The economics of global warming

Last year, Al Gore made a rather spirited effort to inform the public about global warming, which he called 'An Inconvenient Truth'. In my opinion, those who deny global warming are not unlike the people who the deny that the Holocaust ever took place. Only now the stakes are much higher - this time it's the whole planet.

For a change, Tony Blair had a good idea. He had Nicolas Stern prepare a report on global warming and its economic consequences. Like any good bureaucrat Stern came up with a 700-page report.

From the Economist:
"The purpose of Sir Nicholas’s report—commissioned by Tony Blair—is to deal with the argument of people who accept that climate change is happening, but who say that trying to do anything about it would be a waste of money. This argument is heard occasionally in Europe and frequently in America, where, for added potency, it is combined with the notion that European attempts to tax carbon are part of a conspiracy by socialists determined to undermine the American way of life.

Sir Nicholas’s argument is that, far from undermining the American way of life, attempts to mitigate climate change may help preserve it. He argues this by setting the costs of allowing climate change to happen against the costs of mitigating climate change."

"Previous estimates of the costs of climate change—as a result of more hurricanes, more floods and rising sea levels, for instance—have been somewhere between nothing and 2% of global GDP... As a result, Sir Nicholas maintains that if greenhouse gas emissions go on increasing at their present rate, global output is likely to be between 5% and 20% lower over the next two centuries than it otherwise would have been."

Appealing to people's consciences about the consequences of their actions is not effective. Also, a holier-than-thou attitude turns many people off and you are left preaching to the choir. What is more effective is showing how it affects your wallet, not only tomorrow, but today.

The Chicago Marathon

I woke up a number of times in the night nervous like I was taking a big exam and excited like it was my first outdoor picnic. I wonder why I even bother setting an alarms for such events since I woke up at 5am before the alarms went off. I purposely did not turn the multiple alarms off since it was chiefly for the benefit of my support team who really needed to be roused from their slumber. The weather did not look too good - it was raining, the temperatures were just above freezing and it was not going to get better.

By 6:30am when we managed to reach downtown(without getting lost), the place was already milling with people. For each of the 40,000 or so runners there would be about two to three other people who would be lining up at parts of the course to cheer them on. My friends dropped me off at the Millenium Park and after that I was on my own. Thanks to all the road blocks and fences around the course it took me about thirty minutes to get to the Asha tent in the Charity Village. The Charity Village, thanks to the rain, was a complete mess and the last thing I wanted was to slip and fall in the muck and sprain an ankle. I met the other Asha runners and almost all of them were first-timers and were equally nervous and excited. I tried to stretch but I did it half-heartedly. The chilly air was numbing and added to the tension in the air.
At about 7:45am, I lined up wearing a trash bag which was my modified rain-jacket. In the 37F weather I was really glad to have the $2 gloves. Crammed like cattle in that enclosure we all waited. As I waited, I thought about all the months of training and all the different runs - in the heat, in the rain, on dull cloudy days, on chilly autumn mornings and the accompanying aches and pains. Then I thought about the runs that should have been, runs abandoned midway because it hurt too much. Would I pay for those sins? Would I hit the wall at Mile 21? Would I fail to finish? As the time for the eight-o'clock-start approached people started throwing their jackets, gloves and sweats to the curbside. At five minutes before eight, the butterflies in my stomach disappeared and I felt ready. The horn went off exactly at 8 am, but it took me another 8 minutes to make it to the start. As my foot hit the mat, I broke into a jog and it took me a few seconds to realise - that the marathon had begun. I would be back at the Buckingham fountain after 26 miles and 385 yards.

Route Map

Mile 1-7
It was drizzling when the race started and I was glad to have that trash bag. The first part of the course would go north after crossing the river twice. There was a nasty wind and I tried to tuck behind a group of runners, but that did not help much. For the first two miles the road was packed and I could not speed up to my target pace which was a good thing. My problem while running is controlling my urge to speed up early in the race. One of the unique experiences of Chicago is running on the steel bridges. Running along the bridge between the great skyscrapers I could see the green Chicago river below my feet through the grating. Between Mile 3 and 4 I saw my support team - Sumedha, Darshan, Siddharth and Sreeja and it felt really nice to hear them screaming my name. I was warming up while running and I wondered how they were holding up in the cold. Today, the cold weather would not only test the runners but also the supporters. I learnt later, that my friends had to throw away the placards from the expo as their fingers went numb from the cold.

Mile 7-13.1
It was nice to get back between the buildings after the stretch on Lake Shore Drive.
A little before Mile 8 the loop turned around and went south passing through the gay district where the guys were immensely entertaining. Throughout this leg there was lovely music - folk music, rock music and even an Elvis look-alike. Around Mile 9, I felt a stabbing pain in my chest, the kind you get when you are close to the finish. I wondered, 'Was this the beginning of the end?'. It passed. Before getting back into Downtown, the route passed through the Scandinavian neighbourhood and there were people with Swedish and Danish flags. People bring all kinds of things that make noise - whistles, bells, old horns, drums. I don't know why but noise makes you keep going. We went pass the famous Chicago theater where a blues band was so energetic that we all got a rush. Again for a brief few seconds, just before the halfway point, I looked forward to meeting my my support team. This time Sumedha and Darshan ran bit and that felt really good.

