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  • Government leavin' the yout' on the shelf

    December 19, 2006 2:31 PM

    When I was a young lad in northern England, there was much distress as the Thatcher government swallowed the bitter pill and proceeded to shut down or privatize loss-generating nationalized industries that existed primarily as "make work" programs.  The Specials' 1981 hit "Ghost Town" was an early cry of outrage.  The lines "No job to be found in this country" and "People gettin' angry" sum up the reaction of many thousands, an attitude that survives to this day in the North of England.

    Today, economist Don Boudreaux explains just why scarcity of jobs is never a problem and why government attempts to make work are misguided shots at the wrong target.

  • Model article

    December 19, 2006 12:31 PM

    Excellent article from Ryan Meyer of the Center for Science, Policy and Outcomes at the University of Arizona on the inadequacies of models that purport to assess the damages of global warming.  Read the whole thing, but two specific points are well worth excerpting:

    The a priori assumption that global climate change is the only global change problem we need to deal with is misguided. Starting with climate change as the central problem, and then building a model around variables that plausibly can be linked to climate change, will of course yield a picture of the future in which climate change is the dominant problem. If one insists on framing problems in global terms, climate should be just one of many changes important to the future of humans on Earth. The broad perspective of global change may provide a far more useful (and balanced) context for specific global problems like climate change.

    A bottom-up approach to identifying and quantifying potential climate impacts is crucial to understanding the importance of climate change in socio-ecological systems. The marginal social cost of one ton of carbon emitted into the atmosphere - a number actively debated among environmental economists (e.g. Richard 1999, Clarkson and Deyes 2002, Pearce 2003, Guo et al. 2006) — is no more useful to the rural farmer in Zimbabwe than the knowledge that the global average temperature might rise by a few degrees. Local dynamics must be incorporated into any realistic and usable account of climate impacts.

    Similar points are made by Indur Goklany in some recent papers.

  • Lucy's "Top Twaddlers"

    December 19, 2006 12:31 PM

    I missed reading the Financial Times yesterday (Fred stole it), so missed until today Lucy Kellaway's riotous column where she gives business jargon awards for the year.  Don't miss it yourself.  You'll also get a chance to hear one of her winners in the category “Company Song So Awful I Was Positive It Was a Spoof.”

    Here's what Lucy has to say about this special award:

    The outstanding winner in this category is Shell. Its song is called "Growing and Winning" and is set to "We Are the World". "We have moved on, growing day by day/Sharing strengths, we practise what is best/We are all a part of Shell's global family/Doing work aligned with everyone." It is a haunting mixture of pyschobabble, sentimentality and business jargon.

    (Tip from B. Rippel) 

  • Who's the Denier?

    December 19, 2006 12:29 PM

    The Charleston Daily Mail editorial page recently featured "Rockefeller is Out of Line" a critique of the Senator's "intemperate attempt to squelch debate." Sen. Rockefeller responded by noting that:

    We didn't "attempt to squelch debate," as the Daily Mail suggested. Rather, our letter was, in fact, an attempt to create and foster greater debate.

    And part of that debate, I believe, requires calling attention to Exxon-Mobil's funding of a pseudoscientific community whose purpose is to prevent us from tackling global climate change.

    This is right out of the Washington politician play book. When told you are doing something wrong, just deny it. Say you did the opposite of whatever it was you did and then try to change the topic or discredit whoever offered the criticism.

    Sen. Rockefeller's opening move in this play is absolutely perfect in its defiance of logic. In no way does a call for defunding research foster debate, especially when it's backed up by the coercive power of two US Senators.

    The second part of this classic play is the attempt to discredit your opponent. In this case, Sen. Rockefeller would have us believe that ExxonMobil, as an interested party, cannot be a participant in an honest debate.

    Are we to believe that this is in contrast to Senators Rockefeller and Snowe? Rockefeller betrays his own clear interest in the same editorial:

    Thankfully for West Virginia, clean coal technology is at the heart of these solutions. And I don't intend to allow deliberate misinformation to undermine our push for major national investments in the clean coal research and facilities that can help solve this problem.

  • Just how widespread is misrepresentation in climate science?

    December 19, 2006 12:28 PM

    Roger Pielke Jr has some strong words about a forthcoming paper that he feels misrepresents his work.  Note that we're not talking about an advocacy position here, an op-ed or a short video piece that are unable to capture all nuances adequately, but an actual scientific paper.  Roger concludes:

    The bottom line here is that while this is just one paragraph in one paper, there is perhaps reason to be concerned about the fidelity of the literature, whatever the underlying causes may be. We have documented other shortfalls in the literature on several occasions on this site. To the extent that these data points are representative of broader problems in the climate literature, scientists should redouble their efforts to exert high standards of quality control. For if I can spot these misrepresentations in the literature, then others will as well.

    Roger's field is a specific one relating to the impacts of hurricane damage.  We have seen, however, similar objections in the field of malaria, for example.  It would be an interesting research topic for someone to assess how widespread such misrepresentation is in the climate literature and whether climate science is unusual in this regard.  Such a study would answer a lot of questions about the effects on science of politicization.

  • Criminals: The New Protected Class

    December 19, 2006 9:36 AM

    Employers in Washington, D.C. may soon be banned from considering criminal convictions in hiring, if the criminal's probation or parole officer thinks he has "achieved a degree of rehabilitation," under a bill sponsored by ex-con Marion Barry. Criminals will become a new protected class.

    The D.C. Council apparently voted unanimously to ban such discrimination against ex-convicts on December 11. If it repeats the vote on December 19, the approval of the ban will be final, according to the December 11 issue of the Legal Times.

    Civil-rights legislation started out as a way to require that people be judged based on the content of their character, not irrelevant characteristics like race.

    But now, employers will be prevented from looking at the content of the character of certain criminals.

    Amazingly, leftist groups like the D.C. Employment Justice Project and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights are criticizing the bill for not going far enough to protect criminals.

    This legislation will do further damage to the business climate in the District of Columbia, and will further erode what little freedom of association D.C. Employers have left.

  • DDT and Malaria: The Misanthropes Strike Back!

    December 19, 2006 9:35 AM

    The recent decision by the World Health Organization to recommend selective indoor spraying to control malaria seemed to signal a recognition on the part of environmentalists that “small” environmental risks could be accepted when the human gains were great. Sigh — it appears that this is not to be. The internet is abuzz with attacks on the WHO reforms, arguing that bed nets are a superior solution, a solution not requiring rethinking the relative risks of DDT. They raise the issue of mosquitoes becoming resistant to DDT — less of a problem than they think since the major impact of DDT is to deter mosquitoes from residing in the sprayed room, not killing them. Not sure how resistant builds up in these cases. Also, bed nets require significant behavioral changes. People must arrange their lives to sleep enclosed, the nets must be cared for (torn nets don't protest), and they do nothing for mosquito bites prior to bedtime.

    Millions more are likely to die before the Greens abandon their worship of St. Carson and allow mankind to once again defend themselves against disease.

  • But At Least the Egyptians Kept the Operating Costs Down!

    December 19, 2006 9:34 AM

    And, yet, another story about the virtues of mass transit, the horrors of the automobile. John Pomfret, a Washington Post journalist, wrote an article this weekend (“L.A. Long Ruled by Cars, Becoming a Transit Leader”). After the dismissive initial comment (less than 7 percent of all trips in L.A. are via transit), he finds wonderful things to say about the L.A. subway. That numerous studies have found that transit ridership in absolute and relative terms is declining, that subways are the least cost-effective means of providing mass transit, and that the impact is very swiftly to provide wealthy people a highly subsidized alternative to driving — no coverage on these points. Subways are cool and economists are just a gloomy lot.

    Every society seems to experience periods of collective insanity where funds are poured into whatever mega project is currently popular. The Egyptians and their pyramids were perhaps the first; subways seem to be the current pork barrel favorite. But, one thing is clear — the Egyptians were a bit wiser — they may have wasted equivalent amounts on the capital cost side, but they certainly were better at holding down operating costs!

  • Can the Greens Take a Joke?

    December 19, 2006 9:33 AM

    Is it my imagination or is there an increasing trend to view the greenies and their fears as chicken littles, whiners, and basically nuts? It has become a standard bit of pop culture dialog to refer to some over-the-top alarmist statement as an “Al Gore moment,” and jokes about global warming are common. But now that trend has penetrated even the comic strips. The Sunday Tank McNamara strip (December 17, 2006) has the basketball commissioner brushing off criticisms of the switch to “synthetic” from “leather” balls. The Commissioner says that switch has “got the animal rights loonies off my back.” But, then, the last panel shows a group of protesters holding up a banner protesting the use of synthetics too.

    The banner reads: “People for the Ethical Treatment of Hydrocarbons” with the subtitle — “Drilling Desecrates the Sacred Resting Places of our Ancestral Organisms!”

    Tank grasps, what so many businessmen do not: feeding the crocodile your leg doesn't make him a vegetarian!

  • EU trade chief nixes carbon taxes; hails zero tariffs for “green” goods

    December 18, 2006 2:27 PM

    Today the European Union's trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, rejected carbon border taxes as an approach to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by imposing tariffs on carbon-intensive goods from countries that are not a party the Kyoto Protocol.

    Mandelson was responding to attempts in the European Commission and by France's prime minister Dominique de Villepin to penalize through trade sanctions countries such as the U.S. that have not signed on to drastically reduce their CO2 emissions.

    In the EU, de Villepin has said, emission-reduction schemes mean that EU businesses are operating at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis developed countries like the U.S. and rapidly developing countries like China.

    In his speech, Mandelson said:

    There is one trade policy response to climate change about which I have serious doubts. That is the idea of a specific "climate" tariff on countries that have not ratified Kyoto. This would be highly problematic under current WTO rules and almost impossible to implement in practice. I also suspect it would not be good politics.

    Not participating in the Kyoto process is not illegal. Nor is it a subsidy under WTO rules.

    At the same time, Mandelson supported trade “incentives” such as zero tariffs for “green goods” — those that contribute to sustainability.


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