How Big Tobacco invented Donald Trump and Brexit (and what to do about it)

Economist Tim Harford (previously) traces the history of denialism and "fake news" back to Big Tobacco's cancer denial playbook, which invented the tactics used by both the Brexit and Trump campaigns to ride to victory -- a playbook that dismisses individual harms as "anaecdotal" and wide-ranging evidence as "statistical," and works in concert with peoples' biases (smokers don't want cigarettes to cause cancer, Brexiteers want the UK to be viable without the EU, Trump supporters want simple, cruel policies to punish others and help them) to make emprically wrong things feel right. Read the rest

Paved with good intentions: When energy efficiency backfires

Right now, I'm reading The Conundrum by David Owen. It's a really interesting book about some of the unintended consequences of the way we approach sustainability and environmentalism.

I'm going to post a full review soon, once I get all the way through it, but so far Owen is making a couple of key points: One that I agree with, and one I think he's oversimplifying a bit. I agree with this: You can't shop your way out of climate change. The tendency to turn environmentalism into a set of luxury lifestyle choices is a huge problem—doing nothing to solve our energy issues and perpetuating an idea that sustainability is "for" some people and not for others.

Owen also talks a lot about the rebound effect (or, as it's sometimes called, Jevons Paradox)—a very real problem that affects our ability to reduce emissions caused by energy use. Basically, it works like this: when you reduce energy use through energy efficiency, you get the same amount of work for less energy investment. That's good. But saving energy also saves money. That saved money often ends up spent in ways that consume energy. In the end, some measure of the energy you thought you saved through energy efficiency ends up not actually being saved. It just got consumed in another place. The result is good for the economy, but maybe not so good for the climate, depending on how the energy in question was produced.

So far, Owen seems to be taking the position that the rebound effect will always negate all the environmental benefits of energy efficiency programs. Read the rest