Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Wall Street Journal on looking beyond alarming headlines from climate report:
The world awoke Monday after a logy August weekend to some alarming news: The climate Apocalypse is nigh, humanity is to blame, and unless the world remakes the global economy, havoc and death are inevitable. Repent of your sins all ye who enter here.
That’s only a mild overstatement of the media’s fire-and-brimstone accounts of the latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a collection of scientists and politicians who purport to offer the best evidence on climate change. Prepare for days of reading what a terrible person you are for using a natural gas stove.
The gargantuan report will take time to plow through, but a read of the 41-page “summary for policymakers” and perusal of the rest suggests that there is no good reason to sacrifice your life, or even your standard of living, to the climate gods. Hot rhetoric aside, the report doesn’t tell us much that’s new since its last report in 2013, and some of that is less dire.
“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” says the report in its lead conclusion. But no one denies that the climate has been warming, and no one serious argues that humans play no role. How could eight billion people not? Adding the adjective “unequivocal” adds emphasis but not context.
The report says the Earth has warmed by 1.1 degree Celsius since the last half of the 19th century, which is 0.1 degree warmer than its last estimate. This is not apocalyptic. The five-alarm headlines arise from the predictions of future temperature increases if greenhouse gas emissions, especially CO2, continue to increase.
Yet the report’s estimate of “climate sensitivity” — its response to a doubling of CO2 — has moderated at the top end. The likely sensitivity range, says the report, is 2.5 to 4 degrees Celsius higher than in the late 1800s. The likely range was 1.5 to 4.5 in the 2013 report.
The new report offers five climate scenarios based on estimates of CO2 emissions. The intermediate scenario’s “best estimate” is a 1.5 degree increase by 2040 and a range of 2.1 to 3.5 by 2100. This is a highly speculative estimate on which to bet the U.S. economy.
The biggest difference is the new report’s direct linkage of warming to catastrophic weather events such as hurricanes, severe heat waves or rain events, drought and so on. The summary says this is based on “new methodology” and evidence, which means computer models. We await what independent climate experts say as they dig into these models.
But we know climate models are far from perfect, which explains the varying “confidence” levels attached to the report’s predictions. Steven Koonin, the scientist and former Obama official, devotes an illuminating chapter to “many muddled models” in his recent book about climate science, “Unsettled.”
The report also downplays some of the disaster scenarios you read about. It has “low confidence” that the Antarctic sea ice will melt. It says it is likely that tropical cyclones have increased around the world, but there is “low confidence in long-term (multi-decadal to centennial) trends in the frequency of all-category tropical cyclones.” Keep that in mind when the next hurricane becomes proof in the press of climate catastrophe.
Even the report’s prediction that warming oceans will melt Arctic sea ice doesn’t sound like a scene from “Waterworld.” The “Arctic is likely to be practically sea ice free in September at least once before 2050” under the five scenarios. Only once in 29 years, and not the rest of the fall and winter? Further thawing of the permafrost is said to be likely but how much or to what effect is uncertain.
Keep in mind that the IPCC report is a political document. It is intended to scare the public and motivate politicians to reduce CO2 emissions no matter the cost, which by the way the report summary never mentions. No less than Al Gore admitted this on PBS in October 2018 when the IPCC issued an interim report: “The language the IPCC used in presenting it was torqued up a little bit, appropriately. How do they get the attention of policymakers around the world?”
Torqued up is right. The U.N. Secretary-General called the new report a “code red for humanity.” And someone at Reuters actually wrote this sentence: “Further warming could mean that in some places, people could die just from going outside.”
If they really believe this, the policy response has failed miserably. Politicians have spent trillions of dollars subsidizing renewable energy with no effect on climate. Nuclear power, which would sharply reduce CO2, is taboo among the greens. Innovation in developing low-cost natural gas, which substitutes for coal, may have done more than any government policy to reduce U.S. emissions. Yet President Biden wants to crush the gas industry with regulation.
The IPCC report doesn’t justify putting the U.S. economy into the hands of government. A sensible climate policy will continue to monitor trends, while allowing a free economy to find solutions and build the wealth that will allow for adaptation and amelioration if the worst happens. This lacks the drama of the Apocalypse, but it will better serve the world.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on facing facts in climate report:
How many times must the world’s scientific community warn that climate catastrophe is coming before the world’s governments and citizens listen? A new United Nations report paints the most dire picture yet, predicting that the recent years’ unprecedented increases in global average temperature — and resulting intensification of hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and rising sea levels — are edging toward the point where the climate damage will become irreversible. In America and around the globe, it’s time to stop debating with those who ignore ominous facts and take action to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released Monday, isn’t some scare tactic by a small klatch of agenda-driven activists. It’s the work of more than 230 experts from around the world, drawing on information from some 14,000 studies. They conclude that humanity is barreling down a road that will ultimately lead to an unlivable planet if drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions aren’t made immediately.
Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels, trap the sun’s heat so it can’t radiate back out into space, raising temperatures in Earth’s seas, air and land. Today, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and average global temperatures are both at their highest levels in recorded history. Already, global average temperatures have risen by more than 1 degree Celsius (about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the dawn of industrialization in the 1800s — a massive swing in a tiny span of time, by historical climate standards.
“Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2,000 years,” states the report. The past decade has seen several of the warmest years on record.
Warmer air makes droughts and wildfires more frequent and more powerful. Warmer oceans intensify the strength of hurricanes. Melting sea ice is already raising sea levels globally, threatening infrastructure in coastal regions. These aren’t theoretical dangers. They’re happening now.
The report predicts average global temperatures by the 2030s will have risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, no matter what mitigation happens today. A rise much beyond that, it warns, could trigger a feedback loop in which greenhouse-gas levels rise on their own, produced by more frequent wildfires, melting permafrost and other self-perpetuating phenomena. That could put ever-rising temperatures beyond the capability of humans to stop it.
The U.S. is the world’s second-highest producer of greenhouse gases, after China. America can’t fix the problem alone, but the world can’t fix it without a fundamental shift in American culture — a shift away from coal, oil, gasoline and other polluting energy sources, and toward renewable ones like wind and solar. America and the world face an existential threat of our own making. There is no longer a valid argument to be made for inaction.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on governors' responses to the pandemic:
Governors are again making coronavirus headlines, and this time not because they are filling a leadership void — but because they are putting their constituents at risk. Most egregious is Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, who is ignoring a spike in cases and hospitalizations in his state. Instead, he is spreading disinformation about the coronavirus entering the U.S. from immigrants crossing the Southern border.
It’s not hard for Democratic governors to look good by comparison. But in a pandemic, being better than those who deny reality is not enough.
Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf was agile and determined in his response in the early days of the pandemic. He signed a statewide emergency declaration the same day Pennsylvania confirmed its first case. Wolf also ordered school and business shutdowns before his counterparts in New York and New Jersey.
These measures are likely part of the reason that Pennsylvania has significantly lower overall and recent coronavirus death rates compared with New York and New Jersey — as well as fewer total cases per 100,000 than all its neighboring states except for Maryland.
These moves also came with a political cost. Pennsylvania Republicans, more interested in creating culture wars than curbing the spread of the coronavirus, have used Wolf’s actions to paint him as a tyrant. In the May election, Republicans successfully stripped Wolf (and future governors) of the ability to extend emergency declarations without the legislature’s approval.
So it’s understandable why Wolf would be timid to impose any new mandate or restrictions.
But he needs to find a way to move forward, especially as the delta variant spreads. New York, New Jersey, and Maryland have higher vaccination rates than Pennsylvania. The more unvaccinated Pennsylvanians, the more likely the commonwealth will see a resurgence of death and cases.
There is more Wolf can do to curb the spread of the coronavirus, protect children, and increase the number of vaccinated Pennsylvanians. Republican backlash may follow, but the actions aren’t especially bold.
Unlike the federal government, the states of California, New York, and Virginia, a growing list of private companies, and, according to reports, soon the U.S. military, Pennsylvania does not require state employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Wolf said last week that his administration is “still deciding” whether to make such a requirement. The state is the second-largest employer in Pennsylvania. Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey also hasn’t imposed a vaccine mandate, except for some health-care workers.
Mayor Jim Kenney also does not require employees of Philadelphia to be vaccinated. He should.
Unlike his counterpart in New Jersey, Wolf said that he will not require masks in schools and will leave the decision to school districts. Wolf knows that many districts will not require masking, and the spike of children sick with COVID-19 in Louisiana and Texas should serve as a dire warning.
Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, should lead by example as responsible employers in a pandemic. Similarly, Wolf shouldn’t allow the health of kids to be threatened because of a culture war waged by Republicans. Wolf has the power to keep more people healthy, let children return to in-person school, and keep the economy running. Doing better than Florida is just not good enough.
The Los Angeles Times on Apple's decision to ditch privacy for porn policing:
In this world of snooping and snitching, truly private conversations are increasingly endangered. Apple devices once provided a refuge from all kinds of corporate and governmental prying, and the iconic Silicon Valley company had been studying how to block even itself from its users’ private communications by expanding end-to-end encryption — from the device to the cloud and back again — that ensures only the users can have access to their own information.
But Apple is now taking a deeply disappointing step in the opposite direction with its plan to scan photos collected on U.S. iPhones and iPads in a puzzling search for child pornography.
The company that has long vowed not to create back doors to encrypted user data is now building just such a door and is making a key. And when that key is in hand, who else will demand to use it, or figure out how to snatch it away?
Apple announced its plan on Thursday to scan devices for photos that are uploaded to its iCloud photos service. (Many companies scan photos uploaded to the cloud; Apple will scan devices for photos that have been uploaded to the cloud.)
Software will compare the scanned data to a collection of known sexually exploitative images of children. Matches will be reviewed by human beings, and if confirmed they will be flagged for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private nonprofit child protection organization. From there the information could conceivably be referred for criminal prosecution.
Apple distinguishes its program from others by noting that competing companies scan all user photos in the cloud — the global network of servers that collectively store uploaded data. Apple claims its program of scanning individual devices is more secure.
More secure, perhaps, but also more intrusive and creepy. And the larger point is that Apple has abandoned its laudable quest for user-only access. Why?
It could be because of pressure from the Justice Department and Congress, who believe we are safer and more secure when government can compel private companies to disclose user data. That was the gist of the showdown between Apple and the FBI following the 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, in which authorities wanted Apple to help it break into the iPhone left behind by Syed Rizwan Farook.
Apple refused, angering many Americans who believed it was possibly standing in the way of their safety by protecting the privacy of a deceased killer. But the company was also standing in the way of government forcing itself into all of our devices and communications, and in the process it was standing up for privacy. The company is well aware that there is no hardware, software or policy that safeguards only the privacy of the good guys and permits surveillance only of criminals and terrorists.
Preventing access to anyone means locking out not just criminal prosecutors, but also foreign governments on the lookout for dissidents and others it wants to control, criminals who want to get their hands on personal information, commercial interests who want to find out what the competition is doing, spies and miscreants of all sources.
Child sex trafficking and exploitation of the innocent is a serious problem. Still, if Apple is going to open a door into otherwise private customer photos, why has it zeroed in on this issue as opposed to, say, terrorist threats, murder-for-hire plots or other serious crimes?
Perhaps because the crime is so photo-oriented, and because it has long been a target of Congress. But now that there is a door, won’t it be even easier for the government to open it even wider and to demand access to images that hint at other activities, criminal or otherwise?
“Apple will refuse any such demands,” the company said in a statement. And the showdown over the San Bernardino iPhone suggests that it may well mean it.
But this move, which may be meant to fend off government pressure, could just as easily encourage government to exert further pressure — for direct access to illegal photos in devices, and then to other communications that it argues provide evidence of crime.
Private communication that cannot be accessed by the prying eyes and ears of governments, companies or crooks is an essential element of freedom and Apple has in the past been right to promote it. The change in direction is a very serious setback.
The Guardian on COVID-19 vaccine inequities between rich, poor countries:
What are the best ways to make sure the indifferent protect themselves from Covid: vaccine passes for public places, pop-up clinics or Deliveroo discounts? How do you tackle outright scepticism? Should 13-year-olds be offered doses? When will older or vulnerable people start receiving booster shots?
These kinds of questions are now at the fore in many countries. Across high-income nations, around half the population has been vaccinated, allowing life to return to something approaching normality. In the UK, where almost three-quarters of adults have received both doses, hospitalisation figures are currently better than anticipated, despite high infection rates. But the situation is precarious. The public’s caution may not last; schools will return in September; we are relaxing travel restrictions; and there is a marked slowdown in vaccination. The new chief executive of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, warns that more than one-fifth of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 are aged between 18 and 34, urging the young not to delay getting vaccinated. Around a third of that age group have yet to receive a dose. Vaccines will now be offered to all 16- and 17-year-olds, and some would like them to be extended to younger children.
These are important issues. The bigger one, however, is ensuring that the rest of the world is adequately protected – especially as travel restrictions are loosened. Vaccines reduce but do not eliminate transmission; unless they are very widespread, we not only abandon many countries to the worst but also risk our own gains in the process. Internationally, four million cases were reported to the World Health Organization last week and around 9,000 people are dying each day. The more widely that the virus can circulate, the greater the risk of new, more dangerous and vaccine-resistant variants emerging.
Covax, the vaccine-pooling scheme, had planned to make at least 640m doses available worldwide by now; it has so far delivered 163m. Its target was to ensure each nation could protect at least 20% of its population – health workers and high-risk groups – by the end of this year. But in low-income countries, only around 1.3% of people have been vaccinated, according to the United Nations Development Programme. For many places, the main obstacle to vaccination remains supply, not demand. While richer nations agonise over how to cajole or induce those at low risk from Covid to protect themselves and others by having vaccines, they are denying doses to high-risk people elsewhere – even at the risk of wasting doses entirely.
The WHO this week urged wealthier nations to delay using booster shots, saying a moratorium could allow it to meet the very modest goal of vaccinating at least 10% of every country’s population by the end of September. The Biden administration called this a false choice, declaring that the US can do both. Yet, while its purchase of 500m Pfizer doses for Covax is welcome, it is diverting funding from vaccination drives in poorer countries to buy them. Wealthier nations need to stump up more for both purchase and delivery of doses. They also need to share the vaccines that they have hoarded and waive intellectual property rights to boost the supply.
Vaccines present us with difficult practical and moral choices. Domestic political imperatives will always guide governments. But if we look only to narrow national interests, we will not just betray the most vulnerable; we may all pay the price.
The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman on border security being a job for feds, not states:
Surely Texas has gotten the memo.
Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court plainly told a border state that it could not run its own immigration enforcement policies at odds with the federal government. The high court in 2012 told Arizona it couldn’t send local police to arrest people with the goal of getting them deported, or make it a crime for noncitizens to fail to carry proof of their legal status.
“The national government has significant power to regulate immigration,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote then. “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
Those words should hold just as true today for Texas. Instead, Gov. Greg Abbott has wholly disregarded them, escalating a cruel immigration crackdown in recent months to bolster his political ambitions.
Abbott’s latest moves go far beyond the measures struck down in Arizona. Abbott has sent about a quarter of the state police force to counties near the border; directed troopers to arrest undocumented immigrants for the state crime of trespassing, with the goal of steering them toward deportation; and cleared out the Briscoe state prison in Dilley to house those migrants, even as the state’s prison system faces a serious shortage of guards. The Texas Tribune has reported that the clip of arrests could reach 200 people a day this month, potentially overwhelming the lone judge and clerk assigned to these cases, and costing the state millions of dollars a year in indigent defense costs alone.
To be clear, Texas is not lending the feds a hand at the border. Texas is pointedly throwing sand in the gears. The federal government has about 4,000 migrant children in 50 residential facilities in Texas, waiting to be connected with relatives in America; Abbott has directed state agencies to yank the licenses for those facilities so they can’t house anyone. Federally-contracted workers drive about 1,100 migrants a day from one facility to the next, often as part of these migrants’ lawful efforts to seek asylum; Abbott has ordered troopers to pull over any cars that appear to be transporting migrants and send them back to Border Patrol, cynically citing the need to contain COVID-19 even as the governor has blocked every other effort to contain the virus. A federal judge has temporarily put the brakes on Abbott’s migrant transportation.
Still, the governor has gloated on Twitter about his efforts: “We have a new program contrary to the Biden plan to catch & release. The Texas plan is to catch & to jail.”
We have long recognized the need for America to secure its borders and provide an orderly system for immigration. And we remain concerned about the spike in border crossings in recent months that has strained South Texas communities. Sheriffs and ranchers describe human smuggling on a previously unseen-scale: Daily high-speed chases of coyotes, the destruction of fences and pastures, the discoveries of bodies of people who perished in the grueling trek. It is clear President Joe Biden’s administration has not done enough to manage the problem.
But that is precisely the point: It is the job of the federal government, not any state government, to manage the border and the flow of migrants. Abbott’s obstructionism only makes the job harder.
It does, however, make for good politics for the governor, who is up for reelection next year and may have presidential aspirations. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from June found 46% of Texans agreed with Abbott’s handling of the border and immigration, compared to only 27% approving of Biden’s approach.
But Abbott’s efforts to disrupt federal operations — whether it’s working to close children’s shelters or arrest migrants who are trying to seek asylum under federal law — only siphons resources away from the places they are needed. That includes other state priorities, as Abbott has diverted $250 million from the state prison budget toward wasteful border wall-building efforts, pulled state troopers from other public safety needs and burdened our state prison system with immigration detention responsibilities it was never designed to handle.
One might expect Abbott to have his hands full with a fourth COVID-19 wave sweeping the state, with an economy and education system trying to rebuild from the pandemic, with a power grid that is far from secured after the deadly outages in February. Texans need a governor who can lead on those state problems and leave federal problems to the feds.