Varied views on climate change, in praise of unaugmented reality, talk-radio talk back, and more.
Beautiful Images, Scary Lesson
“The New Climate Advocates” [Jan|Feb 2020] underscores the urgency of climate change and provides solid examples of the “silent but significant shift” at the University, driving home the seriousness of the issue. Senior editor Trey Popp has assembled and shared an array of plans and programs implemented by thinkers and planners from across the institution. The plans and programs are brilliant, well-researched, and Penn-Pride worthy, but they are also complicated and can leave the doubters and uninitiated “in the weeds.”
Molly Petrilla’s profile of artist/activist Diane Burko GFA’69, “High Mercury View,” is timely and appropriately placed within the article. The wonderfully detailed piece explains how Burko has come to be one of the world’s most sought-after experts in the field of climate change. Several of her works are shown throughout Popp’s informative and important survey, and while stunningly beautiful, they should be shown within the greater context of her work, and deserve further explanation than the captions provided.
Having followed Burko for decades, my husband (Joseph Yohlin C’76) and I have watched her work evolve and expand as she literally has gone to the ends of the earth, and visited research labs and renowned scientists all over the world, to bear witness to what is happening to our planet. Her resulting work has an immediate and jarring impact on the eye and the mind, and serves as a stark wake-up call for those in or not in the know, as well as for doubters and deniers.
Burko has photographed the earth’s changing topography while hanging from planes, has floated among endangered coral reefs, and has walked across miles and miles of melting glaciers. She has painstakingly recorded hours and hours of data from her investigations and meetings with scientists, and has spent years skillfully updating and sharing her findings with the world through her art and scholarly presentations. All we have to do is view her work as it’s meant to be viewed, and to listen to her wisdom born of first-hand experience and we will “get it.” We will understand that while her art is beautiful to look at, its lessons are downright scary. We will quickly comprehend why the University’s call to action is so critical, and why we need to act now. As Burko put it, “I have grandchildren to worry about.” Most of us have someone to worry about, don’t we?
Pamela Goren Yohlin C’78 GEd ’78, Dresher, PA
Trust Capital Markets, Not Regulatory Overreach
Alexander Braun’s proposals, in “Use the Insurance Industry to Capitalize Low-Carbon Tech,” to strongarm the insurance industry into making its investment portfolio “carbon neutral” are dangerous and misguided. Insurers invest funds entrusted to them by policyholders to earn returns. To maximize returns to these policyholders, insurers must be able to take advantage of a broad spectrum of opportunities in public and private capital markets, subject to internal risk guidelines and, of course, regulatory constraints. Insurance companies employ highly skilled investment professionals to identify attractive investments and manage their portfolios. The life insurance industry in particular is uniquely able to hold illiquid long-term debt instruments due to the long-term nature of life insurance contracts.
When new state and federal laws and regulations provided incentives for investments in alternative energy beginning in the 1980s, life insurance funding for solar, wind, geothermal, and other non-carbon energy sources increased substantially. Many insurers developed specialized expertise in these areas, and the industry continues to be an important source of funding for alternative energy. If alternative energy projects promise higher risk-adjusted returns than comparable long-term debt investments, they will attract insurance company investments.
If governments wish to accelerate flows of capital into alternative energy, there are many tools available to stimulate new investment. However, singling out the insurance industry and forcing it to invest policyholder funds in a way that would likely provide uncompetitive returns is an inappropriate course of action. It would not only not achieve the stated goals, it would greatly harm the insurers who would no longer be able to offer returns comparable to banks and other financial firms and would suffer an outflow of funds and an inability to offer competitive products.
Given attractive returns and stable regulatory framework, the insurance industry has shown that it will commit considerable capital to non-carbon energy. This approach, utilizing the time-tested signals afforded by the capital markets to increase flows to this sector, is far better than the outrageous regulatory overreach proposed by Professor Braun.
Matthew J. Chanin W’76, Delray Beach, FL
As climate-concerned brother and sister, we appreciated the collaboration of ideas by “The New Climate Advocates” [Jan|Feb 2020] and the many approaches they offer for mitigating the heating of the climate. We would like to highlight another solution: a “carbon fee and dividend” plan that 3,558 US economists support as “the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary.”
These signatories include 27 Nobel laureates, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, and all living former chairs of the Federal Reserve Board (see econstatement.org).
We encourage researchers and policy leaders to learn about the bill and bring it into public policy debates. We also urge citizens to advocate for it with their congressional representatives.
This “carbon fee and dividend” concept has been introduced in the US House (H.R. 763) and Senate (S. 3791) (see energyinnovationact.org).
It would impose an immediate $15 per metric ton fee on carbon at the wellhead or mine. The fee would rise by $10 each year and is forecast to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent in the first 12 years.
The system would help businesses plan their carbon downsizing because of its long-term predictability. It would rapidly incentivize clean and renewable energy.
The collected funds would not go to the government. Instead, through the Treasury, they would be redirected to households in equal shares each month, one share per adult and a half share for each child. Everyone would get a share, and the less carbon they use, the more money they would have to spend on whatever they want or need. Studies show that the great majority of low- and middle-income Americans would come out even or ahead. The effect on higher-income households, which use more carbon, would be greater but would constitute a small percentage of their higher incomes. The dividend, spent by the households, would grow jobs and the economy.
Cleaner air would significantly improve people’s health and lower healthcare costs. There would be a WTO/GATT-compliant border adjustment on imports to keep outgoing US commerce competitive. Fuel used in agriculture and by the military would be exempt from the fee.
The proposal has attributes that conservatives value: it is market-based, predictable, and incentivizing. Indeed, the conservative Climate Leadership Council has proposed an almost identical plan (clcouncil.org). The bill must be bipartisan, and Republican support is needed.
The national grassroots advocacy group Citizens’ Climate Lobby is working hard in Congress to grow support for the bill. We are members of this remarkable climate organization.
There are, of course, too many details in the bill to be described in this response, but the bill is compatible with many other climate solutions, such as those the “New Climate Advocates” describe.
H. Landis Gabel ME’65 WG’67 Gr’77, Newtown Square, PA
E. Marianne Gabel L’77, Delaware, OH
We Need to Come to Our Senses
How magazines and newspapers have changed since I was young! There used to be two sides to every scientific or even political issue, or else. Usually I enjoy Trey Popp’s articles, but soon I noticed that the right’s side of climate change is totally missing! According to “The New Climate Advocates” more/most people are finally coming to their senses: climate change must be corrected and fast! The real “Truth” is that the left just wants everything slanted their way. They want to control national and international dialogue so that conservatives can be labelled as kooks, or they are just totally ignored (like in this article). With most of the press leaning left, climate change becomes an issue about freedom of the press, as well as freedom of speech. If no one can write about the other (conservative) side, people come to believe there is no other side. “We win, you lose.”
The truth is there is no agreement about climate change—lots of smart people don’t think conditions have changed that much (except in China and India) and the left just needs an issue to get back in power and stay in power. We need to come to our senses and debate issues fairly, see both sides, especially at colleges and universities.
John Silliman C’75, Lincoln Park NJ
Infrequent Flyer Rewards
I was glad to read “Flight Risk,” about Penn professor Dan Hopkins’s decision not to take a cross-country flight out of climate responsibility conscience, in your article on responding to climate change. Our ideas and our actions really do matter. It’s instructive here to share the oft forgotten maxim—reduce, reuse, recycle, the importance of which is in declining order: reducing consumption is most beneficial for the environment, next most beneficial is reusing, and least is recycling. Bravo to the professor for reducing his amount of flying.
Other parts of “The New Climate Advocates” do a good job of outlining and comparing different ways different lifestyle or activity choices affect a modern human being’s carbon output (or carbon footprint). However, there’s something specific therein with which I would disagree. Regarding ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, the article quotes Professor Megan Ryerson as saying, “Air transportation is completely different … we don’t know how to reduce emissions in any meaningful way besides not flying.”
In one way that’s right—fly less. It’s just too environmentally damaging the way we do it. In another way, I disagree—the statement assumes that flight can only be achieved by petroleum fuels using either jet or propeller engines. While all standard current-day flight is accomplished in this way, it’s not at all true that there are no alternative ways to fly. Dirigible flight uses much less fuel, and could even be powered by electrical means.
Let’s go back into history and revisit a singular event that drove the flight industry towards today’s domination by petroleum fuel and jet engines, the Hindenburg disaster. What most people don’t know is that at this nascent time of air travel there were many other dirigibles making long-distance trips all across the globe. The Hindenburg itself was commissioned in 1936 and made 17 round trips across the Atlantic, as well as trips to South America, carrying 2,798 passengers and 160 tons of freight and mail before crashing in May 1937. To me, the greatest tragedy of the Hindenburg disaster was not necessarily that 36 of the 97 people on board perished, but rather that the event completely sealed the fate of dirigible transportation and brought about the ubiquity of jet transportation.
We should realize that today’s way of doing things is a result of a sometimes not-so-obvious chain of events from the past—a past that did not understand the limits of material abundance, nor environmental stability.
Back to jets—don’t fly unless really necessary. As someone who follows this rule, I find that a “smartphone hug” is rather effective. It’s something I did for the first time on New Year’s Day 2020, while I was in Dallas and my family members were in Seattle. You videochat for a while, then simultaneously place the phone over each other’s shoulders. It’s uncanny how much it can feel like a real hug.
Tom Mair C’94, McKinney, TX
Reject the “Climate Cult”
It was with a deep sense of sadness for my alma mater that I read your 12-page screed “The New Climate Advocates” that described various members of the Penn community’s prescriptions for actions to be taken to save the world from the calamitous effects of so-called anthropogenic global warming. The fact that so many distinguished Penn-related institutions and people that you cite in your article have become acolytes of a doomsday cult generally known as “climate change” is a truly sad commentary on the state of academia in the 21st century. The intellectual dishonesty of these institutions and people is abhorrent and needs to be called out.
What I shall call the “climate cult” is advocating for the most profound, costly, wasteful, worthless, and disruptive changes in the way our western socioeconomic system operates … all in the name of solving a problem that does not exist.
Very simply, man’s participation in the earth’s carbon cycle has, if any, an infinitesimally small effect on any of the earth’s physical systems and cycles. There is no scientific proof otherwise.
The time, effort, and resources spent on “solving” an environmental problem that does not exist could be expended on solving real environmental problems faced by modern man. Can one imagine if all of this worthless action to reduce man’s carbon footprint were redirected towards eliminating plastic pollution that is actually befouling our land, waterways, and oceans … killing wildlife and suffusing our food chain with microplastics to no end of deleterious effect on all living things.
All that we can hope for is that reason will at some point prevail and we will return to our senses. From reading the Gazette article about “the new climate advocates” at Penn, we are a long, long way from such a positive outcome.
Les Schaevitz W’74, Wayne, PA
Say the Climate Is Saved, What Then?
The dialogue on climate change in the most recent issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette is wonderful. It’s the continual exchange of ideas, across scientific, business, governmental, and artistic boundaries that will hopefully lead to viable climate change solutions.
What’s missing about the discussion though and parenthetically about our political debate is a discussion of the future if we do solve climate change. There needs to be a counterbalance that imagines what 2050 and beyond could be like if everything goes right.
In order for people to make the sacrifices and global changes to where they live, how they eat and travel, and how resources are handled, there needs to be a positive view of the world they can grab on to. The more 2050 becomes a time where the world is interesting because of our ability to engage other people and other cultures and because creativity and imagination can make art, literature, science, relationships, and other parts of life more exciting than today, the more people will listen to and adapt to the solutions presented in the article.
We need a World’s Fair to imagine 2050 and beyond. We need movies, novels, TV shows, and a discussion that imagines 2050—if everything goes right. We need to return to op-ed pages and journalism that focus on issues other than politics.
It’s great to have the scientific community, the urban landscape community, and others involved in fixing problems. But we need the counterbalance of all disciplines to imagine what’s healthy and exciting about 2050, too.
Joseph Glantz C’70, Levittown, PA
Meteorologists Are the Real Climate Experts
Not one weather meteorologist expert was interviewed in “The New Climate Advocates.” The elite media demonstrates again their greatest power: the power to ignore.
If just one meteorologist weather expert had been interviewed, you could at least claim your article had some intellectual honesty. That you failed to include even one meteorologist in your 12-page article about the climate had to have been deliberate.
Outside the academic bubble, no one really cares what lawyers, landscape architects, actors, globalist nonelected bureaucrats, uninformed academics, and the other non-weather experts you mention in the article pontificate about the weather.
They are not the experts. Meteorologists are.
Bruce Curley C’77, Mount Airy, MD
What Is Penn Doing?
Finally some serious talk about climate change.
What about divestment by Penn? What about information regarding what the buildings and grounds division is doing to reduce their greenhouse gases? Still using gas-powered leaf blowers? Is Penn purchasing carbon credits/offsets? Let’s have a report of how Penn has reduced emissions over the past 10 years and how you intend to go forward?
Louise Dickman Shawka HUP’60 Nu’64, Ashland, OR
In addition to our feature on ideas to fight climate change, the Jan|Feb 2020 issue also included a “Gazetteer” story on Penn’s Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0, “Local Actions on a Global Crisis.” The full report can be viewed at sustainability.upenn.edu.—Ed.
Marginalization Mission Accomplished
Even by your recent far left standards, the latest issue was offensive and disappointing. If the issue was an attempt to marginalize those who are not “woke,” it surely succeeded.
From the juvenile language of Bill Gould’s letter referring to “asshole coaches” and “doctors who didn’t give a rat’s ass” (which obscured his legitimate point regarding the need for more empathy in the medical field and in medical education) to President Gutman’s summary of the favoritism shown to first-generation and low-income students in her “From College Hall” column to the utterly one-sided discussion of climate change mitigation in “The New Climate Advocates” (which omitted any discussion of, among other things, whether these draconian measures would accomplish any reduction in the warming that has supposedly been proven), this issue left a lot to be desired.
You would do the entire Penn community a major service on several levels by modifying your editorial approach and acknowledging the legitimacy and good intentions of all members of the community.
Martin B. Robins W’77, Barrington Hills, IL
Save Some Trees
“Bill Busters” by Brian Rosenwald [“Expert Opinion,” Jan|Feb 2020] is but one more piece of trash that I wish no longer to be in my home. I may be a “minority voice” as Rosenwald claims, but to say that my voice and others like mine are undermining governance of the US is false if not just foolish.
The Gazette makes good tinder on a chilly night, but I prefer Penn save the trees. What? A conservative interested in the environment? That’s secular blasphemy! After all, I am but that very small segment of the US that is supposed to be causing global warming—God forbid that Penn cut any more trees on my account. May the omniscient progressive scientists/activists in the Ivy magazine network stop sending me the Gazette. Perhaps that is something we can agree on.
I must say though, the more I skim through your drivel, the more I want to trade in my four-cylinder model for a 2020 Shelby GT500 to elevate my carbon footprint. Until then, I’ll eat more steak. I have a reputation to uphold.
Donald C. Belcher D’84 GD’85, Palm Harbor, FL
Just Trying to Compete
Talk radio is a pitiful effort to try to compete with the liberal press like the New York Times and Washington Post, whose reporters abuse their role as journalists to push their left-wing agenda as “news.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reprints these sources, being devoid of a staff of capable journalists. Hence the true title of being “fake” news. Hopefully Penn is turning out honest journalists.
Oleg Dudkin ME’48, Berwyn, PA
We May Never Be Fully Present Again
I was shocked to read, in “Augmenting Reality” [Jan|Feb 2020] that Stephen Lane, an expert in the field of augmented reality, can’t think of any downsides to the technology other than hits to “assembly, maintenance, and repair jobs.” To me, the dangers of AR are frightening: companies collecting data on where we go and what we see; third parties manipulating news content and thus influencing elections; new forms of social media taking the place of actual face-to-face interactions; highly addictive games that waste valuable time and money. AR will be yet another means for employers to keep workers plugged in at all hours and for parents to distract kids, despite research showing that too much screen time harms early childhood development.
With AR, we won’t have the opportunity to look up from our screens and into the pure, unadulterated world, even for a moment, because the “screen” will be superimposed over what we see. We may never be fully present again.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I’ve had therapists tell me repeatedly that the best way to calm down the mind is to be aware of the present moment. Between my iPhone, iPad, laptop, and TV, I have a hard enough time being present as it is. We certainly won’t be helping our mental health by imposing yet another screen between us and the world—this one even more intrusive.
My feelings about AR come down to this: I don’t want more technology “enhancing” my experience of the world—I want less. I crave real conversations, quiet time with my family, the delicious emptiness of moments when I have nothing to do but notice what’s around me. With the advent of AR, we need to consider not just what we have to gain, but also the great cost of what we will lose.
Erica Olson C’07, Plains, MT
Too Many People
Three cheers for the informative article “Is Our Planet Too Crowded?” [“Alumni Profiles,” Jan|Feb 2020]. And thank you, Terry Spahr C’88 G’95 for taking a break from your career to produce 8 Billion Angels, a documentary laying out the problem lurking behind Earth’s greatest (or maybe second greatest) environmental woe—too many people!
Here’s hoping that 8 Billion Angels will be a first step toward stimulating our better angels to make every effort to address population growth. Perhaps a valuable next step would be for a Penn/Wharton grad to design an economic model that would enable the economies of the world to prosper while their populations shrink. And a third step would be for common sense to prevail, enabling all of us to recognize that you can support, indeed strongly support, family planning without opposing women’s rights to abortion.
Sam Heffner W’65, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
The Wave Was Stronger
I read “Hero on the Beach” about David Langer’s ocean experience with great interest [“Alumni Profiles,” Jan|Feb 2020]. I had almost the exact same experience at the tip of Long Island in New York as the man Langer saved.
I was swimming with a friend and riding the waves into shore. I decided to take one last ride. The wave was stronger than I thought. It took me off my feet and spun me around and slammed my head into the sand (under water). I could not use my hands or arms to right myself. I finally was able to signal my friend who was near me. He helped me onto the beach. A doctor who was nearby came over and helped until the EMS people came and took me to a nearby hospital. My arms were not operating at all and touching the hair on my arms caused extreme pain. This hospital was not able to help and an ambulance ride to North Shore Hospital ensued.
I was in a body cast for six months. Lucky for me no surgery. Now, after 35 years, I am 95 percent back to normal.
I don’t swim in the ocean anymore.
Robert A. Weil W’55, Southbury, CT
For anyone to make a large donation to a university in exchange for renaming the school or a building after him/herself is so tacky and appears to be more of a commercial transaction than a well-intended gesture [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb 2020]. It would have been more impressive if the money were given with the proviso that the school be named after a professor or someone else in the law school who inspired the giver.
Naming a building or school after someone still living is also risky. I don’t blame the university in this situation, as the benefits probably outweigh the potential detriments.
Ed King W’66, Bay Head, NJ
“London Summer and Shadows” by Lorene Cary [Nov|Dec 2019] is fascinating and so well written.
L. D. Bullock GEng’80, Walsenburg, CO
Cary also appears—as a subject—in this issue. See “Her General Tubman,” by Julia Klein.—Ed.