Glenn: SuperFreakonomics is a new book, Global Cooling, why Patriotic Prostitutes and why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, kind of a book that jumped off the shelf at me. I have been reading it and Stephen Dubner is with us. He has written is with Stephen Levitt and they are -- you are -- Stephen, you're the journalist, right?
Dubner: Yeah. I'm the journalist. Levitt is the economist.
Glenn: Right. And you cover -- you cover the issues of the day and it's one of these books that you will read, especially when it comes to global warming -- I have no idea where you guys stand on global warming, nor do I care. Your writing -- you want to solve this? Great. Here's how you solve it. Can you explain just the hurricane idea?
Dubner: Yeah. The hurricane idea is actually the guy who are responsible for the global warming solutions that we write about later in the book. There's a bunch of guys in Seattle called Intellectual Ventures and they're headed by Nathan Myhrvold who used to work at Microsoft. Myhrvold was kind of a wonder kid, had a bunch of degrees in physics and economics and stuff. So, basically he looks at problems differently than you or I might and probably almost everybody listening to this radio program might and the reason he is because he's a physicist and when you understand physics, you think about problems in a different way. So, I'll give you a for instance with the hurricanes thing. Hurricanes are an interesting problem in that they're not very mysterious. We know when they form, why they are form, and where they're going to hit. Right? They form in these certain points of the ocean. We follow the path and they form very simply because over the summer, the top most layer of the ocean gets very warm and it becomes kind of a thermal heat engine. Okay. And if it goes unchecked and if things happen right, it comes over and it smacks us on the land and it causes a lot of death and destruction. So, instead of thinking how do we build, you know, bigger walls to keep it away, how do we make people not live near the ocean where they want to live, right, what if you could defuse the power of the thing before it got so powerful to be destructive? That's the way a physicist would think. So, the idea they've come up with sounds comically idiotically simple and, yet we think it will work and it basically has to do with assembling a whole bunch of different kinds of floats in the water. They could be a hundred, a thousand feet across.
Glenn: Hold on with the -- would they hurt the dolphins?
Dubner: What if they hurt a couple of dolphins --
Glenn: Woe, woe, woe! I'm sorry. Go ahead. I'm with you, by the way.
Dubner: So, we'll ask --
Glenn: So, we'll eat dolphin if we have to.
Dubner: Or we would ask the mayor of New Orleans, are you willing to personally kill 10 dolphins, right?
Dubner: And I'm guessing the answer is probably "yes."
Glenn: Yes, yes. Well, I depends on which crowd he's speaking so.
Dubner: Exactly. So what these floats would do, they might be made of kind of recycled truck tires filled with foam concrete and they might have a long skirt on them that's made of plastic and what happens when you have something like that --
Glenn: How many fish have to die for your damn hurricane idea?
Dubner: Probably a few million but we're talking the fish that really aren't that tasty.
Glenn: Oh, good. All right.
Dubner: It's not a worry. And what happens when ocean water, when -- wave power is a pretty powerful thing. People have been trying to make electricity from waves for decades and if they ever hit it, we're golden, right, if we can make energy from the oceans. There are people who have been working on this. They haven't succeeded yet at making energy from the ocean but they do now how waves behave. Waves will come over those floats in the ocean. Imagine there are 10,000 of them in the Gulf of Mexica and what happens is the water pushes the water down in this float and the warm water gets pushed down that long sleeve or skirt and it pushes it down and pushes the colder water to the top. It's this incredibly simple, cheap solution to cool the surface of the water and dissipate the power of a potential hurricane.
Glenn: Okay. So, first of all, two questions, one, it's going to kill dolphins. Two, does it doesn't redistribute our wealth all-around the planet because that's really the point of the global warming.
Dubner: Yeah. You want to redistribute the wealth to the people who actually have houses on the oceans to protect their houses, right?
Glenn: All we need is a $145 trillion solution.
Dubner: Exactly. Here's one of the problems with the solution. I'll be honest with you. The guys who are coming up with these things, they have a for profit business -- Intelligent Ventures it's called -- where they create and license patents, anything from medical devices to technology. They're going to make their money. So, I'm not worried about them. Solutions like this, though, like the hurricane thing, there is very little money to be in it, to be honest with you, which is why you don't see certain kind of people coming up with it they're going to make money on the side but somebody who might like this solution is the insurance company, right, if you can sell insurance for people who leave near the ocean.
Glenn: We're putting those people out of business.
Dubner: And know there's not going to be hurricanes. Here's the problem. Once it's known it's not going to happen, the insurance companies are going to have a harder time selling insurance.
Pat: Have you talked to meteorologists about this? Do they agree it will actually work?
Dubner: There is a fairly small body of knowledge on this so far. It's really not so much within the realm of meteorologists as within the realm of physics and oceanography and, yeah, one of the guys that came up with the guy is a guy ( file /STPAOEFPB Salter who is a scientist in the UK who is kind of the preeminent scholar on wave power and then these other guys at Intellectual Ventures. They're climatologists and they try to look at the effects. Now, look, any time there's going to be some consequences. We shouldn't do it because if you do too well, you might bring less rain to agricultural areas, but what we try to write in SuperFreakonomics, if you look throughout history, there is simple and cheap things that happen that are usually come up with by someone who has no relationship with the government and often, interestingly, the people are often laughed at or scorned. You know, we write about the guy, the doctor who 160 years ago first realized that doctors need to watch their hands in hospitals to save people's lives. This was in sienna where 1 of every 6 was dying in childbirth. They didn't know why. It turned out it was because the doctors were coming straight to the maternity ward from the autopsy ward, where they're performing autopsies. Right? This one guy, ( I go not Simwey, said, Hey, I think we're carrying germs in. This is before germ theory. He was ridiculed. He had a mental breakdown. He died an he was right and now, hand hygiene, even though doctors still are not very good at it, is one of the cheapest, civilest ways to save lives.
Pat: There's something to washing your hands between the autopsy ward --
Glenn: We're getting that down. Write that down. We should work on that one. Have you read anything about -- China said that they were going to, what was it, making snow or making rain?
Dubner: They did it twice. They made big storms.
Glenn: I have received so much e-mail from meteorologists who are, like, look, nobody's going to say this out loud because this is crazy, but we think that the governments around the world can manipulate the water.
Dubner: Absolutely. This is the last chapter of SuperFreakonomics is where we introduce what are called geo engineering individuals. Groninger means, as you can imagine, engineering the earth. Now, immediately some people hear this idea and this word an they flip out. They say, you can't mess with motor nature and we say, well, you probably don't want to mess with Mother Nature when you don't have so, but sometimes you do. For instance, polio, that's Mother Nature and we messed with it and we fixed it. The green revolution, not the one we're living through now, the one 30, 40 years ago where there were predictions that famine would -- you know, there was no way we could support 2 billion people on earth, much less 7, the green revolution, they messed with motor nature but reengineering the wheat and rice plants and suddenly, boom, we could feed all these people.
Glenn: Are you concerned -- conundrum on the -- on the whole genetic engineering of food, because I think it's great. It helps. We can grow more, etc., etc., but I'm concerned with the idea of it not being able to recede itself because it just strikes me as the most -- you've got to do its to pay for it, you know. You've got to be able to -- the Dow has got to be able to make money. So to, what are they going to do? They can't make money if they only sell it once, but it just seems so unbelievably arrogant, especially with cross-pollination and everything else, are you concerned about that at all?
Dubner: I might be concerned if I knew anything about it, but I don't. I'm one of those people who says that the three hardest words in the English language to say aren't I love you. I don't know and in this case I don't know. What I will tell you is that the guy who -- if you want to look at one guy who's responsible for letting the last three or four billion people on earth get born and have enough food to eat, there was one guy named Oron Borlaug, he was a hero who died in his Nineties a couple of years ago. He created the green revolution and he worked for Dupont. His job was to work for Dupont. So, you know, that's the way capitalism works. People do things when they have strong incentives to do it and then the world takes over and you know what? The winners aren't always the winners you thought they might be.
