COOL IT: The Movie


Climatic clear thinker Bjorn Lomborg strikes again with a new film, “COOL IT”, based on his book of the same name.  Blog post: coolit-themovie.com

Lomborg’s points, which suggest we need to address problems like global warming and global poverty more rationally, are so obvious as to defy intelligent objection, yet he remains one of the most controversial activists on earth, especially after offending the sensibilities of many with his remarkable book “The Skeptical Environmentalist”.

Lomborg’s views are slowly gaining the respect they deserve as alarmism about environmental issues falls prey to the facts and to common sense observations.    Clearly there’s global warming, and clearly it’s not likely to be catastrophic.    Dealing with  massive current problems like global poverty, health, and economic issues will have a much greater return on our time and money investments than expensive and politicized mitigation programs, many of which will at best delay the effects of carbon emissions for only a few years at a staggering cost.

COOL IT serves as a counterpoint to the alarmism and denial that have characterized the climate debate for too long.

 

 

 

Does your Storytelling Trump the Truth?


One of the greatest confusions of my life has been watching otherwise very sharp folks descend into a sort of silly crazed madness – or at least incoherency – with respect to complex topics like politics, economy, global warming, etc.

AT THE VERY LEAST a thinking person should realize that we generally don’t have enough data or enough experiments to draw firm and certain conclusions about most complex topics, yet most of us seem to want to do exactly that.     I like to think I’m open minded about most things and generally happy to entertain even the most skeptical views of ideas I hold dear, but I’m sure I fall into this incoherency sometimes too.   However I try to insist to myself that I’m going to let the facts drive my conclusion rather than create stories and then fit in only those facts that support them.

Happily I think I …. finally …. understand why smart people can believe such dumb things, or support their views so strongly without regard to a reasoned analysis of all the information.

Storytelling trumps the truth !

It is not clear to me why we humans are so enamored with stories as opposed to data analysis, but clearly we have a huge preference for the storybook versions of things.     This is fun and entertaining when it comes to films, theater, music, and reading stories to your kids.    Unfortunately our storytelling obsession often gets in the way of good science, politics, and economics, all of which are best driven by cold hard facts and cool, rational interpretations of that data.

The storytelling obsession is SO powerful in fact that I often have people argue with me over something that is downright totally obvious if you view it rationally for even a moment.    It’s the idea that we should all work very strongly against politically motivated spending patterns and try to prioritize spending so we spend where it does the most good.    Most people will initially agree with this, but as soon as you say, for example, that we should take money AWAY from keeping comatose folks alive and put that money towards prenatal care in the Bronx (or, heaven forbid, Africa!),  many people do the descent into irrationality and say things like “well, what if it’s your friend who is in a coma?”.      If you say we should cut the defense budget they say (irrationally) “But how will we protect ourselves”, as if spending and protection obviously go hand in hand.      Stories allow us to spin and bend the data and analysis to our own agendas, and this is not a healthy process.

Many will relate personal stories or create stories to describe scenarios where – in some limited set of circumstances – they would have been hurt by a system that did not prioritize things in their way.    OF COURSE we will all have times when a rational system does not meet our needs!    This happens all the time.    But political / storytelling  spending – which is now rampant – will in all cases virtually guarantee we have suboptimal allocation of resources.

The answer is that a rational person recognizes that we’re all in this together and we need more rational rules about spending and we’ll all need to live with (or die by) those rules.    Sure there can be processes for exceptions to the general rules, but it’s simply not rational to suggest, as many do, that “we should always spend all the money in the world to save every single person”.

I think see these storytelling effects best on the far left and right of issues.    These can be political where President Obama is portrayed as a conservative corporate stooge by the incoherent left and a communist non-citizen by the incoherent right.   Neither view lines up with any but a delusional view of reality, yet both are fairly popular (and incompatible) ideas.

On a global scale we see religious fanatics use storytelling to weave their madness and bring continued instability to many regions.     I’d argue that a major challenge for many nations is to abandon leaders who are primarily charismatic storytellers in favor of resolute and analytical problem solvers.    Ideally you’ll find people who are both and in my opinion Obama may fit that bill if he can extricate himself from old school Democratic party economic delusions.

National Debt? What National Debt?


If you’ve been watching the national news much lately you’ll wonder what ever happened to all the concern about the national debt and the massive budget deficits planned for the next decade.   On the up side however you will be quite an expert in addressing issues relating to repairs to the late Michael Jackson’s nose.  But I digress….

Hey, maybe we solved the debt and deficit spending problems?   Oh.  No.  We.  Didn’t.    We owe 11.5 Trillion and it’s rising faster than an inconveniently untrue  misinterpretation of a globally warmed sea level on a Florida shoreline.   Although it’s true that most economists from most sides felt a stimulus was important, and in fact it appears that has stemmed the tide of a financial death spiral, I think most would agree that as the recovery starts to take shape we need to look long and hard at how much we spend.   The *key cut* is obvious and it is the defense budget, but the legions of fake conservatives (often aka “Loyal Republicans”) who carp about a few million wasted here or there refuse to tackle the defense budget, blinded by an absolutely incomprehensible lack of understanding of basic global strategics which have shown throughout history that seeking massive military superiority has little or no justification.   From the Ming Dynasty’s Great Wall of China to the Viet Nam to Iraq,  “defense” become “offense” and results in massive spending with hugely negative ROI and often just exaggerated the unstable conditions you sought to avoid  (e.g. Afghanistan, Middle East).

Incredibly, the concern about the debt has flipped to paying an extraordinary amount of attention to fixing the problems we don’t have anymore.     Obama was explaining to a crowd yesterday all the things the government is doing now to prevent the financial troubles *we do not have anymore*.     Overvalued real estate?    That ship sailed and sunk.    We are probably near the bottom now, things seem to be picking up a bit, so lets move on.   Financial system?   It’s not in great shape but the catastrophe appears to have been averted.

Yes we need oversight but not a huge bureaucratic encumbrances many Democrats are calling for now- ironically many like Barney Frank who are squarely at fault in this crisis for the crappiest era of congressional oversight in the history of the country.    The system failed to address the risk factors properly for reasons that are slowly becoming clearer – a combination of corporate greed and incentives run amock, defective ideas about how huge economies work, terrible government mismanagement of the regulatory systems, and I think by far and MOST IMPORTANTLY people using their homes as piggy banks, raiding their paper equity from stocks and Real Estate to live at inappropriately high standards, work less, retire too early, buy boats, speculate in MORE stocks and real estate, etc, etc.

We all made this bed  and now we are sleeping in it.   YES, even those of us who did NOT mismanage our finances were involved unless they lived alone on an island and didn’t do any investing, borrowing, or buying during the bubble.

The economy has been reset at a lower, more appropriate levels given all the prevailing circumstances.   Welcome to how economies *really work* and why the risky investments of the bubble were … risky.     But those aren’t the investments people are making now that will put them at risk.    New crops of scams are brewing as we speak and more importantly the debt on our backs is weighing down the future prospects *for our children*.   The massive debt is unconscionable yet we are fretting over things that will have relatively trivial impacts compared to that debt.    The country is acting a lot like the most irresponsible among us during the bubble who simply borrowed and borrowed and spent and spent and now are so far underwater in debt they have *no prospect* of paying things back.

Here’s a site with great debt detail:  http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/pd.htm

Oh, and if you want to get in your two cents and make a $.02 contribution to reduce our national debt there’s a place for that too, it is called “Dept G” in West Virginia.

The cool thing would be that if your $.02  reduced the 11,500,000,000,000.00 to 11,499,999,999,999.98   you would have changed a whole lot of numbers for a buck.     Printing costs alone would more than wash it away though, and you’d have kept the spiral going.   But that’s OK becuase that is how we roll now here in America – we spend like there is no tomorrow.   And then we spend the money that was supposed to be for tomorrow.   And when the spending gets out of hand we …. spend much, much more.

The Illusion of Relevance


I’m not a big fan of the human intellect.      In fact I think one of the most obvious points in science – too rarely addressed – is how inadequately evolution has prepared us for the challenges of modern technological times.     A simple example is the fact many of us eat too much, and die early from diseases that we’d rarely get if we maintained a healthy lifestyle of modest calorie intake and modest exercise.

Every year *billions* of life years are lost simply due to minor deviations from our evolutionary designed healthy lifestyle recipe.   This is not to suggest that recipe of modest calorie intake + modest exercise is a health panacea, but those two factors dwarf most others in the developed world.    Poor countries, on the other hand, suffer more from *too few” calories and vices like smoking, war, and poor health standards.      In fact it is in this arena where humanity could have a stunning impact on raising the standard of living for about a billion people with a modest investments in health, water, and infrastructure.

Yet a combination of dictatorial regimes, inept bureaucracies, human ignorance among the victims, and widespread indifference from the affluent countries condemns an extraordinary number of people to a lifetime of relatively poor health and poverty.

What does this have to do with the illusion of relevance?     I think one aspect of our intellectual inadequacy is that we often assign importance to the wrong things.      Why is the death of Michael Jackson so much more interesting to so many than the deaths of some 125,000 children that have happened since Jackson’s untimely demise?   Every week sees hundreds of thousands die – often painfully and miserably – from diseases like malaria, rotoviruses, and malnutrition that are all easily preventable at relatively low cost.     This is NOT to suggest the people dying do not have responsibilities here – they do and I think a key component of bringing higher global health standards is to treat parents in the third world more harshly when they ignore the needs of their children in favor of their own bad habits and bad decisions.   Political correctness prevents using some marketing tactics that might prove effective in combating the profound, pervasive ignorance that often creates irrational aversion to great programs like vaccinations, health, condoms, schooling for girls, and other standard western rights that are currently beyond the grasp of so many in the developing world.

The tragic circumstances of the third world are not generally our *fault* as suggested by the naive who fail to see that it is the *lack of US participation*, not the presence of it, that has condemned so many poor economies to failure.

Still, solving these problems remains a large part of our *responsibility* as global citizens.    Partly due to the moral imperatives that are a product of the worldview most of us share but I think more importantly simply because we *can* solve these problems if we can extract ourselves from the foolish concerns that plague so many otherwise intelligent people.

More importantly, solving these problems requires us to dispense with the illusion of relevance about so many topics that have so little meaning to the collective humanity.     Britney Spears news vs Clean water for a billion people news.

You decide.

The world’s most important “to do” list: The Copenhagen Consensus


The Copenhagen Consensus is arguably the world’s most rational approach to Government spending.    The group, which includes many luminaries in economics, science, and development, reviews many approaches to making the world a better place and ranks them in terms of global priority.     The approach takes the return on investment in terms of dollars for lives very seriously.   Unlike political spending these decisions are looking at the most bang for the buck, rather than the most political benefits which are often strongly influenced by irrational concerns from lobbyists or personal agendas.     Obviously there’s no perfect way to allocate money but it’s certainly the best major effort to date and people *opposed to this approach* should be the ones making their case against it.      One of the most pressing reasons to move ahead with these efforts – even during a time of economic crisis – is that they are very, very cheap ways to do a huge amount of good both morally and strategically.    The reason we do not proceed?   Ignorance, pure and simple ignorance.

http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/Default.aspx?ID=953

Solution
Challenge
1
Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc)
Malnutrition
2
The Doha development agenda
Trade
3
Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization)
Malnutrition
4
Expanded immunization coverage for children
Diseases
5
Biofortification
Malnutrition
6
Deworming and other nutrition programs at school
Malnutrition & Education
7
Lowering the price of schooling
Education
8
Increase andimprove girls’ schooling
Women
9
Community-based nutrition promotion
Malnutrition
10
Provide support for women’s reproductive role
Women
11
Heart attack acute management
Diseases
12
Malaria prevention and treatment
Diseases
13
Tuberculosis case finding and treatment
Diseases
14
R&D in low-carbon energy technologies
Global Warming
15
Bio-sand filters for household water treatment
Water
16
Rural water supply
Water
17
Conditional cash transfers
Education
18
Peace-keepingin post‐conflict situations
Conflicts
19
HIV combination prevention
Diseases
20
Total sanitation campaign
Water
21
Improving surgical capacity at district hospital level
Diseases
22
Microfinance
Women
23
Improved stove intervention
Air Pollution
24
Large, multipurpose dam in Africa
Water
25
Inspection and maintenance of diesel vehicles
Air Pollution
26
Low sulfur diesel for urban road vehicles
Air Pollution
27
Diesel vehicle particulate control technology
Air Pollution
28
Tobacco tax
Diseases
29
R&D and mitigation
Global Warming
30
Mitigation only
Global Warming

Copenhagen is not focused on reviving the flailing global economy although I’d love to see us evaluate the types of global stimulus we’d see by funding innovative solutions to pressing global problems.     New grass for the national mall might put a few fertilizer guys to work for a few months, but it would be a lot more interesting  (let alone morally imperative) to throw a tiny fraction of that budget item towards some innovative new jobs in the health and poverty sectors, where simply improving health and reducing poverty will have powerful positive effects on raising the US and global GDP.      Raising living and health standards lowers birth rates so one of the consequences of spending the relatively tiny sums budgeted  by Copenhagen Consensus is helping to reduce population pressure as well as improve the quality of life for those already here.

Sowing Alarmism? You will reap skepticism.


Over at my favorite global warming watering hole “RealClimate” where several distinguished (and some controversial) climate science dudes reside, there is a lot of hand wringing and whining about why the media does such a poor job reporting on climate change, most notably the recent spate of articles suggesting that it is pretty darn cold this winter.

RealClimate correctly notes that a cold winter or cold spell or cold day tells us virtually nothing about long term climatic trends, and they correctly point out that global warming is a long term and clearly established phenomenon.

However why was RealClimate so conspicuously quiet during the nonsensical stories suggesting that the European heat wave, Katrina, and various “hot days” were a sign of  impending globally-warmed-up-catastrophe looming within decades?

Even hinting over at RealClimate that climate hysteria may be out of control leads to a rash of criticism, comment moderation, and other intellectual intimidation and threats from a crowd who for the most part are very happy to see things exaggerated wildly and irrationally if that exaggeration supports their overall objective – massive intervention to reduce CO2 emissions.

Perhaps there is a lesson here?  Most climate Scientists failed to correct the thousands of overblown “heat waves and hurricanes!” stories and the naively alarming tone and half truths in the film “An Inconvenient Truth”.    I’m not sympathetic now that the shoe is on the other foot and the media is exaggerating cooling trends and bringing on the small handful of climate experts who are genuinely skeptical about global warming.

The scientific truth is far more nuanced and less alarmist than journalists like to suggest, since the object of journalism is not as much “truth” as it is  “readership”.

Journalism and many in science failed us during the hyperbole surrounding “An Inconvenient Truth” and too few scientists stepped in to correct the errors and explain how unlikely we are to have anything approaching a catastrophic climate disaster.

Now that the earth appears to be experiencing a cooling trend journalists are  suspicious and starting to ignore the mostly irrefutable evidence that GW is here to stay.

Stop whining RealClimateers,

You are reaping  skepticism because you helped to sow alarmism.

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Don’t agree with me? Read this article from one of the world’s most influential climate researchers and then make your case.