Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On The Sidewalk Kids

It's a warm day here in Washington D.C. which means the sidewalk climatologists are out in force. The sidewalk claimatologists are easy to spot. They work in pairs, carry clipboards and smile as though they are excited to see you. They usually are about college age and have one other distinct charecteristic that they are unaware of. They are totally clueless about the climate and environment. But, they are out to get you to sign up, support and donate money to "save the planet."

I tested a bunch today, and the result confirms that there is a crisis. It is not about climate, but about the decline in independent thinking. As Butler Shaffer notes:

... humans “must think in order to survive,” but...we have recently been “outsourcing” this function to others. Such a practice now prevails on university campuses, and helps to explain why academia is a source of so little original and meaningful thinking. Don’t wonder about what anything means: the“experts” whose jobs are dependent upon advancing the agendas of the political establishment will explain it all to you!
These kids have outsourced so much thinking that they really have no idea why they are on the sidewalk.

The big deal with these kids is, of course, carbon in the atmosphere, so I asked three of them what percentage of the atmosphere was comprised of carbon. Two refused to answer. The third, a very brave girl, told me 70%. The answer is under 1%.

I then asked them if they knew fog engulfed San Francisco in the summer months. They all seemed to have some passing awareness of this. I asked them what caused the fog to form, which is sort of like a low lying cloud. None knew. (The city is bordered on three sides by water, from the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. Meanwhile, the temperatures of surrounding desert valleys cook in the summer months. The heat produced by inland temperatures, combined with the cool water of the Bay and Pacific Ocean, and the winds coming in from the water, turn San Francisco into fog city.)

So I tried to put this in perspective for them. I said, "Okay, I know someone has told you that the carbon in the atmosphere causes cloud cover to form and this causes the greenhouse effect." They all eagerly jumped at this point. I continued, "But you have no idea what percentage of the atmosphere is carbon, you don't even know what causes fog in San Francisco, which is a lot easier to understand and less controversial and complex than what is going on in the atmosphere, so I am supposed to buy your theory on this complex phenomena when you don't even know or understand basic stuff?"

I switched gears. I said, "Okay, suppose there is global warming, so what? I like warm weather?" One apparently didn't get the connection between warm weather and global warming. He kept on insisting this was "about global warming and not warmer weather."

The well trained ones came back with, "global warming will cause the sea level to rise and coastal flooding." My reply was," In most of North America and Europe, the coastlines are occupied by the rich, some with second or third homes. So is this some kind of bailout the rich program, to save their summer houses?" No replies.

I then tried to clue them in. I said, "You know, you are really just working to advance the programs of some really rich guys." I said,"I take it you are in favor of energy from windmills?" Again eager agreement. I asked, "Do you know, who Boone Pickens is?" None knew. I told them, "He's a Texas billionaire who is a real riverboat gambler type who has made and lost more money than you will ever see. He's getting older now, so he has figured out a new angle, government subsidies. Your windmill promotion is really about helping him keep his billions this time. A subsidy is really a bailout in advance. He knows he can't make money off his windmills on the free market, but he wants to build them, lose money and get the government to pick up the tabs on his losses with a nice profit for him." I then ask, "So do you know how much money he is going to make off of the windmill subsidy that you are promoting out here?" They say, "No." I reply, "Of course you don't because while he has a fancy web site, is organizing a 'new energy army in every district,' has all kinds of TV commercials going on and appears on Larry King, he talks about lots of things, but he never talks about how much he is going to make."

Finally, I say, "You don't really know why you are out here, do you?" They all admit that they "need to look into the subject some more." Most of them won't, but every once and awhile one will. It's time to start getting these sidewalk kids to think.

Start asking them basic questions, when you see them.


  1. Wenzel,

    Haha, awesome. I'd try this same tactic but unfortunately I am a peer to most of these people so I'd have trouble condescending them the way you did without them giving me the finger and walking off. But maybe I can try a different tact next time I see one.

    Couldn't agree more with you, though. I was appalled with the level of "thinking" I witnessed firsthand at school several years ago. These kids have been spoonfed these ideas that they're the best and brightest because they made it to college, and democracy has taught them their opinion is important and that they can "rule" on any topic that comes in front of them, no matter how ignorant they are. They eat these obvious lies and blatant contradictions that is your modern undergrad macroecon curriculum like they'll never have a meal again, and then literally just regurgitate the terms and buzzwords back like they're speaking from rote memorization.

    I once argued with an incredibly neurotic "labor economics" professor (she has since been dismissed, thankfully) for a good 20 mins in class before she became so frustrated in her attempts to counter the counter-arguments I provided, that she said, "Does anyone want to respond and explain why he's wrong?" at which point literally the entire lecture hall of about 100 students began shouting and jeering at me. I was able to get them to shut up and attack one by one by focusing on one face at a time, and it was just absolutely ignorant, mindless stupidity one after the other as I refuted and logically disarmed them one by one. One especially naive little turd explained to me the concept of "market failure" using an example of public transit he witness while studying abroad in Ghana (why the school has a program there and why anyone would care to attend is beyond me). I smashed him too and finally the professor said she had to get on to the lesson (this was 40 mins passed now arguing with everyone) before class ended.

    The thing that's truly shocking is this was a "higher level" course composed mainly of juniors and seniors, people on the verge of completing their studies and earning their economics degrees. And yet, not one of them understood even the basic concepts of economics and voluntary exchange vs. involuntary exchange, wealth production, etc.

    I was really embarrassed for my classmates and angered to think these would be the people who would soon be voting on how to run my life, not to mention running for office themselves eventually.

  2. I have been continually suprised at how ill informed young people are these days. With all this so-called access to information, you'd think they would know more.

    I'm a high school teacher. Some kids (14-15 years old) didn't even know where the equator was or what it was. One thought it went from the north pole to the south pole in a vertical line.