Plus, the Biden climate change summit.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.
Today’s read: 13 Minutes.
Today’s lead story is on the Biden administration’s climate summit. But I also wanted to follow up on Thursday’s newsletter, when I shared AdFontesMedia’s bias rating of Tangle and expressed my surprise about how far-right we were rated. Well, it turns out there was a bit of a mix-up. We heard from the Founder and CEO of AdFontesMedia, who is a Tangle subscriber and she graciously explained to me what happened.
On Friday, I sent out a subscribers-only post that was a transcription of a conversation with Alex Vitale, one of the leading advocates of abolishing the police. Because of the interest in this topic, we also released a podcast version of the interview. It’s not the cleanest recording (apologies, I was out of my “home office” this week), but it’s fascinating nonetheless. You can listen to the podcast here.
- The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging the New York gun law that prohibits concealed carry permits outside the home, creating the potential for loosening gun laws nationwide. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
- A high school student who was suspended from her cheerleading team for profane Snapchat comments she made off-campus will now have her argument heard before the Supreme Court, in a case that could define the reach of free speech for students for decades to come. (The Washington Post, subscription)
- The Biden administration is close to naming its ambassadors for the European Union and NATO. (Axios)
- The United States plans to send coronavirus-ravaged India materials for vaccines (The New York Times). Separately, two studies released last week further clarified the threat of long-term health problems caused by the coronavirus (Axios).
- In leaked audio, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s military leaders, are largely calling the shots. The recording, which was not meant for public consumption, confirms long-held beliefs about Zarif’s limited political power. (The New York Times, subscription)
What D.C. is talking about.
The Biden climate summit. Last week, President Biden held a climate change summit with 40 different heads of state, including allies in the European union and rivals like China and Russia. The Biden administration is trying to accelerate global efforts to reduce emissions as it re-enters the Paris Climate Agreement. Goals set forth in the summit will rely mostly on international pressure, not any legally binding enforcement, but the goals are time-sensitive: the Paris climate agreement aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. The United Nations says any temperature rise past that threshold could cause catastrophic damage to certain ecosystems, along with sea level rise that would likely engulf many coastal cities and towns.
During the summit, President Biden pledged to cut U.S. emissions by 50% to 52% by the year 2030, and to be net zero by 2060. The benchmark year for those reductions is 2005, the year most commonly used as a benchmark for many nations. U.S. emissions were 13% below 2005 levels in the year 2019, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The summit, which ended Friday, is just the beginning of the Biden administration’s focus on climate change. With the pandemic response packages largely complete, the Biden administration is turning its focus to the issue of climate change and to issues it has connected to climate change policy, like infrastructure and foreign policy.
The United States is the largest greenhouse gas emitter in global history, but has slowed its emissions in recent years. China is currently the largest emitter, and — because its industrial era began later than the West’s — has said it will continue to increase emissions until 2030, when it will then plan to roll them down. Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, said China will cooperate with reducing emissions, but insinuated that cooperation was dependent on the United States staying out of its policies in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang Province.
Russia, Australia, India, Indonesia and Mexico all avoided making any new commitments during the summit. Other countries reiterated the need for the United States to fund their climate change initiatives. Brazil has asked the Biden administration for $1 billion in exchange for reducing its deforestation of the Amazon. Indian officials said the U.S. and other wealthy nations need to follow through on commitments to spend as much as $100 billion to help facilitate environmentally-friendly initiatives.
“No nation can solve this crisis on our own,” Biden said at the summit. “All of us, and particularly those of us that represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up.”
What the left is saying.
The left is split on the summit, with some people believing it fell short of addressing the most necessary changes and others viewing Biden as the most climate-friendly president yet.
In The New York Times, Kate Aronoff said “accounting for the United States’ outsize responsibility for the climate crisis requires much bolder action” than what Biden is proposing. While she cheers on the “sweeping” domestic climate agenda, she says nothing will change if we don’t reimagine our foreign policy to address the climate.
“U.S. foreign policy has generally fueled, not constrained, emissions,” she wrote. “(A study from two universities in England found that if our military were a country, its emissions from fuel usage alone would make it the planet’s 47th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.) Billions of dollars’ worth of wide-ranging subsidies for fossil fuels merged with cheap credit after the Great Recession to increase oil and gas production. Reaching the limits of domestic refining capacity, executives lobbied to repeal longstanding restrictions on crude oil exports, which increased 750 percent between 2015 and 2019 according to a report from Greenpeace USA and Oil Change International. President Barack Obama’s State Department enthusiastically promoted fracking abroad through its Global Shale Gas Initiative, making it key to what the department’s director of policy planning, Jake Sullivan, referred to as ‘economic statecraft.’
“Bipartisan policies have similarly safeguarded fossil fuel profits. Provisions across bilateral and multilateral trade deals the United States routinely negotiates, like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, allow companies to sue governments should their public policy be considered discriminatory… The real power to constrain carbon, then, is found not at feel-good summits or buried in the fine print of the Paris Agreement: It’s in trade agreements, international law and bodies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.”
The Los Angeles Times editorial board said Biden has set the right goal, but now we all have to meet it.
“Regrettably, Biden didn’t describe his road map for getting there, but he has included some elements in earlier proposals, such as ending the use of fossil fuels to produce the nation’s electricity and adding at least 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations to shore up consumer interest in electric vehicles (a proposal he offered in his campaign),” the board wrote. “This will not be easy. And although a unified federal government leading the charge is vital, much of the onus will fall on consumers who have been slow to buy electric vehicles instead of the gas-powered pickup trucks and SUVs with which they’ve been so enamored.”
In CNN, Jeffrey Sachs said that “by every standard, President Joe Biden's climate change summit was a remarkable success.”
“With great diplomatic dexterity, Biden and climate envoy John Kerry assembled world leaders representing 82% of world carbon emissions, 73% of the world population and 86% of world economic output to commit to bold climate action,” he wrote. “The summit represents a tipping point. The world's largest economies -- the United States, Canada, the European Union, China, Japan, Korea, India, United Kingdom, Brazil -- are finally aligning around the goal of deep decarbonization, meaning the shift of the energy system from fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to zero-carbon sources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass and nuclear).
“Cynics might claim that we've been here before -- big political talk about climate action but with little prospect of follow up,” he added. “Yet such cynicism is not well placed. The stark dangers of a warming planet, coupled with the breakthroughs in low-cost, zero-carbon technologies, are convincing political and business leaders not to be left behind in the great global energy transformation already underway.”
What the right is saying.
The right is skeptical of the importance of the summit and says that there needs to be more focus on what China will do to reduce its emissions.
The National Review editorial board said the climate summit was an “unserious” event laden with meaningless political rhetoric and empty commitments.
“If we could set aside the culture war for a half a minute, we might discover some points of cooperation,” they wrote. “For example, the U.S. electricity-generating sector has significantly improved its greenhouse-gas profile in recent years, not because it was visited by bright young things employed by a Civilian Climate Corps but thanks to — prepare to clutch your pearls — fracking. Natural gas is a much cleaner fuel than coal from a carbon-emissions point of view, and an abundance of inexpensive natural gas enabled normal economic forces to act in the green interest.
“We could be exporting enormous quantities of the stuff to the rest of the world, helping to displace coal power with cleaner gas power while doing precisely what it is Senator Markey and his congressional allies say they want to do at home: creating good jobs. But that would require, among other things, infrastructure, from pipelines and storage facilities to new export terminals on the West Coast. Private investors are ready to build these at their own expense, but the Biden administration and its allies stand in the way of this and other practical measures that have a chance at producing both consensus and results. Neither ‘Green New Deal’ radicalism nor puffed-up summitry credibly promises as much.”
In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen said “reducing global emissions is easier said than done because almost all human activity emits greenhouse gasses.”
“If you go anywhere by plane, train, bus or car, your actions emit greenhouse gasses,” he wrote. “Same goes for turning on lights, cooking food, or heating homes and offices. Burning fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas or coal is what has been powering humankind’s climb out of poverty. Developed economies cannot simply switch on a dime.
“Biden’s promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 is going to mean life changes for everyone,” he wrote. “To see why, look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s summary of greenhouse gas emissions by sector. That accounting shows that 29 percent of total emissions from the United States comes from transportation, while a further 25 percent comes from electricity generation and 23 percent comes from industrial use. Dramatically reducing emissions in any one of these sectors would require wrenching, expensive change. Doing it in all three simultaneously requires more direct government activity and regulation than the country has seen in decades.”
In The New York Post, Bjorn Lomborg said there is a “better way” than Biden’s unrealistic, expensive climate plans.
“If we use the standard UN climate model, it turns out that Biden’s new promises will reduce warming by the end of the century by a rather small 0.07°F — from say 7.2°F to 7.13°F,” Lomborg wrote. “Biden told us that his climate policy would make Americans more prosperous. That is implausible. If climate policies really were making us richer, everyone would scramble to shed fossil fuels and pile on the renewables. Instead, his own summit showed the need for arm-twisting even just to make a few of the participants promise expensive new policies.
“In place of another gabfest, we need to get smarter on climate,” Lomborg said. “It is not about the rich world spending trillions it doesn’t have on ineffective and premature renewables. Leaders should instead spend billions smarter on green innovation: if we can innovate future green energy to be cheaper than fossil fuels, everyone will switch. To Biden’s credit, this is one of his many climate promises, but it needs to be front and center of a successful climate agenda.”
What do I make of summits like this? Not much. I generally share the right’s cynicism about the value or importance of these meetings. Reading Jeffrey Sachs’ swooning language over Biden’s “diplomatic dexterity” and “remarkable success” for essentially organizing a glorified Zoom meeting so leaders could read scripted and predictable talking points or — as with China, Russia and Brazil — not really make any valuable commitments at all, makes me cringe. That’s not to say this kind of thing is counter-productive, it just doesn’t mean much without a real plan.
Flashy promises about a future of electric cars and retrofitted houses are all well and good, but they’re also going to be some of the most expensive, difficult to scale and politically challenging goals to achieve. Americans love big diesel trucks and gas stoves and it’s going to take more than 10 years to make the alternatives so cheap and attractive that we move toward them voluntarily. Coercion might work, but forcing the issue probably won’t, and our time could be better spent elsewhere. The right’s skepticism about Americans willingly adopting these kinds of lifestyle changes is well-founded, but also seems to lose the plot — and wastes time that could otherwise be spent explaining why they’re necessary.
As I’ve said in the past, I don’t see a roadmap forward without including nuclear in the equation. Plenty of readers have argued it’s a cost-prohibitive solution (on top of being risky) but the former doesn’t strike me as an unsolvable problem and the latter cuts at incredibly rare events that we can safely predict are only going to get rarer — we can make nuclear plants that are safe. Solar, hydro and wind power are improving as cheap alternatives as I write this sentence, and dozens of states have already successfully integrated them into their energy plans. The momentum is in the right place. We should continue to invest in improving the technology for battery storage and efficiency, and we should take whatever we have now and fight like hell to make it ten times cheaper and more powerful in the next decade.
What undergirds so much of this issue is that the future is inherently unpredictable, and politicians take advantage of that unpredictability regularly. Climate models have a wide range of variance and still show significant errors. Recent studies, however, point to improving accuracy and some scary worst-case scenarios. At the same time, hard-to-predict astronomical events, or something like coronavirus, can temporarily upend the trajectory of the earth’s temperature rise or our rate of emissions and damage the dialogue with uncertainty.
Still, there is little debate about the scientific consensus for this moment: we emit greenhouse gasses. Those gasses remain in the atmosphere and warm the earth’s temperature. And, if we don’t slow that warming, there’s a decent to very likely chance it upends the ecosystems we rely on to survive. That’s enough to prompt alarms and political action, and it should be enough for the rest of us to take the threat seriously.
And yet, nearly half of Congress seem resistant to what so many people who study this stuff are telling us: mitigation is needed, as is finding new ways to meet the energy demands for the planet without relying on the same fuel sources we have been for the last hundred years. One in five Americans still don’t believe human activity contributes much or at all to climate change, a sign that plenty of battles are still on the horizon domestically to get nationwide buy-in on taking serious action.
Anytime you write anything about climate change, there’s always someone somewhere who is preparing a screed about the thing you’re overlooking — Agriculture! China! Meat! Overpopulation! Carbon capture! Deforestation! — and they’re all right. Perhaps more than any other major issues we face, it’s going to take a smorgasbord of policy changes, global synchronization and a lot of imagination to save a planet for our grandkids that is healthier and more stable than the one we have now.
From my perspective, what we can safely say is that just about everything related to how we mitigate our emissions and treat our environment can be improved right now. The vegans are right that if we ate less meat we’d probably be a lot healthier, use less water and have more food. A carbon tax — however problematic economically — has had meandering bipartisan support and could be the kind of incentive to move the ball more than a yard. Carbon capture technology is still in its infancy but could absolutely mitigate day-to-day disruption if it was paired with slowdown in our emissions. Shoot, a huge part of the solution might be as simple as planting as many trees as we possibly can while reducing deforestation for agriculture or other industrialized practices like mining.
To most of it, I say yes — let’s see what we can do. This summit provided little more than broad rhetoric and lofty goals. That’s a fine start, but it’s tough to examine what any of it actually means until we see the policy. The details of how we address climate change domestically are not going to be the same as how we motivate other countries (via partnership or political pressure) to take action and hit their own emission benchmarks. Climate change has been and continues to be one of the most-requested areas of coverage in Tangle, and we’ll be giving it more attention in the coming weeks and months — and it’ll get easier to examine closely when we start to see the legislative rollout.
For now, much of the global community is at least saying the right things. It’s a start.
Our bias rating.
On Thursday, I told you all about how Tangle’s bias had been rated by AdFontesMedia. I also expressed some surprise at being rated to the right of The Wall Street Journal, The Dispatch and Independent Journal Review.
On Friday, I got an email from the Founder and CEO of AdFontesMedia, Vanessa Otero. It turns out Vanessa is a Tangle subscriber and saw my note (and also my criticism) about the rating — and it also turns out that the rating was posted prematurely by mistake.
Vanessa took the extraordinarily kind step of writing in to openly explain AdFontesMedia’s bias rating process and apologize for publishing the premature and inaccurate rating. She explained that AdFontesMedia gets their bias scores by “rating a sample of 10-15 articles (or newsletters, in this case). Each article/newsletter is rated by a panel of three of our trained analysts--one left, one right, and one center. They rate them together in shifts on Zoom where one of them is a facilitator. After reading and scoring the articles, they see each other's scores and discuss any discrepancies, but they usually have very high levels of agreement.”
In this case, Tangle’s rating got posted with only one newsletter scored — where I took a rather hard stance on China — and ended up in a much further-right quadrant than is representative of Tangle as a whole. After a full set of newsletters was reviewed, the new rating went live this weekend, with Tangle just barely right of center, but still scoring really strongly in all other sections. Here is the new rating:
If you want, you can read Vanessa’s entire explanation, which she gave me permission to share, in this Google document.
As a follow-up to this, I also asked Tangle readers what they thought about Tangle’s bias. 53.4% said we were “center.” 39.3% said we “skew left.” 6.9% said we “skew right.”
Only 519 readers gave us a rating, but of those 11.9% described their own politics as “center,” 48.1% said they were “center-left,” 20% said they were “center-right,” and 18.9% said they were “far-left.”
In all, this was a pretty fascinating week of evaluation for Tangle. AdFontesMedia landed us just right of center while Tangle readers (of majority left-leaning politics) overwhelmingly rated us center or skews-left. Meanwhile, one single Tangle newsletter scored a fairly far-right rating while the full set of newsletters landed scattershot on the right and left. I’d say all these complications and competing ratings are “good for the brand.”
Finally, a quick addendum to Thursday’s newsletter: When expressing my shock on this rating, I said the existence of the rating “has also undermined my faith in whatever metrics they [AdFontesMedia] are using to rate their news outlets.” The follow-up from Vanessa, the explanation, and the transparency has basically turned that impression on its head — and I wanted to just note how impressed I was with how they handled it, and the process they are using to rate news outlets. Even if I am still a little surprised to see where we landed, I left with a lot of faith in their process and even more to think about in terms of how Tangle is navigating the news.
A story that matters.
The first results of the 2020 census are scheduled to be released today. The data, which are detailed tallies of each state’s population, will determine a “decade’s worth of congressional apportionment and electoral college votes,” according to The Washington Post. In other words: these latest population counts will shape how Congress is built and the president is elected for years to come. The latest census was thrown into chaos by the pandemic, partisan bickering, funding shortages and legal battles that have called into question how accurate the results will be.
Check it out.
I’m still sharing Tangle readers’ pitches to become a paying subscriber. Today’s comes from Brock in Ontario, Canada!
“In an age where trust is in short supply, and partisanship is at an all-time high, independent media is needed now more than ever. Tangle is not only independent but gives you a look at both sides on the most pressing issue of the day, with Isaac offering his own take to round things out. All of which is just the start of the conversation. The Friday edition always makes for a fascinating read and I've enjoyed the variety, in all senses of the word of those who have been interviewed there and on the podcast. If you're only going to pay for one U.S. news source this should be it!”
- 12%. The increase in voter turnout in the 2020 election compared to 2016, according to TargetSmart.
- 43%. The increase in voter turnout in the 2020 election compared to 2016 among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to TargetSmart.
- 49,984,595. The number of Americans who did not vote in the 2020 election.
- 16,865,697. The number of Americans who voted for the first time in the 2020 election.
- 53.8%. The percentage of the electorate that was non-college educated whites in 2016.
- 49.2%. The percentage of the electorate that was non-college educated whites in 2020.
Have a nice day.
Nearly three decades after she worked as their cook, Jessie Hamilton got the gift of a lifetime from the fraternity brothers of Phi Gamma Delta. Hamilton worked as a cook for the Louisiana State University frat house in the 1980s, and one of the members from the frat kept in touch with her in the years since. When he found out the 74-year-old was still working two jobs to pay off the mortgage on a house she bought in 2006, he rallied his old frat brothers — all now in their 50s — to help raise money for her. Together, they got more than $51,000, which they presented to her at “Jessie Hamilton day.” Hamilton said she is going to use the money to retire, pay off her house and may even take a vacation to Hawaii. (Today)