How Do We Fix It?
Our Electricity Grid is Surprisingly Fragile: Meredith Angwin
Every day Americans take the reliable supply of electricity for granted. Except during severe storms, we rarely, if ever, think that the lights might not turn on in the morning.
But in some parts of the country, consumers face the threat of rolling blackouts, and sudden surges in the price of electricity. Nearly two years ago, nearly 300 people died when the Texas power grid partially failed during a winter cold snap. California came close to a grid collapse last summer. And New England might be in big trouble this coming winter.
In recent years, our podcast co-host Jim Meigs has written extensively on energy, and says it's a bad idea to shut down nuclear power plants that supply large amounts of reliable energy and aren't dependent on the weather.
But the threatened electricity grid crisis is not just about how we make power—it’s how we deliver power to users. For big chunks of the country that system has changed radically in recent decades. Reforms that were meant to make our energy system more competitive backfired.
The fragile gird matters more than at any time in memory for three reasons:
- The need to decarbonize energy production to limit the future impacts of climate change.
- Modern technology requires a big increase in electricity output.
- The geopolitical clash over energy has grown more intense and violent since Putin's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
We also discuss why it's not enough to add more solar panels, wind turbines and hydro-electric power to the system. We need new and improved transmission lines to move all that power.
Recommendation: Richard is watching "Extraordinary Attorney Woo", a South Korean TV series about a brilliant rookie attorney who has autism spectrum disorder.
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Changing Journalism: Boosting Trust in the News Media. Joy Mayer26:05Only four-in-ten Americans say they have a lot of trust in the news media. That's a big problem for our democracy, especially in this volatile presidential election year. While journalists are supposed to tell the truth and get the story right, just 35% of right-of-center voters have some trust in what they see on the news.Democrats and independents are much more likely to trust journalists, but Americans of almost all shades of opinion are skeptical of the journalists, not only questioning the quality of their work but the intentions behind it.Our guest is Joy Mayer, Director of the non-profit group, Trusting News, which has partnered with many local newsrooms around the country to help journalists earn consumers' trust.While many reporters, writers and editors are reluctant to discuss their politics, most journalists have liberal or progressive views. "I think it's something we need to talk about more openly," Joy tells us.In this episode, we look at bias, transparency, and constructive steps that the newsrooms can take to improve their reputation with a broad cross-section of Americans.We first recorded our interview with Joy in the late summer of 2021. Since then polling shows that the gulf between many journalists and their readers, listeners, and viewers is as wide as ever.Americans of all political views are switching off the news. Audiences are shrinking for local TV stations, most newspapers and public radio, even as they release podcasts, email newsletters and other newer forms of content. Polling by Pew Research found that more than half of journalists surveyed say every side does not always deserve equal coverage in the news. But three-quarters of the public say journalists should always strive to give all sides equal coverage.Recommendation: Richard has just finished watching the first two seasons of "Dark Winds", a TV thriller and crime drama set on a Navajo Indian reservation in the southwest. Almost all of the actors and crew are native americans. Richard says: "This series is beautiful, exciting and compelling. The acting is first rate The scenery alone is reason enough to watch it."
Ideas For Everyone: The Virtues of a Liberal Education. Roosevelt Montás30:06What is the point of a good education? Do we need it to learn a narrow set of skills ro help us get ahead in the workplace, or should knowledge and learning to be used over a lifetime to acquire wisdom that enables us to think more deeply about our place in the world?This question has profound resonance at a time of angry divides over American politics and moral confusion at elite American universities. The President of Harvard, Claudine Gay, resigned after months of campus unrest and controversy. In December, Gay and two other university presidents faced widespread criticism for their testimony at Congressional hearings about antisemitism on their campuses.In this episode, we hear from an university educator who makes the case for liberal education that gives students the tools needed to have a deeper sense of purpose. Roosevelt Montás is the author of "Rescuing Socrates: How The Great Books Changed My Life And Why They Matter For a New Generation".He believes that the ideas and writings of Plato, Socrates, Shakespeare, Ghandi and many others aren't just for a few privileged students. They're for everybody, and that encountering these thinkers as a poor immigrant teenager changed his life.Montás is senior lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University, and director of the Center for American Studies Freedom and Citizenship Program, which introduces low-income high school students to primary texts in moral and political thought, as well as seminars in American Studies including “Freedom and Citizenship in the United States.” From 2008 to 2018, he was director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum."There is a prevailing cultural attitude that liberal education— the study of literature and philosophy — is appropriate only to the elite," Roosevelt tells us. "That is a really pernicious idea." He argues that the students who benefit the most from the foundational wisdom in the "great books" come from poor and marginalized backgrounds.Recommendation: Richard watched and greatly enjoyed the Anglo-Japanese Netflix TV series, "Giri / Haji", — duty/shame in Japanese— a thriller about a Tokyo detective scouring the London underworld to find his allegedly deceased brother. The series was filmed in Tokyo and London.
What Could Go Right? 2024 Predictions Show26:09From the economy and prospects for a Biden vs Trump rematch to the future for global energy and artificial intelligence, Richard and Jim make their forecasts for 2024. And we re-visit our predictions from exactly a year ago and report on precisely how we did. "It's sort of like weather forecasters and opinion pollsters going back and owning up to their mistakes," says Richard. "I mean, who often do we see that!"Once again, Meigs and Davies make their best guesses about what's to come this year. Will Donald Trump maintain his slim lead in the polls over President Biden? Is there a much higher risk than most experts expect for energy supplies during the winter months? How big are the chances for a wider war in the Middle East?Fresh off his A+ forecast on the 2023 economy, when Richard out-forecasted the overwhelming majority of experts, we'll get more predictions about this year. Don't make any more investments without hearing this episode!Jim, who writes with perception and foresight about nuclear power and our frayed power grid, will share his updated insights on the year to come for energy, and attempts to cut carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere. We also hear about the migration crisis on the Southern border, the long frustrating retreat of COVID, and the grim outlook for the war in Ukraine. As usual, both hosts share some surprising opinions and air a few lively disagreements.Read Jim's new article in City Journal, "Where Now For Nuclear Power".Listen to our sister show "Let's Find Common Ground". Here's their latest episode with Christian Science Monitor Editor, Mark Sappenfield.
How to Escape The Identity Trap - Yascha Mounk (part two)31:48We continue our discussion with Yascha Mounk, one of the leading public intellectuals of our time. The subject is a hugely influential ideology that attempts to put racial, sexual and gender identity at the center of our social, cultural and political life. The "identity synthesis", Mounk argues, denies that members of different groups can truly understand one another and this stifles public discourse.In this podcast episode, we learn why an obsession with identity undermines social justice, fuels culture wars, and boosts hateful hardliners on the right and left— from Donald Trump to protesters who support Hamas and its murderous attacks on Israeli civilians. We also hear how to politely but firmly push back against those who have become ensnared in "The Identity Trap," the name of Yascha Mounk's new book."Categories like race and gender and sexual orientation help to explain what's going on in the world, but they're not the only categories that help to explain it," Mounk tells us. "There's also social class, religion and patriotism as well as individual actions, attributes and aspirations.""The Identity Trap" has been called "the most ambitious and comprehensive account to date of the origins, consequences and limitations" of "wokeness". In our last episode, Yascha Mounk explained how postmodernism, postcolonialism and critical race theory gained currency on many college campuses by 2020. Today, a simplified version of these ideas exerts a strong influence in business, government and media. In this episode, Mounk urges listeners to claim the moral high ground. "Don’t apologize about arguing against a worldview that emphasizes identity to the exclusion of other factors". Recognize we have genuine disagreements but argue for convictions that you believe will result in a better world. People are open to persuasion, he says.Mounk mentions two of the most effective critics of the identity ideology were once very drawn to it: Maurice Mitchell of the Working Families Party and interfaith organizer, Eboo Patel.Recommendation: Richard has just read "The Speech", by Gary Younge, who writes for the Guardian and The Nation. His book is the story behind Martin Luther King Jr.'s powerful "I have a Dream" speech delivered to a vast audience in 1963.
The Origins of Today's Identity Politics - Yascha Mounk (part one)31:30Having skewered right-wing populism and its demagogues in his two previous best-selling books, politics professor, writer, and podcaster Yasha Mounk turns now to the threat posed to liberalism from those progressives who champion "woke" identity politics. We discuss his latest, "The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power In Our Time."This episode— the first of two with Yasha Mounk — looks at the complex roots of a highly influential ideology based on personal identity— specifically race, gender and sexual orientation. These are said to determine a person's power, role in society, and how they see themselves. Mounk explains how the identity synthesis, which has become widely accepted in many universities, nonprofits and large corporations, had its origins in several intellectual traditions, including post-colonialism, postmodernism and critical race theory.Our interview mentions ideas and concepts raised by Michel Foucault, Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Krenshaw, Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and others. We learn how these thinkers sharply criticized modern liberalism and the civil rights movement of the Sixties and beyond.Yascha Mounk is a German-born American who teaches international affairs at Johns Hopkins University. His writing appears in The Atlantic and other publications. He is also founder and editor-in-chief of the Substack publication "Persuasion", and hosts the podcast, "The Good Fight".Mounk's new book has won widespread critical praise. The Washington Post said that "Mounk has told the story of the Great Awokening better than any other writer who has attempted to make sense of it."Recommendation: Jim is reading "UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government's Search for Alien Life Here— and Out There: by Garrett Graff.
Imaging a Better Future. How Doomers Prevent Progress. James Pethokoukis36:13Yes, it's our 400th episode. But instead of looking back over the past eight-and-a-half years of our podcasts, we consider the future: How collective optimism or pessimism can have a huge impact on the economy, risk taking, and the acceptance of new technologies that spark growth and innovation.Our guest is scholar and journalist James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute, author of "The Conservative Futurist: How To Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised."In this episode he argues that in the decades after World War Two and during the space race, America was the world's dream factory. TV and movies helped to turn imagination into reality, from curing polio to landing on the Moon to creating the internet. In those years we were confident that more wonders lay just over the horizon: clean and infinite energy, a cure for cancer, computers and robots as humanity’s great helpers. But as we moved into the late 20th century, we grew cautious, even cynical, about what the future held and our ability to shape it. James Pethokoukis says that this year— 2023— marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Great Downshift in technological progress and economic growth, followed by decades of economic stagnation, downsized dreams, and a popular culture fixated on catastrophe."If you cannot imagine or have someone present a plausible imagining of a better tomorrow, why should we take any risks today?", Jim tells us. "There will be failures. Failure is part of taking a risk. It's part of a capitalist economy, and if you're not seeing failures, you're not taking large enough risks or a big enough swing at the plate"In our interview examine the impact of popular entertainment and its impact on our collective ambitions: "I think it influences how we think about the future, and that influences the decisions we make right now in the present."We discuss the current debate over artificial intelligence, and how future breakthroughs might be held back: "If all we can imagine is AI taking all our jobs, only enriching a slice of the population or somehow killing us, why would we want to do anything?"Among public policy decisions James Pethokoukis endorses are a dramatic increase in government spending on research and development as well as sharp cuts in red tape and severe environmental restrictions that prevent the construction of new transmission lines and other building blocks for clean technology projects. This is a wide-ranging conversation.In the interview we mention the controversial best-selling book, "The Population Bomb" co-authored by Paul and Anne Erlich, and the work of Persian author, futurist, and philosopher Fereidoun M. Esfandiary.Recommendation: Richard recommends a daily or weekly spiritual practice that could include prayer, meditation or yoga. He believes that a regular discipline that involves giving gratitude and thinking of the inner self can improve mental well-being. "We are often unkind to each other because we are unforgiving of ourselves and ungrateful for the world we have been born into," Richard days. "It’s no accident that a decline in church attendance in America has something to do with the rise in incivility."
