Monday, October 29, 2012

Something for "small government" conservatives to ponder

So as Frankenstorm Sandy pounds the east coast I am once again facepalming as our nation continues to bury its head in the sand regarding climate change. Some people may explain this as a "freak occurence", but I've seen way too many freak occurences in the past decade to accept these things as just black swans. Pretty much every rigorous climate model predicts that the warming we are causing will lead to severer and more frequent storms, more instances of extreme weather (like this summer's drought, for instance), melting of sea ice and glaciers, and eventually large changes in ecosystems and species distribution. While the last of these items has not had enough time to get underway, everything else we are seeing today. Not 20 years from now. Not 10 years from now. Today. Storms like Sandy are no longer outliers from the general pattern, they are the new normal, and anyone who says different has a financial interest in making sure our practices do not change.

The one thing that continues to puzzle me, however, is the relative lack of silence from those who have a financial interest in actually addressing climate change, namely insurance companies. Their risk models are being thrown all out of whack, they are paying both a higher volume of claims and greater dollar amounts on them (or else paying more lawyers to fight them in court and underwriters to create ever more bare-bones policies), and while premiums are going up, especially in high risk areas, there is a practical ceiling to that beyond which people will be priced out of the market. Last I checked, the business model for most types of insurance was based on a large amount of people paying affordable premiums so that they could make the occasional claim when necessary, and that only a few people would be making claims at any one time. Charging higher premiums to compensate for increased chances of risk is a reasonable short-term decision, but taking in ever-higher premiums from ever-fewer customers, while at the same time reducing what sorts of events and damages those premiums cover is a death spiral for that model. This leaves ever-greater numbers of people who will either need to foot the bill themselves to rebuild their lives when disaster strikes (something few will be able to do), and eventually the government will need to step in to provide insurance (as it already does in the case of floods) and associated relief programs since the private market will no longer be able to. Will big insurance finally wake up and grow a spine to take on the fossil fuel industry? I hope so, since if not they will be shooting themselves in the foot.

In one sense I love the irony: people who believe the government should be smaller and vote for candidates who have similar goals, but who will because of that belief will not enact any meaningful checks on the forces that cause climate change, actually will end up causing government to be larger in order to deal with the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, as with pretty much every tenet of conservative ideology, it is the masses that get screwed. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reminder: Reading tomorrow

Just a quick reminder to you all that tomorrow evening at 7:00 PM I will be appearing with five of my fellow contributors to Atheist Voices of Minnesota at the Barnes & Noble in the Har Mar mall in Roseville. We will each be reading excerpts from our essays and participating in a panel discussion about the book. There will also be time for questions from the audience, and an afterparty at the Chianti Grill, which is a short walk across the parking lot. The other authors on the panel will be August Berkshire, Kori Hennessy, Robin Raiainiemi, Tim Wick, and Stephanie Zvan. Fellow author Eric Jayne will be moderating and there may be a few more in the audience. This is the perfect chance to meet and talk with several people featured in this wonderful book, and, let's face it, what else do you have to do on a Wednesday night? Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Space Week 2012: On Hiatus

55 years ago today, the Space Age began with the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union. Today there are thousands of satellites in orbit, an International Space Station, rovers on Mars, robotic probes in orbit around Mars and Saturn, and others on their way to Pluto, Jupiter, Ceres, and the far reaches of the Solar System. 45 years ago next Wednesday, the United Nations Outer Space Treaty went into effect. This agreement helped lay the groundwork for the peaceful use of space and the growing level of cooperation among nations in space related activities. While national rivalries are not going away anytime soon, the theater of space remains non-militarized and powers that cooperate on little else (Russia and the U.S. come to mind) will often work together on space issues. These two events book-end one of my favorite annual celebrations, World Space Week.

Starting in 2000, the second year Space Week was recognized, I started an article series in honor of it which has continued with some modifications every year since. This year, however, I'm going to have to put it on hiatus since there is just too much else going on in my life right now to devote that amount of time to research and writing. The one exception to that will be my meditation on what I call the Cosmic Perspective, which will appear sometime during Space Week proper. But even tough the article series is on hiatus Space Week remains and we can all do fun things to acknowledge and celebrate how space activities effect our lives as well as the great promise space exploration and development holds for the human species.

The official theme this year is Space for Human Safety and Security, and highlights the role that satellites play in emergency response, weather forecasting, law enforcement, and other pursuits where having eyes in orbit helps to protect lives and property. So next time you notice a spy satellite passing overhead, make sure to smile and wave for the cameras; the intelligence analysts huddled in their underground bunkers will appreciate the gesture of goodwill.