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Big number spin

By Robert Smith
web posted September 21, 2009

In today's agenda-driven public policy debates, the use of data has become an art form and propaganda mission.  There are three zeros in thousands, six in millions, nine in billions, and twelve in trillions.  Seems straight forward, until…..the spin begins. 

Carbon Dioxide

Here in Pennsylvania, we have been treated to an interesting bit of legislation by the hired help who operate our state.  It has been deemed necessary by these illuminati that diesel vehicles shall not be allowed to idle for more than five minutes per hour.  The practicality of this bit of sophisticated legal wizardry is likely lost on many truck drivers, who in all likelihood do not track their hourly idling time, they being more concerned with being paid for their effort moving some materials or goods through traffic from point A to point B.  The news release ginned up by the Commonwealth News Bureau (February 6, 2009) indicates in the very opening line the moral imperative of such a dictate…"Pennsylvanians – particularly those vulnerable to air pollution such as children and the elderly – will breathe easier, thanks to a new measure taking effect today…"  Farther on in the news release, apparently anticipating that the reader may not be capable of resolving the idling issue on their own, they refer to the solution for the identified problem…"The simplest way to reduce idling is to turn off the vehicle."    So there you have it, they cut right to the very core of such a complicated problem for us less enlightened, common folks. 

Now for the big number spin.  In among their moral, economic, environmental imperatives and rationale for such a law, we find, as example, "Each year, heavy duty trucks in Pennsylvania emit about…210,000 tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change…"  Who can put their mind around 210,000 tons, that's tons of a gas…not a solid or liquid…a gas, a very light air-like substance.  To most normal folks, that amount has to be enormous, a true problem, or so they would like us to think.  Respiration, our cells utilizing oxygen so that we may live, results in humans and mammals exhaling the vilified carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Never mind that plants require this carbon dioxide to live and that carbon dioxide accounts for only approximately 0.03 % of our atmosphere, the majority being approximately 78.08 % nitrogen and 20.95 % oxygen.  With relatively simple look-up information regarding the average number of times we each exhale and the average amount of carbon dioxide in each exhalation, we can calculate a tons of carbon dioxide of approximately 0.4 tons per year (Wikipedia) for each of us, depending on individual activity level.  Based on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 estimate, there are 12,448,279 of us respiring here in Pennsylvania, which gives us 4,979,312 tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions, almost 5 million tons.  This number accounts only for those respirators falling in the "citizen" category of the U.S. Census Bureau and not others, or the multitude of wild and domesticated critters happily respiring away in the state, let alone the massive contribution of carbon dioxide from other natural sources.  The onerous 210,000 tons of carbon dioxide offered as a basis of the law, in context, is just a drop in the bucket in comparison to us just being alive.  Pennsylvania's geriatric and adolescent populations should be greatly relieved.  The big number spin.               

Uninsured

We are told there are anywhere between 46 to 50 million uninsured Americans, depending upon which Uncle Sam Insurance Company salesman is the speaker du jour.  Impressive numbers, the big number spin.  The underlying truth falls far short of that number.  After the take-aways of illegals, folks who can afford but don't or could be covered under an existing program but haven't signed up, temporarily between jobs, etc… it has been widely reported that the real number is more along the lines of 10 to 13 million.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau website, we are a country of over 307 million (307,297,432).  From a practical perspective, there are then 294 to 297 million folks who seem to be covered by insurance.  While there exists problems with our insurance system that should be worked out, there is nothing wrong with our best in the world medical system.  Throwing out the existing world class medical system along with the arguably flawed insurance system seems to be a large part of the disconnect in the Uncle Sam Insurance Company representative's minds.  Further, changing the whole system where 92% of the U.S. population is experiencing relatively acceptable coverage and exceptional care to accommodate the 8% who suffer from no coverage but exceptional care seems absurd from a proportional response perspective.  The big number spin.     

Deficit

The deficit was reported by the Obama administration as $7 trillion and then…oops…it's $9 trillion.  That is $9,000,000,000,000.  Nobody can contemplate an amount of money with that many zeros.  Simply saying we changed from a 7 to a 9 seems like a change of just 2, not so bad.  Imagine though, let's buy every man, woman and child, the entire U.S. population a $30,000 new car.  You are a family of five, you have five new cars in the driveway.  That's approximately 9 trillion dollars.  Unfortunately, thought of another way, each of us, every man, woman, child, is in the hole to the tune of $30,000, family of five $150,000.  That is the unsustainable big number spin. ESR

Robert T. Smith is an environmental scientist who spends his days enjoying life and the pursuit of happiness with his family.  He confesses to cling to his liberty, guns and religion, with antipathy toward the arrogant ruling elites throughout the country.

 

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