Morning Ed: The Planet {2016.08.24.W}

There are apparently plans to make Chernobyl a different kind of energy hub.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wants Britain to spearhead a new nuclear revolution.

NASA reports that as a biproduct of climate change, the arctic waterways are opening up.

If a solution waits around long enough, it will find a problem with which it may associate. This was actually a commonly-held view when I was growing up, though back then it was attached to a different problem. {Counterpoint}

Noah Berlatsky explains how our love of drama may be leaving us vulnerable to natural disasters.

In The New Atlantis, Jacob Hoerger writes of light pollution and what it’s doing to our views of the stars.

Woohoo! Make our coastlines industrial again!

The dazzling, worrying lakes in Antarctica.


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96 thoughts on “Morning Ed: The Planet {2016.08.24.W}

  1. Kids and Climate: I heard this on NPR a few days ago. I kept wondering why do you want to reduce the number of kids in an aging population. Do it in the countries where they are having lots of kids. Unless you’re idea is for us to take in all those folks when our population growth becomes negative. Oh wait….

    Light Pollution: I’m a big fan of only using the necessary amount of light because I grew up in a town where I could see the Milky Way from the back of the high school. That’s where I too my astronomy final. Sadly I now live in an area where you’re lucky if you can see a half dozen stars.

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  2. That NPR article on having fewer children is really chilling in the sense that there are this many people who see human beings as only a liability and a strain on resources rather than seeing people as assets and potential sources of new solutions. I wonder how many of those folks consider themselves humanists.

    And on the love of drama, Berlatsky should spend a little less time in the world of comparative lit and a little more in the world of development. There are lots of people doing the exact things that he claims we don’t do.

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    • — Well, there is a point where resources will run out. It’s simply, entropy will win. The Sun only puts out so much energy. Only so much reaches Earth. Humanity has proven to have a limited ability to enact long-range wisdom. We can “self-organize,” but only on the short term, usually during periods of war. A similar “self-organization” for climate disaster — by the time humanity is willing to do so, it will be too late.

      The political situation surrounding climate change has proven this. It would be absurd to debate the point.

      So indeed, each human life contains so much potential, but how much of that potential dies each month, awash in a shithole of suffering? Today how many miraculous geniuses will die, the greater share of their potential unrealized, because of suboptimal global policy?

      Do you expect a radical change in human nature?

      Let us not be dishonest about the condition of our world. War, poverty, disease — how much will these things grow in the face of climate change and fossil fuel depletion?

      Yes, we will innovate. But how much? How quickly? Do you know?

      My employer is certainly innovative, but we hire a few tens-of-thousands of software engineers and scientists. The “teeming billions” across the globe, what is there for them?

      Yeesh. It is horrifying.

      Humanity has not shown the systematic ability to actualize so much of that talent.

      I certainly support human flourishing, which certainly involves there being more people. Indeed. But let us first prove that we can manage the structural challenges of globalization, climate change, and fossil fuel depletion before we encourage unchecked population growth.

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        • — I think there will be a die-off combined with global war.

          The question on bringing a child into this world is not only their carbon footprint, as if that one kid will matter. It is this: how much do you want that kid to suffer as it all unravels? Can we even hope to give them a world worth having?

          Regarding passing on my genetics — well for me that is literally impossible, as the necessary bodily elements have long ago been disposed of as medical waste. Your genetics? Choose for yourself. But the way we fetishize personal genetics seems silly to me.

          Regarding passing on my wisdom, insight, and knowledge (such as they are), I do what I can. You should do also.

          We seem to produce plenty of children, each with the capacity for some kind of genius. There are so many now who receive so little.

          This is a question about the margins.

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          • ” I think there will be a die-off combined with global war.”

            Well, we’ve had those before, I expect we will again. I’ve already made my decision and it was all personal. “We seem to produce plenty of children” Yeah, not sure that the best people are doing it though….”idiocracy” and all that.

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      • The Sun dying is an event billion of years in the future.

        The thing about Malthus and all of his secondary followers is that they have all been wrong.

        This is where I make a big departure from my fellow liberals. Climate change is real and we should do something about this but we can also admit Malthus was wrong and that humans can find ways to adapt and be okay. It seems that only humans are denying the basic reason we have kids is that we are animals with a desire to propagate the species.

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        • Malthus has been wrong so far. But the energy from the sun is so-much-per-year. I’m not talking about it’s lifespan. Likewise, once we burn the fossil fuels, they’re gone.

          Yes, we might “innovate” our way out of this. We might not.

          Malthus was thinking about agriculture on national scales. I’m talking thermodynamics on a global scale. It’s different. It’s new. We don’t know what is going to happen.

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      • We’ll see a return to eugenics in my lifetime.

        It’s a big world. We can’t rule anything out. But it seems like, the achievement of really bad political policy usually comes from a fear response. Right now in the US, that fear response seems to manifest in swings to hardline religion, traditionalism, along with “stay off my lawn” attitudes. In other words, things adjacent to “Trumpism.”

        So to my view, that is the likely outcome of the coming “bad times.”

        I see eugenics as more a manifestation of bad left-leaning hyper-technocracy. There certainly are political strains of that in the US. However, I don’t see the mass fear-based movements forming around highly technocratic approaches. The US just seems to work the opposite way.

        I could be wrong of course.

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          • — Fair point. Out of curiosity, what are you imagining? Where? Would this be a China-style “one child” policy, or something more elaborate? Mandatory government licensing for designer babies in the Netherlands?

            I’m honestly curious what you envision.

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            • Eh, it’ll begin with bigger and more elaborate pushes for various forms of barriers and other forms of birth control in the countries that have what will be described in negative terms like “a fecundity problem” or something similar.

              We’ll probably veer into something like depo shots being given to 3rd/4th world women as part of their health checks and arguments will be over whether the women in question were fully informed of the shots they were given and, even if they weren’t, well, the shots wear off so no harm no foul and, besides, they can’t afford to have the children anyway.

              That sort of thing.

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                • Yeah, sure. We all do.

                  I imagine, though, that we’ll witness a period of “well, you have to understand, while I certainly don’t support non-consensual application of birth control, we have to take into account the culture that trains women that they are nothing more than baby incubators and the context of the depo shots needs to be taken within a very particular context of toxic patriarchy which means that we need to ask the following questions…” for a while.

                  A surprisingly long while.

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              • This really happened in several Lat Am countries in the 60s/70s. I knew one such women, sterilized without consent or being told, during her 7th ichildbirth.

                I also knew women that asked to be sterilized while giving birth without their husband knowing it, a request that was mostly honored.

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          • A decentralized, voluntary, and private movement to opt out of the gene pool is more likely to be dysgenic than eugenic.

            I imagine that, after a generation or so, this movement is likely to be very, very irritated that their choices are decentralized, voluntary, and private.

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            • “I wanted kids but voluntarily chose to give up the opportunity to ever do that, and I gave it up for very good, very moral reasons! And here’s all these…people, who just…shouldn’t be having kids, and yet they are!

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          • I was thinking more of what we actually deal with. Downs syndrome babies, for instance, and other children with prenatal detectable birth defects or syndromes are flat out vanishing. The parents are electing not to have them. The government has no involvement at all. There is no centralized authority dictating this (hell, a centralized authority could be this effective only in their wildest dreams) yet still it’s going on.

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        • Y’all are referring to the Idiocracy Effect, right? A practical test of the strength of universal education compared to hereditary propensities for “intelligence” (whatever that is). I’d put my money on “nurture” over “nature,” at least here, but for my distrust in the currently-extant universal education system.

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          • No, more like in the first trimester doctor says “the tests suggest your potential child is at X% of risk of A, B or C undesirable birth defects or syndromes” and the parents nod tearfully, think it over, then abort and try again.

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  3. Wind over the sea (even short distances off the coast) is more stable and stronger. You can get more power out of offshore wind plants than from onshore plants.

    I don’t understand what the complaint of fishermen might be. Wind farms are in shallow waters where you don’t have commercial fishing, and insofar as they act as seeds to new reefs, they will attract larger a catch of fish.

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          • @saul-degraw

            As my father use to say (he was in labor relations, ie he negotiated contracts with unions) people who want to have a union are under the impression that negotiations start from what they currently have (in terms of pay, etc.) but all that is gone. You start from nothing and negotiate up. So, you can form that union, but you’ll probably have to negotiate to get tuition wavers in addition to the pay you currently are making in addition to all the demands you are making.

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            • The NLRB’s job isn’t to decide whether a given unionization is prudent, only whether it is legal.

              If Columbia pulls tuition support from their grad students, they’ll very quickly find themselves with completely uncompetitive offers compared to their peers; this will, if nothing else, create lots of opportunities for students who would otherwise attend lower-tier programs.

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                • I assume that many will be disappointed; at my unionized school (Cal), the most passionate supporters of the union were also in a perpetual state of disappointment at what it could actually win.

                  On the other hand, Columbia doesn’t currently offer funding out of the goodness of their hearts; funding is part of the intense competition among top-tier programs for students. Those pressures aren’t suddenly going to disappear because the grad students are unionized, and even a truly incompetent union is unlikely to convince the school to stop giving out competitive funding offers.

                  All of which is irrelevant to the original question of whether the NLRB should prevent the students from having the choice to unionize.

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            • “You start from nothing and negotiate up.”

              I managed represented employees when they voted to go through the certification process and they had no idea that the company was going to reset all the wages to the median employee in that business group during negotiation. The union didn’t mention to look for it during negotiation, as they simply wanted more members at the time.

              They voted for decert as soon as possible (12 months.)

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        • I hope schools will limit the use of TA as much as possible.

          Then who teaches all the contact hours?

          Long ago — mid 1970s — while I was a graduate student and differential equations TA at the University of Texas in Austin, the state legislature proposed a bill that required 90% of all contact hours for freshmen and sophomores be taught by full-time faculty members, in small classes. I made a point of going to the committee meeting when they took testimony. I loved the answer the head of the math dept gave the committee when they asked what the consequences would be for his department if the bill passed. “Well, the first thing is I tell the engineering school and all the science departments that they’ll have to teach their students calculus themselves, because without the TAs I don’t have nearly enough staff to do it for them.” IIRC, there were something over a thousand freshman engineers taking calculus from the math dept each year.

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        • notme:
          Didn’t that already happen?

          http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=bb33313a-23cf-4e7d-b6e5-621288b10de8

          I remember reading Browning-Ferris when the decision was handed down. That’s a completely different case than a fast food franchise.

          In BF, a third party contractor brought in workers to operate a company-run recycling facility, and it was pretty hard for me to get my arms around BF’s position that the employees of the third party contracting firm were being supervised exclusively by the contractor. Back then, I looked at it as if it was a deliberate end-run around unionizing workers. Had the workers attempted to unionize, the company cancels the contract.

          It’s a different ballgame with the fast food franchises.

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      • Why shouldn’t they be? The reason a whole ton of people go into their local McDonald’s isn’t because they like Bob Johnson, owner of 20 local McDonald’s franchises. The reason they go is because it is a McDonald’s.

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        • Jesse Ewiak:
          Why shouldn’t they be? The reason a whole ton of people go into their local McDonald’s isn’t because they like Bob Johnson, owner of 20 local McDonald’s franchises. The reason they go is because it is a McDonald’s.

          That’s branding and name recognition.

          Not that I’m a labor lawyer, but from what I understand, to be considered an employer, even a joint employer, requires having some degree of control over the labor relations. Over the past several decades, the norm has been direct control. The McDonald’s franchise agreement makes it clear that they aren’t joint employers (Section 16). Per the franchise agreements, labor relations is exclusively reserved for the franchisees, as it should be.

          Given the way the franchisors generate revenues from the franchisees, there’s no upside to joint employment and a lot of perceived downside.

          The NLRB is trying to argue that McDonald’s and other fast food franchises are in effect joint employers because the level of control they companies exert over the franchisees in every other aspect of the business make it damn near impossible for both sides, the workers and owners of the franchisees, to effectively engage in collective bargaining. There’s truth to that, but that’s always been the case in the fast food business. The motivating factor is the number of people that have had to turn to this industry to find living wage work.

          It’s far too indirect for me. It’s a fundamental change in labor law that has less to do with labor relations as they’re conducted and more to do with changing circumstances over time. It’s goalpost moving on the part of the NLRB where the NLRB probably doesn’t have the legal authority to do so. Such a change would require an amendment to the law enacted through the political process. That or this is going to take years to litigate because that’s what will happen if the NLRB votes against McDonald’s.

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    • I haven’t read the post (paywall is my excuse, but laziness is my reason), but if one accepts that there is a national labor policy, then saying that grad student employees at a private institution can organize under that policy strikes me as intuitively right.

      I personally have qualms about how our national Wagner + Taft-Hartley labor policy works, those qualms being reinforced by my ignorance on certain elements of that policy. I also have qualms about the wisdom of graduate students forming unions. But the examples I’m most personally familiar with have to do with public institutions and not private ones.

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    • Really not-good-for-the-cops facts here.

      Vasquez bought a 1992 BMW in Colorado and was driving it to his new home in Maryland. Had some stuff under a blanket in the front seat. Driving across I-70 in Kansas when he gets pulled over because the Kansas cops couldn’t make out his temporary plate. They question him, find him “nervous,” check his insurance (he had it, and insurance for two other, newer cars), and decide on the basis of this evidence that they needed to call in a drug dog. Then they ask him if he has any drugs. He says no. Then they ask him, so, can we search your car? And he says no. So then they detain him after one of the cops says that Vasquez is “probably involved in a little criminal activity here.” Drug dog arrives and finds nothing. Car is searched notwithstanding Vasquez’s refusal to consent to search. Search uncovers no drugs, nothing illegal going on at all.

      So the Tenth here says that 1) driving a car 2) with temporary Colorado plates 3) through Kansas 4) with the last name “Vasquez” and 5) not particularly liking getting pulled over does not amount to enough reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify a non-consensual search.

      All things considered, I have to wonder if fact 2) wasn’t as big a deal here as was fact 4).

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  4. It really is interesting to watch how the #NeverTrump folks are accommodating themselves to this elections. Which ones are backtracking, which ones are looking at Johnson/McMullin, which ones ain’t voting, which ones have resigned themselves to Hillary, and which ones have gone all-in with Hillary.

    In order of frequency, it’s:
    Not Voting
    Johnson/McMullin
    Resigned to Hillary
    All-in With Hillary
    Backtrack

    There are some who made noises early on that indicated that yeah at the end of the day they’d pretty much have to vote for Trump who have instead joined another group (including one All-In With Hillary).

    So far, more people who indicated prior to the convention that they would vote for Trump have backtracked from that than the other way around.

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