Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Outback Question of the Week

The Question of the week is going to be a little obscure, but it is an interesting and important topic.

And congratulations to those who had the answer on Saturday evening. And congratulations to the "Flying Dutchman" for also knowing the answer--but he has an advantage. He had to do some studying to get his US Citizenship. Most of us were just born here.

The New York Times Science Writer, Mr John Tierney, wrote a (second) piece on President Elect Obama's choice for Science Advisor, in which he noted that the presumptive Science Advisor, Dr John P Holdren, had once made a bet with Economist Julian Simon:
My post on John P. Holdren’s appointment as presidential science advisor prompted complaints that I was making too much of Dr. Holdren’s loss of a bet to the economist Julian Simon about the price of some metals. But that bet wasn’t just about metals. It was about a fundamental view of how adaptable and innovative humans are, and whether a rich modern society is “sustainable.” Dr. Holdren and his collaborator, Paul Ehrlich, were the pessimists.
A discussion of the bet can be found in Wikipedia, of course.

Mr Tierney took the mickey out of Dr Holdren over being on the losing side of this bet on the price of metals. The question is, did losing change Dr Holdren's understanding of economics and sustainability. That may be too hard to figure out, so the real question is, what is the implication of the bet for Dr Holdren's views on what science can accomplish and where scientific investment should go over the next four years.

This is an open ended question and there is no "correct" answer, but it should be part of our general conversation about the future of "Planet Earth."

One side of this is the change in oil prices. The price of crude oil and gasoline were going through the roof and then people decided they didn't need to travel as much and the price has dropped remarkably. Oil is in the mid $30s (down from $147.27 a barrel on 11 July 2008) and gasoline is down in the $1.60s (The Getty Station in Tewksbury is reported to be selling at $1.559 a gallon).

Put another way (per Wired Magazine), the Government in the Netherlands is betting $US 1.5 billion a year for the next 100 years, that it can build up the dikes sufficiently to hold back a 1 in 100,000 chance of a breach of their water control system in some areas. Is this a reasonable bet? Is this a case of humans being adaptable or humans being arrogant?

As an aside, the area to be filled in by the new Dutch system seems to include the south side of Vlieland Island, which is the home of the Vliehors Bombing Range, where I have dropped a number of practice bombs. Below is a photo of someone making a low pass over the range. It is not me--I think I only went to Vliehors in the F-4 Phantom. Some day I may tell my story about flying up to that range with "Wayne the Whale," when our unit was being subjected to a "higher headquarters" inspection. Ah, to do it one more time...

Regards -- Cliff



CLICK TO SEE THE AIRPLANE

1 comment:

Ron Smits said...

This is a Dutch F-16 from one of the squadrons (323) based in Leeuwarden... The parrot's name is Polly and is the mascot of the squadron, as well as the Sq Ops call sign. So I am quite sure this is NOT Cliff. And while I flew in Polly jets for a while during conversion training, this is not me either.