Peaceful Presidential Transition vs. the Rise of Nazis

transition, baton, relay, powerI started writing this one day after President Biden and Vice President Harris were inaugurated. Many of us were thoroughly relieved that the event turned out to be a dignified, uneventful transition of power. I wouldn’t quite call it peaceful, given that the capital was full of police and troops prepared to quell a repetition of the January 6th mob attack, but there were no outright acts of violence.

The pandemic forced most of us to view the inauguration online. Those few who were invited had to maintain a safe distance and wear masks to prevent the event from functioning to boost the spread of the virus. A few hours after the formal inauguration, President Biden started the process of annulling some of ex-president Trump’s most objectionable policies. In his first day, President Biden signed 15 executive orders and two agency directives in areas such as mitigation of COVID-19, rejoining the 2015 Paris climate agreement, negating travel ban from Muslim-dominant countries, and delivering economic relief to those in need. In the coming days, he will expand this list; it promises to be a major transition from the last four years.

My semester will start in two weeks and most of my classes regard climate change, so I will be looking closely at the new administration’s climate change policy changes, both in class and in the coming blogs.

Tomorrow, January 27th, is International Holocaust Day. This time last year, I gave a talk as a part of my school’s “We Stand Against Hate” seminar series (see the February 4, 2020 blog). Less than two months later, we were all were forced into a lockdown. My talk then focused on my experiences in the Holocaust and the connections that I have been trying to establish between that planned genocide and climate change, which I refer to as a self-inflicted genocide.

Transitions like that between these two presidents are much more complicated than the straightforward exchange of batons shown above. We know what has already happened; the future is always uncertain but we are optimistic that it will be better than the past. Last year we were wrong; 2020 was a mess! I hope that we will do better this year. The Trump-inspired mob attack two weeks ago is an important piece of our recent past.

Last week, I focused on the visible part of that attack. Some of the people involved carried signs with swastikas because they identified with Nazi ideals. Others, who understand the almost universal regard for Nazis as the ultimate evil, used the opposite rhetoric, misrepresenting policies and guidelines with which they disagreed as exemplifying fascism.

I started this blog more than eight years ago, as an attempt to use my Holocaust background as  leverage to try to mobilize mitigation efforts in the face of the dangers of climate change. This excerpt from my first blog (April 22, 2012) summarizes my attitude:

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.

As you can see, that first blog solicited 82 comments, which forced me to expand on the issue in the next two posts, each of which received more than 60 comments. The discussion sort of dried up but this has remained the underlying theme over the more than eight years I have been writing this blog. It has also persisted as one of the most important anchors between me and my students throughout my teaching. The focus of the analogy is not the Holocaust itself or the multitude of crimes that the Nazis perpetrated after they came to power, the part I want to look at now is how they got to power in the first place.

When the most recent lockdown started, I realized that I don’t know enough about this last point. At first, it was a revived interest in WWII, specifically in Germany; a lot of Russian archival material about WWII had suddenly become available. I focused on Volker Ullrich’s two books on Hitler. In the December 29, 2020 blog, I discussed his second volume that described in details WW2 from 1939 – 1945 with a focus on the Nazi leadership from the perspective of today’s German historians that took advantage of the rich Russian archives. That volume spanned 632 pages of mostly text, few pages of detailed maps with abundance of arrows and close to 150 pages of tight-spaced references and notes. Hitler himself was mostly in the background.

In December (after the end of our online fall semester), I started to read Ullrich’s first volume, Hitler: Ascent, 1989-1939. The book was published in German in 2016 (English Translation, 2017). On the cover of the English translation, the publisher quoted a New York Times review:

“A fascinating Shakespearean parable about how the confluence of circumstance, chance, a ruthless individual and the willful blindness of others can transform a country” By Michiko Kakutani – The New York Times.

The book made me think about our own transition, with the similarities and the happy differences that follow.

Hitler was a “normal” kid when he grew up in Austro-Hungary at the end of the 19th Century. He moved to Germany in 1913. A year later, he joined the German army in WWI. By the end of the war in 1918, he was 25 years old. Germany (together with Austro-Hungary and Turkey) lost the war and had to pay for it.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 1919:

Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty required Germany to disarm, make ample territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion gold marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US$442 billion or UK£284 billion in 2021). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes (a British delegate to the Paris Peace Conference), predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a “Carthaginian peace“—and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive, views that, since then, have been the subject of ongoing debate by historians and economists. On the other hand, prominent figures on the Allied side, such as French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, criticized the treaty for treating Germany too leniently.

Parallel to that, and not surprisingly, completely missing from Ullrich’s book, was the strike of the Spanish flu pandemic:

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans. The 1918 flu was first observed in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia before swiftly spreading around the world. At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain. Citizens were ordered to wear masks, schools, theaters and businesses were shuttered and bodies piled up in makeshift morgues before the virus ended its deadly global march.

In Germany, an estimated 426,000 out of a population of 61 million died from the Spanish flu from 1918-1919. It’s only recently, during our present pandemic, that an interest in the Spanish flu’s contribution to the rise of the Nazis in Germany has started to surface.

When the Weimar Republic was born, WWI had just ended and the Germans were understandably in a bad mood. They were looking for anybody besides themselves to blame. Hitler was no exception. He joined the German Workers Party (DAP) in 1919 and was instrumental in converting it into a new Nazi party by adding NS (National Socialists) to its name. The new party’s name was NSDAP. The table below (not taken from Ullrich’s book), describes the composition of the German parliament (Reichstag) from the mid-1920s to 1933. The transition came in 1930. In 1928, the Nazi party had only 2.5% of the votes. In 1930, it became the second largest party, with close to 20% of the votes. Less than two years later, it became the largest party, with 38% of the vote. It took less than three months after the November 1932 election for Hitler to take absolute power in Germany.

Nazi, political party, Germany, Reichstag

Political Parties in the Reichstag, 1924-1933

The Weimar republic was able to withstand the Treaty of Versailles and the Spanish flu but not the Great Depression that hit Germany in 1929. That last event spread from the Wall Street crash in the US to the rest of the world. Ullrich’s book describes this crucial 15-year transition in Germany in detail. From the numbers in the table above, it is clear that following the crash, the Weimer Republic became a failed state. Hitler realized it from the beginning of his political involvement. The book portrays him as a person with no formal education to speak of. He was a gifted orator, able to read his audience and tell them what they wanted to hear. Facts didn’t matter and fact-checkers were unpopular at the time. He originally crafted the foundations of the Nazi party in 1919 to give people a scapegoat for their misery—one that didn’t have the governmental power to defend itself. Jews were a convenient target. According to Ullrich, Hitler’s antisemitism was initially an election tactic. It didn’t take long, however, before he converted it into deadly creed. His speeches often accused Jews of profiteering from Germans’ misfortunes. He carefully did not blame the Allied Powers who won WWI and forced the Treaty of Versailles; they had the wherewithal to fight back, both politically and militarily. The Bolsheviks were too busy in the wake of the Russian revolution to fight back, so Germany had the potential to add to its living space by expanding east. As I mentioned before, the false narrative of Judeo-Bolshevism (i.e. Jews caused and benefited from the Russian revolution) became a battle-cry. Hitler demanded an end to all Jewish immigration and in Mein Kampf, he started to advocate liquidation.

The 1930s transition is directly responsible for the loss of approximately 75 million people worldwide, including most of my family. It didn’t end well for anybody, winners or losers.

Hitler didn’t have nuclear weapons but he came very close to being the first to possess them. The first successful nuclear fission demonstration took place in Hitler’s Germany. We don’t need a rich imagination to foresee that a similar evolution of events could results in complete extinction.

The US does have nuclear capabilities and the potential to cause a lot of damage. Fortunately, we do not seem to be going in the direction of 1930s Germany. President Reagan described our nation’s historic tradition of the peaceful transition of power:

“To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

We must take that to heart. President Biden’s inauguration on January 20th could have ended differently and we should all be thankful that the tradition held up.

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Godwin’s Law and Us

This is a follow up to my “Shame” blog about the president-triggered mob attack on the American government in Washington, DC on January 6th. The attack was one part of a series of efforts to void the November 3rd election results; it was not an isolated event. What happened on January 6th was probably the lowest point in terms of violence, target (the American government), and perpetrators (it was sparked by language from the president) but it came as a reflection of general unrest. We have seen the fruits of this unrest largely in the form of massive demonstrations—some peaceful, some violent—many in response to government decisions. These demonstrations protested: government mitigation methods against the impacts of COVID-19, the election results (in both the US and Belarus), and police brutality, among other issues. Timothy Snyder wrote an excellent, if biased, historical essay about Trump, conspiracy, and fascism in the US.

Many participants in these demonstrations expressed the issues as a matter of ultimate good (e.g., God) vs. evil (e.g., Nazi Germany). I am not an authority on the religious references but I know something about Nazi Germany. This week I’m looking at visual, written, and verbal Nazi analogies. My next blog will be my perspective of which of these analogies actually hold sway.

Some circles point to the many Nazi analogies as being classic examples of Godwin’s law. I mentioned Godwin’s law in an earlier blog (December 27, 2016) in the context of divestment from fossil fuel companies. I feel it is high time to return to this topic.

Wikipedia explains Godwin’s law:

Godwin’s law, short for Godwin’s law (or ruleof Nazi analogies,[1][2] is an Internet adage asserting that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1“.[2][3] That is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler or his deeds, the point at which effectively the discussion or thread ends.

Promulgated by the American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990,[2] Godwin’s law originally referred specifically to Usenet newsgroup discussions.[4] He stated that he introduced Godwin’s law in 1990 as an experiment in memetics.[2] It is now applied to any threaded online discussion, such as Internet forums, chat rooms, and comment threads, as well as to speeches, articles, and other rhetoric[5][6] where reductio ad Hitlerum occurs.

In 2012, “Godwin’s law” became an entry in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.[7]

Of course, not all of the demonstrators reflected the Nazi analogies that I describe here. I’m cherry picking, and I’m not the only one. Below is a good example, however, of the cross reference between COVID-19, and Nazism. The woman’s sign affirms that the US is not Nazi Germany, then lists the social-distancing steps mandated by the government, concluding that such measures amount to tyranny. However, the demonstrators are not asking themselves why they find these particular mandates to be unacceptable while they have no qualms about other rules. The same group, for instance, does not protest the legal status of walking around naked, or for women, bare-breasted. This is likely because they are already used to such mandates. The newness of mask-wearing rules is what has prompted calls of tyranny.

Huntington Beach, California demonstration against government-recommended (or mandated) steps to combat the impact of COVID-19

The next photo shows demonstrators in North Carolina, referencing both God and QAnon, calling for a reopening of the economy.

QAnon, economy, pandemic, mask, social distance, Nazi, tyranny, liberty, constitution, USDemonstrators in North Carolina in April 2020

The photo below comes from a similar demonstration but features more explicit imagery. There are some questions as to the origin of the symbolism in this particular photo: whether it marks a proclamation from Trump/Pence supporters that they agree with the Nazi party or whether it is instead an accusation of such an alliance.

A demonstration with more explicit, though questionable, messages

Another picture outpaces the previous ones. It shows a COVID-19 demonstration that directly blames the Jewish governor of Illinois for all the troubles Illinoisans are facing. The antisemitic sign is held side by side with one warning that we are in a dry-run for communism. This argument directly mimics the birth of the Nazi party; its founders blamed the ills of the world on Judeo-Bolshevism.

This particular demonstration got the unique dishonor of being denounced by the Auschwitz memorial and museum, which stands on the site of the Nazi’s worst death camp.

Auschwitz, demonstration, protest, antisemitic, antisemitism, Pritzger, Illinois, communism, fascism

COVID-19 demonstration in Chicago, Illinois 

One of the members of the January 6th mob wore a sweatshirt mocking the pain and death of that horrific institution.

Auschwitz, concentration camp, Nazi, riot, January 6

“Man in ‘Camp Auschwitz’ sweatshirt during Capitol riot identified”

Aljazeera published one of the most striking examples of an American association with Nazism. The picture shows a demonstration in Charlottesville, Georgia, two years before COVID-19 struck and almost three years before the 2020 presidential election.

Nazi, swastika, mob, riot, Charlottesville, Georgia, white supremacy

Members of the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the US, hold a swastika burning after a rally in 2018 in Georgia [File: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP]

Clearly, this country is not without legitimate fascist threats.

I will finish this blog with two non-pictorial reports that echo the link—one from England, the other from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ex-governor of California.

Apparently, some extremist groups in England are encouraging their members to infect Muslims and Jews with COVID-19:

London (CNN)Neo-Nazis and far-right activists have been telling followers to “deliberately infect” Jews and Muslims with coronavirus, a UK government counterterrorism agency warned on Thursday, as extremists attempt to capitalize on the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s Commission for Countering Extremism said it has received increasing reports of far-right, far-left and Islamist extremists exploiting the crisis to promote divisive, xenophobic and racist narratives “to sow division” and create social discord.

The commission said it had heard reports of misinformation and harmful propaganda across the ideological spectrum: Islamist groups were “propagating anti-democratic and anti-Western narratives,” claiming that Covid-19 is divine punishment on the West for alleged “degeneracy,” or punishment on China for the country’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was born in July 1947 in Austria and moved to the US in 1968, tweeted a video likening the January 6th mob attack on the US Capitol to Kristallnacht (1938):

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger posted a heartfelt video to Twitter on Sunday, recounting his childhood in Austria after World War II and denouncing the violent mob that overtook the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The video, nearly eight minutes long and set to swelling music, starts by recalling Kristallnacht — or the Night of Broken Glass — an infamous night in 1938 when a mob of Nazi sympathizers stormed through Jewish neighborhoods in Germany, destroying thousands of businesses, rounding up Jewish men to be sent to concentration camps and killing dozens of people in the process. The night was named for the broken glass from Jewish homes and businesses that littered the streets, and it came to symbolize shattered Jewish lives.

“Wednesday was the day of broken glass right here in the United States,” Schwarzenegger says in the video, which by Sunday afternoon had been viewed nearly 12 million times. “The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. But the mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol. They shattered the ideals we took for granted. They did not just break down the doors of the building that housed American democracy. They trampled the very principles on which our country was founded.”

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My dear friends who now live in Poland sent me the image above. Both are now infected with and trying to recuperate from COVID-19 but they didn’t want my sympathy. They contacted me to say that they felt sorry for us, given recent events in Washington, DC. They didn’t send me the original link to the image but it was easy to find. I searched Google for, “Statue of Liberty in shame” and found a hit on the first try.

Well, I can see the actual Statue of Liberty from my terrace. I had to double check to make sure that it hadn’t changed. It hadn’t but America has.

The Statue of Liberty a few hours before I wrote this blog.

Wednesday, January 7th was the last step in Congress’ confirmation of the November 3rd presidential election. The congressional approval process is supposed to be a ceremonial event. The American people already decided on a winner and the vote has been certified by all of the states. The only step left is the inauguration of Mr. Biden on January 20th. Yet, Mr. Trump still hasn’t admitted that he lost and has instead done everything possible to portray this election as illegitimate. He convinced his core, both in the legislature and on the streets, to take matters into their own hands—to change the verdict and declare him as the winner. On Wednesday, he went so far as to incite a riot at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

The police department gave a summary of what happened on Thursday:

Washington, D.C., officials say four people have died, including one in a shooting inside the U.S. Capitol, and more than a dozen police officers were injured after a mob of supporters of President Trump stormed the nation’s legislative building, temporarily shutting down a vote to certify his successor’s win.

“Thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions” stormed the building that houses Congress, the Capitol Police said late Thursday morning, in its first statement about the events. The extremists attacked police “with metal pipes, discharged chemical irritants, and took up other weapons against our officers.”

The number of deaths has since risen to five.

A scene from the riot at the capitol

Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican senator from the state of Utah, had this to say on Wednesday:

We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States. Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy. They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy.

This was a coup attempt by the president of the United States. The coup interrupted the congressional meeting but congress re-met in the evening to complete the process.

The final results were that the Trump Republican core continued to question the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Both houses had to vote on acceptance or rejection of the state’s electoral reports. The results were as follows:

Pennsylvania: House: 282 approved, 138 disapproved (total number of Republican votes – 211); Senate: 92 approved, 7 disapproved.

Arizona: House: 303 approved, 121 disapproved; Senate: 93 approved, 6 disapproved

If both houses had disapproved of electoral reports, these states’ votes would have been removed from the tally. There were no legitimate reasons to reject the electoral votes. None of the president’s claims have any basis in fact.

All of this was so unusual that The New York Times felt compelled to include photographs and names of each of the 147 congressmembers who voted to disapprove the states’ tallies. I agree with the NYT on its importance and am reproducing the photographs and the names below:


Tommy Tuberville, Ala.; Rick Scott, Fla.; Roger Marshall, Kan.; John Kennedy, La.;

Cindy Hyde-Smith, Miss.; Josh Hawley, Mo.; Ted Cruz, Texas; Cynthia Lummis, Wyo.


Robert B. Aderholt, Ala.; Mo Brooks, Ala.; Jerry Carl, Ala.; Barry Moore, Ala.; Gary Palmer, Ala.;

Mike Rogers, Ala.; Andy Biggs, Ariz.; Paul Gosar, Ariz.; Debbie Lesko, Ariz.;

David Schweikert, Ariz.; Rick Crawford, Ark.; Ken Calvert, Calif.; Mike Garcia, Calif.;

Darrell Issa, Calif.; Doug LaMalfa, Calif.;  Kevin McCarthy, Calif.; Devin Nunes, Calif.;

Jay Obernolte, Calif.; Lauren Boebert, Colo.; Doug Lamborn, Colo.; Kat Cammack, Fla.

Mario Diaz-Balart, Fla.; Byron Donalds, Fla.; Neal Dunn, Fla.; Scott Franklin, Fla.;

Matt Gaetz, Fla.; Carlos Gimenez, Fla.; Brian Mast, Fla.; Bill Posey, Fla.; John Rutherford, Fla.;

Greg Steube, Fla.; Daniel Webster, Fla.; Rick Allen, Ga.; Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, Ga.;

Andrew Clyde, Ga.; Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ga.; Jody Hice, Ga.; Barry Loudermilk, Ga.;

Russ Fulcher, Idaho; Mike Bost, Ill.; Mary Miller, Ill.; Jim Baird, Ind.; Jim Banks, Ind.;

Greg Pence, Ind.; Jackie Walorski, Ind.; Ron Estes, Kan.; Jacob LaTurner, Kan.;

Tracey Mann, Kan.; Harold Rogers, Ky.; Garret Graves, La.; Clay Higgins, La.; Mike Johnson, La.;

Steve Scalise, La. Andy Harris, Md.; Jack Bergman, Mich.; Lisa McClain, Mich.;

Tim Walberg, Mich.; Michelle Fischbach, Minn.; Jim Hagedorn, Minn.; Michael Guest, Miss.;

Trent Kelly, Miss.; Steven Palazzo, Miss.; Sam Graves, Mo.; Vicky Hartzler, Mo.; Billy Long, Mo.;

Blaine Luetkemeyer, Mo.; Jason Smith, Mo.; Matt Rosendale, Mont.; Dan Bishop, N.C.;

Ted Budd, N.C.; Madison Cawthorn, N.C.; Virginia Foxx, N.C.; Richard Hudson, N.C.;

Gregory F. Murphy, N.C.; David Rouzer, N.C.; Jeff Van Drew, N.J.; Yvette Herrell, N.M.;

Chris Jacobs, N.Y.; Nicole Malliotakis, N.Y.; Elise M. Stefanik, N.Y.; Lee Zeldin, N.Y.;

Adrian Smith, Neb.; Steve Chabot, Ohio; Warren Davidson, Ohio; Bob Gibbs, Ohio;

Bill Johnson, Ohio; Jim Jordan, Ohio; Stephanie Bice, Okla.; Tom Cole, Okla.; Kevin Hern, Okla.;

Frank Lucas, Okla.; Markwayne Mullin, Okla.; Cliff Bentz, Ore.; John Joyce, Pa.; Fred Keller, Pa.;

Mike Kelly, Pa.; Daniel Meuser, Pa.; Scott Perry, Pa.; Guy Reschenthaler, Pa.;

Lloyd Smucker, Pa.; Glenn Thompson, Pa.; Jeff Duncan, S.C.; Ralph Norman, S.C.; Tom Rice, S.C.;

William Timmons, S.C.; Joe Wilson, S.C.; Tim Burchett, Tenn.; Scott DesJarlais, Tenn.;

Chuck Fleischmann, Tenn.; Mark E. Green, Tenn.; Diana Harshbarger, Tenn.;

David Kustoff, Tenn.; John Rose, Tenn.; Jodey Arrington, Texas; Brian Babin, Texas;

Michael C. Burgess, Texas; John R. Carter, Texas; Michael Cloud, Texas; Pat Fallon, Texas;

Louie Gohmert, Texas; Lance Gooden, Texas; Ronny Jackson, Texas; Troy Nehls, Texas;

August Pfluger, Texas; Pete Sessions, Texas; Beth Van Duyne, Texas; Randy Weber, Texas;

Roger Williams, Texas; Ron Wright, Texas; Burgess Owens, Utah; Chris Stewart, Utah;

Ben Cline, Va.; Bob Good, Va.; Morgan Griffith, Va.; Robert J. Wittman, Va.; Carol Miller, W.Va.;

Alexander X. Mooney, W.Va.; Scott Fitzgerald, Wis.; Tom Tiffany, Wis.

Almost everybody who was born in Poland knows the history of the Nazi party. We know how the party of hate and fascism rose to power. My Polish friends and I are not the only ones worried, though. What happened in the US on Wednesday evoked fear worldwide and requires some examination. I will expand on this soon.

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K-Shaped Global Disasters

Handwritten letter K

In an earlier blog (August 4, 2020), I presented anthropogenic climate change, COVID-19, population, jobs, and equity as circles in a Venn Diagram. COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to quantify those relationships. In this case, jobs represent the economic impact of the global disasters. The economy that will result from the pandemic is unclear but there are several common predictions, which Figure 1 demonstrates.

Economic recovery letter shapes

Figure 1 NatWest’s letter-shaped economic recovery models

While this collection uses the letters L, U, V, W, and a “swoosh” to describe the potential shapes of our economic recovery, it is notably lacking the letter K. In the K model, one arm goes up and one arm goes down, indicating a massive increase in inequality.

Figure 2 illustrates several uneven indicators from the past year.  As with other disasters, recovery and adaptation to COVID-19 has involved winners and losers. The winners in Figure 2 are shown in light green, the losers are shown in light blue. In a linear graph representing these trends, the winners rise up one “arm,” while the losers split off to form a downward “arm.” Almost all of the indicators in the figure are focused on stock markets and “investment opportunities,” reflecting the fact that its intended audience is people who have money to invest.

Figure 2 – Asset performances in 2020

If we focus exclusively on the stock market, we see a rise in the values of those companies which have made a lot of our lives bearable during the social distancing of the pandemic (many in the tech sector). Tesla’s stocks increased by a factor of more than 7 over 2020, Amazon by more than 70%, Apple by 77%, Facebook by 30%, Microsoft by 37%, and Alphabet (Google) by 28%. Zoom, which many of us rely on completely for work, increased by a factor of 4. Netflix increased by more than 50%. Interestingly, the developers of the vaccines that offer the best hope for ending the pandemic do not all follow the same upward path. The small companies saw a meteoric rise: Moderna’s stock rose by a factor of 4.5, BioNTech by more than a factor of 2. However, the values of the big companies associated with some of the vaccines, such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca, hardly moved.

Of course, the stock market is not the economy. Figure 3 shows that until the pandemic, the GDP had been rising at an almost constant rate. At the start of the pandemic, life came to an almost stand-still; in less than 2 months, the GDP fell by more than 10%. Partial adaptation started around mid-April, and the GDP responded by rising to its approximate level from two years ago.

Figure 3

Figure 4 shows a K structure on another level. While employment for college-educated people hardly changed, unemployment grew by about 25% among people without college education.

Figure 4US employment during COVID-19 by education attainment

All the data I have cited above has focused on the US. Figure 5 shows that the increase of inequality during the pandemic has been global and reproducible. I have discussed the Gini coefficient as a measure of inequality before (August 4, 2015). As I mentioned then, a Gini coefficient of zero indicates maximum equality, whereas a Gini coefficient of 1 indicates maximum inequality. In Figure 5, the Gini coefficient change is expressed in % and it indicates that globally, inequality is rising as we move away from pandemic events.

Figure 5 – From The Economist Espresso: Unequal impact: inequality after the pandemic

As the stylized letter at the top of the blog implies, the post-pandemic K shape of the future is not a simple, sans-serif letter. The elegant curves of the letter’s two arms eventually move in toward each other, minimizing the inequality.

Almost any major economic or social transition involves winners and losers. The losers try to block the transition while the winners try to accelerate it. To a large degree, the success or failure of such a transition depends on our ability to reallocate some of the winners’ gains to the losers. I used two examples of such impacts in earlier blogs, both of which connect to climate change. In France (see the Dec 18, 2018 blog), the Yellow Vest demonstrations tried to stop—and succeeded in slowing—the transition to the use of more sustainable energy sources. In Germany, on the other hand (October 8, 2019), the government combined its commitments to withdraw from coal with subsidies to the coal-producing states, resulting in minimal objections to the transition.

I will continue to present additional examples, including cases where there is a downward trajectory that some are falsely (and catastrophically) trying to present as a K transition.

Stay tuned.

