The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why would anyone live there?

As Qatar prepares for the 2022 World Cup, climate change has pushed temperatures in its capital, Doha, above 50°C. Welcome to hell:

Already one of the hottest places on Earth, Qatar has seen average temperatures rise more than 2°C above preindustrial times, the current international goal for limiting the damage of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate summit said it would be better to keep temperatures "well below" that, ideally to no more than 1.5°C.

Over the past three decades, temperature increases in Qatar have been accelerating. That’s because of the uneven nature of climate change as well as the surge in construction that drives local climate conditions around Doha, the capital. The temperatures are also rising because Qatar, slightly smaller than Connecticut, juts out from Saudi Arabia into the rapidly warming waters of the Persian Gulf.

The danger is acute in Qatar because of the Persian Gulf humidity. The human body cools off when its sweat evaporates. But when humidity is very high, evaporation slows or stops. “If it’s hot and humid and the relative humidity is close to 100 percent, you can die from the heat you produce yourself,” said Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany who is an expert on Middle East climate.

That became abundantly clear in late September, as Doha hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships. It moved the start time for the women’s marathon to midnight Sept. 28. Water stations handed out sponges dipped in ice-cold water. First-aid responders outnumbered the contestants. But temperatures hovered around 32°C and 28 of the 68 starters failed to finish, some taken off in wheelchairs.

The only reason for Doha to exist as a human settlement is its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, through which a good chunk of the world's oil supply travels. But wow, I can scarcely think of a worse climate to live in.

What's happening today?

Not too much:

And two algorithms I'm testing that should produce similar results are not. So back to the coding window I go.

The sources of pollution

The Guardian has ranked the 20-largest polluters worldwide based on their addition to atmospheric greenhouse gases since 1965. You will not be surprised:

New data from world-renowned researchers reveals how this cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and details how they have continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.

The analysis, by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, the world’s leading authority on big oil’s role in the escalating climate emergency, evaluates what the global corporations have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions these fossil fuels are responsible for since 1965 – the point at which experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians.

The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965.

Those identified range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell – to state-owned companies including Saudi Aramco and Gazprom.

Chevron topped the list of the eight investor-owned corporations, followed closely by Exxon, BP and Shell. Together these four global businesses are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.

Columnist George Monbiot says the companies got away with this by blaming you and me for their fossil-fuel extraction:

Even as their own scientists warned that the continued extraction of fossil fuels could cause “catastrophic” consequences, the oil companies pumped billions of dollars into thwarting government action. They funded thinktanks and paid retired scientists and fake grassroots organisations to pour doubt and scorn on climate science. They sponsored politicians, particularly in the US Congress, to block international attempts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. They invested heavily in greenwashing their public image.

These efforts continue today, with advertisements by Shell and Exxon that create the misleading impression that they’re switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In reality, Shell’s annual report reveals that it invested $25bn in oil and gas last year. But it provides no figure for its much-trumpeted investments in low-carbon technologies. Nor was the company able to do so when I challenged it.

The ideology of consumerism is highly effective at shifting blame: witness the current ranting in the billionaire press about the alleged hypocrisy of environmental activists. Everywhere I see rich westerners blaming planetary destruction on the birth rates of much poorer people, or on “the Chinese”. This individuation of responsibility, intrinsic to consumerism, blinds us to the real drivers of destruction.

And the band played on.

Pausing from parsing

My task this afternoon is to parse a pile of random text that has, shall we say, inconsistencies. Before I return to that task, I'm setting aside some stuff to read later on:

And finally, Crain's reviews five relatively-new steakhouses in Chicago. Since we probably won't eat steak past about 2030, these may be worth checking out sooner rather than later.

What a morning

PM Boris Johnson is now addressing the House of Commons, capping a crazy day in the UK. And that's not even the most explosive thing in the news today:

I'll be listening to Johnson now, daring the House to call for a vote of no-confidence, daring them to have an election before October 31st.

Why does Greta Thunberg bother you?

The arrival in New York this week of climate activist Greta Thunberg has thrown the Right into their version of pearl-clutching hyperventilation. Unfortunately for civil discourse, their version involves death threats and impotent rage. So why has Thunberg's quest for a reduction in climate-changing pollution make so many people so irrational?

Possibly they're hyper-masculine climate deniers, with more than a soupçon of misogyny:

In 2014, Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman of Chalmers published a paper analyzing the language of a focus group of climate skeptics. The common themes in the group, they said, were striking: “for climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity.”

The connection has to do with a sense of group identity under threat, Hultman told me—an identity they perceive to be under threat from all sides. Besieged, as they see it, both by developing gender equality—Hultman pointed specifically to the shock some men felt at the #MeToo movement—and now climate activism’s challenge to their way of life, male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another.

“There is a package of values and behaviors connected to a form of masculinity that I call ‘industrial breadwinner masculinity.’ They see the world as separated between humans and nature. They believe humans are obliged to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It’s a risk perception that doesn’t think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed. For them, economic growth is more important than the environment” Hultman told Deutsche Welle last year.

Or perhaps it's because she's a teenager:

Thunberg and a handful of other young climate activists were receiving the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in Washington, D.C., last Monday. In the past 17 years, Amnesty has given the award to other icons: Nelson Mandela, Colin Kaepernick, and Ai Weiwei. Backstage, grizzled men in their 40s exchanged boisterous handclasps. Interns and assistants buzzed around: anxious, helpful, and attuned to hierarchy. Somewhere Maggie Gyllenhaal was in a dressing room.

Yet when I saw Thunberg—in jeans, sneakers, and a pink tank top—she seemed small, quiet, and somewhat overwhelmed. Thunberg has Asperger’s, which she calls her “superpower,” and which she says allows her to be more direct and straightforward about climate change.

Her answers were direct but earnest. She sometimes searched for an English word. Unlike politicians and book-touring authors who have been brain-poisoned by media training, she answered the questions posed. When I asked whether there was a climate fact that caused her particular worry, she frowned and first said she could not think of any one fact in particular. Then she added that she was worried about what she’d heard would be in the upcoming UN Intergovernmental Panel report on sea-level rise. Same, Greta.

She is strikingly nonradical, at least in tactics. Unlike other young climate activists—such as members of the Sunrise Movement in the United States, which is led by college students and early 20-somethings—she rejects specific policy proposals such as the Green New Deal, instructing politicians instead to “listen to the science.” She has even declined to endorse a specific platform in the European Union, where her “Fridays for Future” movement has taken hold. When I asked how other teenagers should fight climate change, she said, “They can do everything. There are so many ways to make a difference.” Then she gave, as examples, joining an activist movement and “also to, if you can, vote.”

Thunberg epitomizes, in a person, the unique moral position of being a teenager. She can see the world through an “adult” moral lens, and so she knows that the world is a heartbreakingly flawed place. But unlike an actual adult, she bears almost no conscious blame for this dismal state. Thunberg seems to gesture at this when referring to herself as a “child,” which she does often in speeches.

But if you just read what Thunberg says, ignoring her age, gender, and national origin--not to mention every other irrelevancy--then she makes a lot of sense. So attacking Thunberg really just exemplifies the old adage, "If the facts are against you, hammer the law. If the law is against you, hammer the facts. If the fact and the law are against you, hammer opposing counsel."

The Right are, as always, hammering opposing counsel.

Lunchtime must-reads

Just a few today:

That's all for this afternoon. Check back tomorrow to see if Israel has a government, if Saudi Arabia decides to take its $67 bn defense budget out for a spin, or if President Trump succeeds in putting homeless people in concentration camps.

It's hot and wet

Two articles on current consequences of climate change. First, the Post has a long-form description of how global temperature rise is lumpy, causing localized hot spots such as the one off the coast of Uruguay:

The mysterious blob covers 130,000 square miles of ocean, an area nearly twice as big as this small country. And it has been heating up extremely rapidly — by over 2 degrees Celsius — or 2C — over the past century, double the global average. At its center, it's grown even hotter, warming by as much as 3 degrees Celsius, according to one analysis.

The entire global ocean is warming, but some parts are changing much faster than others — and the hot spot off Uruguay is one of the fastest. It was first identified by scientists in 2012, but it is still poorly understood and has received virtually no public attention.

The South Atlantic blob is part of a global trend: Around the planet, enormous ocean currents are traveling to new locations. As these currents relocate, waters are growing warmer. Scientists have found similar hot spots along the western stretches of four other oceans — the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Pacific, and the Indian.

Barring some dramatic event like a major volcanic eruption — which can cause temporary global cooling by spewing ash that blocks the sun — scientists expect this to continue and steadily worsen.

Climate change has also driven a policy shift in Canada:

Unlike the United States, which will repeatedly help pay for people to rebuild in place, Canada has responded to the escalating costs of climate change by limiting aid after disasters, and even telling people to leave their homes. It is an experiment that has exposed a complex mix of relief, anger and loss as entire neighborhoods are removed, house by house.

The real-world consequences of that philosophy are playing out in Gatineau, a city across the river from Ottawa that has been hit by two 100-year-floods since 2017. Residents here are waiting for officials to tell them if the damage from the latest flood, in April, exceeded 50 percent of the value of those homes. Those who get that notice will be offered some money and told to leave.

Canada doesn't have the constitutional protections for private property that we have in the US. But the approach works; they spend a lot less on clearances than on rebuilding, especially since they only need to clear once.

Afternoon articles

Just a few for my commute home:

  • New York Times reporter James Stewart interviewed Jeffrey Epstein on background a year ago, and it was weird.
  • The Post analyzes temperature records to find which parts of the US have warmed faster than others.
  • Chemist Caitlin Cornell may have discovered an important clue about the origin of life on Earth.
  • The site of the city's first Treasure Island store, just two blocks from where I lived in Lakeview from 1994-1996, might become an ugly apartment tower unless residents can block it.
  • Seva Safris digs into the differences (for good and ill) between JSON and XML.
  • Timothy Kreider delivers a stinging rant against gun-rights advocates: "The dead in El Paso and Dayton, whether they were shopping for back-to-school backpacks or just out having beers and hoping to get laid on a Saturday night, gave their lives so that you might continue to enjoy those freedoms."

I will now return to my crash-course in matrix maths.

Three unrelated articles

First, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott takes a second look at the 1999 film Election:

The movie has been persistently and egregiously misunderstood, and I count myself among the many admirers who got it wrong. Because somehow I didn’t remember — or didn’t see— what has been right there onscreen the whole time.

Which is that Mr. M is a monster — a distillation of human moral squalor with few equals in modern American cinema — and that Tracy Flick is the heroine who bravely, if imperfectly, resists his efforts to destroy her. She’s not Moby-Dick to his Ahab so much as Jean Valjean to his Inspector Javert.

Second, with Lake Michigan at record-high water levels for the second month in a row, several of Chicago's beaches have disappeared:

This year, the buoyant water has swallowed at least two Chicago beaches entirely and periodically closed others. It has swiped fishermen from piers, swimmers from beaches and submerged jetties, creating hazards for boaters. It has flooded heavily trafficked parts of lakefront bicycle and pedestrian pathways, leaving some stretches underwater and others crumbling.

But perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this summer is that these perils have occurred while the lake has remained mostly calm.

“Fall is the time of the year when wave conditions are historically the most severe on the Great Lakes,” said David Bucaro, outreach manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District. “We’re at a calmer period right now. There’s been some summer storms. But that October, November time period is when we really experience historically the most powerful coastal storms. That’s the conditions that we’re monitoring and are most concerned with.”

Should be fun this fall.

Next, writing for the LA Times, Rebecca Wexler points out that data-privacy laws giving law enforcement the power to snoop on electronic devices is deeply unfair to defendants for an unexpected reason:

Social media messages, photo metadata, Amazon Echo recordings, smart water meter data, and Fitbit readings have all been used in criminal cases. The new laws would limit how defendants can access this key evidence, making it difficult or impossible for defendants to show they acted in self-defense, or a witness is lying, or someone else is guilty of the crime.

The California Consumer Privacy Act, which was approved in 2018, allows law enforcement officers to obtain data from technology companies and prohibit those companies from immediately notifying the person they are investigating. Such delayed notice may be necessary to investigate someone who is dangerous or likely to destroy evidence or flee. But the law does not give defense investigators the same right to delay notification to witnesses or others — who might well pose a threat to the defendant — when they subpoena data from tech companies as part of the defense’s case.

I will now rejoin a long-running data analysis project, already in progress.