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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Global Warming Versus a Few Drops of Water on the Floor?

For Jeff Tucker, it's no contest:

"It is a pain in the neck to carry a full tray across the room, spill a bit here and there, and then balance it carefully in the freezer. And then when you take it out, your fingers stick to the trays and you have to break the tray and dump the cubes into something and refreeze what you do not use, and then the cubes stick together and so on. That's why we use ice makers."

Can you imagine? Fingers sticking to trays?! Cubes stuck together! (I never have either of these problems, but maybe I'm just handy with an ice tray.) What is some family drowning in a tsunami in Sri Lanka compared to our fingers sticking to an ice tray?!

Then we get treated to some a priori energy consumption analysis:

"This whole model forgets a perfectly obvious point: having an ice maker often means that you have an ice dispenser on the outside of the fridge, meaning that you do not have to open the door to get your ice. This is surely an energy saver."

"Surely"! No sense actually looking up the facts and seeing what the real energy trade-off is. Well, it turns out that ice makers typically account for 20% of a refrigerator's energy consumption. I can't find a study comparing that to opening the door a few more times per day, but there is no "surely" about this -- it seems quite likely that the ice makers are still big net energy consumers.

And it's somewhat startling to see a Catholic such as Tucker equating civilization with ice makers, laundry detergents, and drain cleaners. I would have thought Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas were better representatives. I would have thought that we might have judged all four of those men to be more civilized than almost anyone alive today, despite the fact that had no icemakers! (Yes, I know it is hard to believe, but Phaedo, The Nichomachean Ethics, The City of God, and Summa Theologica all were written by men lacking ice makers. How could they use their stylii when their fingers were always stuck to their ice cube trays? I think Plato did not even have crystal drain openers, and Aquinas's laundry detergent sometimes failed to leave colors bright.) In fact, I would have thought that it is rather obvious that the endless pursuit of ice makers, drain cleaners and laundry detergents is a de-civilizing factor, as people are lured from the realm of the spirit by shiny gadgets. I would have thought Aristotle nailed this a long time ago: we need enough physical comfort to permit us to live the bios theoretikos, but beyond that we have left the mean behind and are moving towards vice.

But what do I know?

34 comments:

  1. Hi Gene,

    I think you may have missed the point of the article. I think Jeff's point is that ice-makers are a stand in for progress. His argument seems to be that humanity benefits from technological innovations that make life easier. The ice-maker makes life easier (presumably because you can avoid the spilling, the hands sticking, and so forth).

    Interestingly, certainly Aristotle and Aquinas thought material goods were a necessary component of human happiness and flourishing. Plato seems to vacillate on the issue, and Augustine would certainly have denied it. So, we'll say that's two-and-a-half who more or less agree with Jeff.

    Cheers,

    Stephen Krogh

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  2. "I think Jeff's point is that ice-makers are a stand in for progress."

    I understood that quite well. So, we have lost the classical-Christian understanding of human existence, but we've gained ice makers. And this is called "progress"?

    "Interestingly, certainly Aristotle and Aquinas thought material goods were a necessary component of human happiness and flourishing."

    And so do I. Did you see this bit: "I would have thought Aristotle nailed this a long time ago: we need enough physical comfort to permit us to live the bios theoretikos, but beyond that we have left the mean behind and are moving towards vice"?

    Aristotle and Aquinas certainly did not buy into the idea that "progress" consists in more and more appliances in our homes, or that such progress should be pursued whatever its cost to others. So sorry, I don't think they are on Jeff's side.

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  3. Hi Gene,

    I think you're working from a hidden premise that seems to imply that certain types of material goods indicate that one has moved away from the "classical-Christian understanding of human existence." Perhaps you've already done so, but this premise definitely needs justification.

    Of course I read the bit regarding bio theoretikos. The problem with your reading of Aristotle here is that Aristotle is really fuzzy on what theoria is, and what one needs exactly to get it. For instance, does one need to live in community to flourish? In parts of the "Nicomachean Ethics" (particularly bks. 8–9 on friendship) and basically the whole of the "Politics" he says "yes," but in bk. 10 he seems to indicate that one can have theoria on his own. Moreover, I don't think we have to commit ourselves to a reading whereby Aristotle is prescribing a one size fits all approach to human flourishing. In other words, what helps one attain bios theoretikos could be different from what helps another. In short, your reading of Aristotle might be too rigid and sanguine.

    Finally, your last paragraph is a red herring. Of course Aristotle and Thomas would not have equated progress with more and more appliances in the home, and it certainly wasn't something to be sought at all costs. But, who is saying that they did? Who here is saying that we should? We might have another hidden premise in need of justification.

    Finally, Thomas does argue, or at least one can read Thomas as arguing, that material progress is a per se good (See, for instance, ST IaIIae 109.2 c where Thomas says that things like building houses and planting vineyards are goods that man can produce from his nature apart from God's grace). Of course, how one *acts* in light of or in response to the per se good of material progress is another story. But, I think that rests in the first hidden premise I've pointed out above. I'll leave you to justify how ice-makers play a role in this.

    Cheers,

    Stephen

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  4. I apologize for the poor construction of the last post. Too many "finalies," I see.

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  5. 'I think you're working from a hidden premise that seems to imply that certain types of material goods indicate that one has moved away from the "classical-Christian understanding of human existence."'

    I'm sorry, but that's a bizarre interpretation of what I've said. It's not the goods, it's worrying more about an ice maker that the state of one's soul (not that Tucker is guilty of that!).

    Look, it's pretty obvious to me that we live in a time that generally worships material progress and neglects the spirit. Just watch a couple hours of TV. It's not that ice makers are a spiritual disaster; it's that madly scrambling for material goods while paying no attention to the life of the spirit is a spiritual disaster.

    And certainly Aquinas would think that taking caring of material needs is a good thing. That does not equate to the idea of never-ending material progress that is the false god of the West today.

    "Of course Aristotle and Thomas would not have equated progress with more and more appliances in the home, and it certainly wasn't something to be sought at all costs. But, who is saying that they did? Who here is saying that we should?"

    Yes, I was making an attempt at humor. At least one person got it: Jeff Tucker told me it is "hilarious."

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  6. I find it quite ironic that you can mock Jeff Tucker's "Surely!" conclusion that opening the freezer drawer less often saves energy without bothering to look at the facts, considering you equate the additional energy use associated with ice makers as being responsible for "some family drowning in a tsunami."

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  7. GrimHogun, I certainly did NOT say anything like, "If you use your ice maker, you've killed a family in Sri Lanka." What I was pointing out is that the trivial nature of Jeff's concerns ought to be placed on a balance with the quite serious nature of the things energy-saving legislation is trying to prevent.

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  8. Thanks for the reply Gene.

    I would only say that there is a very serious distinction between what legislation tries to prevent and what it actually does.

    I would hope you would agree that in your post when writing,

    "Can you imagine? Fingers sticking to trays?! Cubes stuck together! (I never have either of these problems, but maybe I'm just handy with an ice tray.) What is some family drowning in a tsunami in Sri Lanka compared to our fingers sticking to an ice tray?!"

    you are certainly at least suggesting the fact that there is a trade-off and thus correlation between the two events. That, of course, has not been demonstrated.

    Aditionally, again you seem to be implying that this is the argument Jeffrey is making, which he clearly is not. That he prefers the material comfort of an ice maker at the expense of a Sri Lanka family's life. Which is obviously absurd and I know you don't actually believe that, but its a bit intellectually dishonest to frame your attack on his piece in just such a way.

    It reminds me of the attacks against drug legalization, "What! My brother died of a heroin overdose, how can you be in favor or heroin!"

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  9. You're welcome.

    "you are certainly at least suggesting the fact that there is a trade-off and thus correlation between the two events. That, of course, has not been demonstrated."

    Well, nothing in the phenomenal sciences is ever definitively demonstrated. But the best science I am aware of suggests that there is some correlation.

    "Aditionally, again you seem to be implying that this is the argument Jeffrey is making, which he clearly is not. That he prefers the material comfort of an ice maker at the expense of a Sri Lanka family's life."

    Not really. What I was trying to do -- and apparently failing at! -- was to point out that he never gave any consideration to the point of the legislation he was complaining about.

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  10. I think you purposely misrepresent my viewpoint in your replies.

    Global warming was discredited last I checked. I believe it has been renamed to "climate change" to handle some new data that did not fit with previous conclusions.

    More to the point, the exact issue I take contention with is your implicit suggestion that the inclusion of ice makers in refrigerators has a correlation to "some family drowning in a tsunami." That has not been demonstrated to be true. And ironically it is the exact same error, albeit of much greater magnitude, that you chastize Jeff for making in his article.

    Certainly your critique would be more persuasive if it was of more substance and less of what certainly seems like mockery of Jeff's position. I suspect the reason (playful?) teasing of Jeff's article won out over substantive arguments is precisely because of the difficulty associated with demonstrating exactly how much damage ice makers do to the environment and weighing them against the subjective valuation of enjoyment consumers gain from using them.

    I have no interest in the back and forth that may never end, but I think you understand my point.

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  11. "I think you purposely misrepresent my viewpoint in your replies."

    OK, GrimHogun, goodbye. You've come to my blog and accused me of being a liar. I was doing you the credit of thinking you were not a head-in-the-sand global warming denialist, not "purposely misrepresenting" your views.

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  12. I admit I'm no expert in Thomian or Aristotelian philosophy. Still, how do you really imagine St. Thomas would react to, say, a ban on growing red grapes [1] on the grounds that "We need to be helping out the poor, and any land used for red grapes displaces land that could be growing a lot more non-extravagant crops like grains or fruits that the poor need"?

    Which sounds like a more plausible St. Thomas reaction?

    a) "Wow, good point, red wine consumption really is hurting the poor via the land use it encourages. Guess we'll have to do without -- this will probably help me live out the ideal life anyway."

    b) "What a flimsy pretense for a clumsy way to help the poor! Yes, we should be giving alms, but surely we can do it in a way that doesn't categorically squash one of life's finer pleasures. If we want to pass laws that help the poor, set some fraction of one's income one must give -- then people can help the poor the most, and in a way that doesn't unnecessarily hurt the giver. Don't ban random things just because there exists a more pro-poor usage of some resource!"

    Again, *without* being an expert on St. Thomas Aquinas, b) sounds a lot more plausible, and corresponds a lot more closely with the general outrage at these bizarrely-specific campaigns to ban things based on some economic planner's view of what things are "wasteful".

    (To the extent that global warming is a problem -- and I've tried to convince you and Bob Murphy of this in the past -- the problem is with the aggregate level of CO2, not with any *specific* activity. Therefore, that's the level at which the regulation should take place, so people can start cutting back from the least-valued activities, rather than try to deem from above what's "inefficient.)

    [1] He liked red wine, or at least the possibility of others consuming it.

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  13. Well, Silas:
    1) I don't think ice makers are as fundamental as red wine; and
    2) I didn't see Tucker pointing out some other method of stopping global warming, i.e., there wasn't anything like your "If we want to pass laws that help the poor, set some fraction of one's income one must give..."

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  14. 1) That's a matter of taste rather than a substantive difference though. I don't care much for red wine (use of psychoactive drugs isn't a criticial part of what I deem the ideal life), but I care a lot about having to fill and empty ice trays. And what about tee-totalers?

    2) Indeed, when it comes to alternatives, he was acting like Bob Murphy today (or maybe you four years ago). Not cool. But you don't need a counterproposal to recognize the stupidity of a central economic planner decreeing which uses of energy are "inefficient", which was indeed part of what rankled Tucker.

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  15. "That's a matter of taste rather than a substantive difference though."

    I do not agree. Wine has been an important component of Western Civilization for 3000 or more years. Ice makers are a silly faddish item of no real value.

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  16. Alright, well, next time I'll make sure to check the official list of which pleasures I'm allowed to indulge, making sure to note the moral superiority of (some) psychoactive susbstances over not having to make ice by hand!

    Gosh I hate all those ultra-materalists, going deep into debt to fund their hedonic automatic ice lifestyles! It's 100% identical to buying plasma bigscreens or oversized houses, because the experts of Western civ say so.

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  17. Yes, Silas, there are things that are truly valuable, and others that aren't. The subjective theory of value explains economic activity, but philosophically it is false.

    And yes, you would be better off asking me before you purchase anything.

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  18. Good point, I always thought Buddhist teetotaler monks were morally inferior, I'm glad I have you around to give me the intellectual covering fire I need to make these positions seem respectable.

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  19. Buddhist teetotaler monks are fine; also ask me before you evaluate anything. You'll find your life going much better once you do.

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  20. Sorry, people I catch making rookie mistakes as a matter of course aren't very good guides ... for anything. (Remember your howler about how the field of aerodymaics has nothing to say about avian flight because "that's ornithology, mannnnn!"?)

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  21. Is it really philosophically valueless to reduce the amount of labor involved in obtaining what everyone admits is a genuine good (i.e., ice)?

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  22. "Remember your howler about how the field of aerodymaics has nothing to say about avian flight because "that's ornithology, mannnnn!"?"

    OK, Silas, I've been trying to run a friendly gag with you here, but now you are acting like an idiot. What I said (I just looked it up) was that aerodynamics and ornithology are different subjects. I never, ever ever said anything remotely like "the field of aerodymaics has nothing to say about avian flight."

    My new advice to you: Lying is definitely a very bad character trait. You should learn to avoid it.

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  23. PSH, perhaps I should have said "of trivial value."

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  24. How is the subjective theory of value "philosophically false"?

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  25. Because value is, in fact, an objective phenomenon.

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  26. http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/04/07/climate-models-go-cold/

    Not quite as cut and dry as "What is some family drowning in a tsunami in Sri Lanka compared to our fingers sticking to an ice tray?!"

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  27. 'Global warming was discredited last I checked. I believe it has been renamed to "climate change"...'

    Displaying your ignorance is not a good way to convince anyone of anything. The use of "climate change" pre-dates "global warming" by decades! Nothing whatsoever has been "re-named."

    So, where did you get your PhD in Climate Science?

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  28. Here you go, Grim.

    I found this in about two minutes of searching. Before you spout off, it's best to do at least a minimal amount of research.

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  29. I'm glad to see you focus on the terminology and ignore the evidence actual scientists present. Because that's what matters right? Not the content of the article I link. Let's ignore that entirely and instead only focus on the incorrect statement I made weeks earlier in regards to the timeline of the climate change/global warming terminology usage.

    And you mock libertarians for failing to reconsider their position in light of evidence to the contrary? Wow. It's sad to see how much emphasis you place on winning this blog wars or whatever this is you do, as oppose to an interest in learning and advancing the discussion.

    I'm sure you will vehemently deny this, but your response to my linking of an actual climate scientists view of global warming by not even pausing to address it and simply use a strawman to point out my woeful ignorance of the history of climate change terminology is the epitome of an intellectually dishonest exchange. And I'm sure you know that.

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  30. Grimhogun, you cited ONE GUY. Are you trying to claim that represents the consensus of climate scientists? Before you accuse others of intellectual dishonesty, you might take that beam out of your eye.

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  31. "I'm glad to see you focus on the terminology..."

    YOU are the one who put the focus on terminology, with your silly claim that the name "global warming" had been changed to "climate change" for PR purposes.

    Now when I respond to YOU putting the focus on terminology, I'm accused of doing so! So who is intellectually dishonest? I think his name starts with "Grim."

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  32. "Grimhogun, you cited ONE GUY. Are you trying to claim that represents the consensus of climate scientists? Before you accuse others of intellectual dishonesty, you might take that beam out of your eye."

    http://blogs.forbes.com/jamestaylor/2011/06/08/ten-years-and-counting-wheres-the-global-warming/

    Look there's another! And I could post even more links from even more scientists as you are fully aware. But you have made your point. Your only interest is in demonstrating Gene Callahan's victory over GrimHogun in the blog wars! You have made it abundantly clear actually discussing or investigating the merits of your position vis a vi global warming is off the table.

    I would not even have bothered engaging this long, but its truly fascinating how insightful your criticisms of some an-caps in this very same area can be, while simultaneously possessing the same flaw yourself.

    If you ever wish to present your new anti-libertarian views in their entirety I would gladly purchase that book. This back and forth exchange has not nearly been as beneficial as, say, reading the fantastic "Economics for Real People!"

    Take care and I apologize if I was rude in any of my earlier comments.

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  33. GrimHogun, I am aware of there being dissent from the global warming consensus, and have been aware of it for years. I have never doubted for a moment that these dissenter may be right.

    But, as I am not a climate scientist, I see little choice but for me to go with what the vast majority of climate scientists think, and hope that if they are wrong, the scientific process will show that sooner or later.

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  34. "You have made it abundantly clear actually discussing or investigating the merits of your position vis a vi global warming is off the table."

    Yes, that's because I don't have "a position" on this matter. In order for me to have a position on this, I would need to study climate science for many years. I don't have time. The next best alternative is to believe what those who have studied it for years think.

    From Wikipedia:

    In February 2007, the IPCC released a summary of the forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report. According to this summary, the Fourth Assessment Report finds that human actions are "very likely" the cause of global warming, meaning a 90% or greater probability. Global warming in this case is indicated by an increase of 0.75 degrees in average global temperatures over the last 100 years.[5]

    The New York Times reported that “the leading international network of climate scientists has concluded for the first time that global warming is 'unequivocal' and that human activity is the main driver, very likely' causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950”.[6]

    A retired journalist for The New York Times, William K. Stevens wrote: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the likelihood was 90 percent to 99 percent that emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, spewed from tailpipes and smokestacks, were the dominant cause of the observed warming of the last 50 years. In the panel’s parlance, this level of certainty is labeled 'very likely'. Only rarely does scientific odds-making provide a more definite answer than that, at least in this branch of science, and it describes the endpoint, so far, of a progression.”.[7]

    Overwhelming consensus, Grim. That doesn't mean they are correct, but as amateurs, how in the world would we be in a position to judge they are not?

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