It’s time for other arguments about climate change

The “debate” about climate change is so poisoned it has brought down at least two Australian prime ministers, and the very term is redacted from US government websites.

So maybe it’s time to retire, or at least rein in, this line of argument. The externalities produced by burning coal and oil, from factory farming etc., have many facets that can be tackled. Notably, health.

Take this recent study on air pollution from researchers at Arizona State:

“We find that a 1 microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in average decadal exposure (9.1% of the mean) increases the probability of receiving a dementia diagnosis by 1.3 percentage points (6.7% of the mean). This finding is consistent with hypotheses from the medical literature.”

“Burgeoning medical literature provides reason to suspect that long-term exposure to elevated pollution levels may permanently impair older adults’ cognition, especially in the case of particulates smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, commonly known as “fine particulate matter” or “PM2.5”. The small size of PM2.5 allows it to remain airborne for long periods, to penetrate buildings, to be inhaled easily, and to reach and accumulate within brain tissue. The accumulation of particulates in the brain can cause neuroinflammation, which is asso-ciated with symptoms of dementia…”

So, emissions are not just harmful to the environment, but human health as well. The suffering isn’t only in the long term, evident only in a computer model, but in the health of real people living right now.

It’s also worthwhile thinking about who bears the brunt of this. The workers in industries like mining, obviously. But as a recent hurricane in North Carolina showed, polluting industries are also often situated in poorer areas:

“Even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors — and even without a hurricane — life expectancy in southeastern North Carolina communities near industrial meat growers is lower than in places without these hog operations. A recent study published in North Carolina Medical Journal found that residents near the industrial animal operations had higher rates of all-cause mortality, infant mortality, mortality from anemia, kidney disease, tuberculosis, and septicemia, and higher rates of emergency room visits than the residents in the control group.”

As Ketan Joshi has noted, denying climate science is now akin to being an anti-vaxxer both in the scientific illiteracy required as well as the harm being wrought. But we can’t expect to win this fight, especially in the short time we have to take action. Instead, we should change the subject. There are plenty of other arguments to make.

Why I don’t use the phone on my phone

“Not picking up the phone would be like someone knocking at your door and you standing behind it not answering. It was, at the very least, rude, and quite possibly sneaky or creepy or something. Besides, as the phone rang, there were always so many questions, so many things to sort out. Who was it? What did they want? Was it for … me?”

This is an interesting piece by Alexis C. Madrigal on the demise of phone calls. But I don’t think he does enough to drive home the shift that has taken place.

Phone calls are an especially violent form of communication. This is in part because they are strictly synchronous – all participants have to take part at the same time – but also because a ringing telephone is incredibly distracting.

Unless it has been scheduled beforehand, a phone call by definition places the caller’s needs above the recipient. Without the screening technology of newer forms of communication, anyone with your number can impose their consciousness onto yours.

Even if you don’t answer. No matter what you are doing.

But the plethora of asynchronous communications methods – text messages, email, social media etc. – means the bar to phone calls is now higher. Or at least it should be.

If it isn’t life or death, or you don’t need an answer five minutes ago, then don’t call me. There are plenty of ways to communicate that don’t prioritise one person above another.

Calling when it isn’t necessary is, in fact, quite rude.

“No one picks up the phone anymore. Even many businesses do everything they can to avoid picking up the phone… There are many reasons for the slow erosion of this commons. The most important aspect is structural: There are simply more communication options.”

Unfortunately, society hasn’t quite caught up to this new norm. Or, at least, older generations haven’t.

Politicians are the reason there is uncertainty

“At least 14 years ago, our political leaders were told that there was an urgent need to address the crisis in business confidence, in the energy and energy-intensive manufacturing sectors, due to the absence of credible long-term policies to address carbon abatement.

This is Ken Henry, quoted in an extraordinary story in the Australian Financial Review today.

Since then the center-left Labor party enacted a carbon tax, which was then repealed almost immediately upon the center-right Liberal party taking power.

The Liberal government then failed to enact another scheme that was designed to give “confidence” after the party balked. They did not attempt to enlist support from the Labor party.

What’s missing is the realisation that uncertainty is not some exogenous factor, but stems from the fact that there are many points of view. As a result, merely barrelling over political opponents isn’t going to solve anything.

When the Liberals are in power the uncertainty stems from the fact Labor will eventually get in and do something, and when Labor are in power the fear is that it will all eventually be undone. Barring a switch to one party rule, the only way to end political uncertainty is to work together.

Or, as it appears businesses are now doing, cut out politicians altogether:

…They have been talking among themselves about establishing an industry-led, self-regulating set of measures which would reduce emissions, ensure energy reliability and provide investor stability, all of which politics has failed to deliver.

Primed for determinism

…the human mind is built to identify for each event a definite cause and can therefore have a hard time accepting the influence of unrelated or random factors. And so the first step is to realize that success or failure sometimes arises neither from great skill nor from great incompetence but from, as the economist Armen Alchian wrote, “fortuitous circumstances.”

This from The Drunkards Walk by Leonard Mlodinow. You can see this phenomena everywhere from politics to sports. We are quick to assign cause and effect, blame and praise, without considering the probability of it having taken place.

It reminds me of the brilliant Thinking In Bets, which I might break out again for another read.

…When we look at extraordinary accomplishments in sport – or elsewhere – we should keep in mind that extraordinary events can happen without extraordinary causes. Random events often look like nonrandom events, and in interpreting human affairs we must take care not to confuse the two.


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