We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Matt Ridley speaks with authority to Julia Hartley-Brewer

Yes, I’ve been watching and listening to this conversation, between climate anti-alarmist and all-round rational optimist Matt Ridley and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer. If you like hearing things talked about as well as merely written about, I recommend this conversation, which lasts just under an hour.

Today here seems to be the day for denouncing Extinction Rebellion, and Ridley does that very persuasively. But there is a lot more. I’m just hearing Ridley say that climate change policies now kill far more people than climate change. … Now he’s talking about how much greener the earth is becoming. The idea that we need to be planting trees to make the earth greener is absurd.

My one mild disagreement with Ridley came about a third of the way in, when he says that science never involves arguments from authority. I know what he means. But, arguments from authority abound in the wider debate about climate science. Ridley makes sure to strip away the authority of whichever climate catastrophist he talks about. And he also makes sure to speak in a suitably measured manner himself, thereby enhancing his own authority.

For the truth is that people like Ridley have proved very authoritative. Many of the idiot children of the governing classes seem really to believe that climate catastrophe is imminent. Many more of the governing classes like climate catastrophe, because it is a fine excuse for them to do more governing. But people generally seem to remain unconvinced in their millions.

Certainly today’s foolishness from Extinction Rebellion, in the form of people climbing onto electric trains, really does seem to have been an own goal, as Natalie explained. Screwing with public transport really does undermine any authority these people may now have.

And just as we can all see these Extinction Rebels doing their rebelling, and especially when it looks very silly, we can also listen to the likes of Matt Ridley saying what he has to say. For all the biases and bullying of Facebook, Twitter and the rest of them, they can’t silence all of us anti-alarmists, all the time. And the difference between hearing some anti-alarmism, every so often, and never hearing any anti-alarmism at all from one decade to the next, is, when it comes to shaping public opinion, all the difference. The climate alarmist camp has spread a lot of climate alarmism in the last few years. But millions remain stubbornly skeptical, this being an important strand in the rising tide of what is called “populism”. (“Populism” means popular opinions that the people who don’t attach sneer quotes to the word populism don’t like.) Given how much governing class plugging climate extremism gets, it’s amazing how little it is talked about when elections come around.

Like Ridley, I am an optimist, not only about the state of humanity in general, but about the possibility that the foolishness now being spread by Extinction Rebellion may soon find itself in retreat.

LATER: Several people have also recommended to me this interview, which lasts a mere ten minutes.

“People do not walk there if they can avoid it”

Emma Duncan has written a piece for the Times with which I ought to agree. It has the title “The city of billionaires is a vision of hell” and has the strapline “San Francisco shows what happens when rent controls are used to tackle a housing shortage”.

Her article starts with a vivid description of San Francisco’s woes:

… San Francisco and its environs have the highest density of billionaires on the planet. It is also the most visibly poor place of any I have been to outside India or South Africa, and the horrors on show hold lessons for London.

As Tom Knowles reported in The Times yesterday, there are more than 8,000 homeless men and women on the streets of what is, with a population of less than 900,000, a small city. Every time we stepped out of our city-centre hotel, we saw homeless people slumped on the pavements or wandering aimlessly. In the Tenderloin district, a formerly respectable area a quarter of a mile away, there are homeless encampments on most blocks and shit on the pavements. People do not walk there if they can avoid it.

In the four days we were there, I went into maybe ten shops. In three of them, homeless people walked in, took stuff and walked out. In Starbucks, for instance, a homeless man swept a lot of biscuits and chocolates from beside the till into a bag. I started to say something to try to stop him, then looked at the woman behind the till who shrugged her shoulders. I asked the manager how often this happened; he said seven or eight times a day. I asked him what he did about it; he said he filed “an incident report”.

My son said that the police have given up on property crime because they are short of resources, because this sort of crime is so common and because there is a certain sympathy for the perpetrators. We took two buses when I was there; on one of them, the man in the seat in front of us peed on the floor. My son said it was a regular occurrence.

It then offers two possible explanations:

When you talk to San Franciscans, many take the view that homeless people are sent there from cities whose welfare provision is less generous than California’s. That seems implausible, since there is little welfare on offer in San Francisco, and surveys of the homeless population show that the vast majority are local.

Those who have studied the problem say that the main explanation is the price of property. The tech industry is so big and well paid that demand for property has pushed prices to insane levels. Average rents are about twice what they are in London. To pay the rent on a one-bedroom flat in London you would need to work about 170 hours on the minimum wage; in San Francisco, you would need to work 300 hours. As rents rise, people get turfed out of their homes and end up on the streets; combine that with negligible health provision for the poor and you end up with a lot of mentally ill people on the streets.

The response to rising rents in San Francisco has been rent controls. Nearly half the homes in the city are now covered by them. But they have made the situation worse, not better, because they discourage people from letting out property and thus reduce supply, pushing house prices up further.

The Instapundit co-bloggers talk about San Francisco often. Though I would guess that none of them would be reluctant on ideological grounds to mention rent control as the main cause of San Francisco’s problems, as far as I recall they have usually cited the explanation that Emma Duncan rejects, namely over-generous welfare payments that act as a magnet to homeless people from other states. Beyond that they speak of general bad governance, often mentioning that the last Republican mayor of SF left office in 1964.

Of course both causes could be operating. If a single shop has homeless people walking in and openly stealing from it without fear of punishment seven or eight times a day, then bad governance most certainly is operating. But is that the cause or the symptom? My reasons for wanting a more precise diagnosis than “socialism sucks”* are not entirely disinterested. Rent controls are one of the most popular policies offered by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. Apart from a few old fogeys who remember the deleterious effects of the Rent Acts, Brits love the idea of them. As Ms Duncan suggests, London may soon follow the example of San Francisco in re-introducing rent control. Lord knows the world is not short of examples that show this is a bad idea, but San Francisco might make that argument real to a British audience better than most places, as it is a city quite a lot of British people have visited recently and come away from with shit on their shoes. Do any American readers, particularly San Franciscans, have any observations to share?

*Two economists called Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, who seem to be more convivial than economists usually are, have written a book with this title that is currently nestling in my Kindle. My husband recommends it. He says it is about beer.

“Does the climate crisis violate the rights of those yet to be born?”

“Does the climate crisis violate the rights of those yet to be born?” asks Astra Taylor in the Guardian.

She seems to think the answer is “yes”, but fails to make much of a case. The article is full of non-sequiturs like grumbling that the fact that “high-frequency trading means stocks are bought and sold within nanoseconds” somehow means that capitalism “lacks the attention span required for survival.”

However the purpose of this post was not to complain about Astra Taylor complaining that computers work fast. My far more urgent task in making this post was to make the obvious snarky point before someone at the Guardian notices and changes that headline. I think I’m just in time:

If capitalistic inattention to the climate crisis violates the rights of the unborn, does being aborted not violate their rights even more?

*

I had some rather more considered thoughts about what obligation, if any, people have to sacrifice their own interests in deference to those of others in this post from a few years ago, “Thinking aloud on a mountainside”. The second half discusses abortion.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The veneration of St Greta is an extraordinary, yet unsurprising, phenomenon. Our comfortable lifestyles, and the decline of religion in the West, have created a spiritual void. But this new religiosity carries few redemptive qualities, such as hope or forgiveness. Questioning any aspect of its message is to be labelled a “denier” – the ultimate form of heresy. Yet Thunberg’s affiliation with Extinction Rebellion’s extreme, anti-capitalist aims should prompt questions – especially because Left-wingers have routinely used the threat of global panic to herd populations towards socialism. During the Cold War, the anti-nuclear movement was infiltrated by hard-Leftists, keen for the West to drop its opposition to the Soviets.”

Madeline Grant.

By the way, this essay, by George Reisman, is one of the best demolitions of the anti-human aspects of environmentalism, in my view. And this by Robert Zubrin is also excellent.

By the way, I was in New York last week on business. Much of the traffic was in chaos because of the UN General Assembly, which Greta Thunberg, along with others, addressed. I fail to see how any of that helps Planet Earth.

Ann and the Giant Credit Card

“The beauty of a Green New Deal is that it would pay for itself”, writes Ann Pettifor.

To raise the money for a green deal, governments would have to draw on their equivalent of a giant credit card, but would also be able to take advantage of investment by savers. Thankfully, the creation of millions of jobs will generate the income and tax revenues needed to repay any borrowing.

I loved the line about the giant credit card. It reads like a weird mutant “Guardian X CBeebies Story Timecrossover fic.

The trouble is that these days, so do both the Guardian and CBeebies Story Time.

Samizdata quote of the day

It is untrue that the fires are historically huge or unprecedented. NASA says the Amazon fires are ‘slightly below average this year’. Many are pointing out that we are witnessing the highest number of fires in the Amazon for seven years. But as meteorologist Jesse Ferrell reports, prior to 2012 there were many years in which the Amazon had worse fires than this year’s: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010. As Ferrell says, there are always fires on Earth: ‘Thousands of fires are continually burning across the Earth every day of every year, and they always have.’ The idea that what is currently happening in the Amazon is shockingly unusual or apocalyptic or proof of man’s fascistic disdain for his environment is an entirely politicised interpretation of a perfectly normal event.

Brendan O’Neill

Samizdata quote of the day

You don’t have to be a fan of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, and spiked certainly isn’t, to feel deeply uncomfortable with the Western outrage over his policy on the rainforest. Observers claim the Amazon is experiencing its highest number of fires since records began. That those records only began in 2013 should give the Western hysterics pause for thought – this isn’t the historically unprecedented End of Days event they claim it is. There are always fires in the Amazon, some started by nature, others by human beings logging or clearing land for farming. Some of the current fires were started by people who need wood or land – how dare they! – while others are just part of the natural cycle.

Brendan O’Neill

Climate change scientists starved of media coverage

According to the Independent they are, anyway.

The study showed climate change deniers were featured in nearly 50 per cent more media articles than expert scientists.

Naturally, the Indy cements its point by putting a video of renowned climate scientist Greta Thunberg at the top of the article. They also put up some graphs and, discussing them, can not quite bring themselves to use the study’s terminology of CCC (climate change contrarian) and talk about the non-existent CCD (climate change denier) data set. A testament to the Indy’s devotion to reporting accurately the true official expert view.

The Indy even gives us a lovely example:

For an example of how some media outlets mistreat environmental issues – Fox News had a debate about the Trump administration’s move to weaken the Endangered Species Act yesterday.

A former senior Interior Department official was defending the act, while a random editor from the conservative website Townhall was defending Trump.

One of those people is vastly more qualified to talk about the act than the other – Clue: It’s the one who worked for the government…

So not about climate change, and “worked for the government” is a synonym for “scientist” as far as the Indy is concerned, it would seem. Good work, guys.

As for the study, I am curious about how they selected the media outlets for comparison, but I have not yet looked. And I wonder what would happen if we measured media attention given to non-expert climate change alarmists?

In any case, even on the face of it the study does not quite show what the Indy thinks it shows:

Here we show via direct comparison that contrarians are featured in 49% more media articles than scientists. Yet when comparing visibility in mainstream media sources only, we observe just a 1% excess visibility, which objectively demonstrates the crowding out of professional mainstream sources by the proliferation of new media sources, many of which contribute to the production and consumption of climate change disinformation at scale.

I guess “crowding out of professional mainstream sources” is something the Indy would want to play down. Other than that it is the same old story: the peasants are revolting and the nobility are afraid.

Don’t think of it as a “power cut”, think of it as an “electricity holiday”

The BBC reports that the National Grid will “learn the lessons” after nearly one million people across England and Wales lost power on Friday.

But what lessons will those be?

The power outage happened at about 17:00 BST on Friday, National Grid said, with blackouts across the Midlands, the South East, South West, North West and north east of England, and Wales.

Industry experts said that a gas-fired power station at Little Barford, Bedfordshire, failed at 16.58, followed two minutes later by the Hornsea offshore wind farm disconnecting from the grid.

The National Grid director of operations quoted in this BBC article, Duncan Burt, has said that “he did not believe that a cyber-attack or unpredictable wind power generation were to blame”.

I do not know whether to disbelieve his disbelief. Those concerned with managing the UK’s power supply might have good reasons to keep mum about our vulnerability to cyber attack, and less good reasons for playing down the unpredictability of wind power.

Tim Worstall speculates,

One reading could be……wind farm closes down immediately as wind speed is too high. Gas plant on idle can’t spin up for some reason. Drax is low capacity because it’s burning wood chips, not coal.

On the cyber front, even if this power outage was entirely an Act of God in the insurance sense, the next one might not be. The bad guys have seen how much more damaging power cuts have become now that we are so reliant on the internet. As cashless payments become more common it will only get worse. I love cashless payments! What bliss to no longer have to worry about finding change when you’ve just found the last space in a crowded car park, manoeuvred into it with incredible difficulty while holding up the rest of the traffic, and only then remembered that you have to pay for the damn thing. But an entirely cashless society, as they seem to be moving towards in Sweden, might turn out to have its Orwellian nature tempered only by its lack of resilience.

