Famine: impacts and adaption

Never blog when pissed [*] they said…

So, Kloor and Romm are having a dust up over stuff, and if you care you can read the details or even take sides (I’m with Kloor, you won’t be surprised to learn). But we can take a step back and consider a more generalised problem, in the context of Doctors Warn Climate Change is “Greatest Threat to Public Health”: suppose we care about famine in the third world (in the sense of wanting to do something about it, rather than in the sense of finding it interesting material to blog about it): what might we do?

* stop climate change (reduce impacts)
* improve their governance (adaption)

Obviously the two are not exclusive, but more importantly it is likely that one factor is more significant than the other. Which might it be? I’ve been pretty skeptical about the chances of future famine in the past (pardon?) and I’m still skeptical, so my vote goes to choice 2: their big problem is governance. Climate might well be an aggravating factor, but in comparison to being shot up, attacked and generally having your entire civil society destroyed by armed gangs, climate comes a pretty poor second.

So temporarily ignoring the problem that “improve their governance” doesn’t have a glorious recent past (Afghanistan and Iraq being our most recent disaster areas; but we could look to Sierra Leone, or possibly Libya as better examples) I’d say option 2 is distinctly a better bet. Plus the associated externalities are positive too (not only do they not starve to death, they don’t get shot either).

[*] In the English sense, which is to say, when drunk.

[Update: AG reminds me that I really ought to have mentioned Civil conflicts are associated with the global climate. And you can read his blog on it, too.]

Occupy Wall Street?

economu-could-be-more-fair I was going to write something about “occupy wall street” – I even found their statement, and was going to analyse it. But really all I was going to do was snark. So instead I’ll point you at Anarchists for good government
which has the benefit of being by someone who was there. I agree with it all. Principally, with the assertion that although people think something is wrong, no-one has any idea how to put it right. And secondly, with the observation that this helps unify the protests (and the implication that the protests would fragment if there was an idea of what to do).

Updates: well, we now have “Occupy SX” and they too would like the world to be full of fluffy bunnies [*] and everyone just to be nice to each other. But they too have no clue as to how to achieve this. More interestingly RP has some practical experience.

[*] I.e., not Rabetts :-).
Continue reading “Occupy Wall Street?”

Feynman on Brahe

Listening to the Feynman lectures on CD (the one on electromagentism is quite a challenge on CD 🙂 we got to gravity, and I was rather struck by a historical note he made, concerning the shift from geocentrism to heliocentrism – essentially, the process of working out how the planets really moved, and why.

The first I’ve heard elsewhere: that once you have some idea of momentum, then you realise that the invisible angels you need to push your planets around suddenly change direction: instead of pushing from behind the planets to make them go round in circles, suddenly they are pushing the planets towards the sun. So all of a sudden the idea that the sun might be the source of the invisible angels becomes rather more likely.

And the second was that the person he selects as making the outstanding initial contribution is Tycho Brahe. Feynman phrases it something like this: “and then someone had a great idea… instead of just arguing from first principles about the planets motions, why not measure them carefully to see what they actually did”. This is interesting, because in the versions of the story I know, Brahe is a somewhat minor character: a rich but rather uninspired figure, mechanically making careful observations that he didn’t know what to do with; the big boys of that story are then Copernicus and Kepler, and then Newton. I think Feynman’s view isn’t really historically accurate; but it is a new way to look at the story.

[Update: Science controversies past and present by Steven Sherwood happens my way, via TCS]