Obama’s HUDdle on Campus

CRDaily

If you aren’t aware, Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, graced our fair campus with his presence this afternoon. According to UNC’s Office of Federal Affairs (did anyone know we even had one of those?), the purpose of the visit was “to provide an opportunity for Carolina stakeholders to engage a member of the Obama Administration and to better understand some of their policies.” Sadly, the event resembled something closer to a campaign event (and a rather poor one at that).

In the Vicinity of Beijing's 4th Ring, or More Properly, What America Should be Shooting For

I think what was most disappointing was simply the quality of the questions students asked during the Q&A. The first one was “In your dealings with President Obama, what have you found to be his best quality?” And it was simply downhill from there. Now, if this man was addressing a group of third graders, that question might have been appropriate (maybe), but among a group of college students and academics it’s simply absurd. Consider the situation. Here you are, a college student (or professor, or whatever), with an opportunity to discuss anything, from the anemic job market, the depressed housing market, a rapidly nuclearizing Iran, a debt-to-GDP ratio north of 100%, or the impeding collapse of the post-World War II world order, and you essentially ask, “Why is the President soooooo awesome?” I think this little episode perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with American higher education today. Instead of thinking critically about events around it, the academy is so radically self-absorbed and out of touch and so obsessed with its own ideology, it’s simply laughable. Is this really all that the best and brightest of North Carolina is capable of? Maybe it was a fluke, or maybe some rogue from Duke snuck in, but it was kind of embarrassing.

Secretary Donovan, when he wasn’t answering inane questions from the audience, also did a fair amount of pontificating. Apparently, the administration is convinced that we can educate ourselves out of this recession. If only we spend (a lot) more on higher education and push as many people as we can through the system, we’ll all be happy again. Color me a skeptic, but the plan he described, where the federal government subsidizes education through new tax credits, etc., guarantees low-interest loans for all comers, and then requires those borrowers to make only bare minimum payments on those loans, seems awfully similar to American housing policy circa 2008 (which incidentally, HUD bears a lot of responsibility for). I suppose if the idea is to create a giant education bubble, such that when it pops, everyone forgets about the housing problem because the education bubble is so much bigger, then this is a great idea. But if the idea is to generate genuine economic growth, this is certainly not the way to go.

And what’s a State of the Union talk without some mention of trains? Aren’t those things amazing? If only we had more of them, those pesky Chinese wouldn’t even be able to touch us. Actually, the best part of the Secretary’s little speech was when he was talking about China’s impressive infrastructure and how the Chinese are just light-years ahead of us in this regard. He clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. If he did know what he was talking about, he would know that, even in the (very crowded and polluted) major cities (i.e. places like Beijing), you can’t drink the tap water or flush toilet paper because the sewer systems are so old and so out of date. He would also know that electricity is also a problem, and that you actually have to buy surge protectors to insulate your electronic goods from regular power surges. Indeed, even China’s much lauded trains aren’t much to write home about. When they’re not falling off bridges, many of China’s trains are (very) overcrowded, smelly, and generally a very hellish experience. And their highway system isn’t anywhere nearly as well developed as ours. Now, don’t get me wrong, China’s quite a charming place, but the U.S. is definitely winning the infrastructure game.

Shiny!

There was also a fair amount of green energy hype. The Secretary informed us that while there might be a few Solyndras along the way (who doesn’t mind a little government corruption after all), we can’t expect the government to make the right choice every time when it comes to deciding which business to support. This, of course, is the whole point! The government can’t make these decisions, because they are infinitely complicated and not something that some bureaucrat hiding in the basement of a federal building can make. Such choices are properly left to the market, which is a better evaluator  of risk and profit than the government will ever be. When the government tries to make these decisions, you end up with Solyndra. Solyndra isn’t merely a side effect of government intervention in the market, it is its natural conclusion.

All in all, this event was pretty disappointing. The questions were childish, and we got the same old, same old from the administration. It’s simply too bad that what could have been a really interesting event on the future direction of the country devolved into a Why Barack Obama is the Greatest Thing Since Baked Bread event.

Why the Global Warming Crowd Is Insane

CRDaily

I’ve always believed the the global warming crowd was a little out there. With their frequent predictions of global catastrophe that never seem to materialize, they seemed little more than modern re-incarnations of Chicken Little. The scandal involving East Anglia University’s efforts to cook the books only confirmed my observations. People like Al Gore and his ilk seemed interested in using the “crisis” of global warming as an excuse to expand government power. Not exactly a noble mission, but not something I would classify as evil, just misguided.

However, a rather gruesome video making the rounds of the internet is causing me to re-evaluate my assessment of the global warming movement. The video, entitled “No Pressure”,  was produced by the group 10:10, one of those international global warming outfits. According to their website,

10:10 is a global campaign to reduce carbon emissions by 10% in a year- starting in 2010. Any person, family, business, school, or other organization can cut 10%- and by working together we can make sure our actions count.

Given their desire to live my life for me, they’re just like any other environmental group. Yet, there’s this “No Pressure” video. In the video, various types of carbon-reduction strategies are promoted to “save the environment.” However, those who are unwilling to adapt these strategies or otherwise change the way they live are summarily executed. Even school children who refuse to live their lives according to the mandates handed down by this group are blown to bits. Even the woman who does the voice-over for the video is blown up at the end of the video, because she does not demonstrate a commitment to change her life. Those who agree to adapt their lives, are of course spared.

But what message does this send? Do what we say or we’ll kill you? Is there not something a bit Hitlerarian about this video, a purging of those who refuse to conform? To me, it seems like the Green version of “kill the infidel.” Just how widespread is this feeling in the Green movement? I find it shocking that such a mentality even exists, but how many people out there would just like to kill skeptics like me who refuse to conform their lives to a standard developed by people who have shown a considerable disregard for truth? According to the group, the video was supposed to be “funny.” But under what circumstances is the savaging of another human being funny?

In the past, I have been bemused by Greens’ attempts at using polar bears, etc. in attempts to play to people’s emotional side in trying to make their point. Again, not evil, just wrong. But I think it is clear that the No Pressure video is not only wrong, it is pure, unadulterated evil.

The Coming Eco-pocalypse

CRDaily

If you missed Christopher Horner’s speech in Howell Hall last week, allow me to inform you that global warming, as a political issue, is dying. The poor economy is taking the focus off of the environment, the world has been in a cooling trend for about the last decade, and a series of emails were recently leaked from a leading climate research institute that cast doubt on the scientific evidence for global warming in the first place.

All of this has combined to take the wind out of the sails of those demanding we “do something” about global warming.

In spite of this, if Mr. Horner is correct, eco-alarmism is far from dead. The vested interests that hyped global warming alarmism, from coal companies to former (and current) communists to the town of Carrboro, will not pass silently into the night.

Polar bears may no longer be the poster child of eco-alarmism, but similarly charismatic fauna can readily be found. This time, coral reefs are the ones in danger due to the folly of man—not from global warming, but from ocean acidification, the next big eco-threat.

As CRDaily readers, you are already, generally speaking, among the most well-informed readers around, but a brief explanation of the science would, I think, be helpful (In any case, I hope it will make my Chemical Oceanography teacher happy).

This is basically how it works: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (see figure 1.a), whether it is naturally occurring or emitted from your tail pipe, is in equilibrium with dissolved CO2 in the ocean (fig. 1.b). The more CO2 in the air, the greater the amount dissolved in the ocean (think of a 2-liter bottle of soda—let it equilibrate with the air long enough and it loses its fizz—in this case, the reverse would happen).

Carbon dioxide dissolved in water can combine with a water molecule to form carbonic acid (fig. 1.c). Carbonic acid, being an acid, has a tendency to dissociate with one or more of its hydrogen atoms (fig. 1.d and 1.e), increasing the acidity of the total solution (in this case, the ocean is the solution) and lowering its pH.

Figure 1. Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere equilibrates with dissolved carbon dioxide in the ocean

 

Acidity, for the non-science majors, is basically a measure of the concentration of protons (H+ ions) in solution compared to hydroxide ions (OH-). The acidity is usually reported as pH, the negative log of the proton concentration; lower pH means more acidic, and higher means a more basic solution.

If I’ve lost you, let me summarize: CO2 + H2O –>  carbonic acid (H2CO3), making the ocean more acidic, making life more difficult for corals, which require a more basic pH to survive.

However, ocean acidification due to carbon emissions may be less of a threat than some alarmists have suggested. As Mr. Horner pointed out, carbon dioxide levels have been much higher in the past (about ten times higher for much of the Mesozoic era), and the fossil evidence suggests that corals were still able to survive.

Also, if you were looking forward to bathing in a fizzy ocean, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon, either. Atmospheric carbon is just not going to reach high enough levels anytime soon, although it is certainly fun to imagine (the fizz part, not the dead corals).