Reality Check for Climate Change

There’s an important article about climate change in the latest IEEE Spectrum.  It’s only two pages long, but there is much to think about.  It is high time to recognize the reality of what we’re fighting.

The article points out that a reasonable estimate for the cost of the energy transition is $275 T.  That’s an enormous, almost unthinkable number.  It may well be right.

While the article itself is not big on drawing conclusions, it does have an important one: “because the world’s low-income countries could not carry such burdens, affluent nations would have to devote on the order of 15 to 20 percent of their annual economic product to the task.  Such shares are comparable only to the spending that was required to win World War II.”  We’ve talked about the “rest of the world” problem before, but without such dramatic support.   No one anywhere is talking about that level of effort.

In fact, as a nation, we still have the idea that climate change is a matter of every country (or state) putting its own house in order.  Once we’ve done our part, it’s up to everyone else to do theirs.  However we in the US have:

  • The highest per capita energy usage in the world.  Only Russia is close.
  • Close to the highest per capita GDP
  • Historically, still the biggest contribution to global CO2 and the climate mess we’re in

And somehow all we have to do is take care of ourselves?  And this can be handled as a small activity on the side?  There’s only one atmosphere, and with that mindset we’ll get nowhere.

Biden has finally started something, but there are still major barriers here.  Here are a few:

  • Oil company control of the Republican Party and many media outlets.  (Let’s call a spade a spade:  the Kochs—an oil services company—have complete control of the judiciary!)
  • Oil company propaganda about “individual responsibility” versus government action
  • Arrogance in the environment movement that has made climate a culture war item.
  • Splits in the environmental movement on needed electric infrastructure (supported by a kind religious faith in purely local solutions)
  • “America first” attitudes about aid to the rest of the world

Furthermore internationally the picture has continued to deteriorate:

  • Trump’s catastrophic renouncing of the Paris Agreement has been impossible to walk back.  He killed the idea of world unanimity, so cheating by Russia, Saudi Arabian and others is now the order of the day.
  • There are continuing and intensifying international fights over contributions of rich nations to the climate efforts of poorer ones.
  • Trump’s bullying view of international relations has been taken up with a vengeance by both Russia and China.  So most international discussion and cooperation is effectively dead.

Given the size of the problem and the limited time available, where do we go from here?

One recent answer came in a set of climate scenarios coming from Princeton University.  They claim that they have evaluated a comprehensive set of climate control approaches, but all of their options end up with a huge role for carbon capture. Maybe they were influenced by oil company money, but in any case they have given up on the energy transition itself!  And carbon capture on that (unproven) scale would end up in the same $275 T ballpark.

So the conclusion, I’m afraid, is that we can’t rule out geoengineering.  However distasteful and risky that may be, we’d better find out as much about it as we can   It is a fact (however often denied) that we don’t have all the technologies we need, and we’ve done a bad job with the ones we do have.  We may well have to buy time until we’re better able to cope.  But as we’ve said before, we’d better recognize that geoengineering has a drug-like dependency:  we can never get off of it until all that extra CO2 has been taken back out!

A Reality Check for Climate Change

There’s an important article about climate change in the latest IEEE Spectrum.  It’s only two pages long, but there is much to think about.  It is high time to recognize the reality of what we’re fighting.

The article points out that a reasonable estimate for the cost of the energy transition is $275 T.  That’s an enormous, almost unthinkable number.  It may well be right.

While the article itself is not big on drawing conclusions, it does have an important one: “because the world’s low-income countries could not carry such burdens, affluent nations would have to devote on the order of 15 to 20 percent of their annual economic product to the task.  Such shares are comparable only to the spending that was required to win World War II.”  We’ve talked about the “rest of the world” problem before, but without such dramatic support.   No one anywhere is talking about that level of effort.

In fact, as a nation, we still have the idea that climate change is a matter of every country (or state) putting its own house in order.  Once we’ve done our part, it’s up to everyone else to do theirs.  However we in the US have:

  • The highest per capita energy usage in the world.  Only Russia is close.
  • Close to the highest per capita GDP
  • Historically, still the biggest contribution to global CO2 and the climate mess we’re in

And somehow all we have to do is take care of ourselves?  And this can be handled as a small activity on the side?  There’s only one atmosphere, and with that mindset we’ll get nowhere.

Biden has finally started something, but there are still major barriers here.  Here are a few:

  • Oil company control of the Republican Party and many media outlets.  (Let’s call a spade a spade:  the Kochs—an oil services company—are in complete control of the judiciary!)
  • Oil company propaganda about “individual responsibility” versus government action
  • Arrogance in the environment movement that has made climate a culture war item.
  • Splits in the environmental movement on needed electric infrastructure (supported by a kind of religious faith in purely local solutions)
  • “America first” attitudes about aid to the rest of the world

Furthermore internationally the picture has continued to deteriorate:

  • Trump’s catastrophic renouncing of the Paris Agreement has been impossible to walk back.  He killed the idea of world unanimity, so cheating by Russia, Saudi Arabia and others is now the order of the day.
  • There are continuing and intensifying international fights over contributions of rich nations to the climate efforts of poorer ones.
  • Trump’s bullying view of international relations has been taken up with a vengeance by both Russia and China.  So most international discussion and cooperation is effectively dead.

Given the size of the problem and the limited time available, where do we go from here?

One recent answer came in a set of climate scenarios coming from Princeton University.  They claim that they have evaluated a comprehensive set of climate control approaches, but all of their options end up with a huge role for carbon capture. Maybe they were influenced by oil company money, but in any case they have given up on the energy transition itself!  And carbon capture on that (unproven) scale would end up in the same $275 T ballpark.

So the conclusion, I’m afraid, is that we can’t rule out geoengineering.  However distasteful and risky that may be, we’d better find out as much about it as we can.   It is a fact (however often denied) that we don’t have all the technologies we need, and we’ve done well short of what’s needed with the ones we do have.  We may have to buy time until we’re better able to get the job done.  But as we’ve said before, we’d better recognize that geoengineering has a drug-like dependency:  we can never get off of it until all that extra CO2 has been taken back out!

Urgent Messages

1.  From the Olympics

In the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics many speakers, notably IOC President Thomas Bach, pointed out the importance of the Olympics as a symbol of what can be possible when all countries of the world to come together in peace.  That sounds nice, but it’s probably more apt to think about what happened with the original version of the Olympics, which persisted for quite some time. That message is not so rosy.

The original Olympics functioned even more as a symbol of peace, because there was an actual truce during the Olympic period.  But the overall lesson of the Olympic experience was that good feelings are not enough.  The Olympics did not prevent the horrendously bloody and unnecessary Peloponnesian War, fought between prime participants Athens and Sparta. 

Symbols aren’t enough.  If we don’t work at peace, it won’t happen.  There are more than enough parallels of that past with the current situation between the US and China.  If you want peace you need to remove reasons for war.

2.  From the fires and floods worldwide:

Messaging about effects of climate change has been more than a little confused.   We read about how front-line communities will bear the worst of climate issues (true enough but that makes it someone else’s problem).  We see maps of how different countries or regions will be better or worse off.  The NYTimes once had an article asking readers to plug in numbers to see if they were rich enough to escape the worst.  The most frequent objection to the Paris Accords is that we need to go back and renegotiate a better deal.

Nature is telling us something else.  We’re all in this together, and there is nowhere to hide.  Scientists have correctly indicated the directions of change.  But the world has never been here before, so it’s impossible to predict every bad thing that is going happen and where.

What’s more, carbon dioxide just accumulates in the atmosphere, so climate effects are going to continue getting worse until we can stop burning fossil fuels.  There will be more and more unexpected phenomena with more and more damaging results.   All the talk of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere is not going to produce results any time soon (and even if it works will itself take monumental amounts of energy).  So there’s only one answer—migrating the world’s energy requirements to sustainable sources.

This has to happen worldwide and we have to work together.  It may be contrary to all of our normal modes of behavior, but if we don’t all win we’re going to lose.

In the end the two messages are largely the same. We’ve fought two world wars, and now we’ve now got a third one against climate change. We have to learn how to behave when we’re all–unavoidably–on the same side.

Patterns of Thought

A friend of mine once told me a simple story:  as a teenager he found out that as his body grew and aged, many of his body’s cells would die and be replaced.  He found it a little scary to think that his body would change from now to some different future version of himself.  Then he thought—you can change out hard drives and even memory sometimes from working computer applications.  So it’s really not so odd that happens to the body too.  As with the application, a person’s consciousness continues on.

That teenage revelation wipes away centuries of philosophical speculation about what makes for personal identity and mind-body duality.  My friend was quite a smart guy, but that wasn’t the point.  The issue was that he had a model for thinking about those issues, and that model simply hadn’t been available earlier. 

Earlier generations thought about something called soul, but they had a hard time coming up with a description of what that was.  They knew it was different (one thinks of medieval paintings where the soul departs as a puff of smoke from a dying body), but there was nowhere to put it.  They needed God or some other ineffable external answer to explain it.  Science wasn’t much help, because there was no physical organ that could be identified with the soul.  However today we are confronted regularly with software processes (without physical manifestation) running on execution environments.  While there is a lot we still don’t know about how the brain works, there is no question that consciousness is such a system.  Soul, in that sense, is real—despite persisting confusion on the subject.

You can push this further.  Plato worried about forms, the abstractions we use to understand reality.  In what sense are they real objects?  We use them, but generalities by definition can’t be represented by specific physical objects.  That’s the same issue.   Any software system has internal objects that it operates upon.  Those are perfectly real within the operation of the application, but they have no physical presence.  There is a lot still to be learned about the objects of consciousness, but you don’t have to wonder about where to look.  

That leads to many interesting questions for both philosophy and science.  What can we say about the different classes of objects of thought?  What is specifically human?  Which of those objects are universally human (what is beauty?), what are hereditary but not universal, what are purely personal, as we each classify our experience.  Maybe it’s not the objects but the way of distinguishing them that’s universal?  (A child can learn what a dog is from very few examples.)  What exactly is unique about the cerebral cortex, and to what extent is it a blank slate at birth?  Is it possible that we are actually loading the equivalent of DNA-encoded software!?

To continue, another area where science helps with patterns of thought is probability.  We don’t like to think that way, but life is all about probabilities. Quantum mechanics tells us that even physical reality is in fact (at least at a microscopic level) indeterminate.  All you can say is that a quantum object may be in one of a number of states with given probabilities.  The point here is not that quantum mechanics itself governs our daily lives—it usually doesn’t.  But the world requires much more probabilistic mindset than we like to think.

We want badly to live in a world of causality, where we can organize our lives about “this does that”.  When someone gives us probabilities, we tend to react by taking the most probable item to be a sure thing.  And when causality breaks down we’re uncomfortable.  I think about the novel “The Goldfinch” where a particular immoral act ends up having good consequences, and the narrator announces that morality is a sham.

The world we live in is fundamentally probabilistic, and that affects many classical concerns.  Essentially all discussions of freewill and predestination tacitly assume that causality is straightforward.  In fact not even an all-powerful God can know exactly what is going to happen.  A human being’s current state includes everything in memory and all current impulses, conscious or unconscious.  What happens as a result of all of that is not only phenomenally complicated, it is fundamentally non-deterministic. 

The same kind of reasoning applies in many different areas—morality or political theory, say.  Much as we would like to live in a world where we can identify absolute good, that’s just the wrong model for reality.  The best we can do is probabilities in particular circumstances.

Finally, quantum mechanics is also an example of how we can get deluded by inappropriate application of scientific models.  All of the endless discussions of multiple universes and alternative realities are unsubstantiated nonsense.  When a quantum object is described as being in one of a number of possible states (because we haven’t checked yet), that doesn’t mean those potential states are all real.  It’s a trick of language—an unobserved state is not a state, it’s just part of a mathematical model for what might or might not happen.  There is no real state until a result is observed.  There are no parallel universes where all those other possible states are real.  There is no inconceivable infinity of parallel universes, with a new one created every time there is an option of outcomes created somewhere.

Similarly there is no inconceivable infinity of parallel universes where past moments from everywhere are somehow preserved and active.  Time travel, however intriguing, is imaginary.  It’s not just that we don’t know how to do it.  It’s that the past and the future simply don’t exist!

Reasons to be Thankful

It may be the day after Thanksgiving, but it’s worth thinking more about reasons to be thankful.

Hopefully we can make it through the next few weeks until the Electoral College meets and Biden takes office.  If that happens there are good reasons to be optimistic.

– The coronavirus siege will end.  It looks like the vaccines will work and can be manufactured.  We have all kinds of logistical problems to solve, but we will get out of this and move on (having killed off far too many in the interim).  You can contrast that with the despair when Obama took office, and it wasn’t clear when or if we were ever going to get out.

– As a result, economies will start doing better.  This will happen sooner if Republican don’t try to sabotage it and make recovery unnecessarily painful (as they did last time), but it should happen eventually in any case.  That can give us a second chance at what ought to have happened under Trump.  Trump’s economic policy of a deficit-funded bubble in good times (an unprecedented act of self-serving immorality) wasted the chance to rebuild national infrastructures.  We should have a chance at prosperity and wise use of its opportunities.  That would be good for everyone.

– The virus should provide ample incentive for progress on the many festering issues of international governance.  Regardless of what anyone says, the virus showed how bad it can get when there is no effective means of dealing with a critical world-wide problem.  Climate change is the prime example, but there are many other issues with globalization that need work.  A Biden administration has a chance of dealing with international standards for trade, labor, environmental protection, etc.  There is tremendous upside to this—defusing the climate crisis, worldwide economic growth, diminished domestic unrest, reduced threat of war.

None of this is guaranteed, but we have a chance.  By the skin of our teeth we have managed to beat back fascism in this country.  That’s no small achievement, and if we’re diligent and lucky there can be dividends.

Democratic Unity

The press is hard at work speculating why the current truce among Democratic factions is more apparent than real.  That may of course turn out to be true, but the real story seems the other way around—how the Covid crisis has improved the prospects for party unity.  I’d even go beyond that.  It has forced a common Democratic program that is more complete than anything we’ve had before.

This is necessarily theory, but there is logic to it.  Consider a few topics:

– Magnitude of the effort.

Any meaningful approach to Covid unemployment and climate change will be massive.  The scale is so large it’s hard even to formulate rational differences among factions.

– Jobs.

Previously the left wanted tariff protection and the center wanted retraining and support.  The answer now is something else—federal jobs.  Lots of them.  We still need to worry about trade, but that can become a matter for the WTO, where there is a real opportunity to go after all the factors that need to be taken into account.  We’ll still need retraining, but now we’re talking about real, waiting jobs better adapted the people we’re trying to help.

This is not just a temporary issue.  With Covid we’ve seen the limits of what the private sector can do.  There’s no question about the magnitude of our needs, and people must be hired to meet them.

– Healthcare

After Covid, it’s clear that an employer-based system is no solution.  Everyone wants to cover the whole population with a program that somehow or other grows out of Medicare.  The discussion is now about tactics, not policy.  Since this new form of Medicare is a non-trivial change, it seems reasonable to start with something less than a full flash-cut.  So we’re down to the size of the initial population group.  Is it really worth fighting about the 60-65 starting age group?

– Education

The Federal Government has stiffed the states and punted on federal help for the overwhelming job of reopening the schools.  Fixing this is real work.  We need Covid help, adequate state funding of K-12, keeping colleges and universities afloat, paying off student debt, and more.  At this stage you can’t really talk about factions, just a hope to make it right.

– Climate change

The current Biden proposal is the best I’ve seen yet. It even recognizes the importance of the international aspect—we need a new model for international cooperation or we will all fail.   There have been past differences of approach, but at this stage we need all of the above.

– Racial justice and national unity

This is obviously more than a Covid item.  But in any case events have made it an aspirational item for the party and even the country as a whole.  Differences may come, but for now there is commitment on all sides.

In all of these areas the biggest issues are actually planning and management—not partisanship.  These programs are not make-work precisely because there is so much that needs to be done.  We have to be the diametrical opposite of the corruption and self-dealing of the Trump people.  That’s a challenge all right, but one that all sides should be ready to embrace.

The Green New Deal is Our Moment

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“Earth” by kristian fagerström is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The name “Green New Deal” has become more apt than ever.  It was always a good idea to emphasize that fighting climate change can bring important benefits elsewhere in society.  However, post Covid-19 the name means more.

We’re in a deep hole, and both “New Deal” and “Green” are now policy imperatives.  That means we have to think more broadly about what the Green New Deal needs to be.  A new New Deal with a climate focus is the way out.

This isn’t a matter of changing the legislation but of realizing its aspirations.  There is much that was left deliberately unspecified in the initial draft.  Here are some suggestions for what there needs to be.

  1. We need a national plan.

The two recent stimulus measures (whatever their value) are examples of what we cannot afford to keep doing—quickly hacked-together combinations of incomplete and conflicting policies with problems in implementation.

Green New Deal is huge undertaking.  The climate side alone is a combination of many rapidly-changing technologies with major architectural choices and all sorts of issues with competing interests and local versus national administration.  In the new scope we have even more to do in making sure that our choices deliver economic and social benefits.  Business isn’t going to do it.  State and local interests aren’t going to do it.

