Archive for January, 2008

Brutal cold snap in Greenland

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a brutal cold snap is raging across the semi-autonomous nation of Greenland.On Disko Bay in western Greenland, where a number of prominent world leaders have visited in recent years to get a first-hand impression of climate change, temperatures have dropped so drastically that the water has frozen over for the first time in a decade.

Temperatures plunged to -25°C earlier this month, clogging the bay with ice and making shipping impossible for small crafts, according to Anthon Frederiksen, the mayor of the town of Ilulissat, where Disko Bay is located.

My point, as usual, is not to debate the facts of climate change, but to demonstrate the potential for a positive impact of a warmer climate for life on earth. A mayor in Greenland of all places, should be the first to welcome a warmer climate. Over 10 percent of the world’s land surface is permanently covered with ice, and much more is essentially lifeless due to seasonal ice. Imagine the possibilities if Greenland, an area slightly three times the size of Texas, and 81% ice-capped, was to actually become green.

How many lives is a billionth of a degree worth?

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According to GM, the new federal fuel requirements will costs four to ten thousand dollars per car, mostly to use more expensive weight savings materials. Some environmentalists might dispute the numbers or cheer anything that makes cars more expensive to own, in the hope that fewer people are able to afford driving. However, that will not be the only impact.

If the amount the average person is willing to pay for a car does not change, people will respond to higher prices in two ways: they will keep their existing cars longer and buy cheaper cars. Keeping existing cars will delay the introduction of more efficient and luxurious cars in the future. Switching to cheaper, more efficient cars will increase efficiency at the cost of both luxury and safety. More families will be forced to squeeze into Honda Civics rather than Toyota Camry’s. Money that would have been spent on safety improvements will be diverted to increasing efficient. Smaller cars are not inherently unsafe, but they are inherently less safe, and thus the cost of the new fuel efficiency standards can be measured in both dollars and human lives. The cost in human lives of traffic accidents is well known – about 42 thousand lives each year in the U.S. How many people will the warming from the unspent gasoline kill? Actually, the oil not burned in cars will even not be “saved.” More efficient cars will simply make that oil available for other uses, which may or may not be more efficient.

Just how many lives is a billionth of a degree of global warming worth? Can we look forward to a new “no blood for freezing winters” campaign?

California wants to control your thermostat

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The 2008 proposed building standards issued by the California Energy Commission include a requirement that new air-conditioners have a radio-controlled thermostat that cannot be overridden by the owner. This allows the state to override your settings during undefined “emergency events.” The explicit goal of this “feature” is to prevent blackouts by preventing people from lowering their thermostat’s temperature during heat waves.  (Update – due to a public outcry, the standard has been made voluntary – for now.)

Some thoughts:

  • The cause of environmentalism is one of the excuses being used to establish an increasingly totalitarian government in California and elsewhere.
  • The public perception of “global warming” is that of a permanent state of imminent catastrophe, which, like the threat of terrorism, is likely to be used to justify a permanent state of “emergency.”
  • The need for nanny-state thermometers is entirely a government creation. Environmental regulations have made it essentially illegal to build a new power plant in California for the last thirty years, and price controls have made it impossible for utilities to respond to changes in supply and demand.
  • Shortages are entirely a creation of the interventionist state. Imagine Dell running ad campaigns asking the public to “stop buying so many computers!” or Starbucks asking customers to “please reduce your caffeine intake!”
  • This development highlights the sad state of the American energy industry. While rapid advancement in technology allow amazing innovations such as remotely controlled thermostats, environmental regulations have made it all-but-illegal, prohibitively expensive, or legally uncertain to innovate in the energy sector, outside of a few, politically correct and subsidized technologies.
  • The remote-controlled thermostats are a genuinely useful invention. However, the proper use of the technology would be simply to continually broadcast the current energy rate. The utility could then raise the rate during peak hours and let the customer decide how to automatically limit their usage. If energy prices doubled during heat waves, blackouts would be permanently eliminated. Unfortunately, in California, price controls currently mandate that politicians and government bureaucrats, not energy producers set energy prices.

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Global Warming Protest

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This is what a global warming protest looks like:

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While ironic, this image does not prove anything. Except perhaps, that a weather few degrees below average can have a much more dramatic impact on human life than a few degrees above average.

Do compact fluorescent lights really save energy?

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Earlier this month, Congress passed a law which will essentially force the public to switch to compact fluorescent lights. (CFLs)  Environmentalists and light bulb makers joined forces to boost power and profits, and perhaps sue the competition out of existence.Some people object to the narrow light spectrum and toxic Mercury content of CFL lights, but I don’t care about those things.  I have replaced most of the incandescent lights in my apartment, and plan to eventually replace the rest.  What I question is not the usefulness of CFLs, but the premise that switching to them will “save energy.”

As with most goods and services, the price of a utility influences the quantity I am willing to pay for.  When the price of gas doubles, I reconsider taking road trips, and try to be more efficient with my driving.  Likewise, when the price of electricity falls, I am more liberal with my power consumption.   Compact fluorescent lights lower the cost of lightning in two ways: they use one quarter of the energy, and they last ten times as long.  These innovations encourage greater usage of lighting.

I have a spiffy IKEA lamp behind my couch, but because I don’t have a light in my ceiling fan, it needs to be extra bright.  Furthermore, the geometry of my living room makes it annoying to walk behind the couch every day to turn it on.  By switching to a compact fluorescent light, I was able to get a 100 watt equivalent light in a 60 watt socket, and thanks to its efficiency and long life, I just leave the light permanently on.  I am enjoying greater convenience, but I don’t know if I am saving any energy.

If the average consumer’s monthly lightning budget is fixed, they might compensate for the higher efficiency and lifespan of CFLs by increasing their lightning usage to completely offset any energy reduction.  This would be especially true if consumers are forced to switch to CFLs by legislators rather than a desire to save energy costs.  Much as auto safety regulations can lead to reckless behavior, forcing consumers to switch to more efficient lights might actually increase their energy usage.

Allowing restaurants to make money off hungry people is wrong

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Statism doesn’t sound as great when it comes to other fields, does it?

Mayor Thomas M. Menino embarked on a highly public campaign yesterday to block CVS Corp. and other retailers from opening medical clinics inside their stores… “Limited service medical clinics run by merchants in for-profit corporations will seriously compromise quality of care and hygiene. Allowing retailers to make money off of sick people is wrong.”

Did Christianity's underdog origins allow the success of Western Civilization?

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It’s interesting to note that with the exception of Christianity and some schools of Buddhism, every other major world religion were created as a means for the ruling regime to justify its grip on power as an expression of divine will. The divine hierarchy of the Old Testament’s angelic pantheon reflects and perpetuates the rigid social hierarchy of the ruling elite of its society. The god of the Old Testament demands taxes (sacrifices) accepts no competition (he murders over two million unbelievers) or critical questioning of the law, and presents a facade of voluntary submission (convert or face annihilation).

The New Testament on the other hand, was written before Christianity transformed to an institution of theocratic dictatorship. It presents a personal rather than collective choice (submit or you will burn in hell, as opposed to your tribe/descendants.) This subtle distinction may be responsible for the success of Western civilization, as secular rulers did not feel personally threatened when reason eroded the power of the church. (Of course, that did not stop the church itself from butchering secularists for as long as it could.) This is still not possible in the Islamic and Confucian world, where the secular and divine authority is united in a single institution. The attempt to introduce Aristotelian philosophy by Ibn-Rushd in particular, was wildly successful in the West, but because rational questioning was a threat to current regime, it was snuffed out by the institutionalization of doctrines such as the taqleed.

In Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, Mahayana Buddhism has allowed a similar erosion of divine authority, creating the “Asian Tigers.” In this light, Communism can be seen as an attempt to preserve the union of divine and secular authority.

Proof most Americans are uneducated

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At least when it comes to biology.

Update: there’s a discussion of this post on ObjectivismOnline.

Forget global warming, there's a cold spell coming

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Don’t throw out those fur coats just yet, warns Dr. Oleg Sorokhtin, Merited Scientist of Russia and fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. Glaciers will one day reach below Moscow.

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