Sunday, February 16, 2014

World Population Interactive map.

Copy the following link into your browser and spend sometime exploring the world map( Don't neglect trying all the variables that are shown on the top line of the world map. This exercise should help clarify the world population distribution and some of its related demographic factors.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Is Climate Change "skepticism"? No, it is "motivated reasoning".

David Grimes of the Guardian makes a great point that I have personally held for many years.. I am going to post this to more than one class since I do believe that the distinction between "scepticism" and "motivated reasoning" is a fundamental one. GK

Burying your head in the sand about climate change does not qualify as scientific scepticism.
The grim findings of the IPCC last year reiterated what climatologists have long been telling us: the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, and we're to blame. Despite the clear scientific consensus, a veritable brigade of self-proclaimed, underinformed armchair experts lurk on comment threads the world over, eager to pour scorn on climate science. Barrages of ad hominem attacks all too often await both the scientists working in climate research and journalists who communicate the research findings.
The nay-sayers insist loudly that they're "climate sceptics", but this is a calculated misnomer – scientific scepticism is the method of investigating whether a particular hypothesis is supported by the evidence. Climate sceptics, by contrast, persist in ignoring empirical evidence that renders their position untenable. This isn't scepticism, it's unadulterated denialism, the very antithesis of critical thought.
Were climate change denialism confined solely to the foaming comment threads of the internet it would be bad enough, but this is not the case – publications such as the Daily Mail, Wall Street Journal and other Murdoch publications give editorial support to this view. Worse still, a depressingly large number of denialists hold office around the world. Australia's Tony Abbot decreed climate change to be "a load of crap", and a sizable chunk of the US Republican Party declare it a fiction. Even in the UK, spending on climate change countermeasures has halved under the environment secretary Owen Paterson, who doubts the reality of anthropogenic climate change, despite the fact the vast majority of scientists say unequivocally that the smoking gun is in our hands.
So given the evidence is so strong against them, then why do these beliefs garner such passionate, vocal support? It's tempting to say the problem is a simple misunderstanding, because increasing average global temperature can have paradoxical and counterintuitive repercussions, such as causing extreme cold snaps. The obvious response to this misunderstanding is to elucidate the scientific details more clearly and more often.
The problem is that the well-meaning and considered approach hinges on the presupposition that the intended audience is always rational, willing to base or change its position on the balance of evidence. However, recent investigations suggests this might be a supposition too far. A study in 2011 found that conservative white males in the US were far more likely than other Americans to deny climate change. Another study found denialism in the UK was more common among politically conservative individuals with traditional values. A series of investigations published last year by Prof Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues – including one with the fantastic title, Nasa Faked the Moon Landing – Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science – found that while subjects subscribing to conspiracist thought tended to reject all scientific propositions they encountered, those with strong traits of conservatism or pronounced free-market world views only tended to reject scientific findings with regulatory implications.
It should be no surprise that the voters and politicians opposed to climate change tend to be of a conservative bent, keen to support free-market ideology. This is part of a phenomenon known as motivated reasoning, where instead of evidence being evaluated critically, it is deliberately interpreted in such a way as to reaffirm a pre-existing belief, demanding impossibly stringent examination of unwelcome evidence while accepting uncritically even the flimsiest information that suits one's needs.
The great psychologist Leon Festinger observed in 1956 that "a man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." This is the essence of the problem, and sadly, Festinger's words ring true today: the conviction of humans is all too often impervious to the very evidence in front of them.
Motivated reasoning is not solely the preserve of conservatives. While nuclear power has been recognised by the IPCC as important in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, staunch and uninformed opposition to nuclear power arises often from the liberal aisle. In the furore over the Fukushima nuclear disaster (which has claimed no lives and probably never will) many environmentalists lost sight of the fact that it was a natural disaster, very possibly exacerbated by climate change, that cost thousands of lives. Instead, they've rushed to condemn nuclear power plants.
Angela Merkel's decision to cut nuclear power stations was celebrated by Green activists, but this victory was utterly pyrrhic as they were replaced by heavily polluting coal plants. Nor could it be considered a health victory, as while nuclear power kills virtually no one, 1.3 million people a year die as a result of pollution from coal-burning plants.
Greenpeace remains stubbornly opposed to even considering nuclear power, and has said it is simply too dangerous claiming a figure of over 200,000 deaths and hugely increased incidence of cancers due to the Chernobyl disaster, a statistic exposed as an utter shambles by the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry.
The health effects of Chernobyl have been well studied over 25 years by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation: 28 workers died from acute radiation syndrome, and there were 15 fatal thyroid cancers in children. Those who ingested radioiodine immediately after the disaster are at elevated risk of thyroid cancer. No increase has been observed in solid cancers or birth defects.
That this toll is considerably less than people might expect does not take away from the tragedy, but highlights the fact that motivated reasoning occurs on all sides.
The problem is that a vital discussion on a scientific issue can be hijacked as a proxy for deep-seated ideological differences. Depressingly, increasing communication of science merely tends to harden existing opinion. Part of the solution may be to take into consideration the values that impede meaningful progress; there is some evidence that climate change denialists become less hostile when given options which do not obviously threaten their world view.
If the facts of the matter inspire an emotional threat reaction, perhaps this can be mitigated by framing it as something not incompatible to one's world view. A free-market advocate, for example, might respond better to an argument outlining the economic cost of climate change or the fact inaction has a higher price tag than action.
Nor is there any inherent contradiction in an environmentalist being in favour of nuclear power – George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and James Lovelock have written eloquently on the importance of nuclear power in mitigating the ravages of climate change.
If we truly wish to avoid catastrophe, we must be pragmatic and take action. Ideological differences need to take a back seat if decisive action is to be taken. When one's house is on fire, the immediate priority should be putting the flames out, not squabbling about the insurance. Let us hope we realise this before it's too late.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Flood Insurance? Should It Be Gutted?

As reported by the NYT  Jan 29, 2014
A major flood insurance bill was a rarity when it passed what is widely derided as a do-nothing Congress in 2012, but a year and a half later, there is now an enthusiastic bipartisan effort to gut it.
This week the Senate is expected to approve a measure that would block, repeal or delay many of the key provisions of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was sponsored by Representative Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican, and Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat.

Tucked into broader transportation legislation, the bill had enthusiastic support across the political spectrum, from liberal environmentalists to fiscal conservatives.
But Ms. Waters is now leading an effort in the House to gut the legislation she sponsored. And this week, the Senate is expected to pass a measure that would stymie the law, an effort that has support from across the political spectrum, from prominent liberals like Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, to conservatives like Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida.

What happened?
It appears to be another Washington story of unintended consequences, and a warning, environmentalists say, of the rising costs of climate change. Most important, the bill may be a preview of the fights to come over who will pay those costs.

The Biggert-Waters measure sought to reform the nation’s nearly bankrupt flood insurance program, ending federal subsidies for insuring buildings in flood-prone coastal areas. Over the past decade, the cost to taxpayers of insuring those properties has soared, as payouts for damage from Hurricanes Katrina, Irene, Isaac and Sandy sent the program $24 billion into debt.

The aim of the measure was to shift the financial risk of insuring flood-prone properties from taxpayers to the private market. Homeowners, rather than taxpayers, would shoulder the true cost of building in flood zones.

Deficit hawks liked the idea because it would curb a rapidly rising source of government spending. Environmentalists liked the bill because they said it would reflect the true cost of climate change, which scientists say is ushering in an era of rising sea levels and more damaging extreme weather, including more flooding.

But a year after the law passed, coastal homeowners received new flood insurance bills that were two, three, even 10 times higher than before.

In Beach Haven West, N.J., for example, Diane Mazzuca, a furniture showroom designer, had been paying $595 annually for flood insurance on her $90,000 home. After Biggert-Waters ended federal flood insurance subsidies last June, she got an updated bill — for $4,492.

“Our house never flooded before Sandy,” Ms. Mazzuca said. “The new insurance statement said we were in the storm surge line.”

Ms. Mazzuca is still struggling with her insurance company over payments to repair damage to her home from Sandy, and cannot pay the costs on her own, or the new insurance rates.

“I’m going to have to walk away from my house and my life savings,” she said.

Ms. Mazzuca has plenty of company. The insurance rate increases hit many of the 5.5 million coastal home and business owners covered under the National Flood Insurance Program, and came as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the program, was updating flood maps and placing thousands of homes inside flood zones for the first time. Last summer and fall, homeowners near coasts, rivers and wetlands saw their insurance rates soar and their property values plummet.
The homeowners’ frustration erupted into a grass-roots lobbying campaign to roll back the Biggert-Waters act, and lawmakers in Washington quickly got the message.

“Never in our wildest dreams did we think the premium increases would be what they appear to be today,” Ms. Waters said.
Similarly, in Louisiana, where hurricanes and flooding have devastated coastal residents and the new insurance rates were viewed as a further affront, Senator Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat who faces a tough re-election fight this fall, paid close attention to angry constituents.
Ms. Landrieu teamed with Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, to sponsor a bill that would delay most insurance rate increases by four years.

“The Biggert-Waters bill is not going to save the flood insurance program. It’s going to collapse it,” Ms. Landrieu said. Supporters of her effort to delay Biggert-Waters say that the spike in flood insurance rates will drive homeowners out of coastal zones altogether.
But budget watchdogs, insurance groups and environmentalists are fighting the effort. They say that while the original Biggert-Waters law was imperfect, the effort to delay it would bankrupt the program and leave coastal property owners more vulnerable to future damages, and that taxpayers would be forced to pay the bill.

On Monday, the White House released a statement criticizing the effort to gut the law, saying it would further erode the financial position of the national flood insurance program, and that it would reduce the government’s ability to pay future claims. But the administration did not threaten a veto.
The Senate bill is expected to pass on Wednesday or Thursday, after which it will head to the Republican-controlled House.

Although the effort there is being led by Ms. Waters, she already has more than 180 co-sponsors from both parties, and House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, indicated that G.O.P. leadership may consider the effort.