The Green New Deal proposal already talks about modernizing the electrical grid.  That’s important but not the whole story.  We need a comprehensive plan including priorities at each stage of development. That effort needs to be funded, competent, and free of corruption.  It will take an organization charged with planning (starting even now) and a feedback process to work with all constituencies.

  1. Don’t limit the scope of jobs.

It’s true that fighting climate change will create many jobs.  But that was never the end of the story.  The country needs infrastructure of all kinds—and not just roads and bridges.  Education and healthcare are infrastructure too.  We don’t need make-work or “universal basic income” to stimulate the recovery; we just need the work that needs to be done.

The American Society of Civil Engineers keeps a website with a breakdown of national infrastructure requirements.  We currently rate a D+, and the inventory of problems is long.  We also need to restore our much-diminished upward mobility, through education and healthcare as mentioned but also with more mundane needs such as public transportation.  As a practical matter we also need daycare.

We also need to worry about the negative side—job loss.  The changes in fighting climate change will be significant; you only have to think how many people will be affected by the move to electric cars.  We have to guarantee that people will be made whole and plan how we’re going to do it.

  1. This really can be a locomotive for social justice.

The original New Deal was also conscious of this kind of goal, for example in bringing all regions of the country into the 20th century.  However its impact was more limited in matters of race or national origin.  For those we needed an even bigger national project—the mobilization of the population in World War II—to achieve some success (though blacks were explicitly excluded).  For many groups US history divides neatly into before and after World War II.

World War II was enough of a success to say it can be done.  The Green New Deal has to provide equal opportunity for everyone—again without corruption.  Fighting both climate change and a depression will require all of our resources in another nationwide battle against an existential threat.  Everyone has a part.

  1. This isn’t the 1930’s (any more than it was the 1950’s).

MAGA was a failed attempt to return the US to the 1950’s.  The failure was explicit: manufacturing was in recession before the virus hit, and essentially no jobs were ever brought home.  We have to be careful not to make a similar mistake about the 1930’s. This is a different economy.  As we’ve noted before, the transition of the US economy from manufacturing to services is a long-term trend with strong reasons to continue.

More and more companies are functionally software companies—with no skilled manufacturing career paths.  Amazon’s warehouse workers are not on track to the corporate offices in Seattle.  We can raise the minimum wage, but no combination of tariffs or other government policies is going to change the need to educate everyone for the good jobs that will exist.  We need a safety net and stronger unions, but above all we need to give people the tools to succeed.

We also need to think about government revenue in a different way.  Software companies are different—there is a strong tendency to monopoly, and cost of production is much less of an issue than product differentiation. Successful companies will tend to be highly international and with monopoly power.   The high profit margins and barriers to competition mean they should be taxable, but–as amply demonstrated by Apple—it’s seriously hard to do it.  That’s an international problem that needs to be solved.

  1. Don’t shortchange the international side.

Discussions of climate change tend to be parochial—solar panels on the house, then state issues, then national issues, and usually not beyond.  It’ll be tough to get carbon neutral, but then our job will be done; it’s up to everyone else to do the same.

In fact international issues are at least as important.  We control at most 15% of what happens to our atmosphere.  Our per capita energy consumption is twice anyone else’s, and we are by most measures the richest country in the world; it’s simply not going to happen that the rest of the world will just take care of itself.  We will need to be involved internationally, both for the underlying technologies and for their deployment.

The only international framework that exists for climate is the Paris Agreement.  That is entirely based on voluntary compliance in service of a common need.  There is no other mechanism.  We can’t bomb or tariff our way out of it.  We have to make it work.  Solving climate is a cooperative venture.

At worst this is a mess.  At best it is a model for international cooperation in other areas as well (trade, labor standards, taxation, environment standards).  The unanimity of the Paris Agreement was a major achievement of the Obama people.  The collapse of discussions since we opted out shows the risk.

  1. Need to create ongoing institutions.

For any activity with a fixed target—such as keeping carbon dioxide under the scientists’ limit—there is a tendency to think of reaching a new era where problems will finally be behind us. That’s a dangerous mindset.  For one thing it can produce a kind of eco-paralysis—with so many problems to be solved at once that you can’t make progress on anything.  (The recent Michael Moore movie is a symptom.)

More generally we have to recognize that even though we’re solving an existential problem for mankind, that will still leave plenty to do.  Having enough clean energy will help in many areas, but even for the environment we won’t finish all the problems we know.  And there will always be new issues beyond that.  So part of the job is making sure we will have the right institutions to go forward.

