Jive Talking launches

I started thinking about doing a podcast last year because I wanted to find a new way of learning, catching up with people in my network, and bringing new ideas to people. I still like blogging (and will continue to write here), but podcasting provides a different perspective, most obviously because it allows conversation.

I “soft launched” Jive Talking about one month ago with five interviews. In the past few weeks, I have had time to fix up the Soundcloud page hosting the podcast* and put a bit more time into improving “production quality.” I still have a long way to go before I am happy with these details (listen to my intro!), but they are not as important as the conversations, which are unscripted and free to flow wherever we wonder (and wander). I am not alone in liking this element to podcasting:

One of the things that’s so cool about the new media technology is that people want . . . They just want direct communication. They don’t like high-level production values, all to people on YouTube, and they’re very savvy media consumers. A highly produced television show just looks like a lie. If you’ve got something to say, they just want you to sit down and say it. They don’t even want you to edit it so that it’s smoother because that just looks like you’re spinning the content, and you probably are.

My one-handed conclusion is that you’re not going to learn anything until you try something new, so here goes! Please listen to a few episodes, tell me what you think, and/or suggest new guests (including you!)

Episodes:
01 // What do we mean by water privatization?
02 // Monja Esterhuizen on losing less water in South Africa
03 // Delton Chen on incentivizing carbon mitigation
04 // Marina Della Giusta on #metoo, teaching economics, and careers for millennials
05 // Walter E. Block on pollution, regulation, and libertarian ideals
06 // Michelle Wilbur on small-scale renewables, oil and living in Alaska


* Jive Talking is now syndicated via Stitcher. I’ll get Apple iTunes and Google Play links soon!

Stuff to read

  1. “Russia Is a Rogue, Not a Peer; China Is a Peer, Not a Rogue”
  2. How America welcomed Russian kleptocrats (and domestic corruption)
  3. A nice discussion of Core Economics and the quest to make economics more useful (realistic) to students.
  4. Dear Mr Zuckerberg: the problem isn’t the internet, it’s Facebook
  5. This book review on the varying and pervasive impacts of climate change leads me to think that we are moving from a world dominated by the “information revolution” (the one displacing the industrial revolution) to one dominated by the “climate revolution,” which is — as all good revolutions do — overturning our ways of living. The sad part is that most of the climate-driven change will be unpleasant, expect perhaps for those who swap reality for a virtual lifestyle (ironically, and too late, reducing the footprint of their consumption).
  6. The pay gap between skilled and unskilled workers is growing dramatically in the US. The need for basic income (as a way of preventing rebellion) is rising.
  7. Data trackers and advertiser don’t even know what they’re doing.
  8.  Interacting environmental problems mean more, worse crises.
  9. Heineken’s behavior depends on local norms (of sexual harassment)?
  10. Will these guys save the world by sucking out carbon? (Carbon tax!)

H/T to MdG

We understand money pretty good.

I’ve always nodded my head at the truth in Upton Sinclair’s insight that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” but I recently realized its importance in the quest for sustainability.

It’s clear that many people who make their living from “freeing carbon” (oil workers, loggers, car makers, beef producers, etc.) are not interested in ideas about limiting carbon (and equivalents). As a result, we’re getting climate change and damages of $100 for each $1 these “vested interests” earn.

So now I realize the sad possibility that many of these vested interests — had they saved some of their “carbon windfall” — would be ok with a decarbonising world. That would be because their savings gave them other options for earning, and enjoying, their lives.

Compare Norway and Alberta (or Alaska). Norway saved and invested lots of its oil money, so it now has $1 trillion, or about $185k per citizen. Alberta and Alaska, I know, have saved a lot less. This difference in savings is important because savings make it easier to cope with risk. Norwegians would not be so worried if the “oil carbon was turned off.” Alaskans, Albertans, and the residents of most oil- carbon-exporting countries (including the US) would be terrified, because they make their living from freeing carbon.

It is thus that I arrive at my over-simplified, one-handed conclusion: If we’re going to turn off the  carbon, then we need to “take care” of those who profit from it. The simplest way to do this is pay them off. The easiest way to raise the funds to pay them off is to tax carbon. I would make the tax “dynamic” such that the burden fell for those who ran from carbon while it rose on those who strolled in the same general direction. 

It’s not about the planet, the future or technology. It’s about money.

Stuff to read

  1. Aeromexico helps Americans “get over the wall”
  2. (Government-sponsored) fake news in Hungary is pretty weird.
  3. Utilities (once “safe as houses”) are under pressure from climate change
  4. How Google sells ads (and Facebook sells promise) Related: Zuckerberg says people want targeted ads. He’s wrong.
  5. Patriots are better than nationalists. Related: The history of flags
  6. The Dutch need a carbon tax if they’re serious about meeting their Paris commitment.
  7. Should leisure be taxed to force young men to work rather than play games?
  8. Anand Giridharadas takes the piss, posing as #DavosMan
  9. Peter Thiel has some great ideas on markets.
  10. Poverty isn’t increasing if you consider how colonialism immiserated “poor” but free peoples. Related: Colonialism is only another form of free-riding on the wealth of others (or our future)

H/Ts to PB and RN

The air we breathe

I grew up in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 1970s, when gasoline was leaded (thus damaging brains and increasing crime), and pollution from cars and industry much worse than it is today. (Read about changes in LA from the 70s, improvements for kids since the 90s, SF’s improvements since the 60s, and the recent dangers of inhaling smoke from wildfires.)

As a water economist, I am well aware of the advantages of clean water, which gives me a similar respect for clean air. The problem is that it’s hard to see air or water pollution, which is why I support visualizing technology. 

In the case of water, we’re still waiting, but the technology* for measuring, viewing and recording air quality is improving rapidly, which makes it more likely that average people will change their habits and push for policy changes that can be seen on their devices. (Here’s a great podcast on how residents of a poor area near San Francisco dramatically improved their air quality. Pollution in London’s Tube is 30x street levels, so maybe it’s time to bike?)

Delivery scooter in Bangkok market alley

With that preamble out of the way, let me tell you about the Air Tricorder (!) I bought for €70 in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

As you can see, it’s a plastic box with fans and sensors inside that gives real time measures of the Air Quality Index (AQI) that combines measures for PM2.5, PM10 and NOx. (This video shows how quality changes as a freight train rolls through Utrecht’s central station.) The drawbacks of the Tricorder is that it does not record geo-tagged data, which means that you need to stop often and manually correlate location and time with the AQI.**

What I found to be very interesting was how AQI would change in various places, sometimes counterintuitively.

First is the fact that AQI in an alley may be lower than on a busy street, either because scooters drive in the alleys or people are cooking over charcoal (!!) in the alley. (The Tricorder doesn’t go above 500, which is labeled “ludicrous.) Those cooking habits — along with burning wood in the fireplace or smoking indoors — explain why indoor air pollution is linked to 4,000 deaths per day, worldwide.

Hazardous air INSIDE the theatre?

Second, polluted air doesn’t just “stay outside,” and it can even be worse than outside if inside air is not circulated or filtered (see photo). China’s leaders know this, which is why they have dozens of machines scrubbing the air of their homes and workplaces in polluted Beijing.*** 

Third, the majority of pollution comes from bad practices (burning coal) but also old, outdated and poorly maintained machines and factories. Various countries regulate this issue by banning certain practices or older models of cars, scooters, trucks and so forth, but poor/corrupt countries do not have or enforce these rules, which means that their citizens die younger and children suffer brain damage. Is that policy pro-poor? Probably not, given that their richer neighbors use more energy and travel more

My one-handed conclusion is that you should check your personal air quality and speak out for policies and practices that will improve it.

* Note that I am talking about mobile or personal devices. You can easily get quality measurements from fixed stations (US or EU), but that information is less personal (and thus less actionable) because it’s not about you here and now.

** I was super excited to buy a Flow device that would send real time data to my smart phone, but the €180 device bricked itself when I tried to share it with my GF’s phone. (Flow was funded in late 2018 via Kickstarter.) Two weeks later, I am still waiting for a solution. Their tech support seems to be struggling. I’ll update this post if get a working device (or my money back).

***  This famous twitter account, set up by the US Dept of State in 2008 — back when we were great — forced Chinese leaders to engage with the problem.

Recommended reading

  1. A podcast on tribe and belonging (in contrast to “neoliberal” life)
  2. Ethereum (a crypto-currency) will cut its energy use by 99 percent.
  3. China’s share-bike schemes are crashing and burning
  4. The podcast revolution is here to stay.
  5. A profile of the Chinese who censor the country
  6. Read this review of Surveillance capitalism: “Behavior modification is the thread that ties today’s search engines, social networks, and smartphone trackers to tomorrow’s facial-recognition systems, emotion-detection sensors, and artificial-intelligence bots. What the industries of the future will seek to manufacture is the self.” Related: Facebook knows everything about you when it sells adverts but not when politicians are asking about manipulation. I’m betting they are lying about how much they know and don’t know.
  7. Your friends may not be happy is you try to live without a smart phone.
  8. Forget counting calories. Eat good food.
  9. People have a hard time understanding logic and data. That doesn’t mean — IMO — that they should be voting on policies that affect the rest of us.
  10. How the Ostrom School limited Tragedies of the Commons