Karen Roy was in grad school in the early 1980s when two things made her realize acid rain was a big deal. The first was the decline of the forest on Camel’s Hump, a mountain in Vermont. The second was learning about dying lakes in the Northeast.
“There were people talking about the record fish that were no longer found,” she says.
Roy now manages the Adirondack Long Term Monitoring program. When I visited, she and her team were heading to a pond near Lake Placid, New York. They were going to check how acidic the water is these days; a process repeated in dozens of lakes monthly. But first we have to hike through a forest.
“What affects the forests, ultimately affects lakes and streams as well,” Roy says.
Forests and lakes are connected, but how they recover from acid rain is very different.
Since the bad old days of the 1970s and '80s, there has been a whole lot less acid falling on the Northeast. That’s mostly thanks to the 1990 Clean Air Act, which has made a big difference to lakes and streams. Many are now coming back to life, with fish and other fauna reviving. But that’s not the whole story.
“It’s just like everyone [said], 'Whew, that problem is solved, now we can think about something else,'” says Gene Likens, co-founder of the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies, and one of the first people to discover acid rain in the U.S.
He says forests are having a much tougher time. Years of acid rain falling on their soils has leached away calcium and other minerals that used to neutralize the acid. So, even though today’s rain is far less acidic, sensitive forests are less able to deal with it.
“The system is more sensitive. And one could argue that the impact is as bad as it was in 1990 when we passed the Clean Air Act amendments,” he says.
Trees like sugar maple and red spruce are suffering the most. They need a lot of calcium and the soils are depleted. Forests are on a completely different timeline than lakes.
“Some will recover on the order of decades. But others will not recover for many, many, many decades,” says Charles Driscoll, university professor of environmental systems engineering at Syracuse University.
That’s why, despite all the progress made since 1990, Likens and Driscoll would like to see lawmakers reduce smokestack emissions even more.
That’s unlikely. The political environment has changed so much since the 1990 Clean Air Act was passed with bipartisan support. That bill included the acid rain provisions, the first widescale use of cap and trade.
Back then, cap and trade was an idea nearly everyone could get behind. Democrats and environmentalists liked that it could slash pollution. Republicans liked that it used market forces and gave industry choices.
“What had been for decades a bipartisan issue has evolved into what is now a highly polarized, partisan issue,” says Robert Stavins, a Harvard professor who studies emissions trading programs.
The 1990 Clean Air Act was championed by both President George H.W. Bush and northeastern Democrats. The cap and trade program helped cut acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by more than 70 percent -- faster and more cheaply than planned.
“It was decidedly a success,” Stavins says.
But critics say it had one flaw.
“Congress never put a provision in there to make changes to the program in the future,” says Gary Hart, owner of Clean Air Markets, and former manager of emissions trading at Southern Company, the large utility.
By the 2000s, the bipartisanship was gone. Democrats killed Republican acid rain proposals because the bills didn’t do what they wanted about climate change. Democrats tried to apply cap and trade to carbon dioxide, which Stavins says led a new breed of Republicans to turn on their own idea, “because it was the mechanism on the table.”
Critics labeled it "cap and tax." Meanwhile, the public became skeptical of markets after the financial crisis.
With no help from Congress, Presidents Bush and Obama started trying to change the acid rain rules through regulation. Hart says that caused more damage.
“When the government comes in and changes the program in the middle of the game, and sort of changes the rules, it really impacts investors and the players in the market. It impacts their confidence,” he says.
Trading in the acid rain cap and trade program has all but ceased.
In the end, regulations for other pollutants like mercury and particulates have had the side effect of reducing acid rain even more. But those regulations are a final blow to one of the most successful examples of using the market to solve an environmental crisis.
To political candidates, email is extremely important. Yes, they want us to vote, but they also want us to give early and often.
When Barack Obama first ran for president, Steve Geer was his email director.
“It’s a fun job,” he says. It’s also an important job. In 2012, President Obama’s reelection campaign raised more than $350 million through email.
“You have a subject line that catches your attention,” Geer explains. “You have an introductory sentence that hooks you and brings you into the narrative, and then you get as quickly as you can to ‘the ask.’”
Because our inboxes are so full, a catchy subject line is key. Geer points out, “If no one opens up your email, it doesn’t matter how good your argument is.”
Obama for America used subject lines that were casual. “Meet me for dinner,” one read. It looked like the president sent the message himself.
“Increasingly, people are doing things that will simply catch the eye,” says Patrick Ruffini, the president and founder of Engage, a political consulting firm. He oversaw digital strategy for the Republican National Committee.
Campaigns are using animated GIFs and countdown clocks. The novelty factor is important, but it is also important to have a message, Ruffini says, and to keep it short.
“You need to essentially get them off that email as quickly possible,” he notes. An email director or a digital strategist wants you to click a link and donate.
Campaigns have amassed a lot of data on donors’ habits, including how much money they have given, and when they have given.
According to Ruffini: “The amount of testing that is now going into emails, to keep people opening, to keep people clicking, I mean, it’s amazing.”
Email, compared to direct mail or TV advertising, is inexpensive, and the return on what is a relatively small investment is huge.
“Having lots of people giving $5 generates this very powerful list that campaigns can use now and in the future,” says Eitan Hersh, a professor of political science at Yale University.
For that reason, political strategists live in fear of donors unsubscribing.
“Good copy, good creative will always get attention, but there’s a difference between short-term attention and long-term engagement,” Geer says.
A campaign wants you to give over and over again.
11 email tips from campaign strategists:
1. Keep it short. According to Patrick Ruffini, a Republican strategist, “You need to essentially get them off that email as quickly as possible.”