On the domestic side that means strengthening the regulatory agencies we have, and determining what is missing.  It’s possible that we will need more direct federal supervision or even operation of the power grid, for example.  We certainly need decades worth of large-scale spending on energy research.

On the international side there is also much to be done.  It should be recognized that the Covid-19 crisis was less an act of God than a failure of international governance.  China’s quarantine of Wuhan should have been matched by coordinated actions of other countries throughout the world.  That such an obvious consequence didn’t happen shows the vacuum created by the US abdication of power.  It also shows how we cause ourselves to suffer.

Most international institutions were our creation.  We had learned that the best way to exercise power was with rules we were willing to obey for ourselves.  We’ve now rejected that approach.  However, as a country, we have actual historical experience with such a situation.  The Articles of Confederation after the Revolutionary War almost destroyed the US before it could get started.  The solution was not more chaos, but an appropriate structure for success.

There’s another historical parallel worth mentioning.  After the second World War the US experienced unprecedented prosperity brought on in part by our rebuilding of Europe, including Germany.  The Marshall Plan paid real dividends.  The world has a similar opportunity in the developing middle classes of China, India, Korea, and elsewhere.  Instead we’re fighting a non-productive economic war with China that neither country will win, but virtually everyone will lose.  That’s not to say we have no issues with China, but in our eagerness for war we’ve shot ourselves in the foot.

The Green New Deal has become the defining task for our national moment.  For many issues—economic, political, racial, environmental, international—it represents a coherent way forward.  It is not the same task as the original New Deal, but certainly as challenging in its scope.  We have to recognize that we have it in our power to create a bright future for ourselves and for humanity.  The founding fathers of this country rose to their occasion.  Will we?

 

Back to Normal from Covid-19

There has been much discussion of how to manage Covid-19 virus infections during the return to normal life.  There are many issues, but one in particular stands out for comment.

That issue comes from the much-noted age dependence of the virus death rate.  By now we’ve had plenty of experience of how this works.  For people under 50, the Covid-19 risk is similar to normal flu.  50-60 means more risk but still relatively small.  Over 60 it starts getting significantly worse, with the death rate more or less doubling for each ten years of age.  Pre-existing conditions make matters worse, but the age effect is still huge.  (There may be other categories of people worthy of attention, but that’s beyond the scope here.)

Overall reducing the death rate is primarily a matter of reducing the death rate for older people.  However, as a practical matter, focusing on the elderly is quite a big job.   If we’re going to protect the elderly from the virus at the very least we need to:  find them all, deliver food and other goods for them, assure fully-competent staff and daily testing at nursing homes.   No one is currently doing that.  On the contrary, death rates at nursing homes are scandalous, and individuals are largely left to manage themselves.  In Massachusetts as of this writing 610 of 1245 deaths were from nursing homes. Our extra hour of food shopping reserved for people over 60 is hardly a solution.

For the first bout with Covid-19 there has been neither the time nor the testing capability for such a strategy.  The countries that originally opted for “herd immunity”—with whatever they could do to protect the elderly—had to back off because of deaths.  The only alternative to catastrophe was to limit the spread of the virus in the population as a whole.  (There is a whole subculture of right-wing columnists claiming there was never a reason for the shutdowns, because it’s just a “simple” problem of isolating the elderly—without any proposals at all for how to do it.  For people who don’t go for that, there’s a different subculture dedicated to the proposition that the Covid-19 virus was never a problem to begin with!)

The point of this note is to recognize that the situation is different for the return to normality.  A focus on the elderly is both an obligation and an opportunity.  The obligation is that we just have to start doing a better job of protecting them.  It may be a logistical nightmare (only 5% of people aged 65+ are in nursing homes), but it’s a well-defined problem to be addressed with time, money, and commitment.  Testing is getting better.  It might even take the National Guard.  But we can certainly make things better if we start now.  We can call the right-wing’s bluff and spend the money to do it.

The opportunity of course is that reducing the elderly death rate will help ride through the ups and downs in new Covid-19 cases as people come back into the workforce.  People will still be getting sick, but children can go to school and parents can go to restaurants without risking anyone’s lives.  Whatever money is spent will be earned back in transition time.

This has to happen, it has to be fully-funded, and it has to start now.  “Flattening the curve” was essential to surviving the first onslaught of the virus.  For the return to normality, it’s “protecting the elderly” that will keep a difficult process going.