Hour Four Guests: Simon Constable, Dow Jones. Dr. David H Grinspoon, Astrobiology chair, Library of Congress; astrobiology curator, Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Michael Grabell, propublica. Charles Blahous, Hoover.
Monday 1 July 2013 / Hour 4, Block A: Simon Constable, Dow Jones, in re: A decline in the number of spots on the sun could warm up the market for natural gas. These spots, which scientists have observed for centuries, are caused by changes in the magnetic fields on the solar surface, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says. Scientists aren't sure why, but when the number of visible spots declines, temperatures on Earth tend to be lower. This matters for investors because the sun is entering another period of fewer spots. You can profit from this situation if you focus on two things. FIRST, TRACK THE NUMBER of sunspots. It isn't a random number. Rather, the count rises and falls in a fairly predictable cycle. Nineteenth-century British economist William Stanley Jevons noted that the pattern of business cycles in the United Kingdom seemed to coincide with the regular ups and downs of the solar cycle. His discussion of the phenomenon appeared in 1878 in the scientific journal Nature. There is a high correlation between global temperatures and the number of spots observed on the sun, says Don Coxe, proprietor at Chicago-based Coxe Advisors. Case in point: from 1645 to 1715—an abnormally long solar cycle—sunspots all but disappeared, and that coincided with a mini-ice age when, among other things, England's River Thames froze. These days the cycle is about 11 years, says David Hathaway, a scientist at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "We are now in the smallest sunspot cycle in 100 years," he says. The peak of the current cycle will be about 67 spots, says NASA, which would be the lowest number since 1907, when the cycle reached only 64. That also coincided with lower-than-average U.S. temperatures. Hathaway says the spot count should decline from here as the cycle plays out. He posts regular forecasts on the spot count on the Marshall Center website—if you want to track it. It's worth noting that Hathaway says there is an "observed relationship" between temperatures on Earth and the sunspot cycle, but he says there are lots of other factors involved in determining climate, such as volcano activity. In short, correlation doesn't equate to causation. Still, if the correlation holds and the temperature drops, you are halfway to making money. SECOND, TRACK THE NATURAL-GAS market, Coxe says. "You can assume because of the low level of sunspot activity that we will have colder winters and shorter growing seasons than expected," he says. Those colder winters will drive up natural-gas prices, as people use more of the fuel to heat their homes and businesses. In 2008, temperatures fell an average of 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit for the year, and natural-gas prices rose 25% in the winter months. That year the sunspot count dropped close to zero. In addition, the shorter growing seasons for crops will also drive up demand for natural gas to make more fertilizer. Natural gas is used to make nitrogen-based plant food, which is vital to growing corn and rice. Typically, a shorter growing season means more fertilizer is required. Natural-gas futures closed Friday at $3.56 per million BTUs. Original post here
Monday 1 July 2013 / Hour 4, Block B: Dr. David H Grinspoon, Astrobiology chair, Library of Congress; astrobiology curator, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, in re: The Anthropocene is the name of a proposed new geological time period (probably an epoch) that may soon enter the official Geologic Time Scale. The Anthropocene is defined by the human influence on Earth, where we have become a geological force shaping the global landscape and evolution of our planet. According to this theory, the present epoch -- still known as the Holocene, which started 11,000 years ago -- would have ended somewhere between the end of 18th century and the 1950s (when the Anthropocene began). The earlier time limit considers the increasing amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere that is mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels for energy to power our growing industrial technology. We may consider this process to have started in 1784, with the invention of the steam engine by James Watts. The present high levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are probably causing the climate to change to a long warm period. The later time period takes into account the increasing background radiation from the nuclear tests by US and USSR military during the beginning of the Cold War. This new frontier in the geological timeline is potentially . . . [more]
Monday 1 July 2013 / Hour 4, Block C: Michael Grabell, propublica, in re: It’s 4:18 a.m. and the strip mall is deserted. But tucked in back, next to a closed-down video store, an employment agency is already filling up. Rosa Ramirez walks in, as she has done nearly every morning for the past six months. She signs in and sits down in one of the 100 or so blue plastic chairs that fill the office. Over the next three hours, dispatchers will bark out the names of who will work today. Rosa waits, wondering if she will make her rent. How to Fit 17 People in a Minivan In cities all across the country, workers stand on street corners, line up in alleys or wait in a neon-lit beauty salon for rickety vans to whisk them off to warehouses miles away. Some vans are so packed that to get to work, people must squat on milk crates, sit on the laps of passengers they do not know or sometimes lie on the floor, the other workers’ feet on top of them. This is not Mexico. It is not Guatemala or Honduras. This is Chicago, New Jersey, Boston. The people here are not day laborers looking for an odd job from a passing contractor. They are regular employees of temp agencies working in the supply chain of many of America’s largest companies – Walmart, Macy’s, Nike, Frito-Lay. They make our frozen pizzas, sort the recycling from our trash, cut our vegetables and clean our imported fish. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves. They are as important to the global economy as shipping containers and Asian garment workers. Many get by on minimum wage, renting rooms in rundown houses, eating dinners of beans and potatoes, and surviving on food banks and taxpayer-funded health care. They almost never get benefits and have little opportunity for advancement. Across America, temporary work has become a mainstay of . . . [more]
Labor Sharks and Kelly Girls Many people believe that the use of temp workers simply grew organically, filling a niche that companies demanded in an ever-changing global economy. But decades before “outsourcing” was even a word, the temp industry campaigned to persuade corporate America that permanent workers were a burden. The industry arose after World War II as the increase in office work led to a need for . . . [more]