Our To Do List For The Decade

Base Economics, Finance and Governance on Reality says UN

Welcome to the latest issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight, a new form of personal journalism that looks at what we Need-to-Know at this time of pandemic, existential crisis of climate change and unravelling of nature’s life supports.

Making Peace With Nature is a new United Nations blueprint on how to tackle climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. It’s based on a year-long synthesis of several major UN scientific assessment reports. I asked co-author Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AND Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), to sum up our situation here on planet Earth.

“As scientists the more we learn about what is happening, the more worried we’ve become,” said Watson.

“The risks humanity faces are far worse than they were 20 or even 10 years ago.”

Ok so things aren’t great and getting worse. 

Humanity’s to do list 

What’s to be done to end the multiple threats to civilization? Just achieve these three things:

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The Perfect Storm of Misinformation

How to improve your BS detector about Texas Blackout lies and other distortions

Thunderstorm with lightning above the sea at sunset

We’re in the middle of a storm of lies, distortions and misinformation. It’s going to get worse when it comes to vaccines, climate change, alternative energy, and other solutions to bring about a transition to a sustainable, zero-carbon future. 

I’ve been navigating through this mire for 25 years, including the recent Texas blackout. A subscriber prompted me to share with you some Need-to-Know tools I use to keep my BS detector robust and well tuned

Recently a subscriber asked me about an “intriguing and somewhat disturbing” video from Prager University about renewable energy. 

That set my BS detector tingling.

First rule: Find out who is behind the curtain

Second rule: Find out if they have an agenda

Here’s two primary tools from my BS detector kit that has a dozen more.

Sourcewatch identifies who is behind and who funds various think tanks, institutes and other organizations. They document their research and I’ve found them to be reliable. 

DeSmogBlog maintains an extensive database of both individuals and organizations who try to confuse the public and stall action on climate change. International in scope. There are far more than you think — I use the search function a lot.

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Time to retire the old smog-belcher

Why Your Next Vehicle is Likely to be Electric

Electric Car Range is now over 650 kilometers

This week in Stephen Leahy’s Need to Know: Science and Insight

I’m happy to report that EVs are doing fine in most places. Last year car sales were down 20% in 2020 due to Covid-19, but EV sales jumped 43%

The reason? EVs are better technology. They have better acceleration, cheaper to fuel and maintain, and there’s no noise or pollution. The Need-to-Know about EVs is that they’re just a big battery with an electric motor.

EVs are far less complex, with just 20 parts in their drive train compared to 2,000 parts in gasoline-powered car. They don’t have multi-speed transmissions, radiators, fuel injectors, gas tanks, valve trains, exhaust systems, etc. This simplicity means they are easier to manufacture. Consider the fact that Tesla’s first-ever EV sedan rolled off the production line less than 10 years ago and now Tesla is considered the most valuable automaker in the world.

Simplicity also means EVs require little to no maintenance other than brakes and tires. Electric motors are also more energy efficient which helps reduce their fuel costs. Driving an EV instead of a comparable-sized gas car can save up to $2,000 in fuel costs every year. Over five years, the savings on fuel and repairs will easily top $10,000. 

Range anxiety is over!

Improvements in batteries have boosted the median range for 2020 models beyond400 kilometres on a single charge, with maximum ranges topping 650 km according to the US EPA.

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President Biden Refuses to Make our Climate Crisis Worse

Cancels Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline Keystone XL

Welcome to the web version of Need to Know: Science & Insight, a new form of personal journalism. Free subscription.


Hello again, I hope you and yours are well. There’s been considerable press about the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline but much of it lacks context and some is plain wrong. So let’s start at the heart of this 12 year saga, a school bus in Canada’s tar sands. 

I wasn’t going to stop for the school bus stuck in the mud outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta in the heart of the Canada’s tar sands industry but my kids insisted. It had been raining most of the week and the grassy field was soaked and slick. We stopped and got out and looked at the 12,000 kilogram bus uselessly spinning its wheels, digging deeper into the mud. Someone got the driver to stop, essentially saying you’re making a bad problem worse.

No one had a vehicle large enough to tow or push the bus which would have likely become mired as well. A few other people came by, and collectively, we came up with ideas. I thought it an impossible task for a handful of people barely able to stand in the muck ourselves. A few trials, some planks of wood and a gleeful bouncing up and down inside the back of the bus produced the unexpected result of freeing the vehicle. 

I was surprised we’d done it and by my own feelings of intense satisfaction at what we strangers had collectively accomplished. By not making a bad problem worse, we figured out a way to solve it together. 

Keystone XL would have added 110 millions tons of CO2

President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) oil pipeline is an example of not making a really bad problem worse. The Need-to-Know here is that KXL would have added 110 million tons of climate-heating CO2 into the atmosphere every year for at least 50 years a study in journal Nature Climate Change reported in 2014. That’s country-sized emissions — enough to put it on the list of the top 35 worst carbon-polluting countries in the world, as I wrote in Vice at that time.

I first learned of KXL more than ten years ago and ended up writing a dozen articles about it, including how Canada’s spy agencies were monitoring KXL protestors as potential threats to national security. The 36-inch diameter pipe was intended to pump 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the Alberta tar sands down to US Gulf Coast for refining. Calgary-based TransCanada Pipelines, now renamed TC Energy, originally claimed the pipeline was needed for US energy security, but environmentalists said it was to be refined into diesel and exported to Europe. An interesting Need-to-Know today is that the US doesn’t need the oil and Europe doesn’t want dirty diesel. In fact, Europe bought nearly 1.4 million electric vehicles in 2020, more than any other country in the world.

Here’s where things got interesting in 2020

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Pandemic Hacks: Feel Better, Safer and more in Control

This is part of a series from the World Health Organization

We’re all facing a very tough two or three months right now with the worsening pandemic, economic uncertainty, political messes, winter weather, etc. The COVID-19 vaccines are a light at the end of the tunnel but we’re still deep inside a pretty dark tunnel. Right now it looks like a damn steep climb to get the end and into the light. 

In this free issue of Need to Know: Science and Insight I‘ve collected ideas, tips and ‘hacks’ to help us get through the next few months. Please do share: https://leahy.substack.com\

Focusing on things we can’t control like politics, climate change, the weather and so on leads to anger, frustration and depression. The ancient Greeks recognized that trying to control the uncontrollable, including trying to control the future, was the main source of our misery and unhappiness. 

The Need-to-Know about feeling less helpless and more in control is to avoid dwelling on things we can’t control. There’s research showing that reducing exposure to depressing/negative information — pandemic reports, political shenanigans, crime reports — can help us feel better.

Doom-scrolling’ through negative stories and commentary cultivates what psychologists call “mean world syndrome” and affects how we see others and our feelings of security and optimism about the future. It’s not about ignoring what’s happening in the world but limiting exposure to the bad stuff and actively seeking out the positive. 

Here’s a bit of wisdom that helps me apply the brakes:

‘Your mind is like tofu; it tastes like whatever you marinate it in.’

— Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School, citing his meditation teacher.

Here’s a few tips and ideas I’ve collected from various sources to help get through the next couple of months: 

  • Connect with friends and classmates. Call up a couple this week and try not to talk politics. We need social connectedness to be healthy and happy
  • Look for your life’s bright patches and be grateful to have some. And trust that there will be more to come
  • Go for walks no matter the weather. Find a bit of nature to enjoy, it can make a big difference in how you feel. Go with family and friends or neighbours. Be social but stay 6 feet apart.
  • Learn new stuff. Books, seminars, courses, lectures, hobbies. Anything that helps me stay off-line is what I look for. 

For more go to Need to Know: Science and Insight