LEV could save us all

I’ve been watching some of the national parties’ respective conventions. In case you have missed them, conventions involve a lot of speeches and imagery. The purpose of each party’s convention is to rally the faithful and create a contrast with the opposition, as if the latter were necessary. This is done through words and symbols, mostly videos and signs sported by the assembled delegates.

Also, in case you haven’t noticed, there is a huge difference between the presidential candidates, pun intended. I, for one, believe that a Trump presidency would be a disaster in so many ways, not the least of which in defining who or what this country is all about. His election would demonstrate that America is essentially a political and cultural cesspool, even should the electoral votes be close. We are, after all, a country determined by majority rule, as followers of Supreme Court decisions know all too well.

I proudly confess to being a Bernie Sanders supporter. His views, in particular his judgments on economic inequality, ring truer than those of his primary opponent. I felt the Bern, and will continue to do so.

However, and this is most important in the political calculus, I cannot and will not vote for a third-party candidate nor write in Sanders’s name on my November ballot.

My argument is a simple one. Given our electoral system, with winner-take-all elections and the presidential structure itself, casting a vote for someone or some party sure to lose at the polls does indeed constitute a wasted choice. But it’s much worse.

If enough people vote for a third-party candidate, say the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and the numbers represent the margin of victory for Donald Trump, then they will have delivered the worst possible outcome, if we assume further that Clinton would have been the second preference to Stein.

In other words, lesser evil voting (LEV), is morally compelled for those who give a damn about what happens to the environment, women’s rights, international relations, and economic security—to name a few issues.

I admit to being pleasantly surprised to read Noam Chomsky’s essay on lesser evil voting. I commend the entire piece, which is not all that long. I quote his conclusion:

…by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.

From A to B

Puget Sound, like many U.S. metropolises, suffers from traffic congestion. There are just too many people driving too many cars on too few roads. When we set out for work each morning, we inevitably join the congealed goo that clogs our freeways. Getting to and from Seattle involves one of the worst commutes in the country.

A big reason for this is the lack of alternative transportation. We are too sparsely distributed to rely on bicycles, and even if we are intrepid enough to bike, we must share the roads with giant SUVs and trucks—an iffy proposition. Buses must also compete with thousands of other vehicles, which does not make commute times any less. But the absence of trains is the largest factor in our region’s transportation mess.

The King County Executive, Dow Constantine, announced that residents of the area should not expect relief to come via more roads and freeway lanes.

With the three-county region’s population expected to grow by 1 million over the next 25 years, Constantine said transit is the only solution that can move a lot of people — 16,000 an hour, or the equivalent of 14 new lanes on Interstate 5.

The proposal going to the region’s voters this fall, dubbed ST3 (Sound Transit 3), will ask residents to pay a combined $50 billion extra to serve the citizens of Everett and elsewhere. The Sound Transit agency estimates that the average Puget Sound household would pay about $392/year, or a bit over a dollar a day.

But Republicans, as a rule, loathe anything public and especially anything to do with public rails. They believe, in their idiocy, that rails and buses undermine the freedom to roam and, though they do not admit it, wreak havoc on the environment in their libertarian pursuits. So Republicans, as a rule, oppose any collective efforts to solve aggregate problems, and transportation is the mother of all aggregate problems.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to fall behind other countries in just about all categories of social and economic wellbeing, save for our One Percent, who reign supreme throughout the world. Consider this chart on high-speed rail, based on data collected by GoEuro, a website devoted to transportation.

high speed rail

Notice where the U.S. ranks. That’s right, next to last in population coverage and dead last in costs per kilometer traveled. The GoEuro website includes a table showing high-speed rail either planned or already under construction. Again, look at The Americas.

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The entire Western Hemisphere has just three percent of the world’s total of rail lines under construction (most of that the California project) and under 10 percent of the total planned. Current usage of existing high-speed rail is roughly two percent of all the global high-speed rail now operating.

Against Europe and Asia we suck. For you Trumpites out there, know that American cannot be made great again by cutting taxes on the wealthy or building a big wall, however beautiful. More helpful would be to get Americans moving again, quickly and efficiently, along with their goods and services. Asians and Europeans understand this.

Ben Adler, writing for Grist, offers his thoughts:

GoEuro notes dryly that the “USA and Russia, both once in competition during the Space Race,” are now struggling just to move their citizens around swiftly on land. Well, Russia is actually in 15th place, so unlike the space race, we’re losing this one. Well-known rail leaders Japan, South Korea, China, and France are the top four nations, in that order. Spain, which is persistently economically troubled, ranks fifth. None of these countries has as high a GDP per capita as the U.S., so our problem isn’t lack of resources, it’s lack of political will.

Ah, politics. The necessary evil.

A big stink

Writing for The Nation, Bill McKibben exposes another dark side to Hillary Clinton:

We’ve become the planet’s salesman for natural gas—and a key player in this scheme could become the next president of the United States. When Hillary Clinton took over the State Department, she set up a special arm, the Bureau of Energy Resources, after close consultation with oil and gas executives. This bureau, with 63 employees, was soon helping sponsor conferences around the world. And much more: Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the secretary of state was essentially acting as a broker for the shale-gas industry, twisting the arms of world leaders to make sure US firms got to frack at will.

