Scott Adams Doesn’t Understand “Plant Food”

Scott Adams says the observation that “carbon dioxide is plant food” is a terrible argument– an “embarrassing opinion”– for AGCC skepticism.

He’s wrong. Here’s why:

When plants “eat” CO2 they take it out of the air and turn it into plant matter. Even if carbon dioxide raises the climate’s temperature as the AGCC activists claim, once a plant removes it from the air, it isn’t available in the atmosphere to raise the temperature anymore. That’s how “eating” something works. It is removed from availability in one form (in this case, atmospheric gas) and turned into a different form (leaves, wood, flowers, stalks, roots, seeds, fruit, etc.).

And, yes, each individual plant might be able to only use a limited amount of carbon dioxide, but plants reproduce. If you improve their growing conditions with more “food” (and sufficient light), they can reproduce more. If you’ve ever had an aquarium or a pond experience an algae bloom you’ve seen the conditions result in more plantlife. And one of the most effective ways to end the algae bloom is to add other plants which will use up the “plant food” available in the water until it is reduced to a level where it can’t encourage excess plant growth.

But to say that the addition of CO2 will raise the temperature and kill the plants so that they can no longer “eat” the CO2 is overlooking the main effect of plants taking CO2 from the air and using it to make more plant matter. More plants = less CO2 in the atmosphere available to warm the climate.

Now, when those plants rot or burn, that CO2 will be released into the air again. But, more CO2 could result in more plant mass overall, trapping the CO2 in a form which can’t contribute to “climate change” at least for a time. Coal is plant matter, made of atmospheric CO2 removed from the air long ago (~359 to 299 million years ago, in fact) and stored in a fairly stable form. Once that carbon dioxide was in the form of plant matter– living plants or coal– it couldn’t help heat the world until it burned.

Sometimes a person tries so hard to look unbiased and “scientific” that they fall into a reality trap. This seems to be one of those times for Scott Adams.

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This Skeptic is Skeptical

I am skeptical of everything. In fact, I’m skeptical of my own claim that I’m skeptical of everything. I’m probably wrong; there’s most likely something I’m not skeptical of… but I need to be.

You’ve probably seen my skepticism come out on topics of statism and the “necessity” of political government, AGCC (politicized “climate change”), government “borders“, and politicized “gender” issues, but I’m also still skeptical of other stuff. Even libertarianism.

I test all these things constantly– in my mind, in my experience, and in the “thought experiments” and experiences of others– looking for ways they might fail. One failure tells more than a thousand successes.

Sometimes people present what they believe is a good example of a failure of some idea, but when I dig into it, their example fails instead of what it was supposed to topple. And that’s OK. I still want to see the attempts.

If something I trust is going to fail, I want to know it before I am in a situation where failure would hurt me or someone else.

Generally, I only write about the failures I find, which makes it appear that I am skeptical of some issues but not others. But that’s just because I haven’t found failures in some issues yet. Maybe they are there. If they are, I want to find them. It’s just how I am.

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Social Events No Place For Politics

In spite of how libertarianism is often portrayed, it’s not a middle ground between conservatism and progressivism. It’s not even on the scale with those positions. But during social gatherings libertarians can be a neutral zone between conservative and liberal disagreement.

The silliness of the political right and left is clear to libertarians, yet we have common ground with each, on those few issues where they still support individual liberty. Progressives and conservatives are more similar to each other than they’ll admit. Why should they fight over the minor details on which they disagree?

Cousin Xander might believe government should do something which Cousin Yolanda opposes, while Yolanda wants government to do something Xander feels would be the end of civilization. The libertarian in the room knows that neither cousin’s wish excuses government violence. Pointing this out can distract the factions from being at each other’s throats by giving them a common enemy.

Expressing skepticism about the importance of the issue they value enough to fight over can make them unite against you.

Grandpa Al and Grandpa Bill may revere different presidents and hate the presidents revered by the other. Their libertarian grandkid can see the flaws of both politicians and the ridiculousness inherent in the office of president. To explain there’s no substantive difference between their respective heroes is a sure way to help them forget their disagreement with each other for a moment.

Once you understand that all politics is the search to justify government violence against those who are looking for an excuse to use government violence against you, it’s easy to see why politics doesn’t belong in society. It also helps you understand why those who are arguing aren’t nearly as different as they imagine.

If you find yourself under the boot of government violence you won’t care whether it’s a right boot or a left boot. Libertarians decry the boot while progressives and conservatives argue over which foot ought to be wearing it. Consistent libertarianism is non-political, which is why the Libertarian Party — being political — has such a hard time gaining traction among libertarians.

Personally, I don’t think social occasions are any place for politics. Yet politics will crop up in the most devious ways and in the least appropriate places. Having a libertarian in the mix helps unite all the pro-government people against the one who can’t embrace their government extremism. It’s our sacrifice for the cause of world peace. Happy New Year!

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I’ll Keep My Loopholes, Thank You

In those moments when my skepticism falters, the recent midterm elections threaten to give me a little hope. It doesn’t last long.

A Congress divided between Republicans and Democrats brings the promise of sweet gridlock, but they always seem to find a way to work together more than is healthy.

I am naturally skeptical of those using theft and aggression against the individuals who comprise society — even when they call the theft and aggression “government” or “the law.”

As bad as partisanship’s reputation may be, bipartisanship is far worse. When working together, the old, fossilized political parties make it clear it isn’t “The Right” vs. “The Left;” it’s government colluding against the rest of us.

Back in 1866 Judge Gideon J. Tucker observed: “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” It has only gotten worse since then.

The best hope for the survival of your liberty is eternal gridlock preventing Congress from doing anything. While they are fighting each other they may not be paying as much attention to you.

Those who want government to “do something” are calling for your liberty to be crushed bit by bit until none is left. They consider any remaining islands of liberty in a rising ocean of government to be “loopholes,” which they want closed. In spite of everything they might claim, this is never for your benefit.

I don’t want Congress, or any branch of government, to get things done. There is nothing legitimate for Congress to do.

Laws were discovered; legislation is invented. All real laws were discovered centuries ago; no new laws are needed or even possible. All the real crimes have always been crimes in any civilized society. All attacks on life, liberty, or property are wrong, whether laws criminalize them or not. They are still wrong when laws say they are OK if done by government employees “just doing their jobs.”

Anything Congress imposes on the population will be legislation; fake “law.” These counterfeit laws look like laws to most people. They use legal language and are treated as though they are laws, but they lack the ethical foundation, which distinguishes real law. In fact, they violate real law by endangering your life, liberty, or property.

The last thing I want or need is for the houses of Congress to work together, with the president, to impose more legislation. I’ll keep my loopholes — my liberty — thank you very much.

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On Stoicism

To everyone who gets triggered or offended by words, take some advice from the ancient Stoic philosophy: recognize your own complicity in how you react to what you hear or read other people say or write. The Stoics taught that our emotional reactions to outside stimuli are largely our responsibility. Accepting this basic truth will allow you to take your emotional power back from those who upset you (including your children). No more will you require that trigger warnings be observed by other people, or expect them to condescendingly walk on eggshells around you. You will have more control over your mind and body if you learn that you don’t have to react in negative ways toward other people’s words. Simply observe them as you would observe a loud animal in nature, with curiosity, humility, and skepticism. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Stubborn Detachments

I’ve known Tyler Cowen for 25 years.  Straussian misreadings notwithstanding, I assure you that he has little patience for open borders and even less for my brand of pacifism.  But given the general moral theory that he embraces in his new Stubborn Attachments, it’s hard to see why Tyler doesn’t already agree with me.  At minimum, he ought to take my contrarian views far more seriously.  What else can he logically conclude, given his endorsement of the “Principle of Growth Plus Rights”?  After strongly endorsing the moral value of maximizing economic growth, Tyler adds:

The Principle of Growth Plus Rights.  Inviolable human rights, where applicable, should constrain the quest for higher economic growth.

Bear in mind that I am working with a pluralistic rather than a narrowly utilitarian approach.  I will return to the status and nature of such rights later, but for now just think of such rights as binding and absolute.  That means: just don’t violate human rights.  If we were willing to trade these rights against a bundle of other plural values, at some sufficiently long time horizon the benefits from higher economic growth would trump the rights in importance, and in essence the rights would cease to be relevant…

Philosopher Robert Nozick wrote of rights as “side constraints.”  The particular specification of these side constraints need not coincide with Nozick’s libertarian vision, and need not coincide with his absolute attachment to all forms of private property or his prohibition of most forms of taxation.  Still, these rights satisfy Nozick’s notion of rights as restrictions on the choice set of an individual or an institution.  As I see it, virtually everyone believes in rights of some sort… namely that they have to be pretty strong and nearly absolute.

Note that the traditional notions of “positive rights” or “positive liberties” – both of which refer to people’s opportunities – do not fit into this conception of rights… The result is that these negative rights, restrictive though they may be, represent a stripped-down set of bare-bones constraints, a series of injunctions about the impermissibility of various forms of murder, torture, and abuse.

Tyler’s big qualification make little practical difference:

…we should violate rights to prevent extremely negative outcomes which involve the extinction of value altogether, such as the end of the world, as is sometimes postulated in philosophical thought experiments.

OK, so why on Earth isn’t Tyler a pacifist in my sense?  In the real world, modern warfare always means deliberately killing innocent people.  What do you expect will happen if you bomb a city?  If anyone other than a government deployed such weapons on a population center, virtually any jury would convict them of murder.  Even manslaughter would be a stretch.

But what about stopping the “end of the world”?  World War II itself hardly qualifies.  Indeed, until the Soviet Union collapsed, it would have been quite reasonable to believe that U.S. participation in World War II was a critical step toward the end of the world.

Much the same applies for open borders.  Immigration restrictions need not involve murder or torture (though they often do).  But even if ICE enforced its laws with kid gloves, barring an innocent person from accepting a job offer from a willing employer or renting an apartment from a willing landlord is extremely oppressive.  Almost everyone would now recognize Jim Crow laws as “abuse.”  How are immigration restrictions any less awful?  You hardly have to be a libertarian to see the force of the question.

Stubborn Attachments is one of Tyler’s best books.  But if you share his abstract moral theory, you should reject his applied moral moderation.  On a personal level, Tyler relishes uncertainty and complexity.  But once you accept a moral presumption in favor of negative human rights, uncertainty and complexity reinforce skepticism against coercion rather than undermining it.  Clearly.

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