Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘environment’

Will Republican punsters save the planet?

17 Republicans in the US House of Representatives have signed a resolution to take “meaningful action” against global warming.

It is the largest number of Republicans ever to join an action-oriented climate initiative in “maybe ever,” said Jay Butera, a congressional liaison for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which helped put together the resolution. “I’ve been working on this issue for 10 years,” he told me. “This is a high water mark.”

Post-existing climate conditions

According to the NY Times, insurers have been taking advantage of climate-change fears to raise prices for flood insurance. Now that the presidential election has conclusively proved that the greenhouse effect is a Chinese hoax to make Americans look stupid less productive, I think the Congress needs to move beyond minor defensive measures like abandoning the Paris accord, and move instead to aggressively defend Americans’ God-given right to build decadent structures in flood zones: Just as health insurers are now prohibited from inquiring about or taking account of “pre-existing conditions”, flood insurers need to be prohibited from taking account of (hoax) research about “post-existing” (future) climate conditions in determining flood insurance prices. Prices may be based only on past flood records.

This can be combined into a single consumer-rights bill with Mike Pence’s initiative to ban life insurance premiums that discriminate against tobacco users. As Pence wrote in 2000,

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill… Nine out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.

What’s all this hysteria for? Smoking is even safer than Russian Roulette. (Five out of six players don’t get shot!)

Is global warming a hoax or not, Mr Sarkozy?

A few weeks ago former and possibly future French president Nicolas Sarkozy proclaimed his allegiance to international right-wing loonidom by ridiculing the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change:

Cela fait 4 milliards d’années que le climat change. Le Sahara est devenu un désert, ce n’est pas à cause de l’industrie. Il faut être arrogant comme l’Homme pour penser que c’est nous qui avons changé le climat…

[The climate has been changing for four billion years. The Sahara turned into a desert, and that wasn’t caused by industry. It takes a uniquely human arrogance to believe that we have changed the climate…]

But now, perhaps because Le Pen seems to have the loony right wing anti-science vote locked up, he is threatening to punish the US if it tries to scuttle the Paris accord:

Donald Trump has said – we’ll see if he keeps this promise – that he won’t respect the conclusions of the Paris climate agreement.

Well, I will demand that Europe put in place a carbon tax at its border, a tax of 1-3 per cent, for all products coming from the United States, if the United States doesn’t apply environmental rules that we are imposing on our companies.

Early greenhouse

I read a novel that I’d known about for a long time, but had never gotten around to: Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. I was startled to discover that an essentially background point of the plot of this novel, published in 1971, was the destruction of the Earth’s environment by the greenhouse effect. This has already taken place before the events of the novel, set in the early twenty-first century.

Rain was an old Portland tradition, but the warmth — 70ºF on the second of March — was modern, a result of air pollution. Urban and industrial effluvia had not been controlled soon enough to reverse the cumulative trends already at work in the mid-twentieth century; it would take several centuries for the CO2 to clear out of the air, if it ever did. New York was going to be one of the larger casualties of the Greenhouse Effect, as the polar ice kept melting and the sea kept rising.

This is only incidental to the themes of the novel, which grapples with the structure of reality and the nature of dreams. But it amazed me to see global warming being confidently projected into our future, at a time when — as the climate-change skeptics never tire of pointing out — discussions of climate change tended to refer to the danger of a new Ice Age.

At least, that is my memory. According to the Google Books NGram viewer, though, the “greenhouse effect” was as mentioned in books around 1970 as frequently as it is today; and, oddly, it has declined substantially from a peak three times as high in the early 1990s.Screenshot 2015-12-16 14.22.01

For example, a 1966 book titled Living on Less begins its section on “The Environment” by discussing global warming, and launches right into a description of the greenhouse effect that sounds very similar to what you might read today.

The Shabbat automobile (and other regulatory subterfuges)

It reminds me of the questions that folklorist Alan Dundes raised in his book The Shabbat Elevator and other Sabbath Subterfuges: Why do Orthodox Jews adopt enormously rigid strictures on every element of their lives, and then devote enormous energy and creativity to evading them, as when they tie a string around a whole neighbourhood to make an eruv, defined to be a single residence for purposes of the law that bans carrying objects in a public domain.

One could well ask, if a set of customs is deemed overly oppressive, why not simply repeal or ignore them?

At least they can argue that repeal isn’t really an option when you’re talking about divine law. But what about automobile pollution regulations?

Amid all the attention focused on Volkswagen’s bizarre cheating on diesel emissions tests — which ought to, but probably won’t, lead to multiple executives spending long terms in prison — some interesting lessons about the general nature of regulations and testing threaten to be submerged. As many have pointed out, real diesel emissions are many times higher than those permitted by regulations. The tests are routinely evaded, if not always as creatively as Volkswagen has done. Some examples: (more…)

Gay-baiting Francis

Am I wrong to see homophobic allusions in right-wing pundit George Will’s attack on Pope Francis? He accuses the pope of “fact-free flamboyance” (which would be a nice alliteration if it made any sense, which I can’t see that it does) and calls his “social diagnoses” “shrill”. Again, is this just an attempt to simulate eloquence on a deadline? The expression is striking, but nonsensical. How can a “diagnosis” be shrill? He also accuses the Bishop of Rome of “rhetorical exhibitionism”.

My earlier comments on the gender connotations of “shrill” are here.

Same as it ever was

The battle over climate science in US environmental policy has come to an odd watershed:

The Senate overwhelmingly voted, 98-1, in favor of an amendment stating that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” In an amusing twist, the chamber’s most notorious climate denier, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, signed on to the amendment at the last minute, mostly because it didn’t attribute a cause to global warming. “The climate is changing. The climate has always changed,” Inhofe said. He then criticized supporters of man-caused climate change by saying that the real “hoax” was “that there are some people that are so arrogant to think” they can change the climate.

This reminds me of an obscure event in modern German history. Searching for an appropriate new president to succeed the highly esteemed Richard von Weizsäcker in 1993, the first new Bundespräsident since reunification, Helmut Kohl looked east, and selected the little-known former theologian and then justice minister of Saxony, Steffen Heitmann. Unfortunately, Heitmann scuttled his own candidacy by proving himself to be even more prone to embarrassing press comments than Kohl himself.

For the first time in nearly 50 years Germany was not occupied, but rather was preoccupied, with the “Schlussstrich” debate. It’s an untranslatable German word for the line drawn under a column of numbers before totting them up. The question was whether Germany should stop examining its conscience about the Nazi period and Cold War, and draw a balance, the better to march forward to a bright new dawn, as the right wing (!) wanted. (I’m presuming they assumed the balance would come out negative, though what the sum would be was never really a part of the discussion.) Exactly the opposite of Faulkner’s famous dictum about the past, and this was the position that Heitmann allied himself with, which was controversial enough. But his choice of words really grabbed people’s attention:

Ich glaube, daß der organisierte Tod von Millionen Juden in Gaskammern tatsächlich einmalig ist – so wie es viele historisch einmalige Vorgänge gibt. Wiederholungen gibt es in der Geschichte ohnehin nicht.

I do believe that the organised death of millions of Jews in gas chambers was unique — just as there are so many unique events in history. In any case, history never repeats itself.

As one commentator satirised it, “Of course you are my one true love, darling. As are all my girlfriends.”

I was also intrigued by the following comment, cited by Jonathan Chait,

“I do think there are those [who] think there is some kind of climate change happening and are tired of fighting the science or just don’t want the fight and who would rather focus on the economics — I don’t think that means they are ceding the argument that manmade climate change exists, though,” said one Republican Senate aide in a comment echoed by several others.

I’ve never seen such an explicit statement from inside the Republican party that science is seen as an enemy to be “fought”, rather than a discipline that should inform all sensible policy.

New frontiers in child-rearing: How to (not) talk to your kids about fracking

The Guardian reports on a legal settlement, where a Pennsylvania family whose water supply was contaminated by gas drilling, received a payout for their now useless farm, and a gag order banning anyone in the family — expressly including the children, aged 7 and 10, from “ever discussing fracking or the Marcellus Shale”.

During the proceedings, the attorney representing Range Resources, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and MarkWest Energy, reaffirmed the gag order on the children. “I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it,” he told the court.

The parents in this case did warn of the limited reach of the court:

We can tell them, they can not say this, they can not say that, but if on the playground…..

I know I have enough trouble getting my own children to stop talking about oil and gas exploration on the playground. It’s hard to imagine any court being willing to enforce an order penalising people for discussing certain topics because of an agreement their parents entered into, but the mere threat (and legal expenses) might intimidate them from ever challenging it.

Imagine the potential: Fundamentalist parents could enter into gag orders with their church, forbidding the children from ever speaking about Darwin or evolution. Many parents would happily sign a gag order blocking their four-year-olds from discussing poopy pants or boogers.

And why stop at one generation? Just imagine if, instead of fighting for the loyalty of consumers, generation after generation, a company like Coca Cola could simply pay current consumers to commit themselves and all their descendants to never mention the name of Pepsi, or any other cola drink. And while we’re selling off the rights of our descendants, we might as well replace the whole problematic student loan market with selling off our firstborn children into slavery. (Perhaps they can be chained to desks in the university admissions office, forced to read through 80 thousand personal essays.)

The whole idea of gag orders disgusts me. Paying someone not to talk about a subject… Why does that remind me of something absurd?…

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