Polarization Series: Bridging Divides at Braver Angels. Erica Manuel and Manu Meel30:15Affective polarization in America – the gap between voters' positive feelings about their own political party or "side" and negative feelings toward the opposing party – has sharply increased during the past two decades.We speak with two leaders in local government and a nationwide students group about effective ways to bridge divides. Erica Manuel is CEO and Executive Director at the Institute for Local Government in Roseville, California. She has over 20 years of experience helping public, private and nonprofit organizations implement innovative policies to provide strong leadership, advance climate resilience, support economic development, engage communities, and drive positive change.Manu Meel is CEO of BridgeUSA, a student-led nonprofit organization that creates spaces at colleges and high schools for open discussion among students about political issues. BridgeUSA began in 2016 at the universities of Notre Dame, CU-Boulder and UC Berkeley in response to growing polarization on campus. Erica and Manu were interviewed by our co-host Richard Davies at the 2023 Braver Angels Convention in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Both of them played leading roles at the cross-partisan gathering of Democrats, Republicans and independent citizens. Braver Angels is part of the growing movement of bridging organizations, who are finding new ways to push back against rigid and dehumanizing political divides. Many young people on college campuses are "just scared to say what's on their minds, and walking on eggshells," Manu tells us. He blames "the loudest voices" for silencing open discussion. "This is not a problem of the majority," he says. "It is a problem of the loudest voices imposing their closed-mindedness on an exhausted majority."Both Erica and Manu insist they're hopeful that the crisis of polarization can be successfully overcome. "I'm hopeful because not a single person I've talked to has said why on earth would you do that? Why on earth would you talk to someone on the other side? Why on earth would you want to treat someone like a human being with dignity?" Erica tells Richard.Recommendation: Jim recommends Commentary Magazine, a monthly publication of conservative "non-Trumpy" opinion. He writes its tech commentary and is a frequent guest on Commentary's daily podcast.
Polarization Series: The Soul of Civility. Alexandra Hudson28:38It's easy to look at the impacts of rigid polarization and blame our leaders and political parties, the media, or the education system. In this episode, we hear an argument that the first thing all of us should do is focus on what we can control: ourselves. We discuss how to learn to live with others despite deep divisions. All democracies need protests and debates to flourish. But we also need to respect ourselves and acknowledge the dignity of others.Alexandra Hudson is the author of the new book, "The Soul of Civility", and an adjunct professor in philanthropy at Indiana University. She argues that civility is a key solution for polarization and a breakdown in social order. In her writing she examines how civility—a respect for the humanity of others—transcends political disagreements. Civility, she writes, is not a technique, but a disposition: "a way of seeing others as beings endowed with dignity and inherently valuable."The divided state of the world "is a timeless problem. It's an intractable problem, but there's no policy solutions or simple cure," Lexi tells us. "It requires constant vigilance on behalf of each of us. That's humbling."We learn about the crucial difference between outward politeness, polish or poise, and civility which requires constant internal work and the application of true character. We individually have the power to improve and change, Lexi says. Her book looks at arguments for civility from the ancient times until the present day.Recommendation: Richard recently read "The Spinning Heart" by the Irish writer Donal Ryan. This short, powerful novel set in a small town in Ireland in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse. People are left without work, with routine and meaning in their lives. Each short chapter is from the vantage point of a different speaker who has been wounded — by the economy as well as by their parents, their lovers, by life. The book is funny and poignant.
Polarization Series: The Keys to Good Conflict. Hélène Biandudi Hofer28:22Destructive conflict aims to destroy the other side. But constructive conflict can be a force for good.In this episode we learn how good conflict helps move people beyond polarization, slogans, and angry tweets to a place where they can connect and grow— even as they strongly disagree. Hélène Biandudi Hofer says that when we have the vocabulary and basic skills to investigate conflict with curiosity, it can change everything.Journalists Hélène Biandudi Hofer and Amanda Ripley co-founded Good Conflict, which works with news organizations, non-profits, elected officials, educators, religious leaders, and others to lean into conflict in a constructive, productive way. Hélène developed and managed the Solutions Journalism Network’s Complicating the Narratives project. She trained more than a thousand journalists across 125 newsrooms throughout the world."I believe story is the most underutilized and under-appreciated thing to help people understand those we disagree with and who are vastly different from ourselves," she tells us. In this podcast, we hear about the specific tools, skills and vocabulary Hélène uses to help people respond to disagreements without sliding into contempt.Co-hosts and Richard come to this subject from very different places. While Richard says he "sometimes falls into a trap of trying to avoid conflict and ignoring that it's a needed part of life." Jim responds: "I like a good argument. I think it's healthy and kind of exciting sometimes to have a difference of opinion, especially with a good friend."This episode and others about polarization are funded in part by a grant from Solutions Journalism Network. Richard is one of this year's Complicating The Narratives Fellows.This week's recommendation: Jim is an enthusiastic listener to the podcast, "The Rest Is History", hosted by historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook.