- Corruption facilitates smuggling rosewood from Madagascar to China
- Can China “police the commons” with top-down, data-driven methods (rather than encouraging bottom up community self-policing?)
- China’s “Belt and Road” program is not just about logistics, but collecting a group of countries that is economically indebted and politically subservient. The irony is that China was abused in the same way in the past (Opium wars, etc.)
- These guys are giving a second chance to the people Trump wants to ruin
- Cyber warfare inflicts massive collateral damage (an update on my fears)
- Great visualization of US/USSR(Russia) arms sales ($ for death) since 1950.
- How to be a “good” troublemaker.
- A great essay on jobs that are “useful” (creating value) vs jobs that are “bullshit” (transferring value). Which is yours?
- John Oliver does economics proud explaining Trump’ ignorance on trade.
- How are we evolving with and changing Nature?
This documentary follows a team of activists, scientists and divers as they try to document the death of coral reefs. Along the way, they explain how the oceans are absorbing the brunt of the impacts of climate
change disruption, and how coral death is the “canary in the coal mine” of other impending impacts.
The sad part of this film is that it’s mostly about the effort to capture time lapse images of dying coral, not about actually saving the coral from death. This set of goals is mostly because so few people know that coral is dying but also because the driving force of death — net increases of GHGs — can only be countered by overcoming “the world’s greatest market failure” or what I prefer to call “the greatest tragedy of the commons.”
I’ve tried to do the same thing (raise awareness, drive action) with the Life Plus 2 Meters books that I edited and published in the last two years, so I am both supportive of this type of media and pessimistic about its potential impact in a world where people are often too busy or indifferent to act and where politicians and corporations are often pushing for more exploitation and fewer restrictions on GHG emissions, as if their additional profits will insulate them from dying ecosystems and the ensuing collapse of food chains, reduction in global oxygen supplies, etc. (For a discussion of similar impacts from the loss of polar ice, read this depressing overview.)
The movie makes a few good points about how important oceans are. The biggest is that oceans are absorbing 93% of excess heat retained by GHGs. Without this sink, we’d have average surface temperatures of 50C rather than the 14.4C we have now. Second, they explain how coral are more sensitive to warmer ocean waters because they can’t move away. The analogy they use is that a 2C (3.6 Freedom unit) fever can kill a coral just as it can kill a human. Our normal temperature is 36.8C (98.2F) and a fever starts at 37.7C/100F, which is only 1C/1.8F higher. We are, in other words cooking the coral by raising water temperatures above their viable threshold:
In the movie, the team talks about monitoring the death of coral reefs from a floating restaurant full of people who eat and dance while floating over death. Coral reefs provide food and biodiversity. Their death will lead to the collapse and death of a large share of oceanic ecosystems, which will not just be bad for divers and the 500+ million people who depend on reefs for food, but also on the rest of the world that will be more vulnerable to tsunamis that are no longer blocked by reef ecosystems, the need to feed people from other sources (raising the price of food for everyone else), and the other numerous impacts of a disrupted ocean.
Although they are eventually able to capture the before and after images of a reef that dies over the course of a few months of hot water (image below), I am sad to see that there’s still far too little attention on the looming oceanic catastrophe that is going to hit humans in the near — not far! — future.
My one-handed conclusion is that we’re going to suffer a great loss of biodiversity with the death of the ocean’s corals (about half the world’s coral has died in the past 40 years, with 40% of that death occurring in the past three years). I highly recommend this film (5 stars), if only to educate yourself to a world not long with us.
To read all my reviews, go here.
- An appeal to the Dutch to accept migrants, brown, black and white.
- How feminism made me a better scientist.
- Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of SF estimate the financial crisis “cost every American $70,000.” This result is based on the permanent loss of production — roughly equivalent to the type of loss from war.
- LA’s palm trees are not native. They’re marketing.
- A Japanese working class woman writes about her life.
- US Wildfires are getting worse, on several dimensions
- I used to say that climate change would mean faster atmospheric circulation, as a means of distributing warmer air from the equator to the polls, but faster polar heating means that circulation is slowing down, bringing a different problem of stronger stationary weather. #cantwin!
- The US criminal “justice” system is awfully close to a mafia designed to rip off the poor. This article mistakes that system for “neoliberal capitalism” when it’s really just the State taking advantage of its citizens, i.e., corrupt politics.
- The legal case against advertising makes similar claims to my social case against it.
- Cool shit: Schrodinger’s hula hoop and the ultimate “interactive wall”
Burning man opens its gates today to ~70,000 burners and virgins, eager to express themselves, participate and enjoy the dynamics of one of the world’s most inclusive, radical and innovative communities.
Many people are changed by Burning Man, the vast majority for the better but some for the worse. As a glass-half empty kinda guy, I want to talk a about Burning Man’s constitutional failure to protect the innocent.
To put this in context, consider Burning Man’s 10 Principles, most of which boil down to “let everyone do what they want, no matter how weird you might think it is.”
But these ideals of “radical inclusion” do not touch on the most important element of freedom. i.e., freedom from being harassed by those “radically” photographing, approaching, and touching others without their consent. Assault (menacing approach) and battery (actual physical contact) are, of course, banned at Burning Man in exactly the same way that they are banned in the “default world,” but they are not explicitly called out as inappropriate in the 10 Principles, which is why there have been more reports of sexual harassment, unwanted groping and rape at Burning Man.
Most Burners are aware of these issues, and the Bureau of Erotic Discourse (B.E.D.) has been active for years in promoting consent before engagement, but those efforts have not been adopted into the 10 Principles that are plastered all over Burning Man, featured prominently in the handbook sent to all ticket buyers, and so on.
My one-handed conclusion is that the Burning Man Organization (the Borg) must revise its constitution to add an 11th Principle: “Consent is more important than your radical expression, so ask first and anything other than Yes means No.”
- The Street Debater (the “yes-no-on-Brexit”-scale in the photo) gives beggars a way to engage passers-by on topics. Much better than a sign and a hat, and the design is open-source to download.
- Dog cloning: rich people and entrepreneur-scientists are pushing technology and ethics to the limit. Human baby cloning? When, not if.
- Students from poorer backgrounds can’t just use “grit” to succeed. What they need is agency, which is in short supply in the US.
- Americans view “economic health” through the lens of their political affiliation, a tendency that’s common in poorer corrupt countries. Bad sign.
- Good competition helps everyone; bad competition harms the powerless.
- The end of the liberal order means a return to the power politics, exploitation and conflict of the 19th century, except this time, it may be the (formerly) colonized dealing the pain and taking the gain.
- A fascinating discussion of autism between 1.25 autistics.
- John Oliver on Astroturfing (i.e., the lie behind “Americans for Prosperity”, “Latinos for water,” et al.) and the identity politics of mayonnaise (!)
- The real people of IAmsterdam, a city whose charms continue to seduce me.
- Americans “pay” an average of $1,600 per year in “the costs of sprawl.” The worst offenders are in band from Arizona to Florida. High housing prices in SF and NY may reflect their low “costs of sprawl.”
(I’m taking a break from a multi-day painting project to write this. The irony!)
Most people juggle a mess of overlapping, conflicting time demands arising from a variety of obligations and desires. Running at 110 percent means that there’s always something waiting to be done. (Social media makes this problem worse because it’s common for “a quick scroll” to absorb so much time that you’re not only late for your next to do, but stressed because you “haven’t had a breather” between tasks…)
The problem with piecemeal, jammed schedules is that people have a hard time devoting a block of time (3-4 hours) to a topic, let alone finding 3-4 hours on short notice for an urgent topic.
Thus, we see an equilibrium where everyone is rushed, each task only gets a little attention, and it’s much harder for a group project to advance in a timely manner. Indeed, it’s much more common to have a three-person project drag on over several weeks instead of getting done in a few hours. The delays are mostly around coordination, because each person, as they turn to the project, needs an update from others, which means delay and confusion before they can even start, let alone send their part to others. In these conditions, transaction costs are high and the whole process annoying. (Trans-disciplinary communication among academics can be particularly bad due to jargon and work norms, let alone philosophical disagreements.)
There are two ways forward from these issues. For individuals, it’s to cut back on casual tasks, leave gaps empty for a breather, and set aside empty blocks of time each week. (I can’t remember where, but I read a few months ago about a very successful person who had blocked out two free days per week.)
For groups, the issue is worse because the person with the worst agenda is going to set the pace for everyone else, losing even more time and annoying even more people.
I thought of this topic two months ago while at a conference with 700 economists in such a hurry to get to their presentations or find one of 25 parallel sessions that they hardly had any time to think, let alone extend serendipitous meetings into the conversations they might deserve.
So my suggestion for groups is that they go for a “hackathon” concept in which everyone works only on one topic for 1-3 days. The key elements — presence, communication and deadline — will aid success by setting expectations, collecting all decision makers and aiding problem solving.
I suspect that every company, academic department and family could get a lot more done by scheduling 2-4 “hacks” per year, with details (fix a nagging problem, design a new idea, etc.) decided as the date approaches. These hacks will be more productive because everyone will be there, the deadline will force attention onto ugly issues, and progress will motivate everyone to keep pushing for the next step.
My one-handed advice is to set aside more “empty blocks” for yourself and schedule a block for your family or work.
Do you see anything familiar here? How do you get stuff done?
- A useful look into the statistics on cancer and how the “war on cancer” is going…
- Great podcast/interview with an economist who writes for The Economist on trade and tariffs.
- Mr Money Mustache explains cost accounting, i.e., why avoiding is better than renting which is better than buying.
- China’s ban on “contaminated” recyclables (see my prior post) wrecks ambitious plans of American cities that didn’t count on paying much to recycle.
- Some useful insights on improving airline efficiency (I wasn’t so convinced by the big data sales pitch at the end).
- Physicists provide insights into GDP growth by ignoring misleading details and sticking with basic theory.
- Private entrepreneurs are helping Yemenis get drinking water as their government and public systems fail.
- Youval Hariri: “As a species, humans prefer power to truth” so some of us “speak truth to power” people have a hard job…
- Residents of Amsterdam’s Red Light District fight for priority over tourism.
- Americans view “economic health” through the lens of their political affiliation, a tendency that’s common in poorer corrupt countries.
H/T to MV
I published Living with Water Scarcity in 2014 and made it free to download shortly thereafter. In 2015, I published Vivir con la escasez de agua, the Spanish version of the book, which was translated with the aid of volunteers and is also free to download.
Now I am very pleased to announce the Farsi-version of my book [PDF], which was also translated by volunteers. I hope this version makes my political-economic ideas on water management more accessible to Farsi-speakers in Iran and elsewhere.
For the introduction, I wrote:
You are now holding the Farsi translation of my book, Living with Water Scarcity, which contains — I hope — many ideas that may be useful to you and your communities.
I was born and raised in California, an American state whose weather and water patterns sometimes resemble those of Iran. California’s agricultural industry specializes in fruits, vegetables and nuts (almonds and pistachios).
I didn’t know very much about water management in California before studying for my PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics (University of California Davis, 2002-2008), but I quickly learned that California has many problems. Farmers use 80 percent of the water but they always want more, so they have dried out rivers and emptied aquifers. In cities, there are problems with breaking pipes and poor water quality because too little money is spent on maintenance. Many cities have too little supply for local demand but price their water so cheaply that people waste it. Some cities are spending billions of dollars on desalination plants to get more supply while farmers flood desert fields with water that costs less than one percent of city prices. Politicians and water managers have talked about solutions for decades, but most of their ideas involve taking more water from ecosystems rather than reducing demand to sustainable levels. Climate change (which I call “climate disruption”) is making everything worse.
I’ve never visited Iran, but I have visited many countries in the region, and I am eager to learn more about your people, your land and your culture.
I am also eager to learn more about water in Iran: where it is, how you use it, and how you will live with water scarcity in the next 100 years.
In preparing this introduction, I did a little reading to learn more about water in your country. I already knew about qanats, but I was surprised to read that some of these systems are still working after 2,500 years. Sadly, I also learned that many qanats have fallen into disuse as communities have lost the traditions of collectively maintaining and repairing damage. One reason this has happened, I read, is that it has been easier and cheaper to pump water directly from the ground — a system that seems better in the short run but takes so much water that some land is forever dead.
I also read that farmers use around 90 percent of Iran’s water, with the rest going to municipal and industrial uses. These basic statistics make me wonder: who gets how much of that water? I suspect that larger industrial farms use more water. That’s what happens in California.
Those human uses add up to 100 percent, which makes me wonder how much water is left for the environment? I read that your Lake Urmia [see cover image above] is dying as its water is taken and its rivers dry out. Did you know that California used to have the largest freshwater lake in the western United States? Farmers dried out Tulare Lake with the help of government subsidies and laws that let them take as much as they wanted. Today, those same farmers are using groundwater so fast that their land is dropping by 10cm per year in some areas.
I read that some Iranians think that new dams and longer canals will bring enough water to allow “business as usual” to continue. In my experience those costly solutions don’t help because they increase water stress and risk for communities losing their water without encouraging sustainable use in the places receiving it.
As an economist, I know that my ideas (raise prices to reduce use, for example) are not very popular because nobody likes paying more for anything, but I am sure that you agree that it’s better to pay more to get a reliable supply instead of paying less to get nothing at all. Price increases, of course, have different impacts on rich and poor, so it’s important to try to protect the poor from those increases, just as it’s important to protect them from shortages.
