Nothing to See Here, Folks — 29 June 2019

BY MATTHEW HERBERT

In the news this week, here is a wonderful analysis of how Americans unthinkingly accept an irrational metric for calculating our country’s astronomical defense budget. I have been saying on this blog for years that questions of defense spending impose a kind of learned helplessness on us as taxpayers: we mutely approve of any outlay for our military, no matter how lavish,  because to do otherwise would be seen as unpatriotic.

We all know that being rich has its benefits. At least since the rise of colonialism, the rich, developed world has simply bought the comforts it wants, with nary a thought about what economists call externalities–the costs that our transactions impose on third parties. A UN study published this week measures the social costs of the developed world’s continued production of the majority of the world’s greenhouse gases and finds–surprise!–it is the poorest regions of the world that suffer the leading, and most drastic, consequences of this trend. The resulting “climate apartheid” is projected to impoverish another 120 million people by 2030, ensuring a steady stream of refugees fleeing the developing world for our borders.

The powers that be generally want you to take one of two attitudes toward the wretched, the hungry, the hot-under-the-collar who wash up on our shores desperate for help: (1) that they lack the gumption to make it back “home,” or (2) that the hard, cruel world simply comes furnished with haves and have-nots, a fate determined by the stars and in which we should not meddle. Both myths support the attitude that the displaced poor have nothing to do with “us” and they should not have shown up to disturb our peace. They really should stop indulging in such larks as paying coyotes to traffic them, trying to wade our wild rivers, and occupying our already overcrowded “influx” camps (which are NOT concentration camps).

In related, not quite surprising news, Greenland’s ice sheet is melting even faster than once thought, according to NASA data, threatening to raise sea levels at a proportionally faster rate. Too bad for the billion-odd people who could be displaced or worse by rising coastal waters over the next 30 years.

manhattan flood
The wave of the future?

As CO2 levels rise, it turns out nutrients are being sapped from the crops consumed by the poorest humans (but of course not just them). Scientists have known since at least 2016 that rice is losing its key nutrients in higher CO2 environments. This week a researcher for the USDA revealed on National Public Radio (no link yet) that U.S. Government officials ordered the USDA to suppress a study it co-authored with universities in the United States, China, and Japan that further corroborated this fact. Not satisfied with this Orwellian degree of censorship, the Trump administration also contacted the one contributing U.S. university, the University of Washington, and urged them to quash the paper as well.

Finally, we wealthy denizens of the developed world are invited to behold the forces of innovation coming for us too–or at least our jobs. A study concluded in Europe estimates that the increased use of robots will wipe out 20 million jobs by 2030. But fear not: the rising wave of automation will also lead to the creation of many more, service-related jobs. Said the same kind of visionary politicians as Bill Clinton, who promised in the 1990s that offshoring would enable all American workers to upgrade to knowledge work.

 

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