Category: Public Policy

geoengineering-the-planetFor at least forty years, scientists and policy makers have considered addressing climate related issues by means of climate engineering, or as it more commonly referred to, geoengineering. A prime example is found in a story published in Newsweek that proposed (albeit with reservations) to use geoengineering to fix a climatic “problem”:

Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. [emphasis added]

That quote comes, of course, from the now infamous 1975 Newsweek story about the dangers of global cooling. Nowadays, melting the Artic ice cap is considered a problem in need of a solution, not a solution to fix the problem.

More recently, other ridiculous geoengineering ideas have been proposed, such as shooting millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere or taking similar actions to put reflective particles in the atmosphere to block some sunlight.

While such proposals are frightfully absurd, it appears cooler heads are beginning to prevail on ideas about how to “fix” global warming. According to a new report by the U.S. Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine, and National Research :

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 9, 2015

There’s a good deal of new research that connects things like happiness and satisfaction to experiences rather than to material goods. If you want to be happy, the advice goes, buy experiences, not things. There’s some truth to this, of course, but the reality is a bit more complex. After all, don’t you also have “experiences” when you use “things”?

Disposal GenieIn fact, I want to take a moment to write a brief note of thanks for a little material item that has notably increased my life satisfaction. It’s a small thing, a piece of metal with a rubber flipper on the end. It’s technical name is the Danco 10051 Disposal Genie. A couple years ago I read a piece by Megan McArdle that focused on gift ideas, and she recommended the Disposal Genie. As she wrote, “If the Oxo vegetable peeler is the least romantic gift ever, the disposal genie is surely in second place. It’s basically a slightly better disposal blocker; it lets the stuff you want to go in the disposal (water, small bits of food) get in, while the cutlery stays safely in the sink. If you aren’t quite ready to stuff this in a stocking, think about stuffing it in your own disposal.”

I took her advice to heart and bought it for myself. And boy am I glad I did. Every time I’m washing dishes or cleaning the sink I enjoy at least a brief moment of appreciation for this little invention. Sure, “it’s basically a slightly better disposal blocker,” but that slight improvement is enough to give me an uptick in life satisfaction every time I use it.

So thank you, Megan McArdle, for recommending the Danco 10051 Disposal Genie, and thank you to Danco and all the people who worked to create this little miracle. I have been blessed by your work.

blue lakeAt The Stream, Jonathan Witt questions why nations with free economies have cleaner water. After all, wouldn’t it seem more likely that countries with heavy government regulations regarding the environment have cleaner water?

An examination of the most polluted rivers and streams in the world paints a different picture. With only a handful of exceptions, the dirtiest rivers in the world are located within some of the most restrictive countries. In contrast, three of the top five cleanest streams or in the world are located in “mostly free countries.”

Take a single vivid example. New Zealand is considered one of only six completely free nations in the world — even the US doesn’t fall into this category — and its Blue Lake, located in the Southern Alps, is fed by the purest mountain streams coming from glacial Lake Constance. With the clearest natural fresh water in the world, visibility extends up to 80 meters underwater.


bloated uncle samHead Start doesn’t work. More people than ever are now on food stamps. Medicaid is staggering under the weight of its own bloat. Why are we continuing to fund bad programs?

This is what Stephen M. Krason is asking. Such programs keep expanding:

There has been a sharp increase in the food-stamp and Children’s Health Insurance programs. Obama has proposed more federal funding for Head Start and pre-school education generally, job training for laid-off workers, and Medicaid. In fact, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has bloated the Medicaid rolls. He is even seeking free federally subsidized community college education. I have seen numbers ranging from 79 to 126 federal programs aimed at reducing poverty and an annual price tag of $668 to $927 billion.

The question is: are we getting our money’s worth? Krason says absolutely not. (more…)

The largest initiative to combat poverty by funding public schools has occurred in Camden, New Jersey, the poorest small city in America. New Jersey spends about 60 percent more on education per pupil than the national average according to 2012 census figures, or about $19,000 in 2013. In Camden, per pupil spending was more than $25,000 in 2013, making it one of the highest spending districts in the nation.

But as notes, all that extra money hasn’t changed the fact that Camden’s public schools are among in the worst in the nation, notorious for their abysmal test scores, the frequent occurrence of in-school violence, dilapidated buildings, and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.

As Bridget Cusato-Rosa, Principal of Freedom Prep Charter School, says in the mini-documentary about the effort,

A lack of resources is not our problem. I actually despise that argument. I think it’s a scapegoat. ‘We need more money. If we had more money, we could do this, or do this.’ It’s just a Band-Aid for the problem. Why not address the real issue, which is what’s broken right in front of you?

When is a ban not a ban? One answer might be when it is based on moral suasion rather than legal coercion. (I would also accept: When it’s a Target.)

In this piece over at the Federalist, Georgi Boorman takes up the prudence of a petition to get Target to remove smutty material and paraphernalia related to Fifty Shades from its shelves.

Boorman rightly points to the limitations of this kind of cultural posturing. Perhaps this petition illustrates more of a domination mentality than authentic cultural engagement, and Boorman’s right to offer many more hopeful options for engaging the kinds of cultural corruption that this case provides evidence of. I also tend to favor the more direct, personal, and relational methods of engagement to petitions, charters, public statements, and open letters, and there’s a lot of wisdom offered in Boorman’s piece.

shades_banned (more…)

hot_temperature_41During his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama talked about climate change and claimed, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”

Obama was basing his statement on a press release by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). According to the NASA data collected from more than 3,000 weather stations around the globe, “The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880.” Climate change skeptics pushed back by questioning the accuracy of the report (more on that below) which invariably led to push back on the claims of the skeptics.

For instance, Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, wrote for NPR that “Clearly, the scientists in charge know what they are doing.”

Dr. Gleiser is a scientist, not a journalist, so such a silly appeal to expertise can be excused.* But many journalists, like everyone else, seem to have the same “experts must know” reaction to such claims. The problem is that there isn’t much evidence the experts even know what true global temperatures are—or that they can even acquire such data with any precision.

Before you dismiss me as a “skeptic” let me clarify what sort of skeptic I am so that you can dismiss my viewpoint for the right reasons.

I’m not an anthropomorphic climate change skeptic; I’m agnostic on the question of whether mankind is heating up the planet (though I’d be surprised if we didn’t have some effect). What I am a skeptical about—closer to an outright “denialist”—is the idea that global surface temperatures can be measures with any precision.

Let me explain the reasons why and then I’ll discuss why it matters.

A lot of people have a vision for the developing world. Some want to create jobs. Some want to increase aid. Some want more mission trips.

Yaopeng Zhou and Marc Albanese literally want to change the vision of the developing world. These two men are aware that vision care in the developing world is hard to come by. People with vision problems – even ones that are easily corrected – often cannot access eye care. There are not enough doctors, and when care is available, it’s expensive.

Zhou and Albanese have founded Smart Vision Labs, creating an easy-to-use technology that uses smart phones to give eye exams. Smart Vision Labs recently won a multi-million dollar “challenge to entrepreneurs, thinkers, and problem-solvers to provide innovative solutions in Healthcare, Education, Sustainability, and Transportation.”

This video illustrates their work.

Read “How the Power of a Good Idea Could Bring Vision to 1 Billion People” at LinkedIn.

noun_86179_ccToday at Think Christian I reflect on President Obama’s State of the Union message last night. I think it was perhaps the best speech I have heard him give in terms of delivery and general tone. There are numerous things that one might quibble with in a speech of that length, of course.

My TC piece is an attempt to help us to put into proper perspective political promises and policy proposals. I look particularly at the question of economic inequality and the assumptions underlying the government’s redistributive actions.

As Danielle Kurtzleben puts it, “Obama is making a case that the economy’s distribution engine is broken, and that the recovery simply won’t fix it. His solution is for government to approach redistribution as a positive good rather than a necessary evil.”

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 19, 2015

Earlier this year, UCLA made available for the first time the audio of a speech from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. given just over a month after the march from Selma to Montgomery. On April 27, 1965, King addressed a number of topics, including debate surrounding the Voting Rights Act.

At one point in the speech, King stops to address a number of “myths” that are often heard and circulated, and one of these is of perennial interest, as it has to do with the interaction between positive law, morality, and culture. We often hear, for instance, that law is downstream from culture, and this is true enough. Thus King admits (starting at around the 33:35 mark) that there is some truth in this kind of view as far as it goes. But this does not mean that there is no place for legislation.

As King puts it,

It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.