Resilience in the Face of the Onslaught

By Charles M. Blow – July 11, 2024

A blurry photo shows President Biden speaking at a podium in front of the American flag.
Credit…Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times

Joe Biden is still standing, refusing to bow out — he reiterated that once again in a lengthy and mostly successful news conference on Thursday night. Some may view it as selfish and irresponsible. Some may even see it as dangerous. But I see it as remarkable.

Despite sending a clear message — in his recent flurry of interviews and rallies, in his stalwart address this week to members of the NATO alliance and in his letter on Monday to congressional Democrats, in which he assured them that “I wouldn’t be running again if I did not absolutely believe I was the best person to beat Donald Trump in 2024” — there’s still a slow drumbeat from luminaries, donors and elected officials trying to write Biden’s political obituary.

The talent agency mogul Ari Emanuel (a brother of Rahm Emanuel, Biden’s ambassador to Japan), recently said Biden “is not the candidate anymore.” In a post on X, the best-selling author Stephen King said that it’s time for Biden “to announce he will not run for re-election.” Abigail Disney, an heiress to the Walt Disney fortune, said, “I intend to stop any contributions to the party unless and until they replace Biden at the top of the ticket.”

They seem to believe that they can kill his candidacy, by a thousand cuts or by starving it to death.

But none of this sits well with me.

First, because Biden is, in fact, his party’s presumptive nominee. He won the primaries. He has the delegates. He got there via an open, organized and democratic process.

Forcing him out, against his will, seems to me an invalidation of that process. And the apparent justification for this, that polls, which are highly fluctuant, now indicate that some voters want him replaced, is insufficient; responses to polls are not votes.

Yes, two weeks ago, Biden had a bad debate, and may well be diminished. Yes, there’s a chance he could lose this election. That chance exists for any candidate. But allowing elites to muscle him out of the race would be playing a dangerous game that is not without its own very real risk. It won’t guarantee victory and may produce chaos. The logic that says you have to dump Biden in order to defeat Trump is at best a gamble, the product of panicked people in well-furnished parlors.

Furthermore, no one has really made the case that whatever decline Biden may be experiencing has significantly impacted his policy decision-making or eroded America’s standing in the world. The arguments center on the visual evidence of somewhat worrisome comportment but mostly speculation about cognition.

That is just not enough.

I am not a Biden acolyte. I’ve never met the man. And I’m not arguing against the sense among those who have seen him up close and express worry. I’m not pro-Biden as much as I am pro-stay the course.

Like Biden’s Democratic doubters, I want above all to prevent Trump from being re-elected and to ensure the preservation of democracy. It’s just that I believe allowing Biden to remain at the top of the Democratic ticket is the best way to achieve that.

And since that’s the goal, perhaps the best argument in Biden’s favor is that his mettle has been revealed by the onslaught of criticism he has endured since the debate, much of it from other liberals.

Biden’s support hasn’t cratered, as one might have expected. Which suggests that the idea that Biden can’t win — or that another Democrat would have an easier run — is speculative at best.

Indeed, when I saw one headline that read, “Poll finds Biden damaged by debate; with Harris and Clinton best positioned to win,” I thought: Hillary Clinton? Now we’re truly in fantasy baseball territory.

And in the national poll on which that article was premised, Biden trailed Trump by just one percentage point while Vice President Kamala Harris led Trump by just one percentage point; in both cases, well within the margin of error.

A new Washington Post-ABC News-Ipsos poll found that Biden and Trump are tied nationally.

As for hypothetical candidates like Harris — who I do believe would acquit herself well at the top of the ticket — that same poll shows her performing slightly better against Trump than Biden does. But that is in the abstract, before the chaos of a candidate change, and before she received the full-frontal assault that being the actual nominee would surely bring. And in an era of opposition to “wokeness” and the values of diversity, equity and inclusion, that frontal assault, directed at the first Black, Asian American and female vice president, would be savage.

The potential drag on down-ballot races is a legitimate concern for some Democrats, but it appears to be the panic of some down-ballot candidates that has exacerbated the problem, as more than a dozen House Democrats and one Senate Democrat have called for Biden to leave the race.

There’s no guarantee that swapping out candidates would leave Democrats in a better position, but I believe the case is building that the continued dithering among Democrats about Biden’s candidacy is doing further damage to their chances.

Biden’s candidacy may not survive. But forcing him out of it may hurt Democrats more than it helps them, even with voters who say they want a different choice.

More on President Biden:

David French: Biden Has an Inner Circle Problem. He’s Not the Only One. – July 11, 2024

Ezra Klein: Democrats Are Drifting Toward the Worst of All Possible Worlds – July 11, 2024

Charles M. Blow is an Opinion columnist for The New York Times, writing about national politics, public opinion and social justice, with a focus on racial equality and L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

Rising Frustration in Houston After Millions Lost Power in Storm

With outages expected to last days, a top state official promised to look into whether the utility company could have done more to prepare for Hurricane Beryl.

By J. David Goodman and Ivan Penn July 10, 2024 

Reporting from Houston and Los Angeles.

Toppled power poles block part of a street, as cars approach.
Fallen power lines littered the roads in Galveston after Hurricane Beryl hit the Texas coast on Monday.Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

The sun felt hotter than usual in Houston this week, as millions of sweltering residents emerged from the rapid thrashing of Hurricane Beryl to face a prolonged power outage — the largest ever seen by the city’s utility, according to the state’s lieutenant governor.

The outages from the storm affected as many as 2.7 million customers across the state, mostly in and around Houston. Despite a promise by the utility, CenterPoint Energy, to restore power to one million customers by the end of the day on Wednesday, large swaths of the nation’s fourth-biggest city remained without power.

The scale of the outages raised questions about whether enough had been done to prepare the city, just 50 miles from the Gulf Coast, for the kinds of storms that climate scientists predict will arrive with greater frequency.

“For a Category 1 hurricane to result in over a million customer outages in its immediate aftermath demonstrates that there is plenty of need for the resiliency hardening investments,” said Wei Du, an energy expert with PA Consulting and a former senior analyst and engineer for Con Edison.

Beryl was not a particularly strong storm when it made landfall early Monday. But the hurricane struck at the heart of Houston with a ferocity that toppled trees into power lines and that knocked over 10 transmission towers, officials said.