Climate disruption will complicate all water management as it brings higher temperatures, stronger storms, and longer droughts. I moved to the Netherlands because the Dutch are good at managing their abundant water, but we are now struggling with a drought that is killing crops, drying rivers and increasing costs. Even here, it takes work to manage water for the benefit of all, today and in the future.
The bottom line is that increasing water scarcity means that people need to change their laws, habits and institutions of water management. This book will give you some ideas of how to do that.
I hope you enjoy it, and please do contact me (in English) if you have ideas, news or information that will teach me about your unique country. One day, I will visit.
Khoda hafez [Goodbye :)]
David Zetland Amsterdam (25 July 2018)
Women have come a long way in the past 100 years: “receiving” the right to vote, “being allowed” to work outside the house, “having the choice” of pregnancy. Some of these rights have been “taken” but the majority has been “given” by men who are not always happy to be losing power.
Men still tend to dominate aggressive professions such as sports, business and politics. Although competition in those professions can be helpful, it can also bring destruction, cheating, and social misery. *
I’m not going to argue on the exact blend of social and biological characteristics inherent in gender, as that mix is irrelevant in comparison to the outcomes of gendered behavior.
What’s interesting (and my point) here is that women’s rising political and economic power should (will?) lead to different dynamics around cooperation and competition. This is not just me saying “mommies are better” but a predictable outcome of gender socialization and evolutionary biology.
Women, for example, do not take as many risks as men because they do not care as much about the additional mating opportunities that come with wealth and fame. Less risk also means more cooperation since risk is an individual pursuit (think “first to the top of a mountain” or “grabbing the job”) and cooperation a collective pursuit.
Coming from a different angle, it’s also possible to view risk and cooperation though the lens of motivation, rewards and punishments. When it comes to group activities, it’s sometimes hard to know who has done what for (or against) the interests of the group. In these circumstances, a strong intrinsic (internal) motivation to cooperate is valuable, since there’s no need to invoke extrinsic (external) rewards or punishment for free-riding. In a co-authored paper on this topic, we found that women paid more attention to collective actions than men, meaning that they are more likely to cooperate when that goal is publicized. (Men are also cooperative, but not as sensitive to cues of where and how to do so.)
I’ve taught a course on cooperation in the production of collective goods for a few years now (I’m starting again in a few weeks), and I looked up the student grades, to see if more men or women were rewarded for cooperation (or penalized for free riding) by others in their group. Ignoring many statistical caveats, the raw data looks like this:
|Male (37 total)||35% (n=13)||65% (n=24)|
|Female (52 total)||48% (n=25)||52% (n=27)|
These numbers support the idea that women in these groups were more cooperative than men, but let me add two caveats. The first is that rewards and punishments were zero-sum, so it would be impossible to have 100% within a group but not impossible to have 100% here (e.g., groups are 50% free riding men and 50% cooperative women). Second, students knew that they would be graded for their cooperation (extrinsic motivation!), but there’s still quite a gap between men and women.
My one-handed conclusion is that a larger share of women with political and/or economic power is going to result in more cooperation and more punishment for defection. That will be good for the commons of our societies, the environment, and humanity in general.
Ps: My mother died over 30 years ago, but her birthday recently passed. In my experience growing up, I received more care from women than men, who tended to focus on money (and themselves). #checkyourbias
* Addendum (15 Aug): “The average age of admission to a trauma center is about 22. It used to be 90 percent male. Now, it’s only like 84 percent male. Women are becoming as stupid as men.”
- China’s Big Brother surveillance has locked down its Uighur people
- Some American governments are slowing retreating from the coasts, as climate change makes “rebuild stronger” impossible.
- Academic economists are catching on to the idea that people work for reasons besides money. Read this, this and this.
- Taking experiments outside the lab and into policy testing
- Gender quotas for politicians are strengthening in Latin America. I endorse this policy as a means of improving women’s rights and policy in general.
- Climate change’s non-linear impacts: collapsing Australian ecosystems and (holy shit) the misery of whales (and other species) suffering from constant human impacts.
- Sci-hub circumvents paywalls, making academic research available to everyone. Aaron Swartz fought for this.
- “Institutional innovation under climate change: A global survey of 96 cities“
- Using blockchain to track and reward farmers for sustainable practices
- The Economist goes back to its liberal roots to defend society against the tyranny of the majority. First up: John Stewart Mill, who supported women’s suffrage (etc.) 50 years before it became fact. My favorite is his defense of free trade (and migration): “It is hardly possible to overrate the value, in the present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar.