Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part VI, Summary

I didn’t get to really spell it out why I believe this because I wanted to avoid a controversy which would distract from the point I was making… so I will spell it out here, because you’re a captive audience.

I don’t believe in sin, and I am skeptical of any concept of absolute and universal morality.  Ultimately, I think what people perceive as morality is, in fact productivity.  Productivity has gotten a bad rap because we tend to think of productivity as factories and smokestacks, but truly, productivity is getting more for less effort.  Morality is founded in productivity.  Incest and cannibalism, for instance,  are universal taboos not because they “wrong” but because they are counter productive.  They take the exact same energy to achieve as other options, but yield less productive results.  The same reason is why we hunted the magafauna to death.  It takes about as much energy to kill a mammoth as deer, but a mammoth provides orders of magnitude more food energy.

Population reduction means one thing.  Birthrate/deathrate must be less than 1. We can do this through homicide or prophylactic measures. Believing as I do that morals are imaginary, and the right social engineering can produce new taboos and virtues, I have to take an honest look at homicide as an option.  Conclusion: if homicide worked, it would have worked sometime in the last couple eons.  However, believing as I do that reducing population is a noble goal, history also shows me that unethical people regularly jump on noble bandwagons to kill people and take their stuff.  That is what war is all about, killing people and taking their stuff.  So, first of all homicide is a lousy way to control population. Two, as soon as population control becomes demographically appealing, some people will use the platform to demand the death of whatever group they can make into a scapegoat.  They will then kill those people and take their stuff.

To prevent this, we have to not touch homicide with a 10′ pole, even though it is an acceptable solution to some issues.  I don’t think that plants, animals, and resources disappearing to keep people like Timothy McVeigh alive is a particularly moral/productive use of limited resources.  But homicide can’t be part of population control.  Ever.  In the long run, it’s counter-productive in two ways: First, it has no proven long term ability to reduce population, and in many cases, birthrate skyrockets after a bloody war.  Second, it stratifies wealth into the hands of the people who control the homicidal bureaucracy (Just look at the Soviets and the Nazis) This is counterproductive for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

So that just leaves prophylactic methods, with two paths: voluntary and coercive. The problem with coercive, is that creating the bureaucracy to rigorously enforce the standards (aka forced abortion) would create a very similar bunch of bloody handed plutocrats as in the Soviet model.  (Look at China)  and has the same counter-productivity I will mention in a bit.

That leaves voluntary.  Coitus interptus has been known for thousands of years, and the population just keeps going up.  So, the incentive to voluntarily overproduce is stronger than the incentive to not.  “Voluntarily” is relative.  We can create a voluntary model with taxes and social norms.  But people hate taxes, and social norms are slow.  (It took the catholic Church 1500 years to accept that it might be a good idea to charge interest on loans.)  We don’t have 1500 years.

But everyone likes money and position, and income and education are the most proven mass birth control in the world.  Education costs money.  Ironically, the people who can afford children the least have the most, and the people who can afford children the most have the least.  We could get people to procreate responsibly if everyone on earth had access to European or American levels of wealth.  Access to wealth is dependent upon social mobility, which in turn means that despite the fact that Soviet style homicide, or Chinese style birth control can reduce world population, they would fail in the long run because poor peasants breed like rabbits, and the bureaucracy need to enforce those kind of standards always becomes the arm of a kleptocracy.

So, that’s what I meant by saying if it could be done, it would have already.  And why my solution is global wealth.  The only way I know to make global wealth and not rape the planet is with strong property rights for shared resources like, forests, air, and water.   The only proven way I know to share property rights is stocks, the only way I know to make stocks work right is perfect market.  The only way I know to make perfect markets work is to make sure that all members have equal access to the market, and the only way I know to do that is with a global governmen.  The only proven effective method I know for a group of groups to relate is in voluntary unions with trade benefits.

That’s my whole plan in a nutshell.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Slice of life | , , , , | Leave a comment

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part IV

“Strong property rights and fairly shared property. ” As Han Solo would say, “Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?”  Shared property tends to scare people.  When the very phrase “shared property” is uttered, the first thought which jumps to most American minds is “shared at the point of a gun.”  And not without reason.   Socialism claims lofty ideals about sharing, but in the end, some people will not share, and to them, in varying degrees and forms, force must be applied.   Marx took the philosophy of socialism, and found what he thought was the perfect form for its ideals, a form he believed could be reached basically peacefully, requiring violent change, but not necessarily violence. Stalin and Mao disagreed.  In the name of Communism (suggesting property is held in common) more dictators seized power and millions died.  

The idealist Communist rightfully says communism didn’t fail the people, the leaders failed both Communism and the people.  Fair enough.  The trouble is, the bureaucracy required to force Communism upon people has the power to force almost anything upon people.  The great failing of Communism is that its incentives are counterproductive.  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  Every person is called upon to work to the best of his ability for the people, and the people will make sure all of his needs are met.   Under capitalism,  if there is something I need, I can communicate to others how much I need it by how much I am willing to pay.  I can communicate to others how much I value my time by how much I attempt to charge for it. Since I trade money made by working (time) for things I need and I can choose how much I work, I can decide for me personally, how much work I want to do, and I what I think I need for it.  Under communism, others must determine the value of my work, and what I need.    Under capitalism, there was incentive to work as hard as possible to get what I need. Under communism, the quality and quantity of work I do have been disconnected from what I receive for doing it.  There is no incentive for me to work very hard.  An outside force must motivate me to work.  The most popular one is terror. The Communist government must be able to cause terror to function.  It is the greatest enemy of its own ideals.

Democratic socialism seeks to achieve many of the same goals of communism, but produces and applies force in a different manner.  By and large, democratic socialism is a pro-capitalist system.  The people must have personal property because the force applied is most often in the form of taxes.  The decision to apply this force is undertaken by democratic, rather than by single party process.   The incentive issue still exists, but to a much smaller degree. Progressive income tax is an example of  a socialist policy.   Capital is removed by threat of kidnapping (imprisonment for tax evasion) from the capitalist, and given to those in need.   The wealthier the capitalist, the larger percentage of wealth he must pay.  The incentive issue is making sure the taxes are not so high as to dissuade capitalists from earning more money.  If the capitalist refuses to work to collect capital to the best of his ability the economy stagnates. 

When any property is shared under any system, incentive is always an issue.   Even in the capitalist, outwardly anti-socialist (but admittedly socialist) U.S., shared property is unavoidable.  Schools, parks, libraries and roads are all shared property.   They all must provide a service, but the incentive structure is strange.  Libraries for instance, must not dissuade people from coming, least they reduce the number of patrons and reduce their grant from the city.  On the other hand, if they are too attractive to people, they will suffer wear and tear incommensurate to the grant they receive.    Parks suffer from the same difficulty.    We attempt to remedy these problems of shared ownership with a bureaucratic apparatus incorporating varying degrees of democracy.  (The city of St. Paul, for instance, has been very successful with an elected rather than appointed parks commissioner.  Her city parks are considered some of the finest and most cost efficient in the U.S.) 

There is, however, already the basis of a shared property system incorporating democracy, very limited bureaucracy, and high price efficiency.  It works towards the benefit of all the members, and has extreme respect for property rights.  It’s called shares.   If everyone who owned part of a shared ownership system was given a singe common stock share, then they would not need to trust a bureaucracy or even a democratically appointed leader to execute the fair use of the property.   There is no disconnection of self interest and group interest.  If the price to use a shared property is too low, dividends will go down for the owners.  If the price is too high, dividends will go up, but so will cost more to use.  Since the owners are the users, Adam Smith’s guiding hand works to maximize use and minimize price.  

Obviously, stock is not a perfect system for shared owner/user systems because stock can be sold to anyone.  When the ownership is passed from the users to others, the quality of the service would not matter to the new owners. Owner/users are concerned both with tangible profit and intangible profit. Owner nonusers are not concerned with intangibles, and the overall quality of the service will go down to the most price efficient level.  There are many specifics to to the owner/user share system which would depend on the nature of the shared property.   This fine tuning is dependent upon the shared property in question.   The specific example I want to give is of air.

Regardless of legal status, 1/6 billionth of the air on earth belongs to each person.  If it is denied to them, they will die.   It is theirs by birthright.   The owner/user share system applied to air does not create a new property right, but codifies one of the oldest.   To ensure that no person or group gain more than their share of influence over the air, the common stock share cannot be sold, only rented.  Companies cannot own air shares, only individual people may own one each.   For a company to displace one’s air they must pay rent to the air’s owner.  For instance, if a factory was made which produced a chemical byproduct  which was measurable in a 100 mile radius around the factory, then everyone in that radius has a right to charge the price they see fit for space in their air to the company.  If the company produces a byproduct which is measurable all over the wold, then all the owners must be paid.

This system tends to raise people’s ire, but it is not a secret attempt to control air pollution, or “back door socialism,” as I have been accused.  If a company made ping-pong balls as a byproduct, and running their plant caused thousands of ping pong balls a day to pour onto one’s lawn, legal action would be quick and decisive.  How is the air you need to breath less your property than your lawn?  Pollution is a property rights issue.  Polluters do not pollute people’s living rooms, because they would have to pay to use what is clearly someone’s property.  They pollute the air because it is not clearly anyone’s property. Making air legally belong to it’s rightful owners is a capitalist step, not a socialist one.  

Post industrial society is founded on a fallacy: the open loop.  There are no open loops.  Everyone is downwind from somewhere.  Everyone is downstream from somewhere.  Earth is a closed loop.  Would this share system enormously impact industrial society?  Yes and no.  The monetary cost of doing some kinds of business would skyrocket.  However, the real cost would remain the same.  The reason the monetary cost would increase is that the existing market hides true cost due to market distortion.  When everything is owned, and and every owner can rent, the real cost is the purchase cost.  Companies are not prevented from producing anything the market will bear, they are merely prevented from selling it with the real cost hidden.  This form of environmental protection requires no unique environmental police; civil courts are are already well adapted to process storage without payment suits.  This system allows democratic process of purchase in a perfect market to decide the cost of pollution.   Environmental responsibility with greater freedom, and less government. 

In Part V I will cover global government, an obvious necessity to discourage the Netherlands Hypothesis, but again, with a focus of freedom, and human rights.

December 13, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part III

Perfect market is the greatest instrument of human freedom I know of, and the ethical cornerstone of my entire idea.  A perfect market consists of  (courtesy of wikipeida)

  • Rationality of all market actors (Rationality in meaning of the actor’s utility maximization)
  • No transaction costs (particularly no information costs and no taxes)
  • Price taking behavior – there is a sufficiently large number of participants such that no individual can affect the market
  • given rare resources
  • freedom of decision to do something or to let it be (no external effects)

People trading rationally, with all the information they need to make a decisions, with no distortions for big enough traders, something to trade, and no coercion to act or not act in anyway.   It’s something beautiful.  “Market place” doesn’t just mean the buying and selling of products, but also the grand market place of ideas.  The right to free speech is a component of the market place of ideas, as is the right to free press, and free assembly.  The right to practice religion as one sees fit guarantees numerous sects and religions competing for the hearts and minds of the people.  The right to keep arms of the US Constitution, and the right to security of person in the UN Bill of Rights are both to secure the right to act free of coercion.  Ultimately, the perfect market, be it for goods, services, ideas, or beliefs,  is the foundation of freedom.

A perfect market is, a direction, not a point one arrives at, but the more perfect a market, the more freedom for all.  I believe there is no more effective way to reduce pollution and birthrate (more on that later) than to work toward a perfect market.

In a perfect market, there is no legal theft, no  hidden payments, and no hidden costs.  I will use the existing market place of open pit coal mining to highlight an imperfect market.   No one breathes without trees, they are the lungs of the earth.   There are 6 billion people on earth.  Each tree is an oxygen factory, the output of which goes equally to each member of the population of earth.  If a person had a contract to receive a percentage of a factory’s output, then regardless of who owned the factory,the owner could not destroy the factory without consulting the person who owned a percentage of the output. (Note, I know that this example is somewhat weak, I use it because it is far easier to explain than the more correct ones.  Please feel free to argue this in the comment section.)  Property rights for the factory output are strong.  Property rights for organic oxygen output are nonexistent.

The open pit mining process begins by blasting the ground cover (largely trees) over the coal.  Stealing the future “oxygen income” of 6 billion people.  The coal industry is one of the most heavily subsidized on earth, particularly with reduced property tax.  The coal is loaded onto trains, the cost of transportation depending on diesel fuel, which is produced by other subsidized companies.  It is taken to a power plant, which if it is new, was most likely given property tax break to encourage it’s construction, and burned, putting CO2 into the air which effects everyone as much as the loss of the trees.  The worst pollutants are scrubbed out of the coal (the cost of the scrubbers often subsidized) and disposed of as industrial waste.  Due to radium as a fraction of the mass of coal, coal power plant reclaimed ash is actually more radioactive than nuclear power plant waste. Yet, it is disposed of as far cheaper industrial, rather than radioactive waste in tax supported, or privately owned and tax subsidized, waste management facilities (due to an EPA grandfather clause).

Thus, the real cost of coal would include the cash value of the lost oxygen, the cash value of the subsidy given to the extractor, the cash value of the subsidy given to the fuel producer of the transportation, the cash value of the subsidy given to the power plant, the cash value of the subsidy of the fuel for the fly ash transportation, and the cash value of the subsidy given to the waste management authority.

The complexity of calculating such a thing is made yet more difficult by the fact the subsidy would be different for each county, state, nation, company,  etc.  In reality, it is impossible to calculate such a thing.  The best numbers we have are educated guesses, on this free market phenomenon.  In defense of free market, as awful as the above sounds, it works towards the lowest price  in the end, as well as profit for the stock holders, because the company which uses the subsidies most effectively will sell the most. For the most part, this is good for everyone.  Coal is cheaper for everyone and the owners get rich.  Owners, means stock holders.  More than half of heavy industry stock is held by institutions in mutual funds.  Profit for heavy industry does not benefit primarily a small group of plutocrats.  It primarily benefits the small investor, working hard on his 401K or child’s college education fund.

The trouble is, as good as low cost products and profit for the stock holders are, (and those are truly good things) there are other important things that the free market doesn’t do so well, like resource management.  Though functioning planned economies have the worst pollution in the world (Russian and China), large free markets are a close second.  If people value resources, they can show their preference for companies that also value resources, but only in a perfect market.

In a perfect market, their are no hidden payments, so there is no subsidy.   Coal costs what coal costs.  It might be tempting to believe that subsidies do not follow market rules.  Sadly, this is not the case. Subsidies do follow market rules: companies get money from the government in exchange for providing services for members or sections of the government.  The companies compete fiercely for the subsidies.  Exxon Mobil spent 350 million on lobbying ( a form of advertising to the government decision makers) to get 3 billion dollars in subsidies in 2008 alone.

In a perfect market, the government would not be able to give any special treatment to any company, saving the stockholders of Exxon Mobil 350 million, but costing them 3 billion.  Thus, the incentive to keep the existing system is strong.   Three billion to one company is 10 times greater than the total subsidy spent on renewable power.  This leads some to say “Renewable power needs a bigger subsidy.”  I disagree.  Subsidy distorts the market, regardless of who gets it.  Money is what we exchange for our time on this eath.  The perfect market, like all other markets, is a place where human life is bought and sold, but unlike other markets it is where there is the least waste of this, the most valuable of all commodities.  As, such, a perfect market is as sacred as free speech, or free expression, for the same reason: human dignity.

Subsidies represent a lie about price.  The solution to lies is never more lies.  Humans can be trusted to make wise decisions under perfect market conditions.  To believe in human potential, to respect human dignity, means to work toward a perfect market.

All subsidy must go.  Every business must stand on it’s own.  If sounds like utopian, it’s not, at least to some.  No mater how deeply a person believes in perfect market for everyone else, few people believe it for them and their friends.  This is the reason, despite the fact people value it, we generally don’t work toward a perfect market.

A world without subsidy offers no tax breaks to religious organizations.  To allow tax free status to some service providers (churches and other non-profits) and not to others (business providing identical community assistance, lectures, concerts, elder care, and dating service) is unethical, and anti-religious.  Without tax breaks, the churches which provided the best service for the lowest tithe would immediately out compete the other churches.

A world without subsidy provides no benefit to being married.  Or owning a house.  Married people would have to compete in the open market for housing and employment just like everyone else.   Nor does it provide any tax penalty for being single, or childless.   This is the first step voluntarily reducing population.  Despite embracing the perfect market,  irresponsibility will still happen.  People will still have more children then they can afford, and buy larger houses than they need, but they can no longer profit by it.

(I am aware that these examples are controversial, and poorly supported here.  For brevity’s sake, I will argue specifics with anyone who chooses to, in the comment section.)

But how would even a perfect market deal with issues such as air pollution?  Real price cannot be calculated.  We know real price is impossible to calculate on the fly, because if it could be calculated, planned Soviet style economies would work better than free market ones. Only Adam Smith’s “guiding hand” can effectively determine price.   The fact you can rent your property freely for the price you wish and under the conditions you wish is why your living room isn’t full of toxic gas.  The fact that you cannot rent your 1/6 billionth of the earth’s air freely for a the price you wish under the conditions you wish, is why the air you breath is full of toxins.

The key to allowing the perfect market to solve the issue of pollution is obviously strong property rights, but how could 6 billion people share their air and common oceans without a tragedy of the commons?

I will address that in Part IV.

December 9, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part II

The introduction to the solution:

Now, I am attempting to list a solution for a truly enormous problem.  My solution is also truly enormous.  I also struggle to make sure it is as ethical as I can possibly manage.   Before I explain my solution, let me explain why I think the solution is so hard to reach: rate of change.  In all of the things you need to know about to figure out a good overpopulation policy, you will find that rate of change rears it’s ugly head.

We tend to visualize data in graphs with plain curves either going up, or going down, reducing all the data to single binary option: increasing or decreasing.  The reality is different.  A graph represents rate of change.  A bell shaped line, for instance,  represents little change at first building into a faster and faster rate of change till it peaks out.  Then the rate of change decreases, and decreases until, at the other end of the bell, it peters out completely.  We must remember that almost everything someone says about overpopulation and pollution, either for or against, will be true at some part of the curve.

Something which improves the situation may experience decreasing improvement the more it is implemented, and may at a critical point begin to actively degrade the situation it was improving.  Remember, “Diminishing Returns” isn’t just a good idea, it’s the Law.

In Part I, I made the point that two questions must be answered. First, How much environmental impact is acceptable?  All creatures, great and small impact the environment in some way.  Elephants tear up shrubs.  Wasps lay their eggs in caterpillars, which must impact the caterpillars quit a bit.  We can’t delude ourselves into believing that we can not impact the environment.  Nor is it healthy to believe that we should impact the environment as much as possible.  To impact the environment as little as possible we would need to have the smallest sustainable population possible, perhaps a 1000 people.   No other species does that.  Why should we set our numbers so low? At the same time, when one looks at the level of environmental damage currently being wrought by 6 billion, the ideal number is probably much lower than 6 billion.

Once we have determined the level of impact acceptable, the second question is, What is the ideal population level.  This is not a simple question, because the answer depends on the efficiency of resource utilization.  Beef steak and algae are both protein sources, but algae makes about 32 times more protein with the same caloric feed input.  If everyone got their protein exclusively from beef, the planet will sustain 1/32 the population it would if they got their protein from algae, by measure of human dietary protein production requirement. Diet is much more complicated than a single protein source, and is but one piece of data needed to determine the maximum ideal population number.

So, the two questions of How much environmental impact is acceptable? and What is the population level will cause that, or less impact, are difficult to answer precisely.  Yet we must have a precise answer.  The answer of “no impact by many less people” is too easy to abuse, and the question of dismantling economies and mass genocide (species die off by birth control is still species die off.) is far to important to simply throw some legislation together.

Yet, it seems unethical to use the lack of a perfect response as an excuse to make no response at all and if a response is to be made in the lack of precise data, ethics are of the utmost importance.  The interim response must respect human dignity, human rights, and human freedom.  This is my response: Perfect market, strong property rights, fairly shared property, and global government to reduce pollution and population while improving the quality of life.

To be continued…

December 7, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, skepticism, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part I

One of my favorite wordpress blogs is Skepchick, which is sort of a clearing house for news stories about the the triumph of reason, or not, in the world and place for like minded folks to meet. I got in an online argument on skepchicks. The  very fact that I have this problem reveals how little enjoyment I get out of normal face to face interaction, and is mildly embarrassing. Anyway, they were talking about climate change, and a lot of ideas were thrown around, the basic one being that climate change largely the result of human overpopulation.

Now, I believe man made climate change.  I’ve seen the facts and correlation and do believe from them that man has the power to change the environment. I also have read man’s history.   All the mega fauna is dead except the ones that co-evolved with man in Africa, and the ones that were protected from man by long voyages.  (The Wrangle Island mammoths were alive in 1700 BC later than any other mammoth.)  The post ice age mega-fauna are almost all dead, and most likely because we hunted them to death.  That represents an enormous man made change to the ecosystem.   

And I believe in overpopulation.  I think biodiversity is not only nice, but necessary.  Everything we learn teaches us a lesson.  To understand some strange process only utilized by some strange species might necessitate the creation of new technology or mental tool.  That tool could be the key to something we want very badly, like the cure for cancer, faster than light drive, inertialess thrusters, or functional communism.  We don’t dare let anything slip away because we have no idea what we are missing.

All that said, environmentalism and overpopulation policy scares the crap out of me.  I feel like there are two main groups on these issues: those who want to pretend that there is no problem at all and nothing should be done, and those who want to pretend that problem is so serious and so big that absolutely any protectionist policy is good, no mater who it hurts.  Then, are these two subgroups.  People who believe that the problem is real, but the solutions hurt to much so we should just do nothing, and people who believe the problems can be fixed without anyone being hurt at all.  

None of those perspectives are true.  First, the problem is enormous and serious.  Second, the problem is not so serious that it is OK to hurt a lot of people to solve it. Third,  the fact that some people will have to be hurt does not mean that it’s not worth doing.  Forth, it’s a lie to pretend that the solutions aren’t going to hurt anyone.  There has to be a process in place that works to fix the problem with a solution that does the least harm to the least number.

Since all human problems are going to be proportional to human population,  human population is a logical and fair starting point for issues of how humans effect the environment.   I’m all for people reducing family size.  But the term “overpopulation” is an awful one.  “Over-” what exactly?  To say the phrase over population is to say there is an ideal population for the planet that we are over.  To make overpopulation policy is say you want to work toward the goal of that ideal population, from our current overload.

Well, there is only one way to do that:  The death rate must exceed the birthrate.  I’m not being dramatic. That’s the plain facts.  If you want to work back to the ideal number, the death rate must exceed the birthrate.  There are three ways to do that.  Increase the death rate, decrease the birthrate, or some combination of the two.   If writing policy which seeks to kill people or prevent people doesn’t scare you, you have far, far more faith in democracy and human nature than I do.

I’m sure some people read that and are offended that I would imply that mass homicide is a tool to reduce the population, barbaric and proven ineffective, they would claim.  They would point out the millions lost in wars over the years and the still burgeoning population, a point that I see from the other side.  Mao killed 70 million one generation ago in country which is now one of the most populous on earth.   So if killing 70 million people does nothing to reduce the population, is handing out free condoms really going to cut it?   Coitus interruptus was known at least as early as 500 BC, since it is at that time it is written in Genesis 38:8.  Yet, the population seems to have kept right on doubling for the last 2500 years. 

So apparently, more coercive methods are necessary.  Forced contraceptive? Forced abortion? And for who?  My sister lives in North Dakota.  There is 3 billion square feet per person in North Dakota.  Is it even remotely fair for her to held to the same standard as a mother in Mumbai, with a mere 500 square feet per person?  Does a mother in Mumbai love her child less? Who decides?  Soviet communism fell largely because command economies simply cannot compete with free market ones.  It takes over 10,000 decisions from field to plate just to eat a potato.  Under a free market, these decisions are taken care of without guidance, in Russia there were never enough potatoes.  When the governments have been proven totally incapable of serving potatoes, we dare to trust them with a command structure of who gets to procreate or how frequently?

It’s a logistical nightmare.  That alone would not bother me.  Many things necessary laws are logistical nightmares.  The real issue with overpopulation is What is the ideal level we are over? Without knowing that, we will always be over populated according to some metric.  Policies to address open ended problems don’t work.  Ever.  Despite the billions spent on the “War on Poverty” since it’s inception by Lydon B Johnson, poverty in the US is now worse than ever.  The “War on Drugs” is the most 2nd most expensive war in history (after the War on Poverty), and totally ineffective. (More people are per capita addicted than ever before.  Cocaine, in particular, had per capita less addicts when it was legally the “Coca” in Coca-Cola than it does now.)    Ask Vietnam vets how well a war which was fought for the open ended purpose of showing continued willingness to fight rather than for a quantifiable victory worked for them.   

To determine the ideal number of humans for earth, we must first decide what kind of an earth we want.  I bet if we want a handful of obscenely wealthy plutocrats living in clusters around the last bits of natural beauty while the rest of humanity totters on the edge of starvation in a vast global slum, well, I’m sure the planet could support a good 15 billion.    If we want to have no impact on the earth whatsoever, then the earth cannot support a single one of us.  Life impacts life.  That’s the nature of it all.   The ideal number is going to be somewhere between.  So the question of “What is the ideal number of humans?” can only be answered if another question is answered first “How much environmental impact is acceptable.”

If you say “None at all!” then by all means, will yourself out of existence.  Any other form of dis-corporation would cause environmental impact.  Humans are not God’s stewards of the Earth.  We are not god’s upon it, and it is not God over us.  We are the biosystem, as much as the trees, and the frogs, and the insects (most effective life form, by biomass fraction.  Collectively, they outweigh us all.)  We have at least as much a reason to be here as the other higher functioning mammals.   I don’t support an open ended command to limit environmental impact for the same reason I don’t support many other open ended commands.  Without clearly defined victory, and a method of measuring that victory in quantifiable terms, there will always be some metric that says “too much” impact, and some subgroup that demands less.  

I can’t, in good conscience, support policies which coerce human beings towards some totally undefined future.  Nor am I content to simply sit on my hands while the ice caps melt.  In my next blog,  I’ll offer a solution that I don’t entirely like.  But, it is the one that works the most with freedom instead of taking it away, that I can imagine.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Planet X found!

Today is red letter day for geeks everywhere!  A photo of older system with a cool gas giant planet and a photo of a much newer system, with 3 new, still hot from the forming planets!  Maybe in my life time, my daughter can drive an electric car to an observatory, and look at images of an earth-like planet. 

Now, if only we colonize the moon, mars, and the astroid belts.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Religion, skepticism, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great News for Electric Car Aficionados

So, a kind of battery is being developed called the nanowire lithium battery.  I’m not much on electrochemistry, so I can’t tell you why having more lithium in the right place makes it work better, but I can tell you how.  The chemical relationship of silicone to lithium is such that a little bit of silicone chemically holds onto a lot of lithium.  They tried making silicone wires, but they cracked when electricity was passed through them, no small problem for a rechargeable battery.  Dr. Cui made nanowires of silicone bonded to stainless steel wire.  This gets around the cracking problem and allows 10 times more power density than is currently available from lithium-ion (li-on) cells.

He hopes it will be mass market ready by around 2013.  One likely application is electric vehicles.  I’m excited about it.  Electric cars have enourmous benefits compared to normal cars running normal engines.  Namely, mechanical simplicity.  A battery electric vehicle needs a motor, a battery pack, and a controller.  The controller is complicated at a microlevel, as it’s a large quantity of integrated circuits, but to the auto manufacturer or mechanic, it’s a just a brick.  Moving electrons beat precision moving parts every time.   Also, electric vehicles take the emissions problem from 100,000 engines built to wear out in 5 years dumping into 100,000 tail pipes and put it all into one power plant with every part designed to give the best performance dumping into one easy-to-monitor smoke stack.  

The problem with electric cars is one of energy storage.  The lithium ion nanowire battery (hereby called the Lionwire) has an energy density of 2.6 MJ per kilogram.  (Don’t know what a MJ is?  Megajoule, or 1 million joules.  Joules are a universal measure of energy that can be used to measure, heat, electricity, etc.  Handy thing to compare different energy densities because it’s universal between all types of energy.  A joule is very small, so MJ are the most convenient here.)  Anyway, the lionwire battery has 2.6 MJ/KG.  Gasoline has 46.4 MJ/KG.  

That’s not quite as bad as it looks.  A good electric car will be able to get 80% of the power that goes in down to the road.  A good gasoline engined car, 17%.  80% of 2.6 is 2.24.  17% of 46.4 is 7.89.  So, gasoline still holds 350% more energy per pound than the lionwire cell.

Well, with all the support systems for the gasoline engine out, don’t we get some extra weight allowance?  Yes.  The engine and transmission are gone, replaced by a advanced AC or DC motor.  No cooling system is needed, and no fuel system.  To actaully run this, we will need some real numbers. 

Using the example of a Ford Focus, we can remove the engine (400 lbs with alternator and oil) the transmission (135 lbs with fluid) the radiator and coolant (15 lbs) and fuel system (100 lbs)  We took 650lbs out.  We do need to put in a motor and controller.  I’ll use the Advanced DC FB1-4001A with a Curtis 1231C-8601, which has a 100HP peak rating same as the Focus OEM engine.  Unlike the OEM part, however, it weighs just 200 lbs including the electronic controller.  So we have 450lbs left over, or 204 kilograms.

The Focus has a 13.2 gallon tank, thats right around 80 lbs of gas, or 36 kg.  36kg times the post powertrain energy density of 7.89 is 284 MJ. The original energy storage of the car is 284MJ.   However, 204 kg surplus gained by removing the engine and its support systems times 2.24 is 457 MJ.  That’s gain of 160%!

That’s right, ladies and gentleman.  We finally have a battery that will yield equal or greater systemwide power densities than gas!!!  It’s not perfect, recharging still much slower than filling a tank of gas, and they will probably cost much more for awhile, but the days of the internal combustion engine car are numbered!  

November 14, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Engines, Microcar, Small Car, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The “science staff” of MSNBC consists of one monkey at a keyboard, drunk as usual.

The United States maintains a military presence in Japan. The Navy, in particular, has kept a ship docked at Yokosuka (about 30 miles from Tokyo) for several decades. The USS Kitty Hawk is being decommissioned and replaced with the USS George Washington, according to this article.

So, I’ll start first with the really poor journalism

The demonstrators say the ship poses a threat to Tokyo because of the possibility of an accident in its nuclear reactor. They also are opposed to the increase in sailors who will be deployed to Yokosuka as a result of the ship swap, and say the carrier could make Yokosuka a target if hostilities break out between the United States and another country

WOW! All the demonstrators were interviewed en mass and in what must surely be the world’s largest choral response, said the above. What a crock of crap. We can’t verify that this was said at all, let alone by demonstrators, because there is no person or organization named. This is totally unverifiable.

We should not have a nuclear reactor, surrounded by ammunition and highly flammable jet fuel, located right outside of our most populated city,” said Masahiko Goto, a local lawyer who has led protests against the ship.

Oh, good, some one whose existence and comments can be verified. How strange that he says nothing about 2/3rds of the reasons that the first paragraph mentions.

The Kitty Hawk was conventionally powered and the deployment of the George Washington has raised concerns among anti-nuclear groups…

The USS Kity Hawk was the last non-nuclear carrier in the US Navy. A such it wasvfueled by thousands of gallons of highly flammable fuel, complained about in the prior paragraph.

Such concerns were heightened when the U.S. Navy disclosed in early August that the USS Houston, a submarine, had leaked water containing radiation during several calls to Sasebo and Okinawa, in southern Japan, and Yokosuka between July 2006 and April 2008.

First, and this really cracks me up, do you know where it leaked? Into the tank designed to catch it in case there was a leak. Thats right. It leaked straight into the specially designated leak catcher.

What was leaked was the cooling water. This is not the water that the reactor super heats to flash into steam and turn the turbine. This is the water that flows around the condenser that turns the cool steam back into water to be superheated again. The water that leaked never even touched reactor components (1.)

So, how radioactive was this water after all? Well the leak doused a sailor, who then tested negative for any form of radioactive contamination whatsoever. Lab testing would prove the amount of radiation released was:

.000 000 5 curies. The same as a bag of lawn fertilizer. You are exposed to significantly more radiation a normal day in a brick house.

But my all time favorite in this is “leaked water containing radiation” Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, over? “Leaked water containing radiation” Um, really? I didn’t know that electromagnetic energy could be stored in water. The kids on the short wagon of an Amish school have higher scientific literacy than the writers of MSNBC. There’s no such thing as radiation filled water. Thats sort of like saying a truck overturned carrying a load of sound, or, Uh oh! I dropped my sack of light. Grammatically fascinating yes, but physically impossible. What I think they meant but were too stupid to say was “water containing radioactive isotopes”. Ignorant, freaking cows.

Also, we are having a really hard time finding a house and have reduced time in which to do it. Bummer.

September 25, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Government, Politics, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Behold the FUTURE!

Driving the tail end of 17 hour trip, I needed to lecture on something I was passionate about to stay awake.  I decided to make a variety of predictions about the future.  My friends know I love having an informed and passionate stance about a number of things.  This leads me to wildly swinging optimism and pessimism. Tonight, I’m an optimist.

So here are my thoughts on the future: (1.) The Internet; (2.) Cheap portable internet access; (3.) Evacuated tube transportation; (4.) Renewable energy; (5.) Voluntary population reduction; (6.) Fair trade.

(1.) So, the internet. Leslie and the LYs has a song about this called “I’m the Internet“.  The important part of the song is “I’m the internet, you’re the internet, we’re the internet, now thats the internet…”  The internet is primarily a network of people.  The amazing technology of the internet is neat only so for as it helps to connect people.  Business connections are people connections.  Even spam was written by someone (Someone evil perhaps, but someone). It connects people.  Which is going to lead us to one big McCulture.  Which is sad. But it also means the subcultures across the world can connect.  So subcultures get richer and deeper. Which is cool.

(2.) The only problem with the internet is the price of admission. To have the income to have net access and still eat, pay rent, etcetera is a privilege that at least 80% of the world cannot afford. But it is changing all the time.  Compared to a desktop computer, a cellphone is cheap and easy to power. (You can recharge it with a crank generator if you are so inclined.)  The line between mini-notebook computer and big cellphone will get blurrier and more and more people will have internet access.

(3.) Evacuated tube transport.  This is a big tunnel with all the air sucked out and the train moving through it by mag-lev.   Though the capital costs are huge, the savings are enormous.  It can be 98% efficient in energy input, then glide along pretty much without loss, and then 98% of the energy put in can be recovered at the end for breaking.  Great deal.  Will even further making the world smaller, because speed gets so bloody cheap.  You can move gigatons for pennies.  Also further links the world and blurs national lines and identities.

(4.) Solar cells make power, but they cost power to make.  Right now the payback is about 25 years.  As technology improves we might get to 10 years.  And then all the power they make is gain.

(5.) The world population is still going up, but it is going up more slowly all the time.  Its not impossible that in 100 years world population will be static or shrinking.

(6.) Countries are beginning to insist that other countries can only trade with them if they eliminate subsidization of the industries which produce traded goods.

Probably the most important is population control.  The whole world’s concept of government is based on suckers breeding more suckers.  It doesn’t matter how much of a wank your overlord is, he can trust more suckers to pay his stupid taxes next year because suckers breed like flies.  Voluntary population control is a new, and profoundly slow, if profoundly effective method of controlling elites.

Further, with renewable energy causing a net gain, rather than a net loss in the total amount of power, it will be harder to have wars about resources.  With low population replacement and “unlimited” resources, and an informed populace, it will be harder to have stupid, pointless wars.

Combine a static population with easy access to a global perspective, and stupid, evil politicians will have a real problem.

So power, and therefore materials, are cheap but labor is dear.  Which is a great position for workers.

And transportation is nearly free.  Goods, people, and information are moving cheaply.  This means workers can go from country to country easily.

Right now, agricultural subsidies are going down in Europe because it makes the market fair and undistorted for the EEC.  If this lever was placed on labor, by refusals to trade with countries which subsidize employers (by paying for the welfare of their employees), then it works to force fair labor world wide.

Sounds good to me.

August 26, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Government, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Great Fuel Economy without a Big Oil Conspiracy or Hybrid.

“Why won’t the car companies build this car?”

I can’t tell you how often I have heard that from people in reference to some high mileage concept.  Well, luckily you all have me here to answer that for you.  Today we are are going to make an high fuel economy car on paper, then I’ll explain why no one builds it.

There is one simple way to use less fuel: make less power.  Engines burn fuel to make heat, then convert this heat into horsepower.  To save fuel, we need to make as little heat as possible, then convert that heat into power as efficiently as possible, then take that horsepower and use it to move the car as efficiently as possible.

There are 2 ways to reduce the need for power: Aerodynamics and Weight.  We turn to the Power Train (engine and transmission) to convert the energy efficiently from heat, to horsepower, to vehicle motion.


Aerodynamics are simple.  The faster the car goes, the harder the air in front of it piles up, sticks to the sides and swirls around behind it.  Step one to good aerodynamics is to make the car’s cross section as small as possible.  No matter how aerodynamic something is, the bigger it is the more air it has to push out of the way.  So, make the car very narrow and low, say 44″ wide and 44″ tall.  (Airplanes made to sit two across are this size.  Its doable, just different.)  To keep the air from piling up in front, the nose of the car needs to be a rounded point like a bullet.  To keep the air from swirling around in back in needs to end in sharp point, like a wedge, and should be quite long.  Since some air sticks to the sides, the longer the car, the more air sticks.  If the car is too long more energy is lost unsticking the air from the sides, than swirling around behind a blunt a wedge.  6 times the length is ideal for a wedge.   The car would be about 23 feet long, but we can cut off the last 3 feet to make a “Kammback” and have it be just as good.  The car then ends in a straight edge, which is good for mounting the tail lights in anyway.


Weight is also simple.  The more it weighs, the more power is needed to accelerate, climb hills, and stop.  The last is important for two reasons. One, heavy cars need heavy brakes.  Heavy brakes mean a heavier car, which needs a heavier engine to get around, which in turn becomes heavier and needs heavier brakes. (Don’t laugh, this is why  a 73 Corvette weighs 500 lbs more than a 53 Corvette.) Two, among existing mass produced cars there is proportional relationship between weight and and likelihood of the passengers to survive a crash.  There are ways around this, but it requires some real design skills.  Bearing safety in mind, we want the car as light as it can be inexpensively made.  The only option this really leaves us is an aluminum space frame with a lightweight plastic body covering it.

Power Train


Power Train includes the engine and transmission.  We need to use as little fuel as possible.  Hybrids sip fuel by using a battery pack and electric motor to move the car at low speed and the engine to move it at full speed.  The problem is that the very best, cost-no-object batteries still don’t even hold a 1/10 the energy per pound as tank of gas.  So we will hybrid with a small engine, say 5 to 10 hp.  This engine will run the A/C and anything else necessary when the car is stopped, help accelerate it at low speed, and let the primary engine take over at higher speed.  Since the secondary engine is so small, and used occasionally, it doesn’t need the special “getting the most heat out of the engine” trick that the primary engine does.  To accomplish this we need a something called a “turbo-compound engine“.  I’ll not explain the intricacies of these here, only to say it involves a turbo that uses some of its power to supercharge the engine (like a normal turbo) and returns further power to the crankshaft.  The maximum efficiency for this set up is about 60% vs the 20% most cars make.  However, it is unlikely that in vehicle service we could get over 40-50% efficiency.  Basically double.


The car is very light, but people aren’t.  So the car might only have to carry its own weigh plus a 160 lb person, or four 200 lb people and some luggage (a 1000 lbs).  This means the load range of the car is 625%.  To pull this off we need an unusually flexible and efficient transmission.  Luckily for these relatively low loads, there is an ideal one which shifts without gears, called a Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT.

The technology

So what went into the car?  The chassis is a welded and bonded aluminum space frame, covered in plastic panels. The Renault Sport Spider does this, and its chassis weighs less than 180 lbs.  The primary transmission is an of-the-self CVT unit, but the car needs three additional transmissions.  One to connect the secondary engine to the primary transmission, one to connect the secondary engine to all the auxiliaries of the primary engine, and one to connect the turbo to the primary engine. The secondary engine is a standard 100cc motorcycle engine.  The primary engine, on the other hand is a direct injection, turbo-compounded unit.  Though this is old technology and regularly used in power plants and other other very large engines, no one has made any transportation engines of this type since the Wright R-3350 of the 1940’s and 50’s.


The car should have at least twice the aerodynamic efficiency of a normal car, so that doubles the mileage once.  The engine should produce its power with half the fuel of a normal engine of the same size, so double again.  Going with the mileage of existing economy cars, the Ford Festiva and Geo Metro, 40-50 MPG and taking it times 4 we get 160-200 MPG highway.  Using the example of modified economy specials from the 70’s (which never went over 30 mph) we can estimate the in town mileage of around 300 – 400 mpg.


Space frame chassis do not translate well into mass production.  The more purely the form is a space frame rather than a unibody, the more this is true. (Saturn’s “space frame” chassis aren’t really.) They must be semi-mass produced, which raises the price.  The power train can be mass produced, but requires premium components in many places to function.  It also has four transmissions.  So, again the power train is expensive.  If the car is going to sell for a reasonable price, these expenses must be made up in the only remaining ways: body, non-critical component quality, interior trim quality, and lack of amenities.

Body: Instead of being the shiny, ultrahard plastics that Saturns are made of, it will be the cheap matte injection molded plastic that storage tubs are made of, and the even cheaper diecut plastic that notebooks are covered with.  The windows will be fixed, and bonded to the body.

Non-critical component quality.  This means parts that work in a way that makes you nervous.  Door handles that flex horribly before opening, blinkers that stay on until you shut them off manually, and gauges will be plain digital readouts, as if robbed from a microwave.

Interior trim quality: This mean lawn chair like seats, and and lack of fascias.  The guts of the dash will be just sitting there.  No head liner on the ceiling, just bare plastic.  No carpet or rubber mats on the floor, just bare metal. Or, conversely, if the fascias are installed, they will be of cheap material and installed sloppily.

Lack of amenities: No power steering, windows, brakes, seats, mirrors, locks.  Nothing is powered at all. No stereo, no GPS, no gear shift (push button for forward and reverse)  Spartan, spare, and minimalist.

The whole picture

So now we have our super mileage car.  It gets 300 MPG in town and 200 MPG on the road.  It costs about as much as a normal car, it comes in one color, a sort of beige gray (the cheapest plastic), and it is shaped like a turd.  You can’t use drivethru’s anymore because the wheels stick out a foot from the car and the windows are fixed in place.  You are as safe in a crash as anyone else in accident in a small car, but thats not saying a lot. You can carry 4 people and all their stuff across the country on 10 gallons of gas.

Answering, “Why don’t they make it?”

Well, quite simply, the lead times and costs are enormous.  I would buy this car because I would rather get 300 mpg than look cool.  However, most people would rather have a much more compromised car which gets 40 mpg instead of 30, and is a better phallic extension for them.  There simply aren’t enough people who would buy these to justify building a factory to produce them.  Besides, the kind of people who are so cheap they will drive what looks like a wheeled suppository just to save some scratch aren’t going to buy a new one every 5 years.  They are going to keep it like an heirloom.  Which means there is no continuing demand. Once everybody who wants one has one, they can’t sell anymore.

Finally, every company has a culture. It is no more acceptable in Detroit to be really excited about building a super economy car than it is for a school teacher to be really excited about taking preschoolers to the bathroom.  Oh sure, both parties will do the job because it is their civic virtue, but both would be highly suspected of aberrant desires if they were really excited about it.

Car companies are not in the business of selling transportation machines.  They are in the business of selling desire.  There is no profit margin on utility.  A car you actually need would probably cost about 5 grand, look at the Tato Nano.  The only way for the car companies to make that additional 25,000 dollars is to sell you what you want instead of what you need.  Do people want to get 200 mpg gallon?  Certainly, but not nearly as bad as they want to look the part of whatever dream they are having.  Men and woman who have never even seen a gravel road buy off road packages because it compliments who they like to see themselves as.  The number of people who want to look in the mirror and an ecologist more than they want to see a sexpot is just too slim to make a car for them.

July 29, 2008 Posted by | Ecology, Government, Microcar, Small Car, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment