Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Waking Up

August 2, 2017 Leave a comment

I have already mentioned in some past blog posts how interesting I find the ideas of neuroscientist and philosopher, Sam Harris. I recently started listening to his podcast “Waking Up” and before that had read a lot of material he has produced (including the books The End of Faith, and Letter to a Christian Nation) and watched many of his debates and lectures on YouTube.

It must be tempting for some of my debating opponents to say “of course you like Sam Harris – he is another militant atheist, just like you” but it goes beyond that. I find everything he says genuinely thoughtful and he doesn’t just fit in with a stereotype such as materialist, anti-theist, or liberal.

I like this because I am always suspicious of people whose ideas closely match a particular political, religious, or philosophical “clique”. For example, in the past it intrigued me how libertarians always supported the idea of free markets but rejected the truth of climate change.

Those two things aren’t really linked in any meaningful way, but if you found someone who thought a laissez-faire economy was a good idea they would probably also think that climate change was a conspiracy. That is not so much true today because climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to deny, but it was common 10 years ago.

And with conservatives it might be common to find other ideas such as aggressive military intervention and being anti-abortion associated. These really do not seem like they should be linked in any way, yet they are.

Finally – and this is something I might have been guilty about in the past before I “woke up” – liberals are also susceptible to this phenomenon. Many would (and still do) believe in strong environmental protection while also being against genetic modification. A strong case could be made that in order to protect the environment genetic modification is almost a necessity, although I admit there are other options as well.

My point here is that it is unlikely that individuals have some to these conclusions based on deep and unbiased examination of the facts. If they did I would expect to see a lot more variation in how the ideas I have listed are linked. For example, there should be a lot more environmentalist who strongly support research into genetic engineering.

It seems far more likely that these ideas have come about as a result of them being “absorbed” from other people in their social group. So if you live in a conservative environment you would absorb diverse attitudes such as being anti-abortion, pro-guns, anti-welfare, etc, while if you came from a liberal environment the exact opposite would be true.

Both Harris and I seem to be less easily classifiable into commonly recognised groups. We get quite strong negative feedback (often it is genuine abuse and threats) from all sides of the political spectrum. Of course, Harris is a well-known public intellectual and I am just an obscure blogger, but I would still like to think we share a lot in common.

So to give you an idea of why I count myself as a “rationalist” rather than any of the more traditional groupings, such as “conservative” or “liberal” or “libertarian”, here is a list of my attitudes on some contentious subjects…

Equality. I think everyone should get a fair chance to succeed and utilise their talents, but I am very suspicious of political correctness and affirmative action. I would be far happier seeing equality achieved in ways which don’t simply give advantages to “minority” groups even if there is good reason to think they are disadvantaged in some situations currently.

Environmentalism. I strongly support environmental protection. I think a natural consequence of unfettered capitalism is the destruction of the environment, so capitalism must be controlled. I tend towards the idea that we must move on from capitalism completely, but in the interim controlling it is sufficient.

Immigration. I think it is good to have some variety in the backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs of people in every country, but I don’t want that to extend to people with extreme beliefs that might destroy the positive character a country already has. For example, for a Muslim to come to New Zealand they should first prove they don’t take their religion too seriously by eating a pork sausage or some similar test!

Free Markets. I understand why people don’t want their government controlling the economy in too fine detail (or at all in some cases) but I can’t see the advantage in handing over control to large corporations which are probably even less likely to have the best interests of the majority in mind. So I think markets should be controlled where it makes sense but not to a ridiculous extend such as where obsolete industries are artificially kept running.

Abortion. I am conflicted here. The problem is that there is no obvious point where a cell becomes a foetus and a foetus becomes a baby. I think abortion in the very early stages of a pregnancy is OK but how to determine where the point is when a distinct, conscious individual is involved is difficult to determine.

Gun Control. I understand that the best way to avoid gun deaths is to eliminate guns and that is at least partly practical in some countries. But in others, such as the US, that chance has passed so guns must be accepted as a necessary evil. It should be necessary to prove a high degree of competency in using one before a license to own a firearm is issued though. I know that the “bad guys” will just get guns without a license, but at least the legal owners will have a higher level of skill and that might make the defensive advantage of guns greater.

Racism, Misogyny, Xenophobia, etc. I reject the idea of being biased against anyone because of factors such as race, gender, or country of origin. I also know that scientific tests show that everyone is biased in exactly these ways, often subconsciously! But at least knowing that, a person can try to overcome that bias. But, I also reject the over-use of these terms. For example, saying I don’t want a fundamentalist Muslim allowed into the country isn’t racist because Islam isn’t a race, it’s an idea. I reject bais against people, but not against ideas.

I hope that by looking at those opinions I could not be easily labelled with any of the traditional stereotyped political identities. I see some good points in all political positions and yes, I’m not afraid to admit that I agree with a few things controversial figures like Donald Trump have said.

And unlike most of my opponents I can justify my opinions with rational reasoning, not with simple-minded dogmatic hypocrisy which I so often see from people who obviously identify with one political movement. Instead of trying to fit in with that identity and to impress their friends with similar beliefs they should learn to think for themselves. They should wake up!

Batshit Crazy

November 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Politics isn’t fair and nobody should be naive enough to think it is. Different parties have different agendas and it makes sense that they will be treated differently – maybe not even deliberately – based on those agendas and on stereotypes which aren’t generally fair or accurate. For example I have no doubt that the media in New Zealand give the National Party, and especially the prime minister, a free pass on many things that they would criticise others for.

The New Zealand media is now almost entirely controlled by big business so it would be surprising if they weren’t somehow biased towards a party (that is National) dedicated to increasing the privileges that big business already has.

But everyone should understand this fact which means that the other parties really do have to be a lot more careful about giving the media an opportunity to ridicule them. So Green Party MP, Steffan Browning supporting homeopathy as a treatment for Ebola is so obviously stupid that you’ve really got to wonder what was he thinking (or if he is even capable of rational thought).

Unfortunately many people associate environmentalism with fringe beliefs and historically (and to a lesser extent now) I think there has been a link between them. But looking after the environment has now become a more mainstream idea and the need to do more to prevent global warming, water pollution, and depletion of resources is well supported by science. And that’s the type of idea the Greens have been trying to move towards.

But now this clown comes out and gives the enemies of his own party plenty of ammunition to use against them. WhaleOil and all of his rabid buddies have had a field day, and fair enough too, why wouldn’t they? Most people aren’t genuinely interested in discussing policies and ideas, they are simply interested in tagging their opponents with labels like “the Green Taliban” and “batshit crazy and dangerous”.

This is nonsense of course, but 90% of the far right’s ranting is nonsense. The Greens are now remarkably mainstream, maybe too much so in my opinion. And every party has its embarrassing members which the leadership probably wish would just go away. On the opposite side of the political spectrum the Act Party are are least as batshit crazy as the Greens. But I don’t say that because of one small indiscretion by one member (such as the Act leader suggesting that incest is OK) but because their core policies are dangerous.

There is one point I should have perhaps made earlier: homeopathy is nonsense, and potentially dangerous nonsense too. Not only is the prior probability of it being real practically zero because there is no mechanism through which it could possibly work, but every well designed study evaluating it has found its effects are at placebo levels.

So yes, the risk of using homeopathy instead of real treatments and of potential contamination in homeopathic products is probably greater than any placebo effect it might have, and suggesting it as a treatment for something as serious as Ebola really is dangerous. But that doesn’t mean that the whole Green Party or environmental movement in general are wrong. Making that sort of unfounded generalisation really is batshit crazy!

No Opinion

June 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Federated Farmers is organisation which supports farmers’ interests here in New Zealand. I’ve never been very impressed with them because they generally follow a fairly conservative line which ignores real innovation and positive change and is mainly interested in maintaining the status quo where agriculture gets significant privileges that the rest of us don’t have.

So from my perspective they’re a pretty terrible organisation to begin with, and you might be able to imagine how my opinion of them worsened when I heard a recent comment they made on climate change.

I have to admit that at least they had a slightly different spin on the problem and demonstrated a slightly more nuanced view than some other groups, but on the other hand they still showed a great deal of ignorance and irresponsibility.

So basically their statement was that “Federated Farmers has no opinion on whether climate change is real or not and it makes no difference to farmers anyway.”

You might say that FF is not an organisation which is an expert on climate change so maybe they shouldn’t have an opinion, but they are also not experts on other subjects such as social and economic change but often have an opinion on those subjects. Maybe they should just stick to useful topics like what colour gumboots are best!

