Working for the Future

A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be. – Wayne Gretzky

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. – Albert Einstein

I am here to advocate for Wayne Gretzky’s maxim and “dump” Albert Einstein’s prediction. This is a painful thing to do for a physics professor who has never played ice hockey in his life. Gretzky’s hockey can serve as metaphor for everything we do, including our attempts to save the planet from a sixth mass extinction. We all spend the days following the New Year hoping, praying and making resolutions to ensure that our future, as well as that of our friends and family, our country, and the world, will be better than what we have just lived through. Given that there are just a few days before our new president’s inauguration, it is time to confront his motto of “make America Great Again.” Not only does he not need to fulfill this campaign promise, we must all work to prevent America and the world from becoming worse than they currently are.

The New Year is also a great time to meet family and friends to talk through big issues and what we can do to shape a better future. As long as these chats remain abstract, there are no problems. We all want a safe world – on a local, national and global level; we want better education for our children; we want to pay fewer taxes. When the issue of climate change comes up, I often hear, “But that is just a prediction! Those are all based on computer projections, depending on certain models that we simulate. What happens if the models are wrong and we have made sacrifices for nothing?”

The future will always be uncertain. Playing where we think the puck is going to be is a risky proposal; there is always the chance that we will guess wrong and/or that an opposing player will reach the puck ahead of us and change its trajectory. Taking that risk is what differentiates good players from great players; good teams from great. Einstein’s quote is a worst-case scenario predicting a sixth mass extinction. He provides no hint of what we can do to change the trajectory to a safer target.

Trying to predict the future is a popular activity. Below are six books whose attempts at such cover a wide spectrum. I have read each of them and they now sit safely on my shelf:

To my knowledge, the father of scientific attempts to  predict the future in the context of human existence was Robert Malthus (1766-1834). An English economist, he looked at two key components of our future: population growth and food supply (picture in the cover of “population growth”). I will come back to these next week. According to Malthus, population increase follows an exponential growth, while any increase in food supply can – at best – follow a linear pattern. With these two different growth models, human population increase will quickly surpass the available food supply and lead to the collapse of civilization. This issue continues to occupy researchers today; Limits to Growth: the 30-Year Update follows up on this theory.

When I started my professional career, Herman Kahn was a favorite futurist. His predictions were for the year 2000; comparing those to the realities of 2000 is fascinating.

A recent issue of Scientific American (September 2016) focused on the future and trying to figure out the 20 biggest questions facing humanity. They posed questions to leading scientists and asked their opinions. This was the latest in their annual “World Changing Ideas” series looking at exciting practical breakthroughs with functioning prototypes that have the potential to make important changes in our lives. In this issue they went further than usual by asking questions relevant to longer-term and more abstract projections.

Michio Kaku, a professor of physics at the City University of New York and master of writing about complex issues of physics in a way that is accessible to the general public, followed a similar route as the September 2016 issue of Scientific American but broadened his focus. He was fine with exploring more abstract concepts so long as they didn’t violate the laws of physics.

Asking very clever, accomplished people what they think the future will bring is a lot like asking a bench full of expert ice hockey players sitting in the stands at a particular hockey game where the puck will end up. They will provide professionally sound commentary that will be absolutely irrelevant to the game that is being played on the ice.

I recently read Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus; he is an Israeli historian of some note and puts forward his view of humanity’s future. For those of us challenged in Latin, Homo is man or human (as in Homo Sapiens), while Deus refers to God or a deity. Harari’s implication is that man will become a deity, in the sense that he will have eternal life. As far-fetched as this concept sounds, attempts to prolong human life beyond the present limits of slightly more than 100 years are being widely pursued – including by people with significant means.

Anybody that has visited Cuba within the last several decades (January 26, 2016 Blog) knows that one can take a ride in a perfectly functioning (and beautifully kept) 1950s American Chevrolet. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every part of the automobile that was constructed over 60 years ago is still functioning without a hitch today. What the Cubans have learned to do is to replace any parts that stopped working or were wearing down with new parts – either manufactured locally or imported from countries without sanctions against them (Russia was a favorite supplier for many years). The idea is, if you can do it with American cars you should eventually be able to do it with human beings as well. Whether the 500-year-old human being that will emerge will resemble the “original” remains unknown.

What “eternal life” will do to the population of the planet is not being addressed.

Looking at the future as a game or an exercise is fine but it is not a very productive exercise unless you try to take some control of the trajectory.

I will modify Gretzky’s original quote as follows: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be, trying to change or enforce a trajectory that ensures victory.” Both in hockey and in the game of global survival, victory requires a team of great players that cooperate with each other to achieve the common objective.

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Happy New Year 2017

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

– The Hay copy of what is believed to be the second draft of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it.

Stephen Hawking

It’s time to stop complaining and to start a smiling campaign to ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place. We can’t rely on Prince Charming to swoop in and save us because – at least for the next four years, discounting major surprises – he won’t be making any guest appearances.

My wife used the end of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to describe her mood after the November election. Meanwhile, as Steven Hawking said, we don’t have much choice but to deal with our problems.

I’ve spent my life thinking of the US as a great country – one that has no need of a champion to “make America great again,” but that is not because we are the greatest country in the world; based on almost every socio-economic indicator, we most certainly do not hold that honor.

Here are some important measures; you can go to the original references to figure out what goes into these indicators:

Indicator Rank
Social Progress Index 16
Basic human needs 21
Foundation of well being 35
Opportunity 8

If one goes back to the history of similar indicators it is difficult to find support for the “again” aspect of Donald Trump’s motto.

I have no idea what the new administration will try to do; indeed, at the moment I am not sure that Trump himself knows what he wants to do. He won the election on a promise of change. With the exception of badly needed investment in infrastructure, though, such a departure translates to me as recipe for destruction, not building.

Whether or not America can accurately claim to be “greatest nation on Earth,” it does rank as one of the richest. The US is #9 in GDP per capita (PPP). It is also among the most resilient nations. Here are the top 10 countries listed in this category:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Norway
  3. Ireland
  4. Germany
  5. Luxembourg
  6. Netherlands
  7. United States Region 3 – Midwest
  8. Canada
  9. Australia
  10. Denmark

I have no idea why the American Midwest is listed as a country but it’s amazing to see the extent to which Europe monopolizes this list. Regardless of these metrics, I firmly believe that America holds the top spot for resiliency. I’m sure that the next four years will provide an important test of my opinion.

As I mentioned before, we don’t really know what kind of president Donald Trump will turn out to be. My own expectations are low but they are only based on his election campaign – on what he promised to do – or to be more precise, on what he promised to undo (almost everything).

I fully realize that whatever promises he made, his one objective was to win the election. It worked. A safe starting assumption is that as he tries to fulfill his election promises he will begin to understand the obstacles in his way. Given that he has surrounded himself with many people who have an equal lack of experience in governing, they will have to navigate as best they can. I, along with almost everybody else that I know, wish him the best of luck with that. That is my largest New Year resolution.

My biggest fear is the concept of risk that he brings with him. A business failure that translates into a tax deduction for the owner and the loss of jobs for his employees is a world apart from a failure to understand an adversary’s intentions to use nuclear weapons. Miscomprehension of the disastrousness of nuclear weapons could far too easily lead to accidentally committing global suicide.

It is true that not all presidents come equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the risks associated with being Commander in Chief and the post’s responsibility over our nuclear powers. Somehow, at least for me, Donald Trump invokes a larger degree of uncertainty than most.

In future blogs I will narrow my scope back to issues of climate change and try to avoid speculating about the President Elect’s policies, instead limiting myself to discussing his actions as they pertain to my subject. Specifically, I will continue my examination of grassroots mitigation efforts on a global scale as well as their potential collisions with top-down efforts.

In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone!

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Impact Assessment: Self-Inflicted Genocide and the Toronto Principle

In the beginning of November I got an email from a student at the University of Pennsylvania that said the following:

My name is Richard Ling, a student at the University of Pennsylvania and member of the Fossil Free Penn organization, and our university recently rejected our club’s proposal for fossil fuel divestment. Reason being that the Trustees did not consider fossil fuel investment as a “moral evil” comparable in severity to “genocide or apartheid.” However, in doing some research, I stumbled upon some of your articles (here is the link to the article I read:, in which you claim that climate change is comparable to the Holocaust in severity. We at Fossil Free Penn were immediately compelled by this argument, and we agree with you wholeheartedly.

Thus, Fossil Free Penn was wondering if you would be willing to assist us in our fight for divestment against our Trustees. Specifically, our group was wondering if you would be willing to write a small letter addressing the “moral evil” argument, and/or join us in a phone/Skype call to know more about your personal thoughts. Simple things, but nonetheless invaluable to our efforts.

Our club has worked for the past couple of years for this cause; you may read our proposal for divestment here:

Here was my response:

Thank you Richard for your email.

I am sorry to disappoint you but I will not be able to assist you in your campaign for disinvestment by writing a “small letter” addressing the “moral evil” aspect by invoking my Holocaust experience and my recent writing. The simple reason is that I don’t view the oil companies as “evil” and certainly not evil on the level of the Nazi government in the 1930 – 1945 period. The oil companies are businesses that want to maximize their profit. They view the required energy transition that we have to face as a threat to their profit and they want to minimize that threat. Some of the steps that they are taking such as support of the Heartland Institute and other deniers are probably against the law and are presently under litigation and some of their activities such as accounting as capital oil in the ground are perpetuated by bad regulations. To me none of these activities come close to the institutional horrors that constituted the Holocaust.  The citation that you use was not targeted against any specific institution. It was targeted mainly to the voting and educational public to try to influence political and educational activities toward minimizing future collective threats such as climate change.

I would be delighted to come to your school, give a talk and chat with everybody willing to discuss these important issues.


Richard was a good sport about my negative response to his request and invited me to give a talk; I did so on Thursday, December 1st.

There is a widespread strategy of divesting from fossil fuel companies to deter their continual promotion of organized climate change denial. Benjamin A. Franta’s piece in the Harvard Crimson urges the world-famous institution to take this approach:

Last December, a committee at the University of Toronto released a report on the issue of divestment, drawing a clear line by aligning itself with the needs of the Paris agreement. It recommended that the university not finance companies whose “actions blatantly disregard the international effort to limit the rise in average global temperatures to not more than one and a half degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages by 2050…These are fossil fuels companies whose actions are irreconcilable with achieving internationally agreed goals.” This principle, basic as it is, aligns rhetoric and action. It suggests that it is all institutions’ responsibility to give life to the Paris agreement. Harvard could adopt this Toronto principle, too, and the world would be better for it.

In practice, adopting the Toronto Principle would likely mean moving investments away from coal companies and coal-fired power plants, companies seeking non-conventional or aggressive fossil fuel development (such as oil from the Arctic or tar sands), and possibly also companies that distort public policies or deceive the public on climate. At present, these activities are incompatible with the agreement in Paris.

I wrote a blog on this issue (July 17, 2013), which was picked up by a number of publications. In the instance shown below, while I am listed as the author, the introductory paragraph is not mine but given that it includes an open link to my blog, it will do:

Unburnable Fuels: Removing Reserves From The Balance Sheet

By Micha Tomkiewicz

The notion advanced in this article, that fossil fuel companies might be significantly overvalued, has the ring of truth while also having enormous strategic potential. Quantitative analysis shows clearly that most recoverable fossil fuels will need to be left in the ground if we are to hold climate disruption to tolerable levels. This cannot help but impact the value of all fossil fuel related assets, from oil fields to coal mines, from oil tankers to refineries, and from coal fired power plants to coal fired cement kilns. Changes in accounting standards to reflect these lowered values could put pressure on stock prices, and this suggests that calling for such accounting changes would be a natural complement to the divestiture movement. While that would put a chink in the value of many investor portfolios, it would in the longer run create a more honest market in the stocks of fossil fuel related companies and in so doing would help investors make better decisions to protect themselves from downside risks. That makes this, as an argument and as a push for accounting standards change, a natural ally of the push for divestment.

