People often argue that demographics give the Democrats a long-term advantage in America, since parts of the population that support them are growing. Counteracting that, Republican supporters are more likely to vote and the design of the US government gives disproportionate importance to low-population states.

It’s no secret that Republicans try to extend their advantage through measures like disallowing student ID as a means of voting while allowing things like hunting licenses, manipulating advance voting rules, strategically altering the availability of voting places, and exploiting the fear of voter fraud to try to reduce turnout for the Democrats. Still, it was surprising to see President Trump be so open about the importance of vote suppression to Republican electoral prospects: Trump says Republicans would ‘never’ be elected again if it was easier to vote.

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Scientists alert people to the problem. Environmentalists are the first to believe them. Corporations that are implicated as contributing to the problem either deny the threat or balk at the cost of addressing it, fearful of government red tape and loss of profits. Eventually, enough public concern prompts politicians to act. They respond with tougher standards, and on rare occasions with policies that change prices. The standards force technological change. The threat is diminished. Afterwards, almost no one can say what technologies and what policies were involved. But if asked, they admit they didn’t change their behaviour.

Jaccard, Mark. The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress. Cambridge University Press, 2000. p. 155

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The always-slightly-overenthusiastic Slate.com reports:

The financial world resumed melting into goo on Monday thanks to the global coronavirus outbreak, with stocks falling so hard and fast in the morning that it triggered a rare 15-minute timeout on trading. By day’s end the S&P 500 collapsed by 7.6 percent—its worst showing since the financial crisis. The sell-off followed after Saudi Arabia’s leaders decided that now would be a good time to purposely crash the price of oil, a shocking and risky move likely to further destabilize a world economy that’s already wobbly thanks to the incipient pandemic.

The events that sparked Monday’s panic were the result of a clash between Saudi Arabia and Russia over what to do about oil prices, which have been tumbling ever since the number of coronavirus cases began to surge in China around January. Initially, the Saudis argued that its fellow OPEC members and their allies, including Russia, should respond by cutting production to prop up prices in the face of falling demand. But Moscow officially rejected that proposal on Friday.

So Saudi Arabia resorted to its Plan B. Over the weekend, the kingdom embarked on a surprise price war designed to cut into Russia’s sales, while promising to further flood the market by increasing its own production. It’s a move we’ve seen before from the country, which waged a brutal price war in 2014 and 2015 that eventually forced Russia to start coordinating its production with OPEC. But as of now, the Russians have responded by vowing to pump more of their own oil. We appear to be entering a standoff.

Of course this has been dominating the news for weeks, as people discuss the overlapping consequences of decreased oil demand due to coronivirus-induced reductions in travel and energy use; changing energy production policies from OPEC, Russia, and other jurisdictions; and whatever else is panicking global markets and making people willing to buy 30-year Treasury bonds with less than 1% interest.

Feel free to discuss scenarios. Will the coronavirus recession be the straw that brings down Trump? How will high-cost oil jurisdictions respond to these economic conditions? Will non-fossil fuel energy be hurt by cheap fossil fuel prices, or encouraged by concern about fossil fuel price volatility and political instability?

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Fossil fuel-endowed regions would benefit if some of their trusted leaders questioned the prudence of doubling-down on coal, oil, and even natural gas. Such visionaries would argue that fossil fuel expansion increases the region’s economic vulnerability to the future time when humanity finally accelerates on the decarbonization path. Unfortunately, such regions tend to produce political and corporate leaders who perpetuate the myth that they can thrive indefinitely on the fossil fuel path, simply by repelling attacks from environmentalists, foreign billionaires, Hollywood celebrities, and neighbouring jurisdictions. That is why, sadly, sudden economic decline is the more likely future for the most fossil fuel-dependent regions.

Jaccard, Mark. The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress. Cambridge University Press, 2020. p. 244

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The U of T Leap Manifesto chapter and others organized a walkout today at U of T in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en in their conflict with Coastal GasLink and the BC and federal governments. Participants held St. George street from around 3pm until 4:45pm.

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The Economist recently printed an article describing experimentation in the use of robots for agriculture, which included some interesting claims about potential environmental benefits:

The company will offer its robots as a service. Tom will live in a kennel on the farm, where it will download data for the farmer and recharge. Dick and Harry will be delivered to farms as and when they are needed, much as farmers already bring in contractors. This business model, reckons Mr Scott-Robinson, will demonstrate to farmers that the cost of using agribots will be competitive with other weed-control measures and provide additional benefits, such as being chemical-free.

When chemicals are required on crops, both tractor-towed systems and agribots could apply microdoses to the individual plants that require them, rather than spraying an entire field. Some trials have suggested microdosing could reduce the amount of herbicide being sprayed on a crop by 90% or more. basf, a German chemical giant, is working with Bosch, a German engineering firm, on a spraying system that identifies plants and then applies herbicides in just such a targeted way.

That’s certainly attractive compared to indiscriminate spraying of whole fields, though there will surely be downsides to such automation as well. Few people work in agriculture in rich societies already, but such technologies could affect the relationship between capital and labour nonetheless, and much more so in places where farming is less automated already.

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