Sunday, October 21, 2018

Initiative I-1631: At Odds with Democratic Values

I-1631 not only has profound problems that makes it an ineffective approach for dealing with anthropogenic climate change, but it is at odds with the democratic values of our state and nation.  These problems are compounded by the fact that many I-1631 supporters have been willing to follow a disturbingly divisive and untruthful approach in their advocacy.

A Failure of the Democratic System

Our nation is a representative democracy, in which we elect representatives who are responsible for making policy.  If their efforts are unsatisfactory, they are voted out of office. When it comes to producing policy regarding climate change, from putting a price on carbon to making investments in climate resilience, the Washington State legislature and Governor have performed poorly.   Even with one party controlling the governorship and both houses of the legislature, little was accomplished during the past session or during previous ones of dual-party leadership. 

Two years ago, another carbon initiative (I-732)  proposed a straightforward revenue-neutral approach that returned all the carbon tax money to the people. It was fair to low-income folks and had the potential to spread around the nation.   I-732 failed mainly because a group of social action groups (The Alliance), some labor unions, Indian tribes, and a few environment groups (e.g., the Sierra Club) worked against it.  Why?  Because they disliked the revenue neutrality and wanted access to the carbon tax funds.  Concern about climate change was clearly not their priority.

This year, essentially the same group (social action groups, office-worker labor unions, and local Indian tribes) came up with I-1631, which puts a fee on carbon but would use the funds to support the goals of the I-1631 coalition (climate justice, clean up air and water, push clean energy, training of workers, public health).    But their initiative has a major problem:  it essentially takes representative government out of the picture and is a deviation from representative democracy without precedent in state history.

How?  By putting the control of vast sums of money from the carbon tax into the hands of a board of 15 individuals, with only one of them being elected (the commissioner of public lands).

We are talking about tens of billions of dollars and major policies that could substantially alter the business environment, health, and safety of all of our citizens.  Washington State has many boards, but none of them decide on spending priorities for billions of dollars.

So what I-1631 proposes is an unprecedented invasion into the prerogatives of our legislative system.
Making such policy decisions and deciding how to spend such vast sums is the job of our elected representatives and it is profoundly undemocratic and contrary to the core values of our State and nation to push the role on an unelected board. 

There is nothing wrong with an initiative that allows the people to vote on specific proposals--this represents direct democracy.  But 1631 is not like that--it dumps huge sums of cash into a pot that the unelected board can disperse as it sees fit.

Now some I-1631 supporters might object to the above, saying that the state legislature could intervene if it wished.   But is it likely to do so, when it has repeatedly failed to show any leadership in this area, with many prominent legislators energetic supporters of I-1631?  And the pressure to go along with pork distributed by the board will be overwhelming.

The Future I-1631 Board Room

But the undermining of our democratic traditions by the I-1631 crowd goes beyond this.

Why?  Because the undemocratic nature of I-1631 is reflected in the attitudes, actions, and words of many of its most vocal supporters, who have followed a divisive and untruthful approach that undermines the democratic process.

I-1631 advocates and official information have a persistent problem of not telling the truth.    For example, their ads talk about making the "State's Big Polluters Pay"!  That they "can afford to pay this fee without raising prices on you"!    So if you vote for I-1631 big polluters will cover all the costs! And you will get lots of benefits! (see part of their flyer that landed in my mailbox yesterday, if you don't believe me).

This claim is TOTAL NONSENSE.   Oil companies will pass on any carbon fee directly to the consumers. They have always done so in the past.  I asked an oil company representative about it...yep, you will get the bill.  So big "polluters" and oil companies won't pay for the I-1631 fee, the citizens of the state will.  The repeated claims by the I-1631 crowd is a total untruth....and they have to know it.

I-1631 brochures and web pages make grand claims of how they will clean up the air and water of our state.  But there is no plan in the initiative on how they will do it. And their primary member and contributor, the Nature Conservancy, claims I-1631 will take care of the unhealthy smoke (see below), but how it will do so is left to the imagination.  Forest scientists are very

explicit that to deal with the east-side forest fires: it will take a huge investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to thin the forests, remove debris, and bring back prescribed fires.    1631 only dedicates 30% of the funds to forest, air and water recovery, and public health.  Under 1631 the money needed to fix our explosive east-side forests  (again, hundreds of millions to billions of dollars) will never be available.  Their claim of solving the wildfire/smoke problem is a tall tale...and a dishonest one at that.

The great irony in all this is that the Yes on I-1631 crowd accuses the oil companies of lying (see below).  Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.  They lie about lying.

But the dishonest ways of several I-1631 supporters and leadership are made worse by their toxic and divisive tactics.  For example, many are spewing really hateful stuff about Republicans--saying that they are selfish and don't care about global warming.  This is divisive and untrue...many Republicans

 want to deal with global warming and to make our State more resilient to climate change.

A good example is the youthful American Conservation Coalition led by 20-year old Benji Backer, a UW student.  Or major Republican leaders like Rob McKenna, Slade Gorton, and recent Republican gubernatorial candidate  Bill Bryant.  I gave a talk to the Rotary Club in Yakima on Global Warming--and they were nearly all Republicans.  They were worried about climate change and wanted to deal with the resulting water supply issues.

Denigrating individuals and groups with different opinions and name calling for those disagreeing with you is toxic for democracy.

Just as bad are the mean-spirited social media attacks by leaders of the Yes on I-1631 organization on anyone with a different viewpoint.  For example, Nick Abraham, paid head of communication of Yes on 1631, has been making nasty accusations against those who don't support I-1631.  Here his recent unpleasant tweet against moderate Republican Bill Bryant, an environmentalist who ran for Governor in 2016:
He has sent similar messages to others.    And "Izzy the Iguana", the Regional Field Director of Yes  on 1631 send me toxic messages, telling me I was a racist for writing a blog criticizing I-1631.

This kind of mean-spirited, ad hominem attacks have no place in the debate on policy in a democratic society. It says a lot about the values, or lack of values, of some of the I-1631 leadership. 

And it is even worse than that.  Some members of the I-1631 coalitions are trying harassment of those with different opinions.   I have experienced this myself.  Last month, Jesse Piedfort, the Director of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club (which opposed I-732 by the way and a major member of the I-1631 coalition) made a formal public records request to the UW for all my emails dealing with carbon initiatives and all communications with oil companies.  He is going to be disappointed.  I have no email traffic with oil companies and have no relationship with them.  But such requests are chilling and a not-so-subtle form of harassment.

In many ways, the I-1631 crowd are following the playbook of the one individual they despise:  Donald Trump.  Lying and suggesting that opponents are evil and sub-human is his stock in trade.  Several I-1631 advocates are following his approach.

Democracy is a fragile thing and our most precious inheritance.  The I-1631 effort appears to think that their cause is so noble and right that they are willing to undermine basic democratic principles by giving huge powers to a board of unelected individuals and to demonize those who oppose them.

If you care about democratic values, you must vote no on this poorly written, ineffective initiative.   Either our elected representatives must step up to the plate and put together a real plan or an initiative that explicitly spells out policy and programs is needed.

Finally, so much of the impetus of the Yes on 1631 campaign, is that "we have to do something."   History teaches us that doing "something" ineffective and undemocratic is worse than doing nothing at all.  If I-1631 passes, truly useful approaches will be pushed aside and special interests will be enriched.

"We have to do something" logic often produces bad results.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Winter Transition is Imminent

It is like falling off a meteorological cliff.  And it happens every year.   The transition to winter weather in the Pacific.

It is a real meteorological curiosity.   Our Septembers are marvelous, and the first two weeks of October are often splendid, with low clouds in the morning and lots of sun in the afternoon.  The trees turn flaming colors and our sunsets are often magnificent.    A view above the fog yesterday, supplied by Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather takes your breath away (below).  We are living in Paradise.

But then, generally in the third week of October, a meteorological switch is pulled and the weather changes.  The storm track, which had been happy to savage southern Alaska, moves southward into our region, shifted by the development of a broad area of low pressure over the Gulf of Alaska.   Rain and clouds move into the Pacific Northwest, 60s and 70s become fond memories, and Northwest residents hunker down for roughly four months of moisture and inadequate sun.

It is the price we pay for the bounty of water that gives us massive hydropower, great agricultural productivity, our fisheries, and more.  It is also protection from a major northward onslaught of Californians.

This morning is a typical mid-October day, with low clouds over the lower elevations but bright sunshine aloft (see the  9 AM visible satellite image Saturday morning).  If you want sun now, get above roughly 1500 ft or head eastward.  Sun should reach the lowlands later today.

Our nice fall weather will end later on Tuesday, as the circulation over the Pacific moves towards its winter arrangement.  One way to see this transition is from a very nice graphic found in the Seattle RainWatch website that shows the precipitation forecasts from the  NAEFS ensemble prediction system for Seattle.

Remember that an ensemble systems runs many forecasts, each slightly different, that helps one get a measure of the uncertainty of the forecast.  In this graphic, the median of all the forecasts (of 6-h precipitation) is shown by the horizontal red line and 50% of the forecasts are within the boxes.  The extremes are indicated by thus plus signs.

The message is stunningly clear.  Dry until Tuesday,  followed by two wet events, and then we settle into a period of light precipitation.   Very typical for this time of the year.
Looking at the NOAA/NWS GEFS ensemble, but this time viewing surface air temperature at Seattle, we can expect warming temperatures the next few days, including perhaps our last 70F day this year, followed by a decline into highs in the 50s (the black line is the average of the ensemble forecasts....a very good forecast in general).  Not much uncertainty for the first few days, but a lot at the end (the various forecasts in gray have differences).
Finally, let me show you how the atmospheric circulation will change by presenting the current and future winds near jet stream level--the 300 hPa pressure level or around 30,000 ft.  The colors indicate the wind speeds and the solid lines are the heights of the pressure surface (equivalent to pressures on a constant height surface).

Today at 2 PM, there is a low-amplitude ridge of high pressure over us and a weak jet stream is across southern Alaska and Canada.

But by Wednesday at 11 AM the situation is radically different.  A tough of low pressure has pushed south of the Aleutians and a MUCH strong jet stream has set up due west of us.   The meteorological hose will be directed right at us.   Be ready.


Seattle Times Recommends a No on I-1631: click here.

My next blog will be: Initiative I-1631:  At Odds with Democratic Values