A view from the top of the world! I’ve adapted this image by Roddy Mackenzie into another cylindrical panorama. Admittedly, the original photo I lifted was at a shoddy resolution. I managed to smooth out the sky and color gradients, though.
- Belief in climate change among Canadians substantially outpaces belief in this phenomenon among residents of the United States.
- In the United States an individual’s partisan affiliation is the most important determinant of their views on the existence of global warming, with Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to believe that the Earth is warming.
- Americans remain highly divided on claims that scientists are manipulating climate research for their own interests, with most Canadians rejecting such claims.
The full report can be read here.
In light of yesterday’s post about the dangers of poor diet and the effect on health costs and, therefore, the national debt, I want to pass along an article from the NY Times Magazine entitled Is Sugar Toxic? It makes the case that sugar consumption drives the liver to convert fructose into fat, leading to insulin resistance. Insulin is released after meals to keep blood sugar level under control. If cells become resistant, the pancreas must release more leading to “pancreatic exhaustion.” At this point, the blood sugar rises out of control leading to diabetes. Worse, if the pancreas releases too much insulin into the body, it can promote tumor growth leading to cancer.
The article is careful to not that many of these results are compelling, but inconclusive. At very least, it should give sugar consumers pause, and potentially give doctors (and government?) another target in protecting people from diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and now, perhaps, cancer.
Congratulations to the Boston University Debate Society! The BU team of Alex Taubes and Greg Meyer has just officially won Team of the Year (TOTY) honors by earning the most high-profile victories in the country this year. Alex Taubes will also finish as the nation’s top speaker. It was a little over 11 years ago that I helped resurrect a then-dead and forgotten team. A decade later, BU students have proven themselves the best in the nation! Great job, guys!
Here’s a release from the BUDS:
“At Amherst, Alison and Alex won the tournament, and Alex was top speaker! Evelyn and Maddie also broke to quarters, and Maddie was 3rd novice speaker! Moreover, with Amherst gone, and the APDA season over, Greg and Alex have won APDA’s Team of the Year (TOTY) Award, Alison and Alex have finished as fourth TOTY, and Alex has clinched APDA’s Speaker of the Year (SOTY) Award. Overall, BU will finish 3rd in the College of the Year standings, behind only Yale and Harvard.
Wind energy is great, but it’s inconsistent. When the wind stops blowing, your power stops flowing. New power systems are needed to capture excess energy when the wind is blowing its hardest so that it can release that energy when it’s blowing little or not at all. It turns our that Duke Power Corp. has taken up the challenge. It plans to build the largest power storage system (to be linked to a wind farm) in the world. The system will be located in West Texas. It’s nice to see a US company leading in this market.
I love debates, especially on the proper role of government. I’ve always believed in the concept of personal liberty up to the point where it begins to infringe on the well being of others. Of course, where to draw the bright line is often ambiguous. Protesting at the funeral of a gay soldier causes distinct emotional damage, but the alternative is a degradation of the First Amendment. Nobody ever said this stuff was easy.
Yet it is questions like these that motivate the discussion. The big conflict lately has been over the federal deficit. In my view, excessive federal debt causes two primary problems. It saps our treasury through interest payments and increases the risk that our borrowing rate will skyrocket, making it prohibitively expensive to borrow money. While the first is a well understood problem, the second raises many questions. What needs to happen before lenders lose faith? When will interest rates rise? How quickly? Will the US be able to absorb it at that time?
Assessing these harms should be done though standard risk analysis where we integrate the probability of an event’s occurrence times its impact. Only then can we compare an solution involving a constraint on liberty to gauge whether its warranted.
One idea that was introduced to me recently was that of eating habits. The largest single problem with our debt is rising health care costs. A significant driver of health care costs is obesity and associated harms like diabetes and heart disease. Much of this is driven by the generally poor diet of many Americans. Does the federal government retain the right to constrain people’s eating habits if it would save hundreds of billions of dollars per year? Is this degradation of freedom offset by the promise of better health and a balanced budget? Instead of clinging to platitudes of freedom and government tyranny, we should recognize the broad shades of gray in these problems and have an intelligent, informed, and balanced discussion. My hope is that this is not too much to ask.
We all know you can dry clothes in the sun…but wash them? There’s an experiment underway in The Netherlands to do just that. Using smart grid technologies, several hundred homes are about to embark on an experiment: are people willing to change their electricity consumption habits to save money and the planet?
Homes will have access to solar power and the price of electricity during the day. If the Sun shines brightly enough, the power can be used to run a washing machine. If not, service can wait until the price for electricity drops. Either way, the consumer ends up paying less. But will they tolerate the trade-off of immediacy for cost savings? Time will tell.
And the news gets worse. A report released a few hours ago by the Washington Post claims:
“A new budget estimate released Wednesday shows that the spending bill negotiated between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner would produce less than 1 percent of the $38 billion in claimed savings by the end of this budget year.
“The Congressional Budget Office estimate shows that compared with current spending rates the spending bill due for a House vote Thursday would pare just $352 million from the deficit through Sept. 30. About $8 billion in cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid are offset by nearly equal increases in defense spending.”
Especially damaging is that this budget serves to eliminate $40 billion from the Pell Grants program. Pell Grants are government grants awarded to college students from families of low financial means. So let’s make sure we get this straight. After all of the hullabaloo, we have a budget that cuts money from science investments, education, and other domestic spending so that we can throw even more money into a bloated defense budget. This makes total sense. After all, keeping tens of thousands of American troops in Japan doesn’t pay for itself!
There are many reasons to be dismayed by last week’s federal budget crisis. But perhaps the most concerning aspect is that the debate wasn’t even really about the budget. The real sticking point in the negotiations was funding for Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, we can, and should, deride the Republican party for dangling the country over a precipice in pursuit of goals that ought to have been pursued through social legislation, but I think this misses the bigger point.
The United States finds itself in a precarious financial situation because, simply put, our politicians lack the courage to properly budget. The last decade proves that restoring revenue through increased taxation has become political anathema. Some of this resistance is surely due to the misguided philosophy that tax cuts for the wealthy drive job growth. Stephen Colbert even humorously quipped that with respect to General Electric, which generated $14.2 billion in profit yet paid nothing in taxes last year, we should lower their tax rate yet further so that they can create even more jobs, which, even if mathematically possible, would likely be overseas anyway. But I suspect that even more resistance is due to politicians’ desire to please their most important (i.e. wealthiest) campaign donors. Given our present situation, this reluctance is particularly pernicious. There is no excuse for a politician who fails to fight for necessary reforms because of fear that doing so might cost them their chair.
Yet it is these ill-placed notions that disintegrate the notion of American investment. A grade schooler can tell you that you’re better off saving money than borrowing. In a few years they’d even show you the simple mathematics. When you rack up a debt to the extent that 1/8 of your federal budget is dedicated to interest payments, you have a serious problem. The facts lay bare that our current political establishment lacks the ability for long term fiscal planning, which returns me to the original point on Planned Parenthood and the EPA.
Both programs are designed in large part for the long-term good. Every dollar spent on family planning saves about $4 that would otherwise need to be spent on Medicare for children and other assistance. (In Texas, for example, about 60% of births are financed by Medicaid.) The EPA aims to mitigate the effects of climate change, which is already wreaking havoc throughout the world in the form of record high temperatures, earlier Springs and associated species die-offs, drought, flooding, mass migrations, etc. A study places the health and environmental benefits of the Clean Air Act between 1970 and 1990 at $21.4 trillion. Similar arguments can be made about funding for our premier scientific agencies like NSF, NASA, NIH, and NIST, which all serve as drivers for future growth. The simple truth is small cuts now cost big dollars later. We’ve become a nation that is pennywise and pound-foolish.
This isn’t about the budget. It never was. If it were, there would be serious plans on the table to reduce our #1 driver of debt, Medicare expenses. More on that another day, but for now, let’s hold our government accountable for caring too much about where we’ll be in November 2012 and not enough on where we’ll be in 2032.
I found this great image of the Milky Way taken in the volcanic landscape of Teide National Park in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain by the talented by Juan Carlos Casado. Here, I’ve adapted it into a cylindrical panorama. To the left of the big rock you’ll see the Teide volcano under a bright waxing moon. In addition to the prominent arch of the Milky Way, you’ll see many other constellations labeled.