Sunday, February 11, 2018

Polluted air may pollute our morality

The study below took a lot of trouble to get things right but was defeated by reality, rather hilariously at times. Studies showing bad effects of air pollution are a dime a dozen and usually fail through failures of control, control for income particularly. In study I below, for instance, they controlled for a blizzard of potential confounds, including the biggies, education and income.

You get a shock about something being badly wrong with their conclusions when you look at their table of intercorrelations. With one minor exception, the correlations (Table 1) between pollution (composite) and crime are all less than .10.  Their sample size is so large that statistical significance is irrelevant but such very low correlations would normally be dismissed as having no significance in any sense.  They are effectively zero.  Putting it another way, pollution explained only 5 thousandths of criminality -- not 5 percent, 5 thousandths.  It was really rather unethical to report such negligible correlations as showing anything.  They in fact showed that pollution has NOTHING to do with crime.

Their other studies used Mechanical Turk to get respondents and the population who take internet surveys is known to be biased in various ways and is probably also biased in ways unknown.  It seems fairly clear, for instance that there is a strong liberal bias in that population, with all the unrealism and defensiveness that that implies.  In any event it is not a representative sample of any specifiable population so allows no generalizations towards any population.  It may not even be a representative sample of Mechanical Turk users, for all we know. Mechanical Turk users presumably pick and choose which surveys they will answer. So once again, the authors have proved nothing.

If they want to make any valid generalizations, they have to use a representative sample of some known population.  I did in my research career.  It is harder to do that than all the shortcut  ways but otherwise you are just playing.  Their conclusion that "The current findings have important implications for policymakers" is quite simply wrong and false.  They prove nothing.  The authors are all business school people. Does business school teach no sociology?  They would have learnt some very needful lessons about sampling if it did

Exposure to air pollution, even imagining exposure to air pollution, may lead to unethical behavior, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. A combination of archival and experimental studies indicates that exposure to air pollution, either physically or mentally, is linked with unethical behavior such as crime and cheating. The experimental findings suggest that this association may be due, at least in part, to increased anxiety.

"This research reveals that air pollution may have potential ethical costs that go beyond its well-known toll on health and the environment," says behavioral scientist Jackson G. Lu of Columbia Business School, the first author of the research. "This is important because air pollution is a serious global issue that affects billions of people—even in the United States, about 142 million people still reside in counties with dangerously polluted air."

Previous studies have indicated that exposure to air pollution elevates individuals' feelings of anxiety. Anxiety is known to correlate with a range of unethical behaviors. Lu and colleagues hypothesized that pollution may ultimately increase criminal activity and unethical behavior by increasing anxiety.

In one study, the researchers examined air pollution and crime data for 9,360 US cities collected over a 9-year period. The air pollution data, maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, included information about six major pollutants, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. The crime data, maintained by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, included information about offenses in seven major categories, including murder, aggravated assault, and robbery.

The researchers found that cities with higher levels of air pollution also tended to have higher levels of crime. This association held even after the researchers accounted for other potential factors, including total population, number of law enforcement employees, median age, gender distribution, race distribution, poverty rate, unemployment rate, unobserved heterogeneity among cities (e.g., city area, legal system), and unobserved time-varying effects (e.g., macroeconomic conditions).

To establish a direct, causal link between the experience of air pollution and unethical behavior, the researchers also conducted a series of experiments. Because they could not randomly assign participants to physically experience different levels of air pollution, the researchers manipulated whether participants imagined experiencing air pollution.

In one experiment, 256 participants saw a photo featuring either a polluted scene or a clean scene. They imagined living in that location and reflected on how they would feel as they walked around and breathed the air.

On a supposedly unrelated task, they saw a set of cue words (e.g., sore, shoulder, sweat) and had to identify another word that was linked with each of the cue words (e.g., cold); each correct answer earned them $0.50. Due to a supposed computer glitch, the correct answer popped up if the participants hovered their mouse over the answer box, which the researchers asked them not to do. Unbeknownst to the participants, the researchers recorded how many times the participants peeked at the answer.

 Polluted air may pollute our morality
Participants assigned to the "nonpolluted" condition saw a collage of photos showing nonpolluted scenes taken in Beijing, China. They saw this collage as they wrote a diary entry describing what it would be like to live in the location …more
The results showed that participants who thought about living in a polluted area cheated more often than did those who thought about living in a clean area.

In two additional experiments, participants saw photos of either polluted or clean scenes taken in the exact same locations in Beijing, and they wrote about what it would be like to live there. Independent coders rated the essays according to how much anxiety the participants expressed.

In one of the experiments conducted with university students in the US, the researchers measured how often participants cheated in reporting the outcome of a die roll; in the other experiment with adults in India, they measured participants' willingness to use unethical negotiation strategies.

Again, participants who wrote about living in a polluted location engaged in more unethical behavior than did those who wrote about living in a clean location; they also expressed more anxiety in their writing. As the researchers hypothesized, anxiety level mediated the link between imagining exposure to air pollution and unethical behavior.

Together, the archival and experimental findings suggest that exposure to air pollution, whether physical or mental, is linked with transgressive behavior through increased levels of anxiety.

Lu and colleagues note that there may be other mechanisms besides anxiety that link air pollution and unethical behavior. They also acknowledge that imagining experiencing air pollution is not equivalent to experiencing actual air pollution. They highlight these limitations as avenues for further research.

Ultimately, the research reveals another pathway through which a person's surroundings can affect his or her behavior:

"Our findings suggest that air pollution not only corrupts people's health, but also can contaminate their morality," Lu concludes.


Journal abstract:

Polluted Morality: Air Pollution Predicts Criminal Activity and Unethical Behavior

Jackson G. Lu, Julia J. Lee, Francesca Gino, ...


Air pollution is a serious problem that affects billions of people globally. Although the environmental and health costs of air pollution are well known, the present research investigates its ethical costs. We propose that air pollution can increase criminal and unethical behavior by increasing anxiety. Analyses of a 9-year panel of 9,360 U.S. cities found that air pollution predicted six major categories of crime; these analyses accounted for a comprehensive set of control variables (e.g., city and year fixed effects, population, law enforcement) and survived various robustness checks (e.g., balanced panel, nonparametric bootstrapped standard errors). Three subsequent experiments involving American and Indian participants established the causal effect of psychologically experiencing a polluted (vs. clean) environment on unethical behavior. Consistent with our theoretical perspective, results revealed that anxiety mediated this effect. Air pollution not only corrupts people’s health, but also can contaminate their morality.


Climate change 'worst case' scenario is NOT likely to happen, researchers say

The slow retreat towards reality has begun

Climate change might not be as extreme as once presumed, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia have discovered that previous estimates for the severity of global warming that stemmed from coal usage might not be realistic.

Instead, they say - based on new methods of predicting what the environment will look like at the end of this century - that we are much closer to reaching goals outlined at the Paris Climate Accord than was previously believed.

The study's authors, Justin Ritchie and Hadi Dowlatabadi, warned that traditional climate change predictions are not necessarily realistic.

The report says: 'Climate change modeling relies on projections of future greenhouse gas emissions and other phenomena leading to changes in planetary radiative forcing.'

It then details the methods by which predictions about what is to come at the end of the century are developed, and, explains the alternative methods the researchers think should be used to make these predictions.

'Scenarios of socio-technical development consistent with end-of-century forcing levels are commonly produced by integrated assessment models.

'However, outlooks for forcing from fossil energy combustion can also be presented and defined in terms of two essential components: total energy use this century and the carbon intensity of that energy.'

This method allowed the researchers to come up with multiple possible outcomes based on scenarios that depict realistic estimations of the amount of coal that will be burned in the coming years.

According to their findings, climate change goals are much closer than we think to becoming a reality.

'This orientation runs counter to the experienced "dynamics as usual" of gradual decarbonization, suggesting climate change targets outlined in the Paris Accord are more readily achievable than projected to date,' the study said.

While their findings are hopeful, they don't signify an end to the severity of man-made global warming side effects.

As Bloomberg pointed out: 'The bad news is that this is good news in the way a destabilizing climate-shift is preferable to planetary extinction: We are still in a lot of trouble.'

The hope of the study is that if policymakers learn of the findings and explore their validity, they will be encouraged to focus resources toward lessening the effects of global warming since the issue will be less severe than they once imagined.

The researchers explained this notion in their study, which said: 'Evidence confirming steady-state and recarbonization scenarios as unlikely would also indicate that ambitious policy goals will be less challenging than previously considered.'


'Sinking' Pacific nation Tuvalu is actually getting bigger, new research reveals

The Pacific nation of Tuvalu -- long seen as a prime candidate to disappear as climate change forces up sea levels -- is actually growing in size, new research shows.

A University of Auckland study examined changes in the geography of Tuvalu's nine atolls and 101 reef islands between 1971 and 2014, using aerial photographs and satellite imagery.

It found eight of the atolls and almost three-quarters of the islands grew during the study period, lifting Tuvalu's total land area by 2.9 percent, even though sea levels in the country rose at twice the global average.

An analysis of aerial photographs and satellite imagery between 1971 and 2014 suggests the island isn’t being swallowed up, as previously thought – instead, it appears to be growing.

Co-author Paul Kench said the research, published Friday in the journal Nature Communications, challenged the assumption that low-lying island nations would be swamped as the sea rose.

'We tend to think of Pacific atolls as static landforms that will simply be inundated as sea levels rise, but there is growing evidence these islands are geologically dynamic and are constantly changing,' he said.

'The study findings may seem counter-intuitive, given that (the) sea level has been rising in the region over the past half century, but the dominant mode of change over that time on Tuvalu has been expansion, not erosion.'

It found factors such as wave patterns and sediment dumped by storms could offset the erosion caused by rising water levels.

The Auckland team says climate change remains one of the major threats to low-lying island nations.

But it argues the study should prompt a rethink on how such countries respond to the problem.

Rather than accepting their homes are doomed and looking to migrate to countries such as Australia and New Zealand, the researchers say they should start planning for a long-term future.

'On the basis of this research we project a markedly different trajectory for Tuvalu's islands over the next century than is commonly envisaged,' Kench said.


Lease the OCS – to benefit all Americans

An informed decision-making process will safely produce energy that belongs to all Americans

Paul Driessen

Under the current offshore energy program developed during the Obama years, 94% of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is off limits to leasing and drilling. Under the Draft Proposed Program (DPP) announced January 4 by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, over 90% of OCS acreage and 98% of “undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources” in these federal offshore areas (beyond the 3-mile limit of state waters) will be considered for possible future leasing, exploration and development.

The Trump-Zinke plan proposes the largest number of lease sales in US history: 19 off Alaska, 7 in the Pacific, 9 in the Atlantic, and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico (where the vast majority of leasing, drilling and production have taken place over the past 65 years). Government experts estimate that these areas could hold 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, worth over $6.5 trillion.

Shortly after the DPP was presented, Florida Governor Rick Scott contacted the secretary, discussed the plan and issued a statement saying the Eastern Gulf was no longer under consideration. Other governors insisted that areas off their coasts also be eliminated from consideration. Energy companies and others said the Florida decision was premature, and the normal planning process should be followed.

Actually, there has been no decision on Gov. Scott’s request, and the process is being followed. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) are still in the midst of their 60-day comment period on the DPP. That will lead to a Proposed Program, Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and another public comment period. A Proposed Final Program, another EIS, more public input, and eventually a new Five-Year Leasing Plan will follow.

Meanwhile, Secy. Zinke will be speaking with coastal state governors and legislators, to hear their concerns, explain the process, and discuss how drilling can be conducted with increasing safety.

Somewhere during this long process, new seismic surveys should be conducted, to identify and interpret subsurface structures that could contain oil and/or natural gas. The last Atlantic region surveys were 30 years ago, and other areas were never surveyed. Oil companies need high quality data to determine whether an area has enough potential to warrant bidding on a lease. The BOEM needs the best possible data to make informed decisions on which areas should be kept in or dropped out of the planning process – and later on whether bids reflect an area’s potential value or should be rejected.

Since companies may be reluctant to spend many millions on seismic for areas that may never be made available for leasing, creative incentives may have to be developed to get that vital information.

Leasing and drilling would come only in some areas, only after this entire process has been completed.

The 1969 Santa Barbara and 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowouts are indelibly etched in our memories, even though these two spills are the only ones in some 1.3 million wells drilled in state and OCS waters since 1969 where significant oil reached shore and caused serious environmental damage (which nature slowly but surely repaired). They show why public concerns about oil spills must be heard and addressed.

Neither of these major spills (nor any of the other dozen instances of lost well control involving more than 50 barrels of spilled oil since 1969) should have happened – just as car, train, airliner and other accidents should never happen. They happened because of human frailties and failures: in technologies, equipment maintenance, vigilance, training, and timely operator and regulator reactions to unfolding crises.

That’s why offshore drilling and production operators, in conjunction with state and federal regulators, are doing much more to prevent future accidents, including tougher standards, better training and equipment maintenance, improved blowout preventers and oil spill response equipment, and establishing a Center for Offshore Safety to ensure best practices and constant improvement in these and other areas.

Seismic practices are also steadily improving, minimizing impacts on marine mammals, fishing activities and military operations. For example, gradually increasing sound levels allows whales and porpoises to leave an area if they become uncomfortable, trained marine mammal observers on survey vessels watch for animals and order shutdowns if necessary, and surveys are coordinated with Navy officials.

One of the most fascinating aspects of offshore production platforms (rigs) is the artificial reefs they create on support structures beneath them. I’ve been scuba diving beneath California and Gulf of Mexico rigs, fished off them, written professional papers and magazine articles about the reefs, and produced a documentary film about this phenomenon and the process of turning rigs into permanent reefs once they are no longer producing oil or gas. The amount and variety of marine found there is simply astounding.

Vibrant arrays of colorful sea anemones, corals, sponges and shellfish latch onto platform legs, providing habitats and food for crabs and lobsters and attracting legions of fish of every conceivable species. Gulf rigs provide homes for Caribbean species that couldn’t exist in this vast mud-bottom region that Mississippi River sediments created. Because they are in such a nutrient-rich zone, California platforms host scallops the size of dinner plates, mussels six inches long and starfish nearly three feet across!

Fishing, shrimping, tourism and military ops continue to thrive in the Gulf, among hundreds of rigs. And yet some say they don’t even want to see a few dozen oil platforms three to twenty miles off Atlantic coast beaches. How do they feel about hundreds or thousands of 400-foot wind turbines a thousand feet to three miles offshore? That is what’s being discussed to replace fossil fuels and nuclear in electricity generation.

Those huge turbines would chop up seabirds that will sink out of sight and mind; create obstacle courses for pleasure, military and commercial shipping; and  emit constant low level noise that will interfere with aircraft as well as whale and porpoise sonar navigation and communication.

After taxes, OCS operations provide the second largest source of revenue to the US Treasury. Some of this goes to the Land and Water Conservation Fund for environmental programs. However, OCS revenues fell from $18 billion in 2008 to $2.5 billion in 2016 – even as state offshore oil and gas revenues actually rose during the same period. This decline was partly because of lower oil and gas prices, but largely because the Obama Administration issued so many regulations and delays, but so few leases and permits

Gulf Coast states also share in OCS revenues, totaling billions of dollars over the years. Atlantic Coast States should enjoy revenue sharing, if leasing, drilling and production take place off their shores.

The US Energy Information Administration projects that oil and gas will still supply two-thirds of the USA’s energy three decades from now. OCS resources developed under this new plan will come online as current and near-term deposits are being depleted. Those resources belong to all Americans.

It is the responsibility of state, local and federal governments to help ensure that America knows what oil and gas resources might exist off our shores, so that we can make informed decisions about developing the best prospects – while safeguarding marine and coastal habitats, tourism and other values.

East and West Coast states have enormous demands for oil and gas, to fuel tourism and other sectors. They should have full roles in discussions, input, planning, decision-making, oversight, inspections and other aspects of offshore oil and gas operations. But they should help meet their own and US energy needs and should not be able to short-circuit or veto the process – or to block OCS or other development in Alaska or the Central or Western Gulf of Mexico, or elsewhere, if those states support leasing and drilling.

OCS oil and gas are essential for America’s long-term energy security. They are the common heritage of all Americans. These resources will support economic growth, investment and manufacturing, create thousands of new jobs, and ensure reliable, affordable energy for manufacturers, businesses, hospitals, schools, tourism, farming, and poor, minority and blue-collar families.

We should let the planning process move forward – and make sure we drill and produce this energy safely.

Via email

Australia: Protect your people from shark attacks, Frydenberg tells Green/Left State government

Greenies would rather have people die than sharks

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has warned the West Australian government to take “stronger action to protect its citizens”, after a CSIRO study revealed an explosion in adult great white shark numbers off the west coast.

Mr Frydenberg said the “groundbreaking” CSIRO study clearly showed a greater number of larger white sharks off the west coast compared with eastern Australia. “These results along with the high number of fatal shark attacks in Western Australia make a compelling case for the WA government to take a more proactive approach to protect the public from shark attacks,” he said.

“The primacy of public safety is non-negotiable. That is why the commonwealth continues to call on the West Australian government to take stronger action to protect its citizens.”

In December, The Australian reported on preliminary results of the CSIRO study, which revealed more than double the number of adult great white sharks inhabited the waters between Wilson’s Promontory and northwestern WA compared with the eastern Australian population.

The final 64-page CSIRO report, “A national assessment of the status of White Sharks”, provides a scientific analysis of juvenile and adult great white shark populations off the Australian coastline. Commissioned following a series of great white shark attacks off WA and NSW, it is the first detailed analysis of white shark populations.

The report, labelled the first of its kind in the world, concedes that “shark attack rates in Australia have risen over recent years”.

“The results and methods employed represent a step-change in capacity to assess otherwise difficult-to-monitor species, such as white sharks,” it said.

Preliminary analysis of the data showed that the animal’s current adult population in the west was between 750 and 2250, with a 90 per cent survival rate year-to-year.

In the east there are about 750 adult sharks (with a range of between 470 and 1030 great whites) at a yearly survival rate of more than 90 per cent.

The final research revealed the total number of white sharks in the eastern population is 5460, with a potential range between 2909 and 12,802.

CSIRO lead author Dr Richard Hillary said sharks take 12—15 years to become mature adults, ”so we wouldn’t expect to see the effect on the adult population of that reduction in juvenile shark mortality until the next few years”.

“Now that we have a starting point, we can repeat the exercise over time and build a total population trend, to see whether the numbers are going up or down,” Dr Hillary said.

“This is crucial to developing effective policy outcomes that balance the sometimes conflicting aims of conservation initiatives and human-shark interaction risk management.”

The Australian understands the CSIRO data focuses mainly on adult white sharks, with NSW Department of Primary Industries tagging research tracking large numbers of juvenile great whites along east coast beaches.

Mr Frydenberg, who commissioned the report last June, has noted the shark population in the west “may not be increasing” but was “significantly larger” when the juvenile sharks were included in the data.

“Couple these higher numbers with the 15 fatal shark attacks over the last 17 years in Western Australia and it’s clear the state government needs to look seriously at rigorous and proactive measures to protect its citizens from shark attacks,” Mr Frydenberg previously told The Australian.

Multiple fatal shark attacks off WA in recent years prompted the former Barnett government to consider protective measures. A culling program was cancelled after it mainly caught tiger sharks instead of great whites.




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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