Glenn: Are you concerned with -- and I don't want to talk politics with you, but are you concerned at all about the direction that we're headed, where we seem to be devaluing the individual's ideas and we're handcuffing people, where it's -- it all has to come from a government think tank, it all has to be provided by government, etc., etc. No, that's not the way to do it. That's not the way man has ever -- that's not got Galileo locked up
Dubner: Right. I would be concerned if I agreed with you entirely and I don't because here's the thing. I think that if we hear what politicians say and if we hear what we in the media say about what politicians say, then we would believe that there's nobody, there are no independent agents out there working on solutions, that people aren't incentivized to come up with solutions to problems, that this guy I named Ignog Simwey, this doctor who worked on hand hygiene, that Robert McNamara of all people, Robert Strange McNamara, who many people hate because he was secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, he was the guy that got Ford Motors to put seat belts in cars, very unpopular move. Ford thought it was saying to customers, Hey, our cars are so dangerous, you've got to buckle up but do you know what? It took a long time for adoption of that, but since the mid-Seventies it's been calculated that that one simple, cheap solution has saved about 250,000 lives in this country alone. If you lack at auto death rates in this country versus, let's say, countries in Asia and Africa, about a million people die in car accidents, here, 40,000 die, 40,000 too much, but considering how much we drive, it's unbelievable because this one simple, cheap solution by one guy who had strong incentives to make those cars safer for Ford. Now, it turns out that Ford didn't like the idea and, yet, it still got done so I feel if all we write about in Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, economics is very simple if you listen to the few words. People respond to incentives. The problem is when government creates incentives that don't work, then you've got a big problem. I don't feel we're at that point yet. You may be identifying where we're going. I can't tell. I can't tell you. But I know that --
Glenn: You're also hanging out, though -- honestly, the people that you hang out with and write about, etc., etc., are the -- I think are going to be the people that save the country. I mean, if I were President, I would fire most of the cabinet and I would put DARPA there right now. We're in trouble and we need people that think out of the box and I don't see that a lot, but, I mean, we were talking -- the first thing I said to you when we were in the green room a minute ago is -- was DARPA and you immediately responded, yes, they're great, but, wow, how hard is it to be out of box thinker in Washington. I mean, you can't
Dubner: Yeah. And you get penalized. You get penalized for raising a topic and addressing it -- going outside the kind of official /O*RT docks of how that topic is engineerly talked about. So, we've experienced this with the new book, with the /TKPWOERPLG warming chapter. We say some things in it that are purely scientific, that are factual, they're not /RAPBTS, they're not opinion, they're not emotion, they're not politics and, yet, there's a pretty entrenched group of folks who have one plan for addressing /TKPWHROERBL warming.
Pat: But what were some of the your solutions in the back?
Glenn: By the way, we're talking about SuperFreakonomics. This is Stephen Dubner that you're listening to.
Dubner: Well, before we get to the solutions, let me say we describe the problem differently than most people do. We say a lot of things are misunderstood about global warming in part because it is a big, complex issue. Right? If you think that predicting the macro economy is hard, which it turns out that it's really hard, even though you've got all niece brilliant people who write computerized /PHOELGDZs that are meant to do exactly what that, well, try to predict the noble /KHRAOEU /KHRAT. Okay, if you think that is hard. So, we write about the fact that computer modeling is a really difficult and incomplete process. Now, that doesn't mean that there hasn't been warming over the last hundred years. It didn't mean there won't be a man-made contribution to it and it doesn't mean there aren't a lot of reasons to approach it differently in the future. It would be nicer to have cleaner American made energy. Who in their right mind doesn't that that said /TP-RBG you look at the problem of globe globe, if globe globe is a big enough problem to worry about, which it may or may Mott be. Sometimes you've got to say I don't know. There is a huge amount of uncertainty /PH this scientific area. If it's a big enough problem, then we'll --
Glenn: No, no. Science is settled
Dubner: Well, you know, in some zip codes, yes. But if you think it's a big enough problem to deal with, which, again, it might be. It's like insurance. What are the odds that I'm going to die in the next 20 years? They're pretty low, me personally but I'm going to buy life insurance for my family. So, maybe you want to have an insurance policy. The problem is the insurance policy that's being proposed now, which is to stop burning fossil fuels, we argue, is too little too late and too optimistic for a variety of reasons, ranging from the plate /KAL to the scientific in that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere behaves differently than a lot of people think. That said /TP-RBG it's a problem, what do you do? What we propose, there's some potential solutions that fall into the realm of what's called Groninger. Some of them will freak people out. We acknowledge that.
Glenn: Oh, hang on. Hang on. Hold on. We're going to take a break and then he will freak you out. SuperFreakonomics. It is available now, global cooling, patriotic -- global cooling. What patriotic prostitutes and why suicide bottom /ERS should buy life insurance. You want to think outside of the box? SuperFreakonomics available everywhere now.