Biodiversity and the Charlatans at The Daily Caller

The Daily CallerLast week, The Daily Caller published, Global Warming Is Increasing Biodiversity Around the World. That caught my eye because apart from the obvious practical problems of global warming in the case of humans simply surviving, biodiversity is probably the most important issue. And here’s the thing: a warmer world could really bring about more biodiversity. Of course, it would mostly be more kinds of insects and algae. There are already thousands of species of termites and over ten thousand species of ants. There are perhaps a million species of algae. So this is really not the kind of biodiversity that we’re looking for.

I smelled a rat anyway. After all, there have been all kinds of papers that have indicated that species are dying off. If one paper found that biodiversity was increased by global warming, that does not means that “global warming is increasing biodiversity around the world.” But what do you expect from a libertarian website? Some kind of reasonable discussion of the facts? But I was interested to find out what this paper had to say. Did extreme weather manage to give us another kind of termite while killing off a dozen bird species? Did we have a million and one species of algae in exchange for more damage for our coral reefs? What could be this great news that The Daily Caller was trumpeting?

Well, Media Matters was interested in the same question, so Denise Robbins contacted the lead author of the study, Maria Dornelas. The scientist was kind of angry that her research was so obviously distorted for political ends. But it was hardly necessary to talk to her about it. The paper is titled, Assemblage Time Series Reveal Biodiversity Change but Not Systematic Loss. But before I explain what the paper reported, I have to explain a bit about the science.

There is what we call α-diversity. This is how much diversity there is in a single environment. Think of it like your house: if you have people from different background, the α-diversity is high. For example: if I lived with Bill Gates, we’d have a very high α-diversity. There is also what we call β-diversity. This is how much diversity there is between environments. So if the people in the house across the street were Warren Buffett and some other poor guy, then the β-diversity would be very low. Got it?

What Dornelas and her colleagues found was that α-diversity was pretty much unchanged. So in any particular forest (for example), there was just as much diversity as there was before. They don’t know what’s happening to the more important β-diversity. But they have a hunch. Dornelas provided the following thought experiment for how to think about this:

[L]ets imagine three islands, one has blue birds, one has green birds and one has yellow birds. Blue bird island gets warmer, and our imaginary blue birds are particularly sensitive to climate variation, and so they go extinct. But their island is now suitable for green birds, which colonize it. Green bird island stays the same, but green birds are also introduced to yellow bird island. Yellow birds cannot fight the competition and go extinct. At the end we have the same number of species in each of the islands (1), but the species that live there are different, and in total we have lost 2/3 of the species.

Got that? The α-diversity is exactly the same, but the β-diversity has gone way down. The fact that the α-diversity is the same on each island is meaningless.

I don’t really mind people disagreeing with me and being totally ignorant of the science they are talking about. But that’s not what The Daily Caller is doing. They are just lying. And what for? They are lying so that oil companies and others who are already really rich can continue to get even richer. It is times like these that I wish I believed in God and could take comfort in their eternal torture in a deep level of Dante’s Inferno.

Instead, at best, 20 years from now we’ll get a meek, “Oops!”

Impulse Control and Global Warming

Chad Vincent StantonIt’s rare that I read an article that really changes my way of thinking about a subject, but such was the case over the weekend at Political Animal where Chad Stanton wrote, Self Destruction, We’re Headed For Self Destruction. It’s a compare and contrast kind of article. He reminded me of how people said what a big deal it was in the 1980s that “urban decay” was the result of some kind of social pathology. Basically, it is a nice way of saying, “The reason blacks are doing so poorly in our society is that there’s something wrong with the black man!”

And what was number one on the list of the black man’s wrongs: poor impulse control. Rather than saving his money to pay his future tuition to Harvard, he was buying Air Jordans! No wonder the black man wasn’t getting ahead. It had nothing to do with racist attitudes and poor schools and white privilege. Nope: Air Jordans! Impulse control! The black people in the ghettos didn’t think long term. It was all now now now!

Stanton noticed that there’s another kind of “impulse control” problem in the United States. It’s a much bigger problem, even if you yield the point that there is an impulse control problem with impoverished people (which you shouldn’t). The impulse control problem he notices is with our approach to global warming. Remember recently when Marco Rubio said that sure maybe we are destroying the nice climate that we and the rest of the biosphere evolved to thrive in? But we couldn’t do anything about it because it might hurt the economy now. I already noted that he has the economics all wrong, A Depressed Economy Is the Time to Address Global Warming. But Stanton’s argument is clear: the global warming deniers (or hedgers) have an impulse control problem: they want good things now now now; they aren’t willing to forego them for our long-term benefit.

He is absolutely right. But this is the way things work in the United States. When a young surfer uses the tools available to him to support his lifestyle, the conservatives go crazy. But when rich men use every tax loophole to pay as little as possible, well, that’s to be applauded! That’s because the same behavior that is noble for the rich is despicable for the poor. That’s why no one at HSBC went to jail while casual cannabis smokers can spend decades in prison.

What really angers me is that in forty years when things really are bad, the children and the grandchildren of the rich people who today lack impulse control will be living high in the best areas. And the huge numbers of displaced poor will still have their poverty blamed on their lack of impulse control.

Afterwrod

I think that Chad Stanton is a young pundit to watch out for. You can find him on Twitter; Instagram (which I don’t really understand); And Very Very Urban on Tumblr. Check him out!

Timothy Geithner: Awful Person and Liar

Tim GeithnerDo you know what I really hate? People who do a really bad job working for the government, and then retire to high paying jobs and six-figure book deals. Today, of course, I’m speaking of Timothy Geithner and his book, Stress Test. Now sure: Geithner isn’t the worst guy in the world. In fact, I think he was the perfect Treasury Secretary for Obama: basically a Bush kind of guy who is very concerned about the global economy. But he doesn’t care about it because instability actually kills people. He cares about it because millionaire bankers might not get their yearly bonuses.

In the 1950s, they said, “What’s good for GM is good for America.” Well, that wasn’t true, but it was a hell of a lot more true than what they say today, “What’s good for Goldman Sachs is good for America. Because at least what was good for GM was not generally bad for America. Despite the repugnant “Progress” commercials that Goldman Sachs is flooding the world with, in generally what is good for them is bad for America. And by “America” I mean the people.

Aside from Geithner spending what is apparently hundreds of pages showing that it wasn’t just the banks who were stress tested, he makes some economic arguments. He was very big for bailing out the banks, because, hey, each tear a millionaire sheds causes an angel to burst into flames. But when it came to things that would help the regular economy—you know, places you shop; places you work—he didn’t really care. Now Geithner claims he was not against stimulus. “I was not an austerian.” But as Paul Krugman pointed out this morning, three years ago when the heroic Christina Romer pressed the White House for more stimulus, Geithner snapped. “Stimulus, he told Romer, was ‘sugar,’ and its effect was fleeting. The administration, he urged, needed to focus on long-term economic growth, and the first step was reining in the debt.” Sounds like he was very much an austerian. And, not to put too fine a point on it:

Timothy Geithner is a liar!

But it is more than that. Geithner argues that the administration was right to bail out the banks while just letting homeowners suffer and allow a foreclosure crisis. His reasoning is that doing that wouldn’t have really helped the economy. “The economy” is Geithner speak for the millionaire bankers who invite him to parties and hire him for high paid jobs like president of Warburg Pincus. But it looks even worse than that.

Two economists—Atif Mian and Amir Sufi—have looked at his economics, Why Tim Geithner Is Wrong on Homeowner Debt Relief. Geithner wrote, “We did not believe, though we looked at this question over and over, that a much larger program focused directly on housing could have a material impact on the broader economy… it would have increased annual personal consumption by just 0.1 to 0.2 percent” So it wasn’t worth doing. Mian and Sufi’s article is a little technical, but they find a number of problems with Geithner’s assumptions. First, there is this thing called the marginal propensity to consume (MPC). This is how much less you will spend if the value of your house goes down. There is a vast amount of research on this and the number comes out to be between 5% and 10%. Geithner assumed 2%—less than half the lower limit! What is that I smell? A rat, perhaps?

Mian and Sufi then go on to do the calculation correctly and find that the actual number would have been ten times higher. And remember: this is just the direct effect. Their article gets into some other details that I’m not that interested in. But let’s assume their base number of 1.3% increase in GDP from mortgage forgiveness. We usually multiply any direct number by 1.5 because spending spreads through the economy. So that’s a 2.0% increase in GDP. Roughly one and half million jobs are created for every 1% increase in GDP. So this program that Timothy Geithner thought wasn’t worth doing would have created three million jobs.

But even if Geithner’s 0.2% number had been right, it still would have represented a half million jobs. But the truth is that Geithner was, is, and always will be focused on debt. Because that’s what’s in the interests of the rentier class that he represented and now is officially part of as the president of Warburg Pincus. Not to put too fine a point on it:

Timothy Geithner is an awful person!

He should be chased out of the country, not held up as our savior.

Malcolm X

Malcolm XOn this day in 1925, Malcolm X was born. He was the black man who scared the white folks. And for that, I will always love him. What’s interesting about that is that the Nation of Islam is a conservative group. And if you listen to conservatives today, what they claim that the black community should do is exactly what the Nation of Islam did do and still does. But these very same conservatives are terrified by the group and especially its charismatic leaders. I don’t think it’s at all hyperbolic to say that conservatives want blacks to be separatists but they are terrified that they will be self-actualizing.

The way I see political action, it is necessary to have extremists—or at least those who people perceive as extremists. In the 1960s, whites were afraid of Martin Luther King, but not like they were afraid of Malcolm X. And that gave King more power than he otherwise would have had. As it was, many whites considered King a rabble-rouser and a law breaker. To this day, I read people who claim that he was a communist. But in the end, he became the “good negro” as compared to Malcolm X who was the “bad” or “angry negro.”

(This is why I blame the Democratic Party for the radicalization of the Republican Party. If you want to meet in the middle, you have to give people choices at the edges. All the New Democratic pushing to the center has just pushed the Republicans to the right. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both understood this simple concept that completely eludes the likes of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.)

I don’t agree with racial separation because I don’t believe in race. It is just a construct powerful people created to justify their domination of our shared resources. This is something that Ta-Nehisi Coates has written about eloquently for a long time. But I understand Malcolm X’s belief in it. What’s more, I still think it is a valid way for oppressed minorities to thrive. But I still hold on to what is probably a fanciful notion of all of us breading with each other and turning into one big happy brown skinned “race.”

I think that Malcolm X’s greatest work was in front of him, so that his assassination is even more tragic than King’s. Like King, the man had not even reached the age of 40! And I am constantly struck with the fact that Malcolm X was born on the same day as Pol Pot, one of the great villains of the 20th century who lived to be almost twice the age of Malcolm X and died of natural causes. The universe is unjust and thus so too is our culture.

Happy birthday Malcolm X!