March 8th, 2010
In the interest of fairness, I thought I'd make a counter-post to my previous post about Global Warming. In that post I tried to imagine some of the deeper biases that a Global Warming denier would have.
In this post, I turn introspective, and try to identify why I'm biased toward believing in Global Warming.
I look around and see nothing but privileges. Most of these privileges I was born into, and didn't earn. Even those that I could justify "earning" were done so because of privileges that were not. I was born in a place where clean water, abundant food that's easy to obtain, an easily-available education for every child, and abundant electricity is taken for granted. Other children born in other places in the world aren't so lucky. In some ways I don't deserve this.
So when it turns out that many of these privileges are causing a problem, that guilt motivates me to remove the problem-causing issues. Turning down the thermostat, riding my bike, or taking faster showers is the least I can do.
Survival is different in different environments. Although food, water, and electricity are abundant here, I can't get them without money. To get money I need a job. To get to my job (especially in the winter) I need a car, etc.
The natural fallacy is the belief that when presented with two options, the more natural is likely correct. Paper or plastic? Paper, definitely. Deep down, perhaps there's even a belief that we'd all be better off living in adobe dugouts eating foods we grow ourselves, wearing clothes woven from home-grown hemp. Then we wouldn't have a global warming problem.
Technology is probably going to be most effective tool for solving the global warming problem. Technology creates wealth, which raises the standard of living. Only with a higher standard of living can we have the leisure to address global concerns such as climate change.
We're a very wasteful culture. Convenience and efficiency take priority over reduction of waste and reusability. Simply put, disposable items make more money. We rarely mend clothes or shoes--old clothes are out of fashion anyway. Companies use advertising and peer pressure to create new needs for new stuff. All this production and waste produces more carbon dioxide.
Again, technology is what's likely to get us out of this. If we can find a way to consume our way out of this problem, we would likely be able to solve it. Any solution that requires massive sacrifice is unlikely to be successful. Technology requires production to advance and further advances in technology and methods might lead us to more sustainable methods of production.
Trust in Science
Ever since watching Mr. Wizard's World when I was eight, science has given me a logical way to view the world. I love finding out how things work. I love exploring the interconnectedness of the natural world. So when scientists say that global warming is real, I'm ready to believe them.
Science is by no means perfect. There have recently been revelations that have brought some of the science of global warming into question. Science is also constantly evolving, so the pronouncements of the scientific community today may shift with new research tomorrow. People, even scientists thought that Galileo, Einstein, and Darwin were crazy too.
I love nature. So when climate change is spun with the idea that we're harming the environment, I'm quick to say "Save the Earth!" I'm sad that polar bears, rainforest frogs, and other animals might be harmed or even go extinct because of our contributions to global warming.
Our very existence threatens many species already, and we will continue to have an impact regardless of global warming. We use pesticides, pull up weeds, eat animals, eat plants, and even plow entire ecosystems to grow our vegetables, not to mention to create places to live, work, and play. Our existence is based on the existence of other lifeforms and our continued existence will continue to affect them.
I do tend to lean left, so when Al Gore and other Democrats are fervently proclaiming the gospel of global warming, I give more weight to their words.
Like I said in my last post, politics shouldn't play a role in what I consider to be a scientific issue. I don't have much more to say about it, as it's not one of the bigger biases I have on this issue. In fact, it's more like I lean left because Democrats generally support environmental issues, rather than supporting those issues because I lean left.
This was a hard post to write, both intellectually and emotionally. I guess that acknowledging the weakness of your core biases isn't easy to do. I still believe in global warming--all of the counterpoints have further counterpoints that complicate the issue. That's the conclusion that I'm coming to realize--this issue is complex. It's my hope that the issue can move from whether it's happening or not to what we can do about it.
 Paper is the best choice for a number of reasons. Although it does "cut down trees" most of the trees used for paper production were raised on tree farms for that purpose. Paper bags are much easier to recycle and eventually biodegrade--not clogging the oceans. Even if the bags are sent to a landfill, that means that more carbon is getting sequestered in the form of the paper bags, and the trees that were cut down will be replaced by more carbon-absorbing trees.
 Although most of the "Climategate" issues can be explained (see the Climate Crock of the Week: Hack Attack videos, part 1 and part 2) it does reflect poor decorum on the parts of the scientists. Also at least one report that was included in the IPCC report turned out to be unsupported. I'm more disappointed in the sloppy work of the scientists than anything.
March 2nd, 2010
When searching for answers, we all tend to have confirmation bias, which means that we're likely to seek out answers that support conclusions that we've already come to. There are plenty of answers on the internet to support a disbelief in global warming, (some of the which even sound logical or scientific). But for this post, I'm not interested in those. I want to know where the bias comes from in the first place. I've thought about it, and here are some of the possibilities I've come up with.
I've heard from a lot of deniers who are quick to attribute their disbelief to an innate sense of skepticism. They're not ready to believe in anything unless it's been proven to their satisfaction.
Fair enough. I'm all for skepticism in our approach to life, and I would encourage people to examine the evidence. However, many of these self-proclaimed skeptics are also quick to believe things that have only preliminary support (such as the effectiveness of echinacea in treating colds), or no support at all (such as the effectiveness of Vitamin C in the treatment of colds). So I suspect that although a natural skepticism may be claimed, the real reason behind the denial is something else. Plus, I believe that the evidence supporting global warming is far greater than the evidence against it--so why remain so skeptical?
Those who consider themselves to be Republican, or at least politically conservative, have a solid reason for being skeptical about global warming simply because it is so firmly proclaimed by the political left. In a way, I believe that while Al Gore's passionate promotion of this issue has been one of the best things for climate change, it's also been one of the worst. As the so-called "Eco-Prophet" he's become a figurehead for the movement--a figurehead that is generally despised by about half the United States. In fact, because of the recent storms on the east coast, many pundits on Fox News didn't just say that this disproved global warming, but that it disproved "Al Gore's Hysterical Global Warming Theories."
I'm sad that an issue as important as this has to be divided on party lines. My hope is that the truth of the problem will overcome that divide and that the arguments between the two parties can instead be about how best to solve the problem.
Resistance to Globalization
Because global warming is a global problem, the most effective solution will likely involve global cooperation. Libertarians and most Republicans are generally opposed to large governmental bodies, instead preferring smaller groups solving local problems. The mere suggestion of the creation of a international organization to discuss and oversee climate change has lead some to conclude that evil forces are conspiring to create a global government.
I can't really say for sure if there is a evil conspiracy for global power (although I will say that in this case, it's my turn to be skeptical). I also don't have a lot of information to support globalization (although I don't have the natural aversion to it that some do). However, my belief in representative democracy leads me to feel that problems which have planet-wide consequences, and require planet-wide solutions, should be dealt with by representatives from all parts of the planet. Either way, it doesn't effect the truth of the issue.
Opposition to Proposed Solutions
To combat climate change, a number of solutions have been proposed, and many of these solutions require government action. In the eyes of some, this increases the government's power, which is something that should be generally avoided. Also, some proposed solutions would increase pressure on businesses to be more environmentally minded, which some believe will cause a loss of growth, or the transfer of those jobs to other countries where regulations aren't as strict (therefore negating any effort made by local companies). Another opposition is that while improving the environment may be important, other concerns such as world hunger are more important.
While there are many counterarguments to each of these concerns, the main point should be that your dislike of the proposed solutions doesn't change the reality of the problem.. We all know that ignoring the symptoms of a problem just because you know that fixing it will cost a lot of money often leads to a disaster that costs more. Many of the problems we worry about would be amplified if global warming causes floods and wide-ranging droughts.
Admission that we've had an effect on the planet is admission that we are somewhat responsible for it. Most Americans don't live in a place with the infrastructure to support truly green living. A lack of farmers market's prevent them from buying local, or family size prevents them from driving anything but a gas-guzzling minivan or SUV. Little changes seem pointless and big changes seem impossible. It's easier to just hope that it's not a problem.
I can certainly empathize with this one. As a full-out believer in global warming I've tried to reduce as much as I can, but feel constricted by circumstances and finances. I'd love to switch my yard to xeriscaping, or install solar panels, or put in a geothermal heat pump--I just don't have the money. My hope is that once a little momentum for the movement gets going, the infrastructure will change so that it will be easier to make environmentally sound choices. It's one of the reasons that I'm so passionate about this issue.
Senator James Inhofe recently said that global warming is a hoax and that "God is still up there". Many of my fellow Christians might believe that God would not allow mankind to destroy the Earth. Others might claim that it's all part of the Apocalypse/Armageddon/Second Coming prophecies, so why do anything to slow that down?
Under this logic, one might say that genealogy and temple work are pointless because most of it will be done during the Millennium anyway. But temple work is important, and I believe that our stewardship over the Earth includes the responsibility to identify and correct misuses that would lead to the extinction or endangerment of the creatures thereon (especially us). God has given us a lot of power in our free agency and historically we've used that to create terribly destructive wars. Would He limit our agency to prevent the affects of choices that have planet-wide environmental consequences?
I believe that global warming is happening and that we're causing it. I hope that in the examination of possible biases that those who still doubt might reconsider. If you want an explanation for the evidences of global warming, there's a guy on YouTube who's put together an easy-to-understand collection of videos on the subject. You can watch them all here.
I believe that though acknowledging the truth of this issue that we can start on the long process of finding solutions for it. Attempting to solve the problem while a good portion of Americans still don't believe it's a problem isn't going to get us anywhere.
 Just to be completely clear, when I mention "global warming" in this post I mean Anthropogenic Global Climate Change, meaning that the average temperature of the Earth is rising and that humans are the main cause of it specifically through the creation of greenhouse gasses, prominently CO2.
 While I said that arguments supporting denialist arguments seem logical and scientific, I've examined many of these reasons and most of them turn out to be exaggerated (incorrectly calibrated weather stations can't be trusted), misunderstood (recent record snowfall negates global warming), misrepresented (cooling trend over the past decade), or just plain false (volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans). I'll leave the complete explanation and debunking to others more qualified, but if you have a specific concern and need a reference, let me know.
 I understand that 'denier' can have negative connotations, and I apologize if I've offended anyone. I'm using the term simply for convenience.
 In thinking of this, I realized that I have this problem in web developing. No matter how much I hate trying to get sites to render correctly in Internet Explorer, I can't just wish it away.
January 31st, 2010
This morning I was scanning through Facebook when I found this entry:
This really bugged me on a number of levels. First, it's completely illogical. The existence of famous people with positive nouns for a last name is in no way related to the policies of a particular administration. Following this logic, we could say that when Reagan was president we were in "Dire Straits" (because we wanted "Money For Nothing"?), or that in Obama's administration, we have so much wealth that the number one pop star has a dollar sign in her name (Ke$ha). This is, of course, ridiculous.
I considered sarcastically responding to this post by saying something like, "In that case, America lost hope (both the Bob kind and the metaphorical kind) in 2003 during the Bush administration. Seems about right." Doing so would have a certain amount of satisfaction, but I decided to hold back.
To be fair, her post is really just trying to say that she disagrees with Obama and his policies. While her method of expressing that belief is insipid, the belief itself should at least be respected and addressed.
Facebook gives people a feeling that they can express political options freely. I did it myself a few times. It's a nice feeling when you post something, thinking that you can influence or educate. I've even been educated a number of times about political ideas (especially by one co-worker in particular).
However, I never post or comment on political issues on Facebook any more for the following reasons:
Although I generally feel one way or the other about an issue, I'm rarely committed to that decision. I've learned enough to know that I rarely have all the information needed to make a complete decision, pick a side, and commit to it whole-heartedly.
The Obama administration is a good example. I try to give Obama the benefit of a doubt (I did vote for him, after all), and while I'm not completely satisfied with some of the things he's done, I wouldn't say that I have "no Hope and no Cash" (in fact, it's because of Obama and his First-time Home Buyer's Tax Credit that we have a house. Thanks Obama!)
But although I feel sympathetic toward the administration and generally have positive feelings about it, I don't have the knowledge, conviction, or passion to defend it.
Lack of Full Preparation
On the issues that I do feel passionately about, such as Climate Change, or the environment, I strongly feel one way about the issue. However, I don't feel that I could defend those issues from every attack, especially when we start talking about solutions to these issues.
For example, a Facebook discussion about climate change lead to the recent (at the time) passing of a Cap and Trade bill in congress. Soon I was over my head and didn't have much to contribute to the conversation. Although I'm pretty sure about the reality and cause of climate change, I'm not so sure about the proposed solutions.
Facebook is a public conversation. In fact, it's a forced public conversation, in which every response to a post or comment is emailed to every person who participates (even if they just "liked" the post). In the case of the post above, four people had commented on it and eight people "liked" it. I didn't know any of these people and didn't want to start a political discussion with any of them.
Usually it's not going to matter if I make a comment or not. They're probably not going to change their minds. If I do post a comment they'll most likely justify their position and become more deeply entrenched in their opinion.
The person who made this post was someone who I worked with a number of years ago. The last time I spoke with her was a quick "Long time no see" when we found each other through a mutual friend on Facebook. To have our first real communication in years be a critique of her political views? I just don't care enough about the relationship to bother.
An Improper Forum
Facebook isn't the best place for a political discussion. Aside from the face that it's public and annoying at time (mentioned above) it doesn't really have comment threading (you can't tell which comment is in response to what). Plus, there's a character limit and some posts just require a longer response (especially when people try to fit many points into one post).
So that's why I don't post or comment on political discussions on Facebook. Is this the proper response? Should I be more confident in my opinions and try to engage, knowing that even conversations between opposing sides can be educational? Or should I try to keep the peace and let Facebook be a place just for stupid quizzes, mindless games, and posts about the minutia of life?
 Also, while Johnny Cash and Bob Hope were both alive during the Reagan years, they weren't exactly popular. Seriously, the lack of logic in this post really bothers me!
September 24th, 2008
I've started reading a blog started by the wife of an acquaintance called The Fight for Conservatism. When she started the blog she expressed the hope that Obama supporters would speak up and join the conversation. So I try to comment whenever possible.
The latest post was on Health Care. It listed some of the possible negative consequences of government-sponsored universal health care. I've listed the points below along with my couterpoints.
- There isn't a single government agency or division that runs efficiently; do we really want an organization that developed the U.S. Tax Code handling something as complex as health care?
- Counterpoint: The crux of this argument is that business is more efficient than government. This may be true on the whole, but there are plenty of inefficient businesses (also see counter-point to #3). If there's something that this past couple of weeks have taught me, it's that government outlasts business.
- "Free" health care isn't really free since we must pay for it with taxes; expenses for health care would have to be paid for with higher taxes or spending cuts in other areas such as defense, education, etc.
- Counterpoint: Right now, about 20% of my paycheck goes to my health insurance policy. Paying that 20% to the government wouldn't make much of a difference to my bottom line.
- Profit motives, competition, and individual ingenuity have always led to greater cost control and effectiveness.
- Counterpoint: Again, this is true on the whole, but what's forgotten are the thousands of failed businesses and failed ideas. This is the problem when you try to apply capitalism to services where people are the commodity--failed people can't be thrown away like Betamax tapes or HD-DVDs.
- Government-controlled health care would lead to a decrease in patient flexibility.
- Counterpoint: I disagree. My current plan only allows me to go to doctors approved by that plan. If I were to change jobs right now, I'd likely have to change medical plans, which means I'd probably have to change doctors. Government-sponsored health care would theoretically be good anywhere in the country.
- Patients aren't likely to curb their drug costs and doctor visits if health care is free; thus, total costs will be several times what they are now.
- Counterpoint: True, but more frequent care might lead to better overall health, which could reduce costs in the long run.
- Just because Americans are uninsured doesn't mean they can't receive health care; nonprofits and government-run hospitals provide services to those who don't have insurance, and it is illegal to refuse emergency medical service because of a lack of insurance.
- Counterpoint: Also true, but this isn't the point. Emergency medical care is super-expensive for hospitals. It might end up cheaper to treat a patient with a stomachache rather than having that patient wait until his appendix burst.
- Government-mandated procedures will likely reduce doctor flexibility and lead to poor patient care.
- Counterpoint: Maybe, but it might increase flexibility by removing "will my insurance cover this?" questions.
- Healthy people who take care of themselves will have to pay for the burden of those who smoke, are obese, etc.
- Counterpoint: I do that now. I pay a couple hundred dollars a month to my insurance company, but I don't use a couple hundred dollars worth of medical care each month--sick people do.
- A long, painful transition will have to take place involving lost insurance industry jobs, business closures, and new patient record creation.
- Counterpoint: Yes, but this is true of any big change. Using this excuse can backfire when you're the one wanting to make a big change (i.e., Republicans wanting to privatize Social Security or Public Education). This will, of necessity, be planned for should such a big change occur.
- Loss of private practice options and possible reduced pay may dissuade many would-be doctors from pursuing the profession.
- Counterpoint: As a former teacher, I can't argue with the fact that government employees don't get paid what they're worth--although I do see people demanding (and getting) increase in pay for doctors and being more successful at it than similar attempts for teachers :).
- Malpractice lawsuit costs, which are already sky-high, could further explode since universal care may expose the government to legal liability, and the possibility to sue someone with deep pockets usually invites more lawsuits.
- Counterpoint: Possible, but unlikely. Government isn't exposed when teachers (government employees) screw up--that's why they have unions.
- Government is more likely to pass additional restrictions or increase taxes on smoking, fast food, etc., leading to a further loss of personal freedoms.
- Counterpoint: Seems like a bit of a stretch considering that there are already plenty of restrictions on health-endangering substances as well as full government agencies focused on public health.
- Like social security, any government benefit eventually is taken as a "right" by the public, meaning that it's politically near impossible to remove or curtail it later on when costs get out of control.
- Counterpoint: This (and the arguments made later in the post) fall apart when compared to the other behemoth government public service--education. Most people consider education a "right" even though it isn't spelled out in the constitution. This is because it's in a country's best interest to educate its people. I also think that it's in the country's best interest to ensure its people are healthy.
For anyone interested in an in-depth (albeit biased) look into this issue, I highly recommend Michael Moore's movie, Sicko.
September 10th, 2008
Recently, my friend JR posted a blog entry about politics. He had posted an entry about Hollywood's support of Obama, to which I commented, which lead to nice discussion, which lead to a lot of thinking about politics, which has lead to this blog entry.
Over the past couple of days, I've tried to define my political position. Doing so is an interesting exercise because defining your political position cuts to the heart of your beliefs, and your beliefs define who you really are. That being said, here are my thoughts.
Stranger in a Strange Land (or "A Democrat in Utah")
I've noticed that my beliefs are challenged more since moving to Utah. In California, it was pretty much accepted, for example, that Global Warming was happening, that is was caused by humans, and that we should really start doing something about it. We'd have interesting discussions about what to do about it and what the future might hold. Here in Utah, my participation in any discussion about Global Warming is mostly spent trying to convince the other person that it's actually a problem. (For those of you with doubts, this link might be interesting reading material).
My point is, I often find myself defending my beliefs rather than discussing them. Which I don't mind--it's helped me realize and identify the source of my beliefs. Besides I like a good debate now and then and I feel that I can hold my own in any discussion.
As the current political race becomes more intense, divisions between the two parties polarize, leaving the public to choose one or the other. Although I'm saving final judgment until after the debates, I find myself arguing for the Democrats. I wanted to use this entry to explain why.
Why I'm a Democrat (or "Be Still My Bleeding Heart")
- Rationality - Democrats seem to approach problems with a higher degree of rationality. This appeals to my intellectual side and I find rational arguments very persuasive.
- Environmental Concerns - I've already shared my position on global warming. I believe that it is an urgent and important problem, and that with a Democratic leader, we'll have a head start at solving it.
- Education - McCain's acceptance speech indicated that he would push for voucher-type programs for public education, which is not the way to go. Capitalistic competition works well for objects, but not for people. The educational system needs help, but privitization (which seems to be the end goal of vouchers) would only increase the focus on numbers-based results.
- Helping the Poor - Taxes are the government's way of helping me help others. I don't have time to volunteer in soup kicthens or schools, so I'm happy to donate part of my paycheck to pay for these things.
- Anti-War - I believe that the war in Iraq was a mistake and it's cost America dearly in lives lost, tax money lost, and international respect lost. McCain seems to have his sights set on Iran. He's a military man who may be inclined to use force, even when it's not a last resort. Obama talks about diplomacy, which I believe is far more preferable to war.
- Health Care - My company recently suggested switching to an HSA, which would put us more in control of how we spend our medical expenses. It brought to light just how much the average American spends on medical care. A consequence of this would probably be a greater reluctance to visit the doctor (to save money) which could lead to even greater problems. I believe that free health care for all will improve the overall health of the country. McCain warned of having a bureaucrat between you and your doctor, but I already have an insurance company between me and my doctor and I have a feeling that the insurance company might have a conflict of interest.
This Particular Election (or "Barack Me Obamadeus!")
In addition to the above mentioned list, this election brings the following reasons to vote for a Democrat.
- Obama's Charisma - Although detractors claim his celebrity-like popularity as a weakness, I believe that a charismatic, well-spoken leader can do wonders for a country or movement (for example, JFK and MLK). Presidential power is limited, but he remains a powerful representative of the US. It would be nice to have someone intelligent representing our nation to the world.
- Nice Tax Plan - Seriously, check out this link. I think that Obama's tax plan will help reduce the huge deficit we've gotten ourselves into. Besides, although I'm happy to pay taxes, Obama's plan will reduce what I pay.
- Balance - I agree with neither extreme of the two political parties, so I figure that a middle ground can be found through a balance between the two. We've had eight years of the Republican party, so a Democratic president would help to balance that out.
- Obama is against NCLB - No Child Left Behind was a terrible mistake for schools. You can read one teacher's detailed account of her experience with it, and my feelings were simliar. The politics created by this legislation was one of the reasons I left teaching. He recognizes that it's the parents more than the schools that effect the education of students.
- Obama's Website is Cooler :) - I added this so that I could have a nice phrase for anyone wishing to argue with me to take out of context. Seriously though, McCain's site is poorly designed as far as information retrieval goes. It took me a while to find a video on his views for education (there was only one) whereas Obama's were easy to find.
Big Government (or "You're Not the Boss of Me")
A common political complaint that I hear in Utah is that Democrats will increase the size of Government. This argument is hardly support for the Republican party (who gave us the DHS, NCLB, and increased power to the NSA through reforming FISA) but that's okay because most Utah Republicans are closer to Libertarians when it comes to government (I often wonder what American would be like with more that just two parties--sigh).
Complaints about large government confused me at first (they still do sometimes). Being raised in an church based heavily on principles of authority has helped me to realize the benefits that large organizations can bring. After all, isn't the reason we elect politicians because we don't want to do the messy work of making a country run?
The fact is, we live in a complex world. The infrastructure that holds up this complex world must be equally complex. For example, if I want a new computer with parts made in China, with materials from Norway, to run software programmed by a guy in Finland, I'm going to need government to assist in that.
For the most part, government personally gives more to me than it takes away. I'm glad that I have a say in it, but I'm also glad that they handle the messy details of administration.
Mormons and Republicans (or "CTR Isn't a Political Slogan")
Discussions with Mormons about these values generally leads to this phrase, "Well, I can't support a party that doesn't hold my moral beliefs." When they say this, they aren't talking about morals or values in general (many Mormons hold the values I've listed above) but about two specific values: Gay Rights and Abortion.
These two issues are extremely complicated and very personal in nature. Each person involved in these issues has a different story and I believe that we should be sensitive to this. I also think that we should take care before we legislate our views of morality--just look at prohibition.
It is often said that Satan will tell ten truths to get us to believe one lie. Because of this, I'm skeptical about basing my political view on one or two issues. In the long run I believe that a never-ending war, fiscal irresponsibility, and ignoring a possible global catastrophe will affect me more than whether two men can legally marry.
People often say that voting is choosing the lesser of two evils. I disagree. I believe that every choice has consequences--both good and bad. Our duty is to choose the path that we believe will bring the most good.
: In fact, someone close to me said that although my arguments were persuasive, she wouldn't vote for a Democrat because the church has only specifically come out against only these two political issues.