The combustible politics of a coronavirus ‘dark winter’
For the past half decade, Europe has acted as a preview of coming attractions in American politics. The reaction to the confluence of immigration and terrorism on the continent foreshadowed the direction the Republican Party would take under Donald Trump. The surprise victory of “Leave” in the Brexit referendum hinted at Trump’s unexpected elevation to the presidency. The terrible images from coronavirus-stricken Italy last March offered a glimpse into New York City’s future. This week, when Italian authorities reimposed curfews, restrictions on business, and bans on communal gatherings, violent protests broke out in Turin, Milan, and Naples. Consider it a taste of the next populist revolt.
Lockdowns remain the preferred tool of governments whose public health authorities decide the coronavirus is out of control. In September, Israel shut down for a month during the Jewish holidays to reduce its coronavirus infection rate. In October, New York City targeted certain neighborhoods. In recent days, Newark ordered “nonessential” businesses to close at 8 p.m., a county judge imposed a curfew on El Paso, and Massachusetts has gone back-and-forth on whether schools should be open or closed.
This response has placed the public under extraordinary strain. When officials tell businesses to close, they not only deny individuals who can’t work from home the opportunity to earn a living. They also impose social costs that much of the public is increasingly unwilling to bear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation increased during the spring. Extended families limited contact. Religious practice was curtailed. Having canceled spring holidays, Americans are now informed that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas need to be reconsidered as well. When individuals inevitably question, disregard, or disobey the commands of science, they are censored, stigmatized, condescended to, or punished.
Nor is expert authority the only form of power at work. In spite of evidence that schools are not sites of widespread transmission and remote education harms children in incalculable ways, only 39 of the 50 largest school districts have reopened for at least some in-person instruction. In Fairfax County, Va., the teachers’ union has called for schools to remain closed at least until September 2021. Amidst the many Biden-Harris lawn signs are a few for #OpenFCPS, a parent-driven campaign to resume in-person instruction. The parents are circulating a petition to recall members of the school board who oppose bringing the students back.
Governments resort to shutdowns to impose discipline on an unruly population. But shutdowns do not solve the problem. They turn public health crises into economic and social ones. After a while, the price of shutdowns grows too high. The government reopens the economy. The virus returns. Before long, the cycle repeats.
There are plenty of ways to think about the politics of the Trump era. You can analyze the parties according to the traditional left-right axis. You can study public debate through the prism of liberal democracy versus authoritarianism. You can understand recent elections as pitting establishment insiders against populist outsiders. You can see the ideological contest as a three-way grudge match between common-good conservatives, neoliberals in both parties, and woke progressives. Coronavirus has spawned yet another interpretive framework. In this frame, politics is the struggle between the faction that wants to keep the economy and society relatively open during the pandemic and the faction that is ready and willing to shut them down.
Joe Biden has been able to straddle these two poles. He says you can have a (relatively) open society as well as a public health system that reduces infection to a negligible level. He says he will “shut down the virus, not the country.” What he hasn’t explained is how that can happen in the absence of a widely administered vaccine. Only Taiwan and South Korea contained outbreaks without nationwide lockdowns. It is hard to see the United States replicating their success. Taiwan benefited from its rapid response at the outset of the crisis. South Korean authorities rapidly approved tests while enjoying access to cell phone data. None of that happened here.
If Biden takes office during the “dark winter” he prophesied at the final presidential debate, he will have to decide, in addition to his national mask mandate, whether to put the country through another “30 days to slow the spread.” The bureaucratic pressure to shut down will be immense. The media, entertainment, and technology sectors will be sure to support and promote his decision. Polarization between “red” states and the nation’s capital will intensify. The commanding heights of culture and business will consign the Republican Party to the ash heap of history. And opposition to the restoration of progressive rule will manifest itself as a populist revolt whose character, magnitude, disposition, and endgame can only be imagined.
While we must steward the planet God has gifted to us, there is no empirical basis for apocalyptic predictions of impending doom.
The “Climate Clock” looms ten stories above Manhattan’s Union Square so all passersby can track the precise moment the world passes its supposed tipping-point toward irreversible, apocalyptic environmental demise. This clock has that moment of doom pegged at a little more than seven years from today. One of the men who created the clock, artist Gan Golan, said his motivation for the project was the birth of his daughter two years ago:
What we did in the next few years would determine the world my daughter would live in, that all of us would live in, and I felt that timeline needed to be understood by everyone, everywhere.
As a result, Golan and a friend constructed a massive digital alarm clock on the side of a building in one of the busiest places in the world to track just how little time we have. Last year, they even made a smaller climate clock for Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg; one she could hold in her hand during her famed appearance at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
“This is arguably the most important number in the world,” the team explained to The New York Times, adding, “You can’t argue with science, you just have to reckon with it.” And that is where the problem lies with the environmental doom and gloom — you can absolutely argue with science. That is precisely what the scientific method is: the careful, relentless discipline of skepticism and discovery. It’s testing and questioning what others claim is beyond debate.
Nine leading climate scientists from Germany, France, Finland, and Ireland have, indeed, questioned whether anyone can reliably determine how much time remains between now and an irreversible trajectory toward environmental ruin.
Drawing from 36 different meta-analyses on the question, involving more than 4,600 individual studies spanning the last 45 years, their findings were recently published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. They conclude that the empirical data doesn’t allow scientists to establish ecological thresholds or tipping points. As natural bio-systems are dynamic, ever-evolving, and adapting over the long-term, determining longevity timeframes is currently impossible.
These scholars write that frankly, “we lack systematic quantitative evidence as to whether empirical data allow definitions of such thresholds” and “our results thus question the pervasive presence of threshold concepts” in environmental politics and policy. Their findings also reinforced the contention that “global change biology needs to abandon the general expectation that system properties allow defining thresholds as a way to manage nature under global change.”
Professor José M. Montoya, one of the nine authors and an ecologist at the Theoretical and Experimental Ecology Station in France, told the French National Center for Scientific Research “many ecologists have long had this intuition” that setting reliable, empirically situated tipping-points “was difficult to verify until now for lack of sufficient computing power to carry out a wide-ranging analysis.” But that has now changed.
So no, there is no reliable science behind the new seven-years-to-the-point-of-no-return countdown of the Climate Clock in Union Square, nor for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s infamous “The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t act now” scare, or Thunberg’s just-10-years-til-inevitable-doom drum pounding. Such claims simply do not — and cannot — be firmly grounded in any scientific knowledge we currently possess.
Evidence for this conclusion, however, goes beyond the aforementioned conclusive new study. 2020 saw the publication of two extremely important books from leading, mainstream environmental-climate scholars on what science says about the earth’s future.
The first is Michael Shellenberger, a Time magazine “Hero of the environment” who explains in his book “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All” that nearly every piece of scare data presented by the likes of AOC, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Thunberg is not only incorrect but tells a story that is the opposite of the scientific truth. Not only is the world not going to end due to climate change, but in many important ways, the environment is getting markedly better.
As Shellenberger explains, environmental improvements are coming from technology and industry, not the do-goodism of Greenpeace and other activists. Certainly no conservative, Shellenberger wrote “Apocalypse Never” precisely because he was “getting fed up with the exaggeration, alarmism, and extremism that are the enemy of a positive, humanistic, and rational environmentalism.” Shellenberger is both pro-people and pro-technology, explaining counter-intuitively that the scientific “evidence is overwhelming that our high-energy civilization is better for people and nature than the low-energy civilization that climate alarmists would return us to.”
Another major environmentalist voice challenging hysteria is Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center think tank, listed by the UK’s liberal Guardian newspaper as one of the 50 people who could save the planet. In his book “False Alarm,” he explains how “climate change panic” is not only unfounded, it’s also wasting trillions of dollars globally, hurting the poor, and failing to fix the very problems it warns us about. Lomborg explains:
‘The rhetoric on climate change has become more extreme and less moored to the actual science’ at the very time that ‘climate scientists have painstakingly increased knowledge about climate change, and we have more — and more reliable — data than ever before.’
So, what science genuinely telling us? “Science shows us that fears of a climate apocalypse are unfounded.” Lomborg explains, admitting that while “global warming is real … it is not the end of the world.” “It is a manageable problem” he adds. He is dismayed that we live in a world “where almost half the population believes climate change will extinguish humanity” and do so under the mistaken assumption that science concludes this. It doesn’t, and he is vexed this mantra parades under the banner of enlightenment.
It’s imperative we properly steward this beautiful planet God has gifted to us. It was the second command He gave to humanity, after the charge to populate it with generation after generation of new people. But hysteria is not what is called for in this work. Shellenberger, Lomborg, and these nine other international ecologists tell us that not only is there no empirical basis for the apocalyptic prognostications so needlessly disturbing the dreams of the world’s young people.
If all you did was listen to the politicians and commentators, you’d think America’s health care system was on the verge of collapse. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are problems, but most of them have been caused by the self-same reformers who’ve been trying for more than two decades to “fix” it.
Much progress has been made since the New York Times and presidential candidate Bill Clinton declared a crisis existed and proposed solving it by increasing the role played by the government in managing the delivery of services and prices. Once the voters learned the potential adverse impacts on the quality of care they received, the debate changed.
Through it all, America has continued providing the best care anywhere. The spirit of invention and innovation that is the hallmark of our civilization exists robustly in the health care sector and, because it does, people are living longer, generally healthier lives. Yet, instead of encouraging that, scholars and policymakers continue to focus on flattening the cost curve through fiat. Price controls and rationing may reduce the perceived costs of medical care but won’t solve the problem.
The real solutions will come from innovations in care. That means continuing the development of radical new treatments that were unthinkable a generation ago and, in a few cases, going back to what was working before the government messed things up.
One place where looking back is already helping us move forward is kidney dialysis. In 1972, thinking they were helping, Congress passed legislation creating a Medicare program to pay for dialysis treatment and patients with end-stage renal disease gravitated to more expensive, center-based care using machines built for use in centers that are large, hard-to-use, and too expensive for home use.
In 1973, 40 percent of dialysis patients received treatment at home. Today, 90 percent receive treatment at dialysis centers and hospitals — at much greater cost and at greater risk to their health because the entire time they are there, checking in, checking out, waiting for and receiving treatment, they’re in the company of others who might be sick with something like COVID-19 that science tells us preys on those whose immune systems are compromised.
We spend more than $110 billion on kidney disease, the ninth leading cause of death in the United States. More than 37 million Americans have some form of this disease and the money paying for their dialysis comes from Uncle Sam through Medicare. That’s not sustainable.
The alternative to spending more is to spend smarter. The Trump Administration, which earlier this year announced a plan to “shake up” the kidney care medical complex is pushing for a return to home-based hemodialysis as a cost-saving measure and one more in line with patient concerns. His executive order on the issue included a direction to the Department of Health and Human Services to develop policies to reduce the number of Americans getting dialysis treatment at dialysis centers.
That’s the right move. The in-home care alternative will have the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time. The current care cycle, where treatment begins when it’s too late to stop disease progression. Must be broken. Instead of throwing more money at dialysis clinics, the priority is being repurposed in the right place, on early diagnosis, better patient education, and comprehensive and holistic care services.
Home-based options for hemodialysis, where blood is pumped out of the body under supervision into a machine that acts as a kidney and filters the blood before returning it to the body, and peritoneal dialysis, where blood vessels in the lining of the belly filter the blood with the help of a cleansing fluid, exist and should be utilized to the fullest extent possible.
Starting in 2021, ESRD patients will also be able to enroll in Medicare Advantage plans – great for the ESRD patients, but it could increase premiums for all seniors if we don’t help these plans negotiate for fair rates and prevent costs from rising. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services should remove any roadblocks that exist to making this option viable.
With COVID-19 is changing how people go about their lives, the incentive to adapt and innovate in the health care sector is there. Telehealth, which was generally frowned upon before the current crisis, has taken off like a moonshot. Changing the kidney dialysis model to one where the care is mostly provided at home could liberate those receiving treatment now held prisoner by their illness and could lead the transformation of American medicine. Anyway, it’s worth a try.
In 2020, there is no element of life too small or too trivial to not get outraged over. It’s time for us to be the change we want to see in the universe.
Finally, NASA is doing something important: Taking a closer look at the nicknames for cosmic objects.
In a real and not satiric press release announcing the move, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Science Mission Directorate, said, “Our goal is that all names are aligned with our values of diversity and inclusion, and we’ll proactively work with the scientific community to help ensure that. Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value.”
This comes a little too late. It is 2020, after all. It also focuses on things like the Eskimo Nebula and the Siamese Twin Galaxy, and doesn’t take into account all celestial bodies. The sad fact is that it’s time to cancel all the planets in the solar system, starting with Uranus.
Discovered in 1781, the seventh stone from the sun was named for the Greek god of the sky. Although all the other planets except for Earth are named for Greek gods, this is especially troubling as the god of the sky is the sun, unless you have a misbegotten belief in a geocentric universe. Even then, though, no way Uranus would get the crown.
It’s a cold, desolate planet with harsh winds and foul-smelling clouds (obviously). Its environment is most likely too harsh to support any life, at least life as we know it. Its 27 moons are named for characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, two white dudes. Its atmosphere is leaking out into space. As far as planets go, it’s the least capable of taking a joke. Uranus is no god of the sky.
Those reasons are not themselves sufficient, however, in explaining why Uranus is offensive. No, the real reason Uranus is offensive is the same as why the names for allthe planets are offensive. Naming the planets after Greek gods just reinforces patriarchy on a cosmic level. How can NASA truly achieve its goal of inclusivity if it doesn’t acknowledge this?
Starting with the one closest to the sun, we have Mercury, the messenger of the gods. He was also the god of financial gain (read: greed), and we don’t need a giant Gordon Gekko orbiting the sun. Canceled.
Then there’s Venus, goddess of love and beauty, who is just a tool of the patriarchy. Buh-bye.
Up next, it’s Mars, the god of war. War is bad, okay? Gone. Well, how about Jupiter, the king of the gods? Kings are also bad. Sayonara.
Saturn is named for the god of agriculture. Saturn’s reign was marked by peace and benevolence, but his girlfriend was called Mother Destruction, so he’s out.
We’ve already covered Uranus, so next on the chopping block is Neptune, the god of water. Water is good and Neptune was one of four gods that one could sacrifice a bull to, but bulls also produce methane (think of the polar bears!), and too much water causes problems, so Neptune is canceled.
What about Earth? Our planet is not named after a god or even a mortal — so far, so good. The word Earth, however, is derived from Old English and thus represents a tacit endorsement of colonialism. It’s time to ditch that one, too.
Some may object to renaming all the planets because it’s unnecessary and ridiculous. Well, those people should probably be canceled, too.
In 2020, there is no element of life, or lifeless planets, too small or too trivial to not get outraged over. It’s time for us to stop being the change we want to see in the world and start being the change we want to see in the universe. To not do so would be to not go too far enough!
Column: How a microbe will decide the 2020 election
On March 18, at a press conference flanked by high-ranking officials, President Trump described himself as a “wartime president” fighting an “invisible enemy” known as the coronavirus. The president, it seemed, was beginning to reckon with the extent of the economic, epidemiological, social, and psychological damage the pandemic would cause, and to act appropriately. “We must sacrifice together,” Trump said, “because we are all in this together, and we will come through together.”
An anxious populace welcomed the appearance of a strong leader at a time of national emergency. The president’s job approval ratings rose in the following weeks, reaching a high of 47 percent in the Real Clear Politics average on April 1. The gap between Trump and former vice president Joe Biden narrowed to five points.
How long ago that seems. Some 122,000 deaths and tens of millions of lost jobs later, and in the middle of a cultural revolution sparked by the viral video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, President Trump finds himself backed into a corner. The rhetoric of a wartime presidency is gone. His coronavirus task force is barely visible. In a symbol of declining levels of support among white voters critical to his reelection, attendance at the Keep America Great rally in Tulsa failed to live up to expectations raised by Trump’s own campaign. The president’s job approval rating has fallen to the low 40s. Biden’s lead has widened to 10 points.
There is no shaking the coronavirus. It is the ever-present backdrop against which our national nervous breakdown is taking place. The good news is that deaths have declined to fewer than 1,000 per day. But that number is still higher than the casualties reported by other liberal democracies in Asia and in Europe, and it may rise in the coming weeks. Sclerotic bureaucracies, poor decision-making, and ill communication at every level of government wasted the opportunity to suppress the virus through relentless testing, contact tracing, and quarantine.
By the time testing ramped up to the point where it could become the centerpiece of a suppression strategy, Americans had grown tired of lockdowns enforced throughout the country without regard to local conditions and to basic freedoms, and weary of a public health establishment whose pronouncements—New York good, Florida bad; protests good, yeshivas bad—seemed driven by partisanship and ideology.
The virus exposed racial, ethnic, and class cleavages that inflamed elite opinion and increased demands for social justice. And the economic devastation left an environment permeated by anxiety and filled with bored and unemployed people, some of whom felt as if they had no stake in the system and no reason not to smash things. The civil unrest of the past month has analogues in earlier pandemics. Local, state, and federal leaders met the disorder with the same woolly-headedness, indecision, posturing, and lack of compassion that they have applied to this one.
Trump has tried to reinvigorate his candidacy by resuming a normal schedule. Recently, in addition to Oklahoma, he has traveled to Arizona and Wisconsin, but at each stop he has run up against the agent of his electoral distress: the plague.
The arena wasn’t full in Tulsa because of a justified fear, on the part of some who otherwise would have attended, of participating in a large gathering in an enclosed space. During his monologue the president remarked, as case numbers rose in 29 states, that he had told his team to “slow the testing down please.” The content of his speech to a youth group inside a Phoenix megachurch had to compete with questions over how widely face masks were distributed among the crowd. As the president traveled to Green Bay for a town hall with Sean Hannity, Texas governor Greg Abbott paused his state’s reopening and halted elective procedures at hospitals in four counties.ADVERTISING
The spread of the virus results in panic, and the panic results in economic losses, social isolation, and polarized media and culture primed for incitement. That is why 80 percent of registered voters say the country is out of control, why 68 percent say the country is on the wrong track.
What the coronavirus has done is rob President Trump of his ability to control events. The president has a knack for putting his human opponents on their toes, for establishing facts on the ground that are difficult to contest. But the coronavirus doesn’t read Tweets, doesn’t watch television, and doesn’t go away if ignored. It has to be defeated, or endured. America prides itself on having a government of, by, and for the people. But here, today, the virus rules.
Liberals and conservatives are approaching the COVID-19 pandemic through very different moral frameworks.
In a 2008 TED Talk, psychologist Jonathan Haidt said the worst idea in psychology is the notion that humans are born as a “blank slate.”
Like the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, Haidt was rejecting the notion that the human mind is a blank slate at birth, an idea that can be traced to thinkers from Aristotle, to John Locke, to B.F. Skinner and beyond.
“Developmental psychology has shown that kids come into the world already knowing so much about the physical and social worlds and programmed to make it really easy for them to learn certain things and hard to learn others,” explained Haidt, a Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Citing research from the brain scientist Gary Marcus, Haidt said the initial organization of the brain essentially comes with a “first draft.” Studying the anthropological and historical records, Haidt found that five pillars of morality exist across disciplines, cultures, and even species:
What’s interesting is that these moral pillars differ sharply across ideological lines in America today. Haidt found that both conservatives and liberals recognize the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity values (though liberals value these a little more than conservatives). Things change, however, when examining the three remaining foundational values—loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. While conservatives accept these moral values, liberal-minded people tend to reject them.
The difference is extraordinary, and it helps explain the different ways Republicans and Democrats are experiencing the coronavirus. In May, a CNBC/Change Research survey found that while only 39 percent of Republicans said they had serious concerns about COVID-19, 97 percent of Democrats said they had serious concerns.
While some of the divergence could stem from the fact that blue states have been hit harder by COVID-19 than red states, Haidt’s research would suggest that another reason Democrats are more concerned is because liberals have an intense appreciation of the care/harm moral pillar.
Indeed, the preeminence of the care/harm moral can be found in the rhetoric of many progressives.
“I want to be able to say to the people of New York, ‘I did everything we could do,’” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in March. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”
The care/harm moral is even found in the latest social media emojis. Last month, as USA Today reported in an exclusive story, Facebook rolled out its new “care” emoji.
“The new Facebook reaction—an emoji hugging a heart—is intended as shorthand to show caring and solidarity when commenting on a status update, message, photo or video during the coronavirus crisis that allow users to express how much they care about others,” the paper reported.
Cuomo’s language (and to a lesser extent Facebook’s emojis) suggests that, for many, care for others is the preeminent virtue. As such, efforts to protect people must be taken above lesser social considerations.
Understanding the different moral framework conservatives and liberals are using helps us understand why blue states have taken a much more aggressive approach in efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
As The Atlantic explains, with a few exceptions, such as Ohio, Republican governors have been much more reluctant to impose sweeping restrictions on their residents than states led by Democratic governors. While governors in these states no doubt value care/harm, their moral framework likely gives them a heightened concern of other social considerations, particularly civil liberties.
The lockdowns, the Constitution Center explains, have threatened many of America’s most cherished civil liberties—the freedom to assemble, the right to purchase a firearm, the ability to freely travel, the freedom to attend church or visit a reproductive health facility. They’ve also put thousands of companies on a path toward bankruptcy by prohibiting them from engaging in commerce.
These infringements tend to be viewed as reasonable to liberals, who emphasize the care/harm moral but are less likely to recognize the sanctity/degradation moral. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, for example, said he never even considered the US Constitution—a document considered sacrosanct by many Americans—when he issued his lockdown order.
“That’s above my pay grade,” Murphy told Tucker Carlson in April. “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this. We went to all—first of all—we went to the scientists who said people have to stay away from each other.”
Similarly, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer saw no problem in suspending the Freedom of Information Act to prevent outside groups from assessing the model state officials used to justify locking down the entire state.
Those who view civil liberties and constitutional rights as sacred, however, are less than comfortable with such an approach. They will be less inclined to sacrifice sacred principles to support sweeping state efforts to protect people (and are probably more likely to see such efforts as counter-productive).
To be sure, some progressives do see civil liberties as sacred, and some of them have expressed dismay and bewilderment that so many progressives, in their enthusiasm for the care/harm moral, have abandoned civil liberties.
“[The COVID-19 crisis is] raising serious civil liberties issues, from prisoners trapped in deadly conditions to profound questions about speech and assembly, the limits to surveillance and snitching, etc.,” the progressive journalist Matt Taibbi recently wrote in Rolling Stone. “If this disease is going to be in our lives for the foreseeable future, that makes it more urgent that we talk about what these rules will be, not less—yet the party I grew up supporting seems to have lost the ability to do so, and I don’t understand why.”
If Haidt’s theory is correct, the reason is liberals and conservatives are, generally speaking, approaching the COVID-19 pandemic through divergent moral frameworks.
After all, the argument isn’t whether we should protect people.
“In any country, the disagreement isn’t over harm and fairness,” Haidt says. “Everyone agrees that harm and fairness matter.”
The argument isn’t even over how to best balance the care/harm moral with other considerations.
The disagreement is over whether efforts to protect individuals from COVID-19 should be balanced against other considerations—including constitutional and economic ones—at all.
Harvard researchers publicly walked back Monday a key finding in a highly touted but hotly contested paper linking air pollution exposure to deaths from the novel coronavirus, slashing the estimated mortality rate in half.
The preliminary study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health made a splash when the results were announced April 7 in The New York Times, prompting alarm on the left as Democrats sought to connect COVID-19 deaths to the Trump administration’s regulatory pushback.
A few weeks later, however, its researchers quietly backtracked from their finding that people who live for decades in areas with slightly more particulate matter in the air are 15% more likely to die from the coronavirus, lowering the figure to 8%. The press release was revised Monday.
“This article was updated on May 4, 2020, based on an updated analysis from the researchers using data through April 22,” reads a footnote on the Harvard press release.
The revision came after weeks of criticism over the study’s modeling and analysis. Tony Cox, a University of Colorado Denver mathematics professor and chairman of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, said the model used to derive the 8% figure had “no basis in reality.”
“The model has not been validated and its assumptions are unrealistic,” said Mr. Cox, who heads the advanced analytics consulting firm Cox Associates. “In layman’s terms, it assumes an unrealistic effect of fine particulate matter on deaths, and then with that assumption built into the model, it uses data to estimate how big that unrealistic effect is. They’re making an assumption that has no basis in reality.”
JunkScience’s Steve Milloy said the Harvard paper is “not just junk science, it’s scientific fraud.”
Obamacare may be weakened, but its chief designer, Ezekiel Emanuel, still wants to decide whether your life is worth living.
NBC News and MSNBC recently announced that Ezekiel Emanuel, the chief Obamacare architect and brother of President Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, has been hired as a “medical contributor.” Presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden has also tapped Emanuel as a health care advisor.
According to Yahoo News, he will co-host a four-part special on Lawrence O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” that will “examine the public health crisis from a variety of perspectives, including the governmental response, the strain on hospitals, the latest research into treatments and how the disease works, and the heroes — nurses, doctors and medical personnel — who are fighting COVID-19 on the front lines.” Emanuel recently told MSNBC the United States has “no choice” but to remain in lockdown for the next 18 months to fight the virus.
Now seems a good time to remember that Emanuel believes people — particularly the aged — who aren’t contributing materially to society should get out of the way for the benefit of the strong. It’s an argument that seems especially ironic at this time, given that President Trump is getting pounded by the left daily for purportedly putting the health of the economy over the well-being of the vulnerable.
Writing for The Atlantic back in 2014, Emanuel outlined the reasons he hopes to die at the age of 75. He wasn’t outright advocating euthanasia or assisted suicide, but stating his intention, when he reaches 75, to eschew any medical treatments designed to prolong his life — not only aggressive measures such as chemotherapy, but also treatments as basic as antibiotics.
His argument was a purely utilitarian one: by the time someone has reached 75, he is on the downhill slope — in mental acuity, creativity, physical strength, productivity, and ability to contribute materially to society. Rather than prolong a life that Emanuel deems of lesser quality and worth than it was at 20, 40, or 60, he plans to accelerate the arrival of death and, theoretically, compress the period of suffering that precedes death. He doesn’t want his children to go through a lengthy time of watching him decline and die, only to be left “with memories framed not by … vivacity but by … frailty.”
Shortly after Emanuel’s article was published, I wrote a response, “Why I Want to Live Long and Burden My Children,” arguing against his utilitarian view. The title was not ironic. I described the challenge of caring for my elderly mother in my home, noting that, while she wasn’t able to contribute in ways the world generally values, the “burden” of her presence was a blessing to my family in other ways, teaching us about humility, service, sacrifice, and the inherent value of life apart from its so-called usefulness.
Fast-forward five years. In January, Emanuel wrote a new article for The Atlantic in which he recounted the weeks leading up to and including his father’s recent death. After a fall, Emanuel’s 92-year-old father was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. Rather than seek treatment, the family decided to take him home to die in peace.
Emanuel uses the occasion of his father’s death to demonstrate the health system’s predisposition toward continuing pointless treatments rather than providing quality end-of-life care. He concludes, “A terminal diagnosis is inherently traumatic for patients and their families. My father’s experience at home before his death needs to become the standard of care. And not just for patients with pushy sons who have medical training and know how to speak with physicians, disconnect cardiac monitors, and firmly refuse the interventions that our health-care system is so predisposed to offer.”
It’s a worthwhile point. Like many, I can relate to Emanuel’s experience with his father. In 1994, my own father died of lung cancer, metastasized to his brain and liver. He previously had a leg amputated due to peripheral artery disease and was in a weakened state from that as well as from radiation for the cancer.
Once the cancer spread, the oncologist told my mom that the next step, chemotherapy, would be extremely hard on my father, with little chance of measurably extending his life. He said that, if the patient were his own father, he would not recommend it. My father, with my mother’s support, turned down further treatment.
My mother’s own end-of-life story is similar to that of Emanuel’s father. She died four years ago, after a fall followed by a hospitalization, complications, and, finally, hospice care. When it became clear that she was too tired to fight, we took her home to die in her own bed, surrounded by people who loved her.
So I am not arguing for doing anything and everything to prolong life when it’s clear that death is imminent. I am a Christian who believes that there comes a time to shift the focus from extending earthly life to preparing for the passage into eternal life.
But those looking to Emanuel for end-of-life guidance would do well to remember that he is an atheist who has not changed his view about how to approach questions of life, death, and patient care since he served as the primary designer of Obamacare. A review of his most recent interviews and writings on the topic reveals that he still holds to a utilitarian approach based on productivity and “quality” rather than one that has a high regard for all life, regardless of whether it is valued by others. In fact, he objects asmuch to the healthy senior citizen living it up in a Florida retirement community as to the one waiting to die in a nursing home because, in his view, neither is contributing meaningfully to society.
“Look at what most 82-year-olds are doing, even the ones who are mentally and physically functional,” he says. “The New York Times had this big story about the Fountain of Youth that was published just after my article. They went to some place in Arizona where they reported on this woman riding a motorcycle and this guy scuba diving, all in their 90s. Basically, those people are having fun. They’re not doing anything that is contributing new ideas, new contributions, or mentoring younger people. They are enjoying themselves. Which is great. But not if it is all of your life.”
The problem with judging the value of a life based on its “quality” or usefulness is determining who gets to decide. The child in the womb, the patient in a vegetative state, and the elderly person with dementia are not able to speak for themselves. They are weak and at the mercy of others who, however well-intentioned, cannot entirely ignore their own agendas.
Even those who are able to speak for themselves — whether healthy, disabled, or terminally ill — may be influenced by all manner of arguments based on quality, usefulness, or convenience because such arguments have been so pounded into our societal consciousness. But when we buy into them even a little bit, we unlock a door that is all too easy to throw wide open.
If we allow the child who is likely to have a low “quality” of life to be aborted at 3- or 6- or 9-months’ gestation, what is the problem with killing her, on that basis, right after birth — or even later? If an older person, whether ill or healthy, is no longer contributing what Emanuel deems to be “meaningful work,” why should the health care system help him keep going?
Then there’s that little issue of cost. Emanuel notes in his most recent article that it was much cheaper to take his father home than to continue pursuing treatment.
In a 2019 article for National Review, Wesley J. Smith cites a Journal of the American Medical Association editorial about the inevitability of health-care rationing. He notes that while the force of Obamacare has been “blunted,” the “overarching” plan of rationing is still in place, and voices like the New England Journal of Medicine continue to tout “quality of life” as one basis on which to do so.
I agree with Emanuel on one point: no matter what we do and how we try to escape death, it will come for each of us, and at some point, we have to come to terms with and prepare for it. But none of us is in a position to decide what makes a life worth living. To do so is the epitome of human arrogance. As Lutheran pastor Christopher Esget preached in a sermon before this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., “God makes, and we are made. He makes life, and we leave alive.”
Emanuel is now 13 years from the age that he said, in 2014, he wants to die. No doubt he considers that he is still contributing sufficiently to the universe to merit continued dependence on that universe’s resources. I wish he granted the same right of self-evaluation to everyone else, particularly as he positions himself as a voice of authority during a pandemic.
I also wish he understood that the God who created him, and who loves him whether he acknowledges it or not, has a much different gauge of his life’s value than its usefulness in this world.
Students of history will no doubt recall how Marie Antoinette, when told the French people were starving and asking for bread, supposedly said: “Let them eat cake.” It is a tale, albeit possibly apocryphal, that has come to symbolize unfeeling leadership in a time of crisis that leads to revolution.
The political elites in Washington would do well to remember the story, especially now. The Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses weather the economic consequences of the COVID-19 shutdown has run out of money, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lackeys like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are blocking Congress from appropriating additional funds, while people from all walks of life are facing ruin.
Pelosi seems to regard this crisis as an opportunity to force the Republicans to agree to the adoption of her left-wing agenda. And, as she has already shown once during the COVID-19 crisis, she is willing to make struggling Americans wait until she gets her way.
Her behavior is shameful.Ads by scrollerads.com
Consider what she wants in exchange for additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. Among her demands is a bailout of the U.S. Postal Service, designed to help the Democrats’ long-held desire for federal elections conducted by mail be made a reality. She and her party have stated that, as far as they are concerned, voter fraud is a figment of the collective conservative imagination. It’s not, as journalist John Fund has amply demonstrated in his book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy.
But this isn’t the only wrench Pelosi has tried to throw into the recovery. She and her friends have tried to drop into the stimulus packages, sometimes successfully, measures that would allow unions to organize worksites without companies being able to show why that might be disadvantageous for workers, require airlines to adhere to new emissions requirements, mandate racial and gender diversity on corporate boards and give $25 million in emergency funding to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Looking over that list, and there’s lots more than could be on it, it’s as though Donald Trump didn’t win the election. Pelosi’s behaving like her party and its agenda are what carried the day in 2016, and she’s determined to cram it down our throats, consequences be damned. Some might call that leadership, but it’s more like tyranny.
Notice as well how the Republicans—who have their own long list of wants, including the abolition of the Davis-Bacon Act, a national “right to work” law, the retroactive indexation of capital gains to remove inflation from the calculation of what constitutes a gain, the repeal of Obamacare, tort reform and an end to federal funding for Planned Parenthood—aren’t using the coronavirus crisis to push these issues on the American people. They’re focused on keeping the economic liquid and keeping businesses from failing.
None of this seems to be getting through to the American people. Hopefully, they’ll catch on, thanks to Pelosi’s considerable hubris, which, when she’s winning, causes her to misstep badly—as she did the other night, while she was being interviewed by James Cordon on his late-night CBS talk show.
Standing in front of shiny, expensive appliances, Pelosi showed off her ample supply of designer ice cream, gelato and other frozen treats. Perhaps she thought that sharing her social distancing diet would make her relatable, but what it showed is how far out of touch she is. She’s buying ice cream by mail and restocking her supply for Easter when many Americans can’t even find a decent roll of toilet tissue. It’s her version of “Let them eat cake,” and hopefully she’ll be made to pay the price for her insensitivity later this year.
Almost two weeks ago I offered at NRO a few synopses of various theories about why California — which, for a variety of reasons, had seemed so ripe for a New York–style epidemic — had nonetheless strangely been exempt at least for a while from the virus’s spread. I included the pedestrian possibility of some previously acquired “herd immunity,” given the state’s singular exposure from November to January 31 to direct flights from China, including those from Wuhan, and initial CDC and media reports last year of an unusually early and severe assumed flu hitting the state.
Within a few days, I was hit by media inquiries and private calls asking about my ongoing “coronavirus antibody testing studies.”
Despite ad nauseam corrections that I had never claimed in the NRO article or elsewhere to be a doctor, much less an epidemiologist or a conductor of any such study, and that the Hoover Institution is not a medical school, the fake news still spread.
I got dozens more calls and emails from private citizens who thought they had the virus and wanted confirmation of that supposed fact, in order to venture out and help others with antibodies. Some said they wanted “in” immediately.
Others called saying they were scared that they had an unknown illness and wanted confirmation of what it had been.
And some were from Chinese media sources wanting such “lab” confirmation that earlier herd immunity developing in California pre-2020 was the final proof needed of an American origin, rather than a later Chinese genesis of the virus. (Oddly they apparently assumed that if any such future study were to show some sizable herd immunity in California, and thereby suggest an earlier outbreak than what was assumed in late January 2020, it would not mean the Chinese were lying about the first dates of the infection. Would the Chinese media wish to explain why flights from Wuhan to the U.S. were open throughout January when, for mysterious reasons, the Chinese themselves had blocked travel earlier than the ban from Wuhan to other parts of China?)
Oddly, the more one agreed to go on California radio or be interviewed to correct the glaring media errors, the more the media ignored the correction and instead wanted to know about “your ongoing lab studies” and “herd immunity.”
When pressed, none of these California reporters could cite the NRO article or any nonexistent study, and seem uninterested in being directed to a number of excellent essays and analyses on various hypotheses from Stanford Medical School affiliated scientists and doctors, some of whom are conducting or about to conduct antibody studies.
Fake news is real.
When last seen, California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff was off licking his wounds following the United States Senate’s refusal to ratify his assertion President Donald Trump had acted in a manner requiring he be removed from office.Ads by scrollerads.com
That process, which moved forward largely due to Schiff’s willingness to press his thumb on the scales of justice, proved an embarrassment to the Democrats who backed it. Not because the country approves of the job the president is doing—the most recent polls indicate that is a suspect assertion—but because the whole impeachment business was so nakedly partisan that it must have turned the stomachs of independent thinkers. Most Americans are, after all, fair-minded and still believe in fair play.
Well, Schiff’s back—and with a vengeance. In the middle of the effort to combat the most serious crisis facing the United States since the near-collapse of the financial sector at the end of the George W. Bush administration, he is pushing to establish a coronavirus commission modeled on what followed the 9/11 attacks to study how the country got where it is now.
Usually, one waits until a conflict is resolved before engaging in an in-depth examination of its cause. What Schiff wants is another opportunity to stick it to Trump, plain and simple. In his mind, he’s the avenger, looking out for the interests of the common man against a potentate laying waste to this great country.
He is right on one point, however. There should be a commission, ideally appointed by the president, that looks at all aspects of the COVID-19 crisis with special concentration on the way federal and state governments failed the citizens who put them in office.
Such a commission, if it were bipartisan and composed of heavyweights from the fields of medicine, government and industry, could do a lot to help us understand how and why things got as far as they did. A panel led by the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the Republicans and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or former Governor Jerry Brown for the Democrats would immediately command the public’s respect. They’ve demonstrated at one time or another that they’re not afraid to ask hard questions and follow the truth where it leads. More important, they would not shy away from making tough recommendations regarding future economic, health and national security needs—even if they might upset the institutions and political allies that once gave them their considerable power.
The other members of the commission should be those who have valuable, relevant experience in both the private and public sectors. Former Vermont Democratic Governor Howard Dean is a medical doctor. Former Michigan Republican Governor John Engler, after he left office, went on to run the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable. The ideal candidate, my former boss, Bush 43 Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, is unavailable; he passed away too soon. Yet there are plenty of other strong candidates who have served in government and have backgrounds in the hard sciences, health care, finance or engineering.
They could find out why COVID-19 turned into a pandemic and why the nation wasn’t prepared. They could also propose ways to prevent it from happening again and improve our response if it does.
An honest examination of the policies that produced the current crisis would no doubt find wrong-headed decisions by the government at the root. Things like agencies that weren’t devoting enough attention to viral outbreaks around the world, depleted stockpiles that should by law have been maintained and rolls and rolls of red tape blocking quick decision-making when it counted most.
As Schiff and others seemingly fail to understand, the “who” in this case is far less important than the “why.” Focusing on the “why” is what will reduce the chances of this crisis recurring.
Do we play politics, or do we act like the self-governing people the founders wanted us to be? Hopefully, we’ll know soon.
Column: The only predictable fallout of coronavirus? Partisanship.
The pundits are having difficulty settling on a historical analogy for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Will the spread of the disease be President Trump’s Katrina or his financial crisis? Will it be similar to the H1N1 avian flu pandemic in 2009 or will it be politicized like the Ebola outbreak in 2014?
Comparisons are tough. After all, the situation is unprecedented. The political consequences of COVID-19 are difficult to predict because of the interplay between a public health emergency and a fractured public narrative. Coronavirus is the first postmodern pandemic.
It has the makings of a phenomenon not seen in a century. The Spanish Flu of 1918 infected an estimated one-third of the global population. It had a case fatality rate greater than 2.5 percent—slightly higher than the rate for coronavirus observed in China so far. More than 600,000 people died in the United States of “La Grippe.” No one wants to see these numbers repeated.
Perhaps they won’t be. The malpractice of the Chinese Communists may be responsible for the high fatality rate there. The rate outside its borders, according to the World Health Organization, is lower. And America inhabits a different public health universe than a century ago. Flu vaccines and therapeutics did not exist. Hospitals, the sciences of virology and epidemiology, and medical technology were primitive. Authorities relied on quarantines and appeals for good hygiene. Results were mixed. And disappointing.
This is different from the Spanish Flu. Science, medicine, and public health have improved immeasurably. But that is not the only difference. COVID-19 is novel. No one saw it before last December. No one is sure where it came from. And it has spread quickly. Despite record advances in gene sequencing and drug testing, it will be more than a year before a vaccine can be mass produced.
The global economy is far more integrated than in the past. And a worldwide broadcast, digital, and social media exist that would have been fanciful to President Wilson. This system distributes misinformation, incentivizes hysteria and partisanship, and expects immaculate performance from the government while ignoring, dismissing, and excusing its own failures. Dealing with “community spread” is hard enough. Try doing it while watching Don Lemon.
We were better off when the media focused on impeachment. Now that it is interested in coronavirus, a familiar pattern will set in. Data will be publicized without the slightest sense of proportion. The most outrageous scenarios will receive the most attention. Speculation will be paraded as fact. And every conceivable negative outcome, from infections to deaths to plunging stock values, from reasonable and warranted travel bans to unanticipated diplomatic and economic fallout, will be related back to the president in an effort to damage his reelection.
Financial journalists who see bears around every corner now point to coronavirus as the irrepressible agent of recession. A columnist for the New York Times says, “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus.” CNN slams the president’s coronavirus task force for its “lack of diversity.” The Washington Post transcribes Democratic Party talking points when it suggests Vice President Mike Pence is incapable of overseeing the government’s efforts because he opposes needle-sharing programs. Among the reasons Trump is said to have weakened public health? He defunded Planned Parenthood.
The Democrats criticize Trump for budget cuts that never happened. Chuck Schumer plots a campaign to bash the president for a paltry supplemental request, only to have Trump say Congress can appropriate whatever it wants. Elizabeth Warren introduces a bill to “transfer all funding for @realDonaldTrump’s racist border wall” to coronavirus defense. Has she seen her doctor lately?
This isn’t a serious response. It’s a tantrum. There are plenty of additional things the Trump administration could do to prepare for an outbreak. My American Enterprise Institute colleague, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., has several recommendations, including allowing for more testing. What the media and Democrats offer instead are dispatches from Resistance Land—that magical place where the border is open, Medicare is for all, the New Deal is Green, and coronavirus isn’t the problem, Donald Trump is.
Knowledge of the physical universe has grown exponentially since 1918. So have the means by which we are able to express discontent, fear, blame, and unreason. Which is why I do have one prediction about the weeks ahead: Our politics will remain nasty, polarized, overheated, and dispiriting. Even as Mother Nature reminds us who’s really in charge.
Garden State Equality claims its curriculum is for the good and safety of vulnerable children. Its teachings, however, result in the exact opposite.
A little more than a year ago, the New Jersey Legislature passed, and Gov. Phil Murphy signed, a law mandating the teaching of LGBT subject matter in public school curriculum, beginning in 2020-21.
In response to the law, the activist group Garden State Equality has prepared a curriculum, currently piloted in 12 New Jersey schools and planned to be employed statewide in the fall. This is consistent with Murphy’s vision. At Garden State Equality’s 2019 Ball, he said, “I applaud Garden State Equality for not only leading this effort, but for your continued work in helping to craft this curriculum.”
Garden State Equality (GSE) is an LGBT advocacy organization devoted to instilling its vision of “justice” through an “LGBT lens” in society. Consistent with its vision, GSE’s self-described “LGBT-inclusive” curriculum spans all subjects — math, English, social studies, health, science, visual and performing arts, and world languages — beginning in fifth grade. Having New Jersey’s 1.4 million public school students see the world through a LGBT lens is the goal in every class and, thus, now the goal of public education. This is well in excess of the curriculum law’s vague requirements.
In the way it is being implemented, the law is simply an instrument empowering GSE to accomplish its mission and vision, embedding sexual and gender ideology throughout curriculum. GSE envisions its curriculum “as a model that we can bring to every other state in the nation.”
A number of grassroots parent coalitions from across New Jersey, representing the state’s diversity, are raising awareness about and opposing the co-opting of public school curriculum for such ideological purposes. Historically, public schools have been the gateway to American society for immigrant families. But now, immigrant families all over New Jersey are deeply troubled and perplexed regarding the apparent goals of public education and the interests it serves.
New Jersey’s more than 600 school districts are not technically required to adopt GSE’s curriculum, although they are required to comply with the new state LGBT curriculum law. GSE is also substantially involved in drafting the New Jersey Department of Education’s “guidance” to schools about implementing the LGBT curriculum law. However, New Jersey school districts are not required to accept such state “guidance,” allowing districts to take a careful and educated approach to the curriculum law’s implementation.
The sexual and gender ideology advanced through GSE’s curriculum, and through its direct involvement in the state’s guidance to public schools, should be rejected by the boards of education of all New Jersey school districts for at least the following reasons.
The stated goal of sexual and gender ideology is to “get rid of the gender binary.” At public hearings concerning the school curriculum, advocates consistently characterize such a goal as a “must.”
We cannot get rid of the gender binary, however, as humans are a sexually dimorphic species. This reality can be denied, silenced, threatened, and punished. But it cannot be “rid of.” The existence of every person is proof of the union of what is uniquely male and uniquely female. While GSE may reject this most basic truth of humanity, it cannot eradicate it. And New Jersey public schools should not partner with its futile efforts to do so.
Beyond denying the gender binary, GSE insists a biological male who calls himself a woman is, in fact, a woman. If that’s the case, what is a woman? “Woman” becomes a word without meaning — as is the case when a biological female claims she’s a man. GSE’s ideology commands students to use such words. This does not educate, enlighten, or advance understanding. It mandates irrationality within school curriculum.
GSE claims its teachings are for the good and safety of vulnerable children. Those teachings, however, result in the exact opposite. GSE demands giving puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to children, impeding the development of their bodies’ more than 37 trillion cells. It even demands the removal of healthy body parts, which is profoundly evil. These practices are the sexual, physical, mental, and emotional abuse of children, manipulating their bodies to conform to an ideology.
Teaching and endorsing such practices doesn’t educate, but makes students vulnerable to abuse. I don’t use the words “abuse” and “evil” to be inflammatory, but because they fit the described practices. GSE doesn’t accept the right of anyone to impede the imposition of its will on children’s minds and bodies, preventing even parents from taking actions to protect their own children from abusive measures.
The sexual and gender ideology of GSE and like-minded advocates addresses the most basic questions of life and meaning concerning our humanity. It even has its own language and vocabulary, which it expects everyone to adopt. It is a totalizing and comprehensive belief system, which functions as a religion. Instituting compulsory teaching within public schools effectively establishes such ideology as a state religion.
One of its core convictions is intolerance for any dissent. It mars those who disagree with epithets, such as “haters” and “bigots,” applying these labels to many families and students within every school district in New Jersey who would dare express disagreement. These accusations even include parents who object to giving their own child the harmful drugs commanded by sexual and gender activists.
The ideology insists that every new word or idea must be affirmed. Acceptance of sexual and gender ideology renders a person defenseless to its demands. None of this carries educational value.
The Kelsey Coalition, formed in 2019 by “a group of concerned parents whose children have been harmed by transgender healthcare practices,” can serve as a resource to school districts, allowing them to make informed decisions for educating and protecting New Jersey students. As its website indicates, its membership now includes:
Surely, it would be highly immoral, unethical, and contrary to the educational and health interests of students not to inform them of the severe and irreparable harms that result from transgender physical interventions. Sexual and gender ideology pathologizes puberty, teaching that its suppression is a “treatment.” This article from an endocrinologist would educate students regarding life-altering effects on brain development, bone density, and sexual function, among other harms.
Regarding sex and gender, we are often warned against being on the “wrong side of history.” One day, the story will be told, and a chapter will cover what was done to children’s minds and bodies in the latter half of the 2010s into the 2020s. It will be included among the atrocities in the story of humanity’s inhumanity. It will be regarded with special horror because children will have been victimized in an impossible attempt to vindicate false adult beliefs and behaviors.
This historical moment provides an opportunity for every board of education member of every school district in New Jersey to be on the side of the story in which people courageously took a stand to protect children from such harms and horrors.
The global debate over climate change entered into a new and more dangerous stage this past week. Two American corporate icons, Microsoft and BlackRock, have committed themselves to resisting what they perceive as the unacceptable risks of global warming. Microsoft has announced that it will be “carbon negative by 2030,” and that by 2050 it will have removed from the environment all of its carbon emissions dating back to its founding. It has also pledged one billion dollars to a climate innovation fund to deal with global warming—peanuts for a firm with over $125 billion in annual revenues.
Not to be outdone, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with over $7 trillion in assets under management, has proudly declared through its Chairman and CEO Larry Fink that it will “place sustainability at the center of our investment approach, including: making sustainability integral to portfolio construction and risk management; existing investments that present a high sustainability-related risk, such as thermal coal producers; launching new investment products that screen for fossil fuels. . . .”
