Don’t Believe in Climate Change? So Long, Rural South!

A Texas State Park police officer walks on the cracked and drought-wracked lakebed of O.C. Fisher Lake, in San Angelos, Texas. Tony Gutierrez / AP

New Orleans  A peer review study published in the weekly journal, Science, would give any policymaker pause about the future of huge parts of the United States by the end of this century, if they were willing to read it and heed it. One would think Republicans interested in the future of their party would be rushing to the newsstand and firing up their computers to get a look at the granular detail on their maps to plot their own district lines.

Normally, that would be the case, but the notion that this might be the biggest transfer of resources and wealth from the poor to the rich, might have them high fiving in the aisles despite the dimming prospects for much of their base and their homelands. In the words of Solomon Hsiang, the lead author from the University of California,

If we continue the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history. Combining impacts across sectors reveals that warming causes a net transfer of value from southern, central and mid-Atlantic regions towards the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region and New England.”

The scientists say that in some parts of the South average temperatures will be up between 6 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit per year. Crops won’t grow and money won’t flow.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune highlighted the bad news for the city as one example. They noted that the study says that by 2100 storm surges “caused by a hurricane with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year – a so-called 100-year storm will be able to top all levees along the Mississippi River throughout the area and most of the area’s east bank hurricane levees.” The reporter quickly noted that coastal planners are already trying to raise the levees for a 500-year storm and flood and these projections are based on current levels. That was reassuring, but lawmakers are already tearing their hair at how to pay the bills for this, and Washington may not be as willing to help.

It goes on and on like this. At lot of the cost involves the fact that people will just plain die of the heat, especially the elderly, in these poorer areas, but this will be part of the 1 to 3% loss in the GNP by the end of the century. You wonder if some will be starving when the projection involves a 50% decrease in agricultural production in Louisiana for example. It just gets worse from there in places like the South with the temperature rising. Seven of ten of the hardest hit areas will be poor counties in Florida with Texas and other southern states taking the rest of the heat. Of course energy costs will be 10 to 15% higher as well. Interestingly the study argues that low-risk labor will be workers employed inside and out of the heat, but their cost will rise. High-risk labor will be workers exposed to the heat, which now is about 23% of the workforce in construction, mining and agriculture, but hours would be reduced, because the work would be unbearable. Warmer days and less winter everywhere also means that violent crime will be likely to increase. There the north finally takes a harder hit than the south with an increase of 3 to 6%.

If it weren’t for bad news though, there wouldn’t be any news in this report.


Universal Basic Income and Living Wages

New Orleans  A call from a reporter in Honolulu surprised me. He wanted to talk to me about UBI, universal basic income. It seems that the legislature in Hawaii had passed a resolution to study UBI for the islands. That was surprising news to me. It also turned out that the angel behind the online news paper, Pierre Omidiyar, was also involved in a small UBI experiment in Kenya outside of Nairobi. There’s a much touted experiment involving 2000 people in Finland where they are trying to substitute UBI payments to the unemployed for welfare payments. There’s the annual division of oil revenues in Alaska through their trust which makes annual payments to residents there every calendar year in the $1200 to $1500 range. Andy Stern, the former president of the Service Employees, wrote a book about it recently. What’s up?

Omidiyar, the former Ebay whiz, gives credence to the flurry of interest around Silicon Valley which connects some of these pieces. The spin is that the techies are finally coming to grips with the fact that automation will actually decrease jobs in the future as it has done so in the past by millions, rather than the mirage they had maintained in the past that technology would always create new jobs for the ones they replaced. Soaring cost of living has also put the wind in the sails of faster track increases in the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Seattle of course broke the ceiling several years ago and is now moving in that direction with dueling studies recently out arguing both sides of the debate on whether jobs were lost or hours cut as a result of the raise. Other cities around the Bay Area in San Francisco and around Silicon Valley are also increasingly moving forward on a drive to $15 per hour as well.

These are hopeful signs that some policy makers might finally embrace the notion of a guaranteed annual income. I would love the old slogans for the National Welfare Rights Organization that I chanted in my early days as an organizer with our members, “Adequate Income Now” and $5500 or Fight” turning into something other than nostalgia.

The Finnish experiment shows both the promise and the problems. As described in The Economist, 2000 of the 10% unemployed in the country were picked by lottery for the 2-year trial. During that period these workers are guaranteed $624 per month unconditionally. They are monitored from afar and the real results of the experiment won’t be known until the end of the trial period. Surveys “show the wider public wavering: 70% like the idea of the grant in theory, but that drops to 35% when respondents are told that income taxes…would have to rise to pay for it.”

Proponents and architects of the study worry that two years is not enough time and that the money furnished is not enough to test. Especially, because some of the researchers and advocates want to measure how the “psychology of beneficiaries changes.” Unions in Finland are skeptical because they see all of this as an effort to trim unemployment benefits and protections, and of course part of the push for this is cutting welfare benefits.

We’re a long way from a victory parade, but it is encouraging that some politicians and policy makers are at least getting these ideas out in the streets where they have a chance to find the solid ground and march forward.