Mile 13.1 - 20
As I passed under the green banner that read 'Halfway' I felt great. It wasn't long ago when the half-marathon distance felt like a lot. Now that distance was not special at all - it was just a statistic. The runner next to me and I high-fived and I said, 'Let's do this!'. He smiled - I would never see him again. In long races like these, you form instant and temporary friendships on basis of 'we-in-this-together'. I don't think the marathon distance would be that enjoyable or even achievable if it weren't for all the people. You encourage, support and smile at people you don't know and will never meet again. It is so much easier when 'I can do this!' becomes 'We can do this!'.

At Mile 15, I felt that my bladder would burst. It had been about two and a half hours after starting and I had a lot of water and Gatorade. While there are port-a-johns scattered throught the course, the lines are often long and in the interest of time runners urinate wherever they feel like. Most simply pick the nearest wall and even women who seem to have super-human self-control when it comes to such matters show that at least on the marathon course they are just as human and not too finicky about location. I was scanning the course for an appropriate wall to bless, when a set of blue port-a-johns appeared. I felt almost obliged to use them and I knew I was throwing away a fine opportunity to urinate with impunity. There was a line and it cost me two minutes and the extended stop made my legs feel heavy. But again, in a few minutes I felt okay.

Mile 20-25
They say that the marathon has two halves. The first 20 miles and then the rest. The longest run in all marathon programs is a long run of 20 miles about 3 weeks before the race and I knew that I would at least make it as far as the 20 mile mark, but what about the rest? After Mile 20 runners bonk or hit the wall and start hearing voices in their head. As I crossed the 20-mile marker, I wondered if I would be able to hold up for another hour for the last 6.2 miles. Frank Shorter at Mile 21 asked his fellow competitor Kenny Moore, "Why did Pheidippides not die at Mile 21?". In this leg I saw more and more runners stop and begin to walk. While you don't feel out of breath and your legs are not tired, you just feel the need to stop a bit. At Mile 22 I heard a voice in my head, "How about a really short walking break?". I knew that would be the beginning of the end. Very soon there would be more walking breaks and soon I would be walking and not running. After we crossed the Dan Ryan Expressway I hit the 23 Mile mark. I told myself, "This will be the last 30 minutes of running for a long, long time." Everything I had done the past 4 months now boiled down to keep those legs moving for the next 5 kilometers. Around me, people looked equally 'dead' and there wasn't much talking going on. The spectators were doing a great job in pushing the runners across the last few bits of the course. In these last few miles everything you hear within and without is prefaced with 'Just' - 'Just, hang on', 'Just 2 miles', 'Just a little bit more'. Even the nasty wind did not matter now. Everything around me seemed to be hazy and floating. I recall everything in the last 3 miles as if it was from a dream - the little children who I high-fived, the faces of the spectators who said "Almost there!", the guy at the water-stop.

The Last Mile
After running more between 25-35 miles a week, running a mile feels like nothing. The last mile in Chicago runs along Michigan Avenue, which a little further along is called the 'Magnificent Mile'. Except there was nothing magnificent about this mile. It was the longest and hardest mile that I have ever run. To make it more bearable I broke it down in four 400m laps. Yet, it seemed like an eternity to see that '800m' sign just before we turned onto Roosevelt. I was about ready to die at that point. It was still not over. There would be no redemption till I had run every inch of the 26 .2 mile course. You grit your teeth and hang on. I cannot get over that feeling of entering that final stretch along the wide Columbus drive where there were massive crowds on either side of the barricades. I felt that they were all cheering me. At this stage I was ready to believe anything. I have never felt a greater joy in my life than to see that large green sign that said "Finish". A few moments ago, I was ready to die and now I had this sudden burst of energy. With 400 meters to go I began to feel my legs turn over faster and faster, like I had no control over them. As I passed dozens of runners and I could hear people cheer my last sprint to the finish. Everyone loves a strong finish. I felt my left foot hit the mat and I may not have taken more than three or four steps before I stopped. I could not run anymore. My legs felt so heavy, that I could not stand. I was totally spent. I had done it. The first thing I did was cry.

(Un)Official Time & Splits

Marathon for Asha

As I have mentioned before and I will mention again until I grow tired of mentioning it - I am training for the Chicago Marathon that takes place on Sunday the 22nd of October. I was inspired by an old tagline for the Boston Marathon which read:
"You will know everything about yourself in 26.21 miles".

But, as I trained over the past year, I felt that simply achieving this difficult goal should have more meaning than personal vanity. I felt that a better reason and motivation for running would be raising money for Team Asha. Asha for Education is a secular organization that is dedicated to change in India by focusing on basic education in the belief that education is a critical requisite for socio-economic change.

My target is to raise $2620 (100$ for every mile). Details are on my
My Asha Runner's Page. After finishing my 20m run on Tuesday, I feