Brandon Bradford

The four horsemen of the climate apocalypse — and how to fight them

Well, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which comes out every five to seven years or so, basically confirmed what the global organization been warning us about for the past 20. The results are what one would expect of a report on an existential threat. Things are really bad, lots of people are going to die, we need to pull the alarm (again? louder? with a bigger alarm?) and even if we do, things are going to get a lot worse before they get a little better.

Instead of a full-on freak out into despair, let's break it down: What does it mean? What does it look like? What can we do?

What does this mean?
Unless you live in a disaster area, short-term it means you will be uncomfortable, as things change fairly aggressively for others. Hotter weather, occasional power outages, biannual water restrictions, heatwaves. Around the world, it means millions displaced, uprooted, stranded or dead. Changing climate destabilizes economic and environmental infrastructure, breaking supply chains and ecosystems.

What does that look like?
The First of the Four Horsemen of the Climate Apocalypse:

Fires. The US has come to expect severe wildfires, as are many of the countries that have summer fire seasons. Climate change is making hotter, dryer conditions that allow fires to spread easier, and rage with higher intensity. From California to Russia's Siberian Yakutia region, more than 5 million hectares have burned so far this year. Not only do these risk people's homes and resources, but scientists worry they cause a downward spiral. Fires release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating the problems caused by fossil fuels, further driving up temperatures and causing even more fires.

Storms. The global scientific community is still consistently learning more about storms, but it's almost universally accepted that as global temperatures increase, so will extreme precipitation. In places like the Atlantic, the evidence doesn't point to a consistently higher number of storms, but storms that do form appear to be getting stronger with Category 4 and 5 events being more prevalent. Even presuming that storms don't get more frequent, the effect they'll have on land that's dryer in the summer, and a society whose resources are spread thin from other natural disasters, can and probably will be disastrous.

Floods. A growing number of communities are finding themselves underwater. This year alone, massive floods have displaced over a million people in Germany, China and Myanmar. Floods are multi-factored, the net-result of increased urbanization over natural drainage systems and under-maintained waterway infrastructure. There's a reason why large, flat cities with limited-to-no zoning regulations like Houston are so susceptible to floods: building concrete on green space without assertive forethought limits drainage capacity. A rapidly changing climate directly exacerbates the water-related variables that contribute to floods. Heavier precipitation, stronger hurricanes and rising sea levels. Pair these with dryer lands and decreased vegetation, the likeliness of floods increases exponentially.

Drought. As wetter climates get wetter, dryer climates get dryer. These droughts can cause a positive feedback loop, persisting as warmer temperatures enhance evaporation. Hotter weather leads to diminished plant cover (from water deficiency and aforementioned fires) in very dry soil, further suppressing rainfall. Droughts affect agriculture through livestock and crops, transportation through water levels being too low and buckling roadways, exacerbate wildfires by providing more dry fuel, and can stress energy infrastructure.

What can we do?
The idea that we shouldn't worry about individual actions for climate change because we have to focus on the bigger companies is nonsense. Pressure on larger companies comes from individual actions/trends being recognized and affecting the large scale. Changing micro to macro changes their profit motives. Policy changes get voted on when people change lifestyles to fix problems. It's the everyday worry people bring to the government, the representative issue. This has always been true. It's how pressure turns into action.

So, step one, be informed. Policy around your local and state government is vital. The most important thing you can do is become an advocate who can help educate your community about the direction society needs to go. Explaining the "why" is just as important as the "how" when we are pushing towards the level of action needed. So if you have the space and income, here's a not-so-small guideline:

  1. Electrify. Your home, transportation, choice of transport. If you have to buy a new car, make it at minimum a hybrid.
  2. Try to live closer to work.
  3. Try to decrease meat as a percentage of your diet.

Luckily, the vast majority of society accepts that there's a problem. The staunch conservatives who would complain about the planet not heating up every winter (sigh) are largely quiet during historic wildfires, droughts and storms, deciding culture wars are better fought on grounds that aren't killing millions a year, at least, until covid came along, but one existential crisis at a time. It helps that investment in renewables is skyrocketing, CO2 emissions are consistently falling and economic development has been decoupled from oil production. All roadblocks that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago.

What to keep an eye out for on the national/global scale?
Locally, you've probably already heard of some plans mayors and governors have. Policies that give fossil fuels a timeline, like no new gas cars by 2030. Improvement in base-level industry standards like: a) all-electric heating in new construction; b) all new buildings requiring renewable generation; c) plans to electrify and increase the availability of public transit; d) trains and trains and trains (be on the lookout for huge wastes of money by tech "geniuses" who are don't do trains: i.e., The Hyperloop or The Hyperport); e) subsidized job training or retraining people in fossil fuel-dependent industries to have skillsets that we need to expand green infrastructure. These programs will be city- and statewide, and often the incentives behind them are federally supported. They just need the public to cheerlead for them.

Here are some large-scale ideas that have been in circulation around the world for a while to reduce other types of pollution, and have had multiple levels of success depending on their application. You will see these integrated in the conversation on an international level:

Carbon pricing. Releasing carbon has a real-world cost that the world is paying for in the future in all of the aforementioned disasters, but those costs aren't included in the "for sale" price in the market. Carbon pricing would include those costs, disincentivizing the production while also raising money for current and future disasters. There are two main ways to implement it: carbon taxes and cap and trade.

Carbon taxes. Anything and everything that burns and that would produce carbon would have a tax added. Those taxes could be given either to governments to invest or citizens directly as payment.

Cap and trade. The name references the functions of the idea. Cap: governments set a total amount of emissions allowed and sell permits for that allowable pollution. Trade: there's a marketplace that allows companies to trade those permits. As the cap gets lower over time, the permits are more scarce and more expensive. The general incentive to decarbonize, electrify and diversify then becomes more attractive.

'Throw it all at the wall'
The question is, which should we do? The answer is all of them. All of them and more. As many as possible — and do them where they are the most effective. At this current pace, we are 20-30 years behind and we are hoping for significant technological advances, international deployment and society-level pressure to attempt to curb the coming damage. In the coming decade, we need to throw it all at the wall.

Everyone's already subsidizing cars. How about we subsidize more and better public transit instead?

Public transportation should be free.

In a world of rampant excess but limited access, transit is a basic human need, not a luxury, especially for the poor. The average American spends about 13 percent of their income on transportation. The average American in poverty spends about 29 percent.

Given the vast majority of the poor spends more than 50 percent of their income on housing (because we need more housing, because we need more housing) these folks have a very small financial cushion with which to break a fall—or nothing in the case of emergencies. For the poorest among us, saving about $2.50 a day is significant. Transportation is a lifeline, one of many we need, to upward mobility and flexibility.

Currently, among the major cities around the world that have set up subsidized public transportation, most are in Europe. Trial-runs in American cities are early but show an increase in ridership from 20 to 60 percent. That's phenomenal. We need to go further.

Cars impose a cost everyone pays for: general road maintenance, congestion and pollution. Pollution has a societal cost in terms of health care. An estimated 200,000 Americans die of pollution each year. Roads need regular maintenance and repair. Congestion costs everyone time, stress, wear-and-tear and fuel. We all of us are already paying for these "negative externalities." We all of us are already subsidizing them.

"How am I going to get there? How am I going to get home?" It's a significant burden on the decision-making of people who are thinking about jobs and education, especially people working lower-wage jobs. "I can't get there. I can't get home" is a devastating place to be for someone who thinks they found a pathway to progress.

In some smaller cities, where ridership has consistently lagged over the last decade, revenue is so low and cost of collecting revenue so high that the increase in ridership is such a no-brainer for the city to pick up the tab. In larger cities, where revenues and maintenance can exceed $100 million, there's a need for a multi-pronged approach. Ensuring systems pay for themselves through budget adjustments or gas taxes will be a city-by-city solution depending on ridership rates, revenues and the local labor landscape. At a minimum, though, a tiered system providing subsidized bare minimums to the public, and faster services at cost, would be revolutionary.

Our public transportation infrastructure is a few generations behind, because the United States has neglected it. Priority has been given to the expansion of roads and highways in order to connect higher-income suburban areas, leaving roughly 40 percent of people with no access to public transportation. Connectivity and mobility are the backbones of stronger economies, however. Given the people who rely solely on public transportation are more likely to earn less than $30,000 a year, the consistent and inadequate funding of public transportation leaves low-income communities and people with disabilities without a basic dependable amenity they need. The problem compounds itself, limiting opportunities for civic engagement (getting to and from the voting booth is an issue every time there's an election) education and employment.