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The End of the Beginning

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill made this declaration in his speech after the British won the second battle of El Alamein against the Germans in 1942. One of my English friends emailed me the following cartoon; it seems like a good fit for the opening of my last blog of 2020 (even though the COVID-19 vaccines all go in the arm).

vaccine, hope, new year, 2021

I just finished a semester teaching four online courses at various levels, I continue to write this blog, and as always, I work hard to be a decent human being. My wife and I are also participating in stage 3 of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial.

I try to find the time to read recent works on WWII. There’s a new collection of books that makes use of Russian archives from that period. I’m particularly interested in the writings by German historians. Close to the start of the pandemic, I started to read Volker Ullrich’s second book about Adolph Hitler that was recently translated to English: Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945. Unconsciously, I find myself comparing our present situation to WWII.

I started this blog on April 22, 2012 with a short personal history of myself and my family, starting during WWII. This is not the first tigme I have drawn parallels to the present. I am not going to compare individual events. My focus is on turning points. The battle of EA took place more than 80 years ago. We now know how both it and WWII ended. When he made his famous speech, Churchill knew how the battle of El-Alamein had ended but could not have predicted the outcome of the battle of Stalingrad. We don’t fully know how (or if???) Trump’s presidency will end on fJanuary 20th.

Two turning points stand out in WWII. The Battle of El Amein took place from, October 23 – November 05, 1942, with Bernard Montgomery leading the British forces against Erwin Rommel’s German ones. In the battle of Stalingrad (Battle of Stalingrad – Wikipedia), August 1942 – February 1943, Gregory Zhukov’s Russian forces faced off against Friedrich Paulus’ German ones. The number of casualties (dead and wounded) in the Battle of EA is estimated at 14,000 British and 60,000 Germans. The casualties in the battle of Stalingrad are estimated at 800,000 Germans and 1.1 million Russians.

From the start of WWII, with the German invasion of Poland, the Germans scored a set of nonstop  victories. There was a very real threat that the Nazis would, in no time, be able to control the entire European continent. This belief was shattered with the German battlefield losses toward the end of 1942, which serve as the background of Churchill’s speech. On a more general level, Germany’s invasion (Operation Barbarossa) of the Soviet Union in June of 1941 and the addition of American forces to the Allies as of December 1941 made Germany’s (and the Axis powers’) loss of the war almost inevitable.

Almost three years passed between Churchill’s “End of the Beginning” speech and the end of the war. Most of the WWII deaths and murders, including those of the majority of my direct family, took place after the battle of El-Alamein. WWII in Europe ended on May 8, 1945 (Victory Europe Day). I was liberated on April 13, 1945 by the American army.

Back to the present pandemic. The virus that causes COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. As of last week (December 24, 2020), there were close to 80 million coronavirus cases estimated globally, with roughly 1.7 million dead. The number of infections is probably much larger because most testing (throughout the world) has been done on people with symptoms.

The UK, Canada, and Bahrain’s temporary approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as of December 10th marked what we hope will be the end of the beginning of our current struggle. The US, the EU, and other countries have followed suit in approving the Pfizer vaccine and some countries have since approved the Moderna vaccine.

Following these approvals, a massive vaccination effort has started to take shape. My wife and I are participating in the Oxford/AstraZeneca phase 3 testing. We do not know how long it will take for the world to return to normal—such an occurrence will require some sort of herd-immunity that it is now estimated will require more than 80% of the population to receive a vaccine—but we now have reason to hope it will be soon.

Our current pandemic can be compared on various levels to the Spanish Flu that took place at the tail-end of WWI (May 12, 2020 blog). Most of the people that lived through the Spanish Flu lived also through WWI, so comparisons of the miseries, including number of deaths, were abundant (40 million in WWI vs. 50 million from the Spanish Flu).

The number of people who lived through WWII, and are now living through the current pandemic, is fast shrinking. I am one of them, so, I have the “license” to compare. I have lived with the term, “survivor” in relation to the Holocaust for many years. I’ve never liked the term. It is too passive. I was a child during WWII and I had no way to take action. Now I have a choice. My wife and I volunteered to participate in the AstraZeneca phase 3 trial in part because it was a way to do something in the face of this crisis.

Over the last week of 2020, I saw two new movies that will be relevant to our 2021 discussion of anthropogenic (human-made) global disasters. One was Wonder Woman 1984, which depicts the disastrous consequences of everyone in the world being granted a wish. It ends with a simple, if predictable solution for how to save our planet and society. The second movie was George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky,” which, while it focuses on our planet’s destruction from some unknown cause, does not offer a solution.

Have a safe and happy New Year.

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Birobidzhan and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast

If you search this blog for the term, “environmental immigration,” you’ll find about 16 entries, including several guest blogs that my students wrote as their concluding research projects. The post from April 3, 2018 summarizes some of the findings from the 2017 Intelligence Report regarding the hazards such migration poses:

Changing climate conditions challenged the capacity of many governments to cope, especially in the Middle East and Africa, where extended droughts reduced food and water supplies and high temperatures suppressed the ability of people to work outdoors. Large numbers of displaced persons from the region often found they had no place to go as a series of dramatic terrorist attacks in Western countries drove those governments to adopt stringent security policies that restricted immigration.

My students and I continue to follow the subject. Of course, since much of our attention is focused on the US, we dwell a lot on climate change’s negative impacts on immigration. We look at both the populations that are forced to leave their homes and the recipient countries that often view such migrants as threats to their national security and economic well being.

However, I have several students from northern countries—mostly from Russia—who have a very different perception of the impact of climate change. From the perspective of their native lands, climate change can be a blessing.

While the lists of the coldest countries in the world vary, they invariably include those that border on the Arctic Circle. The website, “Swedish Nomad” gives Russia the top spot, followed by Greenland, Canada, and the US. All of them border the Arctic. “Wow Travel” puts Antarctica first (a slightly awkward choice because, while there are no countries in Antarctica, seven nations claim different parts of it), followed by the US (mainly due to Alaska), Russia (Siberia), Norway, and Mongolia.

In that context, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I recently found a New York Times Magazine article about the countries (and states) that will benefit from the environmental migrants that climate change produces: “How Russia Wins the Climate CrisisClimate change and its enormous human migrations will transform agriculture and remake the world order – and no country stands to gain more than Russia.”

… Across Eastern Russia, wild forests, swamps and grasslands are slowly being transformed into orderly grids of soybeans, corn and wheat. It’s a process that is likely to accelerate: Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.

Around the world, climate change is becoming an epochal crisis, a nightmare of drought, desertification, flooding and unbearable heat, threatening to make vast regions less habitable and drive the greatest migration of refugees in history. But for a few nations, climate change will present an unparalleled opportunity, as the planet’s coldest regions become more temperate. There is plenty of reason to think that those places will also receive an extraordinary influx of people displaced from the hottest parts of the world as the climate warms. Human migration, historically, has been driven by the pursuit of prosperity even more so than it has by environmental strife. With climate change, prosperity and habitability — haven and economic opportunity — will soon become one and the same.

And no country may be better positioned to capitalize on climate change than Russia. Russia has the largest land mass by far of any northern nation. It is positioned farther north than all of its South Asian neighbors, which collectively are home to the largest global population fending off displacement from rising seas, drought and an overheating climate. Like Canada, Russia is rich in resources and land, with room to grow. Its crop production is expected to be boosted by warming temperatures over the coming decades even as farm yields in the United States, Europe and India are all forecast to decrease. And whether by accident or cunning strategy or, most likely, some combination of the two, the steps its leaders have steadily taken — planting flags in the Arctic and propping up domestic grain production among them — have increasingly positioned Russia to regain its superpower mantle in a warmer world.

The article describes the, “small village of Dimitrovo, which sits just 35 miles north of the Chinese border in a remote part of eastern Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region.”

That last phrase caught me completely by surprise; I didn’t know that it still existed. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, I grew up in Israel and completed my education there, so I was familiar with the history of that Jewish state. I am almost certain, however, that most of you reading this blog have never heard of it, so I think that some background is appropriate. As usual, I will reference Wikipedia:

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast (JAO; Russian: Евре́йская автоно́мная о́бласть, Yevreyskaya avtonomnaya oblast; Yiddish: ייִדישע אװטאָנאָמע געגנט‎, yidishe avtonome Gegnt)[14] is a federal subject of Russia in the Russian Far East, bordering Khabarovsk Krai and Amur Oblast in Russia and Heilongjiang province in China.[15] Its administrative center is the town of Birobidzhan.

At its height in the late 1940s, the Jewish population in the region peaked at around 46,000–50,000, around 25% of the entire population.[16] As of the 2010 Census, JAO’s population was 176,558 people,[10] or 0.1% of the total population of Russia. By 2010, according to data provided by the Russian Census Bureau, there were only 1,628 Jews remaining in the JAO (less than 1% of the population), while ethnic Russians made up 92.7% of the JAO population.[17] Judaism is practiced by only 0.2% of the population of the JAO.[18]

Article 65 of the Constitution of Russia provides that the JAO is Russia’s only autonomous oblast. It is one of two official Jewish jurisdictions in the world, the other being Israel.

Map of Russia with the JAO on the south side of Siberia, marked in red (source: Stasyan117, Wikipedia)

Menorah at the center of Birobidzhan

Figure 2 shows a structure in the center of the JAO’s administrative center, Birobidzhan, which features a large Jewish menorah with seven candles. It is a symbol that one can find in many synagogues and other Jewish structures. It is similar to the nine-candle menorah used to celebrate Hanukkah (which ended last Thursday evening).

Wikipedia gives us more about the JAO’s origins:

Although Judaism as a religion ran counter to the Bolshevik party’s policy of atheism, Vladimir Lenin wanted to appease minority groups to gain their support and provide examples of tolerance.[22]

In 1924, the unemployment rate among Jews exceeded 30%, partially as a result of pogroms[23] but also as a result of the policies of the USSR, which prohibited people from being craftspeople and small businessmen.[24] With the goal of getting Jews back to work to be more productive members of society, the government established Komzet, the committee for the agricultural settlement of Jews.[23]The Soviet government entertained the idea of resettling all Jews in the USSR in a designated territory where they would be able to pursue a lifestyle that was “socialist in content and national in form”. The Soviets also wanted to offer an alternative to Zionism, the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish homeland. Socialist Zionists such as Ber Borochov were gaining followers at that time and Zionism was a rival ideology to Marxism among left-wing Jews.[19] The location that was initially considered in the early 1920s was Crimea, which already had a significant Jewish population[19] Two Jewish districts (raiony) were formed in Crimea and three in south Ukraine.[23][25] However, an alternative scheme, perceived as more advantageous, was put into practice.[19]

I learned about the JAO in the context of other attempts during the last two hundred years to establish a Jewish state, including the modern version of Zionism, which started with Theodor Herzl (1860-1904). My schooling taught that the JAO was a failed effort that didn’t deserve a second thought. Now, climate change is resurrecting the area, transforming it into a place that may flourish as a global refuge for climate migrants, irrespective of their religion (as the NYT article makes clear, most of the climate refugees who flee to the JAO will probably be Chinese).

Posted in Climate Change, Extreme Weather, immigration, refugee, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Job and the Just World Hypothesis

I asked my wife, a psychologist and college administrator, to help explain climate change denial. She suggested the “just world hypothesis.” I included her proposal in the last chapter of my book, Climate Change: The Fork at the End of Now:

My wife, an experimental psychologist and now the dean of research at my college, pointed out that social psychology has a possible explanation for inaction in the face of dire threats, mediated by a strong need to believe that we live in a “just world,” a belief deeply held by many individuals that the world is a rational, predictable, and just place. The “just world” hypothesis also posits that people believe that beneficiaries deserve their benefits and victims their suffering. The “just world” concept has some similarity to rational choice theory, which underlies current analysis of microeconomics and other social behavior. Rationality in this context is the result of balancing costs and benefits to maximize personal advantage. It underlies much of economic modeling, including that of stock markets, where it goes by the name “efficient market hypothesis,” which states that the existing share price incorporates and reflects all relevant information. The need for such frameworks emerges from attempts to make the social sciences behave like physical sciences with good predictive powers. Physics is not much different. A branch of physics called statistical mechanics, which is responsible for most of the principles discussed in Chapter 5 (conservation of energy, entropy, etc.), incorporates the basic premise that if nature has many options for action and we do not have any reason to prefer one option over another, then we assume that the probability of taking any action is equal to the probability of taking any other. For large systems, this assumption works beautifully and enables us to predict macroscopic phenomena to a high degree of accuracy. In economics, a growing area of research is dedicated to the study of exceptions to the rational choice theory, which has shown that humans are not very rational creatures.  This area, behavioral economics, includes major contributions by psychologists.

The book was published nine years ago but my feelings about the hypothesis haven’t changed over this time. The “just world hypothesis” is not science, nor is it rational. It is based in religion and cannot be refuted. By those standards, it hardly qualifies as a hypothesis. Here’s how Wikipedia describes the idea:

The just-world fallacy or just-world hypothesis is the cognitive bias that a person’s actions are inherently inclined to bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person; thus, it is the assumption that all noble actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions eventually punished. In other words, the just-world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to—or expected consequences as the result of—a universal force that restores moral balance. This belief generally implies the existence of cosmic justice, destiny, divine providence, desert, stability, and/or order, and is often associated with a variety of fundamental fallacies, especially in regard to rationalizing people’s suffering on the grounds that they “deserve” it.

The hypothesis popularly appears in the English language in various figures of speech that imply guaranteed negative reprisal, such as: “you got what was coming to you”, “what goes around comes around”, “chickens come home to roost”, “everything happens for a reason”, and “you reap what you sow”. This hypothesis has been widely studied by social psychologists since Melvin J. Lerner conducted seminal work on the belief in a just world in the early 1960s.[1] Research has continued since then, examining the predictive capacity of the hypothesis in various situations and across cultures, and clarifying and expanding the theoretical understandings of just-world beliefs.[2]

This pandemic has forced us to change almost everything about the way we live our lives. This includes entertainment. My wife and I saw an electronic event that aimed to put the Book of Job from the Old Testament into the context of present life. I grew up in Israel, so the Old Testament was a part of my education. The Book of Job was part of our high school curriculum. Its connection to the “just world hypothesis” has not escaped me.

The event described itself in this way:

The Book of Job Project presents dramatic readings by acclaimed actors of The Book of Job as a catalyst for powerful, guided conversations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon individuals, families, and communities. The Book of Job is an ancient Hebrew poem that timelessly explores how humans behave when faced with disaster, pestilence and injustice.

Featuring performances by Bill Murray, Frankie Faison, David Strathairn, Marjolaine Goldsmith, Kathryn Erbe, and Nyasha Hatendi.

The event on Zoom

Those of you unfamiliar with the story can read the Wikipedia synopsis or read the full English text of the Book of Job via the Bible Project.

Here is part of Wikipedia’s summary:

The Book of Job (/dʒoʊb/; Hebrew: אִיּוֹב‎ – ʾIyyōḇ) is a book of the Hebrew Bible. It addresses the problem of theodicy, meaning why God permits evil in the world.[1] Job is a wealthy and God-fearing man with a comfortable life and a large family; God, having asked Satan (Hebrew: הַשָּׂטָן‎ – haśśāṭān, literally “the accuser”) for his opinion of Job’s piety, decides to take away Job’s wealth, family and material comforts, following Satan’s accusation that if Job were rendered penniless and without his family, he would turn away from God. The book is found in the Ketuvim (“Writings”) section of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and is the first poetic book in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.[2] Scholars are generally agreed that it was written between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE.[3]

The prologue on Earth introduces Job as a righteous man, blessed with wealth, sons, and daughters, who lives in the land of Uz. The scene shifts to Heaven, where God asks Satan (Hebrew: הַשָּׂטָן‎ – haśśāṭān, literally “the accuser”) for his opinion of Job’s piety. Satan accuses Job of being pious only because God has materially blessed him; if God were to take away everything that Job has, then he would surely curse God. God gives Satan permission to take Job’s wealth and kill his children and servants, but Job nonetheless praises God: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”[8] God allows Satan to afflict his body with boils. Job sits in ashes, and his wife prompts him to “curse God, and die”, but Job answers: “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?”[9]

Job’s friends try to make the case for a “just world,” claiming that Job’s punishment is itself proof that he is not as pure as he claims to be. After all, God knows best. Job doesn’t initially argue with this claim or blame God for his misfortunes. He just wants to know where and how he actually sinned to deserve such tribulations. He later takes issue with his friends’ lack of empathy for his suffering and does rail against God for both his own troubles and those of the world around him. Nowhere in the story does God answer Job with a list of what he did wrong; instead, Job learns that he does not and cannot know enough to judge God’s decisions.

At the end of the reading, there was a panel discussion, followed by one with the general audience, an estimated 5,000 people globally. Only one of the comments (indirectly) referenced the “just world hypothesis” but many commented on our present suffering. Job questions, “Why me?” and many of the commenters echoed the woeful question. The moderator of the program tried to provide one possible answer to Job’s question, claiming that—judging by the period and Job’s wealth, Job was probably also a slave owner. Nobody else followed through with that line of thought. However, some posited that the main problem was that Job was too transactional when it came to sin.

After President Trump announced his withdrawal from the Paris agreement (June 6, 2017 blog), I quoted Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.):

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) told a constituent last week that God can solve the problem of climate change if the global phenomenon truly exists

Rep. Walberg subscribes to the belief that if climate change exists, it is something that God is inflicting and is therefore “just” (i.e., something we brought on ourselves). As with Job, God doesn’t have to answer to us.

Meanwhile, there have been over 70 million global cases of the coronavirus (US cases exceed 16 million). Worldwide, the total number of deaths directly associated with the virus has surpassed 1.6 million (in the US it exceeds 300 thousand). The numbers are growing exponentially, even as many religions are now approaching the most important family holidays. These are times when, traditionally, we travel to be with loved ones; it is likely that this strong draw will lead some to neglect even basic precautions that help to minimize the virus impact.

Please stay safe, maintain social distance, and wear a mask!

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Guest Blog: The Effects of Climate Change on Pandemics

Hello readers! This week’s guest blog is from Alvin Huang, Paula Glab, and Yuduo Wu. Combined, we are pursuing degrees in the fields of physics and computer science. Through this blog post, we hope to spread information on the correlation between climate change and pandemics. Although both of these factors have been extensively studied separately from one another, we utilize known information to relate the two aspects. More importantly, however, we include information on how climate change can increase the risk of pandemics. We will focus on how climate change affects pandemics via phenomena including the migration of disease-carrying animals and the melting of permafrost.

Pandemics are global disasters. We are currently experiencing the unfortunate example of COVID-19. Of course, there are multiple factors that contribute to pandemics, including the environment and animals. However, climate change itself is a major, growing cause of potential epidemics that could blossom into pandemics.

Climate change is causing a shift in how animals are migrating. That, in conjunction with the way humans are expanding into animal habitats, may increase exposure to infectious diseases.

Human activities emit greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane, leading to climate change. The global average surface temperature has increased by around 0.6°C over the 20th century. It is predicted to rise by an additional 1.4–5.8°C over the 21st century.

Warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall have created ideal conditions for disease vectors. Likewise, the pathogens are now able to live in some areas that were previously uninhabitable. Roughly 60% of new pathogens come from animals. Rodents account for more than 60% of all the diseases transmitted from animals to people. Warming weather and erratic precipitation increase the spread of biting insects like mosquitoes and ticks, which transfer infected blood from person to person.

Malaria, for example, is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. Climate change and the associated increase in monsoon rainfall and humidity, allows for better breeding conditions for mosquitoes. The rising mosquito population, in turn, is increasing the spread of malaria.

epidemic, malaria, Sri Lanka, el nino, la nina,

Figure 1, Taken from, “Epochal changes in the association between malaria epidemics and El Niño in Sri Lanka”

Learning how to interpret these weather patterns and predict future weather patterns alongside climate change can help scientists predict and better prepare for malaria epidemic years. Further, it is important to understand this correlation so that health officials can be better prepared to deal with the spread of these outbreaks and the inevitable impact of climate change on the increase of epidemics/pandemics.

Rising global temperatures increase water evaporation in storm-affected areas. This increase in evaporation causes more rainfall, which in turn can create better breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects. We have observed patterns of animal migration changing with the climate, so it is safe to say that these insects may very well expand their habitat into different neighboring areas that were once not affected by malaria, thus spreading this infectious disease even more.

Dengue fever is an acute vector-borne disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Dengue virus infection can lead to recessive infection, dengue fever, dengue hemorrhagic fever, etc. The typical clinical manifestations of dengue fever include sudden-onset high fever, headache, severe muscle, bone, and joint pain, skin rashes, bleeding tendency, lymphadenopathy, decreased white blood cell count, and thrombocytopenia in some patients. The disease is mainly prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions. Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau, and other places in China are dengue fever endemic areas. Since the disease is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the epidemic has a certain seasonality, usually from May to November each year, with a peak from July to September. In new epidemic areas, the entire population is generally susceptible but the incidence is mainly in adults; in endemic areas, the incidence is mainly in children.

Dengue virus is resistant to low temperatures. It can survive for 5 years at -20℃ and more than 8 years at -70℃ but it is not heat resistant. It can be inactivated by 30 minutes at 50℃ or 2 minutes at 100℃. Nor is it acid-resistant. Detergent, ether, ultraviolet light, and 0.65% formaldehyde solution can also be used to inactivate the dengue virus.

mosquitoes, dengue, global warming, spread, humidity, global warming, tropical disease

Figure 2 – Expected global spread of dengue fever from 1990-2085

As Figure 2 shows, dengue fever will spread at a higher rate worldwide as the humidity changes. The expansion of tropical ecosystems due to global warming will increase the area in which dengue vectors can live, raising the number of people at risk of contracting such tropical diseases.

IPCC, future, RCP, CO2

Figure 3 – IPCC scenarios

climate change, RCP, mosquitoesFigure 4 – Annual life-cycle completions of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, by continent

A group of scientists published a paper about their research regarding the life-cycle completions (LCC) of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and its relationship to climate change. The article states that the LCC has been constantly increasing as the representative concentration pathways (RCP) increase. Look at the darker green line in Figure 4 which represents South America. As the dotted line (higher RCP) increases, the annual life-cycle completions (LCC) also increase. RCP is related to the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, so as the climate changes, the mosquitoes tend to survive longer and longer, as shown in Figure 4. This longer lifespan could increase humans’ chance of contracting a virus.

A representative concentration pathway (RCP) is a greenhouse gas concentration trajectory adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). RCPs estimate the greenhouse gas concentration in the next 100 years or more and convert the concentration of greenhouse gas into increased radiative forcing (W/m2). RCPs are the result of cooperation between different research institutions. There are four scenarios represented in Figure 3: RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5, each of which describes the changing curves of different greenhouse gas concentrations and corresponds to different radiative forcing increases.

RCP, scenario, LCC, mosquitoes, greenhouse gas

Figure 5 – Monthly Aedes aegypti life-cycle completions for various RCP scenarios

We can clearly observe from Figure 5 that the 2050s RCP8.5 scenario has the highest number of LCC of the four scenarios. Therefore, we can conclude that from 1950 to 2050, as the RCP increases from 4.5 to 8.5, the LCC of Aedes aegypti also increases globally, from 40°N to 40°S, which means from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

mosquitoes, disease, future, malaria, climate change, territory, spread

Figure 6Predicted global ranges of Aedes aegypti (above) and Aedes albopictus (below) in 2050 assuming a ‘medium’ climate scenario

Another article says Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus will expand their range considerably within a ‘medium’ climate scenario by 2050. As with the longer lifespan, the increasing territory of mosquitoes could also increase the chance of humans contracting various diseases.

With all this evidence, we conclude that the increasing cases of dengue in the world have a significant connection with climate change. The distribution of mosquitoes has become wider and wider across the globe, and they tend to survive longer, putting humans at higher risk.

Climate change is not only worsening current diseases; it’s also bringing old viruses, like anthrax, back from the dead. A frozen reindeer thawed in 2016, releasing the virus in the arctic to spread to other regions. In western Serbia, 13 people were hospitalized from anthrax, in spite of the fact that the reindeer was discovered  to have died 75 years prior. This potentially deadly disease also killed around 1,200 deer over the span of a month when the temperature rose over 35oC. As the temperature continues to rise from climate change, it becomes increasingly likely that other frozen, disease-carrying corpses may set off similar situations.

As the global temperature goes up, epidemics and pandemics will be harder to control. Climate change affects the weather, which affects the environment, which affects animals’ movements, which can lead to animals infecting humans, possibly resulting in a pandemic. The routines and migration patterns of small animals play a large role here. For example, outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever come down to human exposure to disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Meanwhile, as in the example above, the temperature change will likely also revive old diseases as the ice melts to reveal infected animals/humans and release their pathogens. Overall, climate change isn’t just affecting the glaciers in the Arctic, but the global geographic landscape. It is helping create catastrophic events for all living beings.

As shown, pandemics could be caused by the change in the climate like the vectors of how animals move to the exposure of thawing preserved ancient diseases. A New York Times article, “Hotter Planet Already Poses Fatal Risks, Health Experts Warn,” shows that climate change could additionally create a potential increase in wildfires and air pollution. This also means risks of crop and food production shortages.

The only way to resolve this environmental disaster is for the human population to make an effort to take care of our own planet. We especially need to reduce the use of fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gases.


A Hotter Planet Is Already Killing Americans, Health Experts Warn,, The New York Times, December 02, 2020

How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease,, ProPublica, November 06, 2020

Potential Impact of Climate Change on Pandemic Influenza Risk,, Global Warming: Engineering Solutions, Oct 30, 2020

Climate Change and Dengue: How Global Warming Can Affect Your Health,, Cohan Lab, March 21, 2016

Fighting infectious diseases: The connection to climate change,, World Bank Blogs, November 06, 2020

Climate change and human health – risks and responses. Summary.,, World Health Organization, October 25, 2012

Thawed reindeer carcass blamed in anthrax outbreak,, CNN, July 28, 2016

Total number of cases includes number of deaths,, WHO, July 10, 2020

Global Surface Temperature,, NASA, July 16, 2020

Climate Change Will Expose Half of World’s Population to Disease-Spreading Mosquitoes By 2050m,, Yale E360, March 05, 2019

Accelerating invasion potential of disease vector Aedes aegypti under climate change,, Nature News, May 01, 2020

Dengue,, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 14, 2020

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Guest Blog: Jacob Kinnaman and Frank Huang

Welcome readers! This week’s guest blog is from Jacob Kinnaman and Frank Huang. Together, we hope to spread awareness about the correlation between climate change-induced migrations and the national security threats that they create. Although many people may view national security threats solely in terms of invasion or interference from a foreign country, other elements play a part. Extreme weather events caused by climate change have an extensive impact, both nationally and internationally.

In this blog we will be going through some statistics about wildfires in California and Mexico specifically. California experiences the most wildfires during the summer seasons. Mexico’s wildfires, while they can occur at any time throughout the year, are most intense from January to May, emitting over 1,000,000 tons CO2/per month. Both California and Mexico suffer greatly from wildfire damages, losing millions of acres of land every year.

Climate Change, Climate Migration, and National Security Threats

2020 has been a year like no other. Among other disasters, massive wildfires swept the west coast of North America, leading us to examine the effects of climate change—not only right now but in the future.


Annual Burned Areas in California

California, fire, wildfire, burn

Figure 1 – Burned regions of California, 1972-2018

a) Total burned area of the 4 regions combined
b) North Coast
c) Sierra Nevada
d) Central Coast
e) South Coast

The graphs above show the seasonal and annual burned areas in California from 1972-2018. There have been 39,556 California wildfires recorded during that time. The burn area has increased during the last 50 years.

Ever since the 1970s, California’s wildfires have increased—both in size and damages—exponentially each year, with the most destructive fires occurring in 2017 and 2018. The wildfires in 2017 burned a total of 1,548,429 acres of land, destroyed over 10,000 buildings, and cost over $18 billion in damages. Those in 2018 burned 1,975,086 acres of land, destroyed more than 24,000 buildings, and cost over $26 billion in damages.

The cost of fire suppression also leapt substantially in the last decade.

fire, supression, cost, wildfire,

Figure 2

Wildfires are burning more acres of land each year.

California, wildfires, burn

Figure 3

Human-induced warming plays a major role in the growth of wildfires in the last few decades. The increased forest fires are strongly tied to “increased atmospheric aridity caused by warming” (Williams, 2019). The increasing global temperature significantly increased the atmospheric vapor pressure deficit (VPD). Experts believe that the increasing appearance of wildfires is undeniably related to the rising VPD. The temperature is predicted to rise by 1.4 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Like the United States, Mexico deals with wildfire problems. Its wildfires differ in that they can occur any time of the year, though they are most likely from January through May. “The impact of these forest fires is an average emission of 1,000,000 tons CO2/per month during the fire risk period in tropical zones” (Dominguez & Rodríguez Trejo,1998). This table shows the amount of land being burned in hectares (~ 2.47 acres):

Table 1 – 1998 Wildfire and agricultural burning effects in Central America (Dominguez & Rodríguez Trejo, 1998)

forest fire, fire, damage, burn, Central America,

Clearly, within the Central American region, Mexico is the most affected by fires, with the highest total of 5.14 million hectares burned in 1998. Also in 1998, “56,731 fires registered over 2,330,000 ha (41 ha/per fire), that is, the equivalent of 3 percent of forest surface and a surface area 2.25 times greater than the average annual deforestation rate for the zone” (Dominguez & Rodríguez Trejo, 1998).

We can interpret from these data that the numbers continue to grow each year. It doesn’t help that Mexico, specifically northern Mexico, is prone to droughts. Much like California, the region has seen less and less rainfall as the years pass. “The period after 1994 coincides with a historically rare period of drought in much of Mexico that is comparable to the great Mexican drought of the 1950s” (Feng et al., 2010).

Conditions like this are key drivers in Mexico for climatic migration, both internally and externally. Since Mexico has a large rural population that relies on agriculture for a living, these extreme fires and droughts force people from the northern region to find new places to live. Most people migrate to the urban areas where adapting to climate change is easier. A study performed in 2003 demonstrated that rainfall is an important driver of emigration from Mexico to the US. As rain-fed agriculture is the major occupation in communities of Mexican origin, below-average rainfall in Mexico increases out-migration (Berlemann & Steinhardt, 2017).

The Future

Table 2 – Wildfire area burned regressions for aggregated ecoregions (Spracklen, 2009)

wildfire, future, prediction, humidity, wind, temperature

This table shows wildfire area burned regressions for aggregated ecoregions in the western United States according to four meteorological variables:

1) Daily 12:00 pm local standard time temperature

2) Relative humidity

3) Wind speed

4) 24-hour accumulated rainfall

Scientists then calculated the daily value of each meteorological variable for each ecoregion from 1980-2004. The calculated data was input into the Canadian FWI System to predict future wildfire severity or the rate of fire spread. A schematic of this system is shown below:

predict, fire, spread, damage, humidity, moisture, wind, rain, fire weather index,

Figure 4

In this diagram, the terms are as follows:

Fine Fuel Moisture Code (FFMC): Surface fuel litter and changes rapidly with short-term changes in atmospheric moisture

The Duff Moisture Code (DMC): Loosely compacted organic layers

Drought Code (DC): Deep layers of compacted fuel and reacts to seasonal droughts

The Build-up Index (BUI): Indicates the availability of fuel for consumption by combining DMC and DC

Initial Spread Index (ISI). Potential rate of fire spread calculated by combining wind speed and FFMC

Fire Weather Index (FWI): Combining ISI and BUI, this index is used as a general index of fire danger

Predicting what will happen in the future is key to understanding what we can expect and how we can prepare for the greater threat that climate change poses to our globe. As desertification, wildfires, and rising sea levels continue to occur throughout Mexico, climate migration will become more apparent. Mexico City, as well as other major cities, will be a hotspot of future climate in-migration; the arid north as well as rain-fed croplands and low-lying southern coastal areas will be large out-migration sources (Rigaud et al., 2018).

climate migration, MexicoFigure 5 – Population density in Mexico, 2010, 2050 (Rigaud et al., 2018)

This map shows population density in Mexico in 2010 and what is predicted to happen by 2050. The darker the shaded area, the higher population density.

We can see the change in color of the northwestern and coastal parts of Mexico, as population density is set to decrease in these areas by 2050. Notice how much darker the area in and around Mexico City becomes with increased internal migration to this urban area. The spatial extent of urban areas is projected to grow by 2050. Growth in urban areas is projected to rise from 90 million people in 2010 to about 140 million people in 2050.

Table 3 (Rigaud et al., 2018)

Mexico, climate, migrant, emigration, climate migrant, scenario

This table depicts the number of expected migrants in Mexico by 2050 under three different climate change scenarios. It shows at most 2.27% of the total population will become climate migrants by 2050. This number is only for internal migrants, not counting the emigrating population. To combat this massive displacement, we need to focus on preventing and tackling climate change now and not 20 years from now.

Security Threats

Scientists have concluded that wildfire-burned areas will likely increase by 57% in Western United States by 2050 (Williams, 2019). Climate change-induced natural disasters will likely get more severe as time goes on. Frequent storms, hurricanes, heat waves, and wildfires will eventually displace many residents. Climate change was officially deemed a national threat in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans (Busby, 2007). The hurricane destroyed the majority of the city and caused over $80 billion in damages, killed nearly 2,000 people, and relocated more than 270,000 residents. Over 70,000 US soldiers were mobilized.

Scientists predict that the severe weather events caused by climate change could pose a national security risk by damaging military bases, killing a large population of people, and displacing residents.

Migration patterns will change across ecosystems when facing climate change impacts alongside other stressors such as deforestation, land degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Unmanaged and unexpected climate-related migration could exacerbate a range of problems, including deterioration of ecosystems, slowing of regional economic development, disruption of human and political rights, and increased international conflicts and border fortification” (Feng et al., 2010).

Increased international migration can also cause mass displacement within the US and other countries that must deal with climate refugees. The increase of people can also bring terrorist threats and trigger conflict among the American people and their government. Economic aspects such as housing markets and cost of living will be greatly affected as well.


Through the analysis of this data we can conclude that without further intervention and new protocols to better combat climate change, the threat of wildfires in the US and Mexico will undoubtedly increase as Earth’s global temperature rises. As fires continue with greater abundance and strength with each passing year, they will continue to run rampant, destroying millions of acres of residential and farming property. This only perpetuates a driving force in both external and internal migration in both Mexico and the US. This year we saw uncontrollable fires across the western coast of North America. Without the proper laws and guidelines to mitigate this climate change, similar fires driven by strong winds and fueled by decaying land will continue to blaze our continent.

One of many ways to correct this path from becoming our future starts with government intervention. Lawmakers need to take action and take this matter seriously. They must increase the funding for the local and state fire departments and forest clean-up programs that can prevent the start of these natural disasters. This can combat a large shift in migration populations in our future. Additional changes in farming practices would allow farmers to be more resilient to adverse climatic conditions, making them better able to supply populations dependent on local food supply. The estimated effect of food supply on migration may become smaller as well, as globalization connects our world more than ever before.



  1. Berlemann, M., & Steinhardt, M. (2017, November 24). Climate Change, Natural Disasters, and Migration-a Survey of the Empirical Evidence. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from
  2. Feng, S., Krueger, A., & Oppenheimer, M. (2010, August 10). Linkages among climate change, crop yields and Mexico-US cross-border migration. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from
  3. Domínguez, R. M., & Rodríguez Trejo, D. A. (1998). Forest Fires in Mexico and Central América [PDF].
  4. “Rigaud, Kanta Kumari; de Sherbinin, Alex; Jones, Bryan; Bergmann, Jonas; Clement, Viviane; Ober, Kayly; Schewe, Jacob; Adamo, Susana; McCusker, Brent; Heuser, Silke; Midgley, Amelia. 2018. Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”
  5. Busby, J. W. (2007). Climate change and national security: An agenda for action. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.
  6. Spracklen, D., Mickley, L., Logan, J., Hudman, R., Yevich, R., Flannigan, M., & Westerling, A. (2009, October 20). Impacts of climate change from 2000 to 2050 on wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations in the western United States. Retrieved November 10, 2020, from
  7. Smith, P. (2007, August 29). Climate Change, Mass Migration and the Military Response. Retrieved November 28, 2020, from
  8. Williams, A., Abatzoglou, J., Gershunov, A., Guzman‐Morales, J., Bishop, D., Balch, J., & Lettenmaier, D. (2019, August 04). Observed Impacts of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Wildfire in California. Retrieved November 08, 2020, from
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Teaching Moment 3: The Electoral College & Whose Vote Counts Most?

 As of last Friday (November 20th) the election results were as follows:

Total vote:  Biden – 79.7 million (51%), Trump – 73.7 million (47%). The difference in the popular vote is around 4% or 6 million votes. As for the electoral college votes: Biden – 306, Trump – 232.

The turnout for this election is estimated at 66% of registered voters (compared to 60% in 2016), for a total near 160 million votes. Of the five closest battleground states (Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), President Trump won only the North Carolina vote. If he had been able to carry Pennsylvania and Georgia, the electoral college votes would have tied at 270 for each candidate. The decision might then have moved to Congress, with a good chance that the body would have granted President Trump a second term. If he had won all five of the states (a 50,000-vote difference from his final outcome) he would have been elected with an easy majority in the electoral college. And yet, such a small shift of 50,000 out of 6 million (0.8%) would hardly have made a dent in Biden’s lead in the popular vote. That’s not far from what happened in 2016.

President Trump has yet to concede and is trying every trick in the book to stay in office. Between 50-80% of his 70 million supporters (depending on the source) believe that the only fair election result would be one in which he won. Several key states are supposed to submit their official counts today, so hopefully the situation will look a bit clearer soon.

It is hardly a surprise that the significant difference between popular and electoral vote distribution gave rise to an outcry that US elections are undemocratic. The electoral college gives significantly more power to certain states, overshadowing the will of the people as a whole. Similar outcries arose after both the 2000 and 2016 elections. While the Democratic candidate won the popular vote by a wide margin in all three cases, in the first two elections they lost in the electoral college by a very small margin. Many have called for the abolition of the electoral college and advocated for a direct popular presidential election. The New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece, “2020 Shows why the Electoral College Is Stupid and Immoral”

This is a great opportunity to dive into the intricacies of the American voting system to try to understand what can go wrong.

The US Constitution established the separation of power between the three branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. It likewise aimed to balance between stability and freedom by weighing the federal government against the power of the states. The Senate and the House of Representatives mirror that juxtaposition. Each state has its own constitution, which lays out a similar balance.

Like the rest of the American government, the election system anchors on the American Constitution:

Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 3:

“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 Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

Yes, it is spelled, “chusing” in the American Constitution. What else could they have gotten wrong?

Figure 1 illustrates the number of electoral votes per million residents in each state (2018). We can also see the political leanings of each state (red states vs. blue states). The smallest number of electors per million residents is in Texas – one of the most populous red states.

Electoral votes per million residents, population density, electoral college, vote, election

Figure 1Electoral votes per million residents (2018)

The Op-Ed that called the electoral college “stupid and immoral” didn’t object to the existence of the electoral college itself. Instead, it took issue with the Constitutional mandate of how to employ it, as stated in the start of the first sentence of the 2nd clause, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct…” President Trump is trying to mobilize Republican legislators in states where VP-Biden won the election to appoint electors who will support him, regardless of the popular vote. The American Constitution doesn’t go into what are called “faithless electors” but the act seems neither likely nor particularly effective:

There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law that requires electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their States. Some States, however, require electors to cast their votes according to the popular vote. These pledges fall into two categories—electors bound by State law and those bound by pledges to political parties.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution does not require that electors be completely free to act as they choose and therefore, political parties may extract pledges from electors to vote for the parties’ nominees. Some State laws provide that so-called “faithless electors” may be subject to fines or may be disqualified for casting an invalid vote and be replaced by a substitute elector. The Supreme Court decided (in 2020) that States can enact requirements on how electors vote. No elector has ever been prosecuted for failing to vote as pledged. However, several electors were disqualified and replaced, and others fined, in 2016 for failing to vote as pledged.

It is rare for electors to disregard the popular vote by casting their electoral vote for someone other than their party’s candidate. Electors generally hold a leadership position in their party or were chosen to recognize years of loyal service to the party. Throughout our history as a nation, more than 99 percent of electors have voted as pledged.

Another often-heard objection to the present implementation of the electoral college has to do with the “winner take all” mandate. With the exception of Main and Nebraska, all of the states require that the entirety of their electoral votes go to the winner of the popular vote, irrespective of the size of the win. This is not a Constitutional mandate so it could be changed relatively easily (compared to creating an amendment), thus addressing one of the root causes of the imbalances between the electoral college and popular votes.

The heart of American political polarization is in the urban-rural distribution. I have discussed this in earlier blogs (see December 6 and 13, 2016). Nor is this opposition peculiar to the United States; it’s common among many countries with free and fair elections. However, it is hard to determine the exact data because we do not have specific enough information on the different demographics. For instance, not only is there no category for suburbs in the census but the composition of said suburbs varies as a function of their distance from cities. And yet, this polarization can determine the results of election. Cities are political more than physical constructs. That’s one of the reasons that demographic records often refer to metropolitan areas which can be defined differently by different sources. An alternative way to map this polarization is through population density. Figure 2 shows such an example from the 2012 elections and both Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and Bloomberg have explored the concept of population density as it relates to the popular definitions of rural, urban, and suburban.

election, urban, rural, suburban, vote, Obama, Romney,mpopulation density

Figure 2 Vote vs population density in the 2012 election

Looking back at Figure 1, let’s take Texas as an example: Between 2000 and 2019 the population of Texas grew from 20 to 29 million, a growth of 45%. At the same time, the population of the United States grew 19% from 280 to 332 million. So relative to the US, the Texas population grew by more than a factor of 2 (2.4). Figure 1 tells us that Texas has one elector for every 1.4 million people. Alaska, meanwhile, has 4 electors per million people. This means that someone who moves from Alaska to Texas—because of better job opportunities, better climate or any other reason–gives up considerable leverage in structuring the federal government.

The Framers of the Constitution had the foresight, at the end of the 18th Century, to understand the necessity of balancing the regional (state) and popular interests to preserve the federal nature of the government. We have some kinks in how we have realized its implementation. The Founding Fathers had no way to foresee the rise of President Trump. It’s up to all of us to take care of the issues that have cropped up since the Constitution was first signed.

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