In “Stuff Happens to the Environment, Like Climate Change” Mr. Friedman says we’re wearing down the planet, and the next president, even a Republican, will be faced with that reality. Mr. Bruni, in “Carly Fiorina’s Shameless Promotion,” says the rising presidential candidate burns with conviction — when the cause is herself. Here’s TMOW:
With both China and India having just announced major plans to curb their carbon emissions, the sound you hear is a tipping point tipping. Heading into the United Nations climate summit meeting in Paris in December, all the world’s largest industrial economies are now taking climate change more seriously. This includes the United States — except for some of the knuckleheads running to be our next president, which is not a small problem.
When, at CNN’s G.O.P. presidential debate, the moderator Jake Tapper read statements from Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state George Shultz (who drives an electric car powered by solar panels on his home’s roof) about how Reagan urged industry to proactively address ozone depletion, and why Shultz believes we should be just as proactive today in dealing with climate change, he got the usual know-nothing responses.
Senator Marco Rubio said, “We’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government that we are under now wants to do,” while Gov. Chris Christie opined of Shultz, “Listen, everybody makes a mistake every once in a while.”
They sure do, and it’s not Shultz, who has been wisely and courageously telling Republicans that the conservative thing to do now is to take out some insurance against climate change, because if it really gets rocking the results could be “catastrophic.” Hurricane Sandy — likely amplified by warmer ocean waters — caused over $36 billion in damage to Christie’s own state, New Jersey, in 2012.
But hey, stuff just happens.
There was a time when we could tolerate this kind of dumb-as-we-wanna-be thinking. But it’s over. The next eight years will be critical for the world’s climate and ecosystems, and if you vote for a climate skeptic for president, you’d better talk to your kids first, because you will have to answer to them later.
If you have time to read one book on this subject, I highly recommend the new “Big World, Small Planet,” by Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, and Mattias Klum, whose stunning photographs of ecosystem disruptions reinforce the urgency of the moment.
Rockstrom begins his argument with a reminder that for most of the earth’s 4.5-billion-year history its climate was not very hospitable to human beings, as it oscillated between “punishing ice ages and lush warm periods” that locked humanity into seminomadic lifestyles.
It’s only been in the last 10,000 years that we have enjoyed the stable climate conditions allowing civilizations to develop based on agriculture that could support towns and cities. This period, known as the Holocene, was an “almost miraculously stable and warm interglacial equilibrium, which is the only state of the planet we know for sure can support the modern world as we know it.” It finally gave us “a stable equilibrium of forests, savannahs, coral reefs, grasslands, fish, mammals, bacteria, air quality, ice cover, temperature, fresh water availability and productive soils.”
It “is our Eden,” Rockstrom added, and now “we are threatening to push earth out of this sweet spot,” starting in the mid-1950s, when the Industrial Revolution reached most of the rest of the globe and populations and middle classes exploded. That triggered “the great acceleration” of industrial and farming growth, which has put all of earth’s ecosystems under stress. The impacts now are obvious: “climate change, chemical pollution, air pollution, land and water degradation … and the massive loss of species and habitats.”
The good news is that in this period many more of the world’s have-nots have escaped from poverty. They’ve joined the party. The bad news, says Rockstrom, is that “the old party” cannot go on as it did. The earth is very good at finding ways to adapt to stress: oceans and forest absorb the extra CO2; ecosystems like the Amazon adapt to deforestation and still provide rain and fresh water; the Arctic ice shrinks but does not disappear. But eventually we can exhaust the planet’s adaptive capacities.
We’re sitting on these planetary boundaries right now, argues Rockstrom, and if these systems flip from one stable state to another — if the Amazon tips into a savannah, if the Arctic loses its ice cover and instead of reflecting the sun’s rays starts absorbing them in water, if the glaciers all melt and cannot feed the rivers — nature will be fine, but we will not be.
“The planet has demonstrated an impressive capacity to maintain its balance, using every trick in its bag to stay in the current state,” explains Rockstrom. But there are more and more signs that we may have reached a saturation point. Forests show the first signs of absorbing less carbon. The oceans are rapidly acidifying as they absorb more CO2, harming fish and coral. Global average temperatures keep rising.
This is what will greet the next president — a resilient planet that could once absorb our excesses at seemingly no cost to us, suddenly tipping into a saturated planet, sending us “daily invoices” that will get bigger each year. When nature goes against you, watch out.
“For the first time, we need to be clever,” says Rockstrom, “and rise to a crisis before it happens,” before we cross nature’s tipping points. Later will be too late. We elect a president who ignores this science at our peril.
Now here’s Mr. Bruni:
Carly Fiorina gives one heck of a speech.
That was my first impression, a positive one, when I caught up with her in Sacramento in 2010 to chronicle her bid for the Senate.
She had focus, urgency and a brimming arsenal of barbs, just as she does now. She liked to mention an incident in which Senator Barbara Boxer, the incumbent Democrat, once upbraided an Army bigwig for calling her “Ma’am” rather than “Senator,” and she told Californians that if they gave her Boxer’s job: “You may call me ‘Ma’am.’ You may call me ‘Senator.’ You may call me ‘Carly.’ You may call me, ‘Hey, you, remember, you work for me.’ ”
She presented herself as a woman of the people, at our service.
But that wasn’t my impression of her after about a week of attending her campaign events, riding around California with her and interviewing her about her drive and her desires.
Even more so than is usually the case, the candidacy seemed to be all about the candidate. She yearned to silence forever all of the naysaying about her stewardship of Hewlett-Packard, to be validated by voters, to have the final say.
She failed, and she failed big, losing to Boxer by 10 points.
Her response? To seek a promotion. She’s running for president.
Give her credit for dauntlessness.
But look closely and you see its ugly sibling, shamelessness, not just in the way she treats facts but in the way she treats others.
The Washington Post just published a humiliating account of her sluggishness to pay bills from that 2010 campaign. That she stiffed several vendors until January 2015 wasn’t really the damning part: That’s sadly common in politics.
But The Post reported that one of the people stiffed was the widow of the pollster Joe Shumate, who dropped dead of a heart attack, “surrounded by sheets of polling data” for Fiorina, shortly before Election Day in 2010. Fiorina mourned him as “the heart and soul” of her operation, then neglected for years to fork over at least $30,000 that she owed him.
Martin Wilson, who managed that campaign, told The Post that he occasionally implored her to settle up. “She just wouldn’t,” he said.
It’s striking that he’d tattle like that on Fiorina. She apparently doesn’t leave much love in her wake. Reuters interviewed about 30 people who worked for her in 2010, 12 of whom said: Never again. “I’d rather go to Iraq,” one unidentified campaign aide groused.
And The Daily Beast examined Fiorina’s recent campaign-finance filings and noticed that almost no one at Hewlett-Packard had given more than $200 — the minimum amount for which a donor must be identified — to her presidential quest.
She has her loyalists, including some glass-half-full revisionists. Consider this from the Post story: “Her supporters cautioned that little could be gleaned from her California campaign. They maintain that Fiorina’s corporate experience is more akin to managing a presidential campaign than a bid for office in one of the nation’s most liberal states.”
In other words, the Boxer contest was small potatoes — peculiar ones, too — and a leader of Fiorina’s vision and scope is suited only to a giant spud.
For someone so caustic about others’ shortcomings, she’s awfully cavalier about her own.
“It was a mistake,” she said to me in 2010 about her failure to vote in elections in New Jersey, where she’d once lived for 10 years, and in more than half of the 18 elections in California in which she could have participated.
Then she qualified that confession, explaining that she hadn’t been “running my life to seek political office,” as if such a goal were the only reason to show up at the polls.
In the cause of others, she’s not so quick, exuberant or deft. She campaigned as a surrogate for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election but had to be sidelined after saying that neither McCain nor Sarah Palin, his running mate, could run a big corporation. It was a fascinating lapse, in that she was denying them the chops to do precisely what she had done (albeit poorly, by many measures).
In her calculus, the corporate world qualified her for governing, but government experience didn’t qualify others for the corporate world. What self-flattering, self-serving arithmetic.
It has been correctly observed that her ascent in the polls, coupled with Donald Trump’s enduringly strong showing, reflects the currency of political outsiders right now.
But it also reflects the potency of an insatiable hunger for approbation and an unshakable belief in your genius. She and Trump share that, and of course she gives one heck of a speech. She thrills to her own voice.