Editorial | Why Spy Agencies Say the Future Is Bleak – The New York Times

Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; Photograph, via Getty Images

“Every four years, at the start of a new administration, American intelligence agencies put out “Global Trends,” a weighty assessment of where the world seems headed over the next two decades. In 2008, for example, the report warned about the potential emergence of a pandemic originating in East Asia and spreading rapidly around the world.

The latest report, Global Trends 2040, released last week by the National Intelligence Council, finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not schadenfreude. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.

The world envisioned in the 144-page report, ominously subtitled “A More Contested World,” is rent by a changing climate, aging populations, disease, financial crises and technologies that divide more than they unite, all straining societies and generating “shocks that could be catastrophic.” The gap between the challenges and the institutions meant to deal with them continues to grow, so that “politics within states are likely to grow more volatile and contentious, and no region, ideology, or governance system seems immune or to have the answers.” At the international level, it will be a world increasingly “shaped by China’s challenge to the United States and Western-led international system,” with a greater risk of conflict.

Here’s how agencies charged with watching the world see things:

  • “Large segments of the global population are becoming wary of institutions and governments that they see as unwilling or unable to address their needs. People are gravitating to familiar and like-minded groups for community and security, including ethnic, religious, and cultural identities as well as groupings around interests and causes, such as environmentalism.”

  • “At the same time that populations are increasingly empowered and demanding more, governments are coming under greater pressure from new challenges and more limited resources. This widening gap portends more political volatility, erosion of democracy, and expanding roles for alternative providers of governance.”

  • “Accelerating shifts in military power, demographics, economic growth, environmental conditions, and technology, as well as hardening divisions over governance models, are likely to further ratchet up competition between China and a Western coalition led by the United States.”

  • “At the state level, the relationships between societies and their governments in every region are likely to face persistent strains and tensions because of a growing mismatch between what publics need and expect and what governments can and will deliver.”

Experts in Washington who have read these reports said they do not recall a gloomier one. In past years, the future situations offered have tilted toward good ones; this year, the headings for how 2040 may look tell a different story: “Competitive Coexistence,” “Separate Silos,” “Tragedy and Mobilization” or “A World Adrift,” in which “the international system is directionless, chaotic, and volatile as international rules and institutions are largely ignored by major powers like China, regional players and non-state actors.    . . . ”

Big Oil laggard Exxon faces a new climate threat from Wall Street

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KEY POINTS
  • Exxon Mobil has been a laggard in the oil and gas sector and has seen its market value decline by hundreds of billions of dollars.
  • Pension giant CalSTRS is supporting a new activist fund effort to replace Exxon board members.
  • Activists see this as a perfect time to seek short-term value creation in a better run company as well as more long-term support from investors if the company becomes clearer about its climate plan.

In this article

VIDEO05:41
CalSTRS’s Chris Ailman on calling for company overhaul at Exxon Mobil

Exxon Mobil is poised for a new role in a changing world it doesn’t want: target and test case for a new form of combined attack from activist hedge funds and long-term impact investors focused on sustainability and climate change. A newly formed activist investor group, Engine No. 1, announced plans on Monday to seek four board seats at the oil and gas giant, and underlying the effort are both short-term and long-term goals to change the way Exxon approaches the energy business at a time of rapid transition forced by fears about carbon emissions.

The activist firm — which includes founders from successful activist hedge funds including Partner Fund Management and JANA Partners — thinks the time is ripe for an overhaul of Exxon’s management. The market stats cited in its letter to Exxon’s board highlight a significant drop in operating performance and “dramatic” decline in Exxon’s stock value in recent years as many investors have lost faith in the company.

Source: Big Oil laggard Exxon faces a new climate threat from Wall Street

Opinion | Trump Abandoned the Climate. This Is Biden’s Moment. – The New York Times

“On April 22, Earth Day, the leaders of more than three dozen countries, among them 17 nations responsible for four-fifths of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases, will convene at a virtual summit. The purpose is to discuss where the world goes from here on climate change and what each country must do to limit Earth’s warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels — a threshold beyond which scientists predict irreversible environmental damage.

All eyes will be on the person who organized the summit, President Biden. It is a bit melodramatic to call this a moment of truth for Mr. Biden, but it is a critically important moment for a new president who has promised to reclaim a leadership role for America on a pressing global issue that his predecessor foolishly abandoned. Likewise for a president who has pledged to make America’s economy carbon-neutral by midcentury and who has said he will work tirelessly to persuade other major economies to do the same. The ideas he presents must therefore be not only ambitious but also credible.

Anyone with the energy to slog through acres of verbiage will find the elements of a plausible strategy embedded in his $2 trillion recovery plan. The plan is not exactly what his energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, enthusiastically described as a “once in a century” chance to reinvent America’s energy delivery system. (One would hope for more such moments in this century.) But it offers a great deal more than one would deduce from the reactions of left-of-center groups. The Center for Biological Diversity, for instance, complained about the plan’s “gimmicky subsidies,” its fealty to free markets and its failure to end oil and gas drilling much more quickly.

The plan has many moving parts, two of which are transformative. One is aimed at reducing emissions from cars and trucks, America’s biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions. Mr. Biden is betting heavily on electric vehicles, which today make up only 2 percent of the vehicles on the road. To “win the E.V. market,” as he put it (China being the main competitor), he proposes $174 billion to build half a million charging stations along the highways — a small fraction of what will be needed, but a good start — plus an array of tax credits aimed at persuading manufacturers to make E.V.s and equip them with batteries that can be recharged as quickly as one can fill up a tank of gas. Also, point-of-sale credits to get people to buy the finished products.”

Biden’s American Jobs Plan Prioritizes Renewable Infrastructure Investment Opportunities | Locke Lord LLP – JDSupra

“The American Jobs Plan and Made in America Tax Plan (the “Plan”), announced by the Biden Administration on March 31, 2021, place heavy emphasis on renewable energy, electrical grid improvements, and climate change-related carbon reductions. In addition to transportation infrastructure repairs, the Plan prioritizes investment in renewable and clean energy technologies.

Roughly $800 billion of the $2 trillion plan directly or indirectly increases investment in renewable energy, electric grid improvement, and climate change mitigation through investments in:

  • Electric vehicles and associated Infrastructure ($174 billion)
  • Public infrastructure resilience to withstand climate disasters  ($50 billion)
  • Clean energy research and development ($180 billion)
  • Electricity grid improvements ($100 billion)
  • Advancement of clean energy manufacturing and technology ($300 billion)

The Plan also proposes a ten-year extension and phase down of an expanded direct-pay production tax credits (“PTCs”) and investment tax credits (“ITCs”) for clean energy generation and storage, continuing the federal incentive to continue solar and wind development through 2031.” . . .

Source: Biden’s American Jobs Plan Prioritizes Renewable Infrastructure Investment Opportunities | Locke Lord LLP – JDSupra

Paul Krugman | Embracing the Softer Side of Infrastructure – The New York Times

“. . . The idea that investment isn’t real if it doesn’t involve steel and concrete would come as news to the private sector. True, back in the 1950s around 90 percent of business investment spending was on equipment and structures. But these days more than a third of business investment is spending on “intellectual property,” mainly R&D and purchases of software.

Businesses, then, believe that they can achieve real results by investing in technology — a view ratified by the stock market, which now puts a high value on companies with relatively few tangible assets. Can the government do the same thing? Yes, it can. In fact, the Obama administration did.

Investment in technology, especially in renewable energy, was only a small fraction of the Obama stimulus, but it’s the piece that got the worst rap. Remember how Republicans harped endlessly on how loan guarantees for the solar-power company Solyndra went bad?

The thing is, if your technology strategy produces only winners, you’re not taking enough risks. Private investors don’t expect every bet to succeed; three out of four start-ups backed by venture capital fail. The question is whether there are enough successes to justify the strategy.

And the Obama investment in green technology produced many successes. You’ve probably heard about Solyndra; have you heard about the crucial role played by a $465 million loan to a company named Tesla?

More broadly, the years since 2009 have been marked by spectacular progress in renewable energy, with solar and wind power in many cases now cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels. There are still people who seem to imagine that green energy is flaky hippie stuff, but the reality is that it’s the wave of the future.” . . .

Wisconsin Governor Declares State of Emergency Over Wildfire Conditions – The New York Times

“Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin on Monday signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in response to elevated wildfire conditions, underscoring statewide efforts to control fires that have already burned nearly 1,500 acres this year.

The executive order allows state agencies to assist in wildfire prevention, response and recovery efforts.

It also allows support from the Wisconsin National Guard, according the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“With nearly the entire state experiencing high or very high fire risk, protecting Wisconsinites from the destructive dangers of wildfires is a top priority,” Mr. Evers said in a news release.

In the past week, there have been 149 wildfires across Wisconsin, according to a map on the department’s website, and there have been at least 340 fires since the start of the year.

Over the weekend, the majority of Wisconsin was under a very high risk for fire danger, including counties along the Illinois state border and counties along Lake Michigan. Wildfire conditions across the state will persist as long as there is a mix of dry vegetation, unseasonably warm temperatures, low humidity and increasing winds, the department said.

Burning permits for debris piles, barrels and grass were suspended last week, and fire officials advised residents to avoid all outdoor burning, including campfires, and to properly extinguish cigarettes.

While wildfires can occur at anytime of the year, the department said, the majority of fires happen between March and May, making spring the most critical fire season in Wisconsin.”

Chuck Schumer Stalls Climate Overhaul of Flood Insurance Program – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — One of the federal government’s main efforts to push Americans to prepare for climate threats is in question after the Senate majority leader’s office objected to a plan to adjust flood insurance rates.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was preparing to announce new rates for federal flood insurance on April 1, so that the prices people pay would more accurately reflect the risks they face. The change would very likely help reduce Americans’ vulnerability to floods and hurricanes by discouraging construction in high-risk areas. But it would also increase insurance costs for some households, making it a tough sell politically.

Last week, the office of Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, pushed back on the changes, according to several people familiar with the discussion. That pushback has caused FEMA to pause the rollout of the new rates.” . . .

Excellent reporting, though disgusting. Thank you.
Here is the top comment, one of many good ones, with my two cents.
Theresa McDermott
Essex ct1h ago

I don’t understand Schumer’s objection. The current data suggests that lower cost homes have been overpaying on flood insurance while higher cost homes have been underpaying based on a formula that assesses risk. Flood insurance is one of the most powerful tools to limit climate change damage to communities. The Biden administration has rightfully established climate change as a top priority. What am I missing? Absent additional data, this is a disgraceful position for Schumer.

5 Replies146 Recommended

 

 
 
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
 
Excellent but disturbing reporting, thank you. Schumer is a disgrace. This makes him look like a self-centered, selfish, crook and ass. We need politicians with an iota of integrity.
He is screwing the public and the country, to pamper to his high-end donor base. The rest of us have to pay for their federally subsidized mansions on the water, that have to be rebuilt every time there is a big storm. It is crazy, wrong and stupid. But they write big campaign contribution checks. Schumer clearly puts his narrow self-interest ahead of the country.

Thomas L. Friedman | One Year Later, We Still Have No Plan to Prevent the Next Pandemic – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Imagine that in December 2019 country X had a nuclear accident — a missile test gone awry. It resulted in a small nuclear explosion that sent a cloud of radioactivity around the world, causing 2.66 million deaths, plus trillions of dollars in health care costs and lost commerce that nearly triggered a global depression. What do you think we’d be talking about today?

We’d be discussing a new global regime of nuclear weapons safety protocols to try to make sure it never happened again.

Well, we just had the natural world equivalent of such a nuclear accident. It is widely suspected that a pathogen in a bat jumped to another animal to a human in China and then hopped onto the globalization express, causing extraordinary suffering and trillions of dollars in damage. And this happened after several decades of other pandemics set off by unhealthy human interactions with wildlife — with bats or civets in the case of Ebola and SARS-CoV-1 and most likely chimps in the case of H.I.V.

As we have just hit the one-year mark since the World Health Organization declared SARS-CoV-2 — the pathogen that causes Covid-19 — a pandemic, it’s appropriate to ask what smart collective action are we pursuing to prevent this from ever happening again.” . . .

Friedman talks about many aspects of the problem, but especially the need to ban wet markets like those in China, that were the probable source of this pandemic. We also have to ban the buying and selling of wild animals for restaurant food. Deforestation is a major cause for the bringing of wild animal viruses into proximity with humans, and might kill us off.
He ends with:

“As Russ Mittermeier, chief conservation officer for Global Wildlife Conservation, remarked to me: “We marvel when a spacecraft lands on Mars to search for minute traces of life that may or may not exist.” At the same time here on earth, “we continue to destroy and degrade amazingly diverse ecosystems, like tropical forests and coral reefs,” that sustain and enrich us.

Halting that practice is the only truly sustainable vaccine against the next pandemic. In other words, it’s time that we stop looking for intelligent life on Mars and start manifesting it here on planet earth.”   -30-

Why geoengineering is not a solution to the climate problem

This briefing addresses grave scientific concerns in relation to proposed
geoengineering techniques such as solar radiation management (SRM).
“Geoengineering” as used here does not refer to negative emissions technologies that
remove CO2 from the atmosphere (carbon dioxide removal or CDR) as part of the
energy system or through ecosystem restoration and afforestation or reforestation.
Here we specifically address the risks posed by SRM.
Fahad Saeed, Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, William Hare
Summary
Solar radiation management is not a solution to the climate problem
Solar radiation management does not address the drivers of human-induced climate
change, nor does it address the full range of climate and other impacts of
anthropogenic greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions. Solar radiation
management aims at limiting temperature increase by deflecting sunlight, mostly
through injection of particles into the atmosphere. At best, SRM would mask warming
temporarily, but more fundamentally is itself a potentially dangerous interference
with the climate system.

Click to access climateanalytics_srm_brief_dec_2018.pdf

Margaret Renkl | Yes, America, There Is (Some) Hope for the Environment – The New York Times

A contributing Opinion writer based in Nashville who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South

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Credit…Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos

“NASHVILLE — I’ve been keeping a collection of links to good news about the environment as a hedge against despair when so much of the news from nature is devastating. Rolling pandemics. The near annihilation of birds and insects. Even the end of sharks. In short, a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals,” according to a recent report in Frontiers in Conservation Science.

It’s so bad that I’ve begun to mutter darkly about the end of humanity. So bad that sometimes I wonder if the end of humanity would be such a bad thing. Once we’re out of the way, the earth might have a chance to recover before everything is gone.

Y’all know it is bad when pondering the death of humanity cheers up a person who is really hoping to have grandchildren someday.

In honor of the spring equinox, which falls this coming weekend and brings with it the return of longer days, I offer some news that might bring you, too, a glimmer of light in all this darkness. I share these stories with the usual caveat attached to any kind of climate optimism: Hope is not a license to relax. Hope is only a reminder not to give up. As bad as things are, it is far too early to give up.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Margaret for this important essay. By the way, Bill Gates reported in the Netflix show, Inside Bill’s Brain, episode three, that he had organized a team of nuclear scientists who have designed a nuclear plant that uses nuclear waste as fuel, and cannot blow up in an explosion. This new device will get us through to a clean sustainable energy future if it works.
But we are in the Anthropocene, causing the sixth great extinction of species, as you well know. 7.7 billion humans are the new asteroid, or the cause of the this sixth extinction. If we don’t reduce rather than increase our numbers, we are probably doomed, and will take most to the world’s wonderful species with us. As I sing in my song “Talking Climate Change Blues,” we need a Marshall plan for population control.