Discover more from The Crucial Years
Inertia is a problem too
Which is why solving the climate crisis might require aluminum bike panniers...
Most of the time I’m writing about vested interest as the key obstacle to making the energy transition. And it is—without the endless campaign of delay, denial, and disinformation from Big Oil and its friends, we’d have started making big changes long ago. But there’s another force at work alongside Interest, and that’s Inertia, defined as the force that has kept you from, say, ever cleaning the coil on the bottom of your fridge, even though doing so would cut your electric usage considerably.
We’re going to have to summon the will to make some changes. Many are fairly easy: installing air source heat pumps, for instance, could not just help defeat Vladimir Putin, but they could heat your home more pleasantly, efficiently, and affordably—you cna tell the appliance is having its day in the sun when Wired features it in its digital pages
“Heat pumps are a few years behind electric vehicles but really deserve similar attention and could deliver very sizable reductions in emissions if we deployed them much more rapidly,” says Jan Rosenow, director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an NGO dedicated to the transition to clean energy.
Other changes require shifts in how we actually behave. But not impossible ones. Take, for instance, e-bikes: if you were looking for a perfect transportation mode in a climate-conscious era, this might be it, since it delivers mobility at a fraction of the environmental cost even of an electric car. E-bikes are outselling electric cars in America; in Europe, they’re so popular that they may soon be outselling all cars.
The Crucial Years is a reader-supported publication. So support it!
But to make this work at scale and at speed, which is what the climate crisis requires, you need more than the bike itself, elegant as it is. It helps immensely to also have safe bikepaths. (Listen to Doug Gordon’s War on Cars podcast; follow Peter Flax’s twitter account). And office buildings with showers. And even safe panniers—that’s why I was interested when Brian Hoffman wrote me with a description of his new product, the Velocker. They’re sturdy, i.e. heavy, which was always a problem with bike bikes, but not so much when you’ve got that electric assist motor to get you up a hill. You can carry kids in them (well, on them, in clever seats with handles) and then convert them easily to hauling groceries. And they come with a lockable top that you can run a chain through—which is to say, if we’re going to be doing a lot of biking we’re going to need to be real about the fact that people steal stuff sometimes, even from good folks who virtuously ride bikes.
Transitions unleash creativity—new ways of doing things. Yes, new ways of doing things require us to change our daily habits a little. So anything that makes that easier is appreciated. Friction is the enemy. Well, Exxon is the enemy. But friction is an accomplice.
+Emily Atkin, writing in GQ, does a bang-up job of explaining what difference a few tenths of a degree will end up making.
+From the good folks at NDN Collective, a detailed report on the risks posed by the operation of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The 2016 showdown at Standing Rock, an epic moment in the history of both environmental campaigning and indigenous solidarity, continues to reverberate.
+Former Sierra Club boss Mike Brune has been heading an effort to persuade bitcoin miners to reduce their energy consumption by 99% by changing the “proof-of-work” algorithm at the core of the alternative currency. Note to twitter users: if you’re feeling neglected and lonely, a good way to get a lot of attention is to say anything even slightly negative about bitcoin
+As Bloomberg columnist Javier Blas points out, cutting gas taxes—as many American states have done—is a gift to Vladimir Putin in the middle of a war.
Fuel tax cuts are essentially a subsidy to Vladimir Putin, and they hurt the effort to end the war in Ukraine. Think about it: If oil becomes more affordable, consumption rises. The higher oil demand goes, the higher oil prices go, too, and the more money the Kremlin makes. Those extra petrodollars can go toward killing more Ukrainians.
In the Washington Post, Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman lay out a way for Democrats to use the crisis to score points with good policy instead.
+Corporate America has a pretty good greenwashing scheme up and running. As Judd Legum points out, the companies put out press releases extolling their climate plans, and then use their trade associations, like the ever-retrograde Chamber of Commerce, to quash the legislation that would make those plans real.
+Alec Connon, writing in,Common Dreams explains the even more devious mechanics of the bank greenwashing schemes
Rather than actually reducing the overall greenhouse gas emissions associated with its lending, Chase has created a convoluted accounting trick known as "carbon intensity", pledging that by 2030, it will achieve a 15% reduction in the "carbon intensity" of the oil and gas firms it finances.The most important thing to know here is that reductions in "carbon intensity" and reductions in "actual greenhouse gas emissions" are two very different things.
Imagine you are the CEO of an oil firm. Your company owns 1,000 oil wells; it doesn't own any windmills. Now Chase gives you a $10 billion loan. You use that loan to buy 400 new oil wells and 200 windmills. You now own 400 additional oil wells. This means you are digging up and burning more oil than ever before; your overall contributions to climate change have gone up significantly. But because you are now also profiting from wind power, the "carbon intensity" of your company has gone down―an accounting trick that enables your oil company to both expand oil production and meet Chase's callow climate targets.
+The Red Sox open the baseball season next week with a six-game road trip. But then they come home to MLB’s first carbon-neutral ballpark. They don’t call it the Green Monster for nothing
Today our epic nonviolent yarn remains in China for a couple of episodes. If you want to catch up on chapters 1-58 of The Other Cheek, the archive is here.
The landing at Beijing’s vast airport featured more camera crews, and eight young women who handed Wei long-stemmed red roses as she came out of the jetway. Then they were diverted to a government VIP lounge, where Mr. Sun explained that they would wait for the other members of the court to arrive. One was there already—a nice woman from Yennan who wanted to hold Momo. Over the course of the next two hours, more arrived: an old man from the grasslands near the border with Inner Mongolia, a restaurant waiter from Shanghai, a strapping fellow wearing a felt headdress who was introduced as “a member of the Yi ethnic group from Liangshan,” and two other young women. One told Wei she worked in a rabbit fur factory outside Chengdu—“this rabbit is made with real rabbit fur,” she said, stroking the stuffed animal she was holding. The other said she sold cigarettes in a banquet hall on the outskirts of Hangzhou. Wei liked them, especially the rabbit girl. When one more man came through the door—a dazed-looking carpenter who lived near the Fifth Ring Road in Beijing, and had arrived at the airport by limo, and had clearly enjoyed the champagne—a producer clapped till conversation stopped.
“Welcome, honored court,” he said. “Now we will proceed to Terminal 3 to await the arrival of the Richest Man in China.” He led them out the door and on to a small shuttle train that disgorged them into the vast terminal—Wei thought she saw flocks of small birds dipping down from the ceiling, but it was so far away she couldn’t be sure. They were taken outside, and onto the tarmac, where a small plane with the CCTV logo on the tail was taxiing towards them. “Make two lines,” the man was saying. “Here are flower petals. When he comes out the door, throw them at his feet.”
All the camera crews seemed to have converged on the spot—Wei recognized the photographers from her apartment building, who kept focused on her, even as the door to the jet opened and out came Bao Shixian, waving wildly. He stood on the top step and blew kisses into the air, and then started down the steps, followed by his wife who was carrying a baby and also waving. As they reached the tarmac, the seven courtiers tossed their petals in a little flurry of orange and red, and then each bowed to the man who had won the big prize. Another clot of lights and cameras emerged from the terminal, with Lu Yu at their head. “That’s a famous tv lady,” Wei told Momo; Lu gave a lighthouse smile, and took Bao by the arm, leading him and his family off to a waiting white limo, followed by all the cameras.
“And that’s a wrap,” said the producer to the rest of the court. “Good work, everyone. We’ll get you to the hotel now, so you can rest—lots of work before the big show tomorrow.”
The work, it turned out, consisted mostly of getting Wei—and the others, she presumed—ready for the camera. In the morning, after waking up in the hotel suite and staring out at the dim, polluted air of the capital, Wei answered a knock on the door and found that she had a personal stylist, and also a dog handler, who took Momo.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her,” said the woman, who had friendly eyes. The stylist took Wei to a hotel ballroom where racks of dresses waited on hangers; she chose three, holding them up against Wei’s body, and sent her into a room to try them on. The woman decided the blue silk was best, and called over a tailor to make alterations; when he was done measuring Wei was led to a chair, where two more women washed her hair, dried it, and went to work with spray and pins. When they held up a mirror Wei didn’t recognize herself, and was afraid Momo might not either. A make-up lady in stiletto heels and a smock spent forty-five minutes, seeming to concentrate on Wei’s chin and neck. “Don’t touch your face,” she said when she was done.
And she didn’t. Not through the banquet lunch, not through the trip to the CCTV headquarters, a bizarrely shaped tower that the stylist said all the locals called “Big Boxer Shorts.” Even when she was reunited with Momo backstage she didn’t let the dog lick her face; instead she gave the dog a tight squeeze. “We had a good time,” said the woman who’d taken care of her. “And she got a shampoo and a good brushing.” Not only that, but she now wore a pink ribbon around her gray neck, which she kept trying to shrug off. “If I have to wear makeup, you have to wear a bow,” said Wei. “It’s only for one night, and then we can go home.”
“When the show starts, you’ll each go on, one by one,” said the producer. We’ll be doing short interviews with each of you. It’s live, so don’t swear. And don’t be nervous—it’s just all of China watching.”
Several of the winners were indeed looking sick, and the carpenter was drinking champagne again. Wei just concentrated on her dog. She heard the first of the interviews over the monitor backstage—the young woman from the rabbit fur factory said she wanted to buy her parents a villa, and that she wanted to take a trip to see the Eiffel Tower. How had she picked her numbers? The cage numbers of her favorite rabbits at the breeding farm. Did she have a hobby? Rabbit-raising.
The carpenter was next—the interview went quickly because he answered monosyllabically, staring rigidly at the camera. He would buy a car. What else? Another car. What did he do in his spare time? Drink beer.
And then the assistant was taking Wei by the hand, and leading her to the edge of the stage. “Just act natural,” she whispered as she opened the curtain and pushed her gently through the gap.
The wall of light surprised Wei, of course, and so did the roar of the crowd, invisible behind that wall. But she could see the host, Xie Na, who of course she recognized from Happy Camp, on the far side of the stage, and so she set off in that direction, only to stumble over a camera cable. As she did, Momo flew out of her hands, and landed squarely on her feet. She saw Xie Na too, and ambled across the stage, bounding into the arms of the actress who had stooped to greet her. The audience roared louder.
“Who is this beautiful dog?” Xie Na asked Wei, who had finally reached the sofa where she was to sit.
“This is Momo,” said Wei.
“How old is she?”
“Seven weeks and a day. I just got her yesterday, though,” said Wei. “Yesterday? After you won the lottery?”
“She was 400 yuan; I only had 300. Until yesterday,” said Wei.
“Well, now you have two billion, minus 400,” said Xie. “What else are you going to buy?”
“Well, college for my brother. I already signed the paper yesterday. And for my parents—a house, in their village. They work very hard.”
“But what about you? What do you want?”
“I’m not too sure,” said Wei, who was trying to answer honestly. “I work in a shopping center. A wholesale—Yiwu Export City.”
“Very famous,” said Xie. “Largest in China.”
“Maybe in the world,” said Wei. “That’s what I’ve heard. Anyway, I’m good at math, or at least adding, and I’m pretty sure I could buy one of everything in there. One of everything in the world, pretty much. But then what would I do with them?”
“That’s very wise,” said Xie. “I’ve had a lot of things, and sometimes—“ But a voice in her earbud appeared to interrupt, and Xie smiled widely and said, “I’ve just been reminded that we have something for you money can’t buy. We’ve been reading your Renren page, Wei Lian, and we figured you might like a visit from someone special.”
Parts of the audience began to squeal, as the curtain parted again and a not-so-young man in a sequined dinner jacket strode out, waving across the stage at the two women.
“Is that—?” Wei started to ask.
“Yes it is—Jay Chou,” shouted Xie. She’d been holding Momo, who jumped down again and ran across the stage, this time to be scooped up by the singer, who grabbed her in one arm and then, holding the microphone in the other and staring into the puppy’s eyes, launched into one of his earliest hits:
Love is when cares fade away
We find joy together, just us two
Nothing can make us sad
We just gaze at each other
And curl up together
We have each other
Call it an easy love
The audience went wild, and when he was done Chou crossed the stage, kissed Wei’s hand with a flourish, and then handed her the dog. “Now that I’m married it’s better that I sing love songs to puppies,” he said.
Wei was blushing under her makeup. “You’ve always been a Jay Chou fan?” asked Xie.
“Even on my phone,” said Wei, pulling her Mothra out of the waist of her dress to show the singer the plastic cover with his smiling picture.
“That’s a Breakthrough, isn’t it?” said Xie. “They’re the sponsors of the lottery, you know.”
“It’s how I got my ticket,” said Wei. “Otherwise I couldn’t have afforded it.”
“Jay, Wei has a problem. She’s not sure what to spend her money on,” said Xie. “I’ve heard you’re good at spending money—what would you do?”
“Well, do you have a hobby?” he asked Wei. “Besides Momo?”
“I don’t have too much time—getting to work takes a long time,” she said. “But I do meditate every day,” she added shyly.
“I’ve heard that’s very good for you,” said Jay, and Xie nodded. “When I was in America on my last concert tour, many people were meditators. Also a lot of yoga—yoga yoga yoga. How did you learn?”
“Oh, on my phone,” said Wei.
“Your Mothra,” said Xie, smiling broadly. “People are going to think we picked you just so you’d do a commercial.” The audience laughed.
“No, it came with instructions,” she said, punching a button on the screen, and then holding it up for the hosts to see. The camera panned in tight on the phone, where a small animated monk figure waving a Chinese flag was smiling broadly. He laid down the flag and picked up a pocket watch and said:
“It’s fine to sit in a chair—just keep your back straight,” he said. “And now just concentrate on your breathing. In, out, follow your breath. It sounds easy, but after a few breaths your mind will wander—you’ll start thinking about your phone, or your boyfriend or your girlfriend or what you will have for dinner, or what you had for dinner last night, or anything. Don’t worry; that’s just how your mind works. Slowly, without reproach, return your attention to your breath. Do it for 15 minutes and then stop and go about your day, and see if you don’t feel calmer.
“That is all from your friend DL,” the monk said, picking up the flag again. “It’s time for me to march on. But if you have any more questions about your Mothra Breakthrough, go to www dot mothra dot CN backslash service.”
On stage the audience was applauding, and Jay was escorting Wei and Momo offstage. Tv screens across China, however, had gone blank just after the monk picked up the flag again, said his name, and bade people goodbye. “Technical difficulties,” the legend crawling across the screen said, and they didn’t clear up for about 90 seconds, till the restaurant waiter from Shanghai was explaining to Xie Na why the city was so famous for its soup dumplings. He planned to open a restaurant of his own now that he was a lottery winner.
“I got thrown by the stallion.” Director Liu of the Propaganda bureau was in the back seat of a car with Hua, head of the Security Ministry.
“What stallion?” said Hua.
“The one in the proverb,” said Liu. “The one that seemed so lucky when he trailed the mare back across the border to the old man’s farm. The one that tossed the farmer off his back when he tried to ride him.”
“Well, I’ve done what I can to cushion your fall,” said Hua. “You’re not going to jail, as much as General Youxia argued for it. You’re going to be publicity manager for the new art museum in Ordos.”
“Inner Mongolia?” said Liu.
“A good place to wait out the storm,” said Hua. “Doubtless the tide will turn again, it almost always does, and you’ll be back in Beijing. Now, tell me what happened.”
“What happened was, we didn’t have the show on tape delay. It was live—we were giving these people billions of dollars. It didn’t occur to anyone—to me—that we had much to worry about. Which was stupid. You always have something to worry about.”
“General Youxia and Colonel Wang are convinced that the girl is an agent of someone, probably the Americans.”
“As far as we can tell, she’s exactly who she says she is,” said Liu. “A shopgirl from Yiwu who bought one of those damned phones the first day they went on sale and learned to meditate.”
“How’s she dealing with it?”
“I’m not sure she even understands there’s a problem,” said Liu. “She has no idea who ‘DL’ is. She seems relieved we’re not sending her into space with the rest of them today. And truthfully she’s probably got us in as tight a place as she’s got us.”
“What do you mean?” asked Hua.
“I mean the testing we did after last night’s telecast showed that she was the most popular winner by far. By far. Beloved, really. Some of it was the dog, of course.”
“Colonel Wang has already sent me the party guidance on dog ownership,” Hua said. “I’d forgotten that the party officially considers owning a pet to be ‘a crude and ludicrous imitation of Western lifestyle.”
“Good luck with that,” said Liu. “People like the dog. But they like the girl even better. We had focus groups turning dials as everyone talked. They didn’t care that much for billionaire boat boy—men 18-29 liked it when we flew him on the helicopter to visit his new toy in Tianjin harbor, but the rest of the country thought he was a showoff. When Wei talked about not knowing if buying more stuff would make her happy, almost everyone spun their dial to 10.”
“I’ll tell you who else liked her,” said Hua. “Tibet. Everyone was watching there last night too, just like the rest of China. But when Wei came on—well, first her dog is named Momo, which is what they call biaoxi dumplings in Tibet. Except they make them with yak meat. Anyway, they liked that. And when the DL went up on the screen, apparently people went crazy. Like, bonfires on the roofs of all the big monasteries.”
“General Youxia must have loved that,” said Liu.
“Martial law across the entire autonomous territory and neighboring parts of Sichuan and Yunnan,” said Hua.
“Any reaction from the man himself?”
“He’s not talking—at all,” said Hua. “Just picking up trash. But big celebrations in Dharamsala too. Apparently people there are talking about Wei as a hidden lama.”
“So who is General Youxia blaming?”
“Besides you? Well, Jimmy Lee was hauled off a plane about to take off for Los Angeles last night,” said Hua. “Still in his tux jacket. They’re convinced he not only planted the cartoon on the phone, but planted Wei as a winner so she could show it. Mothra is apparently going to have a very big tax problem, one so large it will require taking the entire company into receivership.”
“I thought he had an American passport.”
“So much the better, in their way of thinking. ‘A facet of anti-imperialist struggle.’”
“What about Chen Heung?”
“From Princeton? The lottery director?” said Hua. “I hope she has a fellowship abroad she can arrange.”
The car had been circling the Security Ministry as the men talked, and now Hua told the driver to pull into the parking lot.
“I’ve got to get back,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to keep Youxia and Wang from blowing things up. I mean, they’d like a show trial of Wei Lian. Probably execute her puppy on national tv if they could. Luckily, they’ve got to be a little careful. Xi Jinping authorized the lottery, after all, so if it’s an imperialist plot then the prime minister would have to be a dupe.”
“The smartest thing to do would be nothing,” said Liu. “We’re sticking the rest of them into space, which will be a great show. Most of the country doesn’t even know who ‘DL’ is.
“The question will ride, as usual, on what side Xi comes down on,” said Minister Hua. “That’s why I’ve got to get back to the office and work the phones. As for you, get out of town sooner rather than later.”
“When you want to visit Ordos, there will be a room waiting,” said Liu.
“When I want to visit Ordos will be never,” said Hua. “Unless I get in as much trouble as you, old friend. Now get the hell out of here.”
Liu exited the car, and climbed into the back of another, where a driver waited to take him to the airport. Reflexively he pulled out his phone to call the office, and then remembered he had no office to call, and no one who would want to be getting a call from him. Including his wife, it turned out, when he told her they’d be spending the next few winters on the Mongolian steppe.