Op-Ed: What’s the Truth about Maryland’s HB 924? By Marc Castelli

“In general, Americans view ignorance, particularly of public policy, as a virtue”. (The Death of Expertise, T. Nichols). Pretty harsh words, but if you review the tactic of panic that Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently used to push its agenda in House Bill 924, you might understand the relevance of the quote.

The oyster issue has been and apparently will always be driven by a select few using the media to achieve their goals, and who seem to find it difficult to separate fact from fiction or research a balanced story, for the benefit of their readers. It has become a tool of shrill advocacy and not for reportage. “Even the nature of coverage becomes complicated; social scientists have shown that repetition of a false statement, even in the course of disputing it, often increases the number of people who believe it.” (The Death of Expertise, T. Nichols). “For Trump (and CBF et al.) shamelessness is not just strength, it’s a strategy”. (From the Editor, Time Magazine, 4-3-17). The modern media with so many options tailored to particular views is a huge exercise in confirmation bias. (The Death of Expertise, T. Nichols). If the media consistently refuses to print the truth about oysters and oyster issues, it must have an agenda. What is it?

Many people and the media have been blind to a sea change in the attitudes of watermen towards science and expertise. Marine biologists have been slow to recognize a need to fill in the blanks of science with the empirical knowledge gathered by generations of watermen. In the past, it was the watermen who loudly voiced an outright rejection of science. Watermen seemed to claim that they knew everything there was to know about whatever resource they were actively harvesting. They thought that if a scientist tried to make a living from what he/she knew about a resource they would starve.

Empirical knowledge is powerful stuff, especially when one depends on it to make a living. But it is not the whole picture. On the other hand, scientists usually reject anecdotal information until oddly enough they quote it. HB 924 is an excellent example of this sea change. The bill’s purpose was to permanently set sanctuary boundaries. Its proponents used hysteria, experts quoting opinions about facts, partial facts, innuendoes, and falsehoods to push this bill. Most of our politicians, who we used to think of as guardians of truth, should have been protecting the truth. Instead, they caved into less than truth and non- truth. Now it is watermen who want to know where the science is.

The Baltimore Sun and Bay Journal keep referring to the OAC as predominantly made up of industry and industry-favoring members. “In fact, the commission is composed of 24 members. Eight members are either scientists or members of specific environmental organizations (CBF among them). Eight members are from the oyster industry. There are five legislators, two Maryland senators, two House members and one county commissioner. The remaining three are private citizens which include the two co-chairs”. (Letter to Sen. Miller from the OAC). Yet Mr. Wheeler (now a managing editor on the Bay Journal) insists on describing the commission as having,” half of its members as representing or sympathetic to the oyster industry”. Why does Mr. Wheeler persist in this mischaracterization of the OAC? He never once criticized the first OAC when it obviously favored the science and environmental side. The original OAC membership was heavily weighted towards the environmental and ecological side. The chair was the past president of WWF, then there was CCA and MSSA each had a seat, 1 from CBF, 1 from NOAA, 1 from ORP, 1 from Nature Conservancy, 4 seats from the U. of M, 2 scientists, 1 senator, 2 delegates, 1 real estate developer (!), 1 technocrat, I MWA representative and one sea food buyer (for a total of only 2 industry members). There is no comparison. The current incarnation of the OAC is far more balanced, and representative and any recommendations coming from it are more inclusive. It is clear that Mr. Wheeler has an agenda that is just an exercise in confirmation bias. What is his agenda? CBF and The Baltimore Sun both loudly “blamed” the DNR for having “created” the strawman proposal. In truth, the department serves only to facilitate meetings and conferences for the OAC. It has no seat at the table or sway in the discussions.

Apparently, CBF, U of M, CCA, RiverKeepers and school teachers did not like the legislature’s amendment of placing of the 2016 stock assessment bill’s (SB 937) process in the hands of the DNR. They wanted it controlled by the U. of M. and CBF. SB937 did not want to include any sanctuary oysters in the stock assessment. The bill was aimed at one specific user group, the industry, with no regard for facts. U. of M. and C.B.F. along with something called the Oyster Advocacy Group returned in 2017 with a vengeance to re-tweak that bill, which became HB 924. By sheer force of largely ignorant hysterics, they forced the more than compliant legislature to agree to circumvent the OAC and make the sanctuary boundaries for all 51 sanctuaries permanent. This despite a task assigned to the OAC by the legislature to review sanctuaries after five years. The department is now at that mark.

Not once did the CBF or its followers use any facts or science to prove the point that all sanctuaries were in danger, which was shamelessly insinuated. Despite numerous requests from only a handful of senators and delegates during the senatorial hearings, the CBF, U of M and the other groups did not produce one iota of hard fact to prove their case. “The collapse of the relationship between experts and citizens is a dysfunction of democracy itself” (The Death of Expertise, T. Nichols). Nor did the remaining senators request the proof. They just knuckled under to the wide spread Trump induced panic of losing federal bay clean up funds. Instead of respecting the procedure the CBF and its surrogate, The Oyster Advocacy Group, did an end run on the Oyster Advisory Commission, which was discussing the sanctuaries as tasked by the legislature.

The OAC is a state-mandated commission appointed to find solutions to the oyster issues of Maryland. Watching our country’s and now our state legislature’s slavish adherence to partisan divisiveness has been a major disappointment for me. House Bill 924 did expose one thing. It proved to the Maryland watermen that the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have only been paying lip service to the idea that Maryland’s sea food industry is important. Dialogue between experts and laypeople is essential to a functioning democracy. The politicians believe that their own and the bill’s supporters biased opinions are as relevant if not more important than informed views. “Studies show that those with the least knowledge are the most confident in their opinions”. (The Death of Expertise ,T. Nichols)

I was told many years ago when I was a believer in our system of legislative representation, that if you are explaining something to a legislator, you are losing.” Sentiment against experts is what influenced the Brexit vote and the election of our current president”. (The Death of Expertise, T. Nichols). If our elected legislators, in chambers composed of Democrat majorities, would realize that they are as guilty of the political power shenanigans our president is they might have walked away from the bill or at least allowed for the strawman proposal to proceed for discussion in the OAC, where it might have survived, been modified ( toned down), or even ended. But the process was obstructed and abruptly ended.

The OAC proposed portions of sanctuary areas in the Upper Chester River and the Upper Patuxent. Both had few oysters but had the oyster bottom that was going fallow. A majority of industry members initially wanted to open up portions of the big three sanctuaries, where tens of millions have been spent. There were many emotional discussions in the OAC about the infeasibility of such an action. Ultimately watermen realized that when the federal government steps into Maryland waters and spends its budget on restoration, the federal government controls that river. The state of Maryland loses control over it. County oyster committees were asked to submit ideas about other sanctuaries. Few responded. Some committees came up with unrealistic ideas while others respected the process and sent in workable ideas that in part became the basis for the OAC plan. Not just the industry but each group represented by members in the OAC was asked to present proposals based on constituent input. Ecologists, environmentalists, restorationists, replenishment advocates all presented proposals.

Having gone through difficult and sometimes very contentious small group meetings and full membership commission meetings the OAC arrived at a compromise that would in effect add millions upon millions of oysters to just a few tributaries that have barely functioning ignored sanctuaries and have none of the big dollar investments. If the CBF had truthfully represented the proposal, the politicians would have seen that it was to improve only six of the 46 remaining sanctuaries. This would have been accomplished by taking certain low-yield areas and creating what would be hybrid harvest reserves. The change would involve planting oysters in perpetuity in exchange for the ability to sequentially open and close 4 zones for harvest. This harvesting would be supervised and done in a severely limited fashion. The watermen would plant after each harvesting, and pay for these oysters with their own funds. What can possibly be wrong with adding millions upon millions of oysters each year to the Bay and tributaries at no expense to the state? CBF alarmist Prost, and Chester Riverkeeper Hardesty refused to recognize the benefits or acknowledge that not one of the Big Three (of the planned 5) sanctuaries would have seen any such redrawing of boundaries. They would proceed unaffected by the OAC proposals. Nor would they benefit from the perpetual planting by the industry that had been proposed. Those areas were never on the table for change. The bill’s supporters refused to acknowledge the benefits of this plan to the ignored sanctuaries. It could have been used to benefit many of the 46 remaining sanctuaries that do not get any planting, bar cleaning or active management.

House Bill 924 was a reaction to this misunderstood and mischaracterized proposal. Its sponsors had members who were party to the decision to create a strawman proposal that would benefit all user groups. Then the panic mongers stepped in. The Baltimore Sun’s reporters raised the temperature with outrageous and misleading headlines about DNR approval of the destruction of sanctuaries by opening hundreds of thousands of sanctuary acres for harvesting. The panic mongers went ballistic over the proposal to redraw two sanctuary boundaries. CBF cried foul in the Bay Journal and the Baltimore Sun which printed articles and opinion editorials that went even further to mislead the public. CBF actually posted a misleading alert to all of its members and the public about the loss of habitat, and sanctuary oyster bars represented by the random harvesting of sanctuary oysters. Just as false was the claim that some of the most productive sanctuaries were at risk from this proposal. CBF and its progeny The Oyster Advocacy Group then sent the very same hysterical outburst to the governor. “Experts contribute to the problem when they comment publicly on issues outside of their areas of expertise”. (The Death of Expertise, T. Nichols)

We the public have been sold a pig in poke by the CBF and have been ill served by a majority of our elected legislators. This embrace of self-righteous ignorance bodes ill for all of our futures. Below is a list of questions that were asked at the Senate hearing but were never answered. Some were not even allowed to be heard. These questions are on the record as having been ignored.

Maybe you the readers can ask CBF, the Baltimore Sun, The Bay Journal and the Oyster Advocacy Group why they chose rhetoric, hysteria and, false facts, to stop a project that would have benefitted all user groups?

1. Where is the evidence that would prove the sanctuary boundaries were scientifically drawn? What were the parameters used in deciding the boundaries? Why should they be considered sacrosanct?

2. How much money have River Keepers, the CBF, the U. of M. spent on actively managing the 46 other sanctuaries in Maryland?

3. Why did CBF do an end run on its own co-members who sit on the OAC by going to the state legislature to stop the OAC’s strawman proposal?

4. Where is the hard science to prove that Harris Creek Sanctuary is such an unqualified success? Why was this even brought up at the hearing? Harris Creek was never included in the OAC proposal.

5. Why did the chair of the Senate Environmental Committee keep stating that she was waiting for the stock assessment survey to come in before any further discussion on hybrid harvest reserves/sanctuaries would be heard? What special knowledge is she expecting that would prove the OAC process (mandated by the legislature) should be halted?

6. Why was the just completed DNR annual fall oyster survey pointedly ignored by the Senate committee?

7. Why do all of the environmental and ecological groups feel that proposing, even more, studies instead of acting on the mountains of information already available is a good strategy?

8. Why do politicians feel that voting for more surveys and studies is good public policy? Perhaps it is that there is no political risk in constantly proposing more studies. The chair of the Senate committee hearing the bill plainly ignored the volumes of already available information in order to do the more politically expedient solution of waiting for the results of one more study. Why?

Marc Castelli is an artist who lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Out and About (Sort of): Reunions and Losses by Howard Freedlander

I took a week off in writing this weekly column immersed as I was in my 50th reunion at my university in Philadelphia. My perspective about this milestone event was skewed a bit due to my leadership roles. Nonetheless, I joined classmates in celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime experience with gusto and good health.

When I first encountered my classmates at the beginning of a weekend filled with social and educational activities, I perceived a certain shyness, or maybe a human reluctance to accept the fact that attendance at our 50th reunion required you to be 71-72-years-old. A common refrain was: “Twenty-five years ago when we were on campus for an earlier milestone reunion, we looked at those celebrating their 50th and thought they looked awfully old.”

Life is a matter of perspective, isn’t it? We all walked more slowly, carried our gray or white or colored hair and undeniable wrinkles with grace, talked incessantly about grandchildren—while simply enjoying the fact that we were able to mark our 50th anniversary as graduates with abundant enthusiasm, sufficient dexterity and overwhelming desire to reconnect to each other.

Appropriately, at our last event, we paid tribute to 261 deceased classmates. The memorial service was a poignant one. I could return home thankful for a fun and festive weekend and pleased that our deceased classmates remained part of our memories and souls.

Herb Andrew

Here at home, the community suffered a terrible loss two weeks ago of Herb Andrew, a native Talbot County resident, longtime farmer, well-regarded bank board member and quietly effective community leaders. He also had served four terms on the Talbot County Council.

Though I didn’t know Herb well, I found him exceedingly and sincerely friendly. He served our community with little fanfare. Our longest conversation happened when we spoke for a few minutes in October 2015 at the Ruth Starr Rose exhibit at the old Maryland National Guard Armory in Easton. This exhibit featured wonderfully evocative paintings of African-American life in Talbot County in the early 20th century. He talked candidly about what he observed in his youth about how black residents were mistreated in Talbot County. He talked about his service in the U.S. Air Force and the bias he observed.

Herb Andrew was a terrific person killed tragically in a car crash. Our community has lost one of its truly good and service-oriented people.

A significant resource in our Mid-Shore region, Chesapeake College has severed its relationship with Barbara Viniar, its hard-working president for the past nine years. Information has been sparse concerning the reasons for Barbara’s departure. While I understand the sensitivity of personnel actions, I find it regrettable that we are losing such a capable educator with so little explanation.

Barbara Viniar

Serving Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties, Chesapeake College is an invaluable asset to residents young and old. Change in top leadership is therefore important to all of us. I can only guess that being responsive to elected officials in five counties is a difficult, often thankless task.

As readers know, I often have moaned and groaned about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the season traffic that heads east from late May to early September. I normally focus on the Shore and the burden on local residents dealing with chronic congestion. This time around, I must talk about Annapolis.

By this time, most people probably have heard about a fatal crash that occurred early afternoon on Route 50 on Wednesday, May 17. Eastbound lanes leading to the Bay Bridge were closed to traffic as police dealt with a total mess. Annapolis became the favorite detour locale. Plans to pick up grandchildren at a day care center and elementary school became delayed.

Many of us are inextricably tied to the Western Shore for personal and professional reasons. Hence, we have to deal with agonizing delays often caused by vehicle accidents. What’s the answer?
For me, it’s patience, which I lack. It’s long-held appreciation for life on the Shore.

I started this column about a college reunion and ended it with angst over a traffic accident on Route 50 near Annapolis. In between, I bemoaned the tragic death of Herb Andrew and the unfortunate end to Barbara Viniar’s relationship with Chesapeake College.

Life moves forward, sometimes with joy at reconnecting with old friends, sadness at the loss of a community pillar, regret over the departure of an educational leader and the travail of navigating Route 50.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Christine Lagarde at WC Commencement: What Comes Next?

Editor’s Note: Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director was Washington College’s Commencement speaker on Saturday for its 234th graduation ceremony. Here is her remarks in their entirety.

Thank you, President Bair, for your very kind introduction.

Your leadership of this school – especially your commitment to alleviate the burden of student debt – is a model for higher education. You are a trailblazer in your own right, and your passion for Washington College is inspiring.

President Bair, Board of Visitors & Governors, faculty, and administration, thank you for this honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. I am proud to be your most recent alumna!
Graduates – it is a privilege to be here with you, the class of 2017!

To your families, your friends, your professors – congratulations. No student can get here on his or her own. This is your moment to celebrate as well.
I would like to begin by posing a question.

Has anyone here seen or listened to the Broadway show Hamilton?

As a former Finance Minister, the idea of a musical focused on the life of a Treasury Secretary is appealing to me. I hope this is the start of a global trend!
In the musical, a question is asked that seems particularly appropriate to raise at graduation. In one scene, King George quizzes General Washington right after the end of the Revolutionary War – and sings these lines…

Don’t worry! I will not sing them! But I may ask WACapella for some help.

So, the King sings:

‘What comes next? / You’ve been freed / Do you know how hard it is to lead ?’ [1]

It is an intriguing question – What comes next?

I imagine that from the time you were young, just like my two sons, you were asked some version of ‘What comes next?’

When you are in middle school, people ask if you are excited to start high school.

In high school, people – and by people, I mean your parents’ friends – ask what college you will attend and what your major will be?

In college, other people – usually your boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents – ask what job you will have when you graduate – or, perhaps, if you will go on to grad school?
If so, what school? Law, medicine, business? Trust me, the questions do not go away.

1. Saying ‘I Don’t Know’

We are all asked the difficult question of ‘What comes next’ at various stages in our lives.

What I would like to suggest to you today – and I will share a little of my own story to illustrate the point – is that it is ok, in fact it is often wise, to say ‘I don’t know’ when someone asks you, ‘What comes next?’

Saying ‘I don’t know’ is one of the hardest things to do in life. At the IMF, my team never wants to tell me they do not know – although I can tell if they are guessing!
We have all been trained from a young age to have an answer at the ready. But the reality is that the answer is not what matters most – it is knowing how to find the answer that is key.
Your education – this wonderful, complex, classical, liberal arts training – has given you the foundation you need to begin to solve the puzzle of ‘What comes next?’
In what ways?

The first is your skills – your academic experience has taught you how to think critically. It has opened your eyes to fields of study you might never have otherwise explored and to diverse voices whose opinions will help shape your world view.

The second is your values – your time at Washington College, and the legacy of Washington himself, have instilled in you the importance of public service, of serving others before serving yourself.

Finding the way to apply your skills, and keep them in line with your values, is the question in front of you. And if you can answer that question, you will have also begun to answer the question of ‘What comes next?’

2. Your Skills – Learning How to Think

First, your skills. You have surely heard the critique of a liberal arts background; that the training does not prepare you for the ‘real’ world, where a student educated in engineering and coding is far more desirable than one who can recite Aeschylus from memory.

As the child of a classics teacher, I take some personal offense. As a lawyer, who now leads the International Monetary Fund, I can tell you this criticism misreads the evolution of the economic landscape.

The future, your future, is one where technology, automation, and artificial intelligence may eventually supplant humans in a variety of tasks – from retinal scan payment systems to machine-made hearts and lungs to, one day, perhaps, even robot lawyers. Of course, some say lawyers are robots already – but that is a different conversation!

Two-thirds of today’s children will have jobs which have not been invented yet. [2]Studying Aeschylus, not to mention a little Sappho, Brontë, and Dylan – while cultivating an interest in design – is what allowed Steve Jobs to see the Walkman and dream of the iPod. This renaissance education is your comparative advantage in the years ahead.

Many of the founders of this country, who were lawyers, businessmen, and farmers by training, could also recite orations from Pericles by heart. Those polymath skills not only gave their revolution historical context, it informed the society they hoped to build.

Your school embodies their vision and has instilled in you a love of knowledge. Success for your generation requires a commitment to life-long learning and an understanding that today is a milestone in your education, but it is not the end.

The truth is that college has taught you how to learn, not what to learn. Many of the most valuable lessons have come from outside the classroom. You have done more during your four years than study music, history, theater, literature, and science.

And no, I am not just talking about the ‘War on the Shore.’

I am talking about developing empathy and perspective. These are the in-demand tools of the future. And Washington College has trained you well.

In your four years, you have shared late nights at the Miller Library and long weekends by the Chester River. In those moments, I hope you have had your ideas questioned by your peers and gained insight from their life experience.

There is an old proverb: ‘ Only a fool wants to hear the echo of his own voice.’

Remember that maxim as you go forward into your first job or on to graduate school. If everyone in a room agrees with you, you might be doing something wrong. Seek out those who disagree with you, learn from them, and try to understand their world view.

When I was 17 years old, I left France, my home, as part of a scholarship program designed to bring people from different backgrounds together. I attended Holton-Arms School in Maryland. To be completely candid, it was a bit of a culture shock for me. But I learned more about France in my first year in America than I had learned in sixteen years of studying French history and literature.

I had to step away to gain perspective. I interned on the Hill, answering phones, opening mail, and translating correspondence for constituents who spoke French. Every now and then I felt a bit like Tocqueville – an intrigued French observer of American democracy.

I realized that, to help someone solve a problem, you must understand how she sees a problem. I took that lesson with me – from my practice as a lawyer to serving in the French government.
It is a perspective that I brought with me to the IMF, where our 189 member nations are united by the idea that through cooperation we can maintain economic stability and prosperity for the world.

Needless to say, my career didn’t prepare me for every aspect of this position. Nearly every day on the job, there is something new. A new crisis, a new acronym, a new ‘on the one-hand, on the other other-hand…’

I almost feel as if I am back in law school – I read all the time, ask questions, challenge assumptions – and learn.

As Abigail Adams once said, ‘ Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence .’ Learning does not stop at commencement, it begins anew, and requires a ceaseless curiosity about the world.

This is the gift of your college education, and this is the training which will pay dividends throughout your life.

3. Your Values – Public Service

And yet, the training by itself is not enough. How will you use your training?

This brings me to my second point: values, and specifically the value of public service.

Public service comes in all shapes and sizes. It encompasses far more than working in government. It might mean volunteering, community activism, or joining a parent-teacher association.
Public service is about applying your values no matter what job you have. For me, one of those values has been gender equality. It is something that I have fought for my entire life.
Okay, another question. How many of you have gone on a job interview recently? That’s good – I hope it went well! I am sure your parents hope so too.

So, I will tell you my own first job interview story.

When I was coming out of law school I interviewed at a law firm in France. The conversation went well but towards the end one of the interviewers told me I could never become a partner at the firm. ‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘Because you are a woman,’ he replied. Well, I walked out of there and never looked back.

And then, what did I do? Believe it or not, I asked myself, ‘What comes next?’

I took a deep breath. I thought about my training as a lawyer and about my values. I was determined not to let this experience hold me back. But I was also under no illusion about how difficult the journey would be.

Eventually, I found a law firm that promoted diversity and creativity. I joined Baker McKenzie in 1981. Later in my career, I changed my working hours so I could have Wednesday afternoons off to spend more time with my son.

At first, it did not go over well with some of the partners. But the partners adapted. I became a partner myself. The culture shifted. In 1999, I had the honor of becoming the first female chairman of the firm.

But what was true in 1981 is unfortunately still true today. In many countries, women are either prevented from entering the workforce through legal restrictions, or they are discouraged from working by expensive childcare and inadequate maternity leave. I asked myself, what role could the IMF play in helping solve the problem?

At the Fund, we see ourselves as firefighters – providing financial assistance in times of need so nations can help their citizens. We also see ourselves as doctors – checking up on countries and guiding them to improve their economic health.

Thinking outside the box, our talented economists began showing member nations that women’s economic empowerment could reduce income inequality and help all businesses succeed.

Progress is slow, but we are making a difference. So far, we have done gender-related work in 22 countries. In our new program with Egypt, for example, we are exploring ways the government can increase funding for public nurseries and improve commuter safety. The goal is to provide women more opportunities to find employment.

I am proud that gender equality is now a mainstream part of IMF analysis and I am grateful for the intelligent, dedicated women and men with whom I have the honor to work every day.
President Bair, I know you share my commitment to gender equality, and it is a part of your life’s work. I was so pleased to learn that Washington College is planning a major celebration to mark the centennial of the passage of the 19 Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in this country.

4. Applying Your Values

This is what I mean when I say you must take your values with you. Whether your career is in the private sector or in government, public service is a calling, not a job description.
By choosing Washington College, each of you has stood up and said that public service is important in your life. The values of this institution come directly from Washington himself; his example serves as the inspiration for your honor code. You have made a promise to help others and now you must follow through.

Think about what matters most to you – is it climate change? Homelessness? Improving education? Whatever it is, fight for it.

· If you are entering investment banking, find out how your company’s philanthropy is being managed.
· If you are trained as a nurse, find out how your hospital assists people in the community without health insurance.
· If you aspire to be a journalist (god bless!), use the power of the pen to investigate how your city is rebuilding its public transportation system.

Do not be surprised when you meet resistance. If you pursue public service with zeal, you will inevitably run into skeptics throughout your professional life.

But, as Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, once said, ‘ I have an almost complete disregard for precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better .’

The lawyer in me hesitates at Ms. Barton’s disregard for precedent, but the rest of me appreciates her point!

Do not be limited by what has or has not been done before. Become creative champions for your values in ways large and small throughout your career!

Constantly look for opportunities to make progress in every position you hold.
Allow me to give you one minor example, from this speech, actually.

This morning I have referenced the Greek poet Sappho, Charlotte Brontë, Abigail Adams, and Clara Barton.

Having informally surveyed other commencement addresses, I realized that far too many quotes come from famous men, and not nearly enough come from famous women. So, we are beginning to shift the balance today!

You see, you never know when you will find an opportunity to promote the values you believe in.

Conclusion – What Comes Next?

Let me conclude by returning to the music of Hamilton.

Immediately after King George asks ‘What comes next?’ he presses the point by saying:

‘You’re on your own / Awesome / Wow / Do you have a clue what happens now ?’ [3]

Well, Washington and his countrymen were not on their own. And they had an idea about what would happen next. The same is true for you, the students of Washington College.

Remember that you do not have to answer the question of ‘What comes next?’ right away.

Take a breath. Be confident that you have the foundation to find the answer.

Trust that your training and your values – along with the support of your family and friends – will guide you, and serve as a lighthouse in the journey of your life.
That has been true for me, and I trust it will hold true for you.

The Art of the Matter by George Merrill

My first excursion into art was through photography. I didn’t know then that photography was an art. I just thought it was fun. For over sixty years I’ve accrued hundreds of photographs.

Some, like the accompanying picture, I particularly treasure.

I took it at the Baltimore Museum of Art. A workshop was being offered that day to community children. A good number of children attended, with supervising elders guiding and facilitating the children’s budding efforts to create. The kids were having a grand time.

When I began writing essays later in life, some focused around certain of my pictures. I was sure they had a story to tell me, in the way sculptors believe that, in the stone they are about to carve, there’s something within it yearning to be freed. The sculptor’s task: to give shape to the yearning and thereby liberate it. In whatever artistic medium, the same principle applies; the materials of artistic creation become the expression of things inward and spiritual. Sacraments, like works of art, are defined in this way.

I’m sure this child won’t remember her day at the museum. I remember it vividly. I experienced what legendary French photographer Cartier-Bresson once identified as the “decisive moment.” He describes this as being drawn to a scene in which something fundamental to life is being dramatized right before your eyes. The photographer sees it and he snaps the shutter. A moment – a once and for all – is plucked from the continuum of time to become timeless in the form of a silver-gelatin print, the photograph.

At the museum that day, I sensed that the child painting and I were both engaged in something fundamental to life; the urge to create. I saw in the child, some of the yearning that I, too, have known. She is trying to give her own particular shading, form and color to some matter of the heart that she feels within her. The yearning spurs her on, but offers little specific guidance. She has to find her way. How does she do it? How do any of us engage in the sort of midwifery that facilitates the process of emerging possibilities? Inspiration comes first, encouragement next and then practice. It can be summed up this way: follow your bliss. It’s often first discovered during decisive moments.

The child was totally absorbed in what she was doing. It was all about her, her own inner vision; everyone has an inner vision, but many remain unaware of it. Her expression, as I read it, didn’t have that strained or frantic quality – the kind of hyper-alertness or frantic anticipation that I see in the faces of children on cell phones texting or calling. They are as absorbed on their phones as the child in the museum was in her painting. There is a difference. I believe the child at the easel was more in tune with her inner voice or vision than a child on a cell phone is. Some of her radiance showed it. The energy in texting is primarily outwardly focused, reactive; an artist in the act of creating is both inwardly and outwardly focused at the same time. Maintaining an inner vision while expressing it outwardly by craftsmanship is the practice of an art. It has a meditative character.

Art has many mediums. Art is a process that represents the works and activities resulting from human creative skill and imagination. Einstein formulates the stunning equation E=mc2. While the equation is mathematical, it’s also, at a deeper level, an aesthetic statement. It was created by an inner vision. Einstein first visualized the cosmic dynamism in his imagination before making any of the computations.