To take just one example, an article in Mother Jones based on the WikiLeaks cables reveals what happened when fracking came to Bulgaria. In 2011, the country signed a $68 million deal with Chevron, granting the company millions of acres in shale-gas concessions. The Bulgarian public wasn’t happy: Tens of thousands were in the streets of Sofia with banners reading Stop Fracking With Our Water. But when Clinton came for a state visit in 2012, she sided with Chevron (one of whose executives had bundled large sums for her presidential campaign in 2008). In fact, the leaked cables show that the main topic of her meetings with Bulgaria’s leaders was fracking. Clinton offered to fly in the “best specialists on these new technologies to present the benefits to the Bulgarian people,” and she dispatched her Eurasian energy envoy, Richard Morningstar, to lobby hard against a fracking ban in neighboring Romania. Eventually, they won those battles—and today, the State Department provides “assistance” with fracking to dozens of countries around the world, from Cambodia to Papua New Guinea.

Natural gas, by the way, should not be viewed as “the bridge fuel” between coal and renewables, as Ms. Clinton averred in a recent debate. The methane leaks from fracking and the natural gas delivery infrastructure have essentially overwhelmed CO2 reductions from diminished coal use. Besides, and this is a point worth emphasizing, natural gas displaces already available and inexpensive “green” resources like conservation, especially, and renewable generating resources like wind and solar.

Kids sue for their future

An interesting item in The Nation magazine. Twenty-one children of various ages and locales have sued President Obama.

The heart of their argument is that government, by failing to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, is violating young people’s Fifth and Ninth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, as well as the “public trust” doctrine, which holds that certain natural resources must be protected for public use. Climate inaction is a form of discrimination, they argue, because young people will be impacted more severely by climate change than the current generation of policymakers. The suit asks the court to order the government to “cease their permitting, authorizing, and subsidizing of fossil fuels and, instead, move to swiftly phase out CO2 emissions.”



Climate change in Puget Sound

The University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group recently published a report (pdf)  projecting effects of greenhouse gas emissions on the Puget Sound region. For every significant metric, from temperature and snowpack to river flows and marine acidification, things are going to get worse, under nearly every emissions scenario.

Let’s take temperature. The report’s authors conclude that by the 2050s the region is “projected to warm rapidly,” with temperatures rising by 4.2°F, under a lower-emissions regime, and by 5.9°F, under business-as-usual scenarios, though they could be as high as 7.1°F warmer. By 2080, the region will experience temperatures that may be 17°F higher than they are today!

With warming temperatures less snow will fall, stressing agriculture, especially east of the Cascades. Streams will warm so much that fish populations will die off. Oh, and don’t buy any riverfront property, unless you expect your children to grow fins.

The Puget Sound itself will acidify, killing off shellfish and marine ecosystems. Dissolved oxygen concentrations will decline, stressing fish populations.

Very depressing stuff, unless you simply want to dismiss the findings as a “hoax.” That should work.

More Koch fingerprints

Nevada, which has more sun than just about any other state, is doing its best to kill the solar industry. The state’s regulatory commission approved an increase in the monthly service charge for electric utility customers while sharply reducing the price utilities pay for customers’ solar-generated power.

I had previously written about the boost in the service charge, and how it seems reasonable for utilities to recoup some or all of the fixed costs of the distribution system via a fixed service charge. The Snohomish County PUD has begun exploring such a charge for residential customers; today the PUD is one of a handful of state utilities that does not impose a service, or distribution charge. The PUD, like other utilities with solar programs, also pays customers who install panels the full retail price of electricity for the rooftop-generated electricity. That’s part of the state’s net metering law.

However, Nevada appears to have gone much too far in both increasing its existing service charge and reducing the net-metering payments to customers, which dropped to two cents from the previous 11 cents/kWh. Now solar companies are shuttering their doors and laying off thousands of workers, as reported by The Guardian.

The decision to replace economic incentives with new higher fees pulled the carpet out from under an industry that provided 8,700 jobs in the state last year, according to the Solar Foundation, and stranded some 17,000 homeowners who have already gone solar with a financial liability on their rooftops.

Three companies, including SolarCity, announced they were quitting the state, laying off about 1,000 workers.

SolarCity, founded by Elon Musk of Tesla fame, finds himself opposite Warren Buffet, whose company owns Nevada Energy (NVEnergy), the state’s largest investor-owned utility. But there’s more going on.

The move by Nevada’s regulators is part of an overall strategy by the Koch brothers et al. to kill solar energy. Why? The Kochs are into fossil fuels—big time. Moreover, the Kochs detest government in general and its regulations in particular. As chronicled in Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money, the Kochs have targeted alternatives to oil, coal, and natural gas. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch’s umbrella group, was behind the attacks on Solyndra, the failed solar-panel company.

Nor should we ignore the disastrous environmental record of the Kochs. Here’s Jane Mayer:

The numbers regarding Koch Industries’ pollution were incontrovertible. In 2012, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory database, which documents the toxic and carcinogenic output of eight thousand American companies, Koch Industries was the number one producer of toxic waste in the United States. It generated 950 million pounds of hazardous materials that year. Of this total output, it released 56.8 million pounds into the air, water, and soil, making it the country’s fifth-largest polluter. The company was also among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in America, spewing over twenty-four million tons of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere by 2011, according to the EPA, as much as is typically emitted by five million cars.

If the Kochs continue to have their way, they will literally destroy the planet while siphoning off billions in profits.