Day length

As I get older I am becoming more familiar with the rhythms of the Solar System, the Earth around the sun, the moon around the earth and sun, and the other visible planets.  I am no expert, but have learned to find the plane of the ecliptic and more readily find planets.  I have learned to tell time by moon as well as the sun.

The last few years I have been frequently checking on both day length and the amount of daily change in day length.  One of the more interesting ways to ponder this is to note that every spot on earth gets exactly the same number of hours that the sun is above the horizon over the course of the year.  Every place on earth averages a 12 hour day, if you measured from sunrise to sunset and added them all up over the year.  At the North and South Poles there is 6 months of day and 6 months of night.  At the equator every day is 12 hours from sunrise to sunset.  It then follows that at 45 degrees north and south the longest day would be 16 hours and the shortest 8, give or take a few seconds as the world is not a perfect sphere.

Providence is at approximately 41 degrees North and has a shortest day length of 9 hours and 8 minutes and a longest day length of 14 hours and 52 minutes.  At the solstices day length changes by less then a second, 3 seconds the day before and after, 5 seconds the day before or after that, rising to 2 minutes and 48 seconds at the equinox and the days surrounding it.  For comparison I looked at the change in day length in Barrow Alaska in northern Alaska, and at the equinox day length was changing by 6 minutes and 47 seconds each day.

Makes sense as if day length is going to go from 1 hour to 23 hours in the same amount of time as day length in Providence goes from 9 hours to 15  the change each day is going to be much larger at the equinoxes than it is here, remembering that at the solstices everybody has a length change of zero.

One great thing about this is you only have to learn the numbers once.  They never change.  Next year, 15 years from now, 15000 years ago, day length at the winter solstice in Providence or what was the land upon which Providence was later planted was and will continue to be 9 hours and 8 minutes.  There are things that can change our relationship to the sun, but other than putting a motor on the planet and rocketing it to another part of the solar system, none of them can be changed by people.

I wish the same could be said about the climate. But clearly what we people have done is set the world on fire.  It is not going to be pretty, but there is much we can do to ameliorate the situation if we decide to.  I hope that learning about the sun, the planets, the moon, the tides, and closer to home the living world, will help us think more clearly about climate and what would be good courses of action.  I hope learning to look at the world, to observe, to measure, to analyze, but also to dream and imagine based on what we see will help us be more prepared for the coming storm.

Today the day length in Providence is 9 hours and 8 minutes, but tomorrow it will be 9 hours and 9 minutes, and it will be more than 20 seconds longer than the day before.  Summer is coming.


Take away points December 2012

I am preparing to give a short briefing to the staff of a public official.  Here is what i intend to talk about and to leave behind for sharing with their boss.

2 major topics  the economy and solid waste/compost

The economy:

The framing of the economy in the debate about how to create prosperity in our communities is one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity in RI.  As long as the debate is about how best to kowtow to the 1%,  the 1% will make out like bandits, while the rest of us, and the public infrastructure and our democracy, wither on the vine.

The evidence is becoming quite noticeable that economies that are more unequal work very poorly and inefficiently.  Everything we do to kow tow to the 1%, tax breaks, subsidies, tax policies, trade policies, military adventurism, hurts our communities.  Low taxes for the rich serves no good public purpose.

We have to think very carefully about the conditions for growth in modern economies.  Rhode Island does not meet any of those characteristics.  efforts to create faster growth therefore backfire, creating more inequality and slowing growth.  There is no room here to explain, but I would be happy to either by directing you to other writings or specifically setting up a time to talk about that.

Rhode Island will only get to a more equal economy if we practice economic democracy.  Communities have a right to determine what is not appropriate for our communities.  We give this option to towns about casinos, but not really much else.  We end up getting poisoned and with less prosperity.

38 Studios was a failure to practice democracy.  Compare and contrast to the stakeholder process on the Quonset container port.  The entire leadership of the state was on board screaming this is nirvana.   The public hearings demonstrated exactly how not true that was, and we made it obvious that the 2 con men had conned everyone except the public.  Based on conversations I had with some prominent RI business people and thinkers, public hearings would have exposed how bad a deal 38 Studios was.

In addition to the requirement of economic justice, prosperity in RI will not come about without ecological healing.  Not just in one area, but in many including climate, oceans, fisheries, biodiversity, soils, agriculture, and forests and retreating from the coastline.  Dismantling environmental protections or making it easier for businesses to do the wrong thing harms the economy, not helps it.  Claiming environmental regulations hurt business is old hat, and totally not true.

Solid Waste and Compost

RI should seek to become a zero waste state.  This will enable us to capture much more value out of the resources we already use.  And create more jobs while reducing our carbon footprint. If you are creating commissions to look at trash issues, a comprehensive approach is going to give us much more value for our efforts.

A big part of zero waste is compost.  We have to get the food scrap out of the waste stream so it can be used to grow more food.  Climate change and other factors are going to create a much less food secure RI unless we grow a lot more food here. And that does not happen without compost from food scrap.

RI needs to raise tip fees.  As long as it is dirt cheap to throw stuff in the dump, our communities will demand to do just that.  We can not raise tip fees without a comprehensive approach that creates clear community benefits.



The real pension fund dilemma in Rhode Island

Today on the news I heard that RI state pension funds had a return on investment of 1.5% in the last fiscal year.  Grew right along with the growth of the economy for the 1%.  Rest of us fell further behind.   But what the pension fund really fell behind on was its expected growth, the growth that allows the fund to make payments to retirees. The official expectation for the pension fund is growth of 7.5% each year.  This is recent as previously the rate of return expected had been close to 8%.  In either case the actual return was only 1/5 of the expected return.  Adding to a long string of years in which growth targets were missed by a wide margin.

In a place without an out of control ruling class seeking new ways to loot the populace, the state would tax the wealthy to make up the difference in the pension funds because there is a clear understanding that equalizing the wealth strengthens the economy.

But even that will not really solve the problem that the pension funds are going to get smaller and smaller returns over time.  Not due to mismanagement, but because the economy is going to get smaller.  The stringing out of the recovery after the bubble burst being only the latest and most abundant clue that we have essentially reached the end of economic growth in the west, especially any growth that actually flows into the hands of the 99%.  There are many levers that can be pushed to create more economic growth, but the one thing economic growth is unable to survive is ecological collapse.  The loss of soils, clean water, forests, fisheries, and biodiversity, combined with the fires, droughts, floods, and heat waves of climate change is eating up all the actual growth and many people are ending up poorer even if a few in the cities are getting richer.

This is why over the last 15 years the west has either been in the midst of some bubble or in recession. We have gone from HI Tech and internet, to Housing and strange financial instruments as the bubble we obsess over, but the results are the same.  A small class makes out, everyone else falls behind, and the Earth becomes a less hospitable place with diminished life.

Rhode Island’s pension fund is hurting even with the current “fix” and the economic shenanigans used to grow the economy faster are a disaster (remember 38 Studios).  Rhode Island needs a new course, based on ecological healing and economic justice if it is going to have prosperity.