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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Apparently, honesty is bad for the economy

I saw this report while reading the paper on the Canada Line on Friday:

New federal rules that threaten to ban companies convicted of crimes from public contracts could kill jobs and hurt the Canadian economy, warns a study conducted for a powerful business group.

The report lists the potential consequences of Ottawa’s so-called integrity framework, a measure strengthened last spring to disqualify would-be suppliers busted in Canada or abroad for offences such as fraud, bribery and extortion.

You read that correctly.

This is relevant to why those who support tort reform are at best misguided (though well-intentioned) and at worst shills for corporatocracy. It is easy to get riled up at million dollars in damages for pain and suffering. The point behind millions of dollars in damages is to make it hurt” so that the wrongdoer has an incentive to stop. If it is instead a low amount it becomes an immaterial expense.

I guess I’m no longer that behind the times

I broke down and finally got a tablet.

Asleep at the intersection

Today, while waiting to cross the street, I saw something that should never happen.

Here in BC, at many intersections, there are left turn lanes. In some of them, the traffic light will show a green arrow that gives right of way to those turning left. The crosswalk I was at was one such intersection. And as you might expect, the left turn arrows came on in both directions. However, there were no vehicles in either left turn lane.

Is it not obvious that the above situation leads to unnecessary idling, and therefore wastes energy? I see no reason why it is impossible to put a sensor in a left turn lane that, that while the light is red, detects and counts the cars passing over. Perhaps it could detect cars by pushing down slightly when a set of wheels passes over. This will happen twice per car (once per axle). The cars’ weight could press the sensor down. While not perfect (a semi or other long vehicle with more than two axles would result in an incorrect number of vehicles) this will be a good enough approximation to form a sensor system. The number of cars passing into the left turn lane could then be used to decide whether to activate the arrow the next time the light turns green. This system would prevent unnecessary idling due to unneeded turning arrows, and ought to be relatively simple to implement (a computer could probably do it).

I am now cited by Wikipedia

Look here, and see citation number 23.

It cites my post (Update: or rather the category containing that post, which had [at the time] only that one post in it) about Yvonne Jurewicz, who died due to a coat hanger abortion in 1990. And since I provide full page numbers and dates for the newspaper article I quote in the cited post, citing me specifically is unnecessary. Hence, this situation likely won’t last too long…

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):


Why a carbon tax is the way to go

An editorial in the New York Times got me thinking about why a carbon tax is a better way to fight global warming and climate change than either cap–and–trade or efficiency regulations.

Here are several reasons I can think of:

  • Carbon taxes always provide an incentive to pollute less and use less energy. Even if you cut carbon emissions by half, you still are paying taxes for the carbon you do emit, and therefore still have an incentive to eliminate it. Compare this with efficiency regulations, where someone has no incentive to reduce energy use once the regulation is met. In addition, all too often regulations are designed by businesses themselves, so as to prevent competition (rent seeking). Also compare this with cap–and–trade, where a source of carbon credits may well allow heavy polluters to continue, just because they have deep pockets. A lot of money will not allow someone to avoid paying a carbon tax.
  • Carbon taxes drive both individuals and companies to use less energy. Cap–and–trade is usually done by businesses, and efficiency regulations only impact new products (unless old ones are mandated to be destroyed).
  • According to the editorial, a carbon tax is far cheaper than efficiency standards once a global view of costs is taken into account.
  • Carbon taxes (especially those on fuel) make people drive less and live in denser environments. On a per capita basis, cities are more energy–efficient than suburbs. For example, recycling and public transit are more feasible in densely–populated areas. And people who drive less are less sedentary and therefore healthier.
  • It is possible that cap–and–trade and efficiency standards alone will not do enough to mitigate climate change.
  • A carbon tax is easier to offset as part of a green tax shift than other methods. It can even lead to lower tax levels overall, such as here in British Columbia (cite).
  • Efficiency improvements are subject to the rebound effect, where the decreased cost of using a resource partially offsets gains from using it more efficiently. A carbon tax does not generate perverse incentives.
  • A carbon tax is easier to adjust. If too many pollution permits are issued, cap–and–trade will not have much of an effect since it is harder to eliminate privately–owned pollution permits.
  • Many countries that export oil are rentier states, which means that they earn most of their revenue from natural resource royalties. Those royalties pay for oppressive paramilitary forces that enforce authoritarianism in those countries. A carbon tax will eventually reduce revenues received by those countries, improving freedom there and those countries’ human rights situations.

Hence, for all of the above reasons, a carbon tax is the way to go. My preferred offset is to payroll taxes. But such has virtually no chance of being enacted in the United States (a better chance in Canada [I hope]), due to the extreme polarization and total irrationality (and far worse!) of a number of politicians there. And since climate change is a major danger, Christian conservatism’s climate change denialism makes it, in the long run, the world’s most dangerous ideology.

A few scattered thoughts

I really wish I knew of a way to have comments numbered both by order posted and by nested thread. For example, if Alice posts a comment, it would be #1. Bret posts a response, and this is #1.1. Carol posts another response. Her comment is #1.2. Lastly, Alice responds to both, and those comments are #1.1.1 and #1.2.1. This makes it easier to refer to comments, while preventing them from incrementing if someone makes a nested comment further abode. This is kind of like software version numbers.

I just learnt that my local public library subscribes to a service that allows me to legally download three songs per week. To my annoyance, songs which I have been wanted to get a copy of for years aren’t available on it yet. But would me using this be a good idea? After all it costs the public library money, and since that is in part supported by public tax dollars, this service is not free in that sense.

Since I think people should pay (for the most part) when they use or get other people’s creative works, it seems to me that musical piracy is almost a sign of market failure. Rather than trying to get everyone to pay the same price, different prices should be offered to different people. This way, they can get sales from both those willing to pay a lot and those willing to pay a little. Books do this, with prices ranging from hardcover territory all the way down to free at a library or Project Gutenberg. Other industries involving art and creative works should do the same. I can almost guarantee that they will get good PR.

My knowledge of HTML is getting good use with all these horizontal rules!

I could swear that the amount of spam comments I am getting is skyrocketing. And yet, when I look at my stats, I’m only on pace to get about as many as the last few months. I am also quite a ways behind my spam “record” (if that’s the right word). Maybe I’m just more aware of this menace or something.

I have hardly any online accounts. I’m not on Twitter. I have never used eBay or Amazon. I’m not on Facebook, MySpace, or any other social networking site. I don’t have a Wikipedia account. I’ve never uploaded anything to YouTube, Flickr, or any such photo– or video–sharing website. For the most part my online accounts are WordPress, Blogspot, e–mail, and those online accounts which come with something outside of the internet. I only shop in brick–and–mortar stores and do all my banking offline. Maybe I’m just old–fashioned, but I like it that way. I intend to keep it that way for as long as possible.

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