By late Tuesday, some 1.5 million of CenterPoint’s customers still had no power — and little sense of when it would return. Neighbors reported flickerings of light to each other on group chats, hoping for signs of progress. Many shared a map of open Whataburger locations, suggesting that the fast-food chain was a better way to find out about available electricity service, compared with the spotty information released by the utility.

As the temperatures rose, so did many residents’ anger.

“The response has been too slow,” said Patricia Alexander, 79, who sat in a cooling center in northwest Houston to get a break from the heat inside the senior center where she lives. “The mayor said he was looking out for senior centers and that CenterPoint’s teams were prioritizing senior facilities, but I don’t believe it, because we don’t have air-conditioning.”

Cars make their way in the darkness toward a nonfunctioning traffic light.
About 2.2 million customers — 80 percent of the utility’s customers in the Houston area — lost power in the storm, a CenterPoint Energy spokesman said.Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

The sheer number of damaged lines accounted for the extent of the outages, which surpassed those during Hurricane Ike in 2008. After that storm, the utility described making efforts to better manage the vegetation around power lines.

Company officials said they had been surprised by the behavior of the storm, which initially was expected to strike further south but instead hit near Matagorda, Texas, after strengthening somewhat and then spiraling north toward Houston.

“No one should have been surprised,” said Dan Patrick, the state’s lieutenant governor, who has been acting in place of Gov. Greg Abbott while he travels abroad.

Mr. Patrick said in a news conference that he wanted the utility to focus on restoring power, but that afterward the company would need to explain its preparations for the storm.

“If they made mistakes beforehand, then that will be addressed,” Mr. Patrick said. “The real question is: Were they as prepared as they should be? And that’s up to them to answer, and they will answer not only to the public but to the P.U.C.,” he added, referring to the state’s Public Utility Commission.

Texas officials have spent much of the past few years worrying about the vulnerability of the state’s power grid to extreme cold after a failure during a winter storm in 2021.

But amid increasingly frequent extreme heat, the grid has also been tested in the summer, not just during storms but also on hot, cloudless days when energy demand is high.

“It’s not just during a storm: Texas in general tends to have more outages on a blue sky day than other states,” said Doug Lewin, an energy consultant and the author of the Texas Energy and Power newsletter. “We rank very poorly compared to other states. We’ve got a long way to go.”

In CenterPoint’s last three annual reports to federal regulators, including the most recent one in February, the utility said it had risks related to aging facilities. “Aging infrastructure may complicate our utility operations’ ability to address climate change concerns and efforts to enhance resiliency and reliability,” the company told the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A spokeswoman for CenterPoint said that the company had monitored Beryl’s development and had prepared, but “a lot of the issues were just purely because the hurricane hit more intensely than we expected.”

In particular, the company said, many of the outages occurred after trees fell on power lines.

“While we tracked the projected path, intensity and timing for Hurricane Beryl closely for many days, this storm proved the unpredictability of hurricanes as it delivered a powerful blow across our service territory and impacted a lot of lives,” Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president for CenterPoint, said in a statement.

About 2.2 million customers — 80 percent of the utility’s customers in the Houston area — lost power in the storm, a company spokesman said.

Utility experts said that power companies have little excuse for not being ready for events that develop over the course of days, in particular when the primary job is to deliver safe, reliable service.

“Most of all, it really is the preparation issue,” said Robert McCullough, of McCullough Research, a consulting firm based in Portland, Ore. “Mild storm. Why weren’t we better prepared?”

A house stands surrounded by floodwaters.
The outages from Beryl came less than two months after powerful thunderstorms knocked out power across Houston in May.Credit…Daniel Becerril/Reuters

In April, CenterPoint filed a resiliency plan with the state, proposing to spend billions to “modernize and harden our existing infrastructure” to increase reliability. A significant focus, according to the plan, is to modernize the company’s transmission and distribution systems.

After a series of powerful hurricanes struck Florida two decades ago, that state took steps to improve its electrical infrastructure.

The process, which included burying a targeted number of power lines, appeared to bear fruit, according to a 2024 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The power grid grew more resilient to storms, the report found.

But simply burying power lines underground is not always the best solution, experts say, particularly in areas that are prone to flooding, like many parts of Houston.

“In areas where you worry more about water, you can end up making the system more vulnerable and more expensive when you underground,” said Ted Kury, director of energy studies for the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida. “Storm hardening is often a choice between what type of damage you’re more concerned about,” he added.

If it’s water, you go aboveground and accept the wind damage, he said, and “if it’s wind, you might want to underground” but would then have to worry about the water.

The $2.19 billion investment plan proposed by CenterPoint includes upgrading or replacing existing poles and structures to meet current wind loading standards, and improving the distribution system to prevent automatic shut-offs. The plan also proposes a pilot program to assess whether “utility-scale” microgrids can speed up the restoration of power during a fire or weather emergency.

The plan, which still needs state approval, calls for making these investments over a three-year period from 2025 to 2027.

A committee of the Texas Legislature was set to meet on Monday in Austin to discuss the utility resiliency issue — but the meeting was canceled because of the storm.

Delay is becoming more costly. Greenhouse gas emissions are increasing the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture, leading to more rain, more flooding and more potential for trees to fall, said Karthik Balaguru, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “I think Houston is an area that we should expect more outages,” he said.

The outages from Beryl came less than two months after powerful thunderstorms knocked out power across Houston in May. Hundreds of thousands of residents lost power in that storm, and many of the same people found themselves again dumping spoiled food and looking for cool air this week.

“This is a double whammy,” said Cleveland James, 70, of West Houston, describing the almost back-to-back storms as he sat in the local cooling center. “I lost power for five days. So that doesn’t give me much encouragement that it will come back soon. I think it’ll take a week.”

Ms. Alexander, nearby, said she worried that Beryl would not be the last time she found herself without power this summer.

“This is going to happen again,” she said of the storm, only the second to get a name this hurricane season. “I mean, we’re only in the B’s.”

Shannon Sims contributed reporting from Houston.

