24 May 2018

Which industries destroy more value?

Lots of people (including The Lorax) have opinions on this question, but this 2012 KPMG report has a nice visualization comparing annual earnings in an industry (EBITA) to that industry's environmental destruction ("negative externalities"):

Although I am not too surprised to see oil and gas producing a net benefit (on purely financial terms), I am surprised to see that food producers would be bankrupt if they had to pay for the environmental damage they their customers cause.

(Note that earnings are based on prices and costs, not value, which is surely a multiple of most industry's earnings.)

Bottom line: We should be paying far more for food (electricity, metals, mining, and so on) as a means of compensating for damage or as a result of shifting to more sustainable production methods.

Review: The Lorax (1972)

I watched this animated short the other night. It's based on the 1971 book by Dr Seuss.

The plot is simple (capitalists destroy trees "owned by nobody" to make a fast buck, until they are all gone), but Seuss's fun language and colorful images make the film both entertaining and depressing.

Although one might argue that such destruction would not occur if the trees were owned by someone who wanted to maximize their value over time, it's also easy to see these dynamics at play in areas where property rights are absent or ignored (i.e., most traditional communal societies) or where the commons are unprotected (e.g., the open oceans with respect to fishing or atmosphere with respect to GHG emissions). The only "solutions" in those cases is to not be greedy -- a moral that many children can and should learn from this short. Sadly, there are far too many greedy adults around to undermine those sustainable notions.

(I'm not surprised that the 2012 remake of the film has a happy ending. It should have stuck with the original.)

Bottom line: I give this film FIVE STARS for making an important point nearly 50 years ago. Sadly, that point has been lost on many corrupt politicians who allow greedy capitalists to cut down our collective natural wonders.

For all my reviews go here

23 May 2018

Links of interest

  1. The Water Atlas (to which I contributed one map) is now available for free download!
  2. Don't interview for the job, audition. Related: Avoid bullshit jobs.
  3. More good advice on eating right
  4. "How to kill a fish" changed my mind
  5. A ridiculous example of astroturfing in New Orleans: Actors protesting renewables and favoring natural gas
  6. Small communities are dying in America's "fly over states" as diversified family farms turn into corporate monocultures that don't need people. This is the result of 100 years of chasing yield over profitability.
  7. More insights into Facebook's effect on people (cognitive dissonance), business model (it will continue to manipulate you as long as it's profitable) and the open-internet that works for us. This quote from the second is worth emphasizing:
    You basically are driven to the outrage cycle at a personalized level. They’re basically trying to trigger fear and anger to get the outrage cycle going, because outrage is what makes you be more deeply engaged. You spend more time on the site and you share more stuff. Therefore, you’re going to be exposed to more ads and that makes you more valuable.
  8. What a woman can do when she's rich enough to ignore social norms.
  9. An update on the politics of the Nile (and Ethiopia's dam)
  10. Your (?) data? "Let’s not rush to sacrifice the personal at the altar of the collective" plus "I never tell stores who I am. I never let them know. I pay cash and only cash for that reason."

22 May 2018

Capitalism has the answer, but what's the question?

In an interview given for the catalogue for "After the End of the World" (an exploration of the elements and impacts of climate change that I saw a few months ago in Barcelona), Kim Stanley Robinson, a successful science fiction writer, reflects on the "political economy of the Anthropocene":
This is what bothers me in economics: its blind adherence to the capitalist movement even when it is so destructive. Enormous amounts of intellectual energy are going into the pseudo-quantitative legal analysis of an already existing system that's destructive. Well, this is not good enough anymore because it's wrecking the biophysical infrastructure.
As an environmental economist, I am familiar with this critique as well as its weaknesses.

First, you have Robinson's misunderstanding of capitalism, defined as "an economic system based upon private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit." As you can see in this definition, capitalism is about ownership and profit -- in contrast to other systems (communism) where ownership rests with the state or collective or profits are not the goal.

Second, "means of production" almost always means physical, human and intellectual capital, i.e., factories, institutions and ideas. Although it's possible to include natural capital (ecosystems) in this definition as a means of including discussions over its depletion, such an extension would be a mistake, as natural capital is a collective good that cannot be managed or controlled by private individuals.

Third, a capitalist system, like all economic systems, is embedded in the political system where collective decisions are made about how the market should interact with non-market aspects of life. My tweet from a few months ago captures the reality:
Nature doesn’t need us. We need nature.
Fourth (and finally), we can therefore see how capitalism will help or harm ecosystems in exactly the way that "society" decides. That's why, for example, some countries have useful regulations regarding pollution while others have counterproductive policies to subsidize fossil fuels. It is this distinction (as well as the impressive way that capitalism "solves" problems to make profits) that Robinson misses.

Bottom line: Capitalism is not the driver of the Anthropocene as much as political and social decisions to ignore the costs of private consumption on ecosystems and other communal assets. We can have "sustainable capitalism" today by imposing the social as well as private costs of private consumption on individual consumers and capitalist producers.

21 May 2018

How are workers different for beggars?

Orwell's very enjoyable Down and Out in Paris and London, which is free to read online (or download), says:
Why are beggars despised? — for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modem talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except ‘Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it’? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately. A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modem people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.

18 May 2018

Friday party!

MDMA in wastewater indicates where use (per capita) is higher:
That big circle is centered on Amsterdam ;)
Go here for data on other drugs in EU wastewater.

17 May 2018

Gas leaks are bad news for efforts to reduce GHG emissions

I learned about the problem of unmeasured leaks magnifying the negative impacts of natural gas a few years ago. This 2013 article explains the problem:
The gulf between the official numbers and the Cornell estimates wasn’t a surprise to some. John Bosch oversaw emissions estimates for the EPA for more than 30 years before retiring in 2009. Emissions estimates were based on voluntary participation from industry, and only companies with good leak management programs volunteered. “My experience is that when regulators start looking at actual emissions the figure can easily double,” says Bosch. In fact, when real measurements are taken, the difference sometimes turns out to be even greater than that. In 1988, one oil refinery in Sweden recorded gas emissions that were 20 times higher than official estimates for the same facility. More recent data from natural gas processing plants in Canada put emissions at between four and eight times official levels.

War is hell

My friend Maranie is not one for public speaking, but she is compelled to speak out about the death and misery of war that she has witnessed as a photographer in the Middle East. Watch her talk (and look at her photos) to decide if the US should be "liberating" people.

16 May 2018

Links of interest

  1. Is that decision reversible? Then go for it.
  2. The tragedy of Kabul
  3. A physicist on publishing paralysis on the theoretical margins
  4. The creator of pop-up ads on why ad-driven platforms are anti-user
  5. A short overview of Russia's propaganda machine, from some experts
  6. "The Internet Apologizes" is a fascinating series of interviews with tech pioneers talking about how social media has turned against our common good. This summary article matches quotes with topics, but I prefer to read the full interviews (see sidebar at site)
  7. How to delete accounts on the internet (time to clean up your digital debris?)
  8. The West shouldn't rule the world, but its institutions have helped humanity
  9. Maybe we need more conspiracies?
  10. Brexit: Britain's nervous breakdown and the parallels with the US.
H/T to BZ