Earth Passes a New Climate Milestone


Charlie Riedel/AP

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in May were 50 percent higher than during the pre-industrial era, reaching levels not seen on Earth for about four million years, the main US climate agency said on Friday.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed the threshold of 420 parts per million (ppm), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. PPM is a unit of measurement used to quantify pollution in the atmosphere…

Last May, the rate was 419ppm, and in 2020, 417ppm.

Global warming caused by humans, particularly through the production of electricity using fossil fuels, transport, the production of cement, or even deforestation, is responsible for the new high, the NOAA said…

Its warming effect is already causing dramatic consequences, noted NOAA, including the multiplication of heatwaves, droughts, fires or floods…

“We have known about this for half a century, and have failed to do anything meaningful about it. What’s it going to take for us to wake up?”

What will it take…indeed? Humans are great at passing the buck. And, then, we complain about the cost figures generated by the public and private bodies charged with providing solutions.

Time for excuses has run out.

The Punk in the White House is clueless over the damage he’s causing over the Post Office


Putting the USPS in a deep freeze benefits no one
Matthew T Rader/Unsplash

A country that doesn’t hesitate to drop $700 billion on its war machine now finds itself quibbling over $10 billion to run a very essential service. Of course, a lot of this talk about shrinking the United States Postal Service has nothing to do with its budgetary shortfalls. It is yet another example of short-term political opportunism. USPS might as well stand for United States Political Shitshow…

It might be hard for politicians and their lackeys to see, but the postal service brings more than ballots and postcards. USPS plays a significant role in the US economy. Any actions against it have ramifications for businesses of all sizes. If there was any doubt, the pandemic proved that USPS is an essential service. It kept the country’s almost moribund economy moving, albeit at a sputtering pace.

The pandemic has made online commerce an incredibly significant part of our society. People across the demographic spectrum are now using some kind of online shopping. And many of those packages are delivered by our postal service. According to The Washington Post, “Week to week, package deliveries increased 20 to 50 percent in April compared with the year-ago period, and 60 to 80 percent in May.” If the package volume stays 15 percent over average, the USPS might not need further cash bailout…

USPS is part of the new future of retail. Main Street is no longer just on the street. Thanks to tools like PayPal, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Square, it is also online. And it needs USPS to do business.

Amazon can — and is — building their own logistics and delivery system. Not everyone can do that. All those politicians who complain about Amazon’s monopoly forget that the only way to fight the giant is to arm many David’s with slingshots. USPS is that slingshot. Instead of thinking about shutting down or shrinking USPS, we need to really work hard in helping it adapt to Mail Service 2.0..

Everything Om writes is readable. He could do my grocery list and I’d probably get home from town earlier – with money left over.

There’s lot to learn in his post on the USPS. Dimbulbs like the Fake President will never get it. But, the voting public has time before the next election to understand more about a stupid decision made for the grimiest of political reasons.

Philadelphia oil refinery fires go back decades

❝ An explosion at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery in South Philadelphia early Friday is the latest in a string of fires, explosions, and incidents involving the city’s oil refinery compounds.

The five minor injuries pale in comparison to the deaths reported in some earlier blasts, but it was so large and so hot that it could be seen from space in satellite infrared images, according to the National Weather Service.

RTFA and follow a string of explosions and fires recorded as far back as 1931.

“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff”


This was forest before it was a cattle feedlotClick to enlarge

❝ Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.

The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

❝ “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

❝ “This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” he said. “This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.”

This may surprise our misleaders; but, all Earth’s species are the product of an evolution millions of years in process. Interdependence is a normal part of such processes. Survival really does concern more than greed and war. It requires perception, understanding, education and management. Management – most often – of the humans at the top of the food chain.

An insider’s perspective on Fukushima — and everything after

❝ The meltdown of the reactors at Fukushima Daichi has changed how many people view the risks of nuclear power, causing countries around the world to revise their plans for further construction and revisit the safety regulations for existing plants. The disaster also gave the world a first-hand view of the challenges of managing accidents in the absence of a functional infrastructure and the costs when those accidents occur in a densely populated, fully developed nation.

❝ Earlier this week, New York’s Japan Society hosted a man with a unique perspective on all of this. Naomi Hirose was an executive at Tokyo Electric Power Company when the meltdown occurred, and he became its CEO while he was struggling to get the recovery under control. Ars attended Hirose’s presentation and had the opportunity to interview him. Because the two discussions partly overlapped, we’ll include information from both below.

NAOMI HIROSE:

❝ “We learned that safety culture is very important. We saw that we were probably a little arrogant. We spent a huge amount of money to improve the safety of that plant before the accident. We thought that this was enough. We learned that you never think this is enough. We have to learn many things from all over the world. 9/11 could be some lessons for nuclear power stations—it’s not just nuclear accidents in other countries, everything could be a lesson.”

I spent a fair piece of my early days in metals testing laboratories. Mostly non-ferrous metals — including zirconium which was used at the time in heat exchangers of nuclear power plants. I had an ongoing interest in nuclear generated power for decades and, frankly, though it’s still a viable option with appropriate regulations, testing and management, the whole process is now simply too expensive to be considered rationally…especially when compared to renewable sources whether they be solar, wind or wave power, geothermal.

The Great Kansas Reaganomics Experiment Ends In Disaster


Yes, I’m responsible for that smell…Saul Loeb/AFP

❝ When a governor announces an economic theory as a solution to a state’s fiscal problems, while challenging all comers to observe the results, that’s something I want to pay attention to. And so for the past five years, I have been watching the public-policy experiment in Kansas with great fascination.

❝ With the state legislature now rejecting the governor’s experiment, we can move onto to the next phase: Not recrimination and blame, though there is lots of that going around. Instead, I want to look at how the experiment played out, and what lessons there are to be learned from it.

❝ A quick refresher: Kansas’s Republican Governor Sam Brownback pushed through a substantial change in the state tax code, centered around lowering rates. He promised it would lead to more growth, tax revenue and jobs. Instead, there have been persistent tax revenue shortfalls, huge spending cuts and disappointing job creation. As my Bloomberg View colleague Justin Fox wrote, Kansas is badly lagging its neighbors, all of which have similar economies. Even worse, people (especially young people) are fleeing the state. Kansas was one of the highest outbound migration states in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The vast majority of people who have moved out were either transferring when their companies left or were seeking employment elsewhere.

Before Brownback, this wasn’t the case. As recently as 2012 and 2011, Kansas didn’t make the lists of states with high migratory outflows.

❝ Incentives matter: There was a large behavioral incentive, but it was for financial engineering. Brownback eliminated taxes on limited liability companies and sole proprietorships. It isn’t surprising that lots of companies and individuals made these legal structural changes. But this was merely an alteration in form with no beneficial economic incentives.

Set reasonable benchmarks for success or failure: Brownback, despite making large promises, wasn’t specific in how success or failure should be measured…

❝ Have an exit strategy: Because Kansas didn’t focus on specific and measurable benchmarks, it had no way to know when to pull the plug. This is important, as the legislature was forced to wait until things were unequivocally bad and getting worse before taking steps to end the experiment. An exit strategy based on specific goals would have saved a lot of unnecessary austerity-induced pain for the people of Kansas.

❝ Share information freely: We knew the Kansas experiment was going badly when the executive branch decided to stop reporting economic news about it…

Win or lose, take responsibility: Broad proof of the failure of Brownback’s tax cuts led the legislature to begin unraveling them. Rather than admitting defeat, Brownback vetoed its actions. His refusal to accept a verdict reflects a failure to recognize and take responsibility for his own policies.

❝ By just about every measure, Kansas’ economic laboratory experiment is now over, and the results are in. Supply-side tax cuts as executed in Kansas don’t generate more economic growth or create more jobs. They reduce tax revenue and forced the government to cut spending on essential goods and services like roads and schools.

RTFA for more detail. Unless you’re a Republican True Believer the cause-and-effect relationships are clear. Evidence is a bear. That the mass of Kansas voters went along with Brownback’s incompetence for so long speaks only to their obedience, lack of independence, loyalty to ideology in the face of daily evidence of failure.

Barry Ritholtz is one of my favorite writers on matters financial in the United States. That he has a fey sense of humor, refers to himself as a Recovering Republican, allegiance to evidence and facts over ideology is icing on the fiscal cake.

Ultimate Republican solution to bad economic news — Don’t report it!


Doonesbury by GB Trudeau

❝ “What’s measured, improves.”

So said management legend and author Peter F. Drucker about the value of using metrics to define specific objectives within an organization.

Drucker is no longer with us; if he were, he might want to have a few words with Republican Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas. Brownback, despite promising to measure the results of a “real life experiment” in cutting taxes, has decided to cancel a quarterly report on the status of the state’s economy.

❝ Although Brownback’s spokeswoman said “a lot of people were confused by the report,” no one has been fooled. The problem was that the reports didn’t match the governor’s predictions for the state’s soon-to-be-booming economy. Local news media, including the Topeka Capital-Journal and the Kansas City Star, flagged the abandonment of the reports as evidence not only of policy failure, but as an attempt to hide that fact from the public…

❝ Since the Brownback tax cuts were passed, almost nothing has gone as promised in Kansas. Revenue plunged and the state resorted to pulling money out of its rainy-day fund to plug the holes. A number of critical services, including for road maintenance and schools, were cut. The business climate has been poor, and the economy has lagged behind neighboring states as well as the rest of the country.

Why hasn’t this worked out? As we have discussed before, the failure of the Kansas tax cuts to do what was promised is a simple combination of state budget math and human psychology.

❝ The math is simple: Tax cuts tend to reduce revenue, in Kansas’ case much more than expected. To change people’s behavior requires more substantial incentives than changing things by a few percentage points. The reduced revenue led to spending cuts that lowered quality of life. In response, rising numbers of people and companies have left the state…

❝ Kansas’ gross state product fell behind the six-state region and the nation for the third straight year…

Private industry wages in Kansas grew at a slower pace last year than they did in the region and the U.S. — as they did during the past five years…

By just about every measure, Kansas’ tax experiment has failed to meet the promised performance objectives. Killing the quarterly report won’t change this…

❝ Brownback is now said to be considering tax hikes. He has paid the deserved price for his errors, with a 26 percent approval rating, the lowest of any governor in the U.S. The people of Kansas have paid a bigger price.

Dribble-down economics fail for the umpteenth time in a Century. No, that won’t stop Republicans from advocacy. They have nothing else to offer. Modern economic analysis, 21st Century solutions for leftover Republican economic disasters are still a work in progress. The kinds of jobs that give us something that looks like full employment prove that.

And we still have a gerrymandered Congress that keeps useless turd-brain roadblocks in office for at least another 4-6 years. So, don’t get too cheerful, yet, over the possibility of ordinary American voters reforming the system. After all, ignorant Kansas voters elected and re-elected Brownback.

Big Oil has destroyed so much of Louisiana that members of both parties are demanding justice


Click to enlargeBloomberg/Getty Images

The oil industry has left a big footprint along the Gulf Coast, where a Delaware-sized stretch of Louisiana has disappeared.

But few politicians would blame Big Oil for ecosystem abuse in a state where the industry employs up to 300,000 people and injects $73 billion into the economy.

Until now.

Following the lead of Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana political orthodoxy is being turned upside-down as prominent leaders of both parties join lawsuits seeking billions of dollars for environmental improvement projects…

Louisiana remains the nation’s second-largest crude oil producer and oil refiner after Texas, but the industry has been on the defensive since Edwards, a 49-year-old lawyer and Democrat, ended eight years of Republican leadership last November.

Publicly, he joined a campaign by local governments suing to hold the industry at least partly responsible for Louisiana’s loss of 1,900 square miles of coast since the 1930s. Privately, he pushed for a pre-trial settlement to resolve all their claims…

He was soon seconded by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, whose family of Louisiana Democrats long supported Big Oil. Landrieu accused former state leaders of allowing the industry to cripple “in a generation or two what Mother Nature built in 7,000 years,” and said the damage has spread “through the marsh like an infection.

In July, Vermilion Parish, deep in Louisiana’s “Oil Patch,” became the fourth local government to file claims against Exxon, Shell, Chevron and dozens of other corporations. The agency overseeing flood protection for New Orleans also is suing. Republicans have joined in, from GOP-led parishes to Attorney General Jeff Landry…

What’s gone is gone, but the politicians hope to keep hundreds of other square miles from disappearing. They’re envisioning huge projects to divert sediment flows from the Mississippi River and build up marsh flats, barrier islands, ridges and swamp forests.

It would cost between $50 billion and $100 billion, and Louisiana doesn’t expect to have more than $25 billion to spend.

Suing oil companies “is probably the only new potential source of revenue,” said Mark Davis, who directs Tulane University’s Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy. “Before you tax anybody, you’re going to be required, I think, to show that you’ve tried every other alternative. Is there anybody who owes dollars that have not been collected for this purpose?”

The answer to that question in Louisiana – and lots of other states – starts with a list of corporations undertaxed or even exempt from paying for their fair share of public accountability.

The last year I lived in Louisiana, my personal income tax bill was higher than that of Dow Chemical Corporation. And they owned a lot of Louisiana. Cripes, they even owned the state’s telephone system, then.