Monday, March 19, 2012

Priorities in Peril

David Friedman is a bit skeptical regarding the evidence shared by those who are concerned with global warming.  Here are a couple of my comments on his global warming entries.

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Nordhaus on Global Warming

Speaking of partial knowledge. My guess is that none of you know the significance of my username. It refers to an epiphytic species of plant in the bromeliad family (ie pineapples)...Tillandsia xerographica.

For as long as I can remember I've been fascinated with epiphytes. Epiphytes, unlike parasites (ie mistletoe) do not derive any nutrients from their hosts, which is why they can grow on rocks as well as on trees and in quite a few instances...on cacti even!!! How cool is that? Talk about a marvelous adaptation in the ever constant conquest of space.  (Nerd alert - read the short Environmentalism and Ecology section for the Wikipedia article on Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel Dune)

The Orchidaceae, with around 30,000 species, is probably the largest plant family. It also has the greatest number of epiphytic species. What's unique about the orchid family is that their seeds are so tiny that they do not contain enough nutrients to germinate on their own. In order for the seed to germinate...it has to be penetrated by a certain species of fungus. The seed then manages to derive enough nutrients from the fungus to germinate. The fungus persists in and out of the roots of the orchid...and as far as I can tell...the orchid roots help the fungus colonize the tree that it is growing on...which is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Here we can see the opportunity cost concept. The orchid seed forgoes the weight of a "pack lunch" in order for the wind to carry it greater distances away.

The orchids that I study are the epiphytic, eurythermal, xerophytic species. In other words...they grow on trees/cactus/rocks and can tolerate wide fluctuations in temperature as well as extended periods of drought. This group represents perhaps anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 species of orchids...depending on where you draw the line.  These species of plants make do with ridiculously limited resources. Relatively speaking...how many resources...nutrients/moisture...can there be on the surface of a cactus?  Economics is the study of scarcity...so if you want to study economics then you should study xerophytic epiphytes!

On the other end of the tolerance continuum...you'll find the species of orchids that have exact and extremely narrow temperature/moisture requirements. Some of them only grow in one valley...at a specific elevation...in a very specific microhabitat. These are the kinds of orchids that I have no interest in trying to grow outdoors here in Southern California.

That being said, it's bad enough that countless numbers of undiscovered species are lost from deforestation...but to lose species as a direct result of our impact on the climate only compounds the problems of unintended consequences. No species is an island...it's all a complex web of interdependent relationships.

We all have ridiculously limited perspectives...just like it's a fatal conceit for planners to try and impose their priorities on the use of limited resources...it's also a fatal conceit for us to impose our priorities on the environment. Both can have fatal and unseen and unintended consequences.  Should we err on the side of development or conservation?  What should our priorities be?

As I've mentioned before...my big picture solution is to allow taxpayers to directly allocate their taxes. This would give people the ability to allocate their individual taxes according to their partial knowledge and opportunity costs (priorities/values). Of course we're going to make mistakes...aka... fallibilism...which is exactly why we shouldn't put all our eggs in one basket.

David Friedman...the problem has never been with the taxing...it's always always always been with the spending. Of course...I might be wrong! Hopefully some day you'll see some value in making the effort to try and prove me wrong :D

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Richard Lindzen on Global Warming

Can't really contribute much in the way of critical analysis...but it really tugs at my heartstrings to see the polar bears sitting on tiny rapidly shrinking slabs of ice slowly drifting away. I think that's what they are going to do to me when I get old...if not sooner.

Oh wait...I thought of some critical analysis. We should always be very wary of the fatal conceit and unintended consequences. We overestimate our own intelligence if we think we can truly grasp the impact our activities have on the planet. Therefore, if we do err, it should be on the side of caution.

Then again, I might just be saying that because I'm biased towards polar bears. Then again...I REALLY hate the cold. When I spent a month doing military training up in the Andes...it was the worst. There was no water pressure so taking a shower was pretty much like standing naked under an icicle that was slowly melting. That being said, one of my fondest memories was when I took a break from chopping wood and I briefly saw an Andean condor soaring high up in the clouds.

Well...my point was that my biases probably cancel each other out...but then I started to talk about nature again...so I guess that they really do not.

2 comments:

  1. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/03/18/sea-ice-news-volume-3-2/

    "Arctic Sea Ice on the rise again, presently in the range of normal levels."

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    1. Do you think taxpayers should be allowed to directly allocate their taxes?

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