Climate Change, Bjorn Lomborg, and why we need more nuclear power.


I’d really urge people to read Bjorn Lomborg more carefully.  He is a very good analyst but unfortunately he’s become a major lightning rod for controversy because people don’t like to hear such well presented views that challenge their sensibilities about global climate change policy.   Thus he’s often branded a “climate denier” when this is ridiculous.

Lomborg should certainly NOT be called a climate change “denier”. First, hose terms simply get people thinking irrationally about the issues, which are about science and policy.    Also because he *agrees* with even the most active activists that climate change is happening and that it poses risks to humanity.    He just feels those risks should be managed rationally in line with the many other challenges faced here on the planet. 

The basic science seems clear: 
* There is global warming – about a degree last century. 
* Most or all of that warming is very likely to be caused by humans via CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. 
* Increasing CO2 emissions, with China and USA leading the pack, will continue to influence the environment both as pollutants and as catalysts of warming.

So, up to here most climate activists and Lomborg would be in total agreement.

However, it’s the NEXT step that matters most in terms of policy, and that’s where I don’t agree at all with most activists.  Based on observations and current science papers, I’m not convinced that we are facing catastrophic environmental damage.   Sea level rise is very small and manageable.   Even the island nations of Tuvalu is actually *increasing* in land mass due to the complex geological patterns there that appear to be swamping out the effects of sea level rise.  

More importantly it’s very clear to me that *even if we are*, people are not willing to make the changes needed to lower C02 enough to matter more than to lower perhaps a few percent of the increased warming. 

Prioritizing our concerns matters because about a billion people are *currently* facing truly catastrophic conditions in terms of poverty and health in poor countries, and curbing C02 (which is expensive), will divert resources and make it harder for those countries to realize the higher standards that come from modern industrialization/globalization. 

Although I strongly believe that the first diversion of resources to fight poverty should come from our bloated defense budget – now topping a staggering 600 billion per year, I don’t want us to turn around and spend billions trying to stem environmental changes that are likely to happen anyway.   Let’s spend that on saving people *now*.

Misplaced compassion … kills


One of the most obvious things I assert is also the thing that bothers people the most.   It’s that most of us tend to fret or show  compassion over trivial or questionable things while we ignore the catastrophic circumstances that plague so many people around the world.

A great recent example is the effort to “find Paco”, a dog that was “lost” by Delta Airlines during a trip back to (the UK?) from Mexico.     As with most stories like this, the perception  at first glance is heart wrenching.    But then the facts clear up why this story is ridiculously overblown.

Paco was a stray, picked up by a tourist couple, who then had him shipped home.   It appears he escaped from his cage while on the tarmac in Mexico City and  (I’m speculating here) headed back to the places where he’s more comfortable living.    Sad for the couple, but hardly all that newsworthy, especially given the apparent outrage against Delta.

Delta’s offer to credit the couple only $200 for a lost pet was obviously a stupid move on their part, but I resent that people don’t get all the facts out there when trying to push these stories to a gullible public.    If you are a compassionate person you MUST IGNORE PACO and spend your time thinking about the daily deaths of thousands from Malaria, rotovirus, and lack of clean water.    Yes that task is more than  overwhelming, but the whimpy “Find Paco”  sentiment that people think makes them a “compassionate person” does nothing of the kind – it hardens them to the plight of millions who live in conditions we could largely fix if people would pay as much attention to that as they pay to missing stray dogs in Mexico.      (How?   If the developed world cut defense and entitlement spending by about 10% we could rebuild most of the developing world’s infrastructure  IN ONLY A FEW YEARS.     The strategic benefits alone would be staggering, but military enthusiasts are too blinded by irrational post-cold-war thinking while entitlement enthusiasts are too busy sending subsidies to the American lower and middle class, who contrary to our constant whining cost far more in bureaucracies and benefits than we pay for  (can you say “National Debt”?)

The millions spent sending poor Free Willie back into the wild also comes to mind (he died soon after, lacking the skills needed to survive).       Did people seriously think Willie would be happier in the wild?    It was as if their *need* to fight against captivity programs trumped the animal’s own well being.