It is obvious that I don’t object to divestment from fossil energy companies but this position has nothing to do with the Nazi atrocities that were responsible for the murder of most of my family. As I said at my Philadelphia talk:

Climate change as it stands now is not a genocide, not a crime against humanity, and not evil. It has the prospect to become all three. You don’t punish a prospect; you try to change it (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

I am also familiar with the now infamous Godwin’s Law about invoking Nazi history to describe everything that we might not like:

Godwin’s law (or Godwin’s rule of Hitler analogies)[1][2] is an Internet adage asserting that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving 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 Hitler.

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

My main purpose in using the term was to try to establish a clear marker of direction. The example that I gave was the Paris Metro, where each train line is identified by its end point. There is (I hope) a universal agreement that genocide is an utmost evil that must be avoided or dismantled via our collective international resolve. In this sense, my use is fully consistent with the UN use of the term and with the original Lemkin intention. The main indicator that I am making some impact in the right direction is that almost five years after I coined the application of the term on this blog it continues to be a focus of discussion – case in point: my talk in Philadelphia.

My next blog, which will be posted after the New Year, will shift its attention from the seemingly ineffectual top-down efforts toward change to bottom-up efforts that appear to be mushrooming. Rex Tillerson, the head of Exxon Mobil for the last few years – and the recently appointed Secretary of State – has been at the forefront of climate change deniers. Notwithstanding, this push from lower levels to take climate change into account and stop actively financing denial is also apparent within fossil fuel companies. Indeed, shakeups within some of the big oil companies, as documented in Bloomberg’s “Big Oil to Invest $1 Billion in Carbon-Capture Technology” and the NYT’s “Exxon against the Rockefellers,” are becoming more common.

As I wrote before, I share the view that 80% of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground and; they absolutely should not be burned unless an effective technology is developed to capture the greenhouse gases. Methods to achieve this objective include:

  • Boycotting
  • Exercising influence on fossil fuel companies through shareholder activism
  • Regulating through policy change
  • Reducing fossil fuel profitability through reduced demand (carbon tax, cap and trade and/or public education)
  • Expediting the technological development of alternatives

As always, I welcome your input as to other approaches. Happy holidays, everyone, and have a wonderful New Year!

Assessment: Since the beginning of October, on Twitter, I’m up to 375 followers. I also had 6 mentions, 5 retweets, and 11.3K tweet impressions. On Facebook, in the same time period, my page is up to 135 “likes” and 4,520 impressions. On my blog itself, I’m happy to report that I’ve had had 125K visits from 29,858 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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Audience Assessment: End of Year Test

2016 is about to end. It was a very challenging year around the world. Certain factions gained ground internationally, winning significant majorities in publicly elected government. In some senses, globalization has become a curse – when it gives rise to the nationalistic, xenophobic movements we are seeing right now. There’s been almost no way to distinguish between real news and fake news. Meanwhile, instead of treating climate change as an early sign of a transition to a human-dominated (Anthropocene) era – with the accompanying responsibility and accountability, people in charge have deemed it a “Chinese conspiracy” or a “new false religion.”

I started this blog on Earth Day 2012 – my small contribution to countering these trends. It’s high time to see how I’m doing. I will dedicate the two next blogs to such assessments, given the momentous and alarming trends that we have all experienced in 2016. My hope is that by doing so, I will help myself (and you!) be able to start 2017 with an optimistic smiling face and some helpful resolutions in mind.

I am an academic and teacher. Any school assessment necessarily involves questions such as “how well is the institution satisfying its goals?” and “how are the students benefiting from the training that the institution provides?” My quarterly assessment blogs, which I started in July of 2014, have all focused on self-evaluations – mainly in terms of exposure and feedback. This time I want to turn my attention to you, the readers.

The end of the year also coincides with the end of the semester in most schools. One of the most important measures of students’ learning is their performance on their final exams.

I teach a General Education course on “Energy Use and Climate Change.” The only prerequisite (November 29th blog) for this course is Junior Standing; as far as I am concerned, even that condition is superfluous. As I tried to explain here in a series of blogs starting May 24, 2016 (“Educating for the Anthropocene”), my wish is for all 7.3 billion citizens on Earth (babies get an exemption) to have access to similar material. With that in mind, I am attaching the final exam that I gave my students at the end of the course. That way you can all try your hands at finding out how you (and I) are doing.

The three sections of the exam A, B and C were designed to cover three categories – A: thinking, B: skills to calculate quantitative implications, and C: following current events.

Students got two hours to complete the exam. In addition to the exam my students got an additional page that includes all necessary unit conversions and the chemical reactions that are involved in using the three main fossil fuels: coal, petroleum, and natural gas.

In attempting to solve the exam, you can take as much time as you need and freely use the information available on the internet. Please don’t put the questions to Google or Wikipedia and type the answers verbatim; this would be too transparent and embarrassing.

Here is the exam: Good luck!

Answer all three parts of the exam (A, B and C): Section A is worth 60 points, section B is worth 40 points, and section C is extra credits worth 10 points.    

A. Answer one question from section a and one question from section b.

a. If you look at the World Bank database’s website, there is a section under Data called Indicators with a section on climate change. Two of the 41 climate change indicators are given below:

  • Ease of doing business
  • Ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education

Select one of the two indicators and try to justify its inclusion in the climate change category.

b. If you look at the summary of the recent Work Energy Outlook 2016 that was issued by the International Energy Agency you will find summary of trends that resulted from the recent UN Climate Change Conference that was held in Paris on December 2015. Two of these trends include:

i. Energy and water: one doesn’t flow without the other with an emphasis that managing energy-water linkages is pivotal to the prospects for successful realization of a range of development and climate goals.

ii. Efficiency is the motor of change

Select one of these two trends and explain the reason why the IEA selected to focus on this trend to achieve the objectives of the Paris meeting.

B. Answer one question from section a and one question from section b: Unit conversion page is included on the bottom of the test.

a. Answer one of the two choices in the following question:
The table below shows the carbon coefficients of various fuels as calculated by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Select one of the two Natural Gas entries and compare these values with first principle calculations. One value as an example will do.


Metric tons per capita

Energy Use

Kg of oil equivalent per capita



Population Growth


China 2.7 947 1.28 0.27
India 1.2 509 1.05 1.6
US 20.1 7936 0.29 1.1
World 3.9 1693 6.2 1.2

Use the data above to answer the following two questions:

  • Compare (in %) the top energy user and the top CO2 emitter with the World energy use and CO2
  • In class you have estimated that if present growth patterns will continue China’s GDP/Capita will approximately equal US GDP/Capita in about 50 years. Assuming again that present growth patterns will continue – what will be the approximate World population at that time?

b. Answer one of the two questions below.

  • An electric power generator of 1.5kW can supply electricity to an average American home. A modern wind turbine can generate up to 4 MW power. How many homes can it serve? (chapter 11).
  • How much coal will have the same heating value as 10 gallons of gasoline? (chapter 10)?

C.  President elect Donald Trump declared over his recent presidential campaign that climate change is a Chinese hoax designed to slow the American economy. He promised to take the US out of the recent Paris global agreement that was discussed in section A. What are his options once he takes office and what are the expected consequences from his actions?

Have a Happy Break!!

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The Urban/Rural Voting Split: a Global Perspective

Last week’s blog looked at the separation between the rural and urban vote in the just-concluded US presidential elections. This week I will examine whether this split is a unique American phenomenon or part of the global transition as we shift towards a human-controlled environment (Anthropocene – see previous blogs).

Figure 1 clearly shows that humanity is migrating in a massive way toward cities. The ratio between global urban populations and total population is increasing sharply.

Figure 1

A recent project was able to map the history of city settlements to the purported origin of their formation nearly 6,000 years ago.

(Esri, HERE, DeLorme, MapmyIndia, ©OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS user community/Meredith Reba et al, Scientific Data , Nature Publishing Group)

Figure 2first recorded populations for all urban settlements between 3700 B.C. and 2000 A.D.

Table 1 shows the 12 most populated cities in 1975, now (2016), and as projected for 2025.

Table 1 – Population of the 12 most populated urban environments

The data for the 1975 and 2025 were taken from a special Science issue dedicated to to marking humanity’s passing the 7 billion people threshhold (Science 333, 543 (2011)); the data for 2016 were taken from WorldAtlas.

I will return to this table in upcoming blogs to discuss the future impact of climate change on sea level rise. For instance, in business as usual scenarios, most of the people who live in these cities will have to move as the majority of said cities will eventually be flooded.

For most countries, the political consequences of this population redistribution will not be immediate – due in part to their lack of a one man-one vote democratic election system. Figure 3 shows a global map of the democratic index (March 8, 2016 blog).

By Ternoc – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Figure 3 – Global map of the democratic index

Many commentators tried to compare the American election’s urban/rural split to that of Great Britain’s Brexit vote (August 16, 2016 blog). Recent results show that a total of 53.4% of people in England voted to leave the EU. However, this was not reflected in its major cities, most of which voted to remain.

Of its major cities, only Birmingham voted to leave, with a tight result of 50.4% (Leave) to 49.6% (Remain). As predicted, London voted in favor of remaining, but Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester also voted overwhelmingly in favor of remaining. The results from other cities show a clear preference for the “remain” vote as well:

Birmingham: LEAVE: 50.4% REMAIN: 49.6%

Bristol: LEAVE 38.3% REMAIN: 61.7%

Leeds: LEAVE: 49.7% REMAIN: 50.3%

Liverpool: LEAVE: 41.8% REMAIN: 58.2%

London: LEAVE: 40.1% REMAIN: 59.9%

Manchester: LEAVE: 39.6% REMAIN: 60.4%

Aberdeen city LEAVE: 38.9% REMAIN: 61.1%

Edinburgh city: LEAVE: 25.6% REMAIN: 74.4%

Glasgow city: LEAVE: 33.4% REMAIN: 66.6%

Cardiff: LEAVE: 40% REMAIN: 60%

A much more interesting case might be to examine the urban/rural split of the most recent (2014) vote in the largest democracy on the face of the earth – India. Figure 4 shows the performance of the two main national blocks: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by India’s National Congress. In terms of parliamentary seats, it was a landslide win for the NDA (336 seats for the NDA and 58 seats for the UPA). However the rural/urban split among both the literate and illiterate electorate was considerably more balanced.

Figure 4

814 million Indians were eligible to vote and the country had a participation rate of 66.5%. India’s issues were obviously different than those of England and the US, but the common denominator was the desire for change shared by both urban and rural constituencies. One important, noticeable issue in India’s elections was the limited representation of the Muslim population. Only 22 of the 543 elected parliamentary seats went to Muslims, even though Islam is the second largest religion in India, its practitioners making up 14.2% of the population. 172 million people in India are self-declared Muslims (2011 census) yet they only got 4% of the seats. For comparison, African Americans constitute 12.2% of the US population (approximately 38 million people); within the current congressional term (the 114th US Congress), they hold 2% of the Senate (2 out of 100 seats) and 10.5% of the House of Representatives (46 out of 435 seats).

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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 (

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

Ali Zifan – Own work; Map is based on

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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