Reason for a New Age

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    What you will expect to see here are discussions of politics and tangentially economics. This blog will do its best to present a rational look at the world of today, how the modern world came into place, and the issues that are currently being discussed in the public realm.
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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

About Climate Change – Part 4

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/01/06

While I have, I hope, made a convincing argument of the pointlessness of attempting to reduce CO2 emissions, I now intend to present the reasons for doing just that, nevertheless.

I think many people have not actually seen the measures actually proposed to try and deal with climate change/reduce CO2 emissions. During the last presidential election, I went through and took note of all of the candidates’, on the left side, suggestions. These are they:

1) Move to alternate energy sources both on the national infrastructure and portable motor front. Develop oil-independence.
2) New coal energy plants need to capture CO2 emissions.
3) Design buildings that are more energy efficient, retrofit older buildings as possible.
4) Increase the energy efficiency requirements of new electronics. (E.g. try to phase out incandescent lights.)
5) Update the national power grid to be more efficient.
6) Work with developing nations to get them on the newest, cleanest technologies as they come up.

You might note that “planting trees” and “going without washing your clothes for three weeks” aren’t in there at all. This isn’t to say that I think all of them are particularly grand ideas, but I think people tend to believe that nebulous, “let’s all live in caves and become vegetarians”, sorts of ideas are the sort of things being proposed by the global warming crowd. And certainly there may be some loonies who are into that sort of thing. But any real solution has to take into account the fact that Americans simply aren’t going to give up the comforts of their life that they are used to, and our level of energy use is going to continue to grow.

Oil Dependency
A general idea of economics is that trade is good. Trade builds bonds (which are good for preserving peace) and it lets the various parties specialize in whatever it is that their home economy is most suited to, getting everyone the best product, and overall it increases everyone’s wealth. I will cover this basic idea in more depth in a future post.

The problem is that not all nations should be given more money. If a country which does not have a free market and which is lead by a dictator is given money, that money doesn’t go into commerce, research, or the general good. Instead it is either embezzled and wasted or used to purchase weapons and training that makes this country a viable threat. There’s no substantive difference between Middle Eastern and African nations except that the African nations don’t have enough money or clout to be a danger to anyone but themselves.

Ultimately, pumping money into unstable areas is something that should be avoided if at all possible.

But so then the question is whether this is possible?

Hybrid and electric vehicles seem to be nearing competitiveness to fuel cars. A few technological leaps seem to make it likely that battery powered cars will soon (within the decade?) lose their current demerits of charge time and weight at which point they become the clear winner of alternative options.

It appears that we spend, on average, about $1 million per soldier per year to keep them active in hostile territory. With about 160,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re spending about $160 billion to subdue people armed with weapons bought with money made by selling us fuel. Our total spending (local, state, and federal) on transportation is about $250 billion per year. The US is spending $58 billion to bailout General Motors.

Now if you say that that $58 billion is dependent on their leading the way towards new technologies, hybrid or otherwise, then we’re still left with $102 billion to spend on hydrogen pumps, battery R&D or whatever else. A 40% increase in our transportation spending can almost certainly achieve something fairly impressive.

If I litter, I am penalized for it. Yes, it may be more hassle to find a trash can and properly throw away whatever bit of trash it is that I am holding.

Simply put, if you have no issue with the illegalization of littering, there isn’t much argument to be made that companies and people, where it is technologically feasible, shouldn’t muck up their surroundings. This doesn’t have anything to do with saving the polar bears or anything else. It’s possible to behave in a manner that doesn’t have any side effects (or at least less so), and so we should do that.

And you can say that trying to rein in CO2 emissions will drive everything to China, but we’re talking about cars and power plants. I can’t offshore my commute to work, and I doubt anyone has any immediate plans to pump the US supply of electricity under the Pacific ocean.

You might also say that this will raise the price of energy in the US and hence take away from money that could have been spent on things of more importance. This is true, but one point that I didn’t bring up before is that while current climate change is not really a true worry for the world, at some point it will be. Frankly, there’s no knowing at what point some sort of feedback mechanism might suddenly cause our entire climate to go haywire. Until that point you might say that you can’t really see anything unsightly so arguing that it’s litter makes no sense, but at some point it will be. One or two cigarette butts on the sidewalk doesn’t make the city look disgusting, but once every other footstep is coming down on crud, you’ve got a problem. Again, this is the Law of Toos.

But now you might remind me that I have already said that whether the US does or doesn’t cut our emissions, global warming is going to occur.

In Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged, there is a place where one character comments that one day the Sun will run out of energy and go cold. The other character says, “Yes, I’ve heard that, but I never worried because by the time that happens, mankind will be able to create a whole new Sun.” I’m dubious about whether there will still be any living, intelligent remnant of humanity in a few billion years, but I do appreciate that sentiment. Personally, I think that we should be able to control the weather on Earth. There have been times where the natural state of the Earth was inhospitable to man. Perhaps one day it will return to such a state unless mankind intercedes. We may as well start that process now. In the long run, such an ability would almost certainly increase the productivity of the world, and as noted, it could save us from all sorts of possible catastrophes, natural or no.

You might think that being able to control CO2 levels is a rather pointless goal compared to other attempts to control the weather. But let me point out that the theory of CO2 induced heating was originally considered to be a “good thing”. The IPCC report expects an overall increase to global food production for increases between 1 and 3 degrees Celsius. Being able to reach and lock in on the global optimum for production would be a significant boon to humanity’s future.

New Technology is Good
As I will point out in a future posting, the central goal of the free market is to raise the rate of production via, generally, technological improvement. The more easily it is to produce something that is useful, the more free time mankind has, and the more toys we have to play with. All around, the world becomes a better place.

But for various reasons, often, new technology isn’t moved to regardless of whether it is perfectly reasonable to do so. Take for example, nuclear energy. Nuclear power is overall cleaner, safer, and more efficient than coal.

The problem with nuclear energy is that people are afraid of it.

A nuclear power plant which is decided to be built today will go online 20 years from now. Most of this time will be spent fighting anti-nuke and NIMBY suits in court. Overall spending on fighting these obstructionists ends up amounting to more than 50% of the total cost to build the plant. Without this obstruction, the price to go online would be similar or possibly slightly in favor of nuclear.

Right now the government (via tax money) is offering cash incentives to power companies to go nuclear. Without that, it would generally be considered too risky to venture into nuclear production. But once you remove legal and obstructionist costs, the startup prices are already equal and long term the operating fee is about 2/3rds of a coal plant. Rather than raising tax money to fight obstructionists, legislation which limited the feasibility of such behavior would be comparatively free and ultimately has the potential, by making nuclear the preferable alternative, to reduce our spending on electricity by a significant amount.

Currently, 48.5% of our power is generated by coal. Replacing that with nuclear would reduce the average cost of power by about 17%.

Now, looking back at the list of items that I pointed to at the top of this post, one thing you might notice is that the word “efficiency” is used in half of the suggestions. And as I pointed out, the whole purpose and greatest thing about the free market, is the strive for greater efficiency.

Obviously, any added efficiency needs to pay itself off before it’s replaced with even newer technology, which is why I might wonder about the practicality of item 3, but items 4 and 5 are perfectly doable.

Updating the US power grid I’ve seen priced around $60-75 billion. In return, the cost of electricity in the US would drop by something like 20%. On average, we pay about $28.6 billion on electricity every month. A 20% saving would be $5.7 billion. In a single year, we would have recouped our initial cost, and of course it would be all money saved after that point.

Ideas on efficiency standards for electronics are…say interesting. I haven’t seen enough on the topic to really comment. But one area that does seem to be open to improvement is light bulbs. With CFLs and LEDs affordable and emitting equal or more light, the old incandescent light is comparatively inefficient and costly. For a greater down price, in the long run you’ll save money, and all it takes to achieve this change-over is government leadership. There is no extra cost to anyone to achieve this change. And of course, we can expect the cost of these sorts of lights to decrease as manufacturing increases.

Even if it doesn’t matter what our level of CO2 emissions may be, cutting costs and gaining future savings is good. Leadership of this sort should be applauded.

It might be noted that the plans to update our power grid and to phase out incandescent light are both currently underway. It is unclear, but it seems that perhaps the time-to-construction of nuclear power plants has also been significantly reduced. Hybrid vehicles are on their way and will continue to become the mainstream, especially if fuel prices continue to increase.

Regardless of whether you think global warming should be fought, the technology to fight it is newer and more efficient and will almost certainly be changed to for precisely those reasons. A desire to pull out of the Middle East, militarily and economically, is not something that anyone has any issue with and will also, likely, occur on its own.

Obstructing all this is counterproductive to everything. The only item on the list of suggestions that I have issue with is #2, and even that is because I find centralized, massive air scrubbers to be more worthwhile, and even desirable.

Like everything, any suggestion for a thing should be considered on its own merits. If you have no actual objection to any of the methods proposed to accomplish a purpose, whether that purpose is worthwhile or not is entirely besides the point. Attempting to shoot down legislation based on party politics without actually examining what is being suggested is short sighted and counterproductive.


Posted in Editorial, Research | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

About Climate Change – Part 3b

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/01/06

Unfortunately, I was in somewhat of a hurry in my previous post and glossed over and forgot some points.

One point is my statement that 1800 deaths is not a lot. Now since I also said that climate change is less of a worry than impoverished, poorly governed countries, let me offer a small statistic. Every year, roughly 2000 people try to escape from Cuba to the US. Of these, 2/3rds drown (1300 people). And this is a year-to-year statistic. Another 1300 people will throw themselves into the sea, hoping to make it to the US, and end up drowning next year, and the year after that. Those who make it here will most likely send money and news of how they are doing back home. It’s very unlikely that if Cubans living in the US can send millions of dollars back home to Cuba every year that the news that 2/3rds of those coming will drown hasn’t made its way back. A person who knowingly risks a 2/3ds chance of death is probably facing a 100% chance of death if he doesn’t leave.

And let me note that Cuba’s population count is 27 times less than ours. Scaling their nation to our size, they are losing something more like 36,000 people per year to death by flight. And yet, “documentarians” are still able to portray the country as an ideal nation.

Looking at road fatalities within the US, there is about 40,000 deaths in the US on average, per year. A decrease of 4.5% in road fatalities would save as many lives, every year, as we lost to Katrina. A Katrina style incident is probably unlikely to occur more than once a decade, so at most, really, we only need to decrease road fatalities by 0.45% to make up for deaths caused by Katrina style incidents. Lowering the speed limit by 5 miles per hour on freeways would probably more than achieve that and yet the mass populace would be virulently against such an action.

So like I said, in practical terms, 1800 deaths once ever few decades is not a significant number in global or even American terms. It’s not an epidemic and it’s not world ending.

The other point that I forgot to bring up was the issue of China, India, and other modernizing nations. Coal and gas are cheap and easy sources of fuel. A modernizing nation, especially one which holds modernization over the welfare of its people, is going to use whatever is cheapest, easiest, and has the most rugged and reliable equipment around.

The US can reasonably move away from coal and oil and most likely we will do so. But for every bit that we drop off our usage, it’s almost certain that other countries are going to step in and take up that slack and then surpass it. While countries dislike getting the evil eye from the rest of the world, when it comes to economic realities, the economics of the situation always win the day. So while we might be able to get some personal satisfaction at being able to call China and India naughty for not using cleaner technologies, it’s almost certain that they are going to go right on using them until it becomes more or equally economical to switch.

All the oil in the planet is going to get pumped up and burnt at an ever increasing pace until we run out or it becomes non-economical. Whether the US is or isn’t one of the customers of oil doesn’t matter at all in practical terms.

With coal, yes, we can at least stop being one of the people contributing, and that will make the global usage lower than if we had continued, but that alone isn’t going to be the difference between solving or not solving global warming. Future global output of CO2 due to burning coal is likely going to continue to rise until alternate technologies that are robust and cheap are developed that poorer nations would be willing to change to. At the moment, only nuclear energy offers that possibility, but the ability to refine nuclear materials for power plants is generally synonymous with the ability to refine it to make warheads. The US and Europe will try and delay nuclear energy usage in other nations as that is a far greater worry for them than climate change.

In the same way that the population doubles every 60 years or the number of transistors on a CPU will double every 18 months, power usage, similarly, just doubles and doubles at some particular rate. That rate depends on the nation, but the point is that the total power currently used by the US and Europe will be matched and outstripped by the rest of the world. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that in 60 years, the total power use of all third world nations, Russia, China, and India, added together, is far greater than what the US and Europe currently use. It might already be so. In 60 years, the US and Europe will only have just ended their dependency on CO2 emitting technologies. It might take another 40 years past that until the rest of the world hits its peak of emissions and starts to wind its way down.

For the next 50-100 years, CO2 emissions will almost certainly continue to rise. The rate at which the US can and does cycle to other technologies is not going to be a particularly significant factor in all of this. And ultimately, all attempts at being politically correct or attempts at applying political mandate to solve the issue will bump up against the wall of economic feasibility. The transformation to clean technologies is an issue of the quality and cost of these technologies, not of personal or legislative decision.

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About Climate Change – Part 3

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/01/06

In the previous two posts, I discussed why fears that climate science–at least in the US–are biased and unreliable is a needless worry. There’s as much push to disprove global warming as to prove it and measures in place to deal with falsified and unreliable data.

Now I could continue to talk about the science or further reasons to trust/distrust it, but I’d rather move on to the practicalities of it all. If you’re interested in the science, as you’ll see from my previous blog, you can trust the EPA in regards to this issue. Here is their site which goes through it all. They can go over it more effectively than I can.

In this post, what I would like to discuss is why you shouldn’t care at all about climate change. But note that there is a “Part 4” to come, where I will discuss why you should still approve all or most of the measures being proposed to deal with global warming.

To discuss why we shouldn’t care, though, we need to first look at what is actually meant to occur if warming continues.

When I was in college, a friend said to me that he had heard that the Empire State Building was built such that you could get in a plane and crash right into it, and the building would remain standing. But, he said, if you were to fly an airplane into a modern skyscraper, it would collapse.

I’m not sure of the veracity of the first part of his statement, but the latter was of course proven a few years later on September 11th. But the point that he was making was in pointing out how, as technology and understanding improves, the margin of error that goes into construction falls. They know exactly what they want to achieve, and they know exactly how to build to just that standard, without excess. The Empire State Building, in this example, has been built to be excessively durable. It simply doesn’t need to be that strong to deal with all of the calamities that the builder would reasonably foresee (of which, getting hit with a plane wasn’t one of them.)

Buildings in California are naturally going to be more earthquake proof than buildings in Montreal, while as buildings in Montreal are going to be much more resistant to cold and bad weather. But, buildings in California are still only proof up to some level of earthquake. A 9 point earthquake would likely level a city there just as much as it would any city anywhere. Given the option, humans build up to the limit of probable need, not the limit of capability.

So now when you ask, what exactly does it matter if there the planet is warmer by one or two degrees? The answer isn’t that polar bears will lose their territory, rather it’s that we will get to find out where we wished we would have built things a bit better. With the oceans raising in temperature, wind speeds and overall condensation will increase, causing more magnificent storms. With that energy swooping away faster, it might create greater pockets of cool in its absence. Basically, for any sort of weather condition you might view an area as being prone to, you should expect that it will become heightened.

And yes, the ocean will rise, but at the moment the best estimates are that over the next century it will only rise about 1.5 to 3 feet. This may be of concern to specific low regions, but is not a general worry for most people. Continents aren’t going to sink.

The region in which particular things are grown will also migrate. Plants are adapted to a particular climate and simply don’t fare well outside of it. Areas that are currently abundant with fruit might become poor for general farming, while as areas that are currently poor might become ideal. Adapting and migrating along with this change could be costly.

But, like I said, you really shouldn’t care.

The US can afford to adapt to change. We aren’t an impoverished nation, and for as bad as things might get, it’s not going to turn the US into a wasteland. Our buildings aren’t poorly built shacks, so even though they might be insufficient to coming needs, they will probably simply get more battered than the owner would really prefer. Katrina style incidents are probably not going to be commonplace, and for as bad as that was, frankly it only killed ~1,800 people, which isn’t really all that large a number, and probably most of whom were the terribly poor and ill and would likely have been more of a drag on society than a gain if there had been no disaster at all. Apologies for my pragmatism.

Simply put, yes there will be greater deaths and disasters in the US, but nothing to an extent that it would even be statistically significant compared to wars, driving drunk, poverty, crime, or any other sort of thing that we live with day-to-day and yet still manage to live merrily watching TV and browsing the internet. 99.999% of people will not be affected and tales of bad things happening due to climate change will be bad things that happened to some other people elsewhere in the nation and “Oh my, isn’t that sad?”

Now there almost certainly are regions of the world where the occurrence of climate change will signal disaster. Africa, Indonesia, regions of South America, pretty much anyplace where the majority of the populace is poor, starved, living in shacks, and has no immediate hope of ever having a government that will give a damn.

But if you want to stop global warming to save poor impoverished African children, then personally I would say that you’re missing the forest for the trees. Children in Africa are already starving. They’re already just as likely to die of some epidemic, war, ethnic cleansing, or lion attack. Adding one more epidemic on top of all that really doesn’t worsen the situation by all that much. And the base problem behind that all is that they have poor economies and bad government. By dealing with that, you are going to save far more lives than you could ever get by solving climate change. Fixing climate change would have a negligible effect in all reality. Their life is going to be pretty dismal regardless.

At some point in the future I hope to examine some possible ideas for the future of Africa (and other poor areas of the world) that would ideally be practical, popular (for both them and us), and possibly even lucrative.

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