Poor Heat

From our very own Ye Olde Statistician comes the tip, “As Rising Heat Bakes U.S. Cities, The Poor Often Feel It Most“, a run-of-the-mill NPR weepie, but with a global warming twist.

The Poor Have Less Money Fallacy does not rank high on the list of epistemological errors, but its constant presence magnifies its importance. Here’s a small example:

“White truffle prices rise to historic highs, poor hardest hit.”

The fallacy is nothing but a restatement of the hoary old comedy headline “World Ends: Poor, LGBT Community Hardest Hit.’

It’s true the poor would be less able to afford white truffles were their prices to rise, for the redundant and boring reason that the poor have less money than the rich. Even were the prices to remain static, or even if they were to fall, the poor would be able to afford fewer of the delicacies than the rich.

The fallacy enters by implication. Stating the poor are hardest hit in that manner implies that the poor should be able to afford white truffles in the same proportion as the rich. Which is absurd.

It may make sense to lament the price rise if white truffles were a necessity, as, say, a sewage system is. If the price per toilet flush were to rise above what the poor could afford to pay, save selling themselves into slavery, then a call for reducing flush prices makes sense. Though it would still be wrong to say the poor are “hardest hit.” They are the only ones hit.

Like I said, not an exciting error. Just an annoying one. Which brings up NPR, a serial abuser.

“Poor Less Able To Afford Suburban Sanctuaries Equipped With Central Air” would not be a headline to excite the most dedicated socialist, though it’s equivalent to the one NPR went with.

Those exposed to that extra heat are often a city’s most vulnerable: the poorest and, our data show, disproportionately people of color. And living day after day in an environment that’s literally hotter isn’t just uncomfortable, it can have dire and sometimes deadly health consequences — a fact we found reflected in Baltimore’s soaring rates of emergency calls when the heat index spiked to dangerous levels

There are several curiosities in the story, though, which is why YOS sent it along.

The first is this: when a poor person walks out onto a city street, he will feel the same meteorological conditions as a rich person. The poor person might even be cooler than the rich in the summer, given the not-infrequent predilection of some poor to voluntarily wear very little in the way of clothes.

The better admission is this: NPR acknowledges there are such things as urban heat islands. “Cities in general tend to be hotter than their natural surroundings, thanks to a phenomenon known as the urban heat island.”

Since cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside, the poor have a benefit in winter. They will be less cold. Cold kills far more effectively than heat. So pity the rich who have to travel all the way into cities to work, risking frostbite and traffic accidents.

Global warming will also be exaggerated to the extent measurements of temperature taken in and around cities will be “artificially” high. This is why evidence of urban heat islands is usually disparaged or minimized. It interferes in the narrative.

The scare quotes are necessary because the temperatures will indeed be higher in cities, and the cause is man. It isn’t carbon dioxide doing the heating, it’s buildings and lack of trees.

Pavement — particularly if it’s black — absorbs heat and holds it in. At night, a city of more than 1 million people can be as much as 22 degrees warmer than its surroundings. Even the buildings themselves, Stone says, can create a sort of canyon that traps heat.

We don’t like to use that word. We say pavement of color.

Anyway, this makes NPR climate deniers. Join the club!

NPR’s expert Stone says “Lower-income parts of the city tend to have less green cover. That’s something that we see across a lot of cities.”

This isn’t so in NYC. There the housing projects all have ample grass, and even parking spots, all of which are lacking in and around my “rich” building.

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11 Thoughts

  1. Notice that the carefully didn’t say that the spike in emergency calls were the result of heat, as opposed to gunfire. It’s well known that increased temperatures result in shorter tempers.

  2. Cities are warmer than their surroundings akin to how ant mounds and bee hives are: 1. animal metabolism and 2. animal alteration of the immediate environment. NB that *all* successful organisms do this, to enhance their own survival.

    Pop quiz: Which organisms, in toto, have done the most to alter Earth’s environment?
    Hint: It isn’t what you think nor are they multicellular. ;p
    Of the multicellular ones, which are these?
    Finally, from a chemistry point of view, what was the world’s first plastic?
    Hint: It’s been around a lot longer than you think.

  3. @ cdquarles

    Pop quiz answers:
    1. cyanobacteria (a/k/a blue-green algae) – changed an anaerobic atmosphere to aerobic and altered the bio-geo-chemistry of earth.
    2. termites or ants
    3. cellulose

  4. @Gary,
    Good answers. 1 I agree with. 2, I’d say were woody green plants, though ants or termites isn’t bad and 3. Wood. Cellulose is just another polymer. Without the resin binder, it, to me, isn’t a plastic.

  5. NPR’s subgenius “solutions” to allegedly “catastrophic” global warming would most definitely hit the poor the hardest.

    Take, for instance, killing all the cows. That would eliminate filet mignon, but would also eliminate milk, cheese, and ice cream — foods the poor depend on disproportionately.

    Or consider the banning of diesel fuel to farmers. The poor would starve to death by the tens of millions, whereas the rich and well-connected would gobble up all the available food. Who else but the rich could afford to yoke human slaves to plows? Search “Holodomor” for further edification.

    Examine the “tree cover” solution. The CA city with the greatest percentage of tree cover was Santa Rosa, until Oct 2017 when the trees caught fire and burned 7,000 structures and killed over 40 people. Post-fire stats did not report the income levels of the dead or newly homeless, but some of them were probably poor.

    Or maybe not — fire does not discriminate by income, but the rich certainly have more to lose. “Rich Hardest Hit” would be a factual headline for many alarmist fantasy dire reports, with minimal fallaciousness.

  6. @cdquarles

    ” Without the resin binder, [celulose] , to me, isn’t a plastic.”

    Right, it’s just a carbohydrate polymer, as is chitin.

    Actually, I was going to guess amber, so I looked it up. The only “natural plastic” I can find (google scholar) is clay. And there are a lot of publications on that. but one might object that it’s more ceramic than plastic, depending on one’s definition of plastic.

    Of course, some bacteria produce a “plastic-like” polymer, the genes of which are being introduced into plants in an attempt to grow it, bypassing the oil refining steps and going right to the final product.

    But back on topic…

    Of course if you want to be boring about it, there’s also the rubber tree, and the rubber dandelion.
    (yes, it has particles of real rubber in it’s sap)

    And then there’s silk polymers from spiders and various worms, though they are made from proteins, so I’m not sure they count.

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