To Fink, there is no real conflict for his company between its social responsibility and its financial performance, as he is convinced that “incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into investment analysis and decision-making. . . can provide better risk-adjusted returns for investors.” Ironically, if that point were true, he would have no need to depart from traditional investment standards, as all firms would flock to the new BlackRock standard.
These powerful initiatives are driven by the proposition that climate change poses the greatest threat to humankind society has ever faced. Without any documentation or meaningful argument, Microsoft and Blackrock accept that the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere will result in elevated global temperatures. In making these statements, both companies write as if all the “world’s climate experts” within the “scientific community” speak with one voice in concluding that the release of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution is the source of this alleged mortal peril.
However, a close reading of these two corporate statements shows the dangers of consensus thinking around climate change, which can lead to lazy and incomplete arguments. The first issue concerns the supposed magnitude of the risk. It is clear that carbon dioxide levels have increased over time, especially over the past seventy or so years. But it is important to remember that the increase in temperatures began before the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 350 parts per million in 1987, a level which has, without justification, been posited as the tipping point for climate catastrophe. Notably, this means that much of the temperature increase over the past five decades took place in low carbon dioxide environments.
The Microsoft statement claims that “the average temperature on the planet has risen by 1 degree Celsius during the past 50 years and that carbon dioxide emissions have been a primary driver of this.” Yet that is at odds with a report from the NASA Earth Observatory which concluded “the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8 Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming [0.53°C] has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.” Indeed, the situation is even more complex because of the high degree of annual variability. As a result, much turns on the choice of the first and last year of the desirable interval. One recent study reported a decline of 0.16 Celsius between April 2018 and May 2019.
In any event, the explanation that carbon dioxide emissions are the sole driver of climate change is surely contestable, given that a complete account must also take into consideration population increases, solar flares, ocean currents and volcanic activity, among a vast array of other factors. The graphs included in Microsoft’s announcement duly record the huge increases in carbon dioxide emissions over the last 30 years, but those trends only weakly correlate to the modest temperature increases over that interval, including a sharp decline that extends as late as May 2019.
Thus the graph below for the 41 years from 1978 to May 2019 shows a net increase of just under 0.8 degrees centigrade. It is of course possible to present other data sets that might be susceptible to alternative interpretations, but either way, there is no rock-solid scientific consensus of the sort that Microsoft and BlackRock posit.
Microsoft and Blackrock’s presentations also suffer from other key defects. These corporate pledges assume that their proposed changes in carbon policy will reduce the increase in global temperatures, perhaps by as much as 1 degree Celsius. But what is missing from these projections is any estimate about either the financial costs of these innovations or their net impact on global temperature. If the sources of temperature changes are multi-causal, why should anyone believe that the ingenious efforts of companies like Microsoft to cleanse their supply chains of excess carbon dioxide will have more than a trivial effect on global temperatures, even if such actions are imitated by other firms?
And moreover, these effects could be totally undone if China or India decides to boost coal production in ways that more than offset any small reductions in carbon outputs by American firms. Thus, it is possible to spend billions of dollars on potential mitigation with little or nothing to show for it.
To make matters worse, there are better targets for intervention. The greatest causes of carbon dioxide emission in the past two years were the huge forest fires in Northern California and Australia. The recent California fires released about 68 million tons of carbon dioxide, or roughly the level of emissions needed to provide electricity for the state for an entire year. Taking effective steps to stop these consistent fires would dwarf anything that Microsoft can do through its supply chains or BlackRock through its sustainable investment policy. Nonetheless, A-list celebrities regularly champion the causes of global warming without once thinking about the dangerous management strategies adopted by the modern environmental movement that have contributed to such fires, a movement which opposes the removal of dead wood or the use of controlled burns to reduce fire risk. It would be far better for Microsoft and BlackRock to lobby for government reforms in forest management, a topic on which they remain silent.
Even supposing, however wrongly, that all the temperature increases and observed fires were exclusively attributable to carbon dioxide, the case for massive corporate intervention is still weak. BlackRock’s Larry Fink suggests with a straight face that the market for municipal bonds and home mortgages will collapse “if lenders can’t estimate the impact of climate risk over such a long timeline, and if there is no viable market for flood or fire insurance in impacted areas.”
Get real. These risks will exist whether or not Blackrock’s policies are implemented, and no matter what the carbon dioxide levels are. And the view that there should always be a viable market for flood or fire insurance ignores the huge moral hazard that is created when subsidized insurance is provided to persons who build too close to combustible forests or on coastal properties in hurricane zones.
Worse still, the fears that drive both BlackRock and Microsoft have not yet been observed over the past decade. Markets are supposed to price long-term risk into capital assets, but there is no sign that real estate, agricultural, insurance, or financial markets price this alleged climate risk in. Why is this, when our ability to forecast has never been better given the available quantitative estimates of climate-related risk?
One explanation is a recent study from climate scientists Giuseppe Formetta and Luc Feyen which concluded that: “Results show a clear decreasing trend in both human and economic vulnerability, with global average mortality and economic loss rates that have dropped by 6.5 and nearly 5 times, respectively from 1980-1989 to 2007-2016. We further show a clearly negative relationship between vulnerability and wealth, which is strongest at the lowest income levels.” The study’s abundant graphs all show the same downward projections, whether one looks at floods, heat, cold or wind related damages. In other words, the historical decline of these various risks also have to be priced into any long-term financial instrument.
A similar attack on the BlackRock-Microsoft position was also launched by Marlo Lewis, whose thesis is contained in his title: “Warmest Decade – Climate Crisis Still a No Show.” In stark contrast to the data-free presentations of both companies, Lewis tracks the key worldwide indicators of long-term global health—life expectancy, crop yields, per capita income, and climate related deaths. His data tells the same story as the study—everything is better today than it has ever been. The increases in societal wealth accumulation have inured to the benefit of all, rich and poor alike.
The cavalier attitude toward any contrary scientific evidence has led Microsoft and BlackRock to endorse proposals that will do little, if anything, to stop global warming, but which will, if widely followed, reduce the ability of societies around the world to deal with global warming or any other climate calamity, should one occur. There are real social and human costs to following BlackRock and Microsoft’s lead.
The Glacier National Park is set to replace signs predicting glaciers would disappear by 2020 due to climate change. The glaciers remain.
The signs were posted in the Montana park a decade ago because, at the time, climate change forecasts predicted the glaciers would be completely melted by 2020. The U.S. Geological Survey told the park in 2017 that the glaciers were not melting as fast as predicted due to changes in the forecast model, but park spokeswoman Gina Kurzmen said the park was unable to change the signs until now due to budget constraints. Kurzmen told CNN the park changed one sign last year but is still waiting on budget authorization to update two other signs.
The new signs will still warn visitors that the glaciers are disappearing but won’t offer an expected deadline this time.
“When they will completely disappear depends on how and when we act. One thing is consistent: the glaciers in the park are shrinking,” the new signs will say.
This isn’t the first climate change prediction to not come to fruition. A report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute documented more than 50 years of what it calls “notably wild predictions from notable people in government and science.” One prediction, reported by the Associated Press in 1989, claimed rising seas would “obliterate” nations by the year 2000. Just a few years earlier, headlines were warning about another ice age.