In November, President Obama listened to the nation's top climate scientist and to bipartisan voices along the route of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and declared that the project required further review. After all, the Keystone XL's predecessor (another tar sands pipeline just called Keystone) had leaked a dozen times in its first year. Tar sands oil is highly toxic, dangerous to transport, and almost impossible to clean up. In Canada itself, strong public opposition has delayed tar sands pipeline proposals for additional environmental review and public comment.
But that kind of prudence didn't sit well with Big Oil, which is used to getting its way. (Remember, it was lax regulation that allowed BP to drill a shoddy, dangerous well in the Gulf of Mexico that they didn’t even know how to cap when it exploded.) So Big Oil rolled out its army of lobbyists and PR experts—among the most elaborate and expensive lobbying operations in America. The head of the American Petroleum Institute publicly promised "huge political consequences" if President Obama doesn't grant immediate permission for the pipeline. More saber rattling followed in TV ads and from the most powerful business lobby in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which is bankrolled largely by… Big Oil).
They didn't just issue threats. Big Oil also commanded its $12 million posse in Congress to get to work. The minions rallied to the call, promoting Keystone XL as a top cause célèbre for 2012. House Speaker John Boehner kicked things off by holding the paychecks of working Americans hostage to a rider to the Payroll Tax Cut package in an attempt to force Keystone XL through.
That legislative rider has imposed a 60-day deadline on the president's decision, despite the inadequate and incomplete review, and despite the lack of a route through Nebraska. Any permit issued now would be a blank check written to an oil company with a proven record of disregarding the rights of the American farmers and ranchers whose land the pipeline would cross and threaten.
Given the billions in oil profits that are at stake, none of this should be surprising. But since few Americans actually care about increasing the oil industry's already bloated profits, its lobbyists have also been working overtime to sugarcoat the Keystone XL project with exaggerated promises of jobs. It's a smart, if cynical, tactic. Everyone wants jobs. Unfortunately, this pipeline would generate far fewer construction jobs than promised and only a few hundred permanent jobs.
Look behind the curtain and the real story here is the $2 billion to $3.9 billion more in profits each year that Big Oil would collect simply by being able to raise gas prices in the Midwest by between ten and twenty cents—hurting Americans and chilling economic growth. Meanwhile, the Canadian crude being pumped 1,700 miles across six states, through farms and ranches, and directly over the water supply for millions of Americans would actually be destined for export from refineries in a Texas free-trade zone—meaning billions more in oil profits that American workers would never see.
What Americans would see and experience is the pollution. We would be opening a Pandora’s box of climate pollution. We would be threatening the fragile drinking water supplies for millions. We would be putting the livelihoods of American farmers and ranchers in six states at risk. And all the while, oil companies alone would reap the profits—which they'd largely keep in exorbitant salaries and stock bonuses, minus their continued investment in political influence.
By any objective measure, the Keystone XL pipeline is a patently bad idea that could never withstand rational scrutiny. Ultimately, this is a test of wills. Can the president stand up to threats from the wealthiest industry in the world? Big Oil has the money to inflict serious damage on anyone who challenges its singular goal—profits. If President Obama does the right thing, he will also be doing a brave thing. But it would also be the smart thing: Standing up to bullies is, in the long run, almost always a good call.
We are hopeful, confident even, that the president will put the American people before Big Oil's profits. And we're also hopeful that Americans will start demanding far better from their Congress by insisting that our representatives stop selling their votes for campaign contributions. It's time to separate oil and state.
We need to break our addiction to oil, and we need to get oil companies out of our politics. Now that Big Oil has thrown down the gauntlet with Keystone XL, President Obama has a remarkable chance to start accomplishing both of those goals.
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After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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