URLs du Jour


  • A post-Christmas mini-essay from Dean Barnett is worthwhile reading, as he describes why he prefers the version of the song that goes "we'll have to muddle through somehow."

  • David Friedman posts a thoughtful-as-usual essay titled "Global Warming: Confusing Moral and Practical Arguments"
    In controversies over global warming, one issue that keeps coming up is whether it is anthropogenic, whether if the world is getting warmer it is our fault. So far as I can tell, the question stated in that way is almost entirely irrelevant to the controvery; it reflects a confusion between moral and practical arguments.
    The dominant environmentalist vision these days is not so much "moral" as secular-religious. One fundamental tenet is that nature in the absence of man is the ideal, and "moral" actions are ones that tend to push things toward that ideal.

    You catch glimpses of this religiousity all the time: dissenters from the environmentalist gospel are considered to be not so much mistaken as they are heretics; the only "moral" response to them is vituperation and shunning. (Fortunately, burning at the stake has gone out of style these days.)

    And since it's a moral/religious problem, the tone of the debate and "acceptable solutions" are those traditionally used by religionists: prohibitions, onerous regulations, demands for your money and time, and (above all) apocolyptic fear-mongering and endless hectoring. It's not surprising that solutions often don't make a lot of sense if you're looking at them from outside the vision, especially from an economic perspective.

    So (in that view) it's a huge deal that global warming is anthropogenic, and the only acceptable "solution" is to stop it by getting people to forego their evil ways, and behave more as they should: as if they weren't here at all.

  • But I've said that before. Another recent data point is provided by Jerry Taylor at Cato, who noted a Rolling Stone article titled "Can Dr. Evil Save the World?" The article's "Dr. Evil" is Lowell Wood, who presented a "terraforming"-style solution to global warming (in Stone-ese: a "nefarious scheme"): loading the upper atmosphere with particulates that would increase Earth's albedo, and cool us off. Jerry Taylor seems bemused at the tone of the article:
    The author of the piece thinks this is nuts, but it's unclear to me exactly why. There's little doubt that it would work. There's little reason to fear secondary, unanticipated consequences. And it's a lot cheaper than the alternatives.
    But it should be clear why this sort of thing is anathema to environmentalists: it's just not in the range of "acceptable solutions" demanded by their vision. One of the milder responses in the RS article:
    Bill Nordhaus, a Yale economist, worried about political implications: Wasn't this simply a way of enabling more fossil-fuel use, like giving methadone to a heroin addict? If people believe there is a solution to global warming that does not require hard choices, how can we ever make the case that they need to change their lives and cut emissions?
    In other words: how will we impose our moral vision on vast swaths of humanity if it turns out to be unnecessary to do so?

  • A little sophomoric philosophy: Scott Adams, cartoonist extraordinaire, has a bit of a bee in his bonnet about free will: namely that it's an illusion. His latest forays into the topic are here and here.

    I'm sure there are interesting things in the comments. With (respectively) 312 and 292 comments (as I type), there would almost have to be. I'm not likely to find them, though.

    However, Bryan Caplan has the definitive reply:

    In the end, what the determinists have going for them is the axiom of causality. And what believers in free will have going for them is virtually all of our waking experience. Decades after first hearing both sides of this debate, I still choose ubiquitous introspection over a plausible a priori postulate.

    Good point. I'll also make a point from extrospection (which I've made before, but never mind): everyone else seems to act as if free will exists too. Including, obviously, Scott Adams: he keeps trying to argue against free will, as if he'd contemplated the arguments for and against, and had come to a reasoned and uncoerced choice … against. And he keeps posting about the issue as if his readers could do the same, influenced by the sterling quality of his rationality. You don't see lawnmowers and toasters doing this sort of thing. (If you'd like to see a much better explication of this point, check section 6B of Bryan's essay on free will; or read the whole thing, especially if your name is "Scott Adams.")