J. David Goodman is the Houston bureau chief for The Times, reporting on Texas and Oklahoma. More about J. David Goodman

Ivan Penn is a reporter based in Los Angeles and covers the energy industry. His work has included reporting on clean energy, failures in the electric grid and the economics of utility services. More about Ivan Penn

Extreme heat waves broiling the US in 2024 aren’t normal: How climate change is heating up weather around the world

The Conversation

Extreme heat waves broiling the US in 2024 aren’t normal: How climate change is heating up weather around the world

Mathew Barlow and Jeffrey Basara, UMass Lowell – July 9, 2024

Visitors walk past a sign reading 'Stop: Extreme Heat Danger' in Death Valley National Park during a heat wave on July 7, 2024. <a href=
Visitors walk past a sign reading ‘Stop: Extreme Heat Danger’ in Death Valley National Park during a heat wave on July 7, 2024. Etienne Laurent/AFP via Getty Images

Less than a month into summer 2024, the vast majority of the U.S. population has already experienced an extreme heat wave. Millions of people were under heat warnings across the western U.S. in early July or sweating through humid heat in the East.

Death Valley hit a dangerous 129 degrees Fahrenheit (53.9 C) on July 7, a day after a motorcyclist died from heat exposure there. Las Vegas broke its all-time heat record at 120 F (48.9 C). In California, days of over-100-degree heat in large parts of the state dried out the landscape, fueling wildfires. Oregon reported several suspected heat deaths.

Extreme heat like this has been hitting countries across the planet in 2024.

Globally, each of the past 13 months has been the hottest on record for that month, including the hottest June, according to the European Union’s Copernicus climate service. The service reported on July 8, 2024, that the average temperature for the previous 12 months had also been at least 1.5 C (2.7 F) warmer than the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.

The 1.5 C warming threshold can be confusing, so let’s take a closer look at what that means. In the Paris climate agreement, countries worldwide agreed to work to keep global warming under 1.5 C, however that refers to the temperature change averaged over a 30-year period. A 30-year average is used to limit the influence of natural year-to-year fluctuations.

So far, the Earth has only crossed that threshold for a single year. However, it is still extremely concerning, and the world appears to be on track to cross the 30-year average threshold of 1.5 C within 10 years.

A chart shows yearly averages and the trend line going out 10 more years before it crosses 1.5 C for the 30-year average.
Global temperatures showing the trend line averaged over 30 years. Copernicus Climate Change and Atmosphere Monitoring Services

We study weather patterns involving heat. The early season heat, part of a warming trend fueled by humans, is putting lives at risk around the world.

Heat is becoming a global problem

Record heat has hit several countries across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia in 2024. In Mexico and Central America, weeks of persistent heat starting in spring 2024 combined with prolonged drought led to severe water shortages and dozens of deaths.

Extreme heat turned into tragedy in Saudi Arabia, as over 1,000 people on the Hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, collapsed and died. Temperatures reached 125 F (51.8 C) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on June 17.

A large number of people in traditional clothing covering them from their necks to their wrists and ankles walk on wide pathway, some carrying umbrellas for shade.
Muslim pilgrims spent hours in extreme temperatures and humidity during the Hajj in June 2024 in Saudi Arabia. Over 1,000 people died in the heat. AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool

Hospitals in Karachi, Pakistan, were overwhelmed amid weeks of high heat, frequent power outages, and water shortages in some areas. Neighboring India faced temperatures around 120 F (48.9 C) for several days in April and May that affected millions of people, many of them without air conditioning.

In Greece, where temperatures were over 100 F (37.8 C) for days in June, several tourists died or were feared dead after going hiking in dangerous heat and humidity.

Japan issued heatstroke alerts in Tokyo and more than half of its prefectures as temperatures rose to record highs in early July.

The climate connection: This isn’t ‘just summer’

Although heat waves are a natural part of the climate, the severity and extent of the heat waves so far in 2024 are not “just summer.”

A scientific assessment of the fierce heat wave in the eastern U.S. in June 2024 estimates that heat so severe and long-lasting was two to four times more likely to occur today because of human-caused climate change than it would have been without it. This conclusion is consistent with the rapid increase over the past several decades in the number of U.S. heat waves and their occurrence outside the peak of summer.

These record heat waves are happening in a climate that’s globally more than 2.2 F (1.2 C) warmer – when looking at the 30-year average – than it was before the industrial revolution, when humans began releasing large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that warm the climate.

Two global maps show much faster warming per decade over the past 30 years than in the past 120 years.
Global surface temperatures have risen faster per decade in the past 30 years than over the past 120. NOAA NCEI

While a temperature difference of a degree or two when you walk into a different room might not even be noticeable, even fractions of a degree make a large difference in the global climate.

At the peak of the last ice age, some 20,000 years ago, when the Northeast U.S. was under thousands of feet of ice, the globally averaged temperature was only about 11 F (6 C) cooler than now. So, it is not surprising that 2.2 F (1.2 C) of warming so far is already rapidly changing the climate.

If you thought this was hot

While this summer is likely be one of the hottest on record, it is important to realize that it may also be one of the coldest summers of the future.

For populations that are especially vulnerable to heat, including young children, older adults and outdoor workers, the risks are even higher. People in lower-income neighborhoods where air conditioning may be unaffordable and renters who often don’t have the same protections for cooling as heating will face increasingly dangerous conditions.

Extreme heat can also affect economies. It can buckle railroad tracks and cause wires to sag, leading to transit delays and disruptions. It can also overload electric systems with high demand and lead to blackouts just when people have the greatest need for cooling.

The good news: There are solutions

Yes, the future in a warming world is daunting. However, while countries aren’t on pace to meet their Paris Agreement goals, they have made progress.

In the U.S., the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act has the potential to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half by 2035.

Switching from air conditioners to heat pumps and network geothermal systems can not only reduce fossil fuel emissions but also provide cooling at a lower cost. The cost of renewable energy continues to plummet, and many countries are increasing policy support and incentives.

A chart shows the number of heat waves is likely to be four times higher in a world 2.7 F (1.5 C) warmer and nearly five times higher in a world 6.3 F (3.5 C) warmer. Both scenarios are possible as global emissions rise.
Actions to reduce warming can limit a wide range of hazards and create numerous near-term benefits and opportunities. National Climate Assessment 2023

There is much that humanity can do to limit future warming if countries, companies and people everywhere act with urgency. Rapidly reducing fossil fuel emissions can help avoid a warmer future with even worse heat waves and droughts, while also providing other benefits, including improving public health, creating jobs and reducing risks to ecosystems.

Read more:

Mathew Barlow has received funding from the NOAA Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections Program to study heatwaves.

Jeffrey Basara has received funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation to study flash drought and extreme temperatures.

Trump seeks to disavow ‘Project 2025’ despite ties to conservative group


Trump seeks to disavow ‘Project 2025’ despite ties to conservative group

Nathan Layne – July 5, 2024

Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a campaign event in Chesapeake
House Freedom Caucus and others hold a press conference regarding federal government spending, in Washington

(Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump tried to distance himself on Friday from a conservative group’s sweeping plans for the next Republican presidency, days after its leader claimed a second American Revolution was underway that would “remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.”

The Republican presidential candidate renounced any connection with Project 2025, a plan Democrats have been attacking to highlight what they say is Trump’s extreme policy agenda for a second term should he beat President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

Many people involved in the project lead by the Heritage Foundation, America’s top conservative think tank, worked in the Trump White House and would likely help fill out his administration if he wins in November.

But Trump said on his Truth Social platform he had nothing to do with the plan.

“I know nothing about Project 2025. I have no idea who is behind it,” he wrote.

“I disagree with some of the things they’re saying,” he continued, adding some of their assertions were “absolutely ridiculous and abysmal.”

Trump’s post came three days after Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts’ comments on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast about a second American Revolution. Democrats and others criticized what they viewed as a veiled threat of violence.

In a statement provided by a Project 2025 spokesperson on Friday, Roberts repeated his claim that Americans were carrying out a revolution “to take power back from the elites and despotic bureaucrats” and said it was the political left that had a history of political violence.

The spokesperson said that while Project 2025 provided recommendations for the next Republican president, it would be up to Trump, should he win, to decide whether to implement them.

Trump’s move to create distance with Project 2025 could in part reflect an effort to moderate his message in the final months of the race, especially with Biden’s campaign faltering after the Democratic candidate’s June 27 debate, said James Wallner, a political science professor at Clemson University.

“Trump is basically now seeking to appeal to a broader audience,” Wallner said.

The Biden campaign has stepped up its efforts to tie Trump’s campaign to Project 2025.

“Project 2025 is the extreme policy and personnel playbook for Trump’s second term that should scare the hell out of the American people,” campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement.

The 900-page blueprint calls for drastic reform of the federal government, including a gutting of some federal agencies and a vast expansion of presidential power. Trump’s statements and policy positions suggest he is aligned with some but not all of the project’s agenda.

The plans have been drawn up by the Heritage Foundation in coordination with a collection of other like-minded groups.

A number of people who worked on Project 2025 have close ties to the former president. Russ Vought, who was Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget and is heading up a key committee at the Republican National Convention, authored one of the project’s chapters.

Stephen Miller, a former senior adviser to Trump who is widely expected to be tapped for a top job in a second Trump administration, heads up a legal group on Project 2025’s advisory board.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Chris Reese)

Grim Irony: Curbing Air Pollution Is Warming the Earth Faster


Grim Irony: Curbing Air Pollution Is Warming the Earth Faster

Frank Landymore – June 25, 2024

Cool Factor

Have industrial emissions been counteracting the worst effects of global warming? Scientists are starting to think so.

Burning coal, oil, and gas warms our planet by dispersing greenhouse gases, like CO2, into the atmosphere. And before the introduction of more stringent environmental regulations, these fuel sources would often contain deadly pollutants like sulfur oxide that contribute to the deaths of millions of people globally.

World governments have rightly fought to curb pollutants. But as a growing body evidence is beginning to show, these airborne particles, or aerosols, have likely mitigated rising temperatures by reflecting sunlight and boosting the reflectivity of clouds — and as a result, concealed just how bad global warming actually is.

The extent of the cooling they’ve caused is more contentious. Nonetheless, it’s a grim irony that exemplifies the complexities of understanding — nevermind protecting — our climate.

“We’re starting from an area of deep, deep uncertainty,” Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist from the University of California, Berkeley, told The Washington Post. “It could be a full degree of cooling being masked.”

Abandon Ship

One of the biggest drop-offs in pollutants may come from the shipping industry, whose regulatory body in 2020 started limiting the use of the dirty, sulfur-spewing fuels its massive vessels once relied on, in favor of cleaner alternatives.

But with the resulting decrease in aerosols, recent research has shown that these cuts in shipping pollution has directly led to more solar radiation being trapped in our atmosphere, which could explain why 2023 was the hottest year on record by a margin that alarmed even scientists.

That doesn’t augur well for the future: the authors of the research suggested that as we curb these deadly pollutants, we could experience double the rate of global warming compared to the average since 1880.

As WaPo notes, however, many experts think the warming will be less pronounced, contributing somewhere between 0.05 degrees and 0.1  degrees Celsius of an uptick — which, of course, is still significantly worrying.

Clear the Air

There is, perhaps, a silver lining. The same cooling principle of these pollutants could be wielded in an experimental technique called marine cloud brightening, which would involve deliberately injecting safe aerosols into the atmosphere to cause clouds to reflect more sunlight and to increase cloud cover.

This is unproven and controversial, though, and the researchers behind the shipping study have suggested that their findings are an example of the downsides of pursuing that technique: the minute we stop pumping aerosols into the atmosphere, global temperatures will soar again, perhaps even more drastically than before.

At any rate, clarifying these gray areas will be paramount for climate scientists. The picture is more complicated than we once thought, and determining how much aerosols figure into it will be essential if humanity is to keep global warming short of even more disastrous levels.

“It’s not just a story of greenhouse gas emissions,” Robert Wood, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, told WaPo. “Whether you clean up rapidly, or whether you just fumble along with the same aerosol emissions, could be the difference of whether you cross the 2-degree Celsius threshold or not.”

We’ve been accidentally cooling the planet — and it’s about to stop

The Washington Post

We’ve been accidentally cooling the planet — and it’s about to stop

Shannon Osaka – June 25, 2024

Smoke ash spews from the chimney of the coal power plant owned by Indonesian Power in Cilegon, Sept. 2023 (Photo by Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It is widely accepted that humans have been heating up the planet for over a century by burning coal, oil and gas. Earth has already warmed by almost 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, and the planet is poised to race past the hoped-for limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

But fewer people know that burning fossil fuels doesn’t just cause global warming – it also causes global cooling. It is one of the great ironies of climate change that air pollution, which has killed tens of millions, has also curbed some of the worst effects of a warming planet.

Tiny particles from the combustion of coal, oil and gas can reflect sunlight and spur the formation of clouds, shading the planet from the sun’s rays. Since the 1980s, those particles have offset between 40 and 80 percent of the warming caused by greenhouse gases.

And now, as society cleans up pollution, that cooling effect is waning. New regulations have cut the amount of sulfur aerosols from global shipping traffic across the oceans; China, fighting its own air pollution problem, has slashed sulfur pollution dramatically in the last decade.

The result is even warmer temperatures – but exactly how much warmer is still under debate. The answer will have lasting impacts on humanity’s ability to meet its climate goals.

“We’re starting from an area of deep, deep uncertainty,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and research lead for the payments company Stripe. “It could be a full degree of cooling being masked.”

Most of the cooling from air pollution comes through sulfur aerosols, in two ways. The particles themselves are reflective, bouncing the sun’s rays away and shading the Earth. They also make existing clouds brighter and more mirror-like, thus cooling the Earth.

Coal and oil are around 1 to 2 percent sulfur – and when humans burn fossil fuels, that sulfur spills into the atmosphere. It is deadly: Sulfur dioxide has been linked to respiratory problems and other chronic diseases, and air pollution contributes to about 1 in 10 deaths worldwide.

Over the past few decades, countries have worked to phase out these pollutants, starting with the United States and the European Union, followed by China and India. China has cut its sulfur dioxide emissions by over 70 percent since 2005 by installing new technologies and scrubbers on fossil fuel plants. More recently, the International Maritime Organization instituted restrictions in 2020 on the amount of sulfur allowed in shipping fuels – one of the dirtiest fuels used in transportation. Shipping emissions of sulfur dioxide immediately dropped by about 80 percent. Mediterranean countries are planning a similar shipping regulation for 2025.

“There has been a pretty steep decline over the last 10 years,” said Duncan Watson-Parris, an assistant professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego.

These moves have saved lives – according to estimates, around 200,000 premature deaths have already been avoided in China, and the new shipping regulations could save around 50,000 lives per year. But they have also boosted global temperatures. Scientists estimate that the changes in aerosols from the new shipping rule alone could contribute between 0.05 and 0.2 degrees Celsius of warming over the next few decades.

Some researchers have suggested that the changes to ocean shipping regulations may have been a big contributor to last year’s record heat – and that aerosols may have been masking much more heat than previously thought. Satellite images have shown that cloud changes declined after sulfur emissions went down.

“The data from NASA satellites shows that in regions where this should be expected, there’s a very strong increase in absorbed solar radiation,” said Leon Simons, an independent researcher and a member of the Club of Rome of the Netherlands, pointing to shipping areas affected by the new rules. “And also in this period you see sea surface temperatures increasing in the same region.”

In one new paper, scientists at the University of Maryland argued that the decrease in aerosols could double the rate of warming in the 2020s, compared to the rate since 1980. But other researchers have critiqued their results.

Many experts believe the effect is likely to be modest – between 0.05 and 0.1 degrees Celsius. “I don’t think it’s possible to get better than a factor of two, in terms of how uncertain we are,” said Michael Diamond, a professor of meteorology and environmental science at Florida State University.

Some scientists see the shipping regulation as an analog to a way that researchers are exploring to halt global warming: purposefully brightening clouds using less polluting methods. In Alameda, Calif., researchers recently released sea salt aerosols into the atmosphere as a first step to study how the particles could brighten clouds and reflect sunlight. City officials later halted the project, despite reports showing that the experiment was safe.

But the real issue is still ahead. Currently, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that aerosols are masking about 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. But that value could be as high as 1 degree or as low as 0.2 degrees – and the difference could be the difference between meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement or not.

If aerosols have been masking cooling much more than expected, for example, the world could be poised to blow past its climate targets without realizing it.

Almost 200 of the world’s nations pledged in the Paris agreement to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to preindustrial levels. Scientists believe that many dangerous impacts, from the collapse of coral reefs to the melting of major ice sheets, will occur somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.

“It’s not just a story of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Robert Wood, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington. “Whether you clean up rapidly, or whether you just fumble along with the same aerosol emissions, could be the difference of whether you cross the 2-degree Celsius threshold or not.”

No scientists are advocating a halt to aerosol clean up efforts – the death tolls from air pollution are simply too high. “There are really good reasons to want to be cleaning up air pollution,” Diamond said. “The public health benefits are really important.”

But researchers worry that cleaning up air pollution without halting fossil fuel use – as, for example, in China – could be a recipe for even greater and faster warming. “We need to make sure that we’re doing it at the same time as cleaning up methane and cleaning up CO2,” Diamond said. Cutting methane emissions, he noted, could help offset the effects of declining aerosols. Methane has a warming effect, but like aerosols, doesn’t remain in the atmosphere for very long.

Still, a lot of scientific questions remain – and until they are answered, the world won’t know exactly how much warming falling aerosols will unmask.

– – –

Harry Stevens contributed to this report.

Workers Shouldn’t Have to Risk Their Lives in Heat Waves

By Terri Gerstein – June 21, 2024

A worker bent over a pile of dirt at a street corner holding a long-handled tool, wearing a hard hat circled by a wide yellow brim.
Credit…Cassidy Araiza for The New York Times

Ms. Gerstein is the director of the Labor Initiative at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. She spent more than 17 years enforcing labor laws in New York State, working in the state attorney general’s office and as a deputy labor commissioner.

A record-breaking heat wave is cresting across the United States, with about 100 million people under extreme heat alerts. Local TV news stations, governors and health officials advise to plan accordingly, drink water, go to cooling centers if needed and above all, refrain from excess outdoor exertion.

But if you pick fruit in a field, walk door to door delivering packages, stack boxes in an oppressively hot warehouse or do any number of other jobs without air-conditioning, you don’t have much legal protection against working under sweltering conditions. In 2022 alone, 43 people died from exposure to extreme heat while working, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, there were others, including a postal worker who died of heat stroke in Dallas, and at least one farmworker who died after falling ill while working in extreme heat in Florida. From fields to warehouses to restaurants, laborers are in danger of illness, injuries and even death in this heat wave.

Climate scientists warn that we are reaching a tipping point where the mounting harms of global warming, including more frequent, more severe heat waves, will become irreversible. The federal government is trying to address the fact that climate change is making working conditions more dangerous each year. But its efforts aren’t likely to bear fruit quickly enough.

The key elements for protecting workers from heat above 80 degrees Fahrenheit are simple: ensure adequate rest, shade and water and allow people to adjust gradually to higher temperatures. Additional precautions are needed above 90 or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. But this is not the law in most of the country.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act has a “general duty clause” requiring employers to provide safe workplaces, but it lacks specificity on what to do in extreme heat. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration may issue a proposed rule on workplace heat relatively soon that would be likely to require, among other things, rest breaks, drinking water and cooling measures, as well as medical treatment and emergency response procedures. But once issued, there will be a comment and review period, followed by inevitable challenges from business groups arguing that the rule is too burdensome.

The Supreme Court majority’s tendency to rule against workers and overturn workplace regulation is likely to embolden these groups to appeal any decisions not in their favor, causing even more delays and perhaps thwarting the rule altogether. So it’s unlikely that any federal heat standard would take effect for the next few summers, and perhaps even longer.

There are still ways to protect workers from the heat. States could pass and enforce laws requiring employers to take simple measures to keep workers safe during deadly heat waves. Five states — Washington, Minnesota, California, Oregon and Colorado — have already passed such measures, establishing important legal and ethical norms for employers. Additional states — New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts — are considering heat protection legislation. More states should follow suit; if Minnesota thinks it’s necessary to protect its workers from heat, steamier states like Georgia and Arizona should, too.

Most states’ legislative sessions are over, limiting the possibilities for this summer, but lawmakers can prepare now and address this issue as a first order of business next year. A quicker option involves passing emergency temporary regulations through state agencies like safety and health boards. Some state and local laws may become obsolete when and if an OSHA heat rule eventually takes effect, but in the meantime they will save lives.

Cities and other local governments can act, too, passing their own workplace heat protections. Phoenix recently enacted a local heat ordinance for city contractors’ outdoor employees. Unfortunately, this option is not available in certain states, most notably Texas and Florida. After Austin, Dallas and San Antonio passed modest heat ordinances in 2023 requiring employers to give outdoor construction workers regular water breaks, Gov. Greg Abbott supported and signed a barbaric law prohibiting local action on a wide range of matters, including workplace heat. Gov. Ron DeSantis followed suit this year in Florida. (A state court ruled the Texas pre-emption law unconstitutional last year, but it’s in effect while an appeal is pending.)

Government at all levels can educate the public about these issues, and model good practices by adopting heat safety policies for their own employees. Such actions can have a big impact: Well-intentioned employers may not know what preventive steps they should take; workers may not know what to ask for; and few members of the general public know the signs of heat exhaustion or stroke. The cities of Los Angeles and Phoenix and Miami-Dade County have appointed chief heat officers who can take on some of the work of educating residents about workplace heat.

Employers, for their part, should take the initiative to learn what’s needed in their workplaces and implement those measures. And advocates, consumers and activist shareholders can also pressure corporations or industries to act.

Unions and worker advocates are now regularly pressing for heat protections as part of their focus on occupational safety and health. The Teamsters won air-conditioning in trucks as well as other heat protections in their most recent collective bargaining agreement. The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is training workers to fight for protections. The Fair Food Program, a partnership among farmers, farmworkers and retail food companies that ensures better wages and working conditions, has among the strictest heat standards in the country for farmworkers.

In the face of the heat this week, and what’s sure to come this summer and beyond, a varied approach across different levels of government and society is the only realistic path for the immediate future. Every worker should come home safe at the end of the day, even on the hottest day of the year.

A changing climate, a changing world

Climate change around the world: In “Postcards From a World on Fire,” 193 stories from individual countries show how climate change is reshaping reality everywhere, from dying coral reefs in Fiji to disappearing oases in Morocco and far, far beyond.

The role of our leaders: Writing at the end of 2020, Al Gore, the 45th vice president of the United States, found reasons for optimism in the Biden presidency, a feeling perhaps borne out by the passing of major climate legislation. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been criticisms. For example, Charles Harvey and Kurt House argue that subsidies for climate capture technology will ultimately be a waste.

The worst climate risks, mapped: In this feature, select a country, and we’ll break down the climate hazards it faces. In the case of America, our maps, developed with experts, show where extreme heat is causing the most deaths.

What people can do: Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey describe the types of local activism that might be needed, while Saul Griffith points to how Australia shows the way on rooftop solar. Meanwhile, small changes at the office might be one good way to cut significant emissions, writes Carlos Gamarra.

More on heat waves:

Jeff Goodell: The Heat Wave Scenario That Keeps Climate Scientists Up at Night – June 3, 2024

‘New Territory’ for Americans: Deadly Heat in the Workplace – May 25, 2024

Zeke Hausfather: I Study Climate Change. The Data Is Telling Us Something New. – Oct. 13, 2023

Terri Gerstein is the director of the N.Y.U. Wagner Labor Initiative. Formerly, she was the labor bureau chief in the New York State Attorney General’s Office and a deputy commissioner in the New York State Department of Labor.

Earth’s rotating inner core is starting to slow down — and it could alter the length of our days

Live Science

Earth’s rotating inner core is starting to slow down — and it could alter the length of our days

Harry Baker – June 19, 2024

 The Earth's layers arranged like a Russian nesting doll in outer space.
Credit: Shutterstock

The heart of our planet has been spinning unusually slowly for the past 14 years, new research confirms. And if this mysterious trend continues, it could potentially lengthen Earth’s days — though the effects would likely be imperceptible to us.

Earth’s inner core is a roughly moon-size chunk of solid iron and nickel that lies more than 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) below our feet. It is surrounded by the outer core — a superhot layer of molten metals similar to those in the inner core — which is surrounded by a more solid sea of molten rock, known as the mantle, and the crust. Although the entire planet rotates, the inner core can spin at a slightly different speed as the mantle and crust due to the viscosity of the outer core.

Since scientists started mapping Earth’s inner layers with detailed seismic activity records around 40 years ago, the inner core has rotated slightly faster than the mantle and the crust. But in a new study, published June 12 in the journal Nature, researchers found that since 2010, the inner core has been slowing down and is now rotating a bit more slowly than our planet’s outer layers.

“When I first saw the seismograms that hinted at this change, I was stumped,” John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Southern California, Dornsife, said in a statement. “But when we found two dozen more observations signaling the same pattern, the result was inescapable.”

If the inner core’s rotation continues to decelerate, its gravitational pull could eventually cause the outer layers of our planet to spin a little more slowly, altering the length of our days the researchers wrote.

However, any potential change would be on the order of thousandths of a second, which would be “very hard to notice,” Vidale said. As a result, we would likely not have to change our clocks or calendars to adjust for this difference, especially if it were only a temporary change.

Related: ‘New hidden world’ discovered in Earth’s inner core

A diagram showing how the inner core can rotate compared to the mantle and crust
A diagram showing how the inner core can rotate compared to the mantle and crust

This is not the first time scientists have suggested that Earth’s inner core is slowing down. This phenomenon, known as “backtracking,” has been debated for around a decade but has been very hard to prove.

In the new study, researchers analyzed data from more than 100 repeating earthquakes — seismic events that occur repeatedly at the same location — along a tectonic plate boundary in the South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean between 1991 and 2023.

Each earthquake allowed scientists to map the core’s position relative to the mantle and by comparing these measurements, the team was able to see how the inner core’s rotation rate changed over time.

The new study is the “most convincing” evidence so far that backtracking has been happening, Vidale said.

It is currently unclear why the inner core is backtracking, but it is likely caused by either “the churning of the liquid iron outer core that surrounds it” or “gravitational tugs from the dense regions of the overlying rocky mantle,” the researchers wrote.

It is also unclear how frequent backtracking is. It is possible that the inner core’s spin is constantly accelerating and decelerating, but these changes likely happen over decades or longer. Therefore, longer data sets are needed to infer anything about long-term trends.

related stories

Mysterious new substance possibly discovered inside Earth’s core

Rare primordial gas may be leaking out of Earth’s core

Ancient ocean floor surrounds Earth’s core, seismic imaging reveals

The inner core remains one of the most mysterious of Earth’s hidden layers. But in recent years, new technologies are allowing researchers to learn more about the inner core, including that it is slightly lopsided, that it is softer than expected, that it potentially wobbles off Earth’s axis and that it has a separate innermost core.

The study authors will continue to analyze seismic data to learn more about the heart of our planet and how it changes over time.

“The dance of the inner core might be even more lively than we know,” Vidale said.

Extreme heat, wildfires and climate change are causing Canadians to feel heightened sense of eco anxiety: ‘How are we going to live?’

Yahoo! Style

Extreme heat, wildfires and climate change are causing Canadians to feel heightened sense of eco anxiety: ‘How are we going to live?’

Climate anxiety, ecological grief and solastalgia are terms used to describe the emotional distress caused by environmental changes.

Pia Araneta – June 19, 2024

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

FORT NELSON, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA - MAY 14: Smoke rises after fire erupts in Western Canada on May 14, 2024. Wildfires in Western Canada prompted thousands to flee their homes, while 66,000 were on standby to evacuate as a fast-moving blaze threatened another community Saturday. A growing wildfire moved relentlessly toward Fort Nelson, British Columbia (B.C.), resulting in officials ordering more than 3,000 to leave their homes in Fort Nelson and nearby Fort Nelson First Nation.Within five hours, the fire had grown to 8 square kilometers. (3 square miles) from a modest half square kilometer.Tinder dry conditions and flames fanned by powerful winds caused the wildfire to spread and prompted the evacuation order, which was issued at 7.30 p.m. (Photo by Cheyenne Berreault/Anadolu via Getty Images) climate fears
As wildfires continue to burn across the country, Canadians are sharing their climate fears. (Photo by Cheyenne Berreault/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Annie Malik, a 33-year-old living in London, Ont., often feels anxious or overwhelmed by the environmental state of the planet: Heatwaves in Pakistan — where she’s from — heat warnings and record-breaking temperatures in the summer coupled with mild winters in Canada and air pollution from wildfires that are becoming more common during the summer months.

“What is going to happen to the world? If the planet is inhabitable, how are we going to live?” said Malik.

Her family still resides in Pakistan, where air conditioning units are a luxury amid soaring temperatures and a spike in heat-related illnesses.

“There’s no way I can go back during the summers because I can’t handle the heat…People are dying every day in the summer,” said Malik, adding that she worries for her family.

Annie Malik, a 33-year-old living in London, Ont. said her biggest worry around climate change is her family in Pakistan. She can no longer visit during the hot summer months and she thinks about her family's survival. (Image provided by Annie Malik)
Annie Malik, a 33-year-old living in London, Ont. said her biggest worry around climate change is her family in Pakistan. She can no longer visit during the hot summer months and she thinks about her family’s survival. (Image provided by Annie Malik)

Malik’s sentiments are echoed by many Canadians who are feeling eco-anxious, or emotional from the effects of climate change, especially since last year’s record-breaking wildfires. According to a 2023 survey by Unite For Change, 75 per cent of Canadians are experiencing anxiety about climate change and its impacts.

If the planet is inhabitable, how are we going to live?Annie Malik

Yahoo Canada recently spoke to Canadians about their eco-anxiety, as well as a mental health expert on how to cope.

What is climate anxiety?

Climate anxietyecological grief and solastalgia are all similar terms to describe the emotional distress caused by environmental changes. The American Psychological Association defines it as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” and recognizes it as a legitimate increasing mental health concern.

Cree Lambeck, clinical director at Cherry Tree Counselling, offers eco-counselling services and said some clients can present with both physical and mental health symptoms from ecological issues. For example, someone might struggle with asthma and breathing issues from air pollution. “Other times a person can feel stress or really powerless around climate change,” said Lambeck.

What are the signs & symptoms of climate anxiety?

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, symptoms of eco-anxiety can include:

  • Feelings of depression, anxiety or panic
  • Grief and sadness over the loss of natural environments
  • Existential dread
  • Guilt related to your carbon footprint
  • Anger or frustration toward government officials
  • Obsessive thoughts about the climate

How to cope with climate anxiety

Heather Mak is a 42-year-old from Toronto who said she’s felt eco-anxious for well over a decade, which “can feel overwhelming.”

Mak transitioned out of a marketing career into the sustainability field, hoping she could take control of some of her anxieties. She’s currently in corporate sustainability, working with large businesses on environmental and social issues, and she runs a nonprofit called Diversity in Sustainability.

Heather Mak is a 42-year-old living in Toronto and she changed careers from marketing to sustainability. Mak said taking action in her work helps her cope with her eco-anxiety, but a side effect is that she can get burnt out from ongoing crises. (Image provided by Heather Mak)
Heather Mak is a 42-year-old living in Toronto and she changed careers from marketing to sustainability. Mak said taking action in her work helps her cope with her eco-anxiety, but a side effect is that she can get burnt out from ongoing crises. (Image provided by Heather Mak)

“How I try to deal with it is by taking action,” she said. “But then again, when you start working in this field, it’s almost like you can never sleep — because the scope of the issue just keeps getting bigger.”

How I try to deal with it is by taking action. Heather Mak

Last year, Mak heard about the Climate Psychology Alliance and started seeing a climate-aware psychologist to help her process some of her feelings from eco-anxiety, as well as burnout from her work.

As recommended by her psychologist, Mak tries to immerse herself in nature as much as possible to keep herself grounded. “There’s also groups called climate cafes,” said Mak. “I think just chatting with others who are going through the same thing really helps.”

Other times, Mak will channel her energy into writing letters to elected officials.

Set boundaries and concrete strategies: Expert

At Cherry Tree Counselling, Lambeck offers clients “walk and talk ecotherapy.” The sessions can be in-person or over the phone and both the therapist and client will chat outdoors.

Lambeck said many people access eco-counselling services, from adolescents to seniors. “People can experience [climate anxiety] throughout their lifespan and it can present in different ways — like with parenting,” said Lambeck. Some research has found that young adults are even hesitant to have kids due to climate change. “There’s a lot of existential worry associated with global crises.”

It’s important to take breaks and set those boundaries and practice self-care and find social support in those times.Cree Lambeck, clinical director at Cherry Tree Counselling

Considering environmental issues can impact many prongs in someone’s life, like family planning or lifestyle choices, Lambeck said she tries to offer clients practical tools and concrete strategies that might help tackle some of the turmoil. For instance, she might help target some ways a person can reduce their carbon footprint, identify some of their core values, or try to find opportunities or sustainable initiatives the person might be able to participate in.

“For some people, this can help provide a sense of empowerment or control if they’re feeling helpless. Engaging in meaning-focused coping and finding purpose,” Lambeck said.

Another strategy is to focus on boundary setting or limit the exposure of distressing news. “What is the balance between staying informed or excess consumption?” Lambeck said. Images of burning forests, oil spills and floods are plentiful and distressing and can exacerbate our eco-anxiety. “So it’s important to take breaks and set those boundaries and practice self-care and find social support in those times,” she adds.

Trump Rants About Sharks, and Everyone Just Pretends It’s Normal

The Atlantic

Trump Rants About Sharks, and Everyone Just Pretends It’s Normal

Par for the course. Trump is Trump. But imagine the response if Joe Biden had said it.

By Brian Klaas – June 12, 2024

A close-up of teeth
Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty.

Hours before meeting with his probation officer about his recent felony convictions, a leading candidate for U.S. president went on a bizarre rant about sharks.

Sharks, Donald Trump claimed, were attacking more frequently than usual (not true) and posed a newfound risk because boats were being required to use batteries (not true), which would cause them to sink because they were too heavy (really, really not true—the world’s heaviest cruise ship, the Icon of the Seas, managed to stay afloat because of the laws of physics despite weighing more than 550 million pounds).

Trump, undeterred by truth or science, invoked his intellectual credentials by mentioning his “relationship to MIT.” (Trump’s uncle was a professor at the university, pioneering rotational radiation therapy, which seems a somewhat tenuous connection for conferring shark- or battery-related expertise to his nephew.) If Trump had been able to ask his uncle about the risks of being electrocuted by a boat battery because, as Trump put it, “there’s a lot of electric current coming through that water,” perhaps the professor would have informed him that high-capacity batteries would rapidly discharge in seawater and pose minuscule risk to humans because the water conducts electricity far better than human bodies do.

Sharks appear to have troubled Trump’s mind for years. On July 4, 2013, Trump twice tweeted about them, saying, “Sorry folks, I’m just not a fan of sharks—and don’t worry, they will be around long after we are gone.” Two minutes later, he followed that nugget of wisdom with: “Sharks are last on my list—other than perhaps the losers and haters of the World!”

These deranged rants are tempting to laugh off. They’re par for the course. Trump is Trump. But Trump may also soon be the president of the United States. Imagine the response if Joe Biden had made the same rambling remarks, word for word. Consider this excerpt:

“I say, ‘What would happen if the boat sank from its weight and you’re in the boat and you have this tremendously powerful battery and the battery’s underwater, and there’s a shark that’s approximately 10 yards over there?’ By the way, a lot of shark attacks lately. Do you notice that? A lot of shark … I watched some guys justifying it today: ‘Well, they weren’t really that angry. They bit off the young lady’s leg because of the fact that they were not hungry, but they misunderstood who she was.’ These people are crazy.”

Coming from Biden, that exact statement might have prompted calls from across the political spectrum for him to drop out of the race. From Trump, it was a blip that barely registered. I’ve previously called this dynamic “the banality of crazy”: Trump’s ludicrous statements are ignored precisely because they’re so routine—and routine occurrences don’t drive the news. They are the proverbial “dog bites man” stories that get ignored by the press. Except that even this truism breaks down when it comes to the asymmetry between coverage of Trump and Biden: Based on Google News tallies, the news story about Biden’s dog biting a Secret Service agent spurred far more press coverage than Trump saying that he would order shoplifters to be shot without a trial if he became president.

Still, Trump appears to be benefiting from the sheer superfluity of crazy. At rallies, the former president makes stream-of-consciousness statements that would raise questions about the mental acuity of anyone who said them at, say, the tail end of a night at a neighborhood bar, but that somehow don’t generate the same level of concern within the press or the Republican Party when Trump says them in front of a cheering crowd. By contrast, when Biden makes a gaffe—mixing up a name or a date rather than, for example, suggesting that boats sink because they’re heavy—questions arise about his mental fitness to be president. A president who occasionally misspeaks is far less worrying than one who purveys delusional fantasies and conspiracy theories. Biden may gaffe, but he lives in reality; Trump often doesn’t.

Today, a prominent New York Times columnist called on one of the two candidates to drop out. Astonishingly, it wasn’t the authoritarian felon who inspired a violent mob to attack the Capitol, tried to overturn a democratic election, has been banned from doing business in New York due to fraud—and yet again showcased his loose grip on reality by ranting about sharks.

Brian Klaas is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and an associate professor of global politics at University College London.