July 21, 2007

Link(s) of the Week

Lying politicos and media malfeasance - Michael Medved

In this article, Michael Medved discusses the actual text of the HR2956, the [Ir]responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act, which was generally explained as being a withdrawel from Iraq bill. Medved points out that the text, contrary to most statements by politician and media reports, although a horrible idea written in vague terms, is actually a troop reduction plan, not a complete withdrawal plan. I recommend reading this article as well as the Act itself to see more specifically what he is talking about.

July 18, 2007

FBI Spyware

I stumbled on this Wired article today. It discusses an FBI spyware program that apparently sneaks onto a users machine and reports various statistics to the FBI, and it was used to identify an "anonymous" MySpace user. What struck me about the article was the following remark:

such surveillance...can be conducted without a wiretap warrant, because internet users have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the data when using the internet.

It seems to me that the real issue in this case is not so much what data they gather, but where they gather it from. According to a reference to an older article that discusses the recent ruling that came to the above conclusion, the decision seems to be based upon a previous ruling that it was ok to gather call lists through phone companies because the information is essentially public to the phone companies. Thus, the ruling argued that ip addresses are essentially equivalent to phone numbers, and thus it is an equivalent case to a previous ruling. However, it seems to me that the key difference is not what is being gathered, but where it is gather from. In the supposedly equivalent case, the data was gathered external from the person being watched, whereas in the spyware case, the person's property is actually used against him.

Although I general think that law enforcement is held back in this country, this seems like one case in which the courts are actually allowing them to over step their bounds and violate the 4th amendment.

July 15, 2007

Global Stewardship

I've received several responses on my recent global warming post.


Eat, Drink, and be Scary?

The first is from Kenpo on Blogger, who remarked:

Good points, though the "eat, drink and be scary" at the end is probably sending the wrong message. - Kenpo

I apologized if I left the impression that I was arguing for "an eat, drink, and be merry" willful ignorance of problems. That was not my intention. My point was merely that some people are too willing to embrace a doomsday scenario, and based on that scenario, accept any proposed solution, regardless of its effectiveness or relevance.


On Facebook, Sharon made several points. I want to focus on three of them.

The first was the following:


For me it's never been a question of right or wrong, or proof. It's been a question of stewardship. We have a responsibility to take care of the things we have. If there are choices and technologies we can choose that are better for the planet in the long run, we should plan on it. - Sharon

I agree that we are to be good stewards of this planet. Genesis records that Adam was placed on earth (in Eden) to dress and keep it:

Gen 2:15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

Thus, we are here to take care of and protect the earth. For this reason, I find it reasonable to not waste, not litter, recycle what we can, etc. However, many people believe that we should do much more, from decreasing emission, to rejecting the modern world, to rejecting humanity itself.

It seems to me that the primary issue here is how do we define a normal or better planetary state? If one begins by defining the ideal state of the planet without humans, it is not surprising for one to conclude that the planet would be better off, or more ideal, without humans. If one defines every change made by humans as negative and destructive, it is unsurprising for one to conclude that the world would be better without humans.

Elsewhere in Genesis, God also gave the following command:

Gen 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Thus, we are here to care for the earth, but also to rule and to use it. Clearly, there is a balance in this beyond the scope of this post, but the point is that a vision of a good planet can and should include us.

Non-sustainable Technologies

Sharon's second remark was the following:

Any technologies that are not sustainable in the long run are unwise no matter how you look at it. - Sharon

I'm not sure I necessarily agree. It seems to me that throughout the past several hundred years, we have seen unsustainable technologies come and go, providing benefits while they were in use. I think a prime example of this is actually oil and gasoline. Even if we reject any possibility that such resources can be renewable, it is clear that there are other technologies currently in development which may be able to take its place, such as nuclear power, solar power, etc., or a collection of them.

Furthermore, it seems to me that arguing that something valuable should not be used because it is limited is somewhat akin to observing that if a very fine cake is eaten, it will not be around to be enjoyed later. A perpetuation of this idea leads to no good ever coming of the cake (unless it is really pretty and ends up in an art museum, but that's beside the point).

Responsibilty of the Powerful

Finaly, Sharon made this remark:

And if those in power can do their best to make it easier for the rest of us to be responsible for our eco-footprint, everyone will be served in the long run. - Sharon

To an extent, I agree. Those who have the ability to produce roughly equivalent products with one being better for the environment ought to do so. However, I do not believe that those in power have the right to insist, based on their possibly subjective vision of a better planet, to coerce others to comply with their plans, especially when those plans are ill-founded.

July 14, 2007

Impact of Subsidies vs. Taxes on Gas Prices

Recently, Kenpo commented on my article from 2005 regarding oil company profits vs. Federal revenues. He observes:
on the "government making gas so expensive" front, isn't gasoline subsidized by the Federal government? In European countries where it isn't, gas is the equivalent of $5+ per gallon. Or so I've heard it said... - Kenpo
In reply to this, I have 4 points:

Primary Focus is Profit, not Price

First, the primary focus of my article was on profit, not price. Essentially, I was just pointing out how hypocritically it was for politicians to complain about corporate profits when the government itself profits more from the same industry.

Gas Price is Still Raised by Gas Taxes

Furthermore, regardless of government subsidies, the effect of government tax policies is still to raise prices. Furthermore, it should be noted that while these officials berated the oil companies for profiting off rising gas/oil prices, their response was not to attempt to lower their own contribution to the high price, or even to enact price controls (which would have been a bad idea, but would at least been an idea that attacked the alleged problem). No, their response was to recommend that government should increase taxes, which could only influence the price of gas by increasing it even more!

Government Taxes Exceed Subsidies

However, a limited amount of research turns up the following figures:
Subsidies$35 billionGreenpeace
Revenues$60 billionTax Foundation
Net$25 billion

Although the Greenpeace data is from 1995, the TaxFoundation article shows that government gas revenues remained at a fairly constant rate until 2004 (in fact, I think gas taxes have increased since then), and I suspect that subsidies did not change much either. Add to this government requirements on fuel blends, inclusion of expensive alternative fuels like ethanol, etc. and despite the subsidies, it seems quite reasonable to conclude that the government's influence on gas prices is to raise them, not to lower them.

European Gas Prices: Case Study

Finally, I do not know a whole lot about European gas policies, but I suspect the reason European gasoline is so expensive has to do with similar government controls and taxes that are more restrictive and higher than our own. For example, according to Wikipedia, average US gas taxes (state & federal) are around 42 cents per gallon. In contrast, German taxes on conventional gasoline amount to about 65 cents per liter, or about $2.46 per gallon, over 5 times US tax rates.

July 11, 2007

Why I am not worried about Global Warming

With all the recent noise about Global Warming generated by the ill attended Live Earth event, I am again appalled that so many ignore some obvious questions or simply reject them out of hand. It seems to me, that 3 issues in particular illustrate the essentials that are missing from much of the dialog.

Human Responsibility Questionable

While it seems obvious that by generating and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, humans have some impact on CO2 levels. However, the connection between human CO2 output and climate is not nearly so simple. Following are two demonstrations of this.

The Climate Changed Before Industrialization

  1. According to Wikipedia, a period of time known as the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300 AD) was characterized by relatively high temperatures across at least Europe. During this time, Greenland was green enough to be settled by the Vikings.
  2. This period was followed by the Little Ice Age (~1300-1850 AD) during which glaciers advanced in Greenland and the Thames froze over during the winter in England.
These and other records indicate that Earth's climate naturally changes. This might seem obvious, but much of what I hear in the general news seems to imply that Earth's climate is in a state of delicate balance and any deviation can cast Earth in catastrophe. This is decidedly untrue.

Changes in Extraterrestrial Climates Indicate at Least an Extraterrestrial Factor

As TH Barb notes here, data indicates that Mars is enduring climate warming as well. Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that at least part of the warming currently occuring on earth is not related to human emission of CO2.

Possible Benefits

Furthermore, almost all discussions of Global Warming seem to dwell on horrible catastrophes that seem like they came out of some Hollywood Catastrophe film. Almost none of the discussion observes that the previously mentioned Medieval Warm Period is associated with a relatively prosperous period of European history, not numerous climatological and geological catastrophes.

Additionally, it is well known that plants rely on CO2 in a manner similar to our reliance on oxygen. Thus, increased CO2 levels tend to lead to increased plant growth, certainly a boon to farmers needing to stave off the horrible famine supposedly looming in our future as a result of global population growth. This article provides some details on the effects of CO2 on plant growth. A more recent study, despite the misleading headline, comes to a similar conclusion. Although the headline is "High carbon dioxide levels can retard plant growth" a careful reading of the article itself reveals that a depletion of other resources, not high levels of CO2, resulted in decreased plant growth in the 3rd year. In other words, the first 2 years demonstrated high growth, but depleted other resources required for plant growth that were not resupplied, resulting in a poor 3rd year. Armed with fertilizers and other tools, I seriously doubt this will be a major problem for farmers.

Drastic Plans Yield Minor Results

Even if we assume that human CO2 emissions are a major factor in global warming AND global warming will drastically and negatively influence the world, there seems to be little reason to change our emissions unless there is good reason to believe that such changes will have a significant impact on reversing global warming. In the few cases where I have heard the impacts discussed, it seemed to me that the benefits were ridiculously small in comparison to the probably massive economic impact of such changes. If the world as we know it really IS doomed to end within the next 50 years, I see little reason to intentionally make the remaining time we have worse before it gets worse anyway.