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Climate Panel Stunner: Avoiding Climate Catastrophe Is Super Cheap -- But Only If We Act Now

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its third of four planned reports. This one is on “mitigation” — “human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.”

The first two reports laid out humanity’s choice as depicted in the figure above, which appeared in both reports. The first report warned that continued inaction would lead to 9°F warming (or higher) for most of the U.S. and Northern Hemisphere landmass, resulting in faster sea level rise, more extreme weather, and collapse of the permafrost sink, which would further accelerate warming. The second report warned that this in turn would lead to a “breakdown of food systems,” more violent conflicts, and ultimately threaten to make some currently habited and arable land virtually unlivable for parts of the year.

Now you might think it would be a no-brainer that humanity would be willing to pay a very high cost to avoid such catastrophes and achieve the low emission “2°C” (3.6°F) pathway in the left figure above (RCP2.6 — which is a total greenhouse gas level in 2100 equivalent to roughly 450 parts per million of CO2). But the third report finds that the “cost” of doing so is to reduce the median annual growth of consumption over this century by a mere 0.06%.

You read that right, the annual growth loss to preserve a livable climate is 0.06% — and that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.” So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24% rather than 2.30% to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries. As always, every word of the report was signed off on by every major government in the world.

Moreover, this does not even count the economic benefit of avoiding climate catastrophe. A few years ago, scientists calculated that benefit as having a net present value of $615 to $830 trillion. That means our current do-nothing plan is actually far, far costlier than aggressive climate mitigation.

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2015 Corvette C7

2015 Corvette C7

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It’s Official: Nobody in Power Cares What You Think Unless You’re Rich

Surprise surprise!

Today, the idea of popular democracy seems more fairytale than fact. It feels more like government of the rich people, by the rich people, for the rich people. But a study of 1,779 policy outcomes over two decades has come to a stark conclusion: it’s official – the collective opinion of ordinary citizens doesn’t matter.

The study ‘Affluence and Influence’, conducted by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concludes that:

“economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

So is this just an inflated statement to make more nuanced findings more sexy to news editors? Sadly not.

The statistical analysis revealed that the collective views of ordinary Americans have a negligible impact on the policies rolled out by government. In fact, the collective sentiments of the economic elite (defined here as the richest 10%) are 15 times as important.

As Kevin Drum writes for Mother Jones:

When the preferences of interest groups and the affluent are held constant, it just doesn’t matter what average folks think about a policy proposal. When average citizens are opposed, there’s a 30 percent chance of passage. When average citizens are wildly in favor, there’s still only a 30 percent chance of passage. Conversely, the odds of passage go from zero when most of the affluent are opposed to more than 50 percent when most of the affluent are in favor.

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Easter

Part of my ongoing series of the pagan origins of Christian holidays.

Easter

Part of my ongoing series of the pagan origins of Christian holidays.

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Enron, far from being a creature of the free market, was the quintessential mixed-economy firm, using its crony connections to gain financial backing from government and using its mastery of regulatory minutiae to create the appearance of profitability.

Moreover, Enron’s employees demonstrated an ethos, not of capitalist creators, but of postmodern Potemkins that capitalism’s leading philosophers have warned against for centuries.

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The Porsche 911 Targa hardtop convertible is as cool as any Transformer

The top of the Porsche 911 Targa is completely bonkers. I think I agree. Instead of the entire hard top roof disappearing into the car like other hardtop convertibles, the 911 Targa gets to keep the slick curved glass back while in topless mode. Awesome.

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Tonight SpaceX will live-test the reusable rocket that could change spaceflight in a real mission

Wow, I didn’t know we were so close to reality on this. $200,000 to launch something into space? That’s amazing.

There’s some drama in space today: A malfunctioning computer on the International Space Station (ISS) has jangled nerves around a routine re-supply mission already complicated by US-Russian tensions.

But there’s also important news in a surprise announcement from SpaceX, the private company headed by Elon Musk, which designed and built the rocket and spacecraft for today’s re-supply flight. The launch, scheduled for just before 5pm US Eastern time, will also serve as a test of the company’s reusable rocket. After the robotic Dragon spacecraft is launched toward its rendezvous with the ISS in orbit, the Falcon rocket that sent it on its way won’t just tumble into the Atlantic ocean: It will attempt to deploy four landing legs and use thrusters to control its descent, something like this but over water:

SpaceX says that the test has a 30% to 40% probability of success, so it could all go pear-shaped. But the engineers there hope that the data collected during the attempt at a controlled descent will help them to refine their approach to building a more efficient launch vehicle. As we’ve written before, making a rocket reusable is something of a holy grail for Musk and SpaceX: While the rockets cost $54 million, their fuel costs only $200,000, so making most of the rocket reusable would save tens of millions of dollars and allow the fledgling rocket company—which already seeks to undercut its competitors on price—to dominate the putting-things-in-space business.

Update from after the launch via ABC News

After the launch, Musk reported via Twitter that the first stage executed a good re-entry burn and was able to stabilize itself on the way down. However, the rough seas posed problems for the recovery.

"I wouldn’t give high odds that the rocket was able to splash down successfully," Musk said. He was awaiting additional telemetry that would provide the final verdict on the first stage’s fate.

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This guy is the Bob Ross of photography.

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Housing is most cost-effective treatment for mental illness: study -- "For every $1 spent providing housing and support for a homeless person with severe mental illness, $2.17 in savings are reaped because they spend less time in hospital, in prison and in shelters".

For every $1 spent providing housing and support for a homeless person with severe mental illness, $2.17 in savings are reaped because they spend less time in hospital, in prison and in shelters. That is the most striking conclusion of a study, obtained by The Globe and Mail, that tested the so-called Housing First approach to providing social services. Beyond the cost savings, the new research shows that placing an emphasis on housing gets people off the streets and improves their physical and mental health.

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Quick! To the Fynmobile!

It only stands to reason that Fynman had a pimpin physics van.

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History Shows That Capitalism Begets Plutocracy

Wages constitute the lowest share of U.S. GDP, and profits the highest, since the end of World War II. And with heightened accumulations of wealth come heightened accumulations of political power — a shift toward plutocracy to which last week’s Supreme Court decision, permitting the wealthy to contribute to as many electoral campaigns as they wish, adds a helpful push.

Piketty’s primary contention is that it is inherent to capitalism that the returns on capital generally exceed the growth of nations’ economies, save in times of epochal population growth or rare technological breakthroughs, and that this leads to ever-rising concentrations of wealth and power.

"No self-corrective mechanism exists" within capitalism to retard this descent into plutocracy, he writes. Rather, he concludes, its prevention requires political action: He suggests a global tax on capital, which, he admits, is a utopian solution, though others — empowering workers again, increasing the social provision of goods and services — are more readily attainable.

Lewis gives us a great read on today’s latest scam. Piketty gives us the most important work of economics since John Maynard Keynes’ “General Theory.”

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Trees

Trees

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