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The city of Jakarta is sinking quite rapidly because of land subsidence (they are removing tons of groundwater).  It is reported that the Northern part of the city has sunk … eight feet … in just the past decade.

Why?

Largely because city residents freely pump groundwater, causing the land that sits above it to subside.

Why?

No one owns the groundwater, and the city officials seemed to have done a poor job providing water to residents from other sources, despite hte abundance of water in the area.

So, the city is considering all kinds of emergency options to deal with this – including the possibility of relocating the capital to another city.

But this is the year 2019, so when I opened my news up this morning, I didn’t just get to read the article describing the problem in Indonesia (link here), I got this:

Folks, this has almost zero to do with climate change, and here we have reporters tweeting out to thousands of likes, “Good morning, welcome to climate change.”  Now I think one can put a charitable interpretation on the tweet – which would be something like, “The problem in Jakarta has nothing to do with climate change, but the fact that the city is rapidly going underwater illustrates the problems faced by cities who are threatened by rising sea levels,” or something to that effect.  I think that is still possible to deliver that message in 280 characters.

Much more to say. But suppose this IS what we see when climate change gets bad (remember the city is sinking in parts by up to 8 feet, climate change scenarios are expected to raise sea levels here by 9 inches to 12 inches over a century), note that the city is already beginning to adapt, and relocate … what is the implication of this response for the long term impacts of climate change?

My back of the envelope guess of what the market value of the top 10 oil companies in the world, and all of the coal producers in the world, is about $3 trillion.

If climate change is the worst thing to ever face humanity, and we are opposed to nuclear and we don’t think we can scale up wind and solar in any meaningful way to get us where we need to go, who is on board for buying every last one of the coal companies, and all of the largest oil companies, and then just sitting on the reserves forever?

Maybe I am two days late to be having these thoughts?

Here is the policy-making equivalent:

The 1994 discovery of arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh prompted a massive public health campaign that led 20% of the population to switch from backyard wells to less convenient drinking water sources that had a higher risk of fecal contamination. We find evidence of unintended health consequences by comparing mortality trends between households in the same village that did and did not have an incentive to abandon shallow tubewells. Post-campaign, households encouraged to switch water sources have 46% higher rates of child mortality than those not encouraged to switch. Switching away from arsenic-contaminated wells also increased adult mortality.

Paper here.

For years I have waffled back and forth between being way too reactionary and concerned about the insane ideas that are put forth, or way too lax in trying to stay out of the news. For my own mental health and for what I thought would help contribute to good debate, I have chosen to just take a back seat and try to focus on some longer term type questions.

But it turns out that the debates are real. It’s not “green” vs. “not green” (to take one example), there is a conflict of visions (see Sowell of course) between a constrained view of the world vs. an unconstrained view. There is a conflict of visions between our own freedom and other people’s freedom. There is a conflict of visions between real freedom and coercion. And more. These are real – and almost every argument today (e,g. capitalism vs some other abhorrent “system:) is just a veiled argument for it. It’s toxic, and the root of the problem is that we don’t just come out and have the ACTUAL argument, we have fake arguments about other things as social and cultural and political cover.  What is the proper role of government? What is the proper scope and size of the government at all levels? What things should be left to the voluntary actions of a free and responsible (and even irresponsible!) people? We don’t have those arguments. We have empowered the government(s) to do so much, that we are fighting to control that power, fighting to control what other people do, and we are all less free, less healthy, less safe, less clean environmentally, less productive as a result it.

Which brings us to the news du jour. I sadly just learned that the fools in my state have decided that BANNING plastic bags is a good idea, so here we are. This is yet another program that is being put in place that will absolutely have little to zero benefit for the planet and which will make our lives either a little bit or a lot suckier. It’s the supermarket version of low flow toilets, low water pressure, temperature limits on appliances, energy efficient appliances, CFC light bulbs – all ideas that absolutely make our daily lives much less comfortable and enjoyable, make life more miserable, and DO NOTHING for the planet. Nothing. It doesn’t even make advocates feel good now that those things have been enshrined, because they can’t demagogue those ideas anymore. There is no evidence that those things do any good, and it is not surprising to anyone who has spent any actual time thinking about it as to why it has not worked. Why the fascination with banning things and telling us how to live our lives?

(1) It’s “free”. You see, if you ban plastic bags, you are not raising anyone’s taxes.

(2) It’s noticeable. You see, if you continue to develop Gen4 nuclear, the electrons coming down your wire are no different, and it’s also “giving in” to some bogeyman “other side”.

(3) No one does or can ask the question of what impact any of that has on the planet

(4) It’s hard to make anyone accountable when the stream of unintended consequences follow. Low flow toilets? Who is responsible for the extra chemicals and energy required to run our wastewater treatment now? You see?

So the bag ban is just a terrible idea – and the beauty is that now this is yet another thing that someone who is supposed to show “environmental cred” is going to be induced into putting into their policy stream.

We have written quite a bit on the insanity and stupidity of the plastic bag ban (and no, there is no need to be charitable here, it is stupid). For a refresher course, here are some of the links.

Now please excuse me while I go run my “reusable” shopping bags through my energy efficient, low-heat washing machine.

We’ll write up a lot more on this and some other “educational content” soon …

From my friend Chris M:

I wonder how many people share both of these sentiments concurrently?

  1. The last U.S. election was invalid because the electoral college usurped the popular vote.
  2. The brexit results were wrong and we should have a revote.

Indeed. When I hear the words “more Democracy” uttered, I simply hear, “I want to impose my will on you.”

Coase, on Coase

“This is, of course, a very unrealistic assumption … these operations are often extremely costly … to prevent many transactions.

That was him referring to the oft-straw man argument by opponents of Coasean insights about “transactions costs being zero.” Coase obviously knew that. And he obviously was making a different point. The Coase Theorem as you are told about it is not the Coase Theorem as is. In any case, Coase did not coin the term Coase Theorem either.

I almost have a hard time believing that this article and experience is not a case of double trolling.

Underlying these alleged “social constructions” is the most deeply concerning of them all. This is the belief that in urgent need of “disrupting” is the simple truth that science itself—along with our best methods of data-gathering, statistical analysis, hypothesis testing, falsifying, and replicating results—is generally a better way of determining information about the objective reality of any observable phenomenon than are non-scientific, traditional, cultural, religious, ideological, or magical approaches. That is, for grievance studies scholars, science itself and the scientific method are deeply problematic, if not outright racist and sexist, and need to be remade to forward grievance-based identitarian politics over the impartial pursuit of truth. These same issues are also extended to the “Western” philosophical tradition which they find problematic because it favors reason to emotion, rigor to solipsism, and logic to revelation.

As a result, radical constructivists tend to believe science and reason must be dismantled to let “other ways of knowing” have equal validation as knowledge-producing enterprises. These, depending on the branch of “theory” being invoked, are allegedly owned by women and racial, cultural, religious, and sexual minorities. Not only that, they are deemed inaccessible to more privileged castes of people, like white heterosexual men. They justify this regressive thinking by appealing to their alternative epistemology, called “standpoint theory.” This results in an epistemological and moral relativism which, for political reasons, promotes ways of knowing that are antithetical to science and ethics which are antithetical to universal liberalism.

What I find most fascinating is how young students coming out of high school seemingly have adapted this method of “analysis” and “thinking.” Indeed, isn’t there a power imbalance between those doing the indoctrinating in the classrooms and those being indoctrinated?

You really do need to read this whole thing, even if for the popcorn-y nature of it.

 

Just a few scattered thoughts:

  • Universities are corporations
  • It is probably closer to the truth to appreciate that non-profits exist to serve the interests of their donors and workers more than they do their stated “charitable” objective
  • Almost every entity that engages in some kind of production and planning, from the most wild free-market agencies to the socialy-ist of the socialist entities are … capitalist. Note the little “c” here. Ask yourselves, what is capital, and hence what does the appendage “-ist” or “ism” imply? Do not universities or foreign aid charities or free government health programs or K12 education systems or even state development and planning agencies use capital? What is capital but a factor that is itself produced (from land/materials/labor) for the purposes of producing something else. There is some foregone consumption in order to produce it, so that “we” can have more “stuff” in future. Find me any economic entity that does not employ it.

The key distinctions ought to focus not on weak usages of terms that no one understands. The key distinctions is whether we recognize the ability of individuals to own property in themselves and then other material things, or not. When you hear someone discussing some particular “-ism” and using it in “analysis” it is very helpful to clarify exactly what we are all talking about.

We need not recount here the very simple economics required to determine whether recycling makes sense. The reality of the recycling world is that most of the “valuable” stuff out there is already being recycled and reused, and the question on residential recycling is about how we deal with low-value or even value-less trash in a way that avoids some perceived problems associated with its disposal. There are better or worse ways to proceed with that question, but the clear lesson from the literature, or even basic armchair theorizing, is that even if recycling residential wastes improves environmental conditions, they do so in such an inconceivably small way as to be totally negligible. It’s just not anything that is going to save the planet.

Obsessing about whether recycling saves fuel, or saves leaching in landfills, or conserves resources is a case of deck-chairism, and if we are actually interested in doing things that are useful to the planet and its people, the conversation ought to be moved in a better direction.

Universities are almost uniquely obsessed with recycling. The amount of resources and energy (intellectual and actual) dedicated to awareness, making bins pretty and noticeable, and so on is a distraction and it harms the environment in two ways, again directly and indirectly (don’t we see that a lot in economics).

The direct harm to the environment is obvious – any bit of energy, teaching, programming, etc. dedicated to recycling is not being dedicated to programming, research, energy on environmental programs that have a vastly greater impact on environmental health and human well-being. If we dedicated every minute of recycling energy even to just sending a few dollars to malaria relief foundations, the world would be a considerably better place, for example.

But here is the bigger problem, as the former problem will always be with us (it just kicks the intellectual can down the road, “e.g. if we spend some resources helping solve malaria, why not spend even more?”. The bigger problem of course is one that is less popular to think about. As you may sense already, almost no one gives a real damn about the environment. I’ve seen surveys where 2 out of 5 people claim they don’t care at all, and the remaining 60% say that the way they help the planet is by recycling and using new lightbulbs. Well, hell. Neither lightbulbs nor recycling is going to do anything about the planet. And remember, we live in a world of perpetual “box checkers” … our school system turned us all into them. Once our enlightened planet savers have “checked the box” by carefully sorting their recyclables, and even washing their recyclable plastic, phew, they’re done. Moving on to the next cause. Meanwhile sea levels continue to rise.

Our attention is limited. Our resources are limited. And most people don’t care about the things the way we wish them too. The gobs of energy dedicated to recycling out not to be cause for celebration, it should make us all ashamed, at least if we care enough about the planet as our bumper stickers suggest we do.

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