The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
The climate war heated up significantly today as President Trump signed a series of executive orders gutting the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce U.S. carbon emissions (The Washington Post). The orders instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite rules Obama instituted that would have led to the closing of old coal-fired power plants across the country. The policy is being pushed under a banner of “energy independence.” But the U.S. gets all of its coal domestically already, so: Huh?
The president doesn’t have legal authority to unilaterally revoke the Obama rules, known as the Clean Power Plan. That means these orders will kick off a long legal fight. Meanwhile, employment in the U.S. coal industry has been contracting for decades, thanks to reduced demand, competition from other energy sources, and increasing automation of those mines that remain open.
If the argument were really between job creation and energy independence on the one hand, and, on the other, limiting the damage caused by climate change, we could maybe have a useful debate. But since Trump’s moves won’t actually create jobs or boost energy independence, they look more like petty payback against team Obama and environmentalists. Meanwhile, renewable forms of energy will come to dominate the market anyway. U.S. businesses can help lead that change and profit from it —but now they’ll be fighting headwinds from Washington.
Climate-denialist policies like these will eventually collapse in the face of climate-change-driven crises. But the clock’s running, and we need to act in time to keep atmospheric carbon levels from rising irreversibly. Instead of helping Trump supporters bring back the glory days of mining, these moves will just make preserving the planet more difficult.
How the War on Science Began With the Tobacco Fight
The climate debate isn’t the U.S.’s first experience with campaigns by businessmen and politicians to nullify science. The whole thing has happened before, with the tobacco industry (Clive Irving in The Daily Beast). At this crossroads moment, it’s valuable to review that history — and recall how effectively the tobacco industry contested the medical consensus on the harmful effects of tobacco, until a combination of government regulation, taxes, and public education finally began to turn the tide.
Irving writes: “For more than four decades Big Tobacco had one objective: to maintain the pretense that the link between smoking and cancer remained unproven. In that method it anticipated the entire strategy of climate change deniers, to argue that even if the earth was warming up there was no link between that and human activity.”
With tobacco, of course, the victims were primarily limited to cigarette consumers. With climate, unless we move fast, the victims will include all of us.
Why Facebook and Google Can’t Rid Us of “Fake News”
As hysteria peaks over “fake news” — whatever particular definition of that term you adopt — we are awash in schemes to tag it, shame it, fight it, and stamp it out. Most such efforts involve calling on Facebook and Google, the two platforms seen as hosts to the fake-news virus, to adopt counter-measures.
Now danah boyd offers a timely warning that such “well-intended interventions” are likely to backfire (Backchannel). The “culture and information wars” the U.S. is experiencing today are far bigger than even these giant tech corporations, and they are continuously evolving in unpredictable ways.
For a brief instant “fake news” was understood to mean “news stories made up to appeal to partisans so Macedonian kids could profit off the clicks” (as the original Buzzfeed report chronicled). But the moment the term entered the political bloodstream, it became a carrier for a wide range of agendas, from conservative hostility to the “mainstream media” to liberal disgust with Fox News.
That alone would make our demands that Facebook and Google solve this problem for us impossible to meet. Then remember that online moderation (human or algorithmic) is profoundly fallible. That any outside expert authority the companies might invite to rule on “fakeness” is going to be contested. And that much of the misinformation online doesn’t come in the form of disprovable lies but in subtle manipulations and non-debunkable memes.
We should abandon “band-aid solutionism,” boyd argues, and stop expecting tech companies to be referees of a culture war. Instead, we should “build coalitions of groups who do not share the same political and social ideals to address the issues that we can all agree are broken.”
Resumes Don’t Get Better With Age
Age discrimination in hiring is illegal, but that doesn’t mean there’s no bias against older job applicants (NPR). Economists at UC Irvine and Tulane studied the problem by sending out 40,000 resumes for several thousand open positions. The multiple resumes they send for each opening were identical except for age. Surprise! Call-back rates dropped steadily as applicants’ ages increased — and older women fared worse than older men.
It’s difficult to bring lawsuits against companies that discriminate in this way, although one rejected applicant has brought such a case against R.J. Reynolds. But in the long run that may not matter. Business is going to have no choice but to get accustomed to a grayer workforce: Demographics will accomplish what anti-discrimination laws haven’t.