Joining the Herd?

Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s

Lockdown protesters shout ‘be like Sweden’ — but Swedes say they are missing the point

As Europe emerges from lockdown, the question hangs: was Sweden right?

If you thought the politics of coronavirus couldn’t get any crazier, think again. Trump has totally copped out of any pretense to manage the crisis, while the U.S. leads the world in cases and deaths. If so many people weren’t dying, this could be high comedy: see Sarah Cooper above. Did you ever have a nightmare with humorous overtones?

The right wing has begun praising Sweden’s approach after years of vilifying its liberal government. The left wing wants to keep everyone locked down. Wisconsin opens up completely with no protections. Armed protestors get nasty in Michigan. People are fed up with staying home and the economy is suffering badly. So hoping for immunity is apparently a last resort.

Sweden’s opening up is based on the idea that eventually the populace will develop immunities to the virus, a herd immunity of maybe 60 percent, though that will require voluntary social distancing and other restrictions that the Swedes seem to be buying into. Yet the country has been criticized for “exceeding the per capita death rates of other Nordic countries and in particular, for failing to protect its elderly and immigrant populations. People receiving nursing and elder-care services account for upward of 50 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Sweden . . . .”

So the Swedish response is really a mixed bag, though one site opines that “the economic and social costs of lockdowns are enormous.” It has taken a careful government response to slow the spread of the virus, though this hasn’t been entirely successful. The fact that many Republicans are now praising Sweden is based on a total misunderstanding of the policy and its outcomes. Tucker Carlson praising Sweden is truly high comedy. Nor would the policy work in the U.S., which has large populations of immigrants and low-income people. In Sweden everyone is covered by a healthcare plan.

The idea of herd immunity makes many people skeptical and afraid. And yet, to follow the Swedish argument, we have to “find ways of living with this virus. There is no sign of a vaccine on the immediate horizon. We cannot ruin the world economy indefinitely. Better to concentrate on protecting our health services against it, should it return.”

The Swedish model will certainly not work everywhere. In Sweden there is a high level of trust between the people and the government. That is absolutely not true in the U.S. or, for that matter, the U.K. And the Swedes have a much healthier population that comes from a better healthcare system. They don’t do so well at helping at-risk people.

The U.S. is learning that it ultimately can’t manage a general lockdown. It can’t even manage to produce enough swabs. The country is going to be forced into adopting a kind of herd immunity because, as Trump’s folly has shown, there’s no other workable choice.

Hard Truths about Climate Change

Climate math: What a 1.5-degree pathway would take

How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class

Op-Ed: The McKinsey I hope the world gets to know

Do we really have any chance to come to grips with climate change? Like many of us, I go back and forth on that one. Some recommend throwing out the whole capitalist system. If that seems a bit unlikely, you’d need to know how to redirect the system and what it would really take to decarbonize global business.

A pretty convincing roadmap for that is provided by McKinsey, the firm some love to hate. The critics hate its high-pressure culture, its stress on process, its success. But the business of America is still business, and McKinsey’s leaders have recently tried to transform their firm’s role to reflect the totally changing world we’re living in. I almost went to work for McKinsey in 2006, which would have been to the delight of my capitalistic forebears, but that didn’t happen and I’m grateful.

Anyhow, McKinsey recently issued a report on Climate Math that challenges business to meet the demands for a 1.5-C degree warming limit. This is very much worth your reading so you can understand in some coherent detail the challenges in achieving that goal.

 . . . With further warming unavoidable over the next decade, the risk of physical hazards and nonlinear, socioeconomic jolts is rising. Mitigating climate change through decarbonization represents the other half of the challenge. Scientists estimate that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would reduce the odds of initiating the most dangerous and irreversible effects of climate change.

The report offers five necessary and difficult steps to get to that goal. “The good news,” they say, “is that a 1.5-degree pathway is technically achievable. The bad news is that the math is daunting.”

None of what follows is a forecast. Getting to 1.5 degrees would require significant economic incentives for companies to invest rapidly and at scale in decarbonization efforts. It also would require individuals to make changes in areas as fundamental as the food they eat and their modes of transport. A markedly different regulatory environment would likely be necessary to support the required capital formation.

The report traces five needed interdependent “shifts” in areas that we all know, with varying means and prospects of achieving reform:

    • reforming food and forestry
    • electrifying our lives
    • adapting industrial operations
    • decarbonizing power and fuel
    • ramping up carbon capture and carbon sequestration activity.

Each of these areas plays out in three scenarios the report envisions, not as predictions but as “snapshots” to get where we have to go.

All the scenarios, we found, would imply the need for immediate, all-hands-on-deck efforts to dramatically reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions. The first scenario frames deep, sweeping emission reductions across all sectors; the second assumes oil and other fossil fuels remain predominant in transport for longer, with aggressive reforestation absorbing the surplus emissions; and the third scenario assumes that coal and gas continue to generate power for longer, with even more vigorous reforestation making up the deficit . . . .

Relying so much on reforestation seems to me dubious at best, despite the report’s qualifications. The final pages state in bold type, “It is impossible to chart a 1.5-degree pathway that does not remove carbon dioxide to offset ongoing emissions. The math simply does not work.”

The challenges here are immense and the report does not shy away from them. But finally we are getting serious analysis of how feasible (or unlikely) the 1.5-degree goal is.

The Trump Administration Will Be Our Downfall

The Trump administration’s botched coronavirus response, explained

An outbreak of incompetence

Covid-19 Is Twisting 2020 Beyond All Recognition

Do yourself a favor and stop listening to the president’s press conferences. How much more waffling and incompetence can you take? “Wear a scarf if you like,” he said the other day. After weeks of fumbling, the CDC has recommended face masks for all. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” said Mr. Vanity. “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens—I just don’t see it.” Who can bear to listen to this daily testimony to blather? He can’t even bring himself to issue a national stay-at-home order.

People are fed up, as a slew of recent articles demonstrates: I’ll give you excerpts from a few of these.

Jennifer Rubin, ex-Republican writer for the Washington Post, is one of the more fiery anti-Trumpers. Today she wrote:

One has the sinking feeling that things are going from bad to worse. Trump and the feds declined to act swiftly, in particular failing to get widespread testing up and running. Now they are failing to remedy the dire medical crisis that their negligence brought on.

She tasks the administration for much that’s gone (or is going) wrong—messed-up stimulus disbursements for small-business loans; the Navy brass who fired the captain pleading for help for his thousands of sailors fighting the virus on board his ship. Rubin concludes:

The chaos, confusion and incompetence at the federal level magnify our daily anxiety and uncertainty. We have lost control of our lives, and those supposed to lead us through this ordeal are deepening our national trauma. Years of contempt for expertise, for competent government and for truth itself on the right now haunt us all. God help us.

Thomas B. Edsall, the Columbia professor, frequently offers scholarly political opinion in the New York Times. His critiques are detailed and thorough. Recently, he said, “The current pandemic shows signs of reshaping the American political and social order for years to come.” Trump’s reelection is increasingly in doubt, and partisanship is the major cause.

A new study, Edsall notes, claims that “Partisanship is a more consistent predictor of behaviors, attitudes, and preferences than anything else that we measure.” In other words, the political split in the U.S. largely determines how people respond or fail to respond to the pandemic. That is frightening.

Another piece by David Roberts of Vox documents the “devastating public health consequences” of another partisanship study, which has “Republicans expressing more skepticism and taking fewer precautions, largely following the cues of their political and media leaders (as most people do).” Roberts says partisanship in the U.S. may no longer have any limits:

If a large bloc of the public cannot be convinced of the threat or the need for a response, that bloc can prevent collective action all on its own. It can ensure the virus spreads faster and more widely, no matter what the majority does.

Finally, Vox’s German Lopez presents a historical catalog of how the botched response to the virus “has been a disaster years in the making.” It started with John Bolton’s dismantling of the team in charge of pandemic response in spring 2018 and proceeded through the unbelievable testing failures, the backwaters on “social distancing,” the cutting of funds to critical agencies like EPA, NIH and CDC, and the total foot-dragging on the response to the growing virus threat. Trump has made clear that the lower the numbers, the better his chance of reelection. Now he’s cast his own destiny.

And we learned yesterday that Jared Kushner is now running the coronavirus response. As Rubin said, God help us.

On a personal note: some of you know of my long involvement with jazz music. The past week was especially sad as the coronavirus claimed the lives of three great musicians—Ellis Marsalis, Bucky Pizzarelli and Wallace Roney. I play their music in memoriam. So should you.

The Young Girl and the Fatuous President

Trump and the Teenager: A Climate Showdown at Davos

 Climate experts agree: “Steve Mnuchin should go back to college”—not Greta Thunberg

 Trump Roars, and Davos Shrugs

Mr. Trump’s Davos insults referred to above were typically illiterate and haughty. We must reject, he said,

the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the errors [heirs?] of yesterday’s fortune tellers, and we have them and I have them. And they want to see us do badly, but we don’t let that happen. . . . This is not a time for pessimism. This is a time for optimism. Fear and doubt is not a good thought process, because this is a time for tremendous hope and joy and optimism and action.

After this word salad, the Treasury Secretary had to get into the act. Mr. Mnuchin said, “Is she the chief economist? Or who is she? I’m confused.” After claiming his remarks were “a joke” that was allegedly “funny,” Mnuchin added: “After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”

What a sense of humor this guy has. And the crowd at Davos was not amused. Trump & Co.’s blabby promotion of the U.S. was generally seen as something no longer interesting or relevant.

“He is a moron,” a European energy executive said of Trump. “Do we have time for it? No. We have to change our whole company to get carbon-neutral.”

“Greta is great,” said an executive for a Japanese manufacturer. “Even if she can’t deliver, she is needed to balance Trump in conversation and that seems to be happening.”

Let the Big Banks Pay

Why Central Banks Need to Step Up on Global Warming

Climate Finance

Why We Need Finance to Fight Climate Change

“That’s where the money is” was Willie Sutton’s reply when someone asked why he robbed banks. I’ve used his cool rejoinder before, but it’s especially apt when you think about the overwhelming problems coming: mitigating and adapting to what the world faces in global warming.

Bill McKibben talked about getting the big banks to just quit lending to the oil industry—which they fund to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year. This seems about as likely as getting a junkie off fentanyl but, as he said, it’s kind of a Hail Mary pass.

Bernie Sanders’ grandiose climate proposals ($16.3 trillion) are just unrealistic when it comes to funding. Elizabeth Warren’s are only a bit more practical. The amounts for underwriting any kind of comprehensive Green New Deal are staggering. Great bags of money will be required to have any hope of success.

But it does seem right and proper, as Columbia’s Adam Tooze proposes, that “a decade after the world bailed out finance, it’s time for finance to bail out the world.” That is, it’s time for the world’s largest financial institutions to step up on climate change, which a few of them have already committed to do, the IMF being one. But the grand scale that will be required is something else again.

How would you get the central banks—like the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England—to cough up, or backstop, long-term loans? Tooze put it in terms of moral obligation and the threat of financial crisis:

Acting as a backstop to the issuance of a massive volume of publicly issued green bonds is certainly a novel role for the central banks. But after their exertions in the 2008 financial crisis, central bankers, of all public officials, can’t plausibly retreat into an insistence on the limits of their mandate. . . .

Decarbonization is a vastly more complex technical, economic, and social problem. But to embark on solving it we need to mobilize all the resources we can muster. The essential responsibility of the central banks is to ensure that money does not stand in the way.

The World Resources Institute projects the scale (for the short term, it seems) of public/private investment needed to remediate and adapt to what’s coming:

    • The World Economic Forum projects that by 2020, about $5.7 trillion will need to be invested annually in green infrastructure, much of which will be in today’s developing world.
    • This will require shifting the world’s $5 trillion in business-as-usual investments into green investments, as well as mobilizing an additional $700 billion to ensure this shift actually happens.

