Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Wages of Sin (skip - personal indulgence)

1992. I think the first picture I ever took of Anne.

31 years later, the picture used for Irish Citizenship

Friday, April 19, 2024

"Lost Children"

More on Ursula K. Le Guin's "What It Was Like" here

A comment thread on "I acknowledge that pro-life folks think abortion is murder. I just don’t believe it" (I know first-hand this argument is true; also, from LMR: "In 2012, U.S. families adopted more than 7,000 children, yet over 100k children await adoption from the American foster care system."):

Forcing a woman to give birth at the wrong time in her life leads to poorly-raised, potentially anti-social children.

Letting her wait until a better time results in children who will have a better chance. Those kids would most likely not have been born had she been forced to give birth earlier.

Those who make abortion a crime are denying life to those later children, who would have been born in better circumstances.

I like that argument. Not one I've heard or thought of before. But it's true. By forcing birth when the woman isn't ready for it, you're most likely denying birth when she is, when the odds of successfully raising said child are better.

I think it's an important point that needs to be emphasized more. I call them the "lost children."

Take for example a woman whose fetus tests for a genetic disorder. If she is able to have an abortion she may go on to have several healthy children in the future. If not, she may spend her life caring for a severely disabled child. Which is more "pro-life?"

I don't think the government can answer that question. So let the woman and her doctors decide.

I've seen that argument before. It was made by Ursula K. Le Guin in her essay "What It Was Like" about her own abortion. She was pregnant in college and had an abortion. If she hadn't, she says, she'd have been stuck with that child and would never have had the three wanted children she bore later on in marriage. (Probably, also, she would never have been able to embark on her literary career, and then we'd all be worse off.)

I'll look that one up. This is a point I always like to emphasize, especially with my Catholic relatives - legal abortion can be "pro-life" as well. The point is not so much how many children are born, but what circumstances they are born into.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Outsourced: If you want to make a difference, log off and take action

By Matthew Yglesias: Negativity is making everyone miserable

The point of my chapter, "Very Little Really Matters," in which I quote ... Matt Yglesias.

excerpts (from Matt's new piece, not Losing, although it could be!):

People who are living in the United States of America in 2024 are living in what is indisputably one of the richest countries on the planet, at a time of unprecedented global prosperity.

And yet, even in a mass culture that’s increasingly consumed by questions of privilege, you rarely hear expressions of gratitude for the reality of that basic good fortune. It’s more common to hear expressions of apocalyptic levels of alarm about living in “a world on fire” or through a series of “unprecedented” traumas. ...

The world, including the United States of America, obviously has problems, and some things really are trending in a bad direction. And yet this has always been the case. The main thing that has actually changed is that the media landscape has become much more competitive and people (yes, people like you) prefer to click and share on negative stories. So a lot of people spend time doomscrolling, amping up negativity on their social media feeds to maximize engagement, and propagating a worldview that says the best way to be a good citizen is to engage in performative sobbing or raging.

This is all, I think, a mistake. ...

Trends are broadly positive and have been for a long time. Many bad things continue to happen, but that has always been the case, and problems can generally be solved more effectively by trying to slice them down into specific, narrow pieces rather than lumping everything together. Most negativity results from conscious or unconscious framing choices that compete evolutionarily in a “survival of the most downbeat” framework. The best thing to do to live a happily life is to feel like you are a person with agency and the ability to exert control over the world. And the best way to do that is cut down on the doomscrolling and try to think of specific ways you can take action to help with tractable problems. ...

A better world is not only possible, it’s something we are living through. But to make it even better, you need to do stuff, not talk about how bad everything is. ...

In the current economic recovery, wealth has grown most rapidly at the bottom and so have wages. ...

Back when homicide was, in fact, surging in 2020-2021, I thought “things were worse in the 1990s” was a lame response. But we’re now living through the third straight year of falling murder, the drop appears to be accelerating, and the fact that the spike peaked at a lower level than we saw in my childhood does feel relevant to me. It’s not just that the murder situation is getting better, the overall policy feedback loop has improved — that, not “spiking rates of gun violence,” seems like the story to me. ...

Obesity is a genuine problem, but the rate has been rising as far back as we can find records (i.e., the 1880s and possibly earlier), so this is hardly a reason to feel like the world is suddenly in disarray. The actual big news on obesity is that we, for the first time ever, have a new class of drugs that appear to be highly effective in treating it. There are more GLP-1 agonists in development, and it looks like they have benefits beyond treating obesity.

Something that I do note about the GLP-1 drugs is that the media coverage of them has been oddly negative, almost obsessively focused on downsides, to the point that Rachael Bedard’s piece arguing that actually it’s good that we had a medical breakthrough on a serious problem counts as a contrarian take. ...

Problems just don’t get nearly as much attention when they are ameliorated. ...

[A] lot of people used to spend a lot of time talking and worrying about these worst-case scenarios. They were considered a really big deal! But the good news today has been almost totally ignored. ...

Consuming negative news in the morning impairs your job performance and leads viewers to catastrophize about their personal life. When news consumption makes you anxious, the natural response is to monitor the situation even more closely, which is good for ratings and engagement. ...

There are hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees living in Egypt in dire conditions, and UNCHR needs your money to help take care of them. You can turn money into lives saved very directly via GiveWell’s top charities fund. You can transfer cash directly to some of the poorest people in the world via GiveDirectly. The Israel-Palestine conflict is in a kind of discourse sweet spot where it relates to a lot of identity-linked issues that people feel passionately about but also has extremely low tractability — there isn’t much you, personally, can do about it except post, with the convention being that the more extreme your posts, the more it shows you care. This is, in a sense, convenient. You’re not challenged to put your own money on the line the way you would be if you chose to get invested in something else. But it’s psychologically disempowering and does little good for the world. ...

Are you learning new information about a topic where you are open to changing your mind? Are you consuming content that is helping you make better decisions? Are you entertaining yourself, in the sense of genuinely feeling happier as a result of what you’re reading? Or are you just kind of marinating in ineffectual misery and performative position-taking?

Monday, April 15, 2024

I hate to say this: Go to Vegas

The Beatles "Love" show is closing July 7.

It is amazing. As the article says, the show can't tour because it is in a specialized theater, unlike anything we've ever experienced. 

Vegas is terrible, but there is great vegan food and the best vegan donuts in the world. Also, the state parks nearby are really cool. 

Here is the soundtrack for the Love show - super fascinating.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Quotes from Robert Sapolsky + Danny Kahneman


Author of the incredible book Determined:

“Yup. I had a crisis of trying to make sense of theistic determinism. The Exodus story. Moses goes to Pharaoh and says, “Let my people go.” And Pharaoh says, “No way.” And Moses brings a plague upon Egypt. And Pharaoh says, “Okay, I give up. You can all go.” And then, at least in the version I was raised with, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and made him say, “I changed my mind, nobody’s going anywhere.” So now, in comes the second plague, and Pharaoh says, “I give up.” And God intervenes again, and at the end we’re asked not only to judge Pharaoh but, while we’re at it, kill all the firstborns and the horses and whatever poor schmucks have been forced to be in the army running those chariots across the Red Sea. And justice has been served.

But wait a second—God interfered. But then God judged them, and that’s very confusing. And when I was thirteen, it became crystal clear. I remember one night waking up at two in the morning and thinking, “None of that makes sense. None of it’s for real. It’s nonsense.” And I’ve been incapable of a shred of spirituality or religiosity since then.”


I'll see the Northern California stereotype of people saying, “Well I don't subscribe to any organized religion but I'm a very spiritual person and I think of nature as personified.” And I know that I'd love to be able to believe that and take comfort from that. But I'm an utterly hard-nosed materialist and incapable of anything else.


Nobel-Winning Daniel Kahneman, RIP:

I think preventing misery is a much better and more important objective than promoting happiness. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

I Welcome Our Robot Overlords & You Should Too (with new preface)

A chapter from Losing My Religions.

Note, April 2024:

Good-faith feedback I've received on this chapter contends I'm too hard on humanity:

Humans don't value torturing animals and they don't make zero attempts to prevent suffering. Humans have gotten pretty good at preventing human suffering [but still -ed], although we've unfortunately backtracked on animal suffering. If you ask people, they'll say they don't want animals to suffer. They just don't think about it because they want their meat.

Most people not wanting to torture animals does not excuse the fact that humanity does torture tens of billions of sentient beings, year after year, decade after decade. 

Regardless of conscious intention, we breed these billions of individuals so they are in pain by default. And then we cram them together by the thousands, wing to wing, living and breathing in their own shit and piss, which makes their lives that much worse.  

No one argues, "AI won't consciously want to enslave us, so AI is just fine."

Intentional or not, humanity is unimaginably sadistic. The reality for untold numbers of non-human individuals is worse than humanity's worst AI nightmare.

Ask yourself: 

How much suffering would we have to cause before you question if humanity's survival is an unquestionable good?

I get it – we are human and we want to stay alive, so we have the insatiable and impenetrable bias of "humanity = good." We can't even consider that this might not be true, or else it would implicitly indict us personally.

But assuming or wishing isn't an argument. 

Or ... it shouldn't be.

Here's the full chapter:

If you don’t know what longtermism is, please skip this chapter. Yay you! 

Longtermism ≈ the interests of oodles of sentient beings / robots in the future is more important than any other concern.

I disagree.

[Longtermists believe] summing up all the possible future joy from (hopefully sentient, but probably not; how could we ever know for sure?) robots vastly and absolutely swamps any concerns of the moment. So keeping humanity on track for this future is what truly matters.

But as far as I can tell, humanity’s continued existence is not a self-evident good. I know Effective Altruists (EAs) tend to be well-off humans who like their own existence and thus personally value humanity’s existence. But this value is not inherent. It’s just a bias. It’s simply an intuition that makes EAs and others assume that humanity’s continued existence is unquestionably a good thing.

That aside, basing decisions on “add up everyone” is where I get off the EA / utilitarian train, as per the previous “Biting the Philosophical Bullet” chapter.

Yes, I understand expected values, but let’s think about what these longtermist calculations say: 

A tiny chance of lowering existential risk – a vanishingly small chance of improving the likelihood that quadzillions of happy robots will take over the universe – is more important than, say, stopping something like the Holocaust. I’m serious. If a longtermist had been alive in 1938 and knew what was going on in Nazi Germany, they would have turned down the opportunity to influence public opinion and policy: “An asteroid might hit Earth someday. The numbers prove we must focus on that.”

Over at Vox, Dylan Matthews’ “I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity. I came away … worried” captures these problems. Excerpts:

The common response I got to this was, “Yes, sure, but even if there’s a very, very, very small likelihood of us decreasing AI [artificial intelligence] risk, that still trumps global poverty, because infinitesimally increasing the odds that 10^52 people in the future exist saves way more lives than poverty reduction ever could.” 

The problem is that you could use this logic to defend just about anything. Imagine that a wizard showed up and said, “Humans are about to go extinct unless you give me $10 to cast a magical spell.” Even if you only think there’s a, say, 0.00000000000000001 percent chance that he's right, you should still, under this reasoning, give him the $10, because the expected value is that you're saving 10^32 lives. Bostrom calls this scenario “Pascal’s Mugging,” and it’s a huge problem for anyone trying to defend efforts to reduce human risk of extinction to the exclusion of anything else. Ultimately you have to stop being meta ... if you take meta-charity too far, you get a movement that’s really good at expanding itself but not necessarily good at actually helping people.

(By the way, if you don’t buy five more copies of this book for your friends, humanity will go extinct. You’ve been warned.)

Or, as Matt Yglesias put it in What's long-term about “longtermism”?

Suppose right now there’s a 0.001 percent chance that climate change could generate a catastrophic feedback mechanism that leads to human extinction, and doing a Thanos snap and killing half of everyone reduces that to 0.0001 percent. A certain kind of longtermist logic says you should do the snap, which I think most people would find odd.

Furthermore, no one can know what the impact might be of their longtermist efforts. This is called sign-uncertainty, aka cluelessness. We simply don’t and can’t know if our actions aimed at the long-term future might have a positive or negative impact.

There are plenty of examples. One involves work on AI. Think about efforts to reign in / slow down the development of AI in western democracies – e.g., to force researchers to first address the alignment problem. This could lead to an unfettered totalitarian AI from China pre-empting every other attempt. Oops.

Another example: EAs talking about the threat of an engineered virus (ala Margaret Atwood’s fantastic Oryx and Crake) might be what gives real-world Crake his idea to engineer said virus! This is not a fantasy; as Scott Alexander explains, “al-Qaeda started a bioweapons program after reading scaremongering articles in the Western press about how dangerous bioweapons could be.”

Or longtermists could inspire the creation of a malevolent computer system, as noted in this great thread on longtermism.

Alexander Berger, the very handsome and wise co-head of the Open Philanthropy Project, made yet another important point in his 80,000 Hours podcast:

I think it makes you want to just say wow, this is all really complicated and I should bring a lot of uncertainty and modesty to it. ... 

I think the more you keep considering these deeper levels of philosophy, these deeper levels of uncertainty about the nature of the world, the more you just feel like you’re on extremely unstable ground about everything. ... my life could totally turn out to cause great harm to others due to the complicated, chaotic nature of the universe in spite of my best intentions. ... I think it is true that we cannot in any way predict the impacts of our actions. And if you’re a utilitarian, that’s a very odd, scary, complicated thought. … 

I think the EA community probably comes across as wildly overconfident about this stuff a lot of the time, because it’s like we’ve discovered these deep moral truths, then it’s like, “Wow, we have no idea.” I think we are all really very much – including me – na├»ve and ignorant about what impact we will have in the future. 

I’m going to rely on my everyday moral intuition that saving lives is good ... I think it’s maximizable, I think if everybody followed it, it would be good.

And from his interview with The Browser:

I’m not prepared to wait. The ethos of the Global Health and Wellbeing team is a bias to improving the world in concrete actionable ways as opposed to overthinking it or trying so hard to optimize that it becomes an obstacle to action. We feel deep, profound uncertainty about a lot of things, but we have a commitment to not let that prevent us from acting. I think there are a lot of ways in which the world is more chaotic than [we think]. [S]ometimes trying to be clever by one extra step can be worse than just using common sense.


Edit: Hardcore Effective Altruist Kat Woods’ “The most important lesson I learned after ten years in EA”:

To be an EA is to find out, again and again and again, that what you thought was the best thing to do was wrong. You think you know what’s highest impact and you’re almost certainly seriously mistaken.

And when people think they have the answer, and it just happens to be their math, sometimes sarcasm works best:

Backstory: EAs determine an issue’s worthiness based on three variables: 1. Scale, 2. Neglectedness, 3. Tractability. (A calculation like this is what led to One Step for Animals.) Taking this literally leads to D0TheMath’s post on the EA’s Forum, “Every moment of an electron’s existence is suffering.” Excerpts:

Scale: If we think there is only a 1% chance of panpsychism being true (the lowest possible estimate on prediction websites such as Metaculus, so highly conservative), then this still amounts to at least 10^78 electrons impacted in expectation. 

Neglectedness: Basically nobody thinks about electrons, except chemists, physicists, and computer engineers. And they only think about what electrons can do for them, not what they can do for the electrons. This amounts to a moral travesty far larger than factory farms. 

Tractability: It is tremendously easy to affect electrons, as shown by recent advances in computer technology, based solely on the manipulation of electrons inside wires. 

This means every moment of an electron’s existence is pain, and multiplying out this pain by an expected 10^78 produces astronomical levels of expected suffering.

This is funny, but it is very close to how some EAs think! (More funny.) (And some people really do believe in panpsychism. Not funny.) I knew one EA who stopped donating to animal issues to support Christian missionaries. There may be only a small chance they are right about god, but if they are, the payoff for every saved soul is literally infinite! He actually put money on Pascal’s Wager!

I don't know that I’m right; as I mentioned, I’ve changed my mind before. I understand that many smart people think I’m entirely mistaken. But I would at least like them to regularly and overtly admit the opportunity costs, e.g. that writing an endless series of million-word essays about a million years in the future means you are actively choosing not to help the millions who are suffering right now.

You might wonder why I continue to flog this issue. (I blog about it regularly.) It is because I am continually saddened that, in a world filled with so much acute and unnecessary misery, so many brilliant people dedicate their 80,000 hour career trying to one-up each other’s expected value.

PS: The day after I finished this chapter, an essay by Open Philanthropy’s Holden Karnofsky landed in my inbox: “AI Could Defeat All Of Us Combined.”

My first reaction was: “Good.”

He is worried about the previously-mentioned “alignment problem” – i.e., that the artificial intelligence(s) we create might not share our values.

Holden writes:

By “defeat,” I don't mean “subtly manipulate us” or “make us less informed” or something like that – I mean a literal “defeat” in the sense that we could all be killed, enslaved or forcibly contained.

Please note that we humans enslave, forcibly contain, and kill billions of fellow sentient beings every year. So if we solved the alignment problem and a “superior” AI actually were to share human values, it seems like they would kill, enslave, and forcibly contain us.

Holden, like almost every other EA and longtermist, simply assumes that humanity shouldn’t be “defeated.” Rarely does anyone note that it is possible, even likely, that on net, things would be much better if AIs did replace us.

The closest Holden comes is when he addresses objections:

Isn’t it fine or maybe good if AIs defeat us? They have rights too.

  • Maybe AIs should have rights; if so, it would be nice if we could reach some “compromise” way of coexisting that respects those rights.
  • But if they’re able to defeat us entirely, that isn’t what I’d plan on getting – instead I’d expect (by default) a world run entirely according to whatever goals AIs happen to have.
  • These goals might have essentially nothing to do with anything humans value, and could be actively counter to it – e.g., placing zero value on beauty and having zero attempts to prevent or avoid suffering).

Zero attempts to prevent suffering? Hey Holden, aren’t you mistaking AIs for humans? Humans are the cause of most of the world’s unnecessary suffering, both to humans and other animals.

Setting aside our inherent tribal loyalties to humanity and our bias for continued existence, it is likely that AIs defeating humanity would be a huge improvement.

Please convince me otherwise. My life would be better if you did - I'd rather be optimistic. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Doom, Plastics, Organics, GMOs, 'Natural,' Voting: Overlap between "Losing" and "Not the End of the World" by Hannah Ritchie

Every doomsday activist that makes a big, bold claim invariably turns out to be wrong.

The reason pessimists often sound smart is that they can avoid being ‘wrong’ by moving the goalposts. When a doomer predicts that the world will end in five years, and it doesn’t, they just move the date. The American biologist Paul R. Ehrlich – author of the 1968 book The Population Bomb – has been doing this for decades. In 1970 he said that ‘sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come. And by “the end” I mean an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.’ Of course, that was woefully wrong. He had another go: he said that ‘England will not exist in the year 2000’. Wrong again.

I wish I could reach back to my younger self and hug her. 

just 54% [of humans] have a safe toilet, and just 60% have clean fuels. We must ensure access to these resources, but regardless of what metric we’re looking at, the trend is consistently upward. Every day, 300,000 people get access to electricity and a similar number get clean water, for the first time. This has been the case every day for a decade.

When weighing up the price of taking action, we tend to compare it to the alternative of investing nothing at all. But that’s wrong. There are societal costs to not taking action that we forget to factor in. We might think that spending hundreds of millions of dollars is expensive. But that’s because we ignore the alternative: the costs of not fixing the problem.

Every day I come across motivated and thoughtful people trying to do their best for the environment. They think about the environmental impact of almost every decision they make. Or they home in on some things that they think will make a huge difference. What’s heart-breaking is that this energy and stress is often wasted: what they’re doing makes almost no difference, and, as we’ll see later, occasionally makes things worse.

Death rates from disasters have actually fallen since the first half of the 20th century. And not just by a little bit. They have fallen roughly 10-fold.

Anyone that trusted the Netflix documentary Cowspiracy would believe that cutting out meat will stop the climate crisis. The film claims that more than half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. This is nonsense. The actual number is just under a fifth.

What’s most frustrating about the opposition to genetic engineering is that, once again, it often hurts the poorest the most.

Eating organic – it is not always better for the environment

organic farming tends to give us lower crop yields, which (yes, you know where I’m going) means we need to use more land.

organic farming was worse for the pollution of rivers and lakes.

study in the US investigated the 10 most common pesticide residues across 12 food groups. They found that all foods had pesticide levels well below the limits. The majority (75%) of foods were less than 0.01% of the limit. This means residue levels were a million times lower than the threshold that would have observable effects on our health.

for many foods the plastic is there for a reason: it keeps our food safe and fresh, and it stops us from throwing it in the bin, which makes a much bigger difference.

He started a degree in aerospace engineering, but like all the best entrepreneur stories, he dropped out to start his own venture.

Europe and Oceania combined contribute less than 1%. It’s hard to accept these figures. It tells a story that we don’t really want to hear. As a European, I want to think that we can play a big role in fixing this problem by cutting back on our plastic wrappers, ditching our single-use shopping bags, and recycling our used milk cartons. Sadly, this isn’t true. If everyone in Europe stopped using plastics tomorrow the world’s oceans would hardly notice the difference.

I’ve done some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and estimate that rich countries would contribute between 1.6% (in the best case) and 10% (in the worst case) of ocean plastics through shipping waste overseas. The most likely figure probably falls somewhere in between.

Most of the evidence – or maybe the lack of evidence – suggests that the plastic particles themselves are not a big concern for human health.

At the moment, I am not very worried about the impacts of plastics on human health, but I admit that the evidence is not clear enough to have a strong opinion either way.

Plastic straws really don’t matter

I’m not an advocate for plastic straws. I don’t really care about them. But I do care about ineffective policies, especially if they take the place of ones that could really make a difference. Plastic straws are just not a big deal in the scale of the world’s plastic pollution.

My one request is that we quickly move past the paper straw phase.

the occasional plastic carrier bag is not that big a deal.

In fact, in many ways, a single-use plastic bag is better than some alternatives. You’d need to use a paper bag several times, and a cotton one tens to hundreds of times to ‘break even’ with the plastic carrier.

you should be focusing much more on what you put in the bag than the bag itself. It will have a much bigger environmental impact.

A well-managed landfill, deep in the ground, can be a very effective environmental solution.

Most people think landfills are awful, but they could be effective storage sites for carbon

Think about it in terms of trees. When we burn wood or leave it to decompose, it emits CO2. If we bury it instead, this carbon is ‘locked in’ and we have taken some CO2 out of the atmosphere. This is called a ‘carbon sink’.

Some decomposition still happens in landfills, but mostly from organic matter such as food waste and paper.

I still get the instinctual pull towards ‘natural’ solutions. Working against it takes repeated, and sometimes uncomfortable, effort. Yet it’s something that we need to overcome. The fact that our intuitions are so ‘off’ is a problem. At a time when the world needs to eat less meat, we’ve seen a pushback against meat-substitute products because they’re ‘processed’. When we need to be using less land for agriculture we’ve seen a recent resurgence in organic, but more land-hungry, farming. When more of us need to be living in dense cities I hear more people dreaming of a romantic life in the countryside with a self-sufficient garden plot.

Lab-grown meat, dense cities and nuclear energy need a rebrand. These need to be some of the new emblems of a sustainable path forward.

We want to believe in ‘people power’ – that if we all just pull together and act a bit more responsibly then we’ll get there. Unfortunately, to make real and lasting progress we need large-scale systemic and technological change. We need to change political and economic incentives.

get involved in political action and vote for leaders who support sustainable actions.

One positive policy change can almost immediately trump the individual efforts of millions of people.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Weekend Reading: More from "Not the End of the World" by Hannah Ritchie


Many changes that do profoundly shape the world are not rare, exciting or headline-grabbing. They are persistent things that happen day by day and year by year until decades pass and the world has been altered beyond recognition.

doomsday attitudes are often no better than denial.

I used to think optimists were naive and pessimists were smart. Pessimism seemed like an essential feature of a scientist

As my colleague Max Roser puts it: ‘The world is much better; the world is still awful; the world can do much better.’ All three statements are true.

Paul R. Ehrlich is an American biologist. He’s not to be confused with Paul Ehrlich, the German physician who won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to immunology. The latter invented the cure for syphilis in the early 20th century, and saved many lives as a result. The same cannot be said for Paul R. Ehrlich.

The prospect that a child would outlive its parents is not a ‘natural’ occurrence at all: it’s something that we’ve had to fight hard for.

it’s not possible to reduce the population quickly enough for that to help address our environmental problems. If anyone argues that it is, they don’t understand how demographic change works.

In rich countries carbon emissions, energy use, deforestation, fertiliser use, overfishing, plastic pollution, air pollution and water pollution are all falling, while these countries continue to get richer. The idea that these countries were more sustainable when they were poorer is simply not true

A world without economic growth would remain a very poor one.

having money gives us options

When I zoomed out and saw these trends, I felt stupid. I also felt cheated. I had been duped by an education system that was supposed to teach me about the world.

Some media outlets even see the frequency of stories as their key performance metric. ‘With a piece of environmental journalism published every three hours, the Guardian is a leading voice in the fight to save the planet’ reads a large banner plastered across the newspaper’s website. In other words, the Guardian wants to fire as many crushing stories as possible, as quickly as it can. The faster it does this, the more committed it is to ‘saving the planet’. It’s an anxiety-inducing feed, and one that inevitably leads us to the conclusion that things are getting worse and worse.

But not everyone is richer, and this is the biggest risk of climate change.

China and India are seen as big emitters today, but per capita emissions are just a fraction of emissions in the UK and US in the past.

The world has already passed the peak of per capita emissions. It happened a decade ago. Most people are unaware of this.

we use much less energy than we did in the past, despite appearing to lead much more extravagant energy-intensive lifestyles.

The notion that we need to be frugal to live a low-carbon life is simply wrong. In the UK we now emit about the same as someone in the 1850s. I emit the same as my great-great-great-grandparents. And I have a much, much higher standard of living.

I’ve asked many economists what we need to do to tackle climate change. Every single one has given me the same answer: put a price on carbon. It is, perhaps, the only thing that economists agree on.

One concern I have – and many others do too – is that putting a price on carbon would hit the poorest people the hardest. If you were to double the price of petrol tomorrow, the rich guy with five Lamborghinis might feel a bit of a pinch. But he’ll be all right. He might have to sell one of his five cars or fly first class rather than by private jet. He’ll get over it.

But the parents living on the breadline might already struggle to heat their home and drive their kids to school. They cannot afford to buy an electric car. Carbon pricing policies need to include support for poorer households to make up for the increased cost of energy.

Note: Taxing externalities to get to the social optimum assumes the marginal value of each dollar to society is the same when economics tells you this isn't true. Marginal value of a dollar to  millionaire <<< family on the breadline. Social optimum must consider this. -Dr. EKG 

This could be done by directing the tax revenues towards poorer households. This revenue could be used in other positive ways: to invest in developments in low-carbon technologies, for innovations in clean energy and meat, to build sustainable cities, stop deforestation or restore forests that have been cut down.

In the 21st century, everyone should have access to air conditioning when they need it.

Tackling climate change feels like a massive sacrifice that has taken over our lives. That would be okay if all of these actions were really making a difference, but they’re not. It’s misplaced effort and stress, sometimes even at the cost of the few actions that really will matter.

One action – having one less child – has been excluded from the chart shown here. This is because the underlying data didn’t take account of changes in the carbon footprint of people over time. It’s fair to say that my child will not have the same footprint as me: in the coming decades as we rapidly decarbonise, the emissions of a ‘person’ will hopefully decline significantly and eventually reach close to zero.

I read countless scientific papers and policy documents. I thought the message from the experts would be clear: palm oil is a leading driver of deforestation, and we have to stop it in its tracks. I expected recommendations of a boycott. There were none. In fact, the advice was that boycotting palm oil was a terrible idea. Do that, and we’ll make tropical deforestation worse not better. The more I read, the more humbled I became. I had got this wrong. Palm oil, deforestation and food are complicated problems, and I had been won over by simplistic messages that played on my emotions.

Researchers at Harvard University have loudly pushed against this backlash. A meta-analysis covering 30 studies found that omega-6s lowered the risk of heart disease: those with more in their bloodstream were 7% less likely to develop

Another study followed around 2,500 men for an average of 22 years, and found that those with the highest blood levels of omega-6s had a much lower risk of dying from any disease. Studies show that they lower cholesterol and blood sugar. And the American Heart Foundation found that getting 5% to 10% of your calories from omega-6s reduces your risk of heart disease.

‘If we split the world’s food production equally between everyone we could each have at least 5,000 calories a day. More than twice what we need. Or, to put it another way, we produce enough food for a global population twice the size that it is today.’

When I was talking to one of my previous bosses – Mike Berners-Lee – about food losses, he remarked that it was ‘just a Tupperware problem’. That’s stuck with me ever since. He’s right. If the world had more Tupperware it would lose a lot less food.

My lecturer had ordered the lamb. ‘I know meat isn’t great for the environment, so I don’t eat chicken and pork. I eat lamb though, because it’s locally sourced and so it has a low-carbon footprint.’ I thought she must be joking. She wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it: how could a lecturer on environmental topics really believe this – that meats have a low-carbon footprint simply because they’re locally sourced?

what we eat matters much more for our carbon footprint than how far it has traveled to reach us.

The transport part of the food chain only contributes around 5% to all of the greenhouse gas emissions from food. Most of our food’s emissions come from land-use change and emissions on the farm

A better rule is to eat foods that are grown where the conditions are optimal. That means you should buy tropical foods from tropical countries, cereals from countries that get very high yields

years ago I was interviewed on US National Public Radio about some of the world’s most important statistics. I wanted to highlight the worrying decline in wildlife, so I picked the headline numbers from the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Index (LPI). I can’t remember exactly what I said – and it’s too painful for me to go back and listen – but I panicked. I said something along the lines of ‘the world’s animal populations have declined by 68% since 1970’. This isn’t true – that’s not what that metric shows. It’s embarrassing – given that part of my job is trying to correct public miscommunications of data – that I stumbled so badly.

Why are so many people dedicated to saving this single species? It doesn’t really make sense. It’s expensive to protect only two individuals, money and time that could be used in a range of other ways.

This touches on the bigger question of why we care about biodiversity at all.

In his book Do We Need Pandas? The uncomfortable truth about biodiversity, the ecologist Ken Thompson argues – as is probably obvious from the title – that we give disproportionate attention to the species that provide the least functional value (the pandas) and we ignore the species that really do matter for our survival (the worms and bacteria). For a long time I tried to push back against this disconnect, but finally accepted that it’s okay to be motivated by either or both at the same time. If something, anything, drives us to take positive action we should harness it.

Disagree. See previous points about actions wasting effort or even making things worse.

Sometimes we fight hardest to protect things because they move us, not because of objective valuation of their functional importance… Bacteria keep us alive more than bears do, but the bears help us to have lives worth living.


Over the last century the world has made unprecedented progress in improving living standards across the world. In some places progress has been slower, but every country has improved in health, education, nutrition and other important indicators of well-being. Of course, we’re not done. The world is still terrible in many ways: children and mothers die from preventable diseases, nearly one in ten go hungry, and not every child gets the opportunity to go to school. We’ve got serious work to do.

Technologies are changing the way we make food. We can produce products just like meat, without the environmental impact or the animal slaughter. That would save an incredible amount of resources and help alleviate global malnutrition at the same time. We just need to make these products nutritious, tasty and cheap enough for the global stage. In 50 years, we won’t be using half of the world’s land to grow food, or raising and slaughtering billions of animals every year to feed ourselves. Everyone in the world can be well fed on a planet that isn’t eating itself alive.

Being an effective environmentalist might make you feel like a ‘bad’ one

e.g., not getting hung up on charismatic macrofauna

Microwaves are the most efficient way to cook, local food is often no better than food shipped from continents away, organic food often has a higher carbon footprint, and packaging is a tiny fraction of a food’s environmental footprint while often lengthening its shelf life.

we will not fix our environmental problems through individual behaviour change alone.

The world spent most of 2020 at home, at a huge cost to the quality of life for millions of people. Our lives were stripped back to the bare minimum. There were hardly any cars on the roads or planes in the sky. Shopping malls and entertainment venues were shut. Economies across the world tanked. There was a dramatic and almost-universal change in how all of us lived. What happened to global CO2 emissions? They fell by around 5%. That’s a hard pill to swallow. 

Pulling people out of poverty has to be central to our goal.

While we fight among ourselves, the ... fossil fuel companies, the meat lobbies and those that oppose environmental action get a free ride.

Doomsayers are not interested in solutions. They have already given up. They often try to stand in the way of [solutions]. At best, they are just counterweight to progress. At worst, they’re actively pulling the other way; just as damaging as deniers.

What makes me most optimistic is the number of people I meet who are all pushing for this. Surround yourself with those people. Be inspired by them. Ignore those who say that we are doomed. We are not doomed. We can build a better future for everyone. Let’s turn that opportunity into reality.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Pictures not by me

Neko Case - Man 

More San Xavier; Ansel Adams version

The recent storms really showed the depths of the mountains here

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Protect Your Identity and Credit

San Xavier del Bac Mission
Photo not by me

From Ragin72 on Reddit:

While credit monitoring is good to help alert you and hopefully minimize the extent of damages in some cases, you don't want it to give you a false sense of security. It can't be relied on solely for protection. Finding out after the damage is done and "hoping" some c.r. sitting in their pajamas will clean up a myriad of financial issues is wishful thinking. As a practical matter, they can only "help" out, with no guarantees. Hopefully, it's more than notifying the credit bureaus you're a victim of fraud, which you can do yourself.

Unless you're actively applying for loans, it's better to be proactive and freeze your credit file(s). Keep the logins handy (but secure) for each service in case you need to unfreeze your credit file(s) temporarily. Find out which credit reporting agency your creditor uses for a loan you're applying for and only unfreeze that credit bureau temporarily (1 day, 7 days, etc). Do this from now. Don't stop after you pick a credit monitoring service.


A couple of obvious security tips:

While you're at it, have your credit card issuer(s) open a second, smaller balance card you can use for those small dollar, higher-risk purchases like online shopping, fast food, gas, convenience stores, etc. Especially while you're traveling (Gangs embed their members as store employees to steal credit card, and checking info). Yes, the Fair Credit Billing Act limits the liability to $50 (some banks it's even $0), but now your 5K-10K limit credit card is not usable until your replacement arrives. Also, watch your credit utilization for those accounts so as not to negatively impact your FICO score. Goes for all accounts, but small ones are easier to over-utilize. Pay them in full each month.

BTW2: Don't write checks. You're giving someone everything they need to drain your account. But that's not the worst part. They can easily make paper duplicates and start kiting checks at multiple stores and eventually, an arrest warrant will be issued. Not for them. For you! If you ever have a check stolen, notify the bank and file a police report immediately (in each jurisdiction a check was written in). Keep it/them ON you for the foreseeable future. A simple traffic stop can turn into a nightmare, with you in jail.

Friday, March 29, 2024

More on Ozempic

A follow-up to this.

From Robert Sapolsky's amazing and (potentially) life-changing book Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will:

Encouraging studies show that the average levels of implicit, unconscious bias against people as a function of their race, age, or sexual orientation have all decreased significantly over the last decade. But not implicit biases against obese individuals. They’ve gotten worse. ...

Even your average obese individual shows implicit antiobesity biases, unconsciously associating obesity with laziness...

Of course, there is the argument that we should spend our limited time and resources "fighting" these biases. But I would contend that there are other injustices in the world that urgently deserve our finite attention. 

If we can do something to change our caloric intake and improve both our healthspan and our societal standing, we should. (And, of course, improving others' opinion of us increases our ability to help those most in need of our help.)

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Broken Brains (funny not funny)

To be clear, I loathed George W Bush. And I think some of the people around him were truly "bad" people. 

But I have some understanding of why you might vote for him.

However, anyone who supports Tangerine Palpatine - their brain is broken*. TFG is a malignant narcisistic lunatic. The people who worked for him are the ones warning us

(Nice one by Biden below, though.) 

Huh? Here.


*Yes, I know they don't have free will. But I don't want to deal with a malfunctioning computer, and the same goes for human minds.