An interesting example of how politics works today

True, this example comes from the US, where one of us does some media work and is thus bombarded with press releases. But this really does quite take the cookie, as they might say over there:

NEW YORK – An open letter signed by over 130 faculty members was delivered this morning to NYU President John Sexton calling for fossil fuel divestment. The letter, which began to garner signatures in early February, calls on the university to divest its $3.4 billion endowment from the top 200 publicly traded oil, gas, and coal companies. The university currently has an estimated $139 million in fossil fuel investments.

The letter was delivered in hard copy this morning by the Environmental Studies department chair, Dr. Peder Anker, who stated, “NYU needs to divest, because it’s the right thing to do.”

Delivering it on paper? Isn’t that going to kill trees? However, what interested us was, well, we know pretty much nothing about New York University. This is not a comment about the divestment campaign please note (a silly idea but it’s not about that). It’s a question about, well, is 130 members of faculty an interesting number or not?

We could imagine that NYU has 140 faculty members. In which case this is highly interesting, even if not important. So, we asked. And it should be noted that this list of 130 includes those at other campuses, associated study groups, remote locations and so on. The answer for the total faculty was:

The latest number I found from 2013 is for “Academic Staff” is 6,564.

We’ll assume that Academic Staff is a rough proxy for Faculty shall we? And our rough, back of that fag packet with the cancer warnings on it, calculation is that 2% of the faculty have signed this petition.

From memory, so don’t quote us on these numbers, some 11% of Americans are convinced the Moon landings were fake, 18% think that Obama was born in Kenya and, judging from legislative acts, more than 50% are sufficiently deluded to think that raising the minimum wage increases the number of people in employment.

But, this is how politics is done. Some papers will print this release without questioning the numbers and it will become a standard tale that “the faculty of NYU call for divestment”. And thus is politics done in this modern age.

Aren’t we all such lucky people?

There’s gold in them thar sewage plants!

Quite the little story as it seems that the good old British sewage system could be a source of all sorts of lovely metals:

Although the prospect of digging through human excrement hunting for the gleam of gold may seem unpalatable, the figures show it could be a surprisingly lucrative enterprise.

An eight year study by the US Geological Survey found that levels of precious metals in faeces was comparable with those found in some commercial mines.

In fact, mining all of Britain’s excretions could produce waste metals which are worth around £510 million a year.

All most interesting and proof that where there’s muck there’s brass. However, as usual in these sorts of things, that’s not quite the whole story.

In the minerals and mining world the crucial distinction is between dirt and ore. Dirt is, well, you know, dirt. It’s made up, like all dirt is, of different elements. Sometimes, and here’s the crucial definitional difference, that mixture of elements is sufficiently lopsided in favour of one of more elements that it is commercially viable to process it. That makes it ore: dirt is not commercially viable to process, ore is.

So, as an example, the North Sea contains some trillions of pounds worth of gold. And, last time anyone ran the numbers, it would cost some tens of trillions to process the North Sea. The North Sea is therefore dirt, not ore. And so it is with our human sewage. Yes, there would be a revenue stream from processing the metals out. And the cost of doing this would be higher than the revenue.

Meaning that sewage is in fact dirt. Which is roughly where we came in, isn’t it?

What joy in The Guardian letters page

Mark Lynas exaggerates a little but is generally correct here:

Climate change is real, caused almost entirely by humans, and presents a potentially existential threat to human civilisation. Solving climate change does not mean rolling back capitalism, suspending the free market or stopping economic growth.

That “potentially existential” is the exaggeration. It’s something between not a problem and a large problem. Meaning that yes, we probably would like to do something about it even if only on the grounds of insuring ourselves. Very much the Matt Ridley point in fact (not surprisingly, as the Good Viscount has informed us on the matter and we have been able to inform him on certain points).

Then we come to the Guardian letters page in response to Lynas. Much spluttering that of course capitalism must be defeated etc. And we’re also set a challenge:

Immense changes to the economic system must be made over the next few years, and the blame game gets us nowhere. If Klein’s belief that “corporate capitalism must be dismantled’” is wrong, it is up to the right to show how the new measures required can work under the present system.

OK, how’s this for a plan?

We carry on rather as we did in the 20th century. Roughly the same rate of economic growth, roughly the same demographics (we need the growth rate to reduce fertility and thus get the demographics), roughly the same rate of globalisation and increase in international trade, roughly the same rate of increases in energy efficiency, reduction in costs of solar and so on and on. There’s also that insurance bit and as we’ve got to get tax revenue from somewhere let’s have a carbon tax and reduce the taxes on a good thing. Say, increase the allowance before paying payroll taxes (national insurance for the UK, FICA for the US etc). This will in fact solve the problem. (Maybe we might try to miss out the communism and the two world wars bit though.)

No, really, it will. For what we’ve described there is A1T, one of the scenarios that the IPCC itself uses to forecast climate change. And A1T really is just a straight line projection of the trends of the last century across the next. The carbon tax is simply adding the major recommendation of the Stern Review to our mix as that insurance policy. Under A1T climate change is not an existential problem, it’s not even a major problem. In fact, by the end of the century it’s not even a problem at all.

Now, we’re generally believed to be on the right so perhaps that answers the letter writer’s question? Or perhaps, because this isn’t actually an answer from the right but is one from the climate establishment it doesn’t qualify?

Or, of course, there’s the possibility that all of those shouting about climate change and the necessity of deconstructing capitalism and markets either have not read or have failed to understand the basic documents that lay out the concerns in the first place. That would be something of a pity, of course it would, but it wouldn’t be the first time various lefties have decided to ignore reality.

Government grants always end up doing this: so let’s not have government grants

We don’t share the reason why these people are outraged but we do share the outrage:

Snack food and confectionery companies, including Nestlé and PepsiCo, are paid substantial government subsidies to help them make products that will damage the nation’s health, according to charities involved in heart attack prevention and obesity.

Mondelez, which split from Kraft and owns the Cadbury’s brand, was given nearly £638,000 by Innovate UK – formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board – from 2013 to 2015 to help the multinational giant develop a process to distribute nuts and raisins more regularly in its chocolate bars.

Nestlé received more than £487,000 to invent an energy-efficient machine for making chocolate, while PepsiCo was awarded £356,000 to help develop new ways of drying potatoes and vegetables to make crisps.

Given that people seem to like chacolate and crisps if taxpayers’ money is going to be splurged on food companies then it might as well be on food that the taxpayers enjoy. So, to that particular criticism we offer a heartfelt “Meh”.

Our outrage is concentrated upon the splurging and waste of taxpayers’ money. Even, perhaps, the illogic of the attempt to defend it:

Innovate UK says the money is to make the companies’ food processes more energy-efficient and reduce their carbon footprint. In the case of Mondelez, for instance, a better way of distributing nuts in chocolate bars would mean that fewer nuts have to be bought by the company, reducing the amount of transportation used.

“The goal of the projects highlighted was to help reduce emissions and water usage in food processing,” said a spokesman. “These large firms produce a lot of food, which uses a lot of energy, so to make a difference we need to work with those large companies to help reduce their carbon footprints.”

The UK does now have a system that largely approxiamtes to a carbon tax. Therefore those carbon emissions are already internalised in the decision to transport or not transport more nuts. What this means is that the provision of a grant is in fact a complete waste of money, a reduction in the general wealth of the human species.

Think it through this way. Reducing the number of nuts purchased and or transported might well reduce the costs to the chocolatier. Against which are the costs of reducing those purchases and transporting. Only if the benefits of less purchasing and transporting outweigh the costs of doing so is the process as a whole value generating and wealth enhancing. The company itself, as a profit making institution, looked at this and decided it was not. Thus the requirement for the subsidy to get them to do this. That is, the very fact that there is a subsidy proves that (because, as above, the emissions costs are already internalised) this is wealth destruction.

The point and purpose of our paying taxes in order to stimulate innovation in the UK is not for the orgainsation spending the money to make us poorer in aggregate. Therefore let us abolish this organisation which is making us all poorer through its actions.

Who knew? Property rights protect the environment?

Something to put into our “Cor, Blimey, I never knew that Guv’” files.

As the hunting industry has grown, so have the numbers of large game animals that populate South Africa’s grasslands. In other parts of Africa, including Kenya and Tanzania, the opposite has been true: Large mammal populations have been decimated as farms and other human activities encroached on wild areas. But South Africa is one of only two countries on the continent to allow ownership of wild animals, giving farmers such as York an incentive to switch from raising cattle to breeding big game. ‘‘My first priority is to generate an income from the animals on my land, but conservation is a by-product of what I do,” York says.

Or perhaps this should be in our file marked “Blindingly obvious things that everyone should know”.

The way to make human beings preserve something is to make the preservation of that something valuable to said human beings. If people are allowed to own the big game on their property, and also to monetise that ownership, then there will be more big game in those places that allow such practices. Thus, if you desire that there should be more big game you should support private property and the hunting of it.

After all, the private ownership of cows by farmers has not created a shortage of cows, has it?

And this speaks to that problem over elephants too, does it not? Elephants are valued for their ivory. Currently it is not legal to trade in ivory: meaning that elephants have no value except to those who will and do flout the law on ivory trading. Allowing ivory to be bought and sold would lead to the farming of elephants for their ivory. And thus more elephants.

So, what do people want? The moral purity of not allowing ivory to be sold or more elephants?