Clearly FF want to be climate change deniers but are too scared of being ridiculed (quite rightly) for talking that stance so are using the same dirty tactics that other pressure groups use in similar situations. A classic example of this strategy is creationists who couldn’t impose their religious myths on science classes so created something called “intelligent design” instead, and when that failed they came up with the “teach the controversy” strategy even though no controversy exists.

But denial of the facts reaches a whole new level with the claim that “it makes no difference to farmers anyway”. Before I continue I should say that I know that not all farmers share this crazy view and many are probably quite embarrassed to be represented by the clowns at Federated Farmers.

I could interpret the phrase “it makes no difference to farmers anyway” two ways: the more obvious one that they think global warming won’t affect them, and the other possibility that they justy don’t care.

First, if they think they will be unaffected they should think again. If this generation isn’t affected much the next most certainly will be. There is no scientific doubt about that. And I am totally aware that in some situations in some areas farming will improve because of warming but the overall global result will be overwhelmingly bad.

Maybe they think New Zealand will get off quite lightly and that other countries will be affected more giving them an advantage in the market place. I know everyone is encouraged to think about everything as competition in a global market now, but I really hope that things haven’t really sunk to this level of immorality.

Maybe they think they wil be rescued by science and technology finding solutions to reduce the bad effects of climate change. Well if they do think that first why not say so and why not pressure the government to put more research into this area because it is badly needed.

Or maybe the second explanation is true and they just don’t care. This would certainly fit in with the modern trend for agriculture to destroy the environment it claims to respect so much. Agriculture is the biggest producer of greenhouse gas in the country and thanks to intensive dairying most of our rivers are now a mess.

Famers care about the land? Yeah, right. They are as bad as any other industry driven by profit and it’s about time they were brought under control. My first suggestion: ignore everything Federated Farmers says.

Go Tim!

March 26, 2014 Leave a comment

In my last blog entry I criticised Apple – and specifically mentioned CEO Tim Cook – for the company’s actions regarding tax avoidance. But I believe nothing is ever black and white, because there are always two sides to a story, and good and bad in every person and organisation.

So today I want to congratulate the same company – and especially Tim Cook himself – for acting in the complete opposite way by specifically rejecting the “profit at all costs” mentality.

If you follow technology or business news you will probably have realised by now that I am referring to the recent well known incident where Cook completely rejected the policies of the National Center for Public Policy Research in a recent investor meeting. The NCPPR suggested that Apple should maximise return to its shareholders above all else and that it should provide costings for its activities with environmental and social elements, with the added implication that they were unacceptable because they reduced return on investment.

If you read this blog you will be very aware of my opinions of the “greed is good” philosophy. No, greed isn’t good in general, and is rarely good even for the greedy individual. These same people want less government intervention in business yet they encourage the exact behaviour which makes intervention necessary. Well they can’t have everything!

The NCPPR is a right-wing “think tank” based in the US. I really object to this term “think tank” because it seems to imply that deep research and philosophical thought is happening there where really all most of them do is work on ways to produce propaganda to progress their ideology and find ways to influence the political process in their favour.

The NCPPR, like almost every right-wing organisation, is deeply deluded and has little grasp of reality, and is also challenged in the area of morality. They think climate change is a myth invented by “Al gore” and they think companies shouldn’t concern themselves about the environment because their entire focus should be on ROI.

It’s an interesting philosophy and one shared with extreme libertarian dogmatists. The idea is that a company can do whatever they want to maximise profits, but if they do anything too bad their customers or shareholders will react against them reducing their profits and forcing a change in behaviour. So the pursuit of profit itself becomes a factor leading to the environmental (and social, etc) policies the customers want.

Of course it sounds fine in principle and no doubt it works in Cloud Cuckoo Land or wherever else conservatives and libertarians live. But in reality it is a total disaster and every person who works in the real world with all it’s inconvenient truths (and I deliberately used of that phrase) will realise this.

Tim Cook certainly did. His usual calm demeanour seemed to disappear and he gave quite an emotional response to the statement from the NCPPR.

So here’s the sort of thing they said: “…an area of concern to all shareholders: Company affiliations that may primarily advance social or environmental causes rather than promoting shareholder value.” and “…finding that dubbed carbon dioxide as a pollutant that is now driving much of the corporate climate change hysteria.” and “…we object to increased government control over Company products and operations, and likewise mandatory environmental standards.”

So it’s the old standard conservative/libertarian agenda: deny climate change, demand total freedom for corporations to do whatever they want, and make the governments look bad when they are just trying to control the excesses of corporations.

What would most CEOs have said? Maybe they would have agreed with a lot of this stuff, or maybe they would have just pretended to agree so that the shareholder was happy. But no, Cook did the right thing and said “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI” and then “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.” Go Tim!

If only we had more people like this in charge of big corporations. But now Tim, how about doing something about those dodgy tax deals?

To Drill or Not to Drill?

February 4, 2014 Leave a comment

A major controversy currently active here in New Zealand involves whether we should be actively searching for oil, especially at deep sea sites. The group against it cite the potential environmental danger if there is a spill, the lack of large-scale involvement of local companies, and the climate change consequences of the carbon released when oil is burned. The group supporting exploration says we need oil and there is no current alternative, and that the economic activity is beneficial.

So who is right? Well, they are both right and they are both wrong…

I think most people would prefer not to rely so much on fossil fuels but how practical is this? Is there any sort of alternative available at this time? The realistic answer is no, which means we have to keep looking for new sources. But utilising those oil sources also introduces a major potential for disaster if things go badly wrong and contributes to climate change through release of carbon into the atmosphere.

And what is the economic benefit? Well there is some to this country but the big profits are made by a foreign corporation, mainly employing foreign people. To be fair, that same corporation also has to manage the risk of loss if no oil is found. The other issue is that oil extraction is temporary. Once the oil is gone so is the company and so is the economic benefit. So again things aren’t so simple.

My political opponents often label me a “lefty” or a “greeny” so I guess they assume I will be against drilling but that isn’t necessarily true. As I said above, I see a lot of negative issues around oil exploration, but at this time we have little choice so I think we should proceed. But there are two provisos, even on this rather restrained endorsement. First, there has to be extremely strong checks on safety at the site of exploration and drilling; and second, we should invest much more significantly in alternative energy research (maybe using the profits from any oil found).

And that is another reason (often not advanced by opponents) for blocking exploration. If we run out of oil it will push alternative source research forward. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. While we still have access to oil there is not only less reason to explore alternatives but those alternatives are sometimes actively inhibited by vested interests in existing industries.

So in the end the answer to the question “to drill or not to drill?” isn’t that simple. It certainly isn’t as simple as what is presented by most people on both sides of the argument. In the end the answer, I think, is “ok, drill, at this stage we have to accept oil exploration, but we shouldn’t like it, and we should be putting much more effort into exploring other possibilities”.

Economic Growth

August 22, 2013 Leave a comment

There seems to have been a lot of bad news here recently, but there has been some which seems good as well, especially regarding some economic indicators. So is the current government doing a good job and helping to improve the economy as some people are suggesting?

Well yes, and no. There is no doubt that some of the government’s policies have helped the economy, at least as measured by certain crude economic indicators. But there are two questions we should be asking: first, would any reasonably competent government have achieved similar results; and second, do the results really mean anything and if they do are they worth the sacrifices made?

If you look back through various economic indicators in the past it’s often hard to tell whether National or Labour were in power at the time. In fact, according to the stats I have on overseas debt for the past 30 years Labour has actually done better, which is contrary to what many people might think. So can the government really claim a projected growth of 5% as a success or would that just have happened anyway as we inevitably bounce back from the global economic crisis?

And even if you do think government policy has resulted in increased growth and an improved economy, was it really worth it? We have serious environmental problems as a result of the dairy industry which has achieved a lot of economic success (almost none of which was the responsibility of this government I should add). Would we have been better to cut back a bit on dairy farmers’ profits and used some of that money to clean up the mess they make?

Wages and conditions for most people have fallen too. Far more people are doing temporary, and part-time work and most have less pay in real terms. Plus many costs are increasing much more quickly than rates of pay: electricity being the most obvious example (because of the way a previous National government created an “electricity market”). Is it OK to increase productivity by degrading working conditions?

We have lost a lot of jobs here recently, mainly because the government has refused to make any serious effort to stimulate employment. And no, that’s not because they don’t have the money to do it because they hand out tens of millions to prop up overseas corporations (for very little benefit) when they feel like it. Is it OK to cut benefit rates when in most cases the recipients of those benefits have been forced into unemployment through no fault of their own?

What I’m trying to say here is that achieving economic growth, in the simplistic sense this government promotes, isn’t difficult. If I took over running the country I could get significant growth by allowing dirty industries to exist without being too concerned about their effect on the environment, by forcing pay and conditions down so that companies have lower overheads, and by refusing to help the victims of my policies.

Actually that’s what I could do if I got control but why bother? It’s exactly what John Key and his fascist friends have done already so there’s no real need for me to be involved.

In fact the PM has gone one step further. He now his own private spy agency (run by an old friend) which he can use to snoop on anyone who disagrees with his ideas. Now that really is efficiency, National Party style!

Becoming economically efficient and achieving growth is easy and anyone could do it. Doing that while maintaining reasonable social and environmental standards is a lot harder, apparently much too hard for the current government anyway.

Inbred Retards

July 29, 2013 Leave a comment

The British royal family are a bit of a laugh. I mean, they cost the Brits (British people, aka Poms) a fortune and fullfil no practical purpose whatsoever, but they are certainly a source of amusement for many of us. The recent fuss surrounding the birth of some random baby to some random royal has attracted a certain amount of attention here in New Zealand because theoretically the British royal family is also ours, and the Queen is our head of state. Of course in reality, they are just a bunch on inbred retards on the other side of the world who could hardly be less relevant to real life here.

As well as being amusing the royal family is also somewhat offensive to many of us. It is offensive in the modern context for a person to be given so much (theoretical) power and wealth just because they happen to be born into a particular family. And remember that this particular family is only in power now because at some distant time in the past they killed off all of their competition.

As I said, there has been a small amount of fuss here, and there was 10 minutes of the most inane drivel at the start of TV3 news on the day the new royal baby was born. But it was worth it to see the Brits make idiots of themselves. Royalists are almost like a parody of themselves. My favourite was some pompous reporter from the Times asking: “I say, do you think you’ll call him George?” It sounded just so funny. Like something out of Monty Python!

To show the frivolous nature of the royal birth I should say that about the same amount of time was spent later in that news bulletin on the impending result of X-Factor New Zealand (pure, unadulterated drivel, and only a news story because it was free advertising for the program on that same channel later). Gee, must have been a slow news day!

Actually, the coverage of the birth has been quite excruciating in places. Trying to make a news story lasting several minutes out of some random hand movement with the claim that George (or whatever his name is) was waving to the crowd was also amusing. I wonder how these reporters feel wasting their time with this worthless nonsense when there is real news elsewhere in the world.

The political reaction has been interesting too. Our conservative prime minister has said that we will drop the Queen as head of state in the future but now is not the time. He’s probably right because, as embarrassing as it is to my fellow New Zealanders, the royal family does still enjoy quite a high level of support here.

And those politicians who would like to see us become a republic a bit more quickly, like Russel Norman of the Greens, have been quite gracious about the whole thing. Norman said that he wishes the family well as human beings but prefers not to attach any special significance beyond that (I have paraphrased his words here and hope that is a fair approximation).

But when National Radio interviewed some clown from the NZ Royalist Society (or some other similar organisation because I can’t remember the name exactly) he accused Norman of being one of the few people who are anti-royal. In fact he claimed (admittedly facetiously) that Norman would be the only non-Royalist in the country. Well I know plenty, including myself. Like most of the others, I have nothing against the royal family as people. I just refuse to give them any special status and I certainly refuse to acknowledge the Queen as our head of state.

Most countries have a celebrity class. It might be movie stars, rock bands, or business tycoons to some people. In many cases these are fairly silly too, but at least those people have gained their celebrity status through some sort of talent or effort on their own part and not simply because of which family they were born into (yeah, OK, there is Paris Hilton, I know).

So in some ways, as silly as some people’s adulation for movie stars is, at least it’s better than the pathetic vicarious joy the Brits (and some loyal subjects in the old empire) get from royalty. The way they admire such a bunch of inbred, retarded parasites must be just about the most amusing spectacle ever!