Extremist violence and being optimistic about climate change
March 27, 2023 - The Nett Report
Every other week The Nett Report provides readers with thoughtful perspectives useful to navigating life in a changing world. Past issues can be found here (recent) and here (past three years).
Plastic bottle dilemma
For those interested in my work addressing the ocean plastic crisis, this issue of OpenOceans Global’s The Transition newsletter contains an in-depth report on the dilemma of over 2.2 billion people using plastic bottles to obtain safe drinking water and the role plastic bottles play in creating ocean pollution.
Future of Work / The Economy
U.S. ranks 10th globally in monthly minimum wage
Virtual Capitalist has mapped monthly minimum wages by country based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor. Luxembourg topped the list at $2,140, followed by Australia, Netherlands, and New Zealand. The U.S. was tenth at $1,550. Each value represents the monthly minimum wage a full-time worker would receive in each country. These figures are net of taxes and have been converted to U.S. dollars. Image credit: Virtual Capitalist
Japan tops list of foreign holders of U.S. debt
Another Virtual Capitalist graphic showed the top foreign holders of U.S. debt. “With $1.1 trillion in Treasury holdings, Japan is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. Japan surpassed China as the top holder in 2019 as China shed over $250 billion, or 30% of its holdings in four years.”
How will we use artificial intelligence (AI)?
Recent weeks have seen an explosion of stories about artificial intelligence, more appropriately labeled machine learning. Here are a few observations from the media.
“They will “enhance” workplaces by helping with email writing and managing email inboxes. Eventually … everyone will have the equivalent of their own virtual personal assistant that would make them work more efficiently,” Bill Gates, Fortune, March 22, 2023
“It’s, like, a really cool, patient mentor, who’s not going to be annoyed by you asking a lot of questions,” Software engineer Richie Flores, Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2023
Inc. Magazine also ran a story quoting Bill Gates who provided 5 ways to prepare for AI now, saying “ChatGPT is only the beginning. A.I. will change everything.”
Start asking right now how A.I. can benefit your business.
Start thinking differently about your job.
Start planning for your personal agent.
Stop worrying so much about A.I. running amok.
Start worrying more about how A.I. is being used by people
“The choices we make now and in the next few years will reverberate around the world for hundreds, even thousands, of years.” - IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee
“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” - Jane Goodall
U.N. climate report: humanity at the precipice, we have the tools to pull back from the brink
A new United Nations climate change report “warns that humanity stands at the precipice of a more dangerous world, but says it has the tools needed to pull back from the brink,” according to a story in Axios on March 20, 2023. Key findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) sixth assessment report:
By the time the next IPCC assessment report is issued in five to seven years, human actions may have rendered the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C target, and possibly even its 2°C benchmark, infeasible.
There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.
Current climate actions are taking place too slowly.
Are we doomed, or can we be optimistic about climate change?
“We environmentalists spend our lives thinking about ways the world will end.,” writes Hannah Ritchie in a March 21, 2023, article in VOX about the need for the right kind of optimism to address climate change. “Young people have good reasons to worry about our ability to tackle climate change, but this level of despair should be alarming to anyone who cares about the well-being of future generations — which is, after all, what the climate movement is all about,” she writes. “To contend with environmental crises and make life better for everyone, we need the right kind of optimists: those who recognize that the world will only improve if we fight for it.” Image credit: United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Fahrenheit vs. Celsius – does it play a role in perceptions of the seriousness of climate change?
The U.S. is one of the few countries that still use Fahrenheit to measure air temperature. International climate research shares air temperature in Celsius. The March 21, 2023, edition of The Morning newsletter reports that “the U.S. has historically emitted more planet-warming greenhouse gases than any other country. Improving Americans’ understanding of the issue could be crucial to any push for changes.” Reporting that global temperature rise should be held to 1.5 degrees seems to be “a small meaningless number.” However, in Fahrenheit, that number is 2.7 degrees, a more significant change perceptually.
The Political Divide
How can America stop extremist violence?
Extremism and violence - It comes from both sides and its roots go back as at least as far as the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln said, “Deception breeds and thrives. Confidence dies, and universal suspicion reigns. Each man feels an impulse to kill his neighbor lest he be first killed by him. Revenge and retaliation follow.” A March 6, 2023, article in The Atlantic provides one perspective on the history of violence bred by extremism and its presence in the U.S. today. A worthwhile read. Here are some highlights:
We face a new phase of domestic terror, one characterized by radicalized individuals with shape-shifting ideologies willing to kill their political enemies.
A question: How can America survive a period of mass delusion, deep division, and political violence without seeing the permanent dissolution of the ties that bind us?
It takes very little provocation to inflame latent tensions. Once order collapses, it is extraordinarily difficult to restore.
A healthy democracy is one where you can sit on one side of the table and express an opinion, and I can sit on the other side of the table and express a very different opinion, and then we have the contest of ideas … We have it out verbally. Then we go drink a beer or whatever.
In periods of decivilization, ordinary people fail to find common ground with one another and lose faith in institutions and elected leaders. Shared knowledge erodes, and bonds fray across society. Some people inevitably decide to act with violence. As violence increases, so does distrust in institutions and leaders, and around and around it goes. The process is not inevitable—it can be held in check—but if a period of bloodshed is sustained for long enough, there is no shortcut back to normal. And signs of decivilization are visible now.
Someday, historians will look back at this moment and tell one of two stories: The first is a story of how democracy and reason prevailed. The second is a story of how minds grew fevered and blood was spilled in the twilight of a great experiment that did not have to end the way it did.
High variability between state Covid death rates
The death rates from Covid-19 varied greatly from state to state, according to a March 24, 2023, article in Axios based on a study published in the medical journal The Lancet. Some findings:
COVID-19 exploited and compounded existing local racial inequities, health disparities, and partisan politics. The combination of local factors increased the burden of disease and the likelihood of poor outcomes.
When adjusting the data to account for age and comorbidities, Arizona saw the highest COVID death rate (581 deaths per 100,000 people) in the nation. Washington, D.C. (526 per 100,000) and New Mexico (521 per 100,000) were the second and third worst.
Hawaii had the lowest adjusted COVID death rate with 147 COVID deaths per 100,000 people. It was followed by New Hampshire 215 per 100,000) and Maine (281 per 100,000), respectively.
No association was found between the political affiliation of the state governor and death rates.
One key predictor of infections and total COVID deaths was the share of people that voted for President Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
States with more mandates, such as those that encouraged mask use, mobility restrictions and vaccination — and kept them longer — experienced lower infection rates. Only vaccine coverage had a strong association with the state-by-state variation in COVID death rates.
Societal factors like poverty, education attainment, and access to high-quality healthcare might have muddled the response and led to death rates being highest in some states that didn't have tremendously high infection rates,
Image credit: Axios/The Lancet/Map: Alice Feng
U.S. life expectancy on the decline, but growing in other countries
U.S. life expectancy is dropping in the United States while it is growing in other comparable countries, according to a report on NPR’s Morning Edition on March 25, 2023. The story says “A big part of the difference between life and death in the U.S. and its peer countries is people dying or being killed before age 50. A 2013 "Shorter Lives, Poorer Health" report specifically points to factors like teen pregnancy, drug overdoses, HIV, fatal car crashes, injuries, and violence.” Another report this year found maternal mortality reached a high in 2021, and a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found rising mortality rates among U.S. children and adolescents. Covid was a large factor in the drop of 1.8 years between 2019 and 2020. There were some bright spots reported: “The United States has higher survival after age 75 than do peer countries, and it has higher rates of cancer screening and survival, better control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower stroke mortality, lower rates of current smoking, and higher average household income. Image credit: NPR / Ashley Ahn
The Nett Light-Side
DNA and Beethoven’s lock of hair
When Beethoven was dying, people asked if they could take locks of his hair. According to a March 22 2023, story in the New York Times, eight locks of hair were found and tested for DNA. One was from a woman, one was inauthentic, five had identical DNA, and one could not be tested. The results were inconclusive about why he died and why he went deaf. A family with the last name Beethoven who had long thought they were descendants were not. An interesting read if you are a fan of Beethoven or DNA analysis.
Oumuamua comet rapid acceleration explained
When the Oumuamua comet was first spotted in 2017, scientists were curious about why it rapidly accelerated as it moved away from the sun. Some even speculated the 375 foot-long comet was actually a spaceship. Now a March 25, 2023, story by Reuters hypothesizes that Oumuamua “warmed up as it passed through our inner solar system, causing the comet's ice structure to rearrange and releasing the trapped hydrogen gas - giving 'Oumuamua a little bit of a kick as it headed away from the sun.” Image credit: artist’s impression/ European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser/Handout via REUTERS
Water found on the moon in glass beads
A Chinese space mission has found water in multi-colored glass beads taken from samples of lunar dirt. According to a March 27, 2023, story by ABC News, they are called impact beads and are “the result of the cooling of melted material ejected by incoming space rocks. Water could be extracted by heating the beads, possibly by future robotic missions. More studies are needed to determine whether this would be feasible and, if so, whether the water would be safe to drink.”
About Carl Nettleton
Carl Nettleton is an award-winning writer, speaker, thought partner, facilitator, and subject-matter expert regarding water, climate, sustainability, the ocean, and binational U.S.-Mexico border affairs. Nettleton Strategies, the consultancy he founded in 2007, is a trusted source of analysis and advice on issues at the forefront of public policy, business, and the environment. He helps people and organizations to think strategically about their options for change. He is also the founder of OpenOceans Global, a nonprofit addressing ocean plastic in a new way.
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