How is it possible to persuade the mercantile banking industry to get in on the action—and indeed make money doing it? A National Climate Bank has been proposed to sidestep the big banks and foster greenhouse gas reductions. Read more about that here. I’m not sure that will do the job; it’s mostly for smaller-scale projects.

What’s required is a Congress dedicated to transforming banking regulations to demand that a certain percentage of big commercial bank investments be made in wide-ranging, large green projects with commercial potential. Once again, like so much involving climate change, it’s a political problem. We are talking about trillions of dollars, folks, and Willie Sutton knew where that money was hiding.

It’s not All Gloom and Doom

Five Radical Climate Policies That Most Americans Actually Like

To Fight Global Warming, Think More About Systems Than About What You Consume

Climate denial is reported more than science

“Don’t we deserve a little good news on the climate front, at least once in a while?”

That’s a bit like asking, “Didn’t Rudy Giuliani do some good as mayor of New York?” We keep trying to nullify the present by invoking the past, trying to find our way out of a difficult dilemma. And it’s the negative, immediate stories that always get the headlines.

Climate is invariably presented in the press as a contentious issue: “That is, according to a massive study by Californian scientists, the people who say climate change is not happening, or not a problem, get 49% more coverage than the scientists who have the evidence that it represents a serious and accelerating crisis.” The assumption is we’d rather hear about conflict than science.

Some new and reputable polling shows, however, that the public is getting behind the very ambitious programs proposed by Sanders and Warren.

At least five aggressive and left-wing climate policies are supported by most registered voters in the United States. Americans seem particularly fond of large spending packages, as Sanders has advanced, and climate policies with a populist bent, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposed climate import fee and her “economic patriotism” plan.

Some of this approval reflects opposition to Trump, yet even conservative-leaning surveys report a liking for something as radical as the Green New Deal.

Shockingly, the idea was more popular than not, with 48 percent of respondents in support and 7 percent undecided. Only when pollsters told people that a Green New Deal could cost $93 trillion did support for the idea collapse. But according to the GOP group’s own math, a Green New Deal that focused only on climate change could cost only $13 trillion.

The five programs that garnered most support are:

    1. A national recycling program for commodities
    2. $1.3 trillion to weatherize every home and office building in the United States
    3. $1.5 trillion for a massive federal build-out of renewable energy
    4. A climate adjustment fee on environmentally destructive imports
    5. “Economic Nationalism for Climate Change” (meaning “aggressively encourage large American manufacturing firms to specialize in solar panels, wind turbines, and other climate-friendly technologies”).

Now, none of these projects tackle perhaps the thorniest aspect of the climate crisis: how to deal with the overwhelming effects of consumer choice and consumer demand around the world. Bill McKibben tries to confront this one in a recent book review. He does a commendable job of showing how collective action is the only effective response: “We aren’t going to solve our problems one consumer at a time. We’re going to need to do it as societies and civilizations, or not at all.” That is, we aren’t going to get there by simply renouncing plastic straws.

Joe’s Gibberish

Would You Leave Joe Biden Alone With Trump?

A Joe Biden presidency would be a climate catastrophe

In Second Democratic Debate, Candidates Criticize Biden’s Climate Plans

Excuse me, but after listening to and watching Joe Biden doddering through his responses at the third Democratic debate Thursday night, you have to wonder how he is still the front-runner. His climate change plan is better than nothing but goes less than halfway to get the job done.

“Middle-ground solutions, like the vice president has proposed . . . are not going to save us,” James Inslee has said. “Literally the survival of humanity on this planet and civilization as we know it is in the hands of the next president,” and God save us if that’s Joe Biden.

It’s not just his climate plan, folks. It’s him. And how his mind works—or produces the bloviations that expose it.

The Democratic front-runner cannot speak in complete sentences when he is feeling tired or defensive. And 90 minutes of debate is enough to make him tired. And a reference to something that he said about race in the 1970s is enough to make him defensive.

These were my three main takeaways from the Democratic Party’s third presidential primary debate in Houston on Thursday. And they’ve left me rather apprehensive about the prospect of the Democrats sending Joe Biden into battle against Donald Trump next year. . . . If Biden can’t keep his talking points straight for an entire evening, what shape will he be in after running the gauntlet between today and his televised showdowns with the president next fall? And if a pointed question from an ABC News anchor can reduce him to spasms of anxious blather, how well will he hold up when Trump comes after his family?

And just how seriously does he take the threat of climate change? When he got caught out taking big funds from a fossil fuel guy, the NY Daily News ran this headline: “Biden claims he doesn’t take fossil fuel cash at NYC fundraiser co-hosted by fossil fuel company co-founder.” He called that a misrepresentation.

Linguistic giveaways from two of the front-runners repeatedly bother me. Biden’s fillers are “the fact of the matter” and “look”; Bernie’s is “let me be clear.” The other candidates in Thursday’s debate thankfully avoided most thought padding like this.

At the debate ABC News’ Linsey Davis asked him what responsibility Americans should take to repair the damage of slavery. Joe answered:

Well, they have to deal with the . . . Look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining, banks, making sure that we are in a position where — Look, we talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title 1 schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise to the equal of . . . A raise of getting out of the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to the help with the stud — the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need . . . We have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are required — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them.

Make sure that every single child does, in fact, have three, four, and five-year-olds go to school. School! Not daycare, school. We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not want they don’t want to help. They don’t know want— They don’t know what quite what to do. Play the radio. Make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night. The phone — make sure the kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — er, a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

Davis: Thank you, Mr. Vice-President.

Biden: No, I’m going to go like the rest of them do, twice over, okay? Because here’s the deal. The deal is that we’ve got this a little backwards. And by the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know Maduro. I’ve confronted Maduro. Number two, you talk about the need to do something in Latin America. I’m the guy that came up with $740 million to see to it those three countries, in fact, change their system so people don’t have to chance to leave. You’re all acting like we just discovered this yesterday! Thank you very much.

No, thank you very much, Joe.

P.S. More evidence from the debate of Biden’s mental stumbles.

No Agreement on Climate Solutions

The World’s Climate Emergency Is Getting Harder to Ignore

Climate change requires big solutions. But baby steps are the only way to go.

Implementing The One Viable Solution To Climate Change

Greenland glaciers melting

The accepted way to solve a big problem has always been to break it down into smaller components and work on them. Most solutions to the climate crisis seem to rely on this approach which, for the most part, hasn’t shown much promise. Climate defies rationality. We don’t have the proper language to express it.

But it forces its way into our consciousness and will keep intruding on our carbonized dreams until we pull our collective heads out of the sand. The first step to awareness is recognizing how current events are sending an unmistakable message. Consider:

    • the heat wave in Europe that has now moved to Greenland to vastly accelerate glacial melting
    • the crazy variability in weather everywhere, with more weather-related disasters
    • the weakness of most current plans to reduce global heating
    • the political atrocities of deniers like Trump and Bolsonaro.

Some of these things are outlined in a recent Washington Post piece by reporter Ishaan Tharoor, who is not a climate scientist. While he sounds a few hopeful notes, he thinks massive public awareness finally will not activate the changes required—though it may move the political pendulum.

Solutions offered have ranged from the cosmic to the incremental, from the Green New Deal to a carbon tax. I can’t see that either approach will finally pay off. A couple of recent proposals illustrate how far apart our climate pundits remain.

Ted Nordhaus in Foreign Policy wrote in favor of “baby steps” to resolve the crisis. He seems to feel that big solutions, like the Green New Deal and a carbon tax, will simply be rejected by consumers and government. These things are too politically difficult and economically costly. He proposes a “quiet climate policy” of incremental change.

Ultimately, the choice we face is between some action and no action. Neither economists’ dreams of rationalizing environmental policy through the power and efficiency of markets nor progressive environmentalists’ hopes of heroic state-led mobilization to save the planet are likely to do much to address the problem.

Ted, the problem is too big and too pressing to solve incrementally. There is no time left to wait for your solutions to take hold.

In another camp we have Steve Denning, an Australian management guru, who proposes what seems to be the only viable solution to climate change, an Apollo-type moon shot program that brings to bear the human talent for innovation and a commitment to bold collective action. I think he’s right.

The initiative would pursue the options already on the table, such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear fusion, storage of nuclear fission materials, as well as incremental efforts in wind, solar, batteries, and reforestation, taxes, subsidies, regulation and deregulation, where they are scalable enough to make a difference.

All this would require a massive bipartisan effort “with the best minds, agile management and adequate funding to find the best technology for creating non-polluting energy for the planet.”

If we don’t make the effort, history will not be kind—if there are any historians left.

Trump’s Climate Vendetta

The Trump Administration Takes Climate Denial to New Heights

Would Trump’s Re-election Doom the Planet?

Trump’s Failure to Fight Climate Change Is a Crime Against Humanity

Climate change didn’t come up in the Mueller hearings, but maybe it should have. Of all the high crimes and misdemeanors Trump has committed, his continued sabotage of efforts to understand and ameliorate the climate crisis may finally be judged the worst and most permanent of his crimes.

He rips away established environmental protections at EPA and other agencies by installing industry cronies and lobbyists to run them. We’ve seen it many times. Jeffrey Sachs has particularly harsh words for what happened in Puerto Rico:

Trump’s mishandling of [the] Puerto Rico disaster in the wake of Hurricane Maria is grounds itself for impeachment and trial. Thousands of citizens died unnecessarily on Trump’s watch because the administration could not be stirred to proper action before, during, and after the hurricane.

Two independent, detailed epidemiological studies, using different methodologies—one led by researchers at Harvard University and the other by researchers at George Washington University—have estimated that thousands died in the aftermath of Maria.

Then this burlesque gesture:

The Trump administration has dug us ever deeper into the hole of fossil fuel dependence and is happily pushing toward a point of no return. As early as December 2016 his transition team demanded from the Department of Energy names and professional associations of all employees working on climate change. The Department refused. But that was before climate genius Rick Perry took charge.

At Interior, Trump cohorts still intimidate and fire those who try to report the truth. All government agencies have now gotten the message. Politico noted that “The Agriculture Department quashed the release of a sweeping plan on how to respond to climate change that was finalized in the early days of the Trump administration, according to a USDA employee with knowledge of the decision.” Department stooges purge scientific reports of any mention of climate change. Sounds very much like they are trying to replicate the Propaganda Ministry of Joseph Goebbels.

While the Democrats dither over impeachment, our time for attending to the climate crisis is inexorably running out. “Another four years of Trump would probably render futile any efforts to limit planetary warming to 1.5 [degrees Celsius], which is necessary to avert ever-more catastrophic climate change impacts.” Thus Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State.

To translate science like this into terms the public can understand is a major challenge. The media has been lagging in the effort though they may finally be stepping up to the plate. But ultimately we will get nowhere without political change. And political change is impossible unless you can believe in it. More believers wanted.

Hansen’s Recent Thoughts on Climate Change—and Some History

Saving Earth (June 27, 2019)

Thirty years later, what needs to change in our approach to climate change (June 26, 2018)

Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change (August 1, 2018)

Once one of the few scientific voices crying out about climate change, James Hansen has become a renowned, and sometimes vilified, spokesman. That trek took him more than thirty years, as he documents in a Boston Globe editorial. He’s a controversial figure still—both in his political views and in his opinions on nuclear power (with which I concur; see below)—but to many he is the father of climate change awareness.

A journalistic history of the climate change threat, its people, politics, and science is parsed in Nathaniel Rich’s lengthy New York Times piece, “Losing Earth,” published a year ago. It is a dramatic account in which Hansen is naturally a principal figure. I list it here as essential background reading on Hansen’s role in how the climate issue developed.