2. Spend a lot of time on the subject line. “If no one opens up your email, it doesn’t matter how good your argument is,” says political consultant Stephen Geer.
3. Try new things. Try different things. Compared to TV advertising or direct mail, email is inexpensive, and you can see what works very quickly.
4. Test different drafts of an email.
5. Because “open rates” have been declining, send more emails. But not too many! You don’t want donors to unsubscribe.
6. Personalize emails. Campaigns have had success referring directly to a donor’s previous gifts.
7. Novelty fades. If every candidate is using a casual subject line to invite donors to enter a drawing, it’s time to devise a new strategy.
8. Try putting things in black and white.
9. Try “the doomsday e-mail.” Warn donors an opponent may have the upper hand, or that a deadline looms.
10. Remember: Most email is opened on mobile devices these days. Your email should look good on a smart phone, and it should link to a mobile-compatible donation page.
11. Put the links high. “A link towards the top is better than a link at the bottom,” says Rayid Ghani, who was Obama for America’s Chief Scientist. “A large button that makes you click towards the top is better,” he adds.
Citibank just agreed to a seven billion dollar settlement with the Justice Department.
Paul Miller, Managing Director of FBR Capital Markets, says in spite of settlements, so far, the big banks are showing decent results.
“I mean, you saw JP Morgan blow numbers away," he says. "Citi beat numbers," and while Wells Fargo didn’t beat expectations, Miller calls the bank's earnings acceptable.
Then there’s Bank of America, which Miller estimates could end up shelling out well over ten billion dollars for its role in the financial crisis.
Jim Sinegal, an equity analyst with Morningstar, agrees that the bank, which he calls "the most troubled," will have to pay an enormous amount to the Department of Justice.
Legal expenses, he notes, have been going up at all the banks, like JP Morgan, which he says just paid half a billion in legal fees.
“That really eats into your earnings power and I don’t think that’s anything that’s going to go away anytime soon,” he says.
Sinegal says banks have been trying to cut costs with strategies like layoffs, but he says as long as the stock market keeps doing well, banks can manage more money and charge more fees.
After a tough first quarter, China’s economy grew 7.5 percent this Spring – faster than most economists expected. The reason? Stimulus funding.
China’s government has injected significantly more money into the Chinese economy in the last few months, spending money on railway infrastructure, social housing projects, and public works projects; activity much of the country hasn’t seen since the big stimulus package of 2008 that was launched to cope with the global financial crisis. That stimulus package has lead to economic waste and bad debt.
As a result, many economists are waiting for more meaningful structural reforms to China’s economy. But others don’t see it that way.
"They want to walk this sort of very delicate balance between stimulating to ensure a basic seven, eight, nine percent nominal rate of GDP growth, and then on the other side, pushing through some reforms," says Standard Chartered’s Head of China research Stephen Green.
Those reforms have yet to take shape. So far, Xi Jinping’s government has been too busy expelling corrupt government officials as part of a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign, which has also had a negative impact on China’s economy. But Green thinks we’ll soon see China’s government allowing private companies to open banks and begin lending, which he says would be a sign that bigger economic reforms are on their way.
Urban bike-sharing programs have exploded— there are now more than 30 in the U.S., with plans for many more. But there are growing pains, and users can't see the biggest one: the bikes they’re not riding, because the biggest supplier went bankrupt six months ago. The biggest, most-popular programs won't expand this year, and planned programs in other cities have gotten stalled in the pipeline.
For example, a few days before Chicago’s Divvy Bikes celebrated its first birthday in June, general manager Elliot Greenberger noted how much the program’s subscriber base had grown in 2014.
"We’ve doubled, and it’s only June right now," he said. "We continue to see people signing up at about a hundred a day, sometimes more."
Here's what the growth curve looks like since Divvy started:
Here's another, perhaps even more impressive way of looking at Divvy's growth curve:
However, Divvy was supposed to expand this spring — adding about 60 percent more bikes and docking stations. That’s on hold. The company that supplies Divvy’s equipment— Public Bike System Co.* — went bankrupt in January. That company also supplies New York, Washington, Boston, Toronto, San Francisco, and other cities.
Those programs are managed by Divvy’s parent company, Alta Bicycle Share. When asked how long it has been since the supplier shipped new bikes, Alta Vice President Mia Birk pauses for a moment.
"Ooh," she says, "It must have been pre-bankruptcy."
That means no new bikes for any of Alta's cities. Meanwhile, programs in cities like Baltimore, Vancouver and Portland — also slated to be managed by Alta and supplied by Public Bike Share — have delayed their launch dates. The equipment includes proprietary designs, so going with another supplier isn’t an easy option.
"It’s been a disruption!" says Birk. "I mean, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s been really challenging." Birk says Alta has been working hard to get a new supply of bikes, but new bikes probably won’t arrive until 2015.
"Seems like there were some major promises made, and nobody looked closely at the financials or the supply chain," says Jeremiah Owyang of Crowd Companies. "That’s what you’re seeing here. Everybody went with the one provider, and overwhelmed them."
Colin Hughes studies bike-share worldwide at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. He says Public Bike System Co.’s bankruptcy doesn’t worry him.
"There’s plenty of other companies out there making bike-share bikes," says Hughes. "You may see the types of bikes used in some cities thrown out. But I don’t think you’re going to see bike-sharing as a whole thrown out."
Bike-sharing continues to grow worldwide. More than one city in China has more shared bikes than all of the United States.
*CORRECTION: The original version of this article misstated the name of a company that provides equipment for municipal bicycle-sharing programs. It is the Public Bike System Co. The text has been corrected.