A final observation: I have read a lot of comments from supporters of remaining in the European Union along the lines of “You think a few hours delay on the railways was bad? Just you wait until we leave the EU without a deal.” However, just as with the chaos caused by the Gatwick drone shutdown, that argument cuts both ways. All their frantic efforts to say “No Deal” must not be allowed to happen because it will cause vast queues at the ports and airports start to look a little silly when the same consequences seem likely to arise every time the wind surges or a cyber attacker gets lucky.

Water shortages solved

Today’s quote of the day was from a longer conversation about water, starting with the conventional wisdom that climate change will inevitably lead to global water shortages. It is not immediately obvious why this should be so, given that melting ice, for example, presumably leads to there being more non-frozen water about.

The impression from the mainstream media is that any water-related problem can be caused by climate change. Floods? Climate change. Drought? Climate change. A summary from NASA suggests that some places, the places that get plenty of rain, will get more rain: so much that it floods. And other more typically dry places will see more droughts. So there is not necessarily a contradiction. On the other hand it is not clear how reliable such predictions are.

Different climate models provide different answers about what will happen to rainfall where. You can almost pick the result you want for a particular place by picking which climate model you want to listen to. You can take the mean of all the model outputs but that only seems useful if they all broadly agree, and even then they could all be wrong. The question of the usefulness of climate models is a big topic. The way they are tuned seems to allow for a lot opportunity for bias to creep in. Also the resolution of GCMs is not high, and the resolution affects the results, especially for precipitation.

In any case, there is a practically unlimited supply of water in the oceans, it is simply a matter of energy to turn it into drinking water and transportation to get it where we need it. With photo-voltaic panels becoming cheaper and more efficient as solar generation capacity has been growing exponentially for the last 25 years, energy is cheap. For desalination there is not even an energy storage problem, since we can make water during the day and water is easy to store. The technology is effective, simple and cheap.

As for transportation, I have heard there is some new technology called an aqueduct.

So there are no technical difficulties, it is not particularly expensive, and with poverty on its way out there seems little to stop any water supply problems from being solved.

As Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, put it, we will reach the “jaws of death – the point at which, unless we take action to change things, we will not have enough water to supply our needs”. It was ever thus. Luckily the action is not difficult.

Samizdata quote of the day

If private companies sold people water, they would regard high levels of demand as a market opportunity. When the government runs water systems, high levels of demand mean shortages. It’s insane. Instead of finding good ways to meet demand with technology, we get price distortion, rationing, and glum pronouncements about the sins of mankind.

– Perry Metzger, reacting to this drivel.

A little phrase to look out for

The Times Saturday magazine features the latest of its series of quick interviews in which a famous person tells the readers “What I’ve learnt”. This one is with that fine actor, Jared Harris. Among the things that Mr Harris has learned and wants to pass on to the reader is that,

“We don’t have another planet. This is it. We’ve nowhere else to go. We’re going through a crisis of denial over climate science. A very small group of people are frustrating the political will to tackle it head on. But when people’s homes become uninhabitable, they will move somewhere else. If you think it’s awkward with tens of thousands of people at the southern border of the US or with a couple of hundred thousand at the borders of the EU, what are you going to do when a couple of hundred million are on the move?”

Very stirring. But I could not help noticing that the little potted biography of Mr Harris at the top of the page says this:

The British actor Jared Harris, 57, played Lane Pryce in Mad Men, King George VI in The Crown and Valery Legasov in Chernobyl, for which he has been nominated for an Emmy. He is one of three sons by the notorious hell-raiser Richard Harris and his wife Elizabeth Rees-Williams. He splits his time between New York and Los Angeles with his third wife, Allegra.

New York and Los Angeles are 2,790 miles apart by road, and 2,450 miles apart by air. It’s a fifty-hour drive, so I think we can safely assume that Mr Harris travels between his two bases by air. Compared to most people’s, his personal carbon footprint is more like a personal carbon Tunguska crater. It must be hard to juggle the claims of a far-flung family and a demanding acting career, so I do not begrudge Mr Harris his air miles. But going from what he said, he begrudges me mine.

When reading the views of celebrities on the environment it is always worth looking out for the words “splits his time” or “divides her time” or equivalents thereof. I first saw this pointed out on a Biased BBC post back in November 2009, about a model called Helena Christensen who held an exhibition of pictures she had taken to document climate change and divided her time between Copenhagen and New York, with occasional side trips to Essex to see her agent.