With huge budget shortfalls due to low ridership over the last year as America struggles to get past the pandemic, across the country cities are cutting service. This is the exact wrong move and it will exacerbate existing inequities, especially in dense urban areas. Essential workers in the service sector, who are for businesses still in short supply, are going to find themselves with limited options and longer commutes. We are limiting the pool of workers who can get to the jobs that are available.

Some of our largest hurdles as a society are represented by the challenges of transportation: traffic, congestion, income inequality, inequity, access, climate change and crumbling infrastructure. Consumerism isn't changing anytime soon. What we are consuming, however, is evolving, fast. We are in a race to electrify our homes, cities, cars and transit. We need to invest in a better functioning transit system while the country is in the process of electrifying everything. This isn't either/or, but yes/and. Let's provide a good and economic boost to help citizens learn, compete and thrive. Let's create a green economy and more equality. Let's limit negative interactions with police on public transit and provide a clear, tangible example of a public good.

We want people to get to other parts of the city and to get home. We want fewer cars. We want community cohesion from public interaction. We want less pollution. To school and home, work and home. It's a smart, economically straightforward boost to lower-income residents that they will feel immediately. With large, complex economies we rarely get a chance to push for something that's clearly this good.

The real source of the American housing crisis

We need more housing.

We need more luxury housing.

We need more affordable housing.

We need all of it.

The US has always thought about housing backward. In spite of overwhelming, empirical evidence showing that housing is a key metric to building a stable, thriving society, affordable housing is considered a burden, as opposed to a foundation. Providing affordable housing is the most cost-effective way for a society to increase economic mobility, reduce intergenerational poverty and reduce childhood poverty.

If you don't think providing affordable housing is the right thing to do (which, morally, it is, as a human and an American), then know it's also the economically smart thing to do. Providing a floor bolsters growth at significant levels. Without access to affordable housing, it's estimated that American families lost $1.6 trillion in increased wages and productivity, roughly 13 percent of economic activity, from 1960 to 2010. This is society-changing money that spurs local economies, job retention and private-market stability. It's a win-win for all involved unless your business is exploiting misfortune.

Unfortunately, right now, there's a shortage of 6.8 million affordable homes in the US, with zero of 50 states having an adequate affordable supply, and with very few even meeting half their demand. Five hundred thousand Americans are homeless at any point in time. As the richest country in the history of the world, this is a national disgrace. We literally have billionaires going to space for a few seconds just for fun.

So … Why don't we have more housing?

The US has a complicated, shortsighted perspective. Ideologically, Republicans have been opposed to any affordable housing, but in practice Democrat-controlled cities are not much better. One reason we aren't building enough affordable housing is because we also aren't building enough market-rate housing in population-dense areas.

Cue the NIMBYs. Short for "Not In My Backyard," this is a generational carryover from age-old euphemisms for white supremacy on the right, and the height of performative activism on the left. You know the type: "I support housing for the poor but … Not In My Backyard." NIMBY culture is generally flooded with people who love the advantages of being at an urban center of migration, particularly the rising value of their property and often grandfathered tax rates, but it does not want any changes a city would need to support its growing population. In short, NIMBYs block public transportation to connect lower-income neighborhoods. They block entertainment that doesn't fit their demographic. And most notably, they block denser housing.

Over 20 years, the NIMBY approach has slowed community cohesion. New people who migrate for jobs have a harder time laying down roots. It depresses upward mobility of lower-income residents (and their kids). It undermines the sense of community in neighborhoods. In most cities, this downward pressure on macro development increases commute times, rents, turnover, resources and congestion.

The pandemic was an inflection point.

Now that remote work is possible for a vast majority of middle-high income workers, housing opportunities in other locations have became destinations to establish roots. Roots in communities whose houses were significantly less expensive, buying up twice the house with twice the land for half the price. Most pandemic moves were in-state, people flocking to towns a few hours away from the cities they lived in. The problem is that we didn't actually increase the housing supply. It just skimmed demand from one area and dumped it on another. This will probably change the tax base and housing markets of those towns without changing the influx of income opportunities for the residents there. High-income earners flooding the markets of lower markets, driving up the cost of living without pairing it with local opportunity. There are a multitude of factors that could help with this, but one of the largest and clearest is more housing.

There are a few markets that have phenomenal housing plans in play whose core ideas we could, and should, adopt. One of the most successful is Singapore. It has world-renowned, sprawling public housing cities that are master designed to be convenient and green, and that prioritize the physical and mental health of their residents. While the city-state's stance on LGBTQ-plus rights is abysmal, its housing policy is sound.

Would Singapore's approach work here? Not in the same way, but there are significant lessons to be learned about investing in denser areas of the country: Rejuvenation is vital. Reinvigorating and updating community spaces is required. Proximity to other communities, to family, to different income levels and to public transit. We need long-term investment in food, housing, education and shelter. It is in a country's best interest to invest in a national infrastructure that allows its citizens to thrive.

Over the next 20 years, the US has a chance to change the landscape for generations.

But we need more housing.

More affordable housing.

More luxury housing.

More.

Why the GOP establishment fell in line for Trump — even in defeat

What does the Republican Party believe in? I don't mean this as a tongue-in-cheek question. What actual policy is the party presenting to address our society's problems?

Can you name anything? A coherent set of ideas to take America through the challenges of housing, climate, health care, or access to education? Plenty of marketing slogans. "America First." "Everything the liberals want is socialism even if we used to support it and privately still do!" Cool. That's catchy. Slogans aren't plans, though. What's the future that the Republicans are painting for a unified America?

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the GOP has utilized euphemisms to build a tenuous coalition with far-right bigots. Barry Goldwater made sure that, because a Democrat pushed through the Civil Rights Act, race would be a partisan issue.

If you're someone who spends time preaching freedom, equality and meritocracy, euphemisms allow deniability when partnering with bigots. They allow a "moderate" to sidestep the demands of moral consistency. You aren't against an idea, just not for it. Yes, that guy "hates Mexicans," but you are for "protecting American jobs." That guy hates gay people, but you are for a state's right to determine marriage equity for itself. As long as you're in charge, you can keep the bigots on the fringe. This relationship with the far-right has worked for the Republican Party for half a century. Bigots had no one else to vote for, the GOP needed votes, both hated the left anyway. It's a win-win.

It was widely believed, by conservatives (and white liberals), that if Republicans ever moved away from euphemism and said the quiet part out loud, it would ruin their chances of holding significant national power again. It was widely believed that if the extremists took over the party, it would alienate the moderate vote. It was widely believed that conservatives in the Republican Party would never allow that to happen.

Donald Trump proved them wrong. He came out with unhinged, openly racist and misogynistic statements, one after the other. Mexico is sending rapists. Insert here a dozen comments about women. The US should have a "Muslim Registration." He embraced conspiracy theorists and normalized white supremacists. These comments were supposed to be political suicide. There's a reason everyone, the Republican establishment included, thought 2016 was going to be a bloodbath. The presumption was we, the United States of America, were collectively better than that. Yeah, no.

Euphemism's die when parties penetrate acceptable opinion with extreme opinion often enough and for long enough that the shock of it doesn't turn voters off. White people get used to it. After 2016, recalculations were made. The GOP realized the party's base privileged loyalty over values. So the establishment fell in line. During Trump's run, the Republican Party stood for whatever Trump stood for, and Trump stood for whatever was good for him. A political party is now a cult of personality.

Does this sound overly general? Does it sound unfair? A president who undermined our security, mocked our military, abused power for profit, and, among a laundry list of other things, lied about and then grossly mishandled a pandemic that has killed, as of this writing, more than 611,00 Americans. The Republicans rallied around a man antithetical to everything they preached. Seventy-four million people voted for him anyway. The 2020 campaign didn't even bother with a new party platform. It's not sophisticated. It's merely effective. The bigots have become the base. The moderates just follow along. But now that Trump is out of power, what do Republicans believe?

There's still this naive (and rather annoying) assumption that there's going to be a post-Trump intra-party realignment away from the far-right. That cat is out of the bag. One hundred and thirty-nine House Republicans voted against certifying the election hours after an insurrection, inspired by Trump, overran the United States Capitol.

The first thing Republicans in the Congress did after Joe Biden's inauguration was feed lies to conspiracy-believing Republicans alleging our elections aren't secure enough. State-level Republicans introduced bill after bill that would make it more onerous for minorities to vote. You can give some leeway to citizens for being manipulated by the news media, but the officials in power are responsible for knowing and acting better.

That includes Democrats. They must stop treating the Republicans as if they share underlying beliefs, as if they require more and better information, as if they just need to show moral courage. Moral courage doesn't matter when a party has decided the foundations of a democratic system, including universal suffrage, need to be dismantled, because it's easier that way. What do the Republicans believe in?

Consolidating power.

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