Voters call on Biden to manage crises

“Just what do you see in Biden?”  

It’s an honest question. Biden is not as charismatic as John Kennedy or Barack Obama. He’s not promoting changes as far-reaching as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

But Biden is a manager. Many voted for him because they believe he can improve the U.S. responses to the coronavirus pandemic and to global warming.

 Even as the number of new coronavirus cases daily doubled to over 92,000 in the final six weeks of the election, Trump continued to say he’d done a great job preventing deaths and the disease was really no big deal.

Biden, on the other hand, offered management. He planned  a national supply chain to oversee the distribution of supplies, including a vaccine that must be kept on dry ice and delivered in two shots three weeks apart.

He proposed requiring wearing of masks on Federal property and encouraging governors to follow recommendations of health care experts. Under him, the U.S. will rejoin the World Health Organization and revive the National Security Council’s global health unit that Trump disbanded.

 Biden has also determined to ask Congress to fund testing and treatment for the uninsured and under-insured, a public health workers corps of 100,000 people to assist in contact tracing, and assistance to keep businesses and schools open.

Protecting the health and welfare of citizens is one of the basic duties of democratic governments. Voters longing for a leader who accepted that responsibility might have been the source of Biden’s entire five million vote edge.

Yet, there was a second major source of Biden’s support.  After 20 years of warnings, many people–particularly young voters– see climate change as a serious threat to their futures.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, over 49,000 wildfires burned nearly 9,000,000 acres this year. Acres burned surpassed previous records by mid-September, but 47 fires were still active on Nov. 10.

Every year from 2016 through 2020 has set new records for tropical storm activity in the Atlantic. There’ve been 31 this year. A record 12 made landfall in the United States.

Globally, the 10 hottest years have occurred since 2005.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, a third of the contiguous United States were either ‘severely to extremely dry’ or ‘severely to extremely wet’ during July.

 Early in his administration President Trump revoked all regulations addressing climate change and promoted oil drilling, even in previously protected regions.

Biden plans to replace that executive order with one supporting reducing greenhouse gases. He may reinstate California’s right to require more stringent emission standards for cars and trucks and prohibit new drilling permits on federal lands.

Biden can restore the size of the Bears Ears National Monument and stop promoting energy production on the continental shelf.  He may also order studies of environmental danger spots around the country and monitor pollution in threatened communities.

And he can order the methane monitors at well heads turned back on, hopefully making our natural gas exports once more acceptable to countries like France that disapprove of reckless pollution.

Biden will also renew our endorsement of the Paris Accord, which has no binding regulations, but will signal that the U.S. is returning to world leadership.

If Congress cooperates, we will also see more support for renewable energy and a reduction in subsidies for fossil fuel producers.

Democrats didn’t invent these crises–one might say they were acts of God–but Democrats are being called upon to lead in mitigating them. Let’s all hope that Biden can turn things around as well as Presidents Clinton and Obama managed to do.

Climate Change & Candidates

Climate change has hardly been an issue in presidential debates since Al Gore and George W. Bush faced off in the 2000 elections.

The topic has come up a grand total of 16 minutes in the four series of presidential debates since.

But climate change is getting harder to ignore.

Heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and droughts are getting harsher and more numerous. And any place not suffering from those four will be mobbed by newcomers as the rising sea level devastates major cities.

Gallop has found most Americans–including 67 percent of Westerners–feel something needs to be done.

It’s not a good time to have a President so set against cutting fossil fuel use that 17 U.S. automakers are complaining that he’s set fuel standards too low (New York Times, June 6).

On the other hand, most Democratic presidential candidates this year are acknowledging both the escalating environmental damage and the concerns of voters.

So Greenpeace set out to help voters decide just which of the candidates qualified to appear in televised debates is serious about climate change.

The organization sent a 28-question survey to candidates asking not only which policies they support, but how they plan to achieve them. Fifty points were allotted for plans to phase out fossil fuel production and another 50 for plans to create good jobs and better futures for the communities affected by the phasing out of fossil fuel production.

Only six of the 21 Democratic candidates completed the questionnaire, but Greenpeace didn’t let the poor response prevent a comprehensive evaluation. It gathered responses to surveys by the New York Times and the Washington Post, studied campaign platforms, and looked at previous actions and statements.

Then it ranked the candidates and wrote one paragraph summaries of their record, including links to questionnaires, platforms, statements, etc.

I don’t agree with Greenpeace on some methods and issues so their rankings are not mine.

But the breadth of information the organization is sharing is valuable.

I was surprised to find the buying and selling of rights to release carbon dioxide–which Oregon senators managed to stop in their state by hiding out in Idaho–wasn’t a top recommendation.

The goal for most candidates is cutting carbon emissions, not charging more for them. Simulations indicate climate crises will continue long after meaningful cuts are made. The sooner progress is made the better.

I studied the answers of Greenpeace’s number one ranked candidate–Washington Gov. Jay Inslee–to see just how he imagined the government programs could end pollution.

One obvious step Inslee mentioned is for government is to stop subsidizing production and marketing of fossil fuels. He also supports phasing out fossil fuel production on public lands and requiring producers to eliminate their on-site pollution.

Inslee would also set ambitious standards for decreasing emissions from electrical plants, vehicles, and buildings, and follow that up with subsidies and tax breaks aimed at encouraging research in new technologies.

These steps, Inslee acknowledges, must be followed up by training workers and inspectors, as well as by financing, both public and private, to help companies afford the required changes.

None of it sounds easy or inexpensive.  During this election, we’ll find if that 67 percent of Westerners are worried enough to support action.

I’d share the URL for the Greenpeace resource, but the URL has 45 random characters; I’d never get them right.

A search for “Climate 2020 scorecard” should find the googledoc. Scroll past the discussion of processes to find the summary and resources about each candidate.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Climate change apparent – solutions aren’t

Black Friday this year marked the containment of one of the nation’s worst wildfires and the release of a 13-agency study detailing what Americans can expect from global warming in the next 70 years.

California’s Camp Fire was the nightmare predicted by climate change research. It started Nov. 8, well after the normal fire season, and in 16 days burned 153,000 acres and destroyed 18,733 structures. Eighty-seven deaths are known; 475 people are missing.

Idaho is no stranger to wildfire.  In 2016 the Soda Fire in the Owyhees and the Pioneer Fire north of Idaho City together burned three times as many acres as Camp Fire has, Yet, no deaths were reported. Even with winds, people had time to escape.

California, however, had seen months of hotter, dryer days.

And the woods exploded.

Since 1975, Idaho’s average temperature has risen two degrees Fahrenheit and the number of acres burned annually has doubled. If our average temperature continues to rise a degree every 20 years, Idahoans too will see hotter and more deadly fires.

Yet, the new study, the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Vol. II, predicts Idaho will suffer less damage from climate change than much of the country. Imagine higher temperatures in Phoenix, more powerful hurricanes along the East Coast, larger algae blooms around Florida, and greater insect infestations nationwide and you’ve got a preview of the report.

Weather-related disasters have gotten so much worse, it’s hard to believe more people don’t believe in climate change.

But they do. The latest poll by Stanford Professor Joe Krosnick shows that 74 percent of Americans’ believe the world’s temperature has been rising.  Even more respondents–81 percent–believe the U.S. should cut greenhouse gases to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and give tax incentives to companies that create electricity from renewable resources.

Over two-thirds support taxing carbon emissions and imported fossil fuels.

The real question is why do voters who worry about global warming continue to elect politicians who subsidize coal mining and support more offshore oil drilling?

A March 28 article on The Verge, an online source of technology news, explored possible answers.

People are in denial. “A lot of people think that we won’t bear the brunt of climate change until 2050 or 2100, and that other parts of the world will be affected, not the US, not their state, their city, or their community.”

Magali Delmas, a UCLA professor, points out that there is a 99 percent chance that a 6.7 earthquake will strike California in the next 30 years, yet only 13 percent of residents have purchased earthquake insurance.

More immediate problems demand our focus. Worries about health and bills come before concerns about earthquakes and melting sea ice.

People are discouraged. Scare tactics make climate change seem like an “insurmountable problem that’s just too big” to tackle.  They may turn the thermostat down, take shorter showers, and cut down on driving, but the problem keeps getting worse.

We need assurance that solutions are achievable–like good news about renewable energy and some assurance that Congress will take action.

People have a sense of my team, right or wrong.  Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change, points out that fewer Americans believed in climate change after the rise of the Tea Party in 2009 and the election of President Trump in 2016.

Time keeps passing.  The problem keeps growing

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018

Heat wave – no joke for Idaho

Hot enough for you?

That overworked, but cheerful greeting continues to make me chuckle. It’s a wonder we can still joke about 100 degree plus weather.

2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record for the U.S. That would mean that 18 of our 19 hottest years  will have occurred since 2000.

And, it is expected to get worse.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts Idaho’s summer and winter temperatures will increase another 5 F degrees (range of 2-9) by the next century.

I’ve had this secret dream that Idaho would do okay during the coming climate changes. All that melting Arctic Ice could bring us more rain!

What’s a little more heat if we have plenty of water?  In time, we would build cities higher in the mountains.  Temperatures in the mile-high city, i.e. Denver, are 10 to 15 degrees below those in cities only half-a-mile up.

Our biggest problem would be all the coastal dwellers crowding into our mountains.

My bubble just burst.

The wildfires–particularly in California–are proving that It’s not how much water we get that matters; it’s how much we can store. Traditionally we’ve stored water not only behind dams, but as mountain snow.  At one time, Idahoans could leave footprints on snow-covered northern slopes in July.

Those days are past.  Now warmer, wetter springtimes are feeding undergrowth which later dries out and fuels summer fires.

Last week there were 84 wildfires burning that had consumed more than 1,000 acres each. The annual number of these big wildfires has more than doubled since 1970.  And the fire season is about 10 weeks longer.

According to an EPA report on climate change in Idaho, wildfires are only one of our worries.

Dairy cows don’t produce as well in hot climates.

Potatoes don’t thrive in heat. Maine is Idaho’s competition, not California.  (Wheat, hay, and barley yields may actually increase,.)

Warmer water and lower flows will threaten “salmon, steelhead, trout and other coldwater fish.”

Lower flows could also mean less hydroelectric power.

Warm weather will increase the need for irrigation just as competition for water gets more  intense.

Expect more mosquitoes and ticks along with more West Nile and Lyme disease.

The Great Basin desert may expand.  Burned forests may not regrow but become grasslands.  Some grassland may become desert.

It could be a problem.  It will be.

Many of us exerted pressure on our legislators so they’d okay talk of climate change in science classes.

Can we get the same enthusiasm behind getting legislators to take some steps to prepare for a hotter, drier future?  Or behind electing new legislators who care a bit?

January 24 Ilana Rubel introduced House Concurrent Resolution 31 authorizing a committee to study the impacts of climate change “on Idaho’s agriculture, water resources, wildlife and public health” and to study the potential policy options.

January 25 it was sent to the House Ways and Means Committee never to be mentioned again.

It’s not that legislators have done nothing.  They did grapple with the weighty problem of finding a substitute tax so vehicles that use little or no gasoline will help pay for roads.

State committees have come up with solid ideas to make transitioning to advanced education easier for students and to encourage excellence and accountability in our K-12 schools.

Surely, a committee of experts should at least be studying what the rest of the country is doing to alleviate the problems we’re all facing and searching for solutions that’d fit Idaho.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2018


“Alternative Facts” possible euphemism of the year

by Judy Ferro

“Now that we live in an “alternative fact” world the Raiders just won the Super Bowl!!!!!!!!!!”

“Mom, it’s not cheating, it’s “alternative studying”!”

Within hours of Kellyanne Conway’s description of the White House’s claims about attendance at the Trump inauguration as “alternative facts”, the term was a Facebook fixture, had a Wikipedia page with 40 references, and was declared an “early contender for euphemism of the year” by the Boston Globe.

Lies have long been a part of politics—Machiavelli said as much in 1513 AD. Columnist Dustin McKissen recently pointed out several instances of leaders using alternative facts, including “Kennedy’s insistence that troops were merely serving as advisors [in Viet Nam], Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin incident, and Richard Nixon’s claim that he did not sabotage the 1968 peace talks.” He added President George W. Bush’s claims of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

Many generalizations true in some cases but not for the majority come close to being “alternative facts.”

Increasing the minimum wage causes people to lose their jobs. (Many states have seen the opposite. Even cities have increased their minimum wage and seen job growth that neighboring cities didn’t.)

Illegal immigrants are criminals and don’t pay taxes. (The vast majority of illegals make a real effort to avoid being noticed.)

Public schools aren’t as good as they used to be. (Students are mastering a far more structured and detailed curricula than in my day.)

People could afford health insurance if they felt it was a priority. (For a family, insurance can cost as much as rent and food combined.)

Right now we have Republicans in Boise claiming we must decrease taxes if we want to attract and retain businesses—even though a recent state said 40 states have higher taxes than we do, even though the tax decreases are miniscule for the small businesses that create most of our jobs, even though some states have increased job growth after raising taxes and increasing investment in infrastructure and schools.

Yet, “selective facts” are not the blatant lies that “alternative facts” are.

Tobacco companies concealed in-house research while deny any relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

Investment houses, fearing that certain stocks were tanking, claimed they were great buys for their customers.

Manufacturers took out ads with glowing—and false—descriptions of working conditions in their Asian factories.

And oil companies launched “institutes” to deny Global Warming even as they bid on drilling rights in the North Sea that would have no value if the ice didn’t melt.

This week “alternative facts” generated by oil company largess resulted in the chair of the Idaho House Environment, Energy & Technology committee refusing to schedule a hearing on climate change. According to an Idaho Statesman article, Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said climate change is merely a fraud; volcanoes contribute more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than people do; carbon dioxide is good for plants; climate change has always been with us; and there is nothing we can do about it.   Former House minority leader John Rusche responded, “I think that a hearing on the effects on Idaho’s forests, water supply, fire risks, wildlife, potential change in world markets and transportation, energy production and transmission all are legitimate legislative issues.”

Thirty-seven states are working on climate-change plans. Thirty-seven. But not Idaho.

With alternative facts so common, why are President Trump’s causing such a ballyhoo? Because his are so easily disproved? Because everyone loves being a comic? Or, perhaps, because people are starting to fear he believes them?

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