Perfect killing the good

The Everett Herald‘s editors weighed in. They urge a “no” vote on Initiative 732. They write:

Revenue forecasting is difficult enough now, without having to estimate what would come from a carbon tax.

And while it won’t generate any revenue for the state, we now have a carbon cap being put into place. At the direction of Gov. Jay Inslee, the state Department of Ecology in September announced its Clean Air Rule, which sets a limit on carbon for industrial producers. Phased in over the next 20 years the cap will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.7 percent each year.

Assuming the cap survives challenges by industry and others, we will have the reductions in carbon that I-732 offers without the uncertainty it would bring to the state budget.

Fixing our regressive tax system will have to be left to another initiative or state lawmakers who can find the courage.

I find the editors unduly and cavalierly dismissive. While the initiative may be an imperfect attempt to limit carbon emissions in Washington state, and one certainly embroiled in controversy—mostly on the progressive side, it is the only game in town for the moment. If voters reject the measure, as the Herald‘s editors recommend, future opportunities to accomplish its objectives could be few and far between.

David Roberts, writing for Vox, dives into the initiative and its controversies. He begins:

It’s a fight happening within the left, and like a great many such fights in US politics these days, it reveals sharp differences over how to make progress in the face of Republican intransigence. In this case, the subject is climate change policy, but the fissures being exposed are relevant to all of left politics in an age of hyperpolarization.

Here’s the situation. There’s a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington this November, meant not just to put the state on the path to its climate targets but to serve as an example to other states.

The measure, called Initiative 732, isn’t just any carbon tax, either. It’s a big one. It would be the first carbon tax in the US, the biggest in North America, and one of the most ambitious in the world.

And yet the left opposes it. The Democratic Party, community-of-color groups, organized labor, big liberal donors, and even most big environmental groups have come out against it.

Why on Earth would the left oppose the first and biggest carbon tax in the country? How has the climate community in Washington ended up in what one participant calls a “train wreck”? (Others have described it in more, er, colorful terms.)

That turns out to be a complex and ill-fated story, revealing divisions among climate hawks — over who pays, who benefits, and who decides — that will not long stay confined to the West Coast. The future of climate politics is playing out in Washington state, and it is not pretty.

After reading Roberts’s lengthy report on the internecine battle being waged on the left, I’m struck once again by the stiletto approach of progressives, who seem so enamored of their own niche that they lose sight of the larger picture. In this case, the initiative, if successful, will surely result in fewer carbon emissions. Making something harmful more expensive will reduce its consumption—all other things being equal. Economists of every political stripe will say as much. Also, a carbon tax will increase the value of alternatives, including renewable energy and conservation.

But, according to Roberts, people’s noses got bent out of shape, resulting in self-destructive pettiness. So, Washington voters have before them a ballot measure that is officially rejected by the state’s large liberal organizations, including labor.

What I fear, if the measure fails, is that it will be a long time before Washingtonians get another bite of the carbon-reduction apple. However, this unfortunate outcome cannot be blamed on the left. As Roberts emphasizes, it’s the Republican Party’s stubborn refusal to accept the science and reality of global warming and its steadfast and foolish resistance to any solutions that stand in the way of progress.

This situation will only get worse should voters shoot themselves in the foot by electing more Republicans. The Party of No is intent on ruining everything, including our children’s future.

Leave the trees alone

Here’s an idea. Let’s cut down then burn trees to produce electricity. After all, there are millions of trees and they’re renewable, right? Besides, the carbon released in combustion will be replaced with new trees. Simple.

If you’re a bit skeptical that this is a winning proposition, then you have no place in the U.S. Senate. In the coming weeks, the body is poised to give bipartisan support for declaring trees a renewable energy source and should therefore be counted under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

As it happens, and the cynics in each of us could hardly be surprised, this whole notion is loony and completely refuted by facts. And, as we’ve learned, facts just don’t matter anymore. Here’s Eduardo Porter, writing for the New York Times:

There are a few problems with this thinking. Wood is not very efficient. In fact, burning trees to generate electricity generates more carbon per unit of power than using coal. Power companies would produce fewer emissions if they burned coal and left the forest alone to keep sucking carbon out of the air.

And there is the problem of timing. Sure forests regrow. But it takes many decades for seedlings to grow into trees and recapture all the carbon emitted.

“It’s a double whammy, because you remove an active sink that was sucking carbon out of the air,” said Mary S. Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, which opposes the assumption that biomass is carbon neutral. “Under the most conservative assumptions you are worse off for 40 to 50 years.”

The world simply does not have that kind of time.

Meh. Ignore the headlines, deny the science, and just sit back and enjoy our warming future. Our grandchildren will surely thank us.

Perfect killing the good

Ages ago, during my community activist days (at least that’s what I was called by the Everett Herald), I would occasionally rail against what I termed the “stiletto” approach to policy issues. While conservatives seemed to cohere around a simple message (for example, cut taxes), progressives and liberals would divide themselves into a myriad of narrowly defined interests and prescriptions. Conservatives walked around in huge clogs; progressives imprinted the political realm with stilettos.

Comes now Initiative 732, which will be on November’s ballot. In a nutshell, the initiative, should it pass, would impose a tax on carbon consumption in Washington state. The revenues collected would offset a reduction in the state’s sales tax, already among the highest in the country, and business-and-operations taxes. Even those who pushed for the initiative are having second thoughts, debating the revenue-distribution portion. Some environmentalists would prefer that the carbon-tax proceeds be spent on promoting green resources. (This article in Crosscut summarizes the divisions.)

But here’s the thing. Despite the arguments about revenue distribution, the carbon tax would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And isn’t that the point?

Morphing from small to huge

The planet is warming. A simple enough fact to verify for those who have thermometers, evidently absent from Republican households. The Guardian cites Gavin Schmidt’s conclusions. He’s a climate scientist working for NASA.

“It’s the long-term trend we have to worry about though and there’s no evidence it’s going away and lots of reasons to think it’s here to stay,” Schmidt said. “There’s no pause or hiatus in temperature increase. People who think this is over are viewing the world through rose-tinted spectacles. This is a chronic problem for society for the next 100 years.”

Here’s the rather large challenge we collectively face: we could act now to curtail greenhouse gas emissions or we could keep kicking the can down the road indefinitely. If we choose the latter, then it will surely be too late to limit global temperature increases to two degrees Centigrade and stop sea levels rising above three feet.

In effect, Mother Earth is saying that we can pay her a little bit today or a huge amount tomorrow. But that tomorrow will be unlike anything humans have experienced for hundreds of thousands of years.

nasa temperatures 8:2016jpg

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.

As I’ve said…

…Republicans pose an existential threat to the planet. Let’s consider two articles.

The first reports that carbon dioxide emissions surpassed 400 parts per million last year, about a year ahead of schedule, and that concentrations will continue an upward climb, never falling backwards.

“Once you have passed that barrier, it takes a long time for CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere by natural processes,” [Professor Richard Betts of the Met’s Hadley Centre and Exeter University] said. “Even if we cut emissions, we wouldn’t see concentrations coming down for a long time, so we have said goodbye to measurements below 400ppm at Mauna Loa.”

Climate scientists have consistently warned that if concentrations reach 450 ppm, then global temperatures will exceed the two degrees Centigrade threshold, long considered the cutoff between planetary disaster and species survival.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that CO2 concentrations must be stabilised at 450ppm to have a fair chance of avoiding global warming above 2C, which could carry catastrophic consequences.

Then there are the Republicans. They just denounced a carbon tax, which even conservative think tanks believe is the right, market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Marmalade denies global warming. WTF.