I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Has Global Warming been Debunked?

I've long been skeptical of the theory that global warming is man-made. More accurately, I've long been skeptical of the evidence. The theory itself seems reasonable. We live in what is essentially a very, very big greenhouse. The temperature of the air we breathe is determined in part by the mix of gasses present in our atmosphere. Water vapor traps a lot of heat, as does methane, and, to a much smaller degree, carbon dioxide. We live in an era when modern life is changing the ratio of all of these gasses. We are liberating carbon that has long been trapped beneath the surface. Our modern agriculture has specialized in producing animals that produce a lot of methane. And even water vapor has new outlets into the atmosphere thanks to human activity, as anyone who has ever driven past a factory belching steam must surely have noticed. A lot of that water is taken from ancient aquifers far below ground, with molecules that haven't had a shot at the sky for millions of years,

But, of course, nothing is simple. Sure, our livestock farts out a lot of methane, but so did bisons and passenger pigeons, and we turned off those spigots. We may pull a lot of carbon out of the ground as coal and oil, but we take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere by cutting down forests to build houses and print books. The new forests that grow in the wake of our activities pull a lot of carbon out of the air. As for water vapor, there is so much water in the atmosphere that human actions can barely be measured.

As for whether the world is getting warmer, I think that's pretty well established. There's a long set of non-biased data that point to a fairly consistent warming trend, at least in the northern hemisphere, dating back to the 1850s. But, of course, this follows a centuries long cooling trend known as the "Little Ice Age." The problem with figuring out if human actions lead to climate change is that there is no such thing as climate stability. Our present warming trend could just be part of the background variation inherent in our climate.

But, perhaps because some global warming proponents are seizing on our current heat wave as evidence of man made climate change, I've noticed some skeptics adopting some of the same religious ferver they denounce in their opponents. The other day, I read an article talking about how all the various climate models on computers had been debunked. If the computers got it wrong, there's no man-made climate change! None! But, that argument is a false one if you give it even half a moments thought. The reality of changing climate has nothing at all to do with the existence of good computer models. The mastodons didn't look once at a chart showing the ice age might be coming to an end, but it ended anyway. Just because we can't model the effects of human activity upon the atmosphere isn't evidence that there aren't any such effects.

I think skepticism is healthy. Being skeptical of your own skepticism isn't a bad thing either. It's easy to argue against man-made global warming just for the satisfaction of poking holes in the near religious certainty of the proponents. The sky-is-falling doomsday predictions are fun to shoot down. But, don't lose sight of a simple truth: Natural variation might explain all the climate change we've experienced in recent centuries. But, it's also just as valid to argue that natural variation might mask genuine long term harm we're inflicting upon the earth by tweaking the atmosphere a little more each year. Cool-headed, reasoned certainty that man isn't causing long term climate change seems to me to be just as foolish a position as feverish certainty that we are.

If I may use a few analogies, climate change alarmists may be Chicken-Littles, panicking over a random string of hot days. But climate change skeptics might be the proverbial frog in the pot of water, never taking action to save themselves as the temp climbs slowly to boiling.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Thoughts on the Health Care ruling

It looks like I let June be my first month since starting this blog without a post. Sorry. I have a deadline of July 31 to turn in my next book, Witchbreaker, but due to buying a house, renovating it, and moving in, I basically wrote almost nothing on the project between mid-March and mid-May. Fortunately, when panic finally sets in, I can crank out some words, and I just finished the second draft yesterday. So, I'm taking a few days before jumping into the third draft to catch up on some of the stuff I've let fall by the wayside during my writing frenzy.

I used to write about politics frequently on this blog, but my enthusiasm for politics has waned in recent years. I used to have this vague, half-formed hope that as our countries problems worsened, we'd finally have some leaders step up to pull us back to a path of sanity. I took some amusement from the cowardice, hypocrisy, and stupidy of elected officials because it reinforced my libertarian prejudices that government just messes everything up.

But all joy sort of seeped away during the unending Republican primaries. Amusement changed to terror as I realized our next president might be the oops guy, the pizza guy, the crazy lady, the religious nut, the wife-leaver, or the spineless rich guy. Sweet merciful jesus, has a political party ever fielded a worse slate of candidates? Ron Paul was okay, but he was doomed by crazy talk, i.e., explaining his true beliefs clearly and plainly without shaping them to make them more palatable to his audience. Romney makes his opinions palatable by seeming not to have any. He doesn't like Obama's temporary immigration fix, and says he wants a permanent solution... without saying what that will be. He wants to repeal and replace Obamacare... but replace with what? He claims he understands the economy, but if he has any ideas beyond cutting taxes I haven't heard them.

Meanwhile, Obamacare. I have to admit, I didn't expect the individual mandate to be upheld, and I certainly didn't expect that it would be Roberts that pushed it over the top. But, I do think there's a fundamental honesty in calling the "penalty" a tax. And, if even once in the bill it had been called a tax, there's no question it would have been constitutional. I'm deeply offended, even outraged, that elected representatives might vote to tax me for things I might not do (like having health insurance), but I can't deny that the constitution grants congress the power to levy taxes.

And, I did appreciate what I thought was the most important sentence in Robert's ruling: It's not the court's job to protect the public from the consequences of their political choices. Robert was basically slapping the American public in the face and shouting, "If you don't like this law, vote for people who will overturn it. Don't come crying to us!"

So, should we vote for people to overturn the law? My immediate impulse is yes, completely, 100%. The law is too complex, and way too expensive. I have little doubt that it's a drag on the economy that's making companies reluctant to hire people. And, because of the individual mandate, unemployed people no longer have the option of trying to start their own business. As someone self-employed as a writer, I can tell you that my income is marginal and unpredictable enough that it would be extremely difficult for me to pay a monthly health care premium. I do have a day job, and get my health care coverage through this. But, like most writers, I dream about quitting my day job. It's possible that, if I did so, I might be taking a gamble on having a few years uninsured. Lots of people do this, and, if you're in good health, and young enough, it's often a gamble that pays off. You go without insurance while you're starting your small business and ten years later, when your hard work is finally paying off, you get insurance.

Now, with the individual mandate, you can't have those just-scraping-by years to launch your own business because you either need to earn enough to buy insurance, or you get charged a hefty tax. This is going to be a burden discouraging millions of people from trying to be their own boss. The law tilts the employment playing field in favor of large corporations, who get the best insurance rates. But, of course, now the large corporations don't want to hire as many people, because the law also removes things like payment caps, meaning any given employee can be a time bomb just waiting to explode into multi-million dollar health care price tags.

On the other hand, if Obamacare truly does cause more people to have insurance, maybe this will keep down the costs. If we add more healthy young people, it subsidizes sicker old people. I think the costs of the plan outweight the benefits, but at this point I'm open to the argument that we need to try something. If Romney wants to repeal and replace, let me hear about the replace.

My libertarian instincts are that the best path available to lower health care costs would be tort reform and insurance deregulation. But, I also think there may be room for some federal action, though, perversely, it's probably action that's the opposite of what they would do. My wife works for a hospital, and as near as I can tell, 10% of her job is directly involved with providing drugs to customers, and 90% of her job involves filling out paperwork. Two weeks ago, I injured my hand at work, a fairly deep cut from a box cutter that was over an inch long. The treatment of the cut was pretty simple. They basically glued it shut and sent me on my way. But, I had to talk to my help line at work before I went, which involved 20 minutes of talking on the phone to a nurse who asked me a ton of information, then going to the urgent care center where I had to fill out paperwork asking almost exactly the same questions. Meanwhile, my boss had his own paperwork to fill out. Couldn't there be an infrastructure created that removed all this redundancy? And why is their paperwork at all? Anything I fill in on a sheet of paper is presumably being transfered to a computer by someone. Instead of handing me a clipboard, why not hand me a tablet computer that already has 90% of my data already filled in after my insurance card has been scanned, leaving me only to answer questions about my immediate problem?

Improved technology has cut down my costs for communication and acquiring information in almost every aspect of my life. Only in healthcare does the increasing technology seem to be driving costs up instead of down. Why?

Maybe over regulation and overlitigation has created most of these problems. Or, maybe complexity just makes change more difficult. I don't think Obamacare improves the complexity, and may actually increase it. But, does repeal lead to improvement? Or just a return to an already horrible status quo?