The Point of No Return

Eric Holthaus, "The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here," Rolling Stone, August 5, 2013.

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public's attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren't cut, "We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization" . . . .

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That's because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that's also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support. Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children's Trust, a legal advocacy organization that's filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn't just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it's also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation. In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

The Current State of Things

The current time and date. The current phase of the moon. The current financial cost of the Iraq invasion. The current US national debt. How things look in Moose Lake, Minnesota, Mt. St. Helens, Washington, Davis Station, Antarctica,
Nuuk, Greenland, New York, New York, the Falkland Islands An estimate of the number of people in U.S. prisons right now. The International Space Station: where is it now? Baby names (to 1900, too).

Currency Consequences

"Dollar Falls on Fears of U.S. Deficits" -- Paul Blustein and Jonathan Weisman in The Washington Post, 11/5/04:

The dollar continued its decline in global currency markets yesterday, intensifying worries among some economists that mounting U.S. budget and trade deficits could send the U.S. currency into a tailspin.

But John B. Taylor, the Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, defended the Bush administration view that the deficits pose no danger of a dollar collapse. He issued a detailed rebuttal of what he called "scare stories."

The dollar fell yesterday to within a fraction of a cent of its all-time low against the euro of $1.2930 , trading as low as $1.2898 before rallying slightly to close at $1.2867. It fell modestly against the Japanese yen, and continued a sharp slide against the Canadian dollar, which rose to 83 U.S. cents yesterday for the first time in 12 years.

It was the second straight day that the dollar has fallen despite a surge in the stock market, continuing a trend that began in early October when it started slipping against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners. The declined rekindled the fears of some analysts that the dollar could be headed for a severe sell-off unless the White House and Congress make a major effort to shrink the budget gap.

"As the dust settles after the U.S. elections, the one theme that is developing is the growing recognition [in the markets] of the need for more dollar depreciation," economists at J.P. Morgan told clients yesterday, citing as one major reason the likelihood that "there will be no serious new policies to trim the U.S. budget deficit."


"The Arrogant Empire" -- Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek, 3/24/03:

[T]he United States will spend as much next year on defense as the rest of the world put together (yes, all 191 countries). And it will do so devoting 4 percent of its GDP, a low level by postwar standards.

American dominance is not simply military. The U.S. economy is as large as the next three -- Japan, Germany and Britain -- put together. With 5 percent of the world's population, this one country accounts for 43 percent of the world's economic production, 40 percent of its high-technology production and 50 percent of its research and development. If you look at the indicators of future growth, all are favorable for America. It is more dynamic economically, more youthful demographically and more flexible culturally than any other part of the world. It is conceivable that America's lead, especially over an aging and sclerotic Europe, will actually increase over the next two decades.

Given this situation, perhaps what is most surprising is that the world has not ganged up on America already. Since the beginnings of the state system in the 16th century, international politics has seen one clear pattern -- the formation of balances of power against the strong. Countries with immense military and economic might arouse fear and suspicion, and soon others coalesce against them. It happened to the Hapsburg Empire in the 17th century, France in the late 18th and early 19th century, Germany twice in the early 20th century, and the Soviet Union in the latter half of the 20th century. At this point, most Americans will surely protest: "But we're different!" Americans -- this writer included -- think of themselves as a nation that has never sought to occupy others, and that through the years has been a progressive and liberating force. But historians tell us that all dominant powers thought they were special. Their very success confirmed for them that they were blessed. But as they became ever more powerful, the world saw them differently. The English satirist John Dryden described this phenomenon in a poem set during the Biblical King David's reign. "When the chosen people grew too strong," he wrote, "The rightful cause at length became the wrong."