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A few random reflections on 2017

Here's how I feel about our dearly departing, dismal year of the Donald. Modified from 'borrowed' cartoon image of old man.

Here’s how I feel about our dearly departing, dismal year of the Donald. This graphic was modified from a cartoon image ‘borrowed’ from the internet.

by Len Bahr, Ph.D.

Apocalypse Now

The year 2017 could be remembered as the time during which the word apocalypse became normalized. Never in my lifetime had I heard the adjective ‘apocalyptic’ used so frequently to describe the scientific and political challenges facing humankind (not just we 3.8 billion coastal residents).

At any rate, the welcome sunset of this unprecedentedly frightening year provides an excuse to post brief notes on a collection of miscellaneous issues with coastal significance, discussed in somewhat random order.

Stranded assets: leaving fossil fuel in the ground (or underwater)

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia about the emerging concept of stranded assets:

Stranded assets is a financial term that describes something that has become obsolete or nonperforming well ahead of its useful life, and must be recorded on a company’s balance sheet as a loss of profit.

On October 1 Mother Jones published a conversation between Robert Jay Lifton, a very savvy 91 year-old philosopher/psychiatrist/historian, and Bill Moyers who I highly respect as an interviewer.* They discussed the significance of stranded assets with respect to global warming.

Here are some quotes about stranded assets, a notion that will hopefully become more commonplace during 2018:

Moyers: …You describe what you call a “wonderfully evocative term, stranded assets, to characterize the oil, coal and gas reserves that are still in the ground. Trillions of dollars of assets stranded there.” And you write: “If we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining the human habitat, between 60 percent and 80 percent of those assets must remain in the ground. In contrast, renewable energy sources are taking on increasing value in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and reduced harm to the communities where we live.” And, you write, “It matters that the market may end up devaluing their fossil fuel assets.”

Lifton: There’s more and more recognition that a carbon economy is dangerous to us economically. And there is increasing recognition that renewable fuels have economic value as well as obvious value for our health and our well-being and our survival. In fact, as you know, the economic revolution in renewable fuels has been impressive. It really had not been anticipated….Unfortunately, it’s still in a sense an impasse because there are lots of people who continue to defend those stranded assets with what I call stranded imagination or stranded ethics. They insist they have a fiduciary duty in terms of their corporation to serve investors by making use of those stranded assets. But there’s more and more pressure against them and more and more of what I call “species awareness” that condemns this pattern of stranded ethics.

Just imagine how a discussion of stranded assets would be received by Don Briggs with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) — or the Louisiana policy makers who receive fat checks (as opposed to fact checks) from loyal lobbying lackeys with big oil.

Opinions on climate change remain unmoved by science

On September 25 The New Yorker published an article by Amy Davidson Sorkin that effectively summarizes the ludicrous ‘logic’ that characterizes the deniers of climate change, despite the empirical evidence from 2017, e.g., from wildfires and hurricanes. On November 10 published an article by David Roberts on the challenge of changing conservative minds on climate change.

On October 11 published a note by Henry C. Jackson that Barry Myers, the businessman founder and CEO of Accuweather has been nominated to head NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which has huge responsibilites for climate change monitoring. Here’s a quote:

Barry Myers has served since 2007 as CEO of AccuWeather, a media company in State College, Pennsylvania, that provides worldwide weather predictions. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in business and received a law degree from Boston University, but has no science training.

The October 11 PBS show Frontline, titled The War on EPA traces the profound influence of the fossil fuel industry (especially coal interests) over the agency charged with protecting human health as affected by the environmental quality of air, water and soil. The show outlines the checkered professional career of Oklahoma’s native son Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator — and detractor in chief.

On October 14 published an article by Robinson Meyer about strange bedfellows. He describes the ironic situation that supporters of renewable energy advocate the free market, i.e., Capitalism, to determine U.S. electrical energy policy, while coal promoters, like our secretary of the Department of Energy Rick Perry, support socialistic-sounding government subsidies to bail out the declining coal industry! Another irony is that electrical generation from wind farms recently surpassed coal-generated power in Perry’s state of Texas!

Shortest day of the year marked by the shortest thinking

On the occasion of the winter solstice it’s sad to reflect on what could have happened in 2017 but didn’t. In a December 20 article in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer lamented the incredible opportunity passed up by congress to enact a carbon tax this year that had bipartisan support and could have significantly reduced American greenhouse gas emissions.

On December 21 | TheTimes-Picayune published a self-serving op/ed by Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and Senator Bill Cassidy, defensively promoting their role in the passage and signing of an egregious tax cutting bill that benefits wealthy real estate tycoons like Donald Trump, balloons the deficit, threatens the Affordable Care Act and allows drilling for oil in the pristine but vulnerable Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). This pair would presumably scoff at a carbon tax, as would LSU economics guru, Saint Loren Scott.

Nevertheless, some conservatives endorse the carbon tax concept. On December 28, pundit David Frum argues in that the tax package just signed by Trump could be largely corrected if a carbon tax were added to the package to reward the coastal blue states that are encouraging the use of renewable energy and to incentivize GOP officials in red states who are hell-bent on promoting an economy based primarily on domestic fossil fuel production. Here’s a quote:

The top five most carbon-efficient jurisdictions are D.C., New York, California, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The five worst: Wyoming, North Dakota, West Virginia, Alaska, and Louisiana.

What say you, Scalise and Cassidy? Never mind, I’m not genuinely interested in your opinions based solely on personal ambition, not the good of our state.

What’s in a word?

On December 15 published a report by Avery Anapol that EPA officials are currently disallowed to use the phrase ‘science based’ in government reports. On December 19 it was reported in that Interior secretary Warren Zinke won’t allow any use of the term ‘climate change’ by any staffers. And here I thought we were a few years beyond 1984.

On December 21 published an article by Julia Belluz and Umair Irfan that describes the rationale behind the bureaucratic move to suppress the agency use of seven terms, including evidence-based and science-based. On December 22 Daniel Engber corrected this story by pointing out in that these terms were NOT banned by the White House, they were recommended to be avoided by top level bureaucrats afraid of budget cuts. Engber points out in his article that what should arouse real fear is the open declaration by cabinet secretaries that climate change is a hoax and that energy conservation and environmental protection are unnecessary at best and harmful at worst.

Game of floods

On August 9 TheTimes-Picayune published an interesting article by Tristan Baurick that describes a game called “Game of Floods” invented (where else) in Marin County California, a game that should become popular in South Louisiana.  Learn more about the game with a video presentation at this site. The game is free and you can order or download from this site.

Meanwhile, back on the coastal home front, on December 9 | TheTimes-Picayune published a report by the same author that the credit rating for New Orleans has been lowered because of increased flood vulnerability due to climate change. You can’t snooker the green eyeshade folks who make investment decisions based on actuarial data.

Finally, on December 28, in a fit of transparently ignorant sarcasm, the POTUS tweeted that the cold wave currently blanketing the northern half of the continental US shows the need for some good old fashioned global warming. Here’s a piece by Nick Visser in on the incident. Lord have mercy.

Goodbye and good riddance, 2017. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. On second thought I take that back.

*Along with Terry Gross (NPR), Jeffrey Brown (PBS), and Bob Edwards (formerly with NPR and Sirius radio**).

**Does anyone know why Bob Edwards has disappeared from the airwaves?

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