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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Why a carbon tax is good

I found a really good article on why BC’s carbon tax is the way to go (links removed and emphasis added):

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the B.C. carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa. That’s apparently because the tax hasn’t just had an economic effect: It has also helped change the culture of energy use in B.C. “I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw,” says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada. “It made climate action real to people.”

It also saved many of them a lot of money. Sure, the tax may cost you if you drive your car a great deal, or if you have high home gas heating costs. But it also gives you the opportunity to save a lot of money if you change your habits, for instance by driving less or buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. That’s because the tax is designed to be “revenue neutral” — the money it raises goes right back to citizens in the form of tax breaks. Overall, the tax has brought in some $5 billion in revenue so far, and more than $3 billion has then been returned in the form of business tax cuts, along with over $1 billion in personal tax breaks, and nearly $1 billion in low-income tax credits (to protect those for whom rising fuel costs could mean the greatest economic hardship). According to the B.C. Ministry of Finance, for individuals who earn up to $122,000, income tax rates in the province are now Canada’s lowest.

We out to be taxing things we want to discourage (besides carbon, this ought to include things like fast food and sugar, and financial transactions like high–frequency trading) and reducing or eliminating taxes on things we want to encourage (like high–density living and transit use).

And a big thumbs down to Oklahoma for taxing solar energy.

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The killers in your house

A new study has found that domestic cats are among the most prolific predators in the world:

Domestic cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds and up to 20 billion small rodents each year, according to researchers at the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

The report, published Tuesday, found that cats — particularly strays — are “likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for U.S. birds and mammals.”

The study went on to note that feral cats are damaging and threatening to ecosystems.

This study reminds me of an incident with a really friendly cat that used to live in my neighbourhood. Once it made a plaintive meow and wanted to come in. Turned out it had caught a starling. When it came in it released the starling and started chasing after it inside the house. At one point, the starling landed on the kitchen table, and the cat just about pulled off the tablecloth (and dishes) before I managed to stop the tablecloth. Eventually, I managed to grab the cat and put it in another room while I shooed the starling out with a broom.

Link farm and a random thought

In no particular order:

The ultimate in data storage. Scientists have found a way to store digital information in DNA. The storage method is sophisticated enough that all information currently in hard drives could fit into the palm of your hand.


Quote of the day (emphasis added):

“What always interests me about defenders of creationism is how they clearly don’t think of children as people in their own right, but instead property that you use to enact your ideological obsessions.”

I personally would edit that quote to include the entirety of the rotten parental rights movement. Those people really do see their own kids as enemies and who’ll do anything to prevent those children from thinking for themselves and not being a projection or perfect reflection of the parents. Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism has emphasized this point multiple times.


Solar power is well on its way to becoming cheaper than coal. It might reach that point before the end of the decade. This is important, as it would eliminate much of the point of burning coal, which is important for climate change mitigation. (It’s still better to start today, however).


I fully agree with these suggestions on how to write a better fantasy story. (Via all these people).


Did you know that (supposedly) the committee of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women supposedly “Told Libya to re-interpret the Koran in the light of CEDAW”? To rational people, this is an excellent reason to support the CEDAW. But, Echidne found out, wingnuts actually use this as a justifiation for opposing the CEDAW. To their credit, at least they’re honest.


Two of the comments on a post on Brute Reason have won awards. You just have to see them.

And yes, I did manage to read and finish what is visible of the first comment. It starts repeating itself part way through Can’t it be all new woo?

This post has been edited since publication.

Perhaps it’s time to start the alternative

The Arbourist has a post about a small company that has a proposal to create liquid fuels out of water and carbon dioxide from the air. While the proposal looks promising, since, as far as I can tell, it takes more energy to create the liquid fuel than is released by burning that fuel, and that any carbon extracted from the atmosphere while creating the fuel will ultimately be re–emitted when that fuel is used, I have difficulty seeing how much of a difference this particular technology would make. (See also my comments at the Arbourist’s post). However, if new evidence or technology emerges that allows this technology to make more of a difference, I will certainly change my mind about it.

And The Arbourist’s post got me thinking. Since there has been much resistance to making more than a token effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps it is time to put geoengineering on the table. That might potentially be the best hope for avoiding disaster. While I am not actively suggesting we start geoengineering, I am suggesting we put it on the table. This is important considering our collective failure to make much effort towards mitigation of global warming and climate change.

Geoengineering is not science fiction. Several of the proposals have analogues that happen naturally. And it is not decades away. As far as I can tell, the following proposals are pretty much shovel ready, and we could start tomorrow if there was a serious effort, and with no significant research yet to be done or technology to be developed:

  • Atmospheric sulphur aerosols
  • Grassland restoration
  • Cool roofs
  • Enhanced weathering

These proposals each have a number of advantages and disadvantages (discussed after the jump):

(more…)

Child of the random stuff

In no particular order:

Tomorrow is more like today than you think

I came across this post at Dispatches from the Culture wars. It got me thinking, and eventually my mind thought about previous predictions of what the 2010’s would be like. This led me to realize that the past is more like the present than you think. Indeed, if you predicted that the world thirty years from now would be exactly like today, you probably wouldn’t do too badly.

To illustrate, let’s pretend that some futurologist, Ima P. Rofet, writing (to use round year numbers) that the year 2010 will be exactly like 1980. Let’s see what predictions our prognosticator would have been correct on (not an exhaustive list):

  • Politics and international relations:
    • There will be two major political parties in the United States, the Democratic and the Republican. There will be other parties, but only these two will have a realistic chance of taking power.
    • Russia will be governed as an authoritarian state.
    • Nuclear weapons will never have been used in warfare since Nagasaki.
    • The conflict in the Middle East will have been unresolved.
    • There will be no peace treaty in Korea.
    • There will have been no female president of the United States.
    • Oil will give the Middle East disproportionate influence on world affairs.
    • Terrorism will influence some countries foreign policy.
    • The United Nations will not be a world government.
  • Culture and society
    • Television, movies, and recorded music will be popular forms of entertainment.
    • Classical music will be important in music education and most people will be exposed to it in movie and television soundtracks, but it will only retain niche popularity.
    • Most people in the western world will live in cities and suburbs.
    • An appreciable number of people will have used marijuana, even if it is nominally illegal.
    • Most people will travel by car or airplane and, in densely–populated cities, train or other public transport.
    • Many people will live in poverty and lack adequate access to food, water, and medicine.
    • Many women will still be oppressed and be second–class citizens, even if they nominally have equal rights with men. (more…)

Spouse of the random stuff

In no particular order:

  • Melissa on how the experience of Canadian versus American prenatal care helped change her views on universal health care.
  • No surprise here. Some religious groups are attacking Melinda Gates’ campaign to raise awareness of contraception in the developing world. They call it a “blatant attack on morality.” As opposed to, you know, something really immoral, like oppressing women by denying birth control to them.
  • A Guttmacher Institute report indicates that this year will likely have as many new restrictions on abortion as the previous year, and possibly more (via). However, there is also good news; for example, fewer states are attempting to cut funding for family planning services.
  • Four ways the internet could go down.
  • The American (heteronormative patriarchial) Family Association has announced a boycott of Google due to the latter’s LGBT rights campaign, Legalize Love (via). It will “test the meat of our convictions.” Then they’d better have really tough convictions, as they’re running out of companies that aren’t anti–LGBT.
  • Canada has a new non–profit organization and advocacy group, Bad Science Watch, that will promote evidence–based policies and provide information to protect consumers from junk science (via). Let’s hope they’re successful.
  • (Added in an update) What government does for you.

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