Friday, November 19, 2021

Being part of the solution is going to create tremendous value

 “Being part of the solution is going to create tremendous value”

Those were the words of Mark Carney today (UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, prior Governor Bank of England, Governor Bank of Canada), when speaking about COP 26 today.  It was a great summary, so I’ll grab a few highlights.

Paris was about pledging to 2C with a stretch goal of 1.5C.  Glasgow was about pledging to 1.5C.  There was a serious commitment to this new number now that the science has clarified the consequences of even a 2C raise.  Global policy is currently putting us (roughly) on a 2.6C trajectory, so there is a gap between policy and 1.5C pledges.  In Mark’s opinion, that gap is going to close, and it’s only going one way - with policy driving towards 1.5C.

A consequence of this is that there is a push, in totality, for net zero emissions, with a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, so things are going to happen in a big way in the short term.  This will be led by the financial community (which was led by a sub-sector of the financial community - the insurance industry - which have been noticing the consequences of climate change for a while).  Every financial institution of serious scale, either debt or equity, is going to own the emissions of their investments.  If a bank loans money to a company, they are going to own the financial liability of the Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 emissions of that company.  Because of that, financial institutions are going to be asking pointed questions to the companies that they work with, which will start with the large public companies, and work downwards.  Those companies, to meet financial compliance, will then ask questions of their supply chain, and make purchasing decisions based on that information.  This chain of Finance —> Corporates —> Suppliers is the lever that moves the world.  He gave even just a simple example of a large fast casual restaurant being asked these questions, digging into their supply chain, and discovering, of all things, vast differences in carbon footprints of their various feta cheese suppliers, causing them to shift purchasing decisions in that part of their supply chain.  As Mark then said, about 90% of global emissions are going to be covered by this dynamic, which then forces financial institutions to question whether they want to move their business to the 10% that is remaining, or whether they are going to be part of this change.

Finally, when discussing the speed of these changes, he said, “We need quantum leaps in climate finance”.  I love what is happening in the financial world.  Long vilified (and reasonably warranted), the financial community is such a powerful force for change, it gives me great hope.  It also gives me great pride for my ability to have Thin Line Capital be a small part of pushing on this lever.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Amanda Gorman - Earthrise

In late August, 2018, I had the privilege of seeing Amanda Gorman, Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, read this poem, Earthrise, at the Los Angeles Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training on Tuesday.  It was thrilling to see in person, and I'm glad that I can share with you the video and transcript.

Because an environmental movement of this size 
Is simply another form of an earthrise.

Amanda Gorman

(Transcript taken from the North American Association for Environmental Education)

Our Purpose in Poetry:
Or, Earthrise

Dedicated to Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project 

On Christmas Eve, 1964, astronaut Bill Anders 
Snapped a photo of the earth
As Apollo 8 orbited the moon.
Those three guys 
Were surprised
To see from their eyes
Our planet looked like an earthrise
A blue orb hovering over the moon’s gray horizon, 
with deep oceans and silver skies. 

It was our world’s first glance at itself 
Our first chance to see a shared reality, 
A declared stance and a commonality; 

A glimpse into our planet’s mirror,
And as threats drew nearer,
Our own urgency became clearer,
As we realize that we hold nothing dearer 
than this floating body we all call home. 

We’ve known
That we’re caught in the throes
Of climactic changes some say
Will just go away,
While some simply pray
To survive another day;
For it is the obscure, the oppressed, the poor, 
Who when the disaster
Is declared done,
Still suffer more than anyone. 

Climate change is the single greatest challenge of our time, 

Of this, you’re certainly aware.
It’s saddening, but I cannot spare you
From knowing an inconvenient fact, because
It’s getting the facts straight that gets us to act and not to wait. 

So I tell you this not to scare you, 
But to prepare you, to dare you 
To dream a different reality, 

Where despite disparities
We all care to protect this world,
This riddled blue marble, this little true marvel 
To muster the verve and the nerve
To see how we can serve
Our planet. You don’t need to be a politician
To make it your mission to conserve, to protect, 
To preserve that one and only home
That is ours,
To use your unique power
To give next generations the planet they deserve. 

We are demonstrating, creating, advocating 
We heed this inconvenient truth, because we need to be anything but lenient
With the future of our youth. 

And while this is a training,
in sustaining the future of our planet, 
There is no rehearsal. The time is 
Because the reversal of harm,
And protection of a future so universal 
Should be anything but controversial. 

So, earth, pale blue dot 
We will fail you not. 

Just as we chose to go to the moon 
We know it’s never too soon
To choose hope.
We choose to do more than cope 
With climate change 
We choose to end it—
We refuse to lose.
Together we do this and more
Not because it’s very easy or nice
But because it is necessary,
Because with every dawn we carry
the weight of the fate of this celestial body orbiting a star. 
And as heavy as that weight sounded, it doesn’t hold us down, 
But it keeps us grounded, steady, ready, 
Because an environmental movement of this size 
Is simply another form of an earthrise. 

To see it, close your eyes.
Visualize that all of us leaders in this room
and outside of these walls or in the halls, all
of us changemakers are in a spacecraft,
Floating like a silver raft
in space, and we see the face of our planet anew.
We relish the view;
We witness its round green and brilliant blue,
Which inspires us to ask deeply, wholly:
What can we do?
Open your eyes.
Know that the future of
this wise planet
Lies right in sight:
Right in all of us. Trust
this earth uprising.
All of us bring light to exciting solutions never tried before
For it is our hope that implores us, at our uncompromising core, 
To keep rising up for an earth more than worth fighting for.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Climate Justice with Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson

We've been so focused on our acute, global catastrophe, that it's always good to pull back and occasionally check in on our long-term global catastrophe - climate change.  The effects of Covid-19, and the global response to Covid-19, have shown us what can happen in an interconnected world, and more importantly, how, as an interconnected world, solutions need to be cooperative and inclusive.  It is in both the best interests of the human race for us to work together, but it is in each of our *own* self-interests for us to work together as well, and I would like to keep speaking about that topic.  It is a topic called Climate Justice, and I was first introduced to the idea at the Los Angeles training for the 2018 group of Climate Reality Leaders, with Al Gore, where I was participating as a mentor.

This video I'm attaching is an interesting discussion, which speaks a lot about climate justice.  It is with the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, moderated by Ibrahim AlHusseini, Founder and Managing Partner of Full Cycle, a growth fund targeting climate solutions.  Ibrahim and I met at USC when I was just in the initial phases of getting Thin Line Capital started.

Rather than tell you too much about the video, I just want to share with you this one quote from President Robinson.  I think it's magnificent:

We shouldn’t have the image of climate change being the polar bear on a melting ice floe…

it should be a woman, desperate because she can’t get enough food or water.

A very different image…

Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson
July, 2020

It's almost an hour, but well worth watching:

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Where We Are Now - and what about July 4?

"Everybody sharing graphs and charts"
 -Steven Page, Isolation

First off, I want to thank everyone who appreciated my prior post, so this follow-up is for you.  I spend a lot of time looking at charts and graphs and I have no illusions that everyone else does that.  So, I wanted to let people know exactly where we are right now.  This coming weekend celebrates when, 244 years ago, “one people” chose to dissolve their prior allegiance and set up a new government - one that, four score and seven years later (87 years), would be described as “government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people”.  While people talk about individual liberties, this country was founded as a group that felt that they could collectively determine their own destiny.  We need to come together as a group to beat this.  To quote Lincoln again:

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

While some might argue that this danger has come from abroad, the result is the same.  We ourselves are responsible for finishing it. 

Let’s see how we’re doing.

First, let’s look at LA County’s numbers.  As of today, July 2, we have been averaging roughly 2400 new cases per day, the highest we’ve ever been (Chart 1).  Back *in early April* I was hoping that we were seeing evidence of recovery, but not only are we not out of the woods, we haven’t even found our peak.  There are over 107,000 people known to be infected.  At a population of 10million, that puts the number of infected at about 1 person in 100.  The CDC says that, due to untested asymptotic carriers (that is, people who are sick and can infect others, but have no symptoms, so they don’t know it), the number could be up to 10x higher.  California is testing a lot, so let’s assume the current infectious pool is 2x-10x higher.  That puts the number of infected between 1-in-50 and 1-in-10.

Think about that.  If you go out to get a coffee today, or pop by the grocery store, did you see 50 people from the time you left your door until the time you got home?  If so, statistically speaking, one of them was infected.  Were you closer than six feet to them?  Did both of you have masks?  When you realize that infection isn’t some abstract concept, but a mathematical certainty, I hope it helps you examine your behavior.  If you are invited to a backyard party this weekend - how many people will be there?  If you *knew* that someone there could get you and your family sick, would you still go?
1 in 100 confirmed; 1-in-50 to 1-in-10 possible.  That is where we are in LA County right now.

Let’s turn to Pasadena (Chart 2).  From the start of this, until the end of May, Pasadena had a real tragedy with cases burning through elderly care centers.  A large, compromised population, in close proximity to one another, was a real tragedy.  However, it also blinded us to the larger danger, and in early June our infection rate dropped.  But that’s not the case any longer.  In the last half of June, infections have been increasing again, this time in the regular population.  Our 7-day average is now over 20 new cases a day, and just like LA, is not slowing down.  It’s easy to dismiss a disease as “only for old people”, but that’s not true anymore.  While the majority of deaths are our elderly population, there’s no indication that young people are immune from getting the disease.  This is happening and it is spreading through our city - affecting your neighbors, your friends, and your family.

By the way, the probability of death is more a function of co-morbidities, than age.  It’s just that older people tend to have more combined diseases.  However, one that isn’t correlated with age is obesity - this is actually killing more *younger* people who get infected.  So, it’s false to assume that younger people are safe.

One other aside before we continue - just because someone who is infected with Covid-19 survives, doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer tremendously.  There’s a large range between “asymptomatic” and “death”, and having permanently scarred lungs, but surviving, isn’t a winning scenario - one faced by many young people who are misled into feeling they are safe.

What about the increased testing?  The argument that increased testing causes increased cases (and, therefore, by extension, we don’t need to do anything) is misleading - however, it highlights why we need to focus on chart 3.  This is the data for all of California, not just LA or Pasadena.  California has been doing a great job in increased testing.  We are fighting an invisible enemy and testing lets us see where it is.  Back in April we tested maybe 20,000 cases per day and recently we’ve been testing over 100,000.  However, in a state of 40 million people, that’s still a small drop in the bucket.

Now, with those tests, if the number of actual infected stays the same, but our testing goes up, then the percent of tests that are new cases should go down.  We want that number to be less than 5%, and then we want to watch as it goes to 3%, 2%, 1%, and then finally zero.  No new cases, we’ve beaten this thing.  If the number is greater than 5%, and if it is going up, then that means the virus is expanding faster than our testing - we can’t find all of the infected, and it’s blowing up.  One week ago it was 5.3%, yesterday it was *11.2%*.  What little control California had is being undone.  This is why the Stay at Home orders are being reinitiated.  We aren’t winning this battle.  We can see it’s exactly the opposite and it is time for people to get serious.

So, what does that mean for this coming weekend?  Our chance to celebrate the document that dictated that we were a group of people, free to self-govern?  I think we should reflect upon our history.  Admiral Yamamoto of the Japanese Imperial Navy is oft-quoted as saying, post the Pearl Harbor attack:

I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.

We need to awaken and fill ourselves with resolve that we are indeed under attack, and that the time for half-measures is over.  This whole time, had everyone taken this seriously, we could have ended this in a month.  Support your country by doing what L.A. County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer says - stay home with your family this weekend and keep yourself safe.  You are not a victim of tyranny (we fought that 244 years ago); instead you are a part of the legacy of that effort and by isolating, keeping distant, wearing a mask, and recognizing the truly dire situation that we are in, you, and all of us as Americans - especially this weekend - can be what Lincoln called the “finisher” of this collective threat.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

There is no finish line

Back in early 1980s, Nike came out with a brilliant print ad.  It's extremely hard to find, so I've included a copy of it here. 

This ad was foundational for the formation of my fund.  I couldn't even really remember the ad fully when I began Thin Line Capital, but I knew that it had to do with perseverance, and a commitment to loftier goals.  Rereading it now makes me feel that it captures the essence of another brilliant quote from literature - Tennyson's Ulysses:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Yes, we *are* strong in the will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.  Right now we are facing a global pandemic, causing death and destruction greater than any recent war.  The consequences of the response to the pandemic (or, should I say, the necessary response given the initial failed response) has caused unemployment rivaling the Great Depression.  Furthermore, a string of racially motivated killings, and police brutality, on the heels of three and a half years of fascist rhetoric has spilled out into the streets with the last eight days of protests and unrest.  As others have said, 2020 is the worst of 1918 (Spanish Flu), 1929 (Great Depression) and 1968 (Race riots). 

However, our charge is not to complain about the race to be run.  Instead, it is to recognize that race and run it well.  In the US we like to talk about forming "a more perfect union".  However, this has also given rise to recognition globally of changes that need to be made in other countries.  To quote Dr. King - the arc of the universe may be long, but it bends towards justice.  And in what we do, and it all we do, we must recognize that there is no finish line.  There is no point where we quit and stop and say that we are done.  Instead, we recognize that excellence in anything requires the motivation not to compete against some outside force, but to pursue excellence for the sake of excellence.  To pursue justice for the sake of justice.  And to pursue a better world for those that come after us as service to those who come after us. 

I love the last line, and I think it's key for any driven person:

"Beating the competition is relatively easy.  But beating yourself is a never ending commitment."

Friday, May 01, 2020

The Importance of Data Clarity

“3.6 Roentgen.
    Not Great, Not Terrible”

     - Anatoly Dyatlov (Chernobyl, HBO, 2019)

So, I posted my last results for Los Angeles to my neighborhood on Nextdoor.  With traditional Nextdoor diplomacy, one of the neighbors said that the data was useless.  While I argued that it was worthwhile to examine the data regardless, as it was the best that we had, I thought this post should show the effect of limited testing on data quality, in particular with the state of California.

The quote I used at the start of this article, of course, is a reference to the amazing HBO miniseries, Chernobyl.  The authorities had been making decisions based on a meter that had, as its highest reading, a radiation dose of 3.6 Roentgen.  Later in the show we see that the true value was 15,000, not 3.6.  What does this mean for us?  I think we experienced a similar event.

As much as I would like to say otherwise, the numbers for Los Angeles since April 20 have been terrible.  On April 20 alone, the number of cases shot up by 1,475 (the previous highest ever single day increase before then was “only” 711).  I tried to tell myself that this was because of a surge of reported cases due to a long-standing backlog.  And, to some extent, this was true.  The new case numbers began to fall, finally getting back to 461 new cases on April 26.  However, they have begun what cannot be disputed as an inexorable climb, resulting in 1,033 new cases reported today, May 1.

How can there be good news in this?  How can we say we’ve even peaked?  Much less that we are declining?  Is there any hope? 

The answer, it appears, is that there is.

I always knew that our testing limitations were affecting the data, but I had no way of knowing how.  I knew that, behind the numbers, was the bias that the amount of testing each day was not constant, and therefore the new cases would be skewed by this number.  It’s very interesting to see how much that was the case.

Let’s zoom out a bit, from Los Angeles, to California as a whole.  Using data on testing, shown here, we observe a few things.  The first is that around April 22, there were over 165,000 new case results (the previous numbers were closer to 20,000 new tests/day).  This caused the massive spike, as indeed, there were over a week’s worth of data coming in in one day.

But, what’s really interesting is if we plot the number of new cases as a percent of the number of new tests.  Every time we see 100% we have our “3.6 Roentgen” moment.  We report that many new cases because that’s how many new tests we had.  The *actual* new cases were much, much more.

We’ve been reading from a pegged-out meter for most of March and April. 

This is why Dr. Fauci (and many others) have been saying that we need more tests.  Only by actually seeing past the infected can we learn about the trends.

So, where’s the hope?  It comes on April 14.  Let’s zoom in to that last part of the curve.

This is the graph to look at.  If we are ramping up our testing faster than our actual cases are falling, we will actually continually see an increase in our cases (until we finally exhaust all of our infected, and then the chart will plunge).  Right now, that seems to be happening.  However, if we look at this graph, we’re basically normalizing the curve to assume a constant number of tests per day.  And when we do *that*, the curve is finally starting to fall.

This data is not dropping particularly quickly, and it’s hard to make predictions from it.  However, at this rate, it implies that we’re on track to have another two weeks or so until we get to zero.  I’m really reluctant to make that kind of statement, given the misadventures with Easter, with Ventura and Orange County beaches, and with our population of tactical armored, Confederate flag-waving, “Patriot” cosplayers.  However, assuming that cooler heads prevail, this is a very important piece of the puzzle, and evidence that data quality is a thing.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Case for Staying Home - Now it gets hard

I’ve been tracking LA closely this week.  And, unfortunately, we’re not seeing the numbers we want to see.

We are now entering the time when people’s patience for staying indoors is wearing thin.  Protests are happening demanding that we open everything up again.  Disgusting displays, including blocking an ambulance in Michigan, and protests here in Huntington Beach (“Liberate Huntington Beach”, echoing the inflammatory rhetoric of Trump) are starting to happen.  House parties are still going.

And yet, in theory, if nobody came near anybody for a period of two weeks, we’d see new cases crash to zero.  But that’s not happening.  And, it’s not happening because people don’t understand what’s happening, and they feel that social distancing doesn’t apply to them.  We aren’t doing enough - and we certainly can’t afford to slide backwards.

I was quite excited earlier this week.  It really looked liked LA would hit zero new cases before the end of April.  We’d then monitor to keep those cases at zero, and then we’d be done.  I was looking forward to celebrating that event.

That day is looking further and further away.  Today it was announced that in the last 24 hours we reached 11,391 confirmed cases in LA County, and added another 537 new cases - that’s where we were April 3.  At the rate we’re falling, instead of hitting zero new cases by the end of April, we’re now looking at the third week of May (assuming that there isn’t yet another resurgence from people gathering around Easter).  I’m hopeful that with each passing day people treat this with more seriousness, not less.  We need to to get through this.  We must maintain the strength to get through this - by supporting ourselves and supporting each other. 

We have avoided the nightmare of New York, but if you look, Florida just had more new cases in one day than ever before.  The US refuses to peak and decline as regional infection zones begin to grow (we reached over 700,000 cases here in the US today).  Italy, while declining, is doing so at a snails pace and isn’t likely to hit zero new cases until late May, and now we’re seeing Canada backtrack and start to ramp up a second peak. 

This is the cost of complacency.

I also want things to get back to the way they used to be.  But in order for that to happen, we need this number to be zero.  Then, we need this number to stay zero until we are sure that there are no lingering cases.  We need this to happen as quickly as possible.  And it’s not happening fast enough.

All data from Johns Hopkins: