October 31, 2008
Global warming is a big problem, with many consequences. The question is, where should this fall on our priority list?
Many people devote themselves to causes because they stumble upon them. Like a ballplayer who starts a diabetes fund because their kid gets it. The problem becomes real, because we see it. Global warming became real to us through news stories, celebrity spokesmen and movies. But, are there other problems, bigger than this, that we simply haven't stumbled upon yet?
The 2004 Copenhagen Consensus sought to develop a comprehensive list of global challenges and opportunities, prioritized based on the amount of good that can be accomplished per dollar spent.
Topping the list are HIV/AIDS control, providing micronutrients to the impoverished, making trade free, and malaria control. Climate control bottomed out the list, simply in terms of the amount of good done with the amount of resources required.
For example, $1 spent toward HIV/AIDS treatment does about $40 worth of good in terms of fewer dead, fewer sick, and less social disruption. For every $1 spent on the Kyoto Protocol, we will do about 30 cents worth of good.
Perhaps this a callous way to look at it? But, if our desire is to truly accomplish as much as we can with the resources we have, shouldn't we look to prioritized lists like these as our starting point for discussion, and prioritize our spending percentages to match these lists?
So, that's where I'm at. Help me out. What do you guys think?
Posted by Eric Olsen at 1:16 PM
October 30, 2008
If every country not only participated in the signing of the Kyoto Treaty, but actually adhered to it, we would delay the 4.7 degree Farenheit increase expected over the next century by five years. Instead of getting there at 2100, we'd get there at 2105.
Some people argue that the treaty is more symbolic than practical, and that it's a great opportunity to get universal buy-in on this global problem, to start doing SOMETHING.
So, that begs the question, is there a better something we should be pushing for?
Proponents of Kyoto talk about how the treaty will encourage eco-friendly technology investments, while cutting down heat deaths, malaria outbreaks and floods. This is all true. At the estimated cost of an estimated $180 billion a year.
If these are the real consequences we're trying to prevent, is there a way to be more efficient with our resources, and fight these fights directly? Preventing malaria through vaccinations and mosquito nets, preventing flooding through improved levee systems, preventing carbon-emissions by increasing eco-friendly R&D? All for much, much less money, and with much, much better results.
Isn't a wealthier world going to be better prepared to tackle the real problems of global warming? For instance, in the 1920s, one of the malaria hotbeds in the world was Missouri. Today, it's gone. Wealth killed it.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 12:16 AM
October 29, 2008
Companies aren't legally allowed to dump toxins in the ocean, because of the third-party costs associated with it. They'd be getting free disposal, while poisoning the water, affecting fish, other wildlife and humans.
So, if carbon emissions are destructive in a similar way, shouldn't this bear a financial responsibility? A $2/ton carbon tax roughly estimates the damage caused by carbon emissions. Yet, some people suggest instituting a $140/ton tax on carbon emissions because this would help curb global warming faster.
This is true, but:
A) is it right to arbitrarily tax someone that much higher than what their output is causing?
B) are the benefits worth it? for instance, we could lower the speed limit to 5 mph and drastically decrease traffic accidents, but there are costs associated with this
C) how much easier will it be to get countries around the world on board with a $2/ton carbon tax as opposed to the larger one? Because frankly, not many countries are going to be willing to accept an economic penalty when countries they compete against aren't?
Posted by Eric Olsen at 12:43 PM
October 28, 2008
Is our goal to maintain a consistent average global temperature? What should that number be?
Let's focus specifically on human life. If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is right, if we do not change our habits, the average global temperature will increase by approximately 4.7 degrees by the end of the century. In Britain, this would cause an estimated 2,000 more deaths in Britain, annually, through excess heat.
It would also prevent an estimated 20,000 deaths from excess cold.
This factor of 10 times more lives saved is slightly greater than the current factor of 7 times more people in Europe who currently die from excess cold over excess heat.
So, what am I saying? Should we speed up the warming process in order to save more lives? Well, global warming isn't just about saving lives in a pure, numerical sense. It's about preserving a better quality for all life now and in the future. Not to mention that warming will surely affect people living near the equator more negatively than people living further away from it.
But, we need to understand the consequences, and yes, even the benefits of global warming before we even try to determine our best solution for solving the problems caused by it.
October 27, 2008
This week, we will be discussing the consequences of global warming, what our goals should be when determining solutions, and weighing the costs of these proposals in terms of the benefits gained from instituting them.
We will begin from a standpoint that global warming is real, man-made, and will have serious effects on both humanity and the environment.
Feel free to comment with any thoughts that can lead off our week.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 11:20 AM
October 24, 2008
While you've probably read enough single-page articles, and watched enough television blurbs to be familiar with the vocabulary being used to explain the current subprime mortgage / credit crisis, do you really understand why it happened?
Chicago Public Radio's This American Life has a terrifically sticky hour-long audio presentation that explains it with real-life examples of the people involved.
Listen to this while at work today (click on the Full Episode button), and once you're done, see if your thoughts have changed regarding whether or not you thought the bailout was a good idea, or on what actions you think should take place now.
Report your findings. Show your work.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 10:00 AM
October 23, 2008
In Chicago, there is a proposal for the development of a gay-friendly high school that would ensure gay students have a safe place to learn.
Shouldn't our focus be to reform anti-gay attitudes at our current high schools? If gay kids are feeling threatened at their current schools, I understand the desire they have to escape these harmful environments. But if the problem is the stigma, are we just prolonging the problem by separating ourselves?
(post idea submitted by frequent contributor, Emily)
Posted by Eric Olsen at 9:58 AM
October 22, 2008
If you go to a golf range, you'll see a lot of people with horrible swings they learned from their father.
They've read some books, taken some lessons, and tried to emulate Tiger Woods, but there's still that base foundation of terribleness that's ingrained in their muscle memory because of the ignorant teaching of their father, who learned from his similarly ignorant father. And they can't get past it.
Knowledge is the same way. You have to make a point to unlearn the garbage you've obtained over the years. Whether you know it or not, we all have faulty paradigms stuck in our head that influence our current decisions.
Make it a point to assume you're wrong on everything. And start over.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 1:33 PM
October 21, 2008
Let's say Alaska decided they wanted to secede from the Union.
As Americans with a similar history of claiming independence from a country who controlled us from far away, wouldn't we have to be at least sympathetic to the argument?
Choose a side and list your reasons.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 12:11 PM
October 20, 2008
October 17, 2008
Ever catch yourself saying this when watching politicians speak?
I've said it about people from both parties. "This guy gets it. He understands how the economy works." "This guy gets it. He understands what's really going on with the war."
I'm realizing that these are faulty statements. The truth is, when I say, "He gets it," what I mean is "He gets me."
He's saying the things I believe. We share a worldview, at least when talking about a certain aspect of governance. It's not that one of these guys gets it, and the other doesn't. It's that one of their voices sounds a little bit closer to our own.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 11:17 AM
October 16, 2008
I had hoped that one of the best consequences of a George W. Bush administration would be a future unwillingness of the populace to blindly trust the government.
No more would we follow the cries for immediate action without first hearing the pros, the cons and the alternatives.
This latest financial debacle proved me wrong.
The government called fire, claimed themselves as savior, and we immediately yelled for them to act. No real debate. No real discussion. Just a blind yell to save us all and write the check.
We didn't learn a thing. And it's absolutely tragic.
October 15, 2008
What are the incentives for a State to investigate infrastructure failure, such as bridges and roads, and pay for their replacement?
What would the incentives be for a private company with ownership rights to those bridges or roads, funded by tolling?
October 14, 2008
Cereality is a company I have heard about a lot over the last year, from friends who, aware of my cereal obsession, imagine how excited I'm going to be about it. Recently, I have also seen several television shows highlight this business model as sheer brilliance. They are all wrong.
Cereality is a cereal bar and cafe, where people can order their choice of any of dozens of cereals, and top it with fresh fruit, peanut butter, chocolate, you name it...for $4 a bowl.
This is a horrible, horrible idea for two main reasons.
#1. Breakfast is the most skipped meal of the day for one important reason. Lack of time. Fast food companies around the country are constantly trying to create breakfast menus that one-up each other on taste, price and portability. Cereality asks me to go into a place, sit down, eat a bowl of cereal, and pay $4 for it.
#2. This idea completely ignores the target market of cereal fan. Someone like me, who at the time of this posting, has 5 different boxes of cereal stored in my work cabinet and another 3 at home, do not need a cereal cafe. Any choice of cereal I want, I buy at my convenience and enjoy for pennies on the dollar of what it would cost me at Cereality.
I believe that Cereality is simply a business fad, will have a bunch of one-time customers, and quietly snap. crackle. and pop. their way into soggy non-existence.
October 13, 2008
...and Barack Obama is indeed a terrorist and a communist.
If elected, what could he actually do to pursue these desires?
Let's say he wanted to institute a Marxist command and control economy. There's no chance of any of those bills actually getting drawn up, much less, getting through Congress successfully.
Or, let's say he commands an American general to bomb the Statue of Liberty. The general has to do it, right? No, he doesn't. The general could lose his job for disobedience, but not before the President's Cabinet claims the President's mental incapacitation, and relieves him of his duties.
So, what's the worst case scenario if America elects a terrorist or a communist? If he's really, really convincing, maybe you'll get some new Departments of ___, some raised tariffs, some new entitlements, and financial support for Israel could mysteriously drop from the defense budget. But, that's about it.
The President is not as powerful as we all seem to think.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 11:21 AM
October 10, 2008
As healthcare continues to improve, and our ability to prolong life grows, how do we financially support these years? Specifically, what are some possible solutions for the elderly to produce value during retirement?
A) They plan on this longer retirement, and financially prepare for it during their working years.
B) They make smart investments during retirement, and are able to live perpetually on those earnings.
C) We promote the extended family - the grandparents live with their children, and take care of their grandkids so that the children can work more.
D) The Fed budgets for it.
E) Any other ideas of elderly entrepreneurship?
Posted by Eric Olsen at 1:03 PM
October 09, 2008
#12. Zachary Taylor
In February of 1850, Taylor met with Southern leaders threatening secession who believed the Federal Government was overstepping its constitutional power and encroaching on their state rights. Taylor threatened back, telling them that persons "taken in rebellion against the Union would be hung... with less reluctance than he had deserters and spies in Mexico."
A powerful way to get your point across. Unfortunately, before these mass lynchings of Americans could occur, Taylor died in office.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 9:04 AM
October 08, 2008
In a Republican primary debate several months ago, the candidates were asked to raise their hands to answer the question: "Do you believe in evolution?"
That's simply not a question that can be answered with a raised or lowered hand.
What would be a good way to reword the question to get more meaningful answers out of the candidates? Here's mine.
"Do you believe that the theory of evolution explains either the origin of species or the origins of life?"
October 07, 2008
The premise is that there are ten people on an island, they are a sovereign nation, and they are trying to best determine how to govern themselves.
Question #6: Two on the island have become full-time fisherman. The other eight think that the prices charged by these fisherman are too high, and want to place price maximums on fish, considering food to be a human right. What should the group do?
Posted by Eric Olsen at 10:12 AM
October 06, 2008
October 02, 2008
...so to speak.
During election season, it seems that most people put a vested interest in learning about the different candidate's positions, and adjust their own political beliefs, even if only to keep up with the water cooler conversations.
If we had to elect a symbolic spiritual leader for our country, would this have the same result? People thinking about philosophical and theological issues? Lively debates and discussions?
That could be WAY more fun, and arguably more profitable.
Posted by Eric Olsen at 11:00 AM
October 01, 2008
One of my friends recently told me he was angry at his sister for supporting John McCain for President.
His statement: "She has an entry-level job at Kohls. I figured she would want the rich to get taxed more."
Isn't it pretty cynical to assume that class envy is a big enough reason by itself to vote Democratic?
Posted by Eric Olsen at 3:39 PM