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?

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.