Election and Urbanization

Last month (November 22), I promised I would focus on some of the non-racial factors that significantly impacted the presidential elections. Last week’s blog explored educational aspects and today’s post will look at the urban/rural divide. The four figures below summarize the data.

The first figure, taken from the Economist (the original sources were not specifically accredited within the article), provides the most complete description because it presents voting preferences as a function of a proper, measurable, non-confrontational variable: voter density (the reciprocal is square mile per voter). The scale is logarithmic (August 6, 2012 blog) to represent the extreme differences between high density urban populations and low density rural populations.

It is unfortunate that the data in the figure focus on density of voter population rather than that of the general population but in this case it is safe to assume that both are highly correlated.

population-density-and-vote-share-by-county-2016Figure 1

Is this sharp divide a Trump effect? Figure 2, which provides similar data from the 2012 elections clearly shows via total population density that this is not the case. The scale that they chose to use for Figure 2 is especially interesting (and somewhat suspicious) once you look closer. The horizontal scale is linear (a constant of 20 people per square mile) almost until the red and blue lines intersect, at which time it converts sharply into a non-linear logarithmic scale. Even after employing this kind of ruse, Figure 1 shows data for 6 orders of magnitude change in population density while Figure 2 shows data for variations that span less than 5 orders of magnitude. Proper scaling would require a repeat of the logarithmic scaling shown in Figure 1, which would (more accurately) show a much smoother transition between rural and urban voters.

population-density-vs-2012-election-resultsFigure 2

Meanwhile, the definitions of what constitute urban or rural areas can be controversial and somewhat arbitrary. Urban areas are usually associated with city populations, however, city boundaries often originate from political decisions. I ran across this difficulty when my students tried to calculate contributing factors to climate change through the IPAT identity (November 26, 2012) [Yevgeniy Ostrovskiy and Michael Cheng and Micha Tomkiewicz; “Intensive and Extensive Parametrization of Energy Use and Income in US States and in Global Urban Environments,” The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.95-107.(2013)]. In that instance, we couldn’t find data that listed the indicators in a continuous way throughout density variations. We will try to revisit this project with different students to see if we can find more conclusive information.

Here is how the Census Bureau defines rural and urban:

Source: US Census Bureau

Released: Oct. 1995


The Census Bureau defines “urban” for the 1990 census as comprising all territory, population, and housing units in urbanized areas and in places of 2,500 or more persons outside urbanized areas.  More specifically, “urban” consists of territory, persons, and housing units in:

  1. Places of 2,500 or more persons incorporated as cities, villages, boroughs (except in Alaska and New York), and towns (except in the six New England States, New York, and Wisconsin), but excluding the rural portions of “extended cities.”
  1. Census designated places of 2,500 or more persons.
  1. Other territory, incorporated or unincorporated, included in urbanized areas.

Territory, population, and housing units not classified as urban constitute “rural.”  In the 100-percent data products, “rural” is divided into “places of less than 2,500” and “not in

places.”  The “not in places” category comprises “rural” outside incorporated and census designated places and the rural portions of extended cities.  In many data products, the term “other rural” is used; “other rural” is a residual category specific to the  classification of the rural in each data product.

In the sample data products, rural population and housing units are subdivided into “rural farm” and “rural nonfarm.”  “Rural farm” comprises all rural households and housing units on farms (places from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were sold in 1989); “rural nonfarm” comprises the remaining rural.

The urban and rural classification cuts across the other hierarchies; for example, there is generally both urban and rural territory within both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas.

Based on these definitions, the rural/urban 2016 election divide can be simplified to resemble Figure 3 (http://www.npr.org/2016/08/18/490240652/is-rural-resentment-driving-voters-to-donald-trump):

rural-suburban-urban-votes-2016-presidential-electionFigure 3Blue: Clinton; Red: Trump; Yellow: Johnson; Green: Stein

In the election results shown in Figures 1 and 2, the rural/urban patterns look similar. In both elections, the Democrats won a small majority of the popular vote but – as we’ve discussed (November 1, 2016), the electoral vote is the deciding factor. Donald Trump clearly won that race this year as Barack Obama did in 2012.

One of the most pressing issues is the reason for the persistently sharp rural/urban split. This became a key talking point for an increasing number of commentators, but I have to admit that I still don’t have a satisfying answer that can account for it.

Nor is this specific to the United States. One of the most striking impacts of the Anthropocene period is rapid global urbanization, which I will discuss next week. Figure 4 shows some historic data about this trend in the US:

US Rural and Urban Population Growth Chart Figure 4 US Rural and Urban Population Chart from Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change , published in 2001

The numbers clearly show that, as in the rest of the world, people are flocking to cities, which now comprise an overwhelming majority of the country’s population. Yet the rural populations in a few states can still shift presidential elections. This has caused many (on the losing side) to start grumbling about dissolving the Electoral College – something that I have argued against (November 1). Here is what the NYT’s Emily Badger recently wrote about it:

The Democratic candidate for president has now won the popular vote in six of the last seven elections. But in part because the system empowers rural states, for the second time in that span, the candidate who garnered the most votes will not be president.

Rural America, even as it laments its economic weakness, retains vastly disproportionate electoral strength. Rural voters were able to nudge Donald J. Trump to power despite Hillary Clinton’s large margins in cities like New York. In a House of Representatives that structurally disadvantages Democrats because of their tight urban clustering, rural voters helped Republicans hold their cushion. In the Senate, the least populous states are now more overrepresented than ever before. And the growing unity of rural Americans as a voting bloc has converted the rural bias in national politics into a potent Republican advantage.

“If you’re talking about a political system that skews rural, that’s not as important if there isn’t a major cleavage between rural and urban voting behavior,” said Frances Lee, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. “But urban and rural voting behavior is so starkly different now so that this has major political consequences for who has power.

As Figure 4 demonstrates, the urban population is rapidly increasing, largely by means of migration. These newer urban dwellers are often exposed to minorities and immigrants more than their rural counterparts, as well as being forced to adapt faster to change. These interactions have become major markers in recent elections.

Significant fragments of the decreasing rural populations love their settings and have no desire to mingle with the city crowds. They cling to the past, wanting to recreate bygone conditions that would enable them to have what they believe (or were told by their parents) to be good life. This subset doesn’t like the changes taking place that apparently benefit the cities. Therefore, since the migration from rural to urban areas does take place, an important question is the nature of the clustering; i.e. who is moving. When I examined this, I noticed that these migrating constituencies include especially high percentages of (college educated) professionals and young people.

As we’ll see next week, on a global scale this urbanization process is not necessarily restricted to clustering at the top; rather, the main transplants are simply those looking for better jobs. Some of these newcomers are international immigrants who settle in poorer neighborhoods in search of better economic opportunities for themselves and their families. While sovereign countries can block some such immigration, in-country migration is subject to fewer restrictions. This means that the people who stay behind in the countryside include increasing numbers of older people who for various reasons did not attend college. In essence, this creates two new countries: one looking to the future and the other which strongly dislikes that future and has the power to slow down progress. Our Founding Fathers constructed the electoral system the way that they did specifically to force the government to pay attention to the rural population.

This analysis is far from complete; almost half of the electorate – about 100 million eligible voters – didn’t bother to vote, so they are not included in these data. In fact, at the moment I know more about rural/urban voter participation in India than I know about the distribution of these voters in the US. I will endeavor to fix that gap in my knowledge.

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Last week I posted a figure from the Economist that summarizes how various constituencies voted in the American presidential elections. I promised I’d focus on some of the non-racial factors that made a significant impact on the results. Let’s look at the aspect of college education.


Figure 1 (see original credits in last week’s blog)

Disregarding gender here, the message from these data is obvious: college education of white voters was a clear and decisive contributor to the outcome. Since I am a professor at the City University of New York, I feel a personal responsibility for this indicator. Rather than color code the country into blue or red sections, I’d prefer to work on filling some of the educational gaps we have when it comes to democratic prerequisites – including how to elect governments that will focus on a better future for our children and grandchildren in an ever more complicated world.

In academia, we require students to complete certain prerequisite courses before they are allowed to register for more advanced studies. This is meant to ensure that the students have acquired necessary skills, without which they would not be able to follow the course material. For instance, if you want to take an introductory course in physics you must first prove that you have the math skills that will enable you to actually work with the material covered in the class. When we vote for President of the United States or for any other office, the only prerequisite is that you be eligible to vote. This is determined by your citizenship and your age, provided that you are not a convicted felon. Education of any sort is not a requirement. I am not here to advocate that such restrictions should be put into place: this was tried before with disastrous consequences. However, technology is now opening doors to better inform the general public about issues that they are being asked to vote on.

I have been writing this blog for more than four years, with the express purpose of contributing to this effort: I reach more people through this blog than I do when you simply count my students at my paying job. Recently, I wrote a series of blogs (May 24 – June 14) dedicated to efforts to prepare the voting public for the governance issues that are specific to the new era in which humanity dominates the physical environment: the Anthropocene. The existence of the Anthropocene itself was not on the ballots so people could not vote against it. Instead, they elected people who essentially tried to convince them that its contributors – globalization, automation, and immigration that directly requires economic dislocation – are largely conspiracies that can be ignored. That attitude, combined with global changes in communication gave rise to an epidemic of false news. In many cases people didn’t have the criteria or resources to differentiate fact from fiction.

David Leonhardt, in his recent New York Times Op-Ed, describes education’s role in our ability to respond to economic changes. He also mentions one state governor that is trying to do something about it:

It’s the sort of devastation that now has the country’s attention. Donald Trump won the presidency with huge margins in places left behind. He lost the popular vote, but won 26 of the 30 lowest-income states, including the old powerhouses of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

These places are stuck in what I call the Great American Stagnation. Tens of millions of people have experienced scant progress for decades. Median net worth is lower than in the 1980s, and middle-aged whites, shockingly, aren’t living as long as they used to. Ending this stagnation is the central political problem of our age: It fuels Trumpian anger and makes every other societal problem harder to solve.

In the wake of the financial crisis, Delaware’s new governor, Jack Markell, and other officials did obvious things, like using stimulus money to stem the damage and even managing to reopen the refinery. But Markell, who’d run as an insurgent Democrat, understood that nostalgia alone wouldn’t help families pay their bills. So he began looking for ways both to save old jobs and to create new ones. His answer wasn’t original — but that’s O.K., because it was right.

In his almost eight years in office, he has made his No. 1 priority lifting the skills of Delaware’s citizens. He worked on traditional education, expanding high-quality pre-K and helping low-income teenagers go to college. And he worked on what academic researchers like Robert Schwartz call “the forgotten half”: the many students who won’t graduate from college but who also need strong skills to find decent jobs. Their struggles are a major reason that America’s work force is no longer considered the world’s most highly skilled.

The tens of millions that Leonhardt is refering to fit within Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” label – many through no fault of their own. They didn’t take that well and went to the polls to express their displeasure – even though in many cases that seemed to mean voting against their own interests.

A map of college education in the United States is shown in Figure 2.

Ali Zifan - Own work; Map is based on https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blank_US_Map_(states_only).svg.

Ali Zifan – Own work; Map is based on https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blank_US_Map_(states_only).svg.

Figure 2 – A map of educational attainments in the US.

The states range between less than 20% tertiary education attainment (college graduation) and more than 35%. Here’s a more in-depth breakdown.

The next question to ask is how we are doing compared to other countries. Table 1 shows data selected from several large countries – both developed and less developed ones.

Table 1 – List of countries by tertiary education attainment

Country Age 25 – 64 (%)
United States 42
France 32
Germany 27
Italy 17
Japan 48
Russia 54
South Korea 45
Spain 35
United Kingdom 42
Brazil 14
China 10
Indonesia 8
Mexico 19
Turkey 17

We can see that the United States’ level of tertiary education is one of the highest among rich countries. This is also true if one delves more into details such as the variation between different age groups. Those levels are much lower in developing countries. Like most other socio-economic indicators, we have long way to go in accomplishing educational prerequisites globally.

The remedy – at least in terms of top priorities – is probably not to significantly enlarge college education levels. But it is urgent that we extend other educational opportunities to the more than half of the voting population not served by the college system structure.

The City University of New York, where I work, was originally set to address these issues:

The City University of New York (CUNY; pron.: /ˈkjuːni/) is the public university system of New York City, and the largest urban university in the United States. CUNY and the State University of New York (SUNY) are separate and independent university systems, although both are public institutions that receive funding from New York State. CUNY, however, is additionally funded by the City of New York. The university has one of the most diverse student bodies in the United States, with students hailing from 208 countries. The black, white and Hispanic undergraduate populations each comprise more than a quarter of the student body, and Asian undergraduates make up 18 percent. Fifty-eight percent are female, and 28 percent are 25 or older.[5]

CUNY has served a diverse student body, especially those excluded from or unable to afford private universities. Its four-year colleges offered a high quality, tuition-free education to the poor, the working class and the immigrants of New York City who met the grade requirements for matriculated status. During the post-World War I era, when some Ivy League universities, such as Yale University, discriminated against Jews, many Jewish academics and intellectuals studied and taught at CUNY.[7] The City College of New York developed a reputation of being “the Harvard of the proletariat.”[8]

The problem is that with time, the focus has shifted more toward the “Harvard” part of that title, while neglecting the “proletariat.” For the crucial sake of good governance we – and countless other institutions across the country have to find a way to make a U-turn back in the direction of the general public.

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The Dangers of Apathy

Image from "Hitler's War Against the Jews" (1975) by Lucy Dawidowicz, p. 61.

Image from “Hitler’s War Against the Jews” (1975) by Lucy Dawidowicz, p. 61.

1938 Interior of Berlin synagogue after Kristallnacht

I am starting to write this blog on Thursday, November 10th. Today is a commemoration of Kristallnacht (November 9 – 10, 1938), the infamous night of violence that preceded the Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust.

I am also going today to the funeral of an old and dear family member who passed away a few days ago. He will be buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, NY, a place that also holds the grave of Raphael Lemkin: the man credited with coining the term genocide.

Here is how I started my very first post, four and a half years ago:

The Webster Dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of racial, political or cultural groups.” There is no question that the Holocaust was a genocide. Genocides do not repeat themselves exactly. They come in different guises. Despite the deniers, it is straightforward to teach students to condemn the Holocaust, but it is more difficult to teach them how to prevent future genocides. One of the most difficult parts is to see them coming. Despite the fact that Hitler published the first volume of his manifesto, Mein Kampf, in 1925, where he laid out his philosophy, he was, nevertheless, democratically elected as German Chancellor in 1933. Few people believed in 1933 that he would seriously try to accomplish what he preached or anticipated the consequences that resulted from his actions.

Predictions by the Intergovernmental Plan on Climate Change (IPCC) and most scientists, strongly suggest that we may be creating our next genocide ourselves; a “business as usual” scenario over the next 70 years (the expected lifespan of my grandchildren – my definition of “Now” in my book) will result in doubling of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions at these levels would result in major extinctions around the globe, with more than 40% of ecosystems destroyed. The belief that we are not part of the ecosystems is a dangerous hubris. We have just passed the 7 billion population mark and even if we take the 40% prediction with a large grain of salt, we are talking about the potential genocide of billions of people.

Arnold Toynbee wrote that civilizations die from suicides, not murder. Even if the predicted consequences of “business and usual” environmental scenarios over the next 70 years turn out to be wrong in some details and even slightly wrong in timing, it’s clear that once we pass a critical point in the ability of the planet to adapt to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere, the consequences amount to global suicide – a self-inflicted genocide. We know what we must do to mitigate this possible future genocide, but we need our collective will to do so. We can’t allow the deniers to win again.

As it stands now, climate change is not a genocide; nor is it a crime against humanity, much less inherently evil – but it has the prospect to be all three. That said, as decided at the Nuremburg trials, you don’t punish a possibility, no matter how dire. You try to change the outcome via education and other resources (Holocaust Remembrance Day). I am certainly not trying to compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler or to argue that a repeat of a short-term genocide of any sort is coming. As I’ve said repeatedly, though, in the lHowever, in my opinion, Trump’s election – along with the resurgence of nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-globalization, anti-immigrant, anti-trade movements in many parts of the world is an early sign of the Anthropocene (June 14, 2016).

I posted the ruined Berlin synagogue above because I fear that violence will start to raise its ugly head once it becomes obvious that the actual implementations of Trump’s promised changes to “Make America Great Again” are not necessarily welcome.

There are still absentee votes being tallied but as it stands, Hillary gathered 61.04 million individual votes and 228 electoral votes, while Trump won 60.37 million individual votes and 290 electoral votes. Hillary’s win of the popular vote amounted to a margin of more than ½ million votes – a margin that seems to be drifting ever-wider. Interestingly, while Hillary’s plurality was larger than that of Al Gore in 2000, Richard Nixon in 1968, and John F. Kennedy in 1960, she and Al Gore lost the presidency but both Nixon and Kennedy won their respective elections. According to the US Elections Project, only 133 million of the close to 232 million eligible voters actually voted. This amounts to 57.6% participation. That’s about 3% higher than the 2012 election (see my post on March 29, 2016) but it still means that almost 100 million eligible voters that didn’t give enough of a damn to exercise that right. The turnout in Pennsylvania was 61.1% (6 of the 9.7 million) and in Florida it was 65.1% (9.5 out of 14.6 million). Trump won Pennsylvania by 68,000 votes and Florida by 119,770 votes – numbers that would essentially equate to a tie within a margin of error.

Based on these numbers, my take on the voting pattern in the November election was that three major groups were in competition: the Republicans with Donald Trump as their candidate, the Democrats with Hillary Clinton as their candidate and the “don’t-give-a-damn” (DGAD) group: sort of a resurrection of the “Know-Nothing” party from the mid-19th century, with some obvious differences. The DGAD group clearly won a convincing plurality by doing nothing but by refusing to actively shape the government, they shifted that honor to the two other parties. Given that the Democrats and Republicans were basically tied, this meant electing a president, Congress and indirectly the Supreme Court by tossing a coin following constitutional rules. The Republicans won.

I am an old guy but I’m far from the only one to believe that these elections were probably the most consequential within my lifetime. As I have discussed repeatedly, we are in a global transition into a new era dominated by humans. Climate change is an early sign of this shift. Such a transition implies a conflict between the collective and the individual. We are electing governments that must take cooperative actions. In democratic societies, voters have an active say in this representation. People all over the word are trying to balance their own perceived needs with the collective actions necessary for human survival as a whole.

I wrote before that teaching for the Anthropocene (June 7, 2016) presents major challenges. What these elections, and the large “participation” of the DGAD group tell us is that we must change the emphasis from teaching to learning. Michelle Obama’s often quoted dictum of, “When they go low, we go high,” doesn’t work very well. Most people are not equipped to take the higher ground. They can connect much more easily with the lower rhetoric and tactics. Election campaigns like that we just witnessed provide teaching opportunities, while the election results act as tests of whether the electorate has learned those lessons. Well, we flunked! We will have to try harder next time.

Across the ocean, on a different continent, an Israeli journalist, Aluf Ben (editor in chief of the liberal Israeli national daily paper Haaretz) gave his “advice” to the Israeli politicians looking to be elected after Benjamin Netanyahu leaves office:

Donald Trump’s Lesson for Netanyahu: Make It Personal and Exaggerate:

Politics is first and foremost the art of story-telling and image, and those who would replace Netanyahu need to be more radical and more thuggish than Netanyahu himself.

Given the current political climate worldwide, his “advice” seems to apply to politicians across the globe, regardless of their political leanings. It is this so-called lesson that we must learn to fight against.

In the meantime we will live with what we got.

In their speeches immediately after the election, President Obama and Hillary Clinton advocated a peaceful transition of power; that is a message I hope we can take to heart. Mr. McConnell, meanwhile, led with a call to immediately dismantle any and all vestiges of the Obama presidency:

McConnell: Trump Can Unravel Nearly Everything Obama Did

The Senate majority leader wants the president-elect to start undoing President Barack Obama’s actions on health, safety and climate on “day one.”

