The Climate Issues You Should *Really* Be Worried About: Solar Output Variation And Ice Ages

The average G-type star shows a variability in energy output of around 4%. Our sun is a typical G-type star, yet its observed variability in our brief historical sample is only 1/40th of this. When or if the Sun returns to more typical variation in energy output, this will dwarf any other climate concerns.

The emergence of science as a not wholly superstitious and corrupt enterprise is slowly awakening our species to these external dangers. As the brilliant t-shirt says, an asteroid is nature’s way of asking how your space program is doing. If we are lucky we might have time to build a robust, hardened planetary and extraplanetary hypercivilization able to surmount these challenges. Such a hypercivilization would have to be immeasurably richer and more scientifically advanced to prevent, say, the next Yellowstone supereruption or buffer a 2% drop in the Sun’s energy output. (Indeed, ice ages are the real climate-based ecological disasters and civilization-enders — think Europe and North America under a mile of ice). Whether we know it or not, we are in a race to forge such a hypercivilization before these blows fall. If these threats seem too distant, low probability, or fantastical to belong to the “real” world, then let them serve as stand-ins for the much larger number of more immediately dire problems whose solutions also depend on rapid progress in science and technology.

Via “2013 : WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?” at’s no direct link to the essay I’ve quoted; search for the essay title “Unfriendly Physics, Monsters From The Id, And Self-Organizing Collective Delusions” on that page.

NYC Marathon generators and supplies unused in park in spite of Hurricane Sandy recovery needs

The city left more than a dozen generators desperately needed by cold and hungry New Yorkers who lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy still stranded in Central Park yesterday.And that’s not all — stashed near the finish line of the canceled marathon were 20 heaters, tens of thousands of Mylar “space” blankets, jackets, 106 crates of apples and peanuts, at least 14 pallets of bottled water and 22 five-gallon jugs of water.This while people who lost their homes in the Rockaways, Coney Island and Staten Island were freezing and going hungry.Warzer JaffTHE GOODS: Would-be marathoners who circled Central Park yesterday were the reason given for not moving some crucial supplies.THE GOODS: Would-be marathoners who circled Central Park yesterday were the reason given for not moving these crucial supplies above.THE GOODS: Would-be marathoners who circled Central Park yesterday were the reason given for not moving these crucial supplies above.see more videosMichael Murphy, of Staten Island, who had no power and no heat, said yesterday, “We needed 100 percent of the resources here.”

This is the most that the best and brightest are capable of? Via New York City Marathon canceled but still has generators and supplies unused in park in spite of Hurricane Sandy recovery needs –

FEMA Taps Private Vendors to Meet Sandy Victim’s Needs

The agency appears to have been completely unprepared to distribute bottled water to Hurricane Sandy victims when the storm hit this Monday. In contrast to its stated policy, FEMA failed to have any meaningful supplies of bottled water — or any other supplies, for that matter — stored in nearby facilities as it had proclaimed it would on its website. This was the case despite several days advance warning of the impending storm.

FEMA only began to solicit bids for vendors to provide bottled water for distribution to Hurricane Sandy victims on Friday, sending out a solicitation request for 2.3 million gallons of bottled water at the website.

Hey, instead of bidding on a federal contract, how about you suspend “anti-gouging” laws and let people charge what they want for water? The price incentives will cause people to truck it in by the ton, in hopes of making a profit. Via FEMA Taps Private Vendors to Meet Sandy Victim’s Needs.

Anti-gouging laws make natural disasters worse

The basic imperative to allocate goods efficiently doesn’t vanish in a storm or other crisis. If anything, it becomes more important. And price controls in an emergency have the same results as they do any other time:  They lead to shortages and overconsumption. Letting merchants raise prices if they think customers will be willing to pay more isn’t a concession to greed. Rather, it creates much-needed incentives for people to think harder about what they really need and appropriately rewards vendors who manage their inventories well.

Indeed, many of the problems associated with weather emergencies are precisely caused by the fact that we can’t count on shops to “gouge” their customers. I live in a neighborhood with buried power lines in a building that contains a supermarket on the ground floor. But I nonetheless found myself stuck in line Sunday evening at the Safeway stockpiling emergency supplies just in case something went badly wrong and knocked power out throughout the city. The issue wasn’t that I wouldn’t be able to get to the store in a worst-case scenario, as that I was afraid other people would already have bought up all the stuff. And indeed, by the time I made it, the shelves had been largely denuded of essentials such as bottled water, canned soup, batteries, and Diet Coke. Greater flexibility to raise prices would not only tend to curb overconsumption directly by encouraging people to buy less, it would inspire confidence that shortages wouldn’t arise, reducing the tendency toward panicky preemptive hoarding.

Last but by no means least, more price gouging would greatly improve inventory management. There is a large class of goods—flashlights, snow shovels, sand bags—for which demand is highly irregular. Maintaining large inventories of these items is, on most days, a costly misuse of storage space. If retailers can earn windfall profits when demand for them spikes, that creates a situation in which it makes financial sense to keep them on hand. Trying to curtail price gouging does the reverse.

Some sense from Slate. Via Sandy price gouging: Anti-gouging laws make natural disasters worse. – Slate Magazine.

Christie Orders Odd-Even Rationing System For Filling Up Gas Tanks

Residents with license plates ending in an odd number can make gas purchases on odd-numbered days of the month Residents with plates ending in an even number will be able to buy gas on even-numbered days, the governor said.

Specialized plates or those not displaying a number will be considered odd numbered plates, a release from the governor’s office stated.

Instead, let sellers raise prices to something more in line with supply/demand curve. If that means $20/gallon, so be it. The pricing will make sure people know how valuable the resource is, and cause them to re-evaluate their use of gasoline. Then everybody gets at least some of what they *actually need*. Heartless? Hardly.

Via Christie Orders Odd-Even Rationing System For Filling Up Gas Tanks « CBS New York.

It Appears I’m A “Downsider”

If you think about emergency preparedness even though there is no emergency, you just might be a downsider. If you think it’s rather uncivilized to be rolling around in a luxury sedan while the country is in recession, you just might be a downsider.  If you don’t trust  Iran with nuclear weapons. If you think public bailouts of private failures are a bad idea. If you are on the lookout for Black Swans, you just might be a downsider. If you have solar panels on your house. If you have fresh water stored in your garage. If you own a gasoline powered generator. If you have no fond memories of inflation, you just might be a downsider. If FEMA’s performance after Katrina made you distrustful. If you’d rather learn CPR than wait for help to come. If you have ever been a floor warden at your place of business, you just might be a downsider. If you don’t trust McDonald’s to cook for you. If it bothers you that you can’t fix things that break. If you like watching the Discovery Channel. If you don’t want to be an addict to modern convenience,  you just might be a downsider.

Downsiders are not paranoid. Downsiders simply refuse to be bewildered, helpless or clueless. Downsiders are not excited about the downside, they just want to be cleareyed if such things happen. Downsiders are not hedging against  civilization to cash in on misery. Downsiders are not obsessed with zombies, the Mayan Calendar or the Book of Revelations. Downsiders are not Eloi or Morlocks, but we want to know what the future holds.  Downsiders are interested in being civil under all conditions, of keeping their heads when all about them are losing theirs. Downsiders have intellectual insurance. Downsiders are about figuring out how to live indifferent to fashion. Downsiders are about maintaing personal integrity tested in the worst of times. Downsiders are the enemy of panic.

And here I thought it was just “a reaistic awareness that unlikely negative events might occur at an inconvenient time.” Via You Might Just Be A Downsider | The Downside.

Complex Systems and Normal Accidents

One of my favourite sections of the book was Harford’s discussion of accidents. Most of the problems Harford examines in the book are complex and “loosely coupled”, which allows experimentation with failure. But what if the system is tightly coupled, meaning that failures threaten the survival of the entire system? This concept reminded me of work by Robert May, which undermined the belief that increased network complexity led to stability.

The concept of “normal accidents”, taken from a book of that title by Charles Perrow, is compelling. If a system is complex, things will go wrong. Safety measures that increase complexity can increase the potential for problems. As such, the question changes from “how do we stop accidents” to how do we mitigate their damage when they inevitably occur? This takes us to the concept of decoupling. When applied to the financial system, can financial institutions be decoupled from the broader system so that we can let them fail?

(Emphasis mine.) via Harford’s Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

Hooray for Price Gouging! It Makes Sure Everyone Gets A Little Something

As Hurricane Irene bears down on us, have you gone to CVS or Giant today and found that it’s all out of water? Alternatively, did you go last night and buy as much water as you could fit in your shopping cart?

Maybe you went to the hardware store and it was out of flashlights, or batteries. Or, maybe you went yesterday, and bought three flashlights — just in case — and a ton of batteries, because who knows what you’ll need to use them for?

Or, maybe — just maybe — you went to the hardware store, and battery prices were jacked up, and so you carefully counted how many you needed, and bought only that much.

Disaster pricing often yields more widespread allocation of scarce resources. So everybody has something, and it’s less likely someone’s sitting on water or batteries they don’t need.

via In defense of ‘price gouging’ | Campaign 2012.

Wal-Mart: Prepared When FEMA Is Not

I never want to hear another word about Wal-Mart is “evil.”

Walmart’s preparedness system helped the company emerge as a hero after Katrina, says Steve Horwitz, an economist at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., who studied the company’s response.

"They know exactly what people want after a hurricane," he says. "One of my favorite stories from Katrina is that the most popular food item after a major storm like this is strawberry Pop-Tarts."

Katrina showed that Wal-Mart was willing to let its employees improvise when they encountered something no computer could predict, Horwitz says.

In Waveland, Miss., where a Walmart was badly damaged, "they sort of pushed all this stuff into the parking lot and basically gave it away to the community," he says. "In other places, they broke into their own pharmacy to get drugs for local hospitals."

Since Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has begun studying ways to work with the private sector during emergencies. And the state of Florida has actually hired Bryan Koon, Walmart’s former emergency manager, to run its Division of Emergency Management.

"What I learned at Walmart helps me here to be able to make sure that we are putting those retailers in the best possible position to be successful in a situation like this," Koon says.

If most people can get what they need from stores after a hurricane, Koon says, agencies like his can focus on the less fortunate victims.

Read the whole thing: Big-Box Stores’ Hurricane Prep Starts Early : NPR. If you know what to look for, you see Adam Smith’s invisible hand, the Hayekian knowledge problem, and arguments against protecting consumers from “price gouging.”

Are You Prepared For (Earthquake|Hurricane|Zombies|Collapse) ?

A note to all my friends and anyone else who reads this blog: the recent earthquake on the US east coast shows that the unexpected event will eventually occur. Prepare now while it’s cheap to do so, both in time and money.

Have at least three days of food and water on hand for each person and pet in the house, more as you have storage for it. (You need at least a gallon of water per day per person.) Hell, throw in some comfort food stores too (liquor, candy, etc). The food should be suitable for long-term storage: canned meat, canned cheese and butter, rice, beans, freeze-dried foods, MREs, and the like. Remember that some foods need water for cooking, so factor that into your water stores.

Expect the power to be out. Flashlights, headlamps, candles, a camp stove, and some propane bottles will go a long way in the cold and dark.

A battery-powered radio or TV will help you keep connected to the world.

Keep an extra supply of your medicines on hand. The pharmacies may not be able to dispense or even order your meds when the power is out.

Keep some cash hidden away, so you can buy things in case the credit card networks are out with the power.

If you’re inclined to firearms, have at least a pistol and a hundred rounds of ammunition. I carry a .40 Glock, but if I had it to do over again I’d go with a 9mm Glock. If you can, have a rifle and/or shotgun as well along with sufficient ammunition.

If you really want to get into the spirit of things, think of it as a game of preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse; it’s amazing how well those scenarios translate into real-world disaster preparedness.

*Some* disaster is headed your way, whether its power outage from a storm, or an earthquake knocking out critical facilities. It will come as a surprise. You won’t have enough lead time to get ready for it. Nobody will be there to help you in the first hours and days of the disaster. Look out for yourself first, so you can then look out for others.

PS. Here’s a good roundup of links to help you get started: