Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Apply the precautionary principle to the precautionary principle

One of my favourite seminar topics I pose for my students is for them to apply the precautionary principle to the precautionary principle. 
It is a basic, axiomatic tenet of environmentalism that the precautionary principle is an essential aspect of all public policy deliberation.  Yet many are unaware of the ramifications of the precautionary principle and, more so, its common application in the restriction of human activity, rather than as a tool to assist in decision making.
Here is a good post on the precautionary principle, a link to an originating, thoughtful essay and a series of interesting comments that illustrate the myriad of ways in which the precautionary principle is (and isn't) understood to be working.
All of which is a great excuse for this quote from Samuel Johnson: Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.

Monday, July 23, 2007

dispatches from TJICistan

Quick lesson in blog geography, networking journeys that come from tripping over blogs that a new to you and following through.

Started here with some fun dispatches from TJICistan, which led me here to an economics blog with good insights and then to here with a comparative discussion/data set on global economic freedom.

And if the terrain gets too strenuous, you can stop, as I did, here for a little discussion on the real Cuba and the wealth disparity between Fidel and ordinary citizens in socialist paradise (and yes, before you comment, I have visited Cuba on three occasions, and find a lot of credibility in what the real Cuba website documents).

Four websites, all with economics, freedom and development as central themes: the blogosphere is huge and you can browse every day and find new, interesting sites to read and stretch your pre-conceptions. Or, not.

Stasis is the default condition of the lazy and the slave. If, however, you are just a Prisoner, a free person and not a number, the blogosphere can help you find your freedom from learnt and learned oppression.

Coyote Blog: The 60-Second Climate Skeptic

From Coyote Blog comes this 60 second summary of climate skepticism, which distils this full-length 80 page discussion.
What I admire about these posts are that they are solid efforts by a layperson to both comprehend and communicate our understanding of climate change and the AGW theory.  That Warren Meyer as the author has made these efforts available, readable and as accessible as he has is both a credit to him and an excellent demonstration of the ability of the blogoshpere to turn all of us into publishers.
As to his content: many will find his arguments persuasive but doubtless, there will be those whose ideological predisposition will be to disregard what he is saying.  To those, there is still merit in reading Meyer's paper as it highlights the basics of why so many lay people remain unconvinced about AGW and unswayed by the dogma being thrust at them.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bloggers for Positive Global Change

As indicated below, I am now a recipient of this award, courtesy of the fine folks at Carnival of Climate Change. As part of the rules of the award, it is now my responsibility to nominate five blogs I feel have taken the weight of the world upon their shoulders and are trying to build awareness among their readership in order to create a more sustainable and enlightened future.

So my five nominees are:
  • QandO: up to date, contemporary politics and good discussion pages: excellent writing
  • Samizdata: a blog for people with critical, rational and individualist perspective aka libertarianism -- they do it best
  • Tech Central: dynamist perspective on all aspects of public policy, always well written and well substantiated
  • Spiked: UK counterpart to QandO, contemporary, controversial and with a great stable of regular contributors
  • Ponder the Maunder: the blog from the school kid that started as an extra credit assignment: Kristen Bynes shows that one person with an idea and the courage to share her views can indeed have a profound influence.
Positive global change: a construct that is timeless and a founding principle of enlightenment. As Stephen Covey has written: Renewal is the principle -- and the process -- that empowers us to move on an upward spiral of growth and change, of continuous improvement.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Carnival of Climate Change

New website, with a lot of good, useful and uniformly skeptical links on climate change.
They also say some nice things about ecomyths and I am grateful for their recognition as I am to all the people who stop by and read my posts. I hope that ecomyths will continue to provide ideas for thought, ways to think and organize beliefs, and continued inspiration for those who are not convinced that everything they are being told they should believe is in fact what they believe.

I remember reading once that it is not important what your faith is, only that you have faith -- you do have strong convictions and live your life consistent with those convictions, to be the best you, you can be. The corollary to this ideology is that we then respect the views of others, especially when they differ to ours. This is not a blog asking everyone to agree with me, to think as I do. (wow, that's a relief for some!).

It is a blog that wants passionately for people to know what they believe, to have clear faith, to have hope and optimism for a brighter, better tomorrow. Mostly this blog is a passionate appeal for individual freedom and responsibility, for the ordinary and the exceptional amongst us to reject the conformity and dogma of blind obedience to authority and learnt ignorance, to reject apathy and to overcome the oppressive complacency of much of society that would confine us to a stasist future derided by Orwell, Heinlein and Hayek.

The only way I know how to do that is to learn for oneself. Learning means reading and reading needs help to sort out the useful from the confining. Sadly, having spent my entire life in education, first as a student and now as a teacher, I know only too well that even education discourages individual thinking.

So, big question of the day: why is it that so many are scared to think for themselves?

The only two real shortages in the world are common sense and real leadership.

Want to change the world? Facilitate the realization of common sense (it starts with personal responsibility for everything we do) and develop better leaders -- people who empower others not those who want power over others.

Media ideology

From the co-author of the excellent Yes, Minister television series and a former BBC producer is an article discussing the mainstream media's ideology, its sources and ramifications. An abridged version of a longer study, it is discussed here.
Ideology is a pervasive influence on all that we do.  Many have no idea where their ideology comes from or what characterizes their perspective on life: its just the way they think.  Ask them "why would you say that?" and most people are vague, elusive and finally resort to "well doesn't everyone know that?" or "its all over the news" as a justification.
The role of ideology in the media is a foundational construct to understanding so much of public policy, especially environmentalism.  Most people know what they know because it is what they are taught in school and its what is in the media.  Is the media ever going to be unbiased and free of ideology? No, and I don't know if that is even desirable: but what is needed is a greater recognition of the fact that all media, and not just the extreme right or the extreme left, is heavily biased by its ideology.  And the dominant ideology of the BBC (and I will extend that perspective to the CBC and the mainstream US media) has a significantly anti-free market, anti-capitalist and anti-individualist bias to it that tempers all stories and how they are reported, especially politics.

Virtual reality versus actuality

It used to be science was about creating hypotheses and then testing them with experiments or actual field observations, empirical data. When the data contradicted the predicted outcome and/or failed to sustain the conjecture, the data were taken at face value, as reality and the projections, the predictions, the hypotheses, were assumed to be in error, speculative, guesstimates.

But not so today. Today we have models. Models are correct in much the same way Marx was always correct, or the Bible or some self-appointed potentate or dictator. Total infallibility. But now with numbers. Big numbers.

Most people aren't very good at math: school taught them that. Suddenly around 11 to 14 most students are made to realize they are math stupid: can't be poor math instruction, just masses of kids don't get it and are math impaired. So later in life, all sorts of people can use numbers and a sheen of statistics and claim anything. And anything you want to claim can be verified with a model.

Here is a wonderful discussion of modelling, models and their abuse. It points out that:
  • The rise of models has coincided with the evaporation of the concept of human agency, of human beings consciously gaining and applying new insights through struggle.
  • Just a third of a century ago, when politics actually meant something, highly regarded analysts derided vapid computerisations of the future.
And asks the question:
  • Why have models taken on such importance in policymaking today? Whatever happened to the healthy scepticism that accompanied the portentous conclusions of models in the past?
It concludes that modern politics is characterized by a very low horizon:
  • With the IPCC, the modern computer modeller's work is complete. The conclusions are already there in the premises; but the presentation as the product of cold, logical number-crunching ensures that this work will brook no counter-argument.
An excellent essay. And it does conclude with an alternative, one many subscribe to: believe in your own experience and not the virtual reality of some model.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

John Stossel and a primer on the "smuggled premise"

Here is an excellent example of how false arguments should be analyzed to reveal their dominant constructs and the implications of their ideology. In this instance, it is the always excellent John Stossel revealing some of the hidden meanings and implicit assumptions behind Michael Moore's latest "documentary".
Axiomatic ideas are those taken to be so self-evident that no proof is required to support them. Moralists like to package their ideas as axiomatic as it obviates them from explaining their rationale and the import of their ideas -- much easier to just repeat the dominant construct as a"consensus" and something everyone accepts as true, than engage in meaningful dialogue.

Bye-bye hybrid?

I have never bought into the hype around hybrid cars: why pay more for less performance and no appreciable fuel savings? Well as this article suggests, the sheen is well and truly off hybrids:
  • ...hybrids are expensive to own, don't deliver on advertised fuel consumption and are about as exciting to drive as a Kenmore side-by-side. Yet hybrid fans can absolve their vehicles of all these sins by self-righteously claiming ownership of the low emissions crown, right?
Well it turns out if low emissions and low fuel consumption are your goals, diesel is the way to go, as most of Europe already knows. And with diesel you can still get a car that is half way enjoyable to drive. Lot less hype, lot more consumer acceptance.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The climate pop thingy

Well, I had a real decision to make: ignore the whole pop celebrity, how to live your lifer properly to music thing today, or post some pithy comment on it. I can find few good original words. Spent my day looking at a new car, getting the dogs toenails clipped and focusing on the start to the Tour de France. So, lazy way out, I'm going to promote the various takes on today's event from Spiked, here, here and here. Between them, the three articles cover all the bases:
  • celebrity politicisation of science
  • things we should be focusing on, and
  • the inherent, insipid morality of today's environmentalism.
(Except of course for the daily update of real science that contradicts Gore's claims).

Conversely, I also found this link to Jefferson's original drafting of the Declaration of Independence, which Heinlein had referred to in one of his books but I had not read previously.

Infinitely more inspiring as a call to genuine political action: those citing independence were putting their lives on the line -- not telling others what to do, brainwashing youth to act out their fantasies, but leading from the front.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Climate Science and Scientists

Two posts today which highlight the still nascent state of climate research. The first is an exchange between two very contrasting climate blogs, both in style and credibility: read the post and decide who you'd rather trust. Hint: one is by an old-style climatologist with no ulterior motive, the other by an academic whose career is intimately tied to the global warming narrative.

second post is a quick news release along with a link to the comments by reviewers of the latest IPCC report. The much vaunted consensus alleged by proponents of AGW is revealed to be far less conclusive with an overall confusion between hypothesis and evidence and a large number of scientists concerned by the fact that the science of climate change is being consistently over-stated in the political summary publicized by the IPCC.

Climate is changing. That is not in dispute.
Human activity influences climate. That is not in dispute.
That these two things add together and form the dominant, or even a prominent, cause for environmental alarmism: that is in dispute.

it seems the educational system, the mainstream media and all the celebrities combined are still failing to indoctrinate the average citizen: a new poll in Britain finds global warming is perceived to be less of a threat than terrorism, graffiti, crime and dog mess.
So the average Brit is more stressed by dog poop than Al Gore's hype. Go figure.

Former Jihadi speaks out

You can't change what you don't understand.  Ideology is a significant aspect of all our lives and one of the biggest mistakes is to assign motives and explanations for the actions of others in terms of our ideological constructs, rather than seeking to understand the ideology that informs and guides the actions of others.  Two posts, here and here, underscore this point, particularly as it applies to contemporary globalization and the future.
Ours is a society where justification is sought for all actions, rather than accountability.  In large part, this is a reflection of the desire to impose stasis controls on society: if nothing is anyone's individual responsibility, if everything can be justified and explained as circumstantial, then the state is justified as stepping in to impose measures to "correct" the situation.  Obesity? Regulate food.  Cancer? Ban smoking.  Environment? Regulate the market.
The problem with this line of thinking,is what do you do when faced with terrorism? With sociopaths?  Justifying their actions, appeasing them and blaming society for their woes, does not alleviate the problems they cause: they just signify the very weakness and decadence the terrorists despise.
As Orwell stated: We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Think Globally, Act Irrationally: Recycling 101

One of the sacred tenets of environmentalism is recycling. It is the ultimate ecomyth. Recycling defines green. Everyone knows its good: right? Well, no. What defines garbage is that it is stuff no one wants: it has no value. Hence we pay to have it removed. Garbage is a negative externality: it costs. So minimizing garbage makes economic sense, which is why industry works hard to minimize what it wastes, its pollution, its garbage: anything you have to pay to have removed is a cost.

But municipal recycling, Blue Box and stuff, that's good for the environment isn't it? Does it make money (a resource) or does it cost municipalities money (garbage)? Just what does happen to the recyclable things you put out for collection?

Well the sad truth is it costs a lot of money to collect and to sort. Most is degraded in quality and most is not used -- in most jurisdictions up to 80% or more of recycled material that is collected is sorted and transported, eventually, to the landfill ( or goes straight to the incinerator in those enlightened places that burn garbage and make heat and/or power -- a resource). Some is re-used: but the cost of recycled materials tends to be higher than products produced from raw materials and of inferior quality. Someone has to invest in the plants to produce products from recycled materials: why would a business do this when the raw materials are cheaper and better than those available from recycling?

Garbage is garbage because it has no economic value or is a cost. If a profit can be made by reuse or recycling, then a private enterprise will be formed to make that profit -- we don't need the government to be involved.

If the government is collecting your garbage, then it's a cost. If recycling makes sense (economic sense) then let the private sector organize it, and stop wasting millions (billions?) of taxpayers money on a fraud.

Number one reason garbage is garbage? There's no shortage of new stuff cheaply available to replace the old, broken, worn out stuff that is garbage. Its called wealth.

And last time I looked, wealth was a lot greener environmentally than poverty.

Debating African development

We are not going to be sustainable until we can apply the principles of sustained development in the poorest nations of the world and, thus, alleviate global poverty.  The majority of the world's poorest nations are in Africa and Africa remains the biggest challenge to any theory of development, sustainability included.  This update from Daniel Ben Ami nicely summarizes the scope of contemporary concepts and ideas on development in Africa.
Personally, I am pleased that economists with practical experiences in Africa are now at the forefront of this debate.  Ben Ami has links to several thought-provoking and often contradictory discussions on the topic of development and Africa.  At least there is now realization that simply humming a few bars of kumbaya and having a rock concert will not solve anything (now all we have to do is apply this understanding to climate change). 
Nothing in Africa is going to change unless the political culture of corruption changes. 
The bigger intellectual challenge is whether or not empowerment can ever succeed if it rests first on external intervention for its initiation: i.e. can you ever help establish democracy? Or are democratic freedoms only ever secured by empowerment that comes by the oppressed overcoming their own oppression?
In graphic terms: for all those opposed to US intervention in Iraq, what is their solution to the oppression in Dafur? For Zimbabwe, poster child for UN sustainability?
It is in these circumstances that theory .and concepts must transcend geographical context and actually be useful. 

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Information firewall?

Over at Junkfood Science, Sandy Szwarc has this heads up on the potential impact of two recent announcements by Google. One proposal involves the personalization of information on the internet and the other the formation of an advisory panel. Both ideas with good intentions, but both ideas with Orwellian potential to act as a massive information firewall. As Sandy states:
  • Despite all of the flaws and utter garbage on the net, it's still been the primary way for most people to break through the media groupthink to learn other viewpoints and sounder information. This development could be the beginnings of the world's biggest internet information firewall.
I love innovation and technological progress in general. But the key is to maintain a free-market and competition: if and when Google becomes too monopolistic, the only effective check on its activities is the ongoing presence of competing search engines, not any oversight by a bureaucracy or government panel but competing services. Easily stated. Hard to maintain.

But then again, freedom is not a right: freedom must be fought for constantly.

  • I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. Heinlein.
  • People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. Kierkegaard