My own advice to the Republicans: First, do no harm! Now that you are (or will soon be) in charge of all three branches of government, tread carefully. Don’t destroy something before you learn why it was constructed in the first place and have a well-researched alternative ready as a replacement.

Trump made some big promises:

  • Economic growth of 4% or more
  • Return industrial jobs that were lost through globalization (to be regained by reneging on trade agreements)
  • Provide better, more affordable, health care to all by destroying Obamacare,
  • Build a higher wall on the US-Mexico border (to be paid by Mexico)
  • Ban Muslims from entering into the country

I just fear that many of the above commitments cannot and will not be delivered upon and may result in major disappointment for the people who voted for him in the name of change. Disappointment easily descends into violence, which is usually directed at some of the most vulnerable segments of the population. As we have seen from historical precedence, the violence can be directed internally and externally. In both cases the results can be catastrophic to everybody. Please tread carefully!

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The Sun as an Example of Stability Through Balance of Forces

I am posting this on Election Day; I have no idea as to how the vote will pan out but I think all of us can agree that the results will be highly consequential. With this much at stake, any decision not to vote or vote for minority candidates might have disastrous effects. The only relevant thing left for me to do is to encourage everyone to vote.

Since I don’t want to take a “vacation” from posting on Election Day I will instead retreat to safer (less-political) ground: looking at our sun, an important natural system that works on the principle of dynamic equilibrium of two forces.

Our sun was formed about 4.6 billion years ago via a process illustrated in Figure 1.

It exists under what we call a hydrostatic equilibrium where at each point the outward push of pressure is balanced by the inward pull of gravity.

Solar system formation cloud gravity orbit

Figure 1

Our solar system, like billions of other star systems, formed out of stellar material that was subjected to three basic forces: gravity, pressure, and conservation of angular momentum. The only one of these scientific terms that is uncommon in everyday use is angular momentum. In physics, angular momentum is the combined product of linear momentum (mass and velocity) and the radius of the rotational motion. In the universe, almost everything rotates around something. Figure 1 shows that the process starts within a large cloud made up of the remnants of dead stars and primordial material left over from the original formation of the universe in the big bang, which happened roughly 13.8 billion years ago. The chemical composition of such a cloud is mostly hydrogen and helium, with very small quantities of heavier elements: residue from previous stars. The death process of every star starts with the exhaustion of hydrogen fuel from its core.

Gravity is an attractive force that becomes stronger as the objects approach each other. Within the denser parts of the cloud, therefore, as the dispersed masses compress, the power of gravity increases. As a result of this self-reinforcing process, most of this material condenses into a dense center called a protostar, as shown in part B.

At the same time that gravity works its wonders, the cloud spins and angular momentum exerts its own influences. The conservation of angular momentum requires that as the radius of the rotation decreases due to the gravitational attraction, the velocity of the rotation increases. In other words, the closer something is to the center, the faster it spins. As a result, the contraction of the cloud will be much greater perpendicular to the axis of rotation than parallel to it. A layout similar to that shown in Figure 1C emerges as the solar system takes the shape of a narrow disk.

The satellites that we see in Figure 1C represent the relatively small percentage of material that failed to fully consolidate within the protostar. Eventually these satellites coalesce to form the planetary system.

As the protostar compresses, its temperature rises; when the core contracts to its highest density, the temperature rises to around 10 million degrees Celsius (or 18 million Fahrenheit). The immensely high temperature and high density of the core are sufficient to ignite the powerful nuclear fusion of hydrogen to helium, generating a sizable amount of energy (a nuclear process similar to that of hydrogen bombs, developed after WWII). This fusion made our sun into a functioning star.

Sun structure layers

Figure 2 – Structure of the sun

The energy radiated from the surface of the sun balances that produced by its core. In about 5 billion years the sun is expected exhaust its supply of hydrogen and begin the red giant stage of its decay: the core will eventually separate from its shell. It will be converted into a white dwarf as its shell disperses into one of many clouds that will later form new stars.

As shown in part D of Figure 1, the planets were formed out of the leftover dreck from the sun’s conception. In a similar manner to the birth of the star, dust particles began to cluster, then gathered larger and larger fragments as the gravity of the combined mass gained strength.

Here is what would happen if one of the two opposing forces that maintain the sun’s equilibrium suddenly ceased to exist: first, ending the core’s hydrogen fusion, stops the outward pressure. In fact, this is a naturally occurring phenomenon that comes about when the hydrogen in the core of any star starts to run out. This marks the beginning of the star’s death. Lacking an opposing force, the core will continue to contract until a new stabilizing force emerges. In the case of the sun and similar stars, this takes the shape of electrons crammed so densely together from the core’s collapse that they convert into high density carbon. The resulting object, called a white dwarf, is very stable. For heavier stars, this countering force is not enough and the core will be converted either to a neutron star – which has a density of more than a billion times that of a white dwarf, or – in the case of even heavier stars – a black hole, which sucks in everything, including light. The shells of these heavier stars will not separate “smoothly” like the sun but with a violent and spectacular supernova.

If, on the other hand, outward pressure continued and somehow gravity ceased to exist (a hypothetical impossible in real life), the sun would disperse until the temperature of its components cooled to that of the surrounding space. In effect, the entire mass would have a similar fate to the sun’s shell, serving when conditions are right, as fodder for the birth of new stars.

In both cases, the disappearance of one of the opposing forces that keeps the sun together would result in the sun’s destruction.

As with the sun, the opposing forces and checks and balances within the branches of the government are key to the stability of state governance.

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Election: Clustering

By the time this blog goes up, we will be exactly one week from the election. Most of us will be greatly relieved (almost independent of the results) when this presidential campaign is over. This was probably the most disturbing campaign that the majority of us have lived through – especially with regards to Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican Party candidate and Russia’s active participation via hacking and WikiLeaks – mostly to Trump’s benefit. The selective hacking activities have made private communication public, considerably raising the temperature of the discourse.

Many have attempted to rationalize the high support that Donald Trump has enjoyed throughout this campaign. Significant segments of the population polled reported their strong support for the candidate. These segments include white males with no college education, and white citizens older than 50 (those within the Baby boomer generation). As I detailed last week, gender is also a significant factor.

A few days ago, the NYT printed Alec MacGillis’ Op-Ed, “Go Midwest, Young Hipster: If you really want Democrats to win in Iowa, move there.” MacGillis raised a central issue of the American governance system that acted as a “teaching opportunity” to me and invited a closer look. The issue can be summed up with the word “clustering.”

Liberals have a simple explanation for this state of affairs: Republican-led gerrymandering, which has put Democrats at a disadvantage in the House and in many state legislatures. But this overlooks an even bigger problem for their party. Democrats today are sorting themselves into geographic clusters where many of their votes have been rendered all but superfluous, especially in elections for the Senate, House and state government.

Americans’ tendency toward political self-segregation has been underway for a while now — it’s been eight years since Bill Bishop identified the dynamic in “The Big Sort.” This helps explain why red-blue maps of so many states consist of dark-blue islands in the cities surrounded by red exurbs and rural areas, a distribution that is also driven by urban concentrations of racial minorities and by the decades-long shift in allegiance from Democratic to Republican among working-class white voters.

The title of the article suggests a remedy. Definitions of the term hipster vary widely but one of the more basic entries explains the phrase as “a person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream.” I am certainly not young; nor am I a hipster. However, I am white with the highest educational degree available. Additionally, I am a liberal living in New York City. New York is a state with an overwhelming majority of Democrats. In the 2012 elections, New Yorkers gave President Obama 63% of their vote while Mitt Romney only received 35%. In the same election, Obama got 52% of the vote in Iowa and a mere 50% in Florida, meaning that he barely carried the state. Clearly, my vote for a Democratic candidate carried considerably lower weight in New York than it would have in Iowa or Florida.

I mentioned MacGillis’ suggestion to my wife and posited that we might follow it in spite of not being young or hipsters. She gave me a funny look.

I decided to dig a bit deeper.

If the only clustering that takes place involves young hipsters or guys like me moving to hubs like New York, Massachussetts or California where Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans, the populations of these places should show growth while those of Iowa and other midwestern states should decrease, thus expanding the voting power of local Republicans.

By Ali Zifan - Own work; Map is based on data from United States Census Bureau.

By Ali Zifan – Own work; Map is based on data from United States Census Bureau.

Figure 1 State populations by recent growth rates

 Figure 1 shows the state population growth between the two recent census periods. New York is growing at a rate of around 2%, while California’s rate is a bit of higher. Both states are Democratic strongholds. Iowa is growing at approximately the same rate as New York. States that are growing at the fastest are Texas and North Dakota, two solid Republican states. Clearly there are other clusters forming than Liberal enclaves; these numbers show, however, that there are additional driving forces behind these migrations. Jobs, housing prices, climate, taxation, and education opportunities are obvious contenders.

I am not a political scientist (nor were the Founding Fathers who drafted the US Constitution) but in an election year like the one we are having, you don’t have to see Hamilton (I am lucky enough to have scored tickets for next spring) to appreciate their greatness. Through the US Constitution, they constructed a stable democracy that is not based on a one man, one vote system where all the votes weigh equally but rather on a dynamic equilibrium that is aims to balance opposing forces. Here are the relevant articles of the Constitution that mandate the American election systems:

 Article 1 Section 2:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

Article 1 Section 3:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.

Article 2 Section 1

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.

These articles were drafted on September 17, 1787 and ratified on June 21, 1788. The US was a completely different country at that time. I don’t have data for 1788 but I have some for 1820 – a difference of about one generation. The population in 1820 was about 10 million people, with a GDP/Capita equal to $2,358 in today’s dollars. The population now is about 310 million with GDP/Capita of about $51,000.

Unless the Constitution changes dramatically, Iowa will have its two senators to protect its interests from damaging legislation. This will remain the case no matter how many young hipsters move from Iowa to New York or LA and no matter how many people flock to North Dakota or Texas in search of a better job and lower taxes. The number of congress members per state changes periodically with every census to approximate population changes. The number of electors in the Electoral College for president reflects that balance of congressional changes. However, with the exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, all of the electors in a state go to the winner of the popular vote – whether that candidate wins by 1% or 30%.

Imagine the situation that would have developed under a one man, one vote system under the current global urbanization trends. In 1790 only about 5% of the population lived in urban areas, the rest living in rural areas. Today more than 80% of the population in the US lives in urban areas. This is clustering. Yet our election system that determines our governance was drafted in 1787. Imagine if the one man, one vote principle had prevailed. The urban 80% would have completely dominated the government. Out of pure self-interest, they’d likely determine that urban areas are tax free zones. Urban residents would instead live off of the “generosity” of the rural residents. Everybody would flock to the cities, unbalancing the economy and destroying the production of food, and the whole system will collapse.

I can elaborate on the consequences of clustering but I credit our Founding Fathers with being future-looking geniuses that created a governance system stable enough to survive even Donald Trump.

The next blog will be posted on Tuesday, November 8, Election Day. I will vote and go about my regular business – as ignorant as everyone else about what kind of government we will create. Meanwhile I will retreat to the safety of science and describe another system that was formed through an equilibrium of opposing forces; one that has been rather stable for the last 4.6 billion years, and which we expect will stay so for another 5 billion years – our sun.

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Election: Battle of the Sexes

men-vs-women Last week, I posited that: “Donald Trump attempted to downplay or disregard any fallout from his actions, concentrating instead on throwing red meat to keep at least his most dedicated supporters happy.”

 In this blog I had initially planned to delve into the makeup of these dedicated supporters and to try to estimate their number. I shared the common perception that they were mainly white males with no college education. I was ready to analyze this hypothesis through data similar to those I have presented earlier (March 29, 2016); see Figure 1 for a breakdown of voting patterns by education levels. Clearly, the level with the least education usually doesn’t vote. I thought perhaps Trump would be enough of a draw to make many of them become more involved and flock to register and vote. Well, it’s already past the registration deadline in many states and some early voting already started. There is no sign of any such influx.

Voter Turnout Education College High School Participation Election

Figure 1 (see March 29 blog).

As I was contemplating where to go with this, FiveThirtyEight came up with some stunning findings, shown here in Figures 2 and 3. These two figures show projected election results if voting were restricted to a single gender. Overwhelmingly, men would have elected Donald Trump and women would have elected Hilary Clinton. The results were so striking that many Trump constituents half-seriously suggested repealing the 19th Amendment. That amendment, added to the US constitution in 1922, prohibits any citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.

fivethirtyeight-men-voters-only Figure 2

fivethirtyeight-women-voters-onlyFigure 3

A few days after FiveThirtyEight published these findings, the Economist printed its own set of data, shown here in Figure 4.

economist-gender-education-race-support-of-trumpFigure 4

We see almost mirror symmetry depending on educational levels of men and women. True, the group that favors Donald Trump most is white males with no college education, but their counterpart – white women with no college education – favors Hilary Clinton by a rather wide margin. We must also remember that white men without a college education do not outnumber white woman with similar educational backgrounds.

The only conclusion that I could draw from these data is that education level is not the critical parameter; the real decider is gender.

Much of this comes from the perception of Clinton’s lack of traditionally ideal female qualities. Case in point: the continuous emphasis on her trust, likability, and honesty (August 9 blog). Furthermore, there’s Christopher Andersen’s biography of her, American Evita, in which he states that she curses in a way that, “would make Howard Stern blush” – what horror!

Aside from repealing the 19th Amendment, another possible solution to the gender asymmetrical polling could be to divide the United States between men and women to form two fully sovereign states. We’d have an Amazon land ruled by Hillary Clinton and a macho land ruled by Donald Trump. If Trump wanted to grope women he’d have to negotiate a trade agreement with Hillary. If both half-countries agreed to such a split it would probably be constitutional, so the courts wouldn’t have to intervene. Trump might even appoint Pat McCrory, the governor of North Carolina as the gate keeper.

I am an educated white male but I am not ashamed to say that I would not want to live within a Trump-governed male state. I suppose that statistically I align better with white females who have not attended college.

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The Second Debate: Kenneth Bone Saves the Day

I am running behind. My intention this week was to cover two of the most contentious issues in this election period – not only within the US but globally: immigration and trade. I discussed immigration in a series of blogs in August and September but I didn’t discuss trade because I thought it was outside my scope of focus on this platform. I was wrong. Immigration and trade are both indicators of globalization, which in turn is the central indicator of the new era dominated by humans: the Anthropocene (February 3, 2015 and May 3June 14, 2016). I have talked about globalization mainly in terms of common threats – the most pressing of which I see being climate change. However, globalization can also help increase global wellbeing. Trade is not a zero sum game, it can benefit us all. As I mentioned in the last blog, globalization – as any socio-economical change, can result in winners and losers. The mechanism for sharing the benefits is a transfer of wealth from the winners to facilitate assistance for the losers. Good government should be judged by its determination and success in making that happen. These are appropriate topics in presidential debates but immigration was hardly mentioned in the first debate and any talk of trade was limited to negative implications.

The second presidential debate on Sunday, October 9, went well beyond all of this. It took place immediately after a tape was leaked in which Donald Trump was seen and heard going after women – married or single – in a way that made not only the country, but the world cringe in disgust. His polls declined sharply and the Republican Party found itself on the verge of implosion. Donald Trump attempted to downplay or disregard any fallout from his actions, concentrating instead on throwing red meat to keep at least his most dedicated supporters happy.

Unexpectedly, toward the end of the debate, most of which was an all-out brawl, two questions posed by audience members within the Town Hall setting, presented welcome exceptions.

The last question asked the candidates to name one characteristic they admired in their opponent. Trump actually came with a much better answer than Clinton did but both were exceedingly trite. It was obvious that the two cannot stand each other.

The question that interested me most was the penultimate one, posed by Mr. Kenneth Bone. It was in line with everything that I care about in this blog, so I am posting the discussion in full below:

QUESTION: What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers? (Mr. Kenneth Bone)

COOPER: Mr. Trump, two minutes?

TRUMP: Absolutely. I think it’s such a great question, because energy is under siege by the Obama administration. Under absolutely siege. The EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, is killing these energy companies. And foreign companies are now coming in buying our — buying so many of our different plants and then re-jiggering the plant so that they can take care of their oil.

We are killing — absolutely killing our energy business in this country. Now, I’m all for alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar, et cetera. But we need much more than wind and solar.

And you look at our miners. Hillary Clinton wants to put all the miners out of business. There is a thing called clean coal. Coal will last for 1,000 years in this country. Now we have natural gas and so many other things because of technology. We have unbelievable — we have found over the last seven years, we have found tremendous wealth right under our feet. So good. Especially when you have $20 trillion in debt.

I will bring our energy companies back. They’ll be able to compete. They’ll make money. They’ll pay off our national debt. They’ll pay off our tremendous budget deficits, which are tremendous. But we are putting our energy companies out of business. We have to bring back our workers.

You take a look at what’s happening to steel and the cost of steel and China dumping vast amounts of steel all over the United States, which essentially is killing our steelworkers and our steel companies. We have to guard our energy companies. We have to make it possible.

The EPA is so restrictive that they are putting our energy companies out of business. And all you have to do is go to a great place like West Virginia or places like Ohio, which is phenomenal, or places like Pennsylvania and you see what they’re doing to the people, miners and others in the energy business. It’s a disgrace.

COOPER: Your time is up. Thank you.

TRUMP: It’s an absolute disgrace. COOPER: Secretary Clinton, two minutes.

CLINTON: And actually — well, that was very interesting. First of all, China is illegally dumping steel in the United States and Donald Trump is buying it to build his buildings, putting steelworkers and American steel plants out of business. That’s something that I fought against as a senator and that I would have a trade prosecutor to make sure that we don’t get taken advantage of by China on steel or anything else.

You know, because it sounds like you’re in the business or you’re aware of people in the business — you know that we are now for the first time ever energy-independent. We are not dependent upon the Middle East. But the Middle East still controls a lot of the prices. So the price of oil has been way down. And that has had a damaging effect on a lot of the oil companies, right? We are, however, producing a lot of natural gas, which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels. And I think that’s an important transition.

We’ve got to remain energy-independent. It gives us much more power and freedom than to be worried about what goes on in the Middle East. We have enough worries over there without having to worry about that.

So I have a comprehensive energy policy, but it really does include fighting climate change, because I think that is a serious problem. And I support moving toward more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can, because I think we can be the 21st century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses.

But I also want to be sure that we don’t leave people behind. That’s why I’m the only candidate from the very beginning of this campaign who had a plan to help us revitalize coal country, because those coal miners and their fathers and their grandfathers, they dug that coal out. A lot of them lost their lives. They were injured, but they turned the lights on and they powered their factories. I don’t want to walk away from them. So we’ve got to do something for them.

COOPER: Secretary Clinton…

CLINTON: But the price of coal is down worldwide. So we have to look at this comprehensively.

COOPER: Your time is up.

CLINTON: And that’s exactly what I have proposed. I hope you will go to HillaryClinton.com and look at my entire policy.

COOPER: Time is up. We have time for one more…

The question and answers emphasized the role of government in addressing the socio-economic issue at hand and the people that are directly impacted by the current and next steps regarding our energy transition. Both candidates answered the question in full and emphasized their fundamental differences on this important issue. I only wish that the full debate had been conducted in this spirit.

Many news organizations crowned Mr. Bone as the winner of this debate. I fully agree.

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The First Presidential Debate: Trump Argues This Country is a Mess!

Sunday was the second Presidential debate but for now I’m still processing the first one. Let’s start with a comment voiced by Republican Vice Presidential candidate Governor Mike Pence, during the campaign’s only Vice Presidential debate, which took place on Wednesday, October 5th:

PENCE: You — honestly, Senator, you can roll out the numbers and the sunny side, but I got to tell you, people in Scranton know different. People in Fort Wayne, Indiana, know different. I mean, this economy is struggling. The answer to this economy is not more taxes.

Governor’s Pence comment is interesting, because every policy decision has economic repercussions, which involve a shift from the previous equilibrium – often creating winners and losers. It is the role of good government to maximize the positive outcomes and minimize the negative effects. This is usually achieved through prudent use of income redistribution through taxation of the winners.

Donald Trump proudly insists that not paying his share of taxes makes him smart. While there had been hints that the details from his unreleased tax records would be controversial, the fact that he spent years without paying any tax didn’t come out until after the first debate. I’m sure that this will continue to be a big issue in subsequent debates.

I was taking notes while I watched the first presidential debate on Monday, September 26th. Unsurprisingly, the takeaway from the debate was very subjective: Clinton supporters viewed it as a clear win for Hillary; likewise, Trump supporters saw it as a victory for him.

At the end, most of the polls that I saw gave the debate to Hillary and general polls – both national and state, saw a bounce of few percent in Hillary’s direction.

Almost all sources acknowledge that while the first third of the debate was decent and balanced, what followed was an almost complete disintegration on Trump’s part. It got to the point where it was almost impossible to follow his arguments. This also speaks to a wildly held opinion that Trump’s short attention span might be a serious issue for him. I agree on both counts.

Nor am I alone in thinking that Trump was acting as a bully  when he interrupted and talked over both Hillary and the moderator at every opportunity.

There was plenty of fact checking available both during and immediately following the debate. The part that interests me more is certain unverifiable claims. For example:

Trump asked Obama not to pardon Hillary but she was never charged with, much less convicted of any crime. (Jenna Johnson – The Washington Post – Friday, September 30, 2016)

“Mr. President, will you pledge not to issue a pardon to Hillary Clinton and her co-conspirators for their many crimes against our country and against society itself?” Trump said to a cheering audience in this Detroit suburb on Friday evening.

He added: “No one is above the law.”

Trump “promised” to use Bill Clinton’s infidelities against Hillary in the next debate: “Hillary Clinton was married to the single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics,”

That claim, “single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics” is a whopper of a charge, especially when you consider that it counts back many thousand years when ancient societies first started to form governments. How can you possibly refute this kind of generalization? One could start by trying to disprove that Bill Clinton abused women at all, or by finding someone with a worse record, but part of the problem is that he’s not even the one running for office right now.

I have discussed the importance of refutability when presenting any statement as an objective description of reality (October 27, 2015), in the same way that it is vital to Popper’s definition of the scientific method (June 18, 2012). For me, arguments and claims that cannot be refuted are much worse than false arguments because unfortunately they stick better.

Now let’s look at the first debate itself, using the full transcript via the New York Times. I will try to take my examples from the time period when most agree Trump was still coherent.

Trump’s two strongest topics, according to his adherents, are trade and immigration. Trade was discussed prevalently within our focus time frame but the first debate hardly referenced immigration.

One of Trump’s main campaign themes is that our country is in a big mess since President Obama took office; a total failure. He includes Hillary Clinton in his summation of the administration, even though she has not participated in Obama’s second term:

Our country’s in deep trouble. We don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to devaluations and all of these countries all over the world, especially China. They’re the best, the best ever at it. What they’re doing to us is a very, very sad thing.

So we have to do that. We have to renegotiate our trade deals. And, Lester, they’re taking our jobs, they’re giving incentives, they’re doing things that, frankly, we don’t do.

Let me give you the example of Mexico. They have a VAT tax. We’re on a different system. When we sell into Mexico, there’s a tax. When they sell in — automatic, 16 percent, approximately. When they sell into us, there’s no tax. It’s a defective agreement. It’s been defective for a long time, many years, but the politicians haven’t done anything about it.

He also claims that we are experiencing the worst revival in history:

TRUMP: Typical politician. All talk, no action. Sounds good, doesn’t work. Never going to happen. Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions in terms of our jobs and in terms of what’s going on.

Now, look, we have the worst revival of an economy since the Great Depression. And believe me: We’re in a bubble right now. And the only thing that looks good is the stock market, but if you raise interest rates even a little bit, that’s going to come crashing down.

We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble. And we better be awfully careful. And we have a Fed that’s doing political things. This Janet Yellen of the Fed. The Fed is doing political — by keeping the interest rates at this level. And believe me: The day Obama goes off, and he leaves, and goes out to the golf course for the rest of his life to play golf, when they raise interest rates, you’re going to see some very bad things happen, because the Fed is not doing their job. The Fed is being more political than Secretary Clinton.

Since he has been kind enough to give us parameters, let’s try to refute this argument with some data:

Table 1 compares the economic performance of the US with four other major developed countries, as well as with Mexico and China.

Country GDP Growth Rate (%) – 2015 GDP/Capita – 2015 ($) GDP Growth Rate (%) – 2009 GDP/Capita – 2009 ($)
Canada 1.1 43,296 -2.95 40,774
France 1.2 35,928 -2.85 41,577
Germany 1.7 41,278 -5.6 41,514
Japan 0.5 32,283 -2.85 39,062
US 2.4 55,919 -2.8 47,059
China 6.9 7,956 9.2 3,835
Mexico 2.5 8,661 -4.7 7,607

Table 1 – Economic performance of major developed countries and China and Mexico during President Obama’s presidency (based on Worldbank data)

The US looks like the best performer in the bunch. China made a lot of progress but started from a much lower level. China’s performance during the Republican presidency was actually considerably stronger than its present performance. The US economy is far cry from a state in “deep trouble” and clearly has not been in the hands of “incompetent stewards” since 2009. In other words, Trump’s loud global slogan is empty of facts.

The second issue that is very close to my heart is Trump’s comment on the development of sustainable energy choices. Here was Trump’s take on the matter during the first debate:

TRUMP: She talks about solar panels. We invested in a solar company, our country. That was a disaster. They lost plenty of money on that one.

Now, look, I’m a great believer in all forms of energy, but we’re putting a lot of people out of work. Our energy policies are a disaster. Our country is losing so much in terms of energy, in terms of paying off our debt. You can’t do what you’re looking to do with $20 trillion in debt.

The Obama administration, from the time they’ve come in, is over 230 years’ worth of debt, and he’s topped it. He’s doubled it in a course of almost eight years, seven-and-a-half years, to be semi- exact.

So I will tell you this. We have to do a much better job at keeping our jobs. And we have to do a much better job at giving companies incentives to build new companies or to expand, because they’re not doing it.

And all you have to do is look at Michigan and look at Ohio and look at all of these places where so many of their jobs and their companies are just leaving, they’re gone.

And, Hillary, I’d just ask you this. You’ve been doing this for 30 years. Why are you just thinking about these solutions right now? For 30 years, you’ve been doing it, and now you’re just starting to think of solutions.

On this one I will directly quote Paul Krugman:

Everyone has heard about how loan guarantees to one solar-energy company, Solyndra, went sour — at a cost, by the way, that amounted to only a bit more than half the amount Mr. Trump personally lost in just one year thanks to bad business decisions. Few people, by contrast, have heard about the green energy revolution that the administration’s loans and other policy support helped promote, with plunging prices and soaring consumption of solar and wind power.

Trump was talking about one instance: Solyndra. Here are the numbers on which Krugman is basing his comments:


Figure 1

renewable-energy-production-and-consumptionFigure 2

I will discuss immigration, trade, taxation, and other issues that came up in the first two debates next week. So far, based on Trump’s first debate and having listened to him carefully throughout his campaign, I find his opinions on all of the major issues as empty and baseless as the two that we analyzed here. You might disagree. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the matter in the comments, so long as you accompany them with some reliable data.

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Assessment – Fall 2016: Global Issues, Personal Perspectives and Climate Change

B1XRP1 Honey drippin on a green apple slice isolated on white

Shana Tova! The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) is here. For me, it’s a family celebration. According to tradition, we are entering into the year 5777, but nobody that I know of dwells too much on the origin of this number (by some interpretations, it’s the age of humans starting with Adam and Eve). We are also one month into the first semester of this academic year and it’s been a week since the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It’s time for a new assessment.

My last assessment was on April 26th. Since then, I have emphasized the kind of political leadership that I think is necessary in this new, human-dominated era that many call the Anthropocene. Additionally, I have looked into the impact of migration in present times. Intermingled and connected to these two abstract topics were thoughts about issues that have arisen during the presidential campaigns and some related personal stories.

Here are two key paragraphs from the first blog of this assessment period (May 3, 2016):

Regardless of how our time officially becomes known – be it Anthropocene or some other name, humanity is in control here. There are 7.3 billion people on Earth, with an ever-increasing GDP per person, and impressively efficient methods of global communication. If we want to implement sustainable development within the next 100 years, global coordination is imperative. Related governance in any part of this system requires careful consideration within the global context.

The real point is that governing has reached a greater complexity than ever before. Governing bodies must consider global issues as well as local. They must set and implement policies that balance society’s safety and that of our physical environment. Such a feat necessitates considering multiple stories, setting priorities, and being aware of long-term consequences. It requires that scientists be involved in governance as well as that politicians be scientifically literate. For that, we need some major changes in our educational system to promote that sort of bilingualism.

 The upcoming US presidential elections are clearly crucial to this issue. One particular sentence drives this point home. It comes not from either of the main party candidates but rather from the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. The Libertarian Party has marketed itself as a “safe haven” for sectors of the electorate that are “disgusted” with the Republican and Democratic Party offerings.

“In billions of years, the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future,” 

He is absolutely right. I know because I teach cosmology in school and I am intimately acquainted with the details. To put some numbers and physics into his statement, our sun will run out of the hydrogen fuel within its core in about 5 billion years; it will then start to fuse hydrogen drawn from its shell. As a result it will grow to be a Red Giant that will encompass Earth – changing our climate to nonexistent. Eventually its core will separate to form a White Dwarf made of carbon and the shell will disperse into cosmic clouds that will serve as the seed to form the next generation of stars.

What Gary Johnson doesn’t realize is that there’s a big difference between that 5 billion years and the 84 years remaining until the end of this century – a period of time in which our children and grandchildren will justifiably hold us responsible for their wellbeing. Our concern for climate change is not about the next billion or even million years; it’s about the next generation and the ones that follow. Gary Johnson is not “bilingual” (science and English). Nor is he fit to lead in the Anthropocene. True, he is marginally better than Donald Trump, who claims that climate change is a Chinese conspiracy, but not by much. This election is very important and I will continue to highlight various aspects until after the vote.

Now let’s turn to the other theme seeded throughout my four years of blog entries: individual stories – especially my own – that illustrate the tapestry of global issues defining our emerging Anthropocene.

From my perspective, climate change is just an early sign of the Anthropocene. So the clash between believers and deniers will expand to include almost every facet of life. In actuality, the real matter at hand has less to do with those who can or cannot envision a different future. Rather, the battle is between those who believe that it is our responsibility to shape the future for the benefit of future generations – even if these steps require some economic sacrifices in the present – and those who believe it is pointless to sacrifice anything in the face of an unknown future.

Attempts to take steps to improve the odds for sustainable future come in different forms and must proceed on different levels. There has to simultaneously be top-down implementation through governments on all levels and a bottom-up movement fueled by individuals. These movements must occur globally because the impact on the physical environment is universal. Indeed, this two-fronted battle towards mitigation and adaptation has already been going on for 20 years.

In my opinion, public awareness of the necessity to confront climate change can be traced to the “Earth Summit” that convened in Rio de Janeiro on June 1992 and the scientific findings that led up to it.

The high point of public recognition of climate change was probably when ex-Vice President and then-presidential-candidate Al Gore received a Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the UN IPCC. I have spoken extensively about the latter organization’s role in advocating both knowledge of and action to mitigate climate change. Al Gore, meanwhile, is well known for his Oscar-winning movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which I still show my students as an introduction to the topic. It is fitting that the Nobel was awarded to both to a global organization and an individual.

While his perspective on climate change garnered international attention, once certain details were revealed, Al Gore’s personal use of energy came under intense scrutiny that same year.

Armed with Gore’s utility bills for the last two years, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research charged Monday that the gas and electric bills for the former vice president’s 20-room home and pool house devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kilowatt-hours.

“If this were any other person with $30,000-a-year in utility bills, I wouldn’t care,” says the Center’s 27-year-old president, Drew Johnson. “But he tells other people how to live and he’s not following his own rules.”

A photograph of his Nashville mansion is shown below

Figure 1 – Al Gore’s Nashville house

Al Gore is now a rich and famous man. A short internet search brings up images of his mansion in California, which puts the Nashville one to shame, but the sheer size of these buildings requires a lot of energy. If the energy use approximately matches the average energy mix in the US, it generates large amount of greenhouse gases. I didn’t follow up on his efforts to cut down on energy usage and replace his energy sources with a more sustainable mix. However, the message from his personal life certainly undermined his message to society and, if nothing else, served as a combustible weapon in the hands of climate deniers who refuse to heed his plea.

There are as many political opinions on the steps society needs to take to ensure better future for younger generations as there are people who spend time to consider the question at hand. We need to keep in mind a balance between our ideals in general and how we act on them in private.

Assessment: Since the end of April, on Twitter, I’m up to 373 followers. I also had 3 mentions, 22 retweets or shares, and over 38.3K tweet impressions. On Facebook, in the same time period, my page got an additional 36 “likes” and 20,036 impressions. On my blog itself, I’m happy to report that I’ve had had 599,027 visits from 67,189 unique computers. To those of you reading, I thank you and (as always) welcome your comments. Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, “like” me on Facebook, and tell your friends to do the same. Not only do I post my newest blogs, I also share interesting articles and stories.

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