Tuesday, August 23, 2016

5 Years After DC Earthquake, We're Still Cutting Quake Monitoring Budgets

Hey, it's 5th anniversary of the Virginia earthquake that shook DC! Back then, we pointed out the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey had been slashed by austerity measures.

What about in the five years since? Surely as our economy has rebounded, we've restored investments in protecting every single American from major earthquakes, especially quake-prone economic engines like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, right?
  • FY 1997: $1.19 billion, which is $1.76 billion in 2015 dollars 
  • FY 2015 enacted budget: $1.04 billion 
  • That's an effective cut of: 41%
Clearly a nation with a $16.77 trillion annual GDP can't afford frivolities like trying to give its citizens advance warning of major earthquakes and volcano eruptions.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Trump's Taxes & GOP Science Denial: Morals Are For Losers

Today's Republican Party is less about any particular principle or set of values than it is about being willing to completely abandon any morals whenever the party machinery demands it:
Donald Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said Sunday morning that she does not want the Republican presidential nominee to release his tax returns until an audit by the Internal Revenue Service is completed, abandoning a position that she took five months ago, when she didn't work for the campaign and urged Trump to "be transparent" and release the filings.
We've seen similar courage of convictions from Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsay Graham. They spoke out on global warming when it served their maverick images, but that was the high water mark of their climate courage. They abandoned the cause when the party feared a climate & clean energy bill might actually pass in 2010 and have stayed quiet on carbon pollution limits ever since.

As Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times today, "climate denial has become a sort of badge of right-wing identity, above and beyond the still-operative motive of rewarding donors." And now so is denying that Americans have a right to know what a presidential candidate is hiding in his tax returns.

Meanwhile, as Trump demands Hillary Clinton release every email she ever wrote, his new campaign CEO calls it a "smear" when Greenpeace uses the Freedom of Information Act to access some of a polluter scientist's emails. Morals are for losers!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant's New Enemy: Global Warming

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Massachusetts can't take the heat.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Farmers' Almanac Winter Forecast is Malarkey

The Farmers' Almanac just released its winter forecast for 2017, so I thought it would be a good time to see how their winter 2016 forecast did last year. From August 2015:
It’s not what Bostonians want to hear: The Farmer’s Almanac says another rough winter is in your stars.

A year after Boston was pummeled with the snowiest winter on record, editors of the Maine-based publication have dubbed their latest forecast a “winter deja vu,” hearkening to last winter’s misery across the Northeast.

Using a formula built on sunspots, moon phases and tidal action, the 199-year-old almanac that hits newsstands this week predicts cold and snowy weather from Maine to Montana.
Though meteorologists immediately blasted the Almanac forecast as about as accurate as a Magic 8 Ball, even PBS covered it as news. Meanwhile, scientists at NOAA predicted a winter that was warmer and wetter than average. So did AccuWeather.

So what actually happened?
December through February, a three-month period known as "meteorological winter," has shattered warm and wet records in 2015-2016 from New England to the Southeast, Midwest, Plains and West.
Basing your long-range weather forecast on sunspots is like basing your climate change outlook on the moon. When journalists repeat those guesses as news, they're doing a disservice to actual science.

News outlets also uncritically repeat the Almanac's claim to 80% accuracy. But that assertion is no more reality-based than its actual forecasts:
The Old Farmer's Almanac claims "many longtime Almanac followers claim that our forecasts are 80% to 85% accurate." This is simply a claim and not the actual accuracy. John Walsh, University of Illinois Atmospheric Sciences professor emeritus, reviewed the accuracy of five years of monthly forecasts from 32 weather stations around the county and found 50.7% of the monthly temperature forecasts and 51.9% of precipitation forecasts to correctly predict a deviation from averages.
50 percent - you could get just as accurate a guess by flipping a coin.

What do the fortune tellers at the Almanac have to say about winter 2017?
[Y]ou better start preparing because according to the Long Range Weather Forecast released by The Old Farmer's Almanac, this one is going to be a real doozy.

Every region of the U.S. will be hit with a different type of terrible. The Northeast and Midwest can expect "colder than normal" temperatures and precipitation is supposed to be "above normal."
Here in New England, the Farmers' Almanac is geared toward a certain type of yankee who, every single year, thinks god will surely punish us for our sin of enjoying summer by smiting us with a horrible winter. To get those folks to buy your almanac, you need to make sure every winter forecast fulfills that fervor.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Kids Today Do Not Know Your Environmental Icon

A coworker recently cited Woodsy Owl as an example of an environmental household brand name. I have a Woodsy Owl t-shirt. Recently …
Late-teens-ish worker at fish and chips shack: Great shirt!

Me: Thanks!

Him: I love South Park.

Me: What?

Him: That episode where the guy in the owl costume molests kids was hilarious!

Me: Oh, I didn’t see that one. Woodsy Owl was a public service campaign back in the ‘70s and ‘80s who told kids not to litter.

Him: Really? Wow, I had no idea it was a real thing!

Me: (dies of old age)
Environmentalists have done a lousy job maintaining or replacing childhood icons. Past generations have had Woodsy, Smokey Bear, Ranger Rick, The Lorax, and Captain Planet, but I couldn't name one who's come along in the last 20 years. Of that list, who would today's kids be able to identify?

Part of it is the era - in this age of multimedia ad saturation, campaigns are now run and replaced rather than maintained long enough to reach iconic status.

For government agencies, part of it is budgetary - the U.S. Forest Service, which produced Woodsy Owl, now spends most of its money on fighting fires thanks to Congressional budget-cutting and worsening global warming.

And for nonprofits, there's the challenge of generationally split audiences. Design a new campaign for today's children and older donors may not be willing to support something unfamiliar. Design a campaign based on an older icon and you may please older donors but fail to connect with today's kids.

Monday, July 11, 2016

This is Why We're Supposed to Fight for Gas Tax Hikes?

EmptySteve LeBlanc writes for the Associated Press today about how Massachusetts uses just a tiny fraction of cigarette taxes for anti-smoking programs. By contrast, he says most of a recent gas tax hike goes for its intended purpose:
Drivers paid an extra $257 million to fill up their tanks as a result of the 3-cent-per-gallon increase ... virtually all of the gas tax money went to highway construction and maintenance
As we've discussed before, voters don't want to pay for highway construction, but Democrats are constantly told by Very Serious People that they must campaign for gas tax hikes because it's The Right Thing to Do.

Sure, it's nice to put a more accurate price on gasoline, which gets so many free rides, from polluting our air to getting military protection in the Middle East.

But if the money is just going to pay for more highways, incentivizing more gasoline consumption, it's unclear if raising the gas tax is even a clear net good, never mind worth progressives spending precious political capital on what's a relatively unpopular cause.

I'd rather fight for a millionaire's tax and a carbon tax, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Sugar Coated": Big Tobacco & Big Oil, Meet Big Sugar

I just watched the documentary Sugar Coated. Its parallels to the War On Science-style campaigns funded by cigarette makers and climate polluters were staggering:
  • Product is cheap & easy in the short term but expensive & deadly in the long run
  • A complex problem that's hard for people to understand or respond to individually
  • Industry pays scientists to manufacture doubt and uncertainty about the harm caused by its highly-profitable product
  • Science advocates not only hopelessly underfunded, but often outgunned with only a scientific background against a multidisciplinary campaign using marketing, political and emotional tactics
As Mother Jones has extensively reported, the sugar industry has worked hard to make sure government policy doesn't reflect the truth that added sugar is toxic. In just the last few months, the Obama administration has taken the important step of including added sugar on nutrition labels, but that barely scratches the surface of what could be done if progressive Democrats took on Big Sugar like they took on Big Tobacco and industrial climate polluters.

Sugar Coated is now available on Netflix. Here's the trailer:

Sugar Coated Trailer from The Cutting Factory on Vimeo.