So instead of fretting over things that don’t matter much, why not pick your favorite extreme poverty charity and help out – then you can feel good…. AND actually do some good too!    Here’s a start:   http://twitter.com/charitywater

Grameen Foundation – Microloans WORK


The Grameen Bank was the simple but brilliant innovation in poverty fighting by Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize along with the Bank he founded.   The Grameen Bank provides very small loans to women in developing countries who then start businesses and almost alway pay back the microloans with interest.

Microloans have proven to be one of the most effective poverty fighting instruments ever, and continue to lift families out of the conditions faced in much of the developing world.    I’ll be giving to this cause and I hope you’ll consider doing so as well!

27th

Acumen Fund’s Novogratz on Charlie Rose. Fighting Poverty with Profits.


Charlie Rose was rocking today with two superb interviews that enhance and challenge our perceptions of how to think about the world’s most pressing problems of poverty and health in the developing world.  [yes, I realize the global economy is part of this massive problem equation and agree that fixing it is of primary importance to developing world as well as to those of us who live higher on the hog].

Jacqueline Novogratz, a former Wall Street Banker turned Venture Capital Do-Gooder, on her book “The Blue Sweater” and her personal and business adventures using microfinance and entrepreneurial innovations.   Brilliant:   http://www.charlierose.com/view/content/10176

Connecting poor and wealthy to solve pressing problems in developing world: Acumen invests in innovative projects around the world, using the power of entrepreneurial capitalism to solve pressing problems of human need.

These approaches to development and poverty reduction are *so powerful* and *so effective* that it’s painful to watch how many people get bogged down fretting about issues like privitization of water and corporations as evil. We must focus on what *works*, regardless of our ideology.  The best representatives of that approach are folks like Novogratz, Gates, Yunis, and many others who bring their business brilliancies to the challenges of international development.

Rose’s next guest was ethics professor Peter Singer on the ideas from his book “The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty”.   Singer notes the major success of the Gates Foundation and also the fact that  while most Americans tend to say they think “too much” tax money goes to international Aid yet fail to understand how small our contributions are to international development projects, and actually suggest we should send “about 5%” when the real amount is about 1%.     Also makes the case that international development is actually in our own selfish best interest, but for many is not in our *perceived* self interest.   http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10174

9 killings over the weekend. In Iraq? No, Chicago.


As somebody who believes that real math and reason should govern our perceptions about the world, it is difficult to reconcile how people become almost obsessively concerned with certain categories of death or destruction while ignoring others.

For example regardless of how you view the war in Iraq, the death toll appears to be comparable to …. shootings in the USA.    Obviously  there are caveats needed for this simplistic comparison – US is larger, civilian deaths in Iraq are not as well documented and down from the past, etc.   But my point is that if deaths are what bother you then you should familiarize yourself with key death statistics, and you should advocate US spend accordingly.   The most important stat is that *tens of thousands* of  people die around the world every day from easiily preventable illnesss such as Malaria, AIDS, Intestinal viruses, and more.  Unlike violent deaths, which often spring from irreconcilable ethnic, economic, religious, or cultural tensions, deaths from disease are almost universally considered to be “undesirable”.   Also, research has made it clear that lowering death rates generally lowers the birth rate.  The notion that saving people just creates more people to save is …  not supportable.   Yet we (yes, I mean YOU!) continue to pour *trillions* into military and low ROI social programs while a fraction of that amount would create massive infrastructure improvements and save tens of millions of lives.  

I don’t understand the aversion to sensible spending, but I think it stems from some key defects of our human species:

1) We are programmed and designed to respond more to single instances of things rather than massive instances, and to respond locally rather than globally.  Thus we will work harder to save a single child in need of a heart transplant than a whole village in India dying from lack of sanitation.   This focus was functional evolutionarily but now is breaking down in our big world where disaster can loom large for huge numbers of people.

2) We (yes, I mean YOU!)  suck at math.   Many people in power don’t even grasp the chasm of difference between a million and a billion dollars.  Contractors in the military exploit this fundamental math ignorance of people in congress and military decision makers on a daily basis.   The answer of course is to follow the advice of the founders (and even Gen Dwight Eisenhower!) and take this massive and inappropriate military spending out of the hands of bureaucrats and politicians.   In fact the answer is to massively curtail military spending immediately by 50% to 90%.   The security implications are minimal, but people refuse to do the analyses.  I’m absolutely *stunned* by how ignorant and sheepish most of my fellow fiscal conservatives are about the waste in the military.  It is glaring, massive, and preventable – even more than the massive levels of waste in the US social services sector.

That ends my rant for the day.  We now return you to our regularly scheduled blogging…

 

World Malaria Day is April 25th


Malaria is one of the most persistent yet solvable problems on earth, and progress has been made as awareness increases.    Netting, cheap drugs, and anti-mosquito programs all have a role to play and the cost of these measures pales in comparison to what we spend to save a few lives here in the developed world.  

One of the issues I can’t emphasize enough to my fellow fiscal conservatives is that saving lives *DOES NOT* result in increased populations.    This is a faulty but common notion that leads the developed world to spend far too little on poverty reduction which has an extremely high return on the investment by any practical measures and certainly a high return by moral measures.

Can you, personally, save a human life by giving a few bucks to a malaria program?  Yes, you can and I am willing to give anybody a money-back guarantee you will feel good about it:
http://www.malariaconsortium.org/pages/world_malaria_day_2008.html

 

    

Bill Gates’ Critics – they just can’t handle the truth!


I get so tired of reading the innane drivel criticizing Bill Gates’ excellent vision of global prosperity through more innovative approaches to global capitalism.    Gates is right on, and this should be obvious to those who care about capitalism OR who care about bringing prosperity to the billions who suffer in developing countries.

Over at TechCrunch people are ranting irrationally about bootstrap prosperity in the selfish and foolish way US technophiles often do, oblivious to the causes and circumstances of poverty in the developing world and without any compassion for the *hundreds of millions* of children mired in poverty around the world.  

Here’s how I vented over there:

Bravo to Gates. Many of the comments here floored me with their lack of insight.
First, to suggest Gates is not sincere is nonsensical. His record of philanthropy is clear, focused, and brilliant. Whatever you think of Microsoft’s history of sometimes ruthless corporate dominance you simply are not paying attention to think Gates vision of global prosperity is not genuine. I’d even go so far as to suggest Gates fortune was made largely through the purchases of other affluent people, and now he’s giving most of it to the poor. That is a virtuous cycle if I ever saw one.

Second, the notion that unfettered capitalism is the most expeditious way to feed the poor and improve the infrastructures of poor countries is naive and dangerous. Even Adam Smith noted that types of intervention are needed to preserve the integrity and power of free market forces. In nations that suffer from corrupt or short sighted leadership and cumbersome bureaucracies (that is to say, all nations), we need to bring modified capitalism to bear ASAP if we want to stabilize prosperity and lift the billion+ people who are simply out of the virtuous globalized capital loop. Gates point is that more innovative approaches to capitalism will benefit everybody, and he’s spot on.

Meanwhile Open Sourcer Matt Asay is conflating open source issues and Microsoft with global development, seeming to suggest that the fastest way to global prosperity is to bring Open Source to the world and kill Microsoft.   Here’s what I wrote over there:

No. Emphatically. You are correct that Open Source is great, and also that Microsoft has strategically fought against open source. But Gates is correctly working to reallocate personal and corporate responsibilities. He’s saying that more of the big profits and big innovation should be focused on improving the lot of those in the developing world. This is a profound approach and a virtuous one.

I don’t think it is reasonable to ask Microsoft to be a key player in dismanting decades of their corporate dominance, even though I’m happy to see that fade. It’s also unreasonable to suggest the benefits of Open Source development will necessarily flow to the world’s poorest people. More likely they’ll flow to those of us in first world who are able to take advantage of them. I’m big on Open Source, but hardly think Microsoft should be a leader in that space. I’m even bigger on focusing attention on developing world problems and the kind of conflation of issues here simply confuses people.

Gates is speaking today at the Davos conference.   It would be nice if  people actually listen to what he is saying.