Economic Consequences of Population Decline

Image of family walking down declining graph of population as if it were stairs.

Cost of declining population (Source: Financial Times)

I have repeatedly discussed the economic consequences of global or country-specific activities throughout the 12 years of this blog. To my memory, the concept was never explained either by me or by any of the guest bloggers. In all cases, economic activity was always discussed in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). This blog and the next one will be focused on the economic consequences of a declining population and what can be done to mitigate the negative impacts.

I will start with a short explanation of the concepts of GDP and GNP, using an accessible source of information for those of us who are not economists and want to know more.

Again, I will start by asking AI (through Google) to give us its take on the topic and the source of its information. In this case, the source the AI is using is a publication by the International Monetary Fund:

GDP measures the monetary value of final goods and services—that is, those that are bought by the final user—produced in a country in a given period of time (say a quarter or a year). It counts all of the output generated within the borders of a country. GDP is composed of goods and services produced for sale in the market and also includes some nonmarket production, such as defense or education services provided by the government. An alternative concept, gross national product, or GNP counts all the output of the residents of a country. So, if a German-owned company has a factory in the United States, the output of this factory would be included in U.S. GDP, but in German GNP.

In what follows I will use the concept of GDP.

Wikipedia has an entry dedicated to the economic consequences of population decline. Last week’s blog addressed some of the consequences of decreased fertility and the resulting changes to the population pyramid. These include the rise in the dependency ratio (the ratio of the nonworking segment of the population to the total population), crises in end-of-life care for the elderly, and the decline in military strength caused by a smaller pool of young adults who can be recruited (whether voluntarily or by mandate).

Wikipedia’s full list of a declining population’s negative impacts on economic growth is given below. The identity that defines GDP in terms of population is:

                             GDP = total population × GDP/person                                                   (1)

As populations grow more slowly, assuming no changes in growth of GDP/person, GDP will also grow more slowly.

The equation above shows that if the decline in total population is not matched by an equal or greater increase in productivity (GDP/capita), and if that condition continues from one calendar quarter to the next, it follows that a country would experience a decline in GDP, known as an economic recession. If these conditions become permanent, the country could find itself in a permanent recession

The possible impacts of a declining population that leads to permanent recession are:

  1. Decline in basic services and infrastructure.  If the GDP of a community declines, there is less demand for basic services such as hotels, restaurants and shops. The employment in these sectors then suffers.[7] A falling GDP also implies a falling tax base that would support basic infrastructure such as police, fire and electricity. The government may be forced to abandon some of this infrastructure, like bus and railroad lines, and combine school districts, hospitals and even townships in order to maintain some level of economies of scale.[8]
  2. Rise in dependency ratio.
  3. Crisis in end of life care for the elderly.
  4. Difficulties in funding entitlement programs.
  5. Decline in military strength.
  6. Decline in innovation. A falling population also lowers the rate of innovation, since change tends to come from younger workers and entrepreneurs.[10]
  7. Strain on mental health. Population decline may harm a population’s mental health (or morale) if it causes permanent recession and a concomitant decline in basic services and infrastructure.[12]
  8. A recent (2014) study found substantial deflationary pressures from Japan’s ageing population [13]
  9. A Slovenian study from 2015 found that population ageing leads to higher rates of unemployment and less entrepreneurial activity.[14]

The Wikipedia definition of productivity refers to the GDP/person in Equation 1 above. A much better definition of economic productivity comes from the US Bureau of  Labor Statistics, which defines productivity as the ratio between input and output and distinguishes productivity on different levels:

  • Individual worker’s productivity
  • Company’s productivity
  • Industry or sector productivity
  • Business sector productivity
  • National productivity

On the national level, the input can be defined in terms of labor productivity (based only on the part of the population that works) and capital productivity (which includes the infrastructure that assists in producing the output).

The last two items in the list provided by Wikipedia (deflation and unemployment) are less intuitive and they are based on a single publication each ([13] and [14] refer to the article’s references). They are much too broad to be associated only with population decline and they will not be discussed further.

A much more serious issue associated with the Wikipedia list is that it is limited to suppliers to the GDP. The main reason is that the definition of GDP is limited to suppliers. It is connected to the demand side of the economy only through the connection to the prices that suppliers can ask for their goods. By not including the demand side of the economy, the list eliminates much of the resulting feedback of supply and demand.

Another issue not included in the Wikipedia list is the time dependence (i.e., the rates) of the population decline, the changes in the resulting population pyramids, and the lifetime of the infrastructures constructed to serve the population. A good example is the impact of the changes to the population pyramid on item 3 in the Wikipedia list. The increase in the non-productive elderly segment of the population compared to the productive younger segment will obviously have a negative impact on supply. But the growth of that segment will also increase the demand for healthcare. The fact that in democratic countries this segment of the population is fully entitled to vote on every level, and thus will require economic support, makes the increasing demand an important element in the allocation of resources.

Different rates of population decline and the lifetime of the infrastructure constructed to serve this aging population can be seen in the disequilibrium of supply and demand in housing that in many cases results in the creation of ghost towns. A good example is the abundance of ghost towns in Japan, where the decline in fertility is among the largest in the world:

The shrinking population in rural areas coupled with brain drain to the major cities has left behind numerous “ghost villages” scattered throughout the Japanese countryside.

In January, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration launched a programme that aims to revitalise rural areas by offering families relocating from Tokyo to the countryside 1 million yen per child. Though many have questioned its ability to lure people away from the capital.

According to official statistics, there are about 8.5 million abandoned homes – known as akiya – in Japan, but estimates suggest the true number could be closer to 11 million. Akiya are expected to become only more common as the population greys, with the government projecting them to make up 30 percent of the entire housing stock within the next 10 years.

Ghost towns can form for other reasons than declining population. They can be caused by nuclear disasters (Fukushima), bankrupt mines, or a decline in other economic factors that initially justified a real-estate boom. However, in many places, declining population is the main driving force behind the abandonment, especially in rural areas.

Next week’s blog will be dedicated to the steps that are being taken to mitigate some of the negative impacts of declining populations.

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Population Pyramids

The two previous blogs focused on global fertility decline. We are in the middle of a global transition from an increase to a decline in population; the population is estimated to peak around mid-century. Last week’s blog covered some of the driving forces behind this transition. Over the next two weeks, I will discuss the economic consequences of this transition and the resulting political consequences.

Consequences that will be discussed as part of the economic consequences will include a rise in the dependency ratio, a crisis in end-of-life care, and a decline in military strength. All these impacts result from changes to the age distribution of the population. The age distribution of the population is described in the form of population pyramids. This blog will focus on some of the consequences of the population decline on the population pyramids.

I discussed population pyramids in an earlier blog (January 21, 2014). Before, fertility rates below replacement (2.1) were limited to rich countries; now, as we saw in the last two blogs, below-replacement fertility is expanding around the world and it’s time to return to this issue.


Figure 1 – 2017 Population pyramids of three countries with different fertility and growth patterns (Source: Visual Capitalist)

Figure 1 shows the 2017 population pyramids of three countries with different population growth patterns. The Democratic Republic of Congo has a fertility rate well above replacement, resulting in a fast growth rate (in 2022 estimated growth was 3.25%). The United States’ fertility is well below replacement (1.6), with a recent net growth rate of 0.53% that comes mainly from immigration. Lastly, we have Germany, whose fertility rate is almost identical to that of the US (1.62) but has an almost zero recent growth rate (0.03%). The data for the US and Germany were taken from Table 1 in a recent blog (January 30, 2024). In both the United States and Germany, immigrants constitute significant parts of the population pyramid.

Figure 2 shows the contributions of both the immigrants and the US-born to the population pyramid of the US (2022). I was not entirely clear from the MPI (Migration Policy Institute) description of the immigrants’ contribution how they factored in the inclusion of naturalized and authorized (green card) immigrants vs. illegal immigrants. As was mentioned in the first blog in this series (January 30, 2024), in the US there are presently close to 50 million immigrants (not born in the US). A rough estimate is that about 1/3 of these immigrants are not naturalized. Summing up the number of immigrants in Figure 2, one arrives at a number close to 40 million people. This roughly corresponds to authorized and naturalized immigrants (it takes many years between authorization and naturalization).

Figure 2 – Population pyramids of immigrants and US-born Americans (Source: Migration Policy Institute)

Below is what MPI writes about the immigrant population:

Immigrant population: The shape of the age-sex pyramid of the immigrant population is very different from that of the native-born population for a number of reasons. First, many migrants migrate to find work abroad, so a high number in the economically active 20-to-54 age bracket is not uncommon. As can be seen here, the majority of immigrants in 2022 were adults between the ages of 20 and 54. Second, in general, children are less likely to migrate by themselves and adult immigrants tend to migrate with few or no children. This helps explain the relatively small amount of people ages 20 and younger. There is another reason, however: the children born in the United States to adult immigrants are included in the native-born population estimates. Third, people are less likely to migrate at older ages. In the foreign-born age-sex pyramid, there are fewer people in the retirement-age groups (65 and over). This low number of older immigrants also has to do with some returning home for retirement and the death of some older immigrants. All of these factors give the foreign-born age-sex pyramid its “diamond shape,” making it significantly different from the native population pyramid. About 46.2 million immigrants resided in the United States in 2022.

In terms of economic impact, the rise in dependency originates from the relative decline of the working segment of the population as a percentage of the general population. It is also important to keep in mind the corresponding decrease in the non-working segments, including youth and the elderly. Almost all rich economies are committed to supporting both their old and young populations at a variety of levels. This support takes various forms that impact the well-being of a country. I dedicated many of my previous blogs to describing the difficulties the American education system now faces because of declining enrollments. Education is part of the support system for the young that every country is committed to on various levels. Social Security is part of insurance that many countries use to support the elderly (based on their contributions during their working times). Healthcare, in many cases, is a mechanism that countries use to support both the old and the young. The next blogs will expand on these issues.

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Driving Forces of Population Decrease

Last week’s blog summarized the data for the global transition to a declining population, driven mainly by a major decline in global fertility rates. As I mentioned in that blog, the trend is not new and was discussed in earlier blogs that you can find through the search box. For many years, this decline was limited to rich, high-income countries. Data in last week’s blog show that the population decline is no longer limited to high-income countries but is now spreading through middle-income countries (see updated classification on the World Bank website), with India, the most populated low-income country, reaching the benchmark fertility of 2.1. Table 1 of last week’s blog summarizes the relevant data for 20 key countries in which the total population reaches more than 50% of the global population, all showing declining fertility rates lower than or equal to 2.1.

To get into more specific driving forces of this transition we can narrow the selection of countries to three: India, China, and the US. Together, the total population of these countries (greater than 3.1 billion) exceeds one-third of the global population. Additionally, each country represents the most populated country of one key income level: India – low income; China – middle income and US – high income.

Before we get into details, it will help to explore the general understanding of the global fertility decline through an NIH publication (US National Institute of Health). I will cite below the introductory paragraph:

There is a concern about declining birth rates in both the developing and developed world (www.rand.org). Fertility rates tend to be higher in poorly resourced countries but due to high maternal and perinatal mortality, there is a reduction in birth rates. In developing countries children are needed as a labour force and to provide care for their parents in old age. In these countries, fertility rates are higher due to the lack of access to contraceptives and generally lower levels of female education. The social structure, religious beliefs, economic prosperity and urbanisation within each country are likely to affect birth rates as well as abortion rates, Developed countries tend to have a lower fertility rate due to lifestyle choices associated with economic affluence where mortality rates are low, birth control is easily accessible and children often can become an economic drain caused by housing, education cost and other cost involved in bringing up children. Higher education and professional careers often mean that women have children late in life. This can result in a demographic economic paradox.

In this blog, I will focus on two issues that are mentioned above: women’s education and the extra options and opportunities it provides, and parental decisions based on a couple’s well-being as they age and need additional support. 

Women’s Education

The following article is a follow-up to the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which formalized the international community’s commitment to advancing education equality for women around the world. The paragraph below cites the introductory summary:

ACCESS TO PRIMARY EDUCATION Spurred by international commitments made in the context of the Education for All movement as well as the Millennium Development Goals, the vast majority of countries have made significant progress in terms of making primary education financially accessible: 89% of low-income countries, 97% of middle-income countries, and 100% of high-income countries have made primary education tuition-free. There are only seven countries in the world that report charging tuition fees for primary education: Comoros, Guinea, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (see Map 1). Similarly, most countries have adopted policies to keep children in school at the primary level: there are only 15 countries that have not made primary education compulsory (see Map 4)(15).

Figure 1, taken from the same publication, shows the global spread of compulsory primary education, as of 2014.Global map of compulsory primary education Figure 1 – Global map of compulsory primary education, 2014 (Source: WORLD Policy Analysis Center)

Compulsory primary education is considered to be a higher standard and more specific measurement in terms of content and timing than literacy, which, at its lowest level, is defined as the ability to read and write. Figures 2 and 3 show the recent changes in literacy in India and China.

Bar chart of literacy rate in India from 1901-2011, divided by genderFigure 2 – Literacy rate in India, 1901-2011 (Source: Semantic Scholar)

Statistic: Adult literacy rate in China from 1982 to 2020 | Statista
Figure 3 – Literacy rate in China, 1982-2020 (Source: Statista)

The literacy rate in China is now approaching 100% for both genders, a figure identical to that of high-income countries.

Generational Support Through Health Care

The second driving force that I will examine below is the generational support necessary for health care as we grow older; there is an increased demand for and an uncertain supply of caregivers. The best indicator of this driving force is the changes that take place in life expectancy as determined at birth. Figures 4 and 5 show the changes in two different regions. Figure 4 shows the changes that have taken place over my lifetime in India, the most populated country in the world. It is a low-income country whose fertility rate is sharply declining and has reached a replacement level of 2.1 on its way down. The life expectancy trajectory is almost a reflection of the decrease in fertility rate.

Line graph of India life expectancyFigure 4 – Life expectancy at birth in India, 1941-2019 (Source: X @OurWorldInData)

Figure 5 shows the changes that are now taking place in this indicator in Africa. The Visual Capitalist infographic at the top of last week’s blog lists the 10 countries with the highest fertility rates (well above replacement level). Some of the later high fertility rates are a result of the devastating impact that the AIDS/HIV epidemic inflicted on many countries in Africa toward the end of the last century; among other factors, many have opted for more children to replace those who have died. The impact of this epidemic shows up on the life expectancy curve but only in the form of a kink on the graph on the way up, which strongly indicates that collective healthcare is finally penetrating the continent. This also gives reasonable expectations that such healthcare is starting to replace generational dependence.  The data in Figures 1, 4, and 5 strongly suggest the further expansion of a global fertility decline.

Line graph of Africa life expectancy, 1950-2020Figure 5 – Life expectancy in Africa, 1950-2020 (Source: Statista)

The kink in life expectancy around the end of the 20th century is mainly due to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Future blogs will focus on the consequences of declining fertility. These include changes in the age distribution (population pyramids) due to changes in fertility and contributions from immigration. I will also look at some of the economic consequences of declining populations and their impacts on the political leadership of some countries that will hold key elections in 2024.

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Fertility Is Below Replacement Rate

Infographic with global map of declining fertility rate Figure 1 – Declining fertility rate (Source: Visual Capitalist)

This blog starts with a large infographic that was recently compiled by my favorite site, Visual Capitalist, based on recent data from the Word Bank. For more examples of my use of their work, just use the search box. This blog is a continuation of previous blogs that focused on the global population transition (see January 11, 2022). It is also a follow-up on my blog from a few weeks ago (January 16, 2024) where I started describing the present global dynamics that have put global immigration patterns at the center of global concerns that set government priorities.

This blog focuses on data. Future blogs will try to draw some important conclusions from the data.

I am starting with citations from two recent articles that describe the population transition in China and some of its consequences. China, until very recently, was the most populated country, with a GDP just second to the US, and whose GDP growth was greatly outpacing that of fully developed countries. Things are starting to change now.

I am starting with a NYT article:

China’s population has begun to decline, a demographic turning point for the country that has global implications. Experts had long anticipated this moment, but it arrived in 2022 several years earlier than expected, prompting hand-wringing among economists over the long-term impacts given the country’s immense economic heft and its role as the world’s manufacturer.

With 850,000 fewer births than deaths last year, at least according to the country’s official report, China joined an expanding set of nations with shrinking populations caused by years of falling fertility and often little or even negative net migration, a group that includes Italy, Greece and Russia, along with swaths of Eastern and Southern Europe and several Asian nations like South Korea and Japan.

The next article describes some of the reactions in China to the changing reality:

In his 2024 New Year message, Xi Jinping stated that the post-Covid Chinese economy had “sustained the momentum of recovery” and that all Chinese people, including in Taiwan, should share in the “glory of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

Both these leaden phrases are fantasy. However confident Xi may feel in his autocratic grip on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), he seemingly lacks both the vision and means to reverse China’s slide into a classic middle-income trap. The CCP’s expected economic bounce-back after the pandemic has not materialised; IMF forecasts are bleak. For 60 years, the Chinese population grew; we now learn it is beginning to contract. The death rate last year was the highest since 1974, when China was wracked by the chaos of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. But even more alarming, the 2023 birth rate fell by 5.7%, the lowest recorded in CCP history.

Figure 2 describes the present situation of global immigration. According to the data in Figure 2, 280 million people globally live as immigrants. This number amounts to approximately 3.5% of the global population (2020). In the US, the number exceeds 50M. The source of the data is World Population Review, which specifies: “Immigration is defined as the international movement of people from their country of origin (either where they were born or have citizenship) to a different destination country” (I am one of them). There is no mention in these sources whether there is any distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.

Infographic of immigration around the world: share of immigrants as a % of total population, 2020Figure 2 – Worldwide immigration (Source: World Population Review via Reddit)

The heart of this blog is shown in Table 1, below. The sum of the populations of the 20 countries amounts to more than 50% of the total global population. The fertility rates for most of these countries were taken from the Visual Capitalist infographic, which took its data from the World Population Review. The fertility rates of the rest of the countries in the table came from Googling the most recent data. All the data is post-2020 but I made no effort to keep the data to the same year.

Table 1 – Recent fertility rates and population growth of 20 countries with populations greater than 25 million and fertility rates at or below replacement.

table of fertility rates and population growth of 20 countries

*The population decline in Ukraine is mostly the result of the Russian invasion that started on February 24, 2022. More recently, some of these refugees have started returning.

As can be seen, the trend of at- or below-replacement fertility extends well beyond the developed countries. In many of the countries shown in the table, the population growth is already negative. In many others, the positive growth is largely a result of immigration and the phase difference between below-replacement fertility and overall population decline.

Some consequences of these trends will be explored in future blogs.

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Trump in Iowa

(Source: Andrew Harnik, AP via E & E News POLITICO)

This year is a presidential election year. While there will be other stressors during the election cycle, the collective stress factor of this past week was the identity of the two main parties’ final candidates. It started with the Iowa caucuses that were held on Monday, January 15th, and will finish with the New Hampshire primary that will be held today. The Democratic primaries haven’t started yet but they seem like, unless something unexpected happens, they will end up choosing President Biden to be the party’s candidate for a second term. On the Republican side, ex-President Trump won an overwhelming majority of the Iowa caucus participants (98 out of 99 Iowa counties, with one county lost by one vote to Nikki Haley). Governor DeSantis and Nikki Haley came in a distance second and third. The general agreement appears to be that if something even approaching that kind of victory takes place in New Hampshire, the election in 2024 between the two major parties’ candidates will be a repeat of the 2020 lineup (not necessarily with the same result). We have plenty of time and data to analyze the prospect of such an election. The focus of this analysis will be not on the candidates but on the voters (is it a no-no in democratic elections to blame the voters??). The only voters that took part in the Iowa caucus were registered Republicans; the one that will take place in New Hampshire will be a mix of Republicans and Independents. Voters in the two elections had/have the “benefit” of knowing well the candidate that they overwhelmingly chose in Iowa: ex-president Trump. All of us are familiar with his politics because, after his 2016 victory, he had the opportunity to put into effect what he preached. At the same time, both before and during his presidency, he accumulated a large number of criminal charges (most of them have yet to come to trial). Below is POLITICO’s summary of the details of these criminal cases, as of last June:

Tracking the Trump criminal cases

A definitive guide to the key players and legal risks in the four criminal probes of Donald Trump.

By POLITICO STAFF | 6/13/2023 4 AM EDT | Updated 12/6/2023 10:25 AM EST

For the first 234 years of the nation’s history, no American president or former president had ever been indicted. That changed this year. Over a five-month span, former President Donald Trump was charged in four criminal cases. In Washington, D.C., he faces four felony counts for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In Georgia, he faces 13 felony counts for his election interference in that state. In New York, he faces 34 felony counts in connection with hush money payments to a porn star. And in Florida, he faces 40 felony counts for hoarding classified documents after he left office and impeding the government’s efforts to retrieve them.

This is POLITICO’s up-to-the-minute guide to the four Trump criminal cases.

Voters in Iowa were familiar with this background. They were directly asked why they voted for Trump:

About 7 in 10 Iowans who caucused for Trump on Monday night said they have known all along that they would support a man who has remade the Republican Party through his “Make America Great Again” political movement. Trump was carried to victory by the majority of caucusgoers who say they back it, a sign of his growing influence in a state that denied him a victory eight years ago.

About one-third of caucusgoers prioritized the economy. Of those who did, about half support Trump.

So, Trump’s dominance over the Republican party is based on his economic policy and MAGA. Trump’s economic policy is relatively easy to judge; after all, he had 4 years to implement it. As for MAGA, it’s a different story. His plans on the two issues haven’t changed in the three presidential elections that he has taken part in, except for his opportunity to implement his promises during his presidency.

Judgment of Trump’s economic policy is, obviously, a politically polarizing question. The voters in Iowa were all Republicans, so I was looking for the most academically credible right-wing comments on the issue. The Cato Institute seemed to be the right choice. Below, I include their grading of the policies that he implemented during his presidency, as well as their summary. For fuller detail, readers are invited to read the original article:

Fiscal Policy: C

Regulation: C

Jobs: B

Entitlements: D+

Trade: D-

Immigration: F

Summing it all up.

These grades would prevent President Trump from graduating from Lincicome University (which has more rigorous standards than the SEC), but certainly require additional context. On the positive side, there’s little doubt that some things—fiscal and regulatory policy, in particular—would have been worse under a President Clinton. On the negative side, however, Clinton almost certainly would have been better on trade and immigration, while overall having a more consistent, predictable, and coherent approach to policymaking in general. This last point really can’t be undersold, given the extensive research (see, e.g., this brand new one) showing how policy uncertainty can undermine economic activity. And there, I think, is where the Trump administration has really failed: for the last four years, formal U.S. economic policy has all too often resulted from frantic, messy attempts by beleaguered government officials to “backfill” disconnected policy trenches dug by presidential tweets. That’s no way to run economic policy, and it shows.

In other words, the right-wing Cato Institute was pretty unimpressed.

The MAGA (Make America Great Again) promise is much more difficult to evaluate. In a sense, it is aspirational: choose an era from American history when America was “great” and repeat it. Well, I tried a Google Search for “MAGA.” For questions like this, Google Search now usually comes up with an AI summary. In this case, it ended with a blank. I went further, going directly to Google’s AI site. Below is our correspondence, with the my questions in bold and AI responses in italics:

“MAGA” can have several meanings, depending on the context:

Most commonly:

  • “Make America Great Again”: This is the original meaning of MAGA, used as a slogan and political movement popularized by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. It broadly signifies a desire to restore the United States to a past state of perceived greatness, characterized by economic prosperity, strong national security, and traditional values. However, the specific interpretations and policy goals associated with MAGA vary widely among its supporters.

Additionally:

  • The MAGA movement: This refers to the group of people who identify with and support the goals of the MAGA slogan. It typically encompasses individuals who hold conservative or right-wing political beliefs and favor Trump’s policies.
  • A symbol: MAGA hats, flags, and other merchandise have become symbols of the movement and are often worn or displayed by supporters.
  • A pejorative term: Some critics of the MAGA movement use the term pejoratively to associate it with certain negative connotations, such as racism, xenophobia, or populism.

To understand the meaning of MAGA in any specific context, consider:

  • Who is using the term?
  • What is the surrounding discussion or situation?
  • What are the speaker’s likely beliefs and intentions?

It’s important to be aware of the different meanings and interpretations of MAGA to avoid misunderstandings and engage in productive conversations.

Would you like to know more about the specific aspects of MAGA, its history, or its impact on American politics?

During Mr. Trump presidency how did he do establishing MAGA?

Elections are a complex topic with fast-changing information. To make sure you have the latest and most accurate information, try Google Search.

I did. Google Search didn’t want to touch MAGA

It’s interesting that Google Search seemed hesitant to touch “MAGA.” It’s possible there are several reasons for this:

Sensitive and Politically Charged Term: “MAGA” is a highly charged term associated with former President Donald Trump and his political movement. Search engines want to avoid appearing biased or taking sides in political matters, so they may be cautious about displaying results that could be seen as inflammatory or controversial.

Potential for Spam and Misinformation: Unfortunately, “MAGA” has been associated with online spam and misinformation. Search engines prioritize providing accurate and reliable information, so they may filter out results that seem untrustworthy or promote false narratives.

Broad and Context-Dependent Meaning: “MAGA” can have different meanings depending on the context. It can refer to the specific campaign slogan, the broader political movement, or even just a general sentiment of wanting to improve the United States. This vagueness can make it difficult for search engines to provide relevant results without knowing the user’s intention.

To get a more comprehensive understanding of “MAGA,” you could try:

  • Specifying your search query: Instead of just searching for “MAGA,” try adding keywords that clarify your intent. For example, you could search for “history of MAGA movement” or “MAGA economic policies.”
  • Using alternative sources: Go beyond Google Search and explore other information sources like news websites, academic databases, or even documentaries.
  • Seeking diverse perspectives: Look for information from a variety of sources representing different viewpoints on “MAGA.” This will help you form your own informed opinion.

Remember, critical thinking and evaluating information from various sources is crucial when dealing with any sensitive or controversial topic.

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

In the next blog, I will stop analyzing American voters and continue analyzing global problems that need great leadership.

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 Combining Immigration and Climate Policies to Ensure Survival

Politically, the world is polarized. On the Right, the battle cry is to block immigration; on the Left, to pursue equity. Climate change tends to get lost in the chat but the Left generally goes along with the scientists in trying to mitigate the impact while many on the Right are still denying that humans are responsible (some of us much more than others). 2024 is a presidential election year in the US and this polarization is sharper than ever. Below are two short descriptions of the positions that the presidential candidate and Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is taking on climate and immigration:

NYT – DeSantis, Undaunted by Florida Storms, Shrugs Off Climate Change

Instead, Mr. DeSantis has seemingly reverted to an old Republican Party line that climate change is happening naturally, without being accelerated by human behavior like the burning of fossil fuels. Decades of scientific research contradict that position. And it is also out of step with what polling shows many Americans believe.

NYT – DeSantis Pushes Toughest Immigration Crackdown in the Nation

The bills would expose people to felony charges for sheltering, hiring and transporting undocumented immigrants; require hospitals to ask patients their immigration status and report to the state; invalidate out-of-state driver’s licenses issued to undocumented immigrants; prevent undocumented immigrants from being admitted to the bar in Florida; and direct the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide assistance to federal authorities in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.

Mr. DeSantis has separately proposed eliminating in-state college tuition for undocumented students and beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, who were brought to the United States as young children. The tuition law was enacted by his predecessor Rick Scott, now a Republican U.S. senator, in 2014.

Al Gore, the former Senator and Vice President tried to make the case that immigration and anthropogenic climate change are two sides of the same coin:

Former Vice President Al Gore spent part of his Christmas Eve warning Americans how “dire” the climate change situation really is.

“If we don’t take action, there could be as many as one billion climate refugees crossing international borders in the next several decades,” Gore told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

Gore doesn’t supply many details, so in this blog, I’m trying to provide some. Table 1 shows some of the essential ingredients. It shows 15 countries, mostly located in Africa, in which employment in agriculture constitutes more than 60% of the workforce and 15 countries where employment in agriculture amounts to less than 2% of the workforce. The table also provides data about all 30 countries, including population, wealth (GDP/Capita), and water stress. Water stress is measured in terms of “freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources.” Water stress starts at 25% withdrawal. The various sources for the various data are given below the table. All the countries with major agricultural industries are poor (GDP/Capita smaller than $2,000). All the countries with very small employment in agriculture are rich (GDP/Capita greater than $30,000 except for Djibouti, which has other issues to deal with). All the data in Table 1 are real. The countries with critical water stress (greater than 25%) are rich and they have the means to supply their water from other sources than their freshwater reserves (desalination, import, etc. See the set of blogs on Arizona (July 4th and 11th, 2023). The only poor country on that list with serious water stress is Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s water stress stems from mismanagement of the Nile and the general unrest there. The other countries that are not on the list but are dependent on the Nile (Egypt, South Sudan, and Sudan) also show severe water stress (the list was created based on the percentage of employment in agriculture).

Now, imagine that climate change increases water stress so much that countries cannot irrigate their fields, the countries’ poverty limits their ability to import food, and 60% of their workforce can no longer work the land to support their family. They will try to uproot themselves and look for solutions in other countries. I wrote before about how the acceleration of climate change will also accelerate the number of these refugees.

Table 1 – Percentage employment in agriculture for the top 15 and bottom 15 countries

Data for percentage employed in agriculture were taken from The Global Economy.com. Data for population in Table 1, were taken from the CIA website’s World Factbook. Data for GDP/Capita in Table 1 are taken from the World Bank. (Some of the data for GDP/Capita in Table 1 are for 2022). Data for water stress in Table 1 are taken from the UN Water Portal.

Are these the refugees that are now crowding the southern US borders that the Republicans are so concerned about? This is a testable question. One can ask the southern border refugees where they are coming from. This was done and Table 2 shows the results. None of the countries that are mentioned in Table 2 is shown in Table 1 but the consequences of climate change on the ability of the Table 1 African countries are still in the pipeline.

Table 2 – Migrants’ Countries of Origin, by Share of Total Encounters and Share of Nationality Encountered at Ports of Entry, FY 2023 (Source: Migration Policy Institute)

The global impact of climate change on immigration was recently described in an NYT article that was based on UN data:

Olive groves have shriveled in Tunisia. The Brazilian Amazon faces its driest season in a century. Wheat fields have been decimated in Syria and Iraq, pushing millions more into hunger after years of conflict. The Panama Canal, a vital trade artery, doesn’t have enough water, which means fewer ships can pass through. And the fear of drought has prompted India, the world’s biggest rice exporter, to restrict the export of most rice varieties.

The United Nations estimates that 1.84 billion people worldwide, or nearly a quarter of humanity, were living under drought in 2022 and 2023, the vast majority in low- and middle-income countries. “Droughts operate in silence, often going unnoticed and failing to provoke an immediate public and political response,” wrote Ibrahim Thiaw, head of the United Nations agency that issued the estimates late last year, in his foreword to the report.

This piece is based on a recent UN report, Global Drought Snapshot 2023, which is likely the source for the Al Gore comment that I mentioned in the beginning of the blog. It lacks the country specificity that is mentioned in Table 1 and thus cannot serve as a tool to correlate with Table 2, which relates only to the situation at the US southern border.

The next blog will return to internal immigration within the US.

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Go Green With Smart Electricity Meters

screenshot of Google search for smart electricity meter

A good summary of the impacts of climate change last year, and what is being done to adapt to and mitigate these impacts, can be found in a New Year publication of Mother Jones. The two introductory paragraphs are quoted below:

Last year, climate change came into sharp relief for much of the world: The planet experienced its hottest 12-month period in 125,000 years. Flooding events inundated communities from California to East Africa to India. A heat wave in South America caused temperatures to spike above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of winter, and a heat dome across much of the southern United States spurred a 31-day streak in Phoenix of 110 degree-plus temperatures. The formation of an El Niño, the natural phenomenon that raises temperatures globally, intensified extreme weather already strengthened by climate change. The US alone counted 25 billion-dollar weather disasters in 2023—more than any other year.

Yet this devastation was met by some of the largest gains in climate action to date. World leaders agreed for the first time to “transition away” from oil and gas at the annual United Nations climate summit, hosted last month by the United Arab Emirates. Funds and incentives from President Joe Biden’s signature climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act, started to roll out to companies and municipalities. Electric vehicle sales skyrocketed, thousands of young people signed up for the first-ever American Climate Corps, and companies agreed to pay billions of dollars to remove harmful chemicals called PFAS from drinking water supplies.

Not surprisingly, a section in the Mother Jones publication is devoted to energy and it starts with the following achievement:

6.  A deluge of new household electrification and efficiency rebates.

When the Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022, some decarbonization incentives were quickly accessible—such as tax credits for solar and heat pump installation—but others have taken longer to kick in. The wait, however, is almost over, and 2024 is set to see a slew of new, or expanded, opportunities come online.

However, 2024 is a presidential election year and the dominant Republican candidate is ex-President Donald Trump. Few of us can forget 2016, when he won the presidency and negated almost all the actions that had been taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We cannot sustain a repeat of this whiplash.

Almost every receipt or ad that I am getting now is decorated with a fancy-colored font that is calling on me to “go green.” What the company means by the message is often a mystery to me. In the next series of blogs, I will repeat the call, specifying in some detail what actions we could take that would actually help. While these institutions are trying to raise awareness of environmental issues with vague messages, I want to communicate specific steps that will increase bottom-up pressure on government and corporations to take concrete steps in a cost-effective way. This blog will focus on electricity meters.

The opening image is a screenshot of a Google image search for electricity meters. They come in all shapes and forms. As can be seen in the figure, there is a major effort to make the electricity meter “smart.” What are smart meters?

The term smart meter often refers to an electricity meter, but it also may mean a device measuring natural gas, water or district heating consumption.[citation needed] More generally, a smart meter is an electronic device that records information such as consumption of electric energy, voltage levels, current, and power factor. Smart meters communicate the information to the consumer for greater clarity of consumption behavior, and electricity suppliers for system monitoring and customer billing. Smart meters typically record energy near real-time, and report regularly, short intervals throughout the day.[1] Smart meters enable two-way communication between the meter and the central system. Smart meters may be part of a smart grid, but do not themselves constitute a smart grid.[2]

Smart grids are essential to electricity grids that deliver sustainable energy. The sun and wind provide the energy, but it must be available as needed rather than restricted to the moment when it is collected. Smart meters are designed to synchronize the energy sources with energy users:

smart grid enables your business to communicate with the UK energy system. This reduces waste and balances resources, supporting renewable energy integration and new green technologies. One of the easiest ways to implement a flexible grid is to install smart meters. They enable businesses and energy providers to establish how much energy is required, where it’s needed and when. Subsequently, the grid can be properly balanced. Meaning we don’t need to switch on more carbon intensive generation when supply gets low or demand gets high. And, as a result, you can save money, or even make a profit by generating and selling your own electricity.

The smart meter-mediated feedback between the utility and the user can extend two-way communication capabilities between the user and the electric company that provides the electricity. The electric company can provide the user with the composition of the primary energy used to generate electricity and the efficiency of the conversion. Based on this information, the smart meter can be programmed to provide information about the carbon footprints of the unit to which it is connected to, for all to see.

Smart meters can have other applications:

In addition to reporting your energy usage, the smart meter can inform the utility immediately if there’s a power outage in your area (like Texas smart meters, for example). It can quickly dispatch crews to resolve the situation and get your power back on as soon as possible. Once everything is back to normal, the smart meter will notify your utility of the resolution.

How can you save energy with a smart meter?

One of the biggest benefits of a smart meter for consumers is the ability to track energy usage. Most smart meters come equipped with a digital face that displays up-to-date information on the energy you’ve used. Though it won’t tell you what’s using the most electricity in your home, being aware of how much energy you use can guide you to make improvements.

Not everybody is a fan, however:

Across the nation there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the implementation of smart meters. One issue has been the fact that some smart meters have caught fire. Some believe the issue lies in faulty meter panels on the home, not the smart meter itself. Proponents of the device argue that when utility workers pull off the old meters they sometimes jar a defective part of the meter base. Since it’s not working properly, it overheats and has caused some instances of house fires. It’s also important to note that millions of smart meters have been deployed throughout the United States and very few have caught fire.

Another issue with smart meters is the amount of radiation they project. Some people claim the meters cause dizziness, memory loss, headaches or even cancer. However, these claims aren’t backed by science. Smart meters use the same technology as cellphones, which have relatively low radiation levels, but these advance meters have a radiation threat that’s even lower than a cellphone. The Huffington Post reports that even if you stand three feet from a smart meter the microwave exposure is 1,100 times less than holding a cellphone to your ear. Smart meters are typically placed outside the home, in the back or side of the property in places people don’t usually hang around. So the risk of exposure to radiation is even lower.

As I said last week, IoT plays a key role in the programming of smart meters. I am repeating the citation here:

Any electrical device that can be linked to your smart home system, communicate with other devices, and make certain decisions on its own is considered a smart device. Smart devices include things like televisions, stoves, alarm systems, doorbells, garage doors, and stereos. You may gradually turn your home into a smart home by purchasing smart IoT gadgets separately over time.

These IoT solutions then work together as a system to automate particular chores and can often operate from a distance. Sprinklers, cameras, and home security systems can all be programmed using a smart home system, along with other devices like air conditioners, heaters and refrigerators.

Purchasing a smart speaker may be all that is necessary for some people to transform their home into a smart one. For others, it may include tying together a variety of IoT solutions. Check out various smart home solutions to turn your house into a smart home!

Where and how to experiment with smart electricity meters in a way that will account for optimal return on investment? I am obviously biased but federated college campuses seem to be the best choice. I know the details of the energy distribution in my own school so I will use this as a model. The energy use in CUNY at the start of the pandemic was discussed in a previous blog (July 7, 2020). The University purchases the energy centrally and distributes it to the individual colleges based on enrollment and prior use. If a college underuses its allotted share, it is compensated for the difference. The reverse takes place for overuse.

Installation of a visible smart electricity meter in an individual college could be key to recruiting students, faculty, and staff to actively monitor energy intensity. For a university, energy intensity can either be calculated in terms of energy use per square foot of buildings or energy use per enrolled student. University campuses can serve as great experimental platforms for using smart meters as a tool to mobilize society to take care of the environment. This can be especially productive because the effort can integrate with existing interdisciplinary research environments and can be integrated with the broader “Campus as a Lab” curriculum that was discussed in earlier blogs (see July 19October 4, 2022 blogs).

In the next blog, I will shift gears to explore the impacts of climate change on internal and external immigration patterns.

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2024!

Happy New Year from US Census Bureau. US population: 335,893,238 World population: 8,019,876,189(Source: US Census Bureau)

2023 was a mess, from my perspective (see last week’s blog). It is almost a given for me that 2024 will be better. A good start for readers may be to go back to my first blog of 2017, which starts with two quotes. One is a paragraph from the Gettysburg Address, which argues that America can not be made great again (MAGA) if it’s not MAGA for everybody. The other is by Stephen Hawking, who states the obvious: “We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it.”

We must join forces and try to make the world a better place. In two of my recent blogs (November 21st  and 28th), I wrote that my emphasis in 2024 would be on retrofitting our infrastructure to better mitigate and adapt to our fast-changing environment. A “business as usual” scenario has a good chance of destroying our planet, which is still the only known host of life in the universe. I plan to start with housing practices in the developed world, with a focus on the US.

Prior to the pandemic (see February 19th, June 4th, and June 25th, 2019 blogs), I wrote about New York State and New York City’s legislations to limit carbon emissions in large buildings. I also looked at possible ways that universities could adapt to these mandates and use the process as a learning environment for our students (as part of Campus as a Lab).

Recently, the City of New York issued an update on this program, the essence of which is quoted below:

The final rules for Local Law 97 give property owners until 2026 to avoid penalties, as long as they demonstrate “good faith efforts” to decarbonize their buildings—an extension that’s rankled some environmental groups, who say the threat of climate change demands more urgent action.

Once I saw the announcement, I forwarded it to a family member who is a manager of a company that develops IoT (Internet of Things), with a focus on retrofitting housing. I posed it as a possible business opportunity. Below is his short response:

 What I need more education about is the how.

In other words, what are the top 3 or 5 investment areas that have the most impact on achieving the carbon neutral goal.

That is, other than trading carbon in an exchange. And for those, where is the ROI, going beyond avoiding fines and focusing on actionable returns that pay for the investment in green buildings.

ROI in his comment refers to return on investment. In the past, he made a comment to me that one effective way for a house to reduce carbon emissions without changing its functionality is simply to improve its insulation. That doesn’t require anything related to IoT. I addressed this issue in a recent blog (November 21, 2023), pointing out that even while following the new legislation to reduce carbon emissions, or proceeding in other environmental mitigation and adaptation steps, there is a need to justify return on investment through variable repurposing! Much of the variability in repurposing is anchored on the premise that most steps for mitigating and adapting to destructive environmental impacts involve winners and losers. The most common distinction on this level is that the majority of us are “losers” in the short term (we have to pay) and “winners” in the long term (we can minimize future damage). This usually means a generational split. Most people who have the resources to apply the remediating steps are older and most people who will suffer from the accelerated environmental damage of continuing “business as usual” are younger.

However, the consequences of actions or inaction are not limited to the direct participants. Public policy is required to ensure the safety of the general public.

IoT is already being used to fight climate change. The key paragraphs from a Newsweek article are cited below:

Consider these critical numbers in the U.S.: More than 60% of the primary energy used to create electricity is wasted during the conversion. Household water leaks waste roughly 900 billion gallons of water annually. Between 30% and 40% of food produced for consumers is wasted.

All the while, we witness gradual growth in global average temperatures, accelerated melting of the polar ice caps and more frequent severe weather events.

IoT solutions rely on the collection of operational data across entire processes or supply chains. The integration of that data with other enterprise data and analysis derives actionable insights. Historically, the cost and complexity of developing IoT solutions slowed adoption, reducing their impact on climate change. The cost of solution development combined with the operational complexity of deploying non-wireless IoT sensors (requiring power and LAN connectivity) is the biggest challenge.

The concept of IOT is often complex. A summary of contributions of IOT to smart homes is given in the following TECHDesign blog post:

Any electrical device that can be linked to your smart home system, communicate with other devices, and make certain decisions on its own is considered a smart device. Smart devices include things like televisions, stoves, alarm systems, doorbells, garage doors, and stereos. You may gradually turn your home into a smart home by purchasing smart IoT gadgets separately over time.

These IoT solutions then work together as a system to automate particular chores and can often operate from a distance. Sprinklers, cameras, and home security systems can all be programmed using a smart home system, along with other devices like air conditioners, heaters and refrigerators.

Purchasing a smart speaker may be all that is necessary for some people to transform their home into a smart one. For others, it may include tying together a variety of IoT solutions. Check out various smart home solutions to turn your house into a smart home!

The concept of ROI within that context is relatively simple: we have a sharp distinction between supply and demand. The business is viable if there is enough demand for introducing the “smartness” of the home at a price that considers ROI. Environmental impacts directly affect indirect players. Government regulations are required in the form of laws and penalties that directly impact many businesses.

An increasing fraction of the US economy is the service economy. Presently, it amounts to 77.6%. An argument was made that energy use and carbon emissions, even when regulated, do not play an important role in most of these businesses. Labor productivity is the main factor. Under such conditions, when excessive energy use and/or carbon emissions are taxed, businesses just pay for it. In other words, it’s not an effective deterrent. That implies that the carbon tax is too low, meaning that the general public—those who are not directly part of these businesses—pays part of the cost by suffering the environmental consequences. These situations often have strong political consequences, and they require transparency. Often, the reformatting of facilities in the service sector is service-specific. Future blogs will try to address the balance of environmental needs and their impacts on the ROI of the higher education and healthcare sectors.

My next blog will focus on smart electricity meters, which can be an effective tool for making steps toward environmental mitigation and adaptation that can be justified by ROI.

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The World is a Mess, and the Mess is Reflected on University Campuses

The last few months, I have started my days, as usual, with a morning paper “partitioned” in a way that my wife gets the first page and I get the rest. The other day, shortly after we started reading, I heard her voice announce that the “world is a mess!” The moment that I got to the first page, I repeated her “diagnosis.” With our background, this “diagnosis” is focused on the US, Israel, and academic institutions. The global focus is centered on the war between Hamas and Israel that started on October 7th, with the Hamas attack on neighboring Israeli settlements that resulted in the murder of 1,200 Israelis and the capture of more than 200 hostages. It was followed by a major retaliation by Israel that then expanded to other fronts. The American focus over this period was still centered on one person: ex-president Trump and his prospects of getting reelected in 2024. While the Trump prospects didn’t seem to penetrate American university campuses, the Israel-Hamas war did. In various ways, the penetration was widespread, including in my own campus. I started to address the impact of the Israel-Hamas war a few weeks ago (December 5th) in a blog titled “My Full-Scale Global Focus,” which was more focused on my students than on me. I pointed out the observation that the conflict has managed to raise a strong reaction on university campuses in spite of the fact that Gaza and Israel are about 6,000 miles (more than 9,000 km) removed from the US, while other threats (global climate change or the prospect that President Trump will return to office) will have major, direct impacts on life in the US and globally.

I have to address this important issue.

Figure 1 – Demographics of support in the US for sides in the Israel-Hamas war
(Source: Deseret)

Figure 1 shows the demographic composition of attitudes about the war, by age. In this case, the two groups that are key to university campuses in the US are the students, the majority of whom belong to Generation Z (ages 18 – 24), and the faculty. Figure 2 illustrates the demographic composition of tenure-track faculty in US universities, by age.

Graph of tenure-track faculty and age distribution

Figure 2 – Age distribution of tenure-track faculty in the US
(Source: CUPA HR – College and University Professional Association for Human Resources)

Put the median age of the tenure-track faculty into Figure 1, and you will get the approximate response of university campuses to the Israel-Hamas war. The inescapable questions are: Why does everybody care so much? and why is there such an extreme polarization between responses of the younger and older populations? In other words, I am looking for explanations for Figure 1. I am familiar with the history and hiring systems of higher education that account for the data in Figure 2; I am completely ignorant about how to account for Figure 1. Again, my main curiosity has to do with the more basic question – why do they all care?!

One possible explanation is the natural tendency for the young to support the underdog. My cousin, who lives in France, and whose father survived the Holocaust in a similar setting to me and my mother, is now retired and spending significant time helping Palestinians in France. She cited this underdog sympathy as her reason and stated that her Jewish identity and her status as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor give her a special responsibility to help the underdogs in this conflict with the relatively powerful Jewish state.

Since the massacre on October 7th started this conflict, and the leadership of Hamas was well aware of the balance of power and the nature of the response that would follow, it doesn’t help me understand the polarization between the young and the old shown in Figure 1.

Let me try to be a bit more specific and list some of the chanting that one can hear in pro-Palestinian demonstrations (with my background, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find that I am strongly biased on this issue). I will cite here the article published by the Anti-Defamation League (a Jewish organization):

1. If you hear people chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free…” here’s what it means:
This is a cry for Israel to not exist. It is calling for a Palestinian state that extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea – effectively erasing and destroying the entire Jewish state.
2. If you hear people calling for “resistance by any means necessary,” here’s what is being said:
This is support for terrorism. Saying “by any means necessary,” especially after October 7, indicates support, justification, and championing of violence and murder of civilians as a form of so-called resistance. Hamas’ “means” have included brutal torture and kidnapping of innocents, including babies and the elderly.
3. If you see a flyer related to Hamas’ war on Israel that features an image of a paraglider, here’s what that represents:
It’s glorifying the terrorists who used paragliders to infiltrate Israel on October 7, 2023 to massacre, kidnap, mutilate and brutalize thousands of people. There is no other meaning of these images.
4. If you hear people chanting “Globalize the intifada!” here’s what it means:
The chant is a reference to violent Palestinian uprisings against Israel, specifically acts of terrorism and indiscriminate violence against civilians by terrorist groups, including suicide bombings in buses and restaurants. This slogan has been chanted at anti-Israel rallies for years. Jews and Israelis hear this slogan as a call for indiscriminate violence against Israel, and potentially against Jews and Jewish institutions worldwide.

The “here’s what it means” sections are obviously also biased. If you were to ask a pro-Palestinian demonstrator to explain the same phrases, you would get very different answers.
Some of the demonstrations went well beyond these chants. One news story gave the numbers of those who supported various responses to the conflict and the future of the Israelis and Palestinians:
Following a pattern throughout the questions on Hamas and the Middle East, respondents 25-34 were the only ones close to Gen Z, with 31 percent favoring the end of Israel, 49 percent a two-state solution and 20 percent having Arab nations deal with the issue.
When respondents over 65 gave their answers, only 4 percent would abolish Israel, 71 percent support two states and 25 percent supported letting Arab states house the Palestinians. Overall, only 19 percent of those responding favored an end to Israel, 60 percent called for two states, and 21 percent felt Arab states should take in the Palestinians.

What hit a bit closer to home for me was the attention that university campuses got with the testimony by the presidents of three elite universities in front of the US Congress, based on accusations that they did not take steps to prevent antisemitic escalations on their campuses.

Below is an excerpt from the NYT about it:

The tentative, lawyerly answers given last week by three university presidents at a House committee hearing investigating the state of antisemitism on America’s college campuses have generated widespread revulsion across the partisan divide. When none of the presidents — representing Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania — could muster a straightforward reply to the question from Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, about whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” amounted to “bullying or harassment,” many prominent Democrats joined Republicans in denouncing the testimony.

The genocide accusation against Israel went beyond the questioning of representative Stefanik and the conditional responses by the three university presidents:

A week into Israel’s war on Gaza, 800 eminent scholars and practitioners of law sounded the alarm about an imminent genocide in the territory. What made this warning both powerful and chilling was that so many legal experts came to this sombre conclusion together. It is not a claim that can be made easily.

Since that letter was released, the situation in Gaza has only gotten worse. The death toll has passed 11,000, while some 2,650 individuals, including approximately 1,400 children, are reported missing, potentially trapped or deceased beneath the rubble. Tens of thousands of wounded are overwhelming struggling medical facilities. The humanitarian situation has reached horrific levels, compounded by the lack of food, water, fuel and electricity.

In a blog seven years ago (December 27, 2016), I described the original coining of the term “genocide.” I will cite here the full relevant paragraph, emphasizing the definition of the term:

Richard’s request forced me to take another look at my claim that by the end of this century the impact of climate change would amount to “self-inflicted genocide.” I decided to see whether such an association didn’t need some narrowing. Reading Philippe Sands’ new book, East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity helped me with this reassessment. The word “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin and used in the 3rd indictment of the Nuremberg Trials. The definition used in the trial was: “Extermination of racial and religious groups, against the civilian populations of certain occupied territories in order to destroy particular races and classes of people and national, racial, or religious groups, particular Jews, Poles, Gypsies and others.” From Sands’ book I also learned that Lemkin’s best friend in Poland was my great uncle. I suddenly started to feel even more personal pressure to specify my use of the term in a context that I am almost sure Lemkin would not have agreed with.

Part of the sentence in the definition fits the Israel-Hamas situation with one word changing (extermination to killing). The driving force (“in order to destroy particular races and classes of people and national, racial, or religious groups, particular Jews, Poles, Gypsies and others.”), however, is completely off-base. How many people believe that Generation Z is familiar with this history?

I hope you have a happy New Year!

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COP28 Conclusions

(Source: Travis Leery on Unsplash via The Bulletin: Historic’ or ‘weak’? Parsing the climate agreement from COP28)

COP28 is over (officially December 12th, in practice, December 13th). Most modes of communication are focused on one sentence in the concluding document that will be discussed shortly. A celebratory summary of the unanimous concluding document can be found in the proud speech by the meeting’s president, Dr. Sultan Al Jaber:

Over the last two weeks, we have worked very hard to secure a better future for our people and our planet. We should be proud of our historic achievement. And the United Arab Emirates…my country… is rightly proud of its role in helping you to move this forward.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world needed to find a new way. By following our North Star, we have found that path. We have delivered a comprehensive response to the Global
Stocktake and all the other mandates. Together, we have confronted realities and we have set the world in the right direction. We have given it a robust action plan to keep 1.5
within reach. It is a plan that is led by the science. It is a balanced plan, that tackles emissions, bridges the gap on adaptation, reimagines global finance, and delivers on loss
and damage. It is built on common ground. It is strengthened by inclusivity. And it is reinforced by collaboration.

It is an enhanced, balanced, but… make no mistake… historic package to accelerate climate action. It is…the UAE Consensus Many said this could not be done. But when I spoke to you at the very start of COP, I promised a different sort of COP. A COP that brought everyone together, private and public sectors, civil society and faith leaders, youth and indigenous peoples. Everyone came together from day one. Everyone united, acted and delivered. We operationalized loss and damage… and started to fill the fund. We mobilized more than 85-billion-dollars in new financial commitments. We launched ALTÉRRA, the world’s largest catalytic private investor that is 100 percent focused on solutions to climate change. And we delivered world first after world first.

A global goal to triple renewables and double energy efficiency. Declarations on agriculture, food and health. Many more oil and gas companies stepping up for the first time on methane and emissions. And… we have language on fossil fuels in our final agreement. All of these are world firsts. And all of these are crucial actions that will help shape a better, cleaner world with greater, more equitable prosperity. And then we became the first COP to host a change-makers Majlis.

And I felt that that was the turning point in our negotiations. You reconnected with your spirit of collaboration, you got out of your comfort zones and started speaking to each other from the heart. That… made the difference.

The focus of most of the media was on the last two paragraphs, which emphasize the inclusion of language that many interpret as the “start of the end” of reliance on fossil fuels. This is especially notable because it was expressed at a global conference in a petrostate, presided over by the head of its national oil company (see last week’s blog). The occasion probably reminded many of the Nixon administration opening the door to China and Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, opening the door (with President Anwar El-Sadat of Egypt) for a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Below are a few examples of some of the press responses:

Bloomberg: COP28 Nations Reach First-Ever Deal to Move Away From Fossil Fuels

NYT: In a First, Nations at Climate Summit Agree to Move Away From Fossil Fuels

Washington Post: The world just made it clear the fossil fuel era is ending — with some wiggle room

MSN: COP28: World Agrees to Historic Climate Deal

Not everyone was happy:

MSN: COP28 climate deal ‘stab in the back’, activist Greta Thunberg says

It’s time to have a look at the agreement.

I am starting to work on this blog on Thursday (December 14th). As I write this, the agreement posted on the COP28 site is still marked as “draft” and fills 21 PDF pages. There has not yet been unanimous agreement on every word in the 21-page document; people are still working on some of the wording. However, if the president of the meeting can regard this draft as a final document, so can we.

The general structure of the agreement is summarized with the following section heads:

  • Outcome of the first global stocktake
  • Context and cross-cutting considerations
  • Collective progress towards achieving the purpose and longterm goals of the Paris Agreement, including under Article 2, paragraph 1(a–c), in the light of equity and the best available science, and informing Parties in updating and enhancing, in a nationally determined manner, action and support
    • Mitigation
    • Adaptation
  • Means of implementation and support
    • Finance
    • Technology development and transfer
    • Capacity-building
  • Loss and damage
  • Response measures
  • International cooperation
  • Guidance and way forward

The keywords, shown in italics, describe actionable verbs or nouns, including the following: recalling; Underlining; Acknowledging; Recognizing; Noting; Welcomes; Underlines; Reaffirms; Underscores; Emphasizes; Notes with alarm and serious concern; Notes with concern; Express appreciation; Commends; Further recognizes; Also recognizes; Calls on; Requests; Urges; Highlights; Decides.

Below, I am quoting in full the lines and short paragraphs that are preceded by the keyword “decides”:     

92. Decides to continue and strengthen the Sharm el-Sheikh dialogue between Parties, relevant organizations and stakeholders to exchange views on and enhance understanding of the scope of Article 2, paragraph 1(c), of the Paris Agreement and its complementarity with Article 9 of the Paris Agreement referred to in decision 1/CMA.4 until 2025 and takes note of decision -/CMA.5

97. Decides to establish the xx dialogue on implementing the global stocktake outcomes;

98. Also decides that the dialogue referred to in paragraph 97 above will be operationalized starting from the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement and conclude at its tenth session (2028) and requests the Subsidiary Body for Implementation to develop the modalities for the work programme at its sixtieth session (June 2024) for consideration by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement at its sixth session;

99. Decides to convene a xx high-level ministerial dialogue at its sixth session on the urgent need to scale up adaptation finance, taking into account the adaptation-related outcomes of the global stocktake, and to ensure the mobilization by developed country Parties of the adaptation support pledged;

110. Decides to establish a technology implementation programme, supported by, inter alia, the operating entities of the Financial Mechanism, to strengthen support for the implementation of technology priorities identified by developing countries, and to address the challenges identified in the first periodic assessment of the Technology Mechanism, 22 and invites the Subsidiary Body for Implementation at its sixty-first session (November 2024) to take into account the technology implementation programme in its consideration of the Poznan strategic programme on technology transfer, with a view to recommending a draft decision on the matter for consideration and adoption by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement at its sixth session;

194. Decides pursuant to paragraph 8 of decision 19/CMA.1 that the information collection and preparation component of the second global stocktake shall start at the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (November 2026) and its consideration of outputs component will conclude at the tenth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement

The only sentence in the 21-page document that includes “fossil fuels” shows up in the part about Mitigation and is quoted below:

(d) Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science

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