I got an early copy of “Saving Earth” forwarded from a friend. It struck me immediately as the most authoritative yet personal view of where the climate change arguments came from and how they need, in Hansen’s singular view, to be implemented.

It’s eleven pages long in pdf form and I doubt most of you will plunge into that. So I’ve excerpted some of the more significant passages.

It is wonderful that more people are waking up to the fact that we have a climate emergency. The emergency was clear more than a decade ago when it was realized that the long-term safe level of atmospheric CO2 was less than 350 ppm. Already, we were well into the dangerous zone. . . .

[The threat of an ungovernable planet] derives mainly from two large-scale climate change impacts. First, low latitudes during the warm seasons could become so hot and inhospitable to human livelihood as to generate an unstoppable drive for emigration. That potential future is emerging into view for regions as populated as India, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, and huge swaths of Africa. The tragedy would be that these regions are, in a ‘less than 350 ppm climate,’ among the most spectacular and livable regions on the planet.

The second climate impact is sea level rise, which is an ominous threat on multi-decadal time scales. This sea level threat may be less immediate than the low-latitude, over-heating, climate-change threat, but it is more ‘non-linear,’ implying that it has the potential to grow exponentially, becoming unstoppable and irreversible. Note that the sea level threat is near-global, because most of the world’s large cities and infrastructure are located on coastlines. Nations that would be devastated by large sea level rise include the greatest economic powers of the 21st century, the United States and China. These two climate impacts are the heart of the ‘existential threat.’ . . .

Most of the warming still ‘in the pipeline’ is associated with deep-ocean warming. Thus most of this ‘in the pipeline’ warming will not occur this century. This permits the possibility of avoiding most of that warming, if we reduce the amount of gases in the air on the time scale of a century or two. . . .

Faced with realization that we could hand young people a climate system running out of their control, political leaders took the easy way out. With the Paris Agreement in 2015 they changed the target for maximum global warming from 2°C to 1.5°C. A temperature ‘target’ approach is ineffectual. It has practically no impact on global emissions.

Global energy policies remain inconsistent with professed emission targets. Emission targets will never overrule the desire of nations to raise their standards of living. Effective energy policies, not professed targets, are the crucial requirement for phasing down fossil fuel emissions. . . .

The two essential energy policy requirements are: 1) honest pricing of fossil fuels, i.e., the price must rise to include the cost of fossil fuels to society; 2) government support of breakthrough technologies, including clean energy research, development, demonstration and deployment programs. . . .

The missing technology for China, and now for India, was a clean source of power to replace coal in massive energy requirements for electricity and industrial heat.

Later this century, when scholars look back at what went wrong, the single sentence likely to stand out will be one uttered by President William Jefferson Clinton in his first State of the Union Address, almost three decades ago: “We are eliminating programs that are no longer needed, such as nuclear power research and development.”

How could such a spectacularly bad decision have been reached? Readily available empirical data showed that nuclear power was the safest energy source, with the smallest environmental footprint.

The potential for inexpensive, modular, ultrasafe reactors – built in a factory or shipyard – has not been developed. Support for research, development, demonstration and deployment – lavished on renewable energies for decades – only recently has been initiated in a small way for modern nuclear power. . . .

The most urgent task is to phase down fossil fuel emissions. There is no one simple solution to this. It will take a lot of positive actions, and also pressure on the fossil fuel industry, from multiple directions, pressure on them to become a clean energy industry. . . .

The legal approach is slow and no panacea, but it is an essential part of the solution. [It] must be pursued simultaneously with the political approach. . . .

[Voting Trump out of office is not the answer.] The public has tried that recourse. They voted in Barack (‘Planet in Peril’) Obama and Albert (‘Earth in the Balance’) Gore. The accomplishments by those Administrations in addressing climate change, to use a favorite phrase of my mother, “did not amount to a hill of beans.” Democrats and Republicans are both on the take from special interests, the fossil fuel industry. Both parties work with industry, approving and subsidizing fossil fuel extraction and use.

I wanted to write something today about the impact of tanks on the environment but then thought better of it.