as dire as climate change, as of 2015 we now support a strong "no regrets" approach.  With no apologies to hardcore libertarians or paleoconservatives, in fact. We are not fazed one bit by the naysayers' pseudoscience 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 (or points) 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.  Technology is important, but it won't be decisive on its own (economics geeks may recall Jevons Paradox).  The real problem is the paradigm that our society has been following, and that system is based on wetiko, the parasite of the mind and cancer of the soul.  It often seems that the only difference between capitalism and cannibalism is the spelling.

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.  Another crucial method would be regenerative organic farming, which also turns the soil into an effective carbon sink as well.

We've said this before, and we'll say it again.  Our ultimate goal is 100% renewable energy by 2030, but we need to hedge our bets.  We can phase out fossil fuels, or we can phase out nuclear power, but we can't do both at the same time--and fossil fuels need to be phased out first, and quickly.  Nuclear is doing a pretty good job of phasing itself out as it is.  So let's not get rid of it prematurely.  

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, but let us be clear that we do NOT support draconian and/or coercive measures of population control (like China has used).  We believe that more liberty is the answer, not less.   In fact, the two most effective means of reducing the birthrate are poverty reduction and female empowerment.  Fortunately, America's TFR has recently dropped to below 1.9, with no indication of rising back above replacement rate in the near term.  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 decoupled from well-being) is also every bit as harmful as overpopulation as well, if not more so.  Growth for the sake of growth, the ideology of the cancer cell,  is clearly one of the most asinine obsessions our nation (and world) has ever had.  We clearly need to transition to a steady-state economy, most likely following a period of what Naomi Klein calls "selective degrowth" as well.  And to do that, we need a radical paradigm shift to happen yesterday.  Put another way, we need to leave room for Nature, lest Nature not leave room for us.  We have been warned, decades ago in fact.  Unfortunately, such warnings have largely fallen of deaf ears until very recently.

Last but not least, the TSAP now believes that as long as men remain in charge, we are all merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Let's face it, it ain't gonna be us fellas who will save the world, as the past 7000 years or so have shown.  We paved paradise and put up a parking lot, we created a desert and called it peace.  We devoured and suffocated our own empire, and our proverbial 15 minutes of fame is almost up.  Only when women finally take over and reclaim their rightful position as the new leaders of the free world--and they will--will there be any real permanent solution.

Bottom line: we need to take the environment much more seriously than we do now.  We ignore it at our own peril.  And while the current administration in DC clearly doesn't care, We the People must act nonetheless.  With no apologies to the deniosaurs or Big Oil or Big Gas, or Dirty Coal.

Oh, by the way, wanna hear a joke?  Peak Oil.  Not saying it won't happen, of course--it will eventually peak and decline at some point--but climate change kinda supersedes it.  While conventional oil most likely has already peaked, there is more than enough total oil (including unconventional) to deep-fry the Earth--and most of which needs to stay in the ground if we wish to avoid catastrophic climate change.  Fossil fuels are, after all, what Buckminster Fuller referred to as our planet's "energy savings account", which we need to wean ourselves off of and save just in case of a planetary emergency--and he first said this in 1941!

So quibble all you want, but the truth must be faced head-on.  We have a planet to save.  So let's roll!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dear Congress (and Trump): YOU'RE FIRED!

It's official.  The much-feared government shutdown has now begun as of midnight on January 20, 2018--exactly one year after Trump was inaugurated.  All because Congress couldn't get their act together and pass even a very brief stopgap funding bill in time, let alone come to a longer-term budget deal.

Like the previous shutdown in 2013, the blame lies primarily with Republicans.  This time around, it was their refusal to negotiate with Democrats about several pressing issues, most notably DACA, in the past several weeks that led to the current impasse.  Granted with a Republican president this time, the roles of offense and defense have been reversed, but Trump has clearly sent mixed signals and has essentially been engaging in chaos manufacture all this time.  And while the Democrats are not entirely blameless (after all, they did overwhelmingly block the stopgap funding measure), the lion's share of the blame clearly goes to the party that controls not only both houses of Congress, but in fact controls all three branches of government--REPUBLICANS.

That said, the TSAP hereby gives virtually all 535 members of this most dysfunctional Congress in history, especially (but not limited to) Republicans, a vote of "no confidence", and we will take their government shutdown to imply the resignation of such members.   We also do the same for Trump as well, obviously.  We thus encourage every reader of this blog to sign the following petitions:

Dear Congress:  We Accept Your Resignation
No Pay for Congress During Shutdown
No Budget, No Pay
Minimum Wage for Congress
Impeach Donald Trump Now

Let them know that We the People have had ENOUGH of the gridlock, grandstanding, backstabbing, corruption, venality, follies, lies, recklessness, childishness, and otherwise outrageous behavior of Congress, along with the mendacity, recklessness, instability, incompetence, hate, chaos manufacture, grift, graft, and scandals of the orange menace in the White House. If we weren't clear, we'll say it again:


So what's the opposite of "progress" again?  You guessed it.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

California Dreaming Has Finally Become A Reality

Well, it's official now.  Cannabis is now fully legal for recreational use California, with the first legal recreational sales having begun on January 1, 2018.  The Golden State now joins seven other states and DC where recreational weed is currently legal to one degree or another, though medical use (now legal in a whoppoing 29 states now) has in fact been legal in California since 1996.

While Trump and especially Jeff Sessions are unlikely to take very kindly to this development, the fact remains that the proverbial dam has now finally broken, and the anti-legalization forces are becoming increasingly impotent despite the occasional rear-guard crackdown here and there.  Prohibition is quickly unraveling as we speak.  Legalization at the federal level has really become inevitable at this point--it's no longer a matter of if, but when.

Are there some flaws with California's system of legalization and regulation?  Yes, it's not perfect, but if we make the perfect the enemy of the good, we ultimately end up with neither.   For example, no matter how much we as both TSAP and Twenty-One Debunked loathe the 21 age limit, we nonetheless grudgingly supported it since we knew it would not have had a prayer of a chance at passing during the crucial years of 2012-2016.   Once the dust settles, though, and national legalization really is a foregone conclusion, we will increasingly take all states to task for not lowering the age limit for cannabis to 18, just as we currently take all states to task for not lowering the drinking age to 18 and recently some states and localities for raising the tobacco smoking age to 21.

Canada, for example, already plans to set it at 18 federally, while at the provincial level it will be 18 or 19 depending on the province, as is the case with alcohol.  Uruguay chose 18 as well.   And the Netherlands has set it at 18 since 1996.  No good reason why it should be any higher than 18 in what should be the land of the free as well.

In the meantime, we shall nonetheless rejoice at one of the very few bright spots in America's increasingly dark night of the soul that began on November 9, 2016 and began in earnest on January 20, 2017.