353 (23 January 2019)


Welcome to week 353!  The articles below caught my attention this week.  What are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********).  Article titles preceded by [SR] require a subscription.

(16 January 2019): [SR]Business Worries About Climate Intensify.  Business Actions to Fix it, Not So Much.The Wall Street Journal

——–“Every year the World Economic Forum asks 1,000 business, policy and thought leaders to rank about 30 risks facing the world by both impact and likelihood.  In this year’s report, released Wednesday, climate-related risks top the list.  The WEF . . . has been running this exercise for 14 years.  While some risks come and go with the headlines, climate has been rising steadily through the ranks and has led the list for the last three years.  If the firs step to solving a problem is admitting you have a problem, this should mean climate change is well on its way to being solved.  The reason it isn’t is that the world is much readier to admit climate change is a problem than to do anything about it.  This is especially true of businesses in the U.S., many of whom claim concern about climate change then fight solutions that hit their bottom line.”

——–A deeper dig into the WEF’s report sheds light on the dichotomy between concern and action.  “Asked additionally to rank only short-term risks, respondents ranked climate only 11th . . . In other words, the closer businesses and others focus of the here and now, the less pressing  climate change becomes.  Perhaps this dichotomy shouldn’t surprise.  Any individual business can adapt to the consequences of a warming climate . . . But none can solve it. . . . That almost always requires a policy intervention . . . Small wonder, then, that among WEF respondents’ top climate-related concern is ‘failure of climate change adaptation and mitigation,’ in other words, an absence of policies.”

********The primary document is The Global Risks Report 2019, which can be downloaded here.  The download is 114 pages and contains some stunning figures that are well worth a look: Figure I: The Global Risks Landscape 2019, see p. 5 of the Report; Figure II: The Risks-Trends Interconnections Map 2019, see p. 6; and Figure III: The Global Risks Interconnections Map 2019, see p. 7.  Figures II and III make it unmistakable that our current risks are interrelated and that thinking systemically is essential for addressing them. On the same page as the Report, you can view a 55-minute video providing an overview of the Report.

********Although the headline of the WSJ article indicates that businesses are not taking too much action on climate change, they are clearly thinking about, as is made evident in “Corporate America Tallies the Mounting Costs of Climate ChangeBloomberg.com.  More than 7,000 companies worldwide filed a report on “their environmental impact, including the risks and opportunities they believe climate change presents for their businesses” to U.K.-based nonprofit CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project).  You can view company scores for 2018 at their website.  This article takes us through a series of concerns raised by businesses in their reports, while also noting that “Climate change isn’t all downside for the largest U.S. companies.  Many of those that filed reports with CDP said they believe climate change can bolster demand for their products.  For one thing, more people will get sick.”  Merck & Co. wrote: “As the climate changes, there will be expanded markets for products for tropical and weather related diseases including waterborne illness.” 

(17 January 2019):5 Pieces of Advice From John BogleThe New York Times

********John Bogle, the founder of The Vanguard Group of Investment Companies that manage almost $5 trillion in funds, passed away on January 16th.  At a time when financial markets are in turmoil and the political environment is tense, his five pieces of advice are worth considering so that cooler heads might prevail.  Bogle was a financial legend, proud that he wasn’t a billionaire.  Reasons for that price, and an argument that he “created more social good than any contemporary in finance” can be found here

(17 January 2019):Playing The Gender Card: Overlooking And Overthrowing Sexist StereotypesNPR

********This is an episode of the “Hidden Brain” podcast by Shankar Vedantam.  At 50 minutes it is not brief, but it is engaging and enlightening.  It considers a female professional poker player and a male nurse, with researcher comments, thereby exploring how women and men think about and experience their work in professions that are counter to gender stereotypes.  In doing so, it points to the personal and societal loss from gender (and other) stereotypes.  I was struck by its concluding lines:

Stereotypes are powerful, because the stories we tell about ourselves are powerful.  They shape how we see the world and how the world sees us.  But in the end, they are only stories, and stories . . . we can rewrite them.

********Although the connection may not be obvious, this seems like a good place to make note of “The Art of Decision-MakingThe New Yorker.  Starting out as a seeming review of Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most, it moves onto the terrain of philosophy, where Israeli philosopher Edna Ullmann-Margalit’s article “Big Decisions: Opting, Converting, Drifting” is discussed.  Such decisions are referred to as “transformative choices,” in effect, ones where a course of action will profoundly affect one’s sense of self, the action transforming an “Old Person” who exists before the action into a “New Person” who exists afterwards.  How does one think consistently about such a decision?  In any event, new and old people, as well as the person we are and the person we think we are in relation to a stereotype, seem to related to the literature on multiple selves, one example of which can be gleaned from the Abstract for “From dual processes to multiple selves: Implications for economic behavior.” 

(18 January 2019):Europe’s Most Important River Is Running DryBloomberg.com   

——–The Rhine River “snakes 800 miles through the industrial zones of Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands before emptying into the sea at Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port.  It serves as a key conduit for manufacturers such as Daimler AG, Robert Bosch GmbH and Bayer AG.”  But after “a prolonged summer drought, the bustling traffic at one of the shallowest points on the Rhine ground to a halt for nearly a month late last year . . . It was the latest sign of how even advanced industrial economies are increasingly fighting the effects of global warming.”  As a result, some companies, such as steelmaker Thyssenkrupp AG has been moving materials by rail rather that barge, at substantially greater cost.  “To thwart future transport-related disruptions to the economy, Chancellor Angel Merkel’s government is mulling measures such as permanently easing Sunday restrictions on truck traffic in Rhine states, lightening loads on barges and improving freight train connections”

********I think the summary above tells the story, providing another example of the consequences of climate change.  The choice of transportation medium depends upon the prices of the transportation alternatives, and when one medium becomes more expensive, others will be used.  In the present case, as barges become more expensive, rails and roads will be used.  The measures being considered by the German government are intended to make those alternative media just a bit less expensive.

********This reminded me of a another logistics-related article that was sent my way: “Elwood, Illinois (Pop. 2,200), Has Become a Vital Hub of America’s Consumer Economy.  And It’s Hell.The New Republic.  Ellwood is the home to CenterPoint Intermodal freight terminal, where shipping containers arrive by train, are offloaded to trucks, then “driven to warehouses scattered about the area, where they were emptied, [and] their contents stored.  From there, those products—merchandise for Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot—were loaded into semis, and trucked to stores all over the country.”  Not long after Intermodal opened in 2002, “Elwood became the largest inland port in North America.”  Today, “Tens of thousands of semis” rumble through Will County, where Elwood is located, “every day, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure.”  This article provides an excellent example of the warning “Be careful what you wish for.” 

(22 January 2019):For Trump Administration, It Has Been Hard to Follow the Rules on RulesThe New York Times

——–“Ever since President Trump took office, his appointees have directed federal agencies to draft regulations meant to delay or reverse policies of the Obama administration.  Nearly all the proposals have been tripped up by the same arcane 1946 law governing administrative policies. . . . That law, the Administrative Procedure Act, was written to make sure that the executive branch followed some basic steps when it wanted to change policies.  Over time, courts have given it additional teeth by requiring regulators to follow certain processes and conduct certain analyses before making changes.  The Trump administration appears to have repeatedly failed to hew to those standards.” 

********The article goes on to note that the Institute for Policy Integrity of the NYU School of Law has done an analysis showing that “more than 90 percent of court challenges to major Trump deregulatory actions have been successful so far.  By the institute’s count, 30 big rules have been challenged, and the courts have found for the litigants 28 times.”  Although the law “gives federal agencies a lot of latitude to write regulations, but it says that major actions have to follow certain steps.  For big changes, agencies are supposed to go through what’s called ‘notice and comment’: They must issue a proposal, let the public respond with ideas, then incorporate feedback into a final version.”  Evidently, “A lot of the losses came about because the administration skipped those steps, instead announcing that it would pause or reverse pending rules—or that some emergency conditions justified an instant regulatory change.”

May you have a good week!

Bruce

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