440 stories
·
9 followers

Still Manufacturing Consent: An Interview with Noam Chomsky

1 Share
Comments
Read the whole story
gmuslera
57 days ago
reply
montevideo, uy
Share this story
Delete

How this climate change economist changed my world

3 Comments and 4 Shares
Undercover Economist

How this climate change economist changed my world

I read a lot of economics papers, but I don’t often read economics papers that make me think, “this changes everything”. But Martin Weitzman wrote one. I still remember exactly where I was when I read it. Even for a nerd like me, that’s not normal.

Professor Weitzman took his own life in late August. He was 77 and had reportedly been worried that he was losing his mental sharpness.

Weitzman’s sad death prompted me to reflect on what it was about his essay that so struck me. It was a commentary on Lord Nicholas Stern’s Review on the Economics of Climate Change. Weitzman gently pulled the Stern Review apart — “right for the wrong reasons” — and offered an alternative view of the problem.

For those of us who think climate change requires bold, urgent action, there are two awkward facts to contend with. The first is that its most worrying impacts — including floods, crop failures and diseases — are unlikely to manifest at full strength for decades or even centuries. The second is that because the world has been getting dramatically richer, future generations are likely to be much wealthier than we are.

Both these awkward facts militate against doing anything too expensive in the short term.

Here’s an analogy: imagine that I discover an incipient damp problem in my house. A surveyor tells me that if I spend £1,000 now, that will spare my great-grandchildren £5,000 of repair works in a century. At first glance it seems that I should fix the damp.

On reflection, though, spending money now would be foolish. Investing £1,000 in the stock market on their behalf would be better. At a modest 3 per cent real rate of return, it should be worth about £20,000; at 5 per cent it will be worth £130,000.

In any case, won’t my great-grandchildren be vastly richer than I am, just as I am vastly richer than my great-grandparents? Why worry? They’ll cope.

This oversimplification of the complexities of climate change gets at something important. Lord Stern’s case for action depended on arguing that our super-rich descendants living in the far future should weigh very heavily in our calculations. It is hard — not impossible, but hard — to square that with how we behave in respect to any other issue, personal or social. We simply do not set aside nine-tenths of our income to benefit future generations.

Weitzman was among several prominent economists to raise this concern. But he then asked us to contemplate the risk of runaway effects. An example: as arctic permafrost thaws, a huge volume of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, may be released. Other economists have recognised the issue of “tail risks”, well outside the most likely scenarios. None have thought more deeply about it than Weitzman.

Central estimates can lead us astray. The most likely scenario is that climate change will cause real but manageable suffering to future generations. For example, the World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change may cause an extra 250,000 deaths a year because of threats such as malaria, heat exposure and malnutrition — a less serious problem than local and indoor air pollution, which kill 8m people a year. If we focus on the central forecast, it is local air pollution that should get most of our attention.

It is only when we ponder the tail risk that we realise how dangerous climate change might be. Local air pollution isn’t going to wipe out the human race. Climate change probably won’t, either. But it might. When we buy insurance, it isn’t because we expect the worst, but because we recognise that the worst might happen.

The truly eye-opening contribution — for me, at least — was Weitzman’s explanation that the worst-case scenarios should rightly loom large in rational calculations. If there’s a modest chance that the damp problem will give all my great-grandchildren fatal pneumonia, I shouldn’t ignore that. And my great-grandchildren wouldn’t want me to: the probably rich great-grandchildren would happily sacrifice some trivial amount of income to avoid being the possibly dead great-grandchildren. But they won’t have the choice. It’s up to me.

Weitzman was a stupendously creative man. Other celebrated contributions studied the trade-off between pollution taxes and pollution permits, the “Noah’s Ark” problem of what to focus on when preserving biodiversity, and an early argument in favour of companies sharing profits with their employees.

“If you don’t think an idea might be worthy of the Nobel Prize, you shouldn’t be working on it,” he told one colleague. Some economists would say that he reached that impossibly high standard more than once — and were surprised that he was not named as a joint Nobel Prize winner last year, when William Nordhaus was recognised for his work on climate change economics.

Nevertheless, the message of Weitzman’s recent work has influenced the policy debates on climate change: the extreme scenarios matter. What we don’t know about climate change is more important, and more dangerous, than what we do.

Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 13 Sep 2019.

My book “Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy” (UK) / “Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy” (US) is out now in paperback – feel free to order online or through your local bookshop.

Read the whole story
gmuslera
61 days ago
reply
Always leave some space to what you don't know that you don't know. Specially about the future. You may have an opportunity to do something now, but maybe later you (or your grandchildren) won't be able to do anything.
montevideo, uy
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
samuel
62 days ago
reply
This is such a short jump to hedonism I don't know that it's not already hedonism.
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Breakfast is a relatively modern invention

1 Comment
Comments
Read the whole story
gmuslera
206 days ago
reply
How marketing shaped our current culture, and bodies
montevideo, uy
Share this story
Delete

US bars entry to International Criminal Court investigators

1 Comment and 2 Shares

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and may do the same with those who seek action against Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

Pompeo, acting on a threat delivered in September by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, framed the action as necessary to prevent the international body from infringing on U.S. sovereignty by prosecuting American forces or allies for torture or other war crimes.

“We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” Pompeo said.

U.S. officials have long regarded the Netherlands-based ICC with hostility, arguing that American courts are capable of handling any allegations against U.S. forces and questioning the motives of an international court.

The ICC and its supporters, including human rights groups that denounced Pompeo’s announcement, argue that it is needed to prosecute cases when a country fails to do so or does an insufficient job of it.

The visa restrictions would apply to any ICC employee who takes or has taken action “to request or further such an investigation” into allegations against U.S. forces and their allies in Afghanistan that include forced disappearances and torture.

Pompeo said the restrictions “may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without the allies’ consent,” he said.

The Hague-based court, the first global tribunal for war crimes, said it would continue to operate “undeterred” by the U.S. action.

The ICC prosecutor has a pending request to look into possible war crimes in Afghanistan that may involve Americans. The Palestinians have also asked the court to bring cases against Israel.

Speaking directly to ICC employees, Pompeo said: “If you are responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of U.S. personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you still have or will get a visa or will be permitted to enter the United States.”

That comment suggested that action may have already been taken against the ICC prosecutor who asked last year to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants, as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.

The prosecution’s request says there is information that members of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”

The United States has never been a member of the ICC. The Clinton administration in 2000 signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC but had reservations about the scope of the court’s jurisdiction and never submitted it for ratification to the Senate, where there was broad bipartisan opposition to what lawmakers saw as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

When President George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration promoted and passed the American Service Members Protection Act, which sought to immunize U.S. troops from potential prosecution by the ICC. In 2002, Bolton, then a State Department official, traveled to New York to ceremonially “unsign” the Rome Statute at the United Nations.

This past September, Bolton said the ICC was a direct threat to U.S. national security interests and he threatened its personnel with both visa revocations and financial sanctions should it try to move against Americans. Pompeo said Friday that more measures may come.

The ICC said in a statement it was established by a treaty supported by 123 countries and that it prosecutes cases only when those countries failed to do so or did not do so “genuinely.” Afghanistan is a signatory.

“The court is an independent and impartial judicial institution crucial for ensuring accountability for the gravest crimes under international law,” the statement said. “The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law.”

Supporters of the court slammed Pompeo’s announcement.

Human Rights Watch called it “a thuggish attempt to penalize investigators” at the ICC.

“The Trump administration is trying an end run around accountability,” it said. “Taking action against those who work for the ICC sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked.”

Amnesty International described the move as “the latest attack on international justice and international institutions by an administration hellbent on rolling back human rights protections.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents three people before the ICC who say they were tortured in Afghanistan, called the decision “misguided and dangerous” and “an unprecedented attempt to skirt international accountability for well-documented war crimes that haunt our clients to this day.”

“It reeks of the very totalitarian practices that are characteristic of the worst human rights abusers, and is a blatant effort to intimidate and retaliate against judges, prosecutors, and advocates seeking justice for victims of serious human rights abuses,” it said.

___

Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Brussels contributed to this report.

Read the whole story
gmuslera
271 days ago
reply
Do as I say, not as I do
montevideo, uy
Share this story
Delete

19 Minutes to Escalation: Russian Hackers Move the Fastest

3 Comments
New data from CrowdStrike's incident investigations in 2018 uncover just how quickly nation-state hackers from Russia, North Korea, China, and Iran pivot from patient zero in a target organization.

Read the whole story
gmuslera
295 days ago
reply
The team Elephant is missing from the room
montevideo, uy
Share this story
Delete
2 public comments
JimB
293 days ago
reply
That is quick. Makes you realise how important updating firmware is, and getting everyone in the organisation to really understand how important cyber security is. I still know someone who boasts that all their passwords have their daughters name!
JayM
296 days ago
reply
Ug.
Atlanta, GA

Leaks Reveal US Military Use of IMF, World Bank as “Unconventional” Weapons

1 Comment
Comments
Read the whole story
gmuslera
300 days ago
reply
New elements to shine a light at how the world really is below our stories about it
montevideo, uy
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories