An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

redgreenLast night, a majority of you, through your action or inaction, elected Trump. I don’t fully understand why, but it kinda doesn’t matter now. That’s done. Water under the proverbial bridge. No backsies. Besides, whatever your motivation, the reality is that you elected Trump’s policies and visions. Further, you swept in a single party to control the White House, Congress, and in short order, the Supreme Court. So there’s little to hinder Trump delivering on what he’s promised… and soon. After all, Trump has been very plain about how much will change on Day 1 or in the First 100 Days. Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but he’s easily got 2 years of pretty unchecked reign to get his agenda on track. He’s got no excuses, so buckle up.

I admit, I don’t really get how a lot of the tactics he’s proposed achieve his goals. Granted, his plans are bit thin on details, but it’s early. And besides, what the hell do I know? I thought I’d be waking up to President-elect Clinton this morning. But in broad strokes, in terms of end objectives, I really do hope he achieves what he’s said.

I’m looking forward to the return of high-paying blue-collar manufacturing jobs, the demise of ISIS and terrorism in general, a better way to keep Iran from nuclear tech, less foreign military deployments, 5% GDP, healthcare that will be so much better than Obamacare, lower taxes, no federal deficits, reductions in violent crime, better educations for our kids, having the VA fixed and providing for our vets, restructuring all our international trade deals and alliances to our benefit, saving Social Security, and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. It’s ambitious, but if Trump can make even a dent in a significant part of that list without cratering the economy or the environment, sowing civil unrest, or disenfranchising any segments of US citizens, then I’ll be first in line to eat crow.

Conversely, if Trump’s plan for America leads to some substantive combination of a tanking economy, spiraling debt, cuts to essential government services, debilitating trade wars, actual wars, civil unrest, higher unemployment, increased terrorism, loss of personal freedoms, or runaway environmental crises, then that’s on you. You own that. History will make you accountable.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna sit back and let this play out. Just try to keep in mind that this is what you wanted. And remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together now. Don’t fuck it up.

Data Over Dogma

dataThis can’t be stated often or emphatically enough. If you are willing to dismiss, suppress, or reject evidence because it conflicts with what you want to (or have been told you should) believe, then you are acting irrationally—by definition. And your judgement should be discounted accordingly.

While this situation usually comes up with regard to a specific topic, it reflects a larger problem with mindset. Sen. Marco Rubio demonstrated this most recently when, in an interview with GQ magazine, he was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” Rubio danced with all his might, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.” (No Marco, it’s really not.) Rubio is previously on record as stating the “crux” of the disagreement is “whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level.”

It’s easy to dismiss this as being isolated to the topic of geology or evolution, something that doesn’t impact the lives of the vast majority of citizens.  Rubio asserts as much when defending his GQ statement.  He said this didn’t matter, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.”

Yet, as I’ve argued in this space before, and as Paul Krugman points out in his recent column, it matters greatly. It matters because we are hindering a crop of potential petrogeologists who are limited to guessing where God hid the oil.  But moreover, it matters because we are teaching kids that evidence can be ignored if it’s uncomfortable. And it is this mindset which is particularly damaging, and not just to the field of science, and as Rubio has demonstrated, not just to kids.

We have adults rejecting global warming and progressive tax codes, not because of evidence, but because of ideology.  We saw dismissal and rejection of pre-election poll data, not because it was inaccurate, but because it supported the wrong conclusion.

We live in an increasingly technological world with a complex multinational economy. Our success as a society, a country, and a culture depends on our ability to carefully and rationally understand and control that abstruse system.  Reliance on irrational explanations and positions in the face of evidence backed models of the world is simply dangerous.

That is not to say that faith and ideology have no place in society. They add value to the lives of many. All the world is not explainable using logic and reason.  Faith and ideology help most fill the gaps. But where data and dogma collide… bet on data every time. All our futures depend on it.

Dear GOP, Drill This

Either unregulated free markets work, or they don’t.  Either a thing is the President’s responsibility, or it isn’t.  You can’t have it both ways unless you’re inventing your own reality… Oh yeah, never mind.

US Oil ProductionOkay, maybe we should mind a little… The GOP’s message is that Obama is responsible for high gas prices and he should do something about that.  And that something is to “drill, baby, drill“.  Unfortunately, those damned liberally biased facts stand in stark opposition to the GOP’s message.  As the chart on the right shows, oil production under Obama has risen at a substantial rate, and contrasts markedly with the steady decline of production under George Bush.  In fact, the number of oil rigs in production in the U.S. has reached a 24-year high, according to oil field services company Baker Hughes. In 2005, domestic production was 1.89 billion barrels. This year, experts say, production is expected to surpass 2 billion barrels.

drilling_gas_prices_chartFurther, there’s no correlation between domestic oil production and gas prices.  The chart on the left shows instead that the two numbers seem to roughly track.  If we assume (moronically) that correlation is the same as causation, the obvious policy would be to stop domestic production in an effort to bring prices at the pump down.

Another nail in the coffin of the failure to drill position is the U.S. Energy Information Administration report that the U.S. exported 430,000 more barrels of gasoline than it imported for the month of September. This is an historic change, because we’ve been a net importer of gasoline, mostly from Europe, since the 1960s. We are not domestically constrained on gasoline supply.

Another inconvenient truth is U.S. net petroleum imports have fallen to about 47% of the nation’s consumption, down from a record 60.3% in 2005, Energy Information Administration statistics show. It’s been 15 years since the nation’s reliance on foreign oil has been this low.

So does Obama deserve all the credit for this?  No, absolutely not.  While he’s called for ending the $40B in annual subsidies to big oil, so far the money flows unabated.  While there was a brief moratorium on deep water drilling after the BP oil spill, that was long ago lifted.  Obama subsequently opened up drilling in the Arctic to the howl of environmentalists, and also agreed to open leases for drilling off the eastern seaboard, despite his reputation on the right for shutting down oil exploration.  Obama may not be responsible for the boom in production, but it’s not at all clear how you can claim he’s a hindrance to it.  There might be a claim that he could do more to spur drilling, but there’s no evidence he’s done anything yet to impede drilling.  If anything, his policies lean the other way.

Meanwhile, in reality, the major reasons for increases in domestic oil production lie with recent advances in geologic imaging allowing accurate identification of underground oil deposits, as well as the development of new extraction techniques making previously unprofitable wells productive.

oil -- u.s. oil efficiency improvingThe impact of energy efficiency should also not be underestimated. Not only are our homes, cars, and appliances cleaner and greener, but advances in technology have reduced the need for travel. More of us are telecommuting to work, or using GoToMeeting instead of jumping on a plane.

Hmmm… domestic production is up, domestic use is down, and gas prices are still rising.  That doesn’t sound like the supply & demand model we learned about in school!  But wait, I’ve heard rumors that the US is not the only country on the planet.  Maybe there are other players here influencing the market.

It turns out that growing industrialized counties like China and India are consuming an ever larger portion of the global oil supply.  In aggregate, the global demand is expected to barely keep pace with global production.  So there’s minimal excess capacity in the market, and that helps keep prices high.  Granted, additional production will definitely help this problem.  However, if China and India continue growing at their current rate and eventually consume oil at rates approaching what we do in the U.S., the need will far outstrip the supply of oil on the entire globe.  So long term, most of us have to find an energy alternative to oil anyway.  The only way “Drill, Baby, Drill” solves this problem is if the US becomes entirely oil self-sufficient, and then detaches itself from the global oil markets.  And that flies directly in the face of the GOP position on open, free, and unregulated markets.  Can you imagine the cries when the law is passed that prevents Exxon from exporting?

And speaking of free markets, oil speculators are in no small part responsible for the current price spike.  Almost 70% of the current oil commodities market is driven by speculators.  Why is speculation driving prices up?  Primarily, the speculation that there is an imminent military intervention in Iran that will dramatically impact the delivery of Mid-East oil.  Meaning, the increased saber-rattling toward Iran is helping drive prices up by driving speculation of a coming supply crunch.  Keep in mind that while Obama has offered stern warnings to Iran, the current GOP Presidential contenders (excluding Ron Paul) have all promised to attack Iran if they don’t fall in line to U.S. demands.  Commodities speculation is fairly unregulated, and it seems highly unlikely the GOP would support such financial regulation.  Meanwhile, their militaristic approach to foreign policy exacerbates fears that are driving the free market in the direction they claim to not want it to go.

Mitt Romney is on record saying that rather than bail out the auto industry, the market should just have been allowed to run its natural course.  That’s what’s best for the markets and ultimately best for America. Why then, is it not best for the markets and best for America to let gas hit $5/gallon if that is the natural course of things?  Why should the government intervene on gas prices?

If your mantra is, shut up and take your medicine while the markets sort it out, then shut up and take your medicine.

There’s no Tea in Sanity

Tea-Party-MeetingBrad Plumer writes that the GOP party-wide rush to denounce climate change is being driven by a small minority of fervent Tea Party types.  While it’s an interesting read in its own right, there’s a larger subtext I find downright frightening.  There’s no reason to suppose these findings are limited to their climate fantasies.

Two points struck me:

Researchers on cognitive social networks at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently found that “when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.”


Tea Partiers are also by far the most confident in their beliefs — more likely to say they are “very well informed” and that they “do not need any more information about global warming.” Note that this dovetails with earlier research finding that when you give those dismissive of global warming more information, it only serves to harden their doubts.

Self-identified Tea Party types make up just 12 percent of the population.  But that’s apparently enough to give them and their warped reality sway over public opinion and policy.  And there’s apparently little the rest of us can do to induce any sanity on them either.  The more we dump rational arguments and data on them, the further convinced they are about their delusions.

Are we doomed to the anti-science Christian theocracy they envision?  A world where our money is tied to gold, the government is apathetic to your plight, education is relegated to kitchen tables and churches, corporations are free to pollute their way to profits, unions don’t exist, and medical care will only be available to those with enough chickens to trade for it?

I’m certainly not expecting the GOP debate tonight to dissuade my fears.

100% renewable energy achievable by 2030

Offshore wind turbine (Photo by Phil Hollman)

The journal Energy Policy has produced a study claiming that by 2030 the entire world could be operating on a combination of wind, solar, geothermal, and wave power.  While achieving this would require a massive retooling of the world’s energy infrastructure, it is all doable with current technology and at a affordable cost.  The study’s authors, Mark Delucchi and Mark Jacobson note that all that would be required is the political will to make this happen.

The plan calls for building of about four million 5 MW wind turbines, 1.7 billion 3 kW roof-mounted solar photovoltaic systems, and around 90,000 300 MW solar power plants.  These would be backed by geothermal and wave generation devices whose power output fluctuates less over the course of the days or seasons.  All the assumptions are based on using technology already in place at this scale somewhere today.

The execution of such a plan over the next two decades would require an “Apollo-level” commitment by successive administrations in the U.S. alone.  China and several European countries are already committed to massive green energy programs.  The global implications of such a shift in energy technology would benefit the climate as well as the economies and foreign policies of countries like the U.S. that have a huge dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

However, given the current depressed economy there is little appetite for infrastructure maintenance, much less the desire to rebuild anything.  It’s also unclear the current government could muster a new generational program given the level of corporate influence and the inherent polarization it operates under.  The long term benefits of such a program are enormous, but the short term investment will likely prove an insurmountable hurdle.

Still, it’s encouraging to know a fossil fuel free future is possible without new inventions.