Why the Economy Doesn’t Matter

Okay – obviously it does. We still have weak economic growth, high unemployment, and a lack of consumer confidence. However, as Keynes pointed out decades ago, and as Paul Krugman recently referenced, due to “use, decay, and obsolescence” economies eventually fix themselves. Basically, as products, machinery, or equipment grows old, breaks down, or becomes obsolete – it needs to be replaced. This means businesses and individuals start buying more products, and the economy returns itself to normal.

I bring this up because so often the question in the Presidential race is who is best suited to fix this economy. Not to say this issue shouldn’t be addressed, but it overshadows so many other issues. Since we are in a recession, we as a country forget there are other problems and issues a President must address.

The United States is facing an education crisis; our standing on the world stage continually dropping. Not to mention there are underfunded and understaffed schools across the country.  Both sides have offered little more than campaign platitudes, and good feeling rhetoric like “Hire more teachers!” In fairness to the President though, he does have his Race to the Top initiative, which focuses on increasing funding for k-12 education. (He did a terrible job communicating details of the plan during the debate) Similarly, Democrats have been trying to increase funding for Pell grants, and are working to  keep interest rates low on student loans. Conversely, the Ryan plan slashes education, including cuts to programs like Head Start and Pell grants. Also, we have seen Republican Governors attempt to balance their budgets by getting rid of teachers and other public employees.

The next President is also likely to make two Supreme Court nominees, which means whomever wins this election, his stance on social issues will have a greater bearing on policy than normal. This is troubling, especially considering we have absolutely no idea what Mitt Romney actually believes on the issue of abortion, and in the debate, Paul Ryan hinted he would be in favor of overturning Roe vs. Wade. Furthermore, as state courts contemplate the issue of gay marriage, it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court weighs in. Yes, jobs are important, but it is also important that women continue to have the right to make decisions about their body, and it is also important we work toward giving all persons equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.

Finally, as I’ve argued before, the greatest threat to this country is not the debt, it’s not China, and contrary to many Catholic groups, it’s not gay people – it’s climate change. Climate change not only threatens the lives  of people across the globe, but it has and will continue to devastate the world economy. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to fix, and the harder it will be to reverse. Addressing climate change will be the single most difficult task our country has faced. Not because we don’t know how to fix it, or it’s a problem on too big of a scale to solve – it’s because one of the political parties doesn’t even believe it exists. Even though the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in support of climate change, the right insists it must be a left-wing conspiracy.

So as election day nears, remember, this country faces more challenges than just the economy. They are challenges of a type that being a businessman doesn’t automatically qualify you to address. As voters we should elect a President who believes in funding the eduction of future generations, not cutting it in the name of fiscal responsibility. We should elect a President who believes in protecting the rights of women and extending equal rights to all persons, not suppressing individual liberties to cater to the extreme wing of the base. And although both parties have stalled on the issue of climate change, for God’s sake, we should elect a President who sides with the scientists (and the rest of the developed world for that matter) and recognizes the threat is real, not one who believes the entire scientific community is pulling some giant prank.

P.S. I also believe Obama is better suited to fix the economy – See here, here, here, and here


The Fracking Problem: People are Human

If you talk to proponents of fracking they like to spout the line that hydraulic fracturing is actually completely safe and all the negatives associated with it are simply misplaced. You might be thinking, but what about the multiple cases of aquifer contamination, or the earthquakes in Ohio, or methane leaks that could possibly make fracking a greater contributor to global warming than coal – none of those are caused by fracking? Well technically no. Technically, the pro-frackers are correct.

Aquifer contamination and methane leaks are caused by poor or faulty well construction, and the earthquakes were caused by the improper disposal of fracking liquids. So it’s not the actual hydraulic fracturing that causes the problems; the problems are caused by errors in the fracking process not the fracking itself.  Kind of like saying guns don’t kill people it’s the bullets. The result is we get those in the industry crying out that fracking unfairly gets a bad reputation, and it is neither a threat to our communities nor our environment.  They claim we just have to prevent those mistake and errors from happening, and then we will finally have ‘safe, clean’ energy. So basically all we have to do is make sure people aren’t human.

And there lies the problem. The consequences of fracking are essentially unavoidable; people are always going to make mistakes. The one obvious solution to minimize this problem (still not end it though) is more regulation, which most industries fight tooth and nail to avoid.  So the actual act of fracking may not be harmful to the environment, but the same cannot be said for the process as a whole. The process will always be subject to human error that can lead to devastating effects for both people and the environment.

Stop Denying Science You Don’t Like

When the weatherman predicts rain, do we assume he is just making it up for a good laugh? When a doctor prescribes us medicine, do we not take it due the dubious nature of doctors?  When we walk into a building, are we terrified the building is going to collapse because the engineers who designed it know nothing about structural integrity?  When an astrophysicist discovers a new planet, do we just chalk it up to a speck on the telescope? When a chemist discovers a new life-saving compound, do we brush it off as some scientist trying to make a name for him/herself?

The answer is no.

Whether it is something as simple as listening to weather reports or discovering galaxies far, far away we trust what the scientists tell us.  We trust science when it comes to everyday aspects of our lives like assuming medicines will work, or the internal combustion engine in our car will start.  We trust science on issues we don’t have a direct connection with like the discovery of new planets or the discovery of new species.  We trust science on issues both big and small.

What’s interesting though is some people, like Republicans, accept all science except when they don’t like it.  They accept all science except when it comes to things like climate change and evolution.

Republicans have a strong religious base that believes God created the world. So Republicans deny evolution. A politically convenient move.

Similarly, accepting climate change means accepting the fact that burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment. This means billion dollar subsidies for big oil becomes a little sketchy.  This means lessening regulations on oil companies can’t simply be justified in the name of ‘job creation.’  Denying climate change, denying that one area of science, is much more convenient for them considering many of their major campaign contributors are big oil.

As Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Basically, Republicans accept science, with one caveat; they deny it when it is politically inconvenient.

Skeptics argue climate change is not an exact science, and yes, science evolves and it can change, but these climate change deniers have offered zero valid counter-evidence.  They have come up with nothing debunking climate change; actually scientists have disproved all their claims.

They point to the fact that it was cooling in the 1970’s, well that was due to particulate pollution that blocked the sun’s rays.  The EPA has since banned those types of pollutants because they caused cancer. They point to sun-spots as the problem, which I debunk here. They point to inaccurate temperature measurements, which was found to be untrue by a Koch-Brother funded study (they were not happy about the results).

The list goes on, but in reality over 97 percent of scientists agree climate change is real and it’s man-made.

Creationists are even worse.  They’re just sticking to the story that God created the world with the only evidence being that the Bible says so.

The evolution deniers in the Republican party do not bother me as much as the climate change deniers. Climate change has real consequences. We are already seeing the devastating effects of a warming planet and it’s only going to get worse.  Solving climate change is going to be difficult in its own right; the last thing we need is to have one political party deny its existence.

So Republicans need to stop denying sciences they don’t like.  At some point real-world problems have to take precedent over appeasing campaign contributors.



The Real Moral Issue is Climate Change

In 2010, when Republicans took over control of the House, they changed the national dialogue from economic recovery to reducing the federal debt.  They persuaded Americans that the central issue was no longer recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression, but instead the national debt.  They claimed this was the country’s biggest problem.  And I think people believed it because they framed the debate around the children.  Republicans always claim our rising national debt will only lead to a desolate future for our children and grand children.  They turned the national debt into a moral issue, and it worked.

However, I think there is a bigger, more pressing moral issue at hand that few Democrats and absolutely zero Republicans are tackling: global climate change.  The national debt, in all honestly, is not at unsustainable levels, and is relatively fixable; unlike climate change, which is rapidly getting worse and quick fixes are no longer a possibility.

The earth is warming at unprecedented levels.  It’s causing problems now. And the ideas to solve the problem are sparse and seldom addressed.  Hell, half this country doesn’t even believe it’s an actual problem, which is sad because climate change is the real moral issue.  Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more violent, and they’re only getting worse. Were seeing terrible droughts in areas like the southern United States.  And this is just America.  Sea levels are rising and it’s wreaking havoc around the world.  Island nations like the Maldives are literally disappearing due to rising sea levels. If nothing changes the country will be erased from maps by the end of the century.

That is a moral issue.

Yes, the national debt is a problem but not nearly as problematic as climate change. Republicans are so concerned about the children, but continue to chant ‘drill baby drill’. Fracking is becoming wide-spread in this country. Funding for innovations in green energy pales in comparison to oil subsidies.  Presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, mocked all-electric cars and made fun of the possibility of using algae for fuel.

If Republicans (Democrats are to blame here as well) really care about the children they need to focus on the real moral issue of climate change.  The national debt if left unaddressed will cause problems, but if climate change continues to be neglected it will cost billions of dollars in damages and the loss of many lives.  If Republicans really care about the children I ask them to stop believing oil is the answer to all our problems, and realize climate change if left un-tethered is the absolute biggest problem our country and world faces.

P.S. I’ve been at the Cleveland International film fest all weekend and have seen quite a few environmental documentaries.

Climate Change is Real – Part 2

While watching Real Time with Bill Maher  one of the panelist blurted out an irrelevant comment to the discussion at the time but needs addressing now.  She asserted climate change is real but it is not caused by humans but rather caused by an increase in sunspots.  This common claim from climate change skeptics enticed me to write the second installment of “Climate Change is Real” (check out part 1 here).

First, what are sunspots? Sunspots are actually cooler areas of the sun that create extremely hot areas around them. These hotter areas are called faculae and increase the brightness of the sun, which in turn increases the temperature on earth.  So, yes sunspots can cause the earth to get warmer and a decrease in sunspots has caused the earth to get colder in the past (The Little Ice Age).

However, scientists are aware of sunspots and know they can cause an increase in global temperatures.  In all the climate change models scientists account for these sunspots and have determined they are only responsible for 20 percent of the global increase in temperature.  There have been multiple peer reviewed studies that conclude sunspots affect global warming but not significantly.  The biggest contributor is… you guessed it, humans.

For now the sun needs to be let off the hook for climate change.  In the past 30 years the sun has actually been cooling while we have seen global temperatures warming.  Humans are causing this warming and until we admit that fact, nothing is going to get done about it.

Climate Change is Real – Part 1

The President and Democrats alike continue to justify the decision to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.  They try to say it needs more research or they were rushed into the decision.  Why can’t they just say the Pipeline is bad for the planet and the future costs to the environment far outweigh the slight increase in jobs now? For political reasons Democrats cannot take this stance; even though scientists are on the same page a large portion of the population still does not believe in climate change.

Although I typically do not write on scientific issues I feel this one is too important to keep quiet about.  Obviously I cannot write on all the science there is about climate change in this short blog but I do want to take on one argument: the planet is too big for humans to have such a profound affect.

A little background is needed first. When there is an increase in greenhouse gases like water vapor, methane or carbon dioxide in our atmosphere it increases the temperature on earth.  Carbon dioxide gets the most publicity because it comes from burning fossil fuels. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is measured in parts per million (ppm) and small changes have dire consequences.  In the past 400,000 years Co2 levels have never been above 300 ppm.  Climatologists agree that levels over 350 ppm will have irreversible consequences in the future.  Currently we are at 390 ppm.  This means we will have to face the problems of climate change in the future and the continued increase of Co2 levels will result in more problems.

One of the problems are feedback mechanisms.  They work in a loop, as the planet gets warmer it activates these feedback mechanisms to make the planet even warmer.  One example is the ice albedo effect.  When the sun shines on ice the ice reflects 90 percent of the heat back into space.  However, as the earth continues to warm it melts that ice and unlike ice, water absorbs 90 percent of the sun’s heat, therefore warming the earth.  Also cold water holds more Co2 than warm water.  So as the water warms it will release more Co2 into the atmosphere.

Another feedback mechanism lies in cold regions where permafrost exists.  As the earth warms permafrost will begin to thaw and then rot. The rotting vegetation will cause a release of methane into the atmosphere.  Methane is also a greenhouse gas which will cause the earth to warm.  This will also happen in areas with peat bogs.

Also a result of increasing temperatures will be the drying out of the rainforests.  Forests and trees absorb Co2 and as they dry out they will release those gases into the atmosphere.  These are just a few among many feedback mechanisms and if you would like further reading on it I urge you to read Ice, Mud and Blood.  This book lays out all the science behind climate change for a novice reader.

So what do these feedback mechanisms mean for the argument against climate change?  It means arguing humans cannot have a profound affect on the planet may be true.  But what we are doing now is increasing global temperatures and it is inviting a response from the earth.  By continuing to burn fossil fuels we will push the planet to a tipping point.  Even if you believe humans cannot affect the earth just know our actions are setting us up for the Earth to affect itself.