Global Warming

by Timothy Lutts
global warmingThe first rumblings about global warming began in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1988, when NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified before Congress, that awareness of global warming hit the mainstream media.

The root of the problem is our history of burning fossil fuels; of that I am convinced. The increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has affected our global weather, and there is no going back.

The biggest problem to date from this warming has been more extreme weather, but the greatest long-term risk stems from the global concentration of large cities in coastal areas. The devastation of New Orleans by Katrina was just a warm-up; the three largest cities in the U.S. at risk are Miami, Virginia Beach and New York. Inundation of those could be devastating. Globally, the greatest risks are in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Alexandria, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Ningbo, Shanghai, Tianjin, Osaka, Tokyo and Nagoya.

In my mind, the obvious first step to deal with the problem is to institute a carbon tax that would incentivize people to drive less, incentivize manufacturers to make more fuel efficient cars, and reward the development of alternative energy sources.

But I have no idea what level of tax is best, and my biggest misgiving about any “cure” is whether the cost—especially short-term—exceeds the benefit, long-term. The cost-benefit calculus is simply too complex, and the assumptions too numerous, for anyone to be able to know with any certainty what course of action is best.

Finally, the optimist in me asks, “Why is all the news about global warming bad? Where are the good stories about warmer winters and increased crop yields?”  Well, I know the answer to that.  Bad news makes good headlines. Good news is a snore.

But there’s no doubt that global warming will benefit many. Canada looks to be a winner, as more land becomes arable; in fact the northward spread of trees in Canada, accompanied by growing consumption of carbon dioxide, may eventually prove a check or counterweight to global warming. Russia looks like a winner too, for the same reason.

In the end, I am confident that we will adapt to the good and the bad, and if part of that adaptation involves moving back or up from the waterfront, we should get to it.

The Long Trend

by Timothy Lutts

Investing wisdom has taught me that trends tend to last longer and go further than people expect. Extrapolating to the entire world, it’s easy (for me) to conclude that the long march of progress on earth has a very long way to go.the long trend on Earth

Neither Genghis Khan nor Joseph Stalin nor Adolph Hitler nor Mao Tse Tung nor Nicolae Ceausescu nor Idi Amin nor Pol Pot have been able to stop the long trend.

No political movement, no matter how misguided, has been able to stop the trend.

No religious movement, no matter how irrational (remember the Shakers?), has been able to stop the trend.

No disease, no matter how devastating, has been able to stop the trend.

Not even a huge asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs could stop the long trend—though it certainly put a kink in it.

In short, I’m very confident that we can expect continued progress on Earth, and eventually beyond it as well.

Malthus was Wrong

by Timothy Lutts

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) argued that unchecked population growth brought pain and misery to societies, as demand for food outstripped man’s ability to produce it.Malthus In his Essay on the Principle of Population (written, interestingly, in reaction to the optimism of his father and his father’s associates—it’s not uncommon for young men to reject their fathers’ values ) he wrote that man would never be able to produce enough food to ease the plight of the lower classes. Malthus was wrong.

Yet thanks to advances in technology, we are now capable of producing ample food to feed the world; the problem now is not production but distribution, and that is primarily a political or economic problem.

But progress continues, the proportion of hungry people is smaller than it has even been, and I have little doubt that lack of food will continue to become an increasingly small problem throughout the world.

To argue otherwise is to ignore the lessons of history.

And to argue that the positive trends of recent centuries will end now (at the very moment you are so concerned about the problem), might be a little ego-centric, don’t you think?