This remarkably terse statement of three letters, a number and an equal sign captures the essence of an infinitely stunning and interconnected universe. It’s similar to the way the fourteenth century mystic Julian of Norwich spoke of the hazelnut she once held in her hand. “And in this [God] showed me a little . . . hazelnut, lying in the palm if my hand. And it was as round as any ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding. It was answered generally thus, ‘it is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness.” Good art sees things with the eye of understanding.

Art is an attempt to release the eternity hidden in the grain of sand. It illuminates the nascent grandeur inherent in life’s “little things” that we rarely notice. Art renders them visible for everyone to see. Art keeps truth and its beauty visible saving it from falling to nothing. Art, as the product of our imagination, offers infinite possibilities in the way we see.

One of the rewards of making art is the experience of discovery it offers. I think it’s generally true of the visual and literary arts that what the artist first sets upon to do looks little like the final product. While the essential vision first imagined remains, it gets hewed, tempered, altered, pressed, burnished and polished in all kinds of ways before it takes its final shape.

I do not know what the child was envisioning at the museum that day. I never saw what she finally painted. It was enough that she was trying to claim her vision and give it shape, form and color.

That’s the art of the matter or perhaps more pointedly, the matter of the art.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Leaders and the Physics of Destruction by Al Sikes

In business there are many versions of the virtuous circle. Amazon, for example, gains customer insights on a real-time basis and then puts it to use in acquiring, pricing, selling and distributing inventory. Each element of its business opens a window on improving the other elements.

Virtuous circles in public affairs turn on success or at least its appearance. When a public figure initiates both an effective and popular move, he/she stands a better chance of being given the benefit of the doubt on future ones. Of course, performance in politics is enhanced when there are attractive personal attributes. Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Obama in my lifetime enjoyed halo effects because of intangible assets.

But, when some combination of tangibles and intangibles cause a loss of popularity, a negative circle of consequences develops and is very difficult to reverse. Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Carter, in particular, were defeated by the physics of destruction, an irreversible momentum. President Trump has joined them and at a very unfortunate time for the nation—issues press, division intensifies, and Trump is only in his fourth month.

I was raised to respect Presidents. They were elected; democracy in action. And, they were the most meaningful expression of our nation’s day to day strength or weakness. We didn’t have to agree with everything our President did, but we had to always keep in mind that if he was weak our collective strength was hurt—weak President, weakened nation.

I didn’t vote for the President but have tried to keep my essays dispassionate–time weighed on me, Trump had just begun.

Trump deserves much of his unpopularity. He began his Presidency as if he had spent a lifetime preparing for the burdens. The reality is that he is an amateur—plenty of bluster but little else. Most unfortunately, he has let down his supporters who looked at all of the Republican and Democrat regulars and judged them unacceptable.

Rarely does a news cycle end without Trump attacking the media. The media, an imperfect bunch to be sure, is nonetheless the connectivity between the governed and its leaders. President Reagan’s sparring with Sam Donaldson should be studied. Donaldson’s critical coverage was masterfully disarmed by Reagan. Attempting to destroy the media is destructive on both a personal and collective level.

In my view Trump has made some good choices in assembling his national security and foreign policy team, but then he gets out ahead of them. Surely he learned in running a hotel company that he needed to avoid undermining his managers. It makes no sense.

The problem is he seems incapable of understanding his problems. He seeks out enablers. When you are President this is the single most egregious mistake. Being a successful president is a really difficult job and enablers, and let me add apologists, are inevitably ill-informed and often obsequious.

So where does the nation go from here? It now seems clear that Trump will not become a controlled and stable leader in a position for which he received no preparation. I hope to be surprised.

We have been here before. President Richard Nixon resigned to forestall impeachment. President Bill Clinton was impeached but not convicted. Both sagas were long, drawn-out and debilitating.

When a President is failing, America’s most important institutions and their leaders must recalibrate their roles. They will need to fill vacuums. They will need to cushion chaos. They will need to provide a measure of strength and stability.

The loyal opposition should be measured and careful with their prerogatives. The Republican leadership should lower the decibels of partisanship and be prepared to speak truth to power.

The Fourth Estate has a particularly vital role to play. The knives are out and separating fact from fiction requires capable journalists who go well beyond a crossfire version of the news.
Finally, President Trump has appointed some capable people to head the Departments of State, Defense and Treasury. Their exercise of power and advice to the President will be important.

Let me close with repetition. I hope I am wrong. America needs encouragement—proponents and opponents alike. The appointment of Judge Merrick Garland or a similarly well-regarded FBI head would be a big step in the right direction.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Trump’s Budget and the Bay by David Montgomery

Although no details are yet available, President Trump’s 2018 Budget Blueprint “Eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs. These geographic program eliminations are $427 million lower than the 2017 annualized CR levels. The Budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities.“

I have mixed reactions to this proposal.  It can be argued that the Bay is a national and global asset, and that its benefits extend far beyond the 7 states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.   As seen in the picture below, the jurisdictions in direct contact with the Bay are Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.  The watershed includes New York, Delaware and West Virginia where the headwaters of rivers and streams feeding into the Bay are located.

In more practical terms, the Federal government sets expectations for the Watershed Implementation Plans that the states must develop in order to comply with Federal Clean Water Act standards for the Bay, yet the states bear the cost of compliance with Federal standards.

There is nothing unique about this combination of Federal standards and state implementation, as it derives from the basic design of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.  The Federal government decides on what standards should be met for air and water quality, in part because emissions and effluents from one state almost always travel across state boundaries to affect other states.

It is left up to the states to create plans for achieving the standards set by the Federal government.  These plans are reviewed by the Federal government, usually by modeling how the specific provisions of the plan would affect future air and water quality.

Once the plans are approved, each state must implement the plans through whatever combination of legislation, regulation and economic incentives it chooses.  Thus the actions taken by each state form part of what should be a cooperative solution for the region and country as a whole.   Maryland benefits from reductions in emissions from coal-fired powerplants in upwind states like Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia, and those states benefit from improved recreational opportunities and less costly seafood from the Bay.

Many studies have been made by environmental economists of the benefits of improved air and water quality, and how those benefits are distributed across different regions and populations.   Thus there is probably a study of how the benefits of improvements in water quality of the Chesapeake Bay are distributed to residents of different states.  Recreational benefits, for example, are usually allocated by distance so that the Bay states themselves would gain most of those benefits.  Improved fisheries would benefit the entire market for seafood from the Bay, and also the watermen who live in the Bay states.  

Nevertheless, there is no broad provision in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act for allocating cleanup costs based on the distribution of benefits.  That distribution was no doubt in the minds of the members of Congress who enacted those two laws, and in the process for setting and meeting standards that they created, and it falls out of the laws as written.  In one case, Title IV of the Clean Air Act, Congress set up a trading program to limit emissions of acid rain precursors, and was specific that costs would be borne by the states where the emissions occurred.

Based on all this, I see no particular claim that the states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed could make for funding of Bay cleanup by other states, any more than California could claim that it should be compensated for achieving smog goals in the South Coast Air Basin.

All this is consistent with the great principle of subsidiarity, that decisions should be made at the lowest level of government that can deal effectively with a problem.  

But on the other side of the coin, it is unclear that as individual states, each of the 7 watershed states has the incentive, information or ability to carry out its part in a cost-effective management system.  The so-called “headwater states” of New York, Delaware and West Virginia, are not on the Bay and get no direct benefit from its cleanup.  Pennsylvania borders part of the Upper Bay, but its share of effluents (largely from the Susquehanna) is claimed to be far greater than it share of the Bay’s waters.  

For this reason, there are a number of interstate agreements intended to coordinate action and planning across these states, in particular the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement signed in 2014.  It is described as being a  “plan for collaboration across the Bay’s political boundaries [that] establishes goals and outcomes for the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands that surround them.”  It is administered by the Chesapeake Bay Program, which has an Executive Council composed of the governors of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and the Administrator of EPA.   

Federal funding may not be necessary to clean up the Bay, but it can certainly be an effective lever for gaining cooperation in this multi-state activity.  Not only can such funding grease the wheels by sharing the cost of particularly contentious tasks, the threat of withholding federal funds can be an effective tool in gaining compliance with plans previously agreed by the states.  In particular, Pennsylvania frequently appears in the news as failing to meet its commitments or reduce effluents sufficiently for Maryland and Virginia to meet federal standards in their waters.

There is an alternative, but one that would also require some initiative from the Administration to bring about.  Unlike the Delaware River Basin Commission, all of the commissions and other agreements about Chesapeake Bay Cleanup are voluntary agreements of states based on each state’s own legislation.  The Delaware River Basin Commission is a formal Interstate Compact, ratified by the U.S. Congress and enforceable under Federal law on all members .  Creating a Chesapeake Bay Interstate Compact including the 7 watershed states would make plans and commitments enforceable by any member of the Compact against another member.  

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has responsibilities for water supply that may or may not be useful for the Chesapeake Bay, but its management of pollution control and flood control would be.  The DRBC can itself finance and build waste treatment plants, and plan for the balance among different sources of effluents.  It also devises its own funding mechanisms.  A similar Commission for the Chesapeake would certainly be able to design and implement an effluent trading program for the entire watershed, which is the only way to make one effective.  In principle, there should be a way for the Commission to develop a single, comprehensive Watershed Implementation Plan binding on all its members.

This is not an entirely original idea, as I discovered after writing this article.  The Environmental Law Institute published a paper  that discusses the merits of an interstate compact for the Chesapeake Bay at much greater length.  I think that decisions on where effluents should be reduced, by what means, and at whose expense should be a responsibility of the 7 watershed states, and not require an external party like the federal government to impose them.  In line with the principle of subsidiarity, a watershed compact appears to me to be the lowest level of government capable of dealing with the problem effectively.  

Perhaps the proposed withdrawal of federal funding for Bay cleanup could provide the impetus for more effective coordination of the efforts of the responsible states.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

 

Deep Down And Way Up by George Merrill

As a boy I had two toys that I recall fondly. One was a metal German submarine, WWI vintage. It measured a little less than a foot long. The word “Unterseeboot” was inscribed in classical German font along the keel adding to its mystique. When wound up, the propeller would drive the U-Boat the length of the bathtub where, at least once a week, I bathed while conducting naval warfare. The U-Boat could not submerge unless I pushed down on it. No matter, my imagination and I took the sub at least weekly on its predatory excursions.

The other toy was a model of the Wright Brothers aircraft, the first plane to substantially sustain flight. The skeletal structure was made from lead and its wings composed of yellowish translucent material. The wingspan measured a foot and a half. It had a tiny wind up engine that turned its prop, but it wouldn’t move the plane an inch since the plane weighed a ton. A lone pilot, properly attired in suit, jacket and tie sat at in a cockpit that looked like an open porch. He didn’t look very safe.

I came by the toys via a mysterious great uncle I never met. Uncle Frank, according to family lore, traveled the world and frequently returned with various kinds of exotica from the countries he visited. Nobody was clear about just what he did.

I thought of the toys the other day. Their images appeared suddenly in my mind’ eye and kept returning like the tunes that insist on playing over and over in my head.

Submarines and airplanes provided mankind its first access to places we’d only dreamed of going before. Both inventions were quickly placed in the service of war; we have a penchant for forging swords more quickly than plowshares.

With these inventions we could now live long periods below the water’s surface and travel great distances through the air. Our forebears once believed heaven was God’s exclusive dwelling place along with his angels. Heaven was private property and trespassers would be prosecuted. The ocean’s depths were the habitat of frightening monsters. In the nineteenth century one theory held that all living creatures, after death, descended to the depths of the ocean where, in its arcane mud and slime, they were transformed into new beings. The deceased rose, not to heaven as once thought, but sunk to the bottom like stones.

Our bodies, by original design, are earthbound. Our spirit is another matter. It’s not confined to time, place and space. It can go anywhere and it does.

It’s our nature to plumb the depths. We are insatiably curious. Most Americans usually aspire to greater heights, or as the psalmist once put it: “to take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the sea.” We know the feeling as restlessness, that low-grade discontent that feels like hunger, but not knowing what food might sate us. Our souls quickly stir when experiencing goodness, but can become strangers to us in our consumerist culture. The spirit urges us to search more deeply in life while aspiring to greater heights. A consumerist culture, on the other hand, asks of us only that we keep purchasing, acquire more and be winners at all costs. In short, we are awash in a morass of banality; today’s ideals are not inviting us to reach nobler heights or discern greater depths, but only to acquire more and make good deals. It’s a ‘me’ generation, floating on millions of selfies.

I’m encouraged of late to see that there’s a growing appetite for justice. I’m seeing it, of all places, in our streets. “The streets,” as we often talk about them, are dismal places where crime, gang violence and poverty manifest. However, other things are happening on the streets providing some hope for our languishing spirits. There’s a growing public outcry for justice. Justice is to the soul what water is to the body. A soul can live a long time without many things, but without justice it soon languishes.

Occupy Wall Street, a grass roots movement that began in September of 2011, attempted to bring the income disparity of America into public awareness. If it did little more than increase awareness of economic inequality, it served us well. It’s been a tough nut to crack. The top 0.1 percent of today’s population earns 184 times the other ninety percent. Even now, women make only eight cents to every dollar men earn for the same jobs.

On January 17th the women’s march on Washington highlighted the social and economic indignities woman have suffered in our sexist and consumerist culture. The demonstrations were well disciplined, held with dignity and, unlike many social movements that can grow self righteous and combative, were carried out with a distinctly feminine touch. The demonstrations reflected people with hope and with a vision. The marchers made their point with understated eloquence, deftness and humor. The pussy hat was a stroke of genius.

On earth day, thousands of scientists marched in D.C. and around the world to protest budget cuts to scientific research. The heart of the march, in addition to protesting research budget cuts, was also to marshal a renewed will for healing the earth at a time when there’s massive denial of its problems. Much of that healing lies in what science can unearth about the ecological dynamics of our planet. There is no Planet B.

These fanciful excursions – from a bathtub sub to a Wright Brothers airplane – may seem a bit of a stretch. Still, I’ve often wondered whether those seemingly innocent images that flow past the mind’s eye may not be symbols of a longing seeking a voice. The subs and planes represent spatial dimensions – deep down and high up. I think they’re symptomatic of my longing for a higher vision to which we can aspire as a people while freeing ourselves from the depths of cynicism into which we seem to have been inexorably drawn.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Op-Ed: Chesapeake Bay Foundation Says Teamwork is Needed

“We are stronger together than alone.” It’s an idea that can benefit many people and situations – even those who serve us in government.

In today’s political climate, it’s hard to imagine government officials standing together in unity on much of anything.

Yet just this week representatives of six local jurisdictions on Maryland’s Eastern Shore signed off on a proposal to work collaboratively to control polluted runoff – one of the few sources of Bay pollution that’s increasing.

The collaborative comes out of the Healthy Waters Round Table – a network of county and town officials on the Shore that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and partners helped launch in 2015. The network helps participating communities share resources to keep pollution out of local rivers and streams.

County and town collaboration is a win-win idea. Under the Clean Water Blueprint, Maryland’s local governments are partners in the multi-state commitment to get projects in place by 2025 that will collectively meet water quality standards for the Bay. The problem is that most rural communities like those on the Shore have limited resources at their disposal to contribute to the effort.

Leaders of some jurisdictions are charging new fees to help fund pollution control. Salisbury, for example, assesses homeowners about $20 per year to pay for street sweeping, new plants and trees, and other practices that filter and treat runoff near its source.

But even with this extra effort, Salisbury finds it difficult to get the necessary work done to protect local water quality. That’s why it recently joined Cambridge, Easton, Oxford, Queen Anne’s and Talbot in the new partnership to try share resources. (Round Table partners including Caroline, Cecil, Chestertown and Kent declined to participate.)

The time and effort it takes to bring a municipal or county pollution control project from conception to completion is not insignificant. Scoping out projects, ushering them through design and approval, and managing construction, can sometimes slow projects almost to a halt.

With CBF’s help, county and town partners agreed to work collectively to try to get through this bottleneck. For instance, localities this week partnered on a grant application to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to bring in new technical support staff and funding that can speed up project delivery.

If the proposal is approved, a “Regional Service Provider” will be hired who helps locals plan, prioritize and invest grant dollars in high-value projects. The process also will ensure that pollution reduction efforts get results, and that local governments get credit.

The Hogan Administration likes the idea. State agencies under the Governor’s purview have pledged resources of their own that together with cash contributions from participating local governments will provide some significant horsepower to get work done. If awarded, the three-year initiative would begin as soon as this August.

On the Shore, limited resources are a major impediment to county and town progress on controlling polluted runoff. The new collaborative may be just what’s needed here to get communities what they need to help them do their share to finish the job of restoring the Bay to health.

by Alan Girard

Alan Girard is the director of the Eastern Shore Office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

What a Mess; At Least Two Rebuilds Are Necessary by Al Sikes

What a mess! What a sad testimony on American government in the 21st Century.

The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, is broken, both structurally and financially. Now the Republicans, who complained bitterly about being shut out by the ruling Democrats in the first round, are reciprocating. Lined up along the Potomac, the Democrats are using artillery, while the Republicans are relying on superior numbers. This is not difficult to understand at the Pentagon level, but at a time when most people have a historically low opinion of the Congress, it is an especially damaging and high-risk strategy.

The stakes in this war are quite high—we are talking about twenty percent of the economy, and I suspect over half of the dramas that play out in most families. Affordable, accessible and quality health care is not an inconsequential matter.

The Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in 2010—many believe on the voter’s distaste for Obamacare. They then staged dozens of repeal votes even though there was zero chance that President Obama would sign such a law. Plus, in the course of this charade, an alternative plan was not proposed. Unfortunately, voters often go along with politics of destruction regardless of which side is lobbing grenades.

Obamacare became law in March of 2010. The roll-out was marred by two overarching problems. The initial sign-up was a disaster, and the President promised voters that if they liked their health insurance, they could keep it and likewise their doctor. For many, this turned out not to be true.

If the plan had been a business product, it would have been quickly pulled from the market and re-tooled. Seven years later the re-tooling is taking place and, if new law results, it will be called Trumpcare.

President Trump, who made a big deal of his business acumen, must now deliver or be forever branded with a failure. A shard of light glinted briefly when Trump admitted that re-tooling the health care law was more complicated than he thought. He needs to revisit this fact and constantly remind himself that health care for many is a matter of life or death.

Obamacare underscored the difficulty in shifting risk. If everybody with a pre-existing illness is to be guaranteed affordable insurance an enormous payment will need to be made by either healthier insureds or taxpayers or both. But if risk shifting is the biggest issue, keep in mind that Obamacare was a two thousand page bill which now confronts lawmakers with a mish-mash of vested interests otherwise called alligators in the Washington swamp.

Restraint will not allow me to go much further into detail but let me make two radical suggestions.

First, and most importantly, Trump or members of the Republican majority who can actually lead should insist on a bi-partisan result. Trump, who tends to run toward controversy, should lead the effort as the legislative leaders will need cover. Since the end result will necessarily be right of center, the more moderate Democrats should be given prominent roles in the drafting of a new law. The Congress needs to own the law; Americans should not be whipsawed every voting cycle. Constant political wars have damaged representative government and undermine our health care industry.

Second, Washington needs to learn from Google and Apple. Both companies provide compelling products with intuitive consumer interfaces. The ease of use masks enormous underlying complication. A re-tooled health care program needs to do the same.

A final word to Trump. The likelihood of your namesake law being workable and relatively popular if crafted by hyper-partisans, under the constraints of budget reconciliation rules, is less than zero. A bi-partisan and fully public legislative process will at least give the public a sense that their representatives take their jobs seriously.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Dealing with Uncertainty with Climate Change by David Montgomery

Several weeks ago I attended a workshop put on by MIT climate researchers that dealt with current uncertainties in climate science and useful directions for climate research. I have worked with the folks at MIT since I was in graduate school, and specifically on the science and economics of climate change for just about 30 years. As usual, talking to them at this workshop suggested some new ideas that I wanted to share.

The general sentiment on climate policy among these researchers was that the best we can expect is a modest slowing of the rate of temperature increase.  Recent work from MIT also reveals that forecasts of the possible impacts of climate change still differ dramatically.  Combining these two insights reveals a large gap in our current understanding – we do not have a good handle on who is most likely to be affected, where and how, under realistic scenarios for temperature increase.   The immense popular and scientific literature on the effects of climate change has generally assumed no action to reduce emissions and no smart adaptation to avoid damages.  So the stories of melting icecaps, retreating shorelines, epidemics of tropical disease, heat waves, droughts and floods are largely intended to communicate what might happen if we do nothing.

At the other end of the scale, immense effort has gone into figuring out what it would take to keep global average temperatures from rising by more that 1.5 to 2ºC, levels that some believe would avoid all “dangerous human interference with the climate.”  

Once we recognize that the best outcome of global action to reduce emissions is likely to be significant temperature increase and a good bit of damage, the uselessness of studies of no action and ideal action becomes clear.  What we need to understand are the risks posed by temperature increases of more than 2 degrees at a temporal and geographic scale that is useful for planning.  In addition to work done at places like MIT, reports of a United Nations organization known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are useful references. The IPCC utilizes climate experts from around the world to write their reports, and I was a principal lead author of the second of their big reports on climate science and policy

The first step toward understanding our knowledge of climate risks is to realize how uncertain current forecasts of temperature increase and impacts really are. To make such a forecast there are several steps:

Predict future economic growth and technological breakthroughs in order to forecast greenhouse gas emissions

Compute how much temperature will increase based on predicted greenhouse gas emissions

Predict changes in precipitation (rainfall) and other geophysical and weather-related impacts

Assess how those changes will affect human populations

A forecast of total global emissions is sufficient to drive forecasts of temperature increase, since the major greenhouse gases have the same effects on temperature no matter where they are emitted (black carbon is different, but that is another story).  But different models give very different results for temperature even when they assume the same increase in emissions.  As a result, the lPCC has concluded that if the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reaches twice the level observed from 1850-1900, that will cause global average temperature to rise by between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees C above what it was back then. And the IPCC states that it cannot say whether the high, low or middle of that range is more likely (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_TS_FINAL.pdf)

Since the pre-industrial level is estimated to be 275 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere, doubling is conventionally set at 550 parts per million.   Depending on the emissions forecast, we could reach that point between 2050 and 2075 or even later.   And somewhere between those dates, temperature increase would be between 2 and 5ºC.  The picture below may help clarify this.  It is from MIT’s 2015 Global Energy and Climate Outlook, and it shows predictions of greenhouse gas concentrations from a number of sources.  According to the MIT Outlook, we would hit 550 ppm around 2065, and at that point temperature increase could be 1.5 to 4.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.  According to more pessimistic forecasts, we could hit 550 ppm and expect 1.5 to 4.5ºC increases as early as 2050.  Forecasts that hit 550 ppm much later than 2075 assume very strong measures to reduce emissions in every country and are not very likely.

Although only total emissions matter for temperature, where they are generated matters for thinking about reducing emissions.  That is where pessimism about avoiding climate change comes from.  The chart below breaks a middle of the road forecast of emissions out across countries, based on their plans in accord with the Paris agreement.

Source: Energy Information Administration 2016 International Energy Outlook

Even if we do not make any additional efforts, emissions from the OECD countries (USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia, NZ etc.) will in total be stable or decline due to slow population growth and technological progress. China will be by far the largest single source, eventually surpassing all of us, and total emissions from India, the Middle East and Russia will be right behind.  By just 2040, the OECD will decline to 32% of global emissions, and will continue to shrink.   

Thus far the only countries that have made commitments to reduce their emissions in the next decade are in the OECD.  All of the rest of the world puts economic growth and strategic advantage ahead of climate in their national priorities.  Even if they adhered to the Paris Agreements now under review by the Administration, China would remain on this path until at least 2030 and then consider slowing the growth in its emissions.  India made no quantified commitment, nor did most of the rest of the non-OECD countries, which see no way to rise out of poverty without increasing emissions.

Putting this political realism together with the uncertainty of temperature response, we should be planning for more than 2ºC and possibly up to 5ºC temperature increase in the next century.  To do this in a systematic way, and to address the greatest risks first, we need to assign probabilities to the effects of temperature increases on a geographic scale that distinguishes places where there will be large and harmful changes from places where there will be lesser impacts.

That gets us to steps 3 and 4, where things get really hard.  One thing that all models agree on is that temperature change will not be uniform around the globe.  Therefore temperature forecasts need to be specific to different locations.  Unfortunately, the models differ widely on what will happen at any particular location.  Models generally agree that the greatest temperature increases will be in polar regions, but that the largest changes in precipitation and water availability will be in the tropics and further south.  Unfortunately, they do not agree on the critical details of where within the equatorial regions those changes will occur.

The pictures below show predictions of changes in rainfall for Southern Africa from 17 different models, stated for comparability as the change in rainfall for a 1ºC increase in global average temperature.  Forecasts need to be at this finer scale because effects of temperature on precipitation are even more localized than temperature changes themselves. So picking Botswana, we see that colors range from bright red to bright green, indicating that rainfall could either decrease (red) or increase (green) dramatically.  Not much use for planning water supply or flood protection or public health or where and what kind of crops to plant in the nation of Botswana, let alone in the Kalihari or the Okavanga Delta.

Source: “Regional climate change of the greater Zambezi River Basin: a hybrid assessment”

  1. Adam Schlosser & Kenneth Strzepek Climatic Change (2015) 130:9–19

Effects on the people who live in these places and their opportunity to make a living come next will differ, depending on which of these contrary forecasts come to be.  And those human impacts will depend on how capable the affected people and societies are of innovating and adapting to change, and on how their governments invest in and encourage actions in advance to reduce harm.

I take three important lessons from this.   First, potential future effects of climate change on people are much more uncertain than forecasts of future emissions and temperatures.  Impacts in the latter half of this century could be quite tolerable, if the 1.5ºC forecast is correct, because that is the temperature increase at which the IPCC foresees few harmful effects.  What the consequences of temperatures higher in the range might be is subject to all the remaining uncertainties about geophysical and human effects.  

Second, even though we can recognize the uncertainty, we cannot quantify the risks that different populations face.  That is, no one has connected the results of a full-sized general circulation model on the distribution of temperature to a disaggregated model of weather and geophysical effects in a way that would let us attach probabilities to the human impacts of climate change.  The study that produced the analysis of the Zambezi basin takes this calculation as far as rainfall, but only incorporates the variations across models of rainfall.  It does not bring in uncertainty of emissions, temperature increase or consequences of changes in rainfall for agriculture, disease, etc.  This is an active field of research, but not an easy one and one that should get high priority in funding climate research.  Without it, all we get are basically scientific anecdotes of what might happen, with no idea of how likely those events are or where it would be most cost-effective to prepare for them.

Third, none of this implies that the US and the rest of the OECD should do nothing to reduce their emissions, but what we do should be flexible and realistic.  It is not in our power to reduce emissions enough to prevent potentially dangerous climate change, nor can we compute the odds on how much damage our policies would avoid.  Even if we were able to forecast what policies would accomplish in reducing emissions, there is still that 1.5 to 5 range of possible temperature change and the huge disagreement about the regional effects of temperature change on weather and other impacts.   This convinces me that insistence on setting targets for reducing emissions in order to have certainty about emission reductions is badly misinformed.  We can, on the other hand, have confidence that a carbon tax set at a tolerable level will make a difference in emissions and will reduce the likelihood of the worst possible outcomes. That modest step seems to me to be one we should all be able to agree on, while concentrating on developing science and policies that could contribute to helping the most vulnerable areas and peoples to adapt to what is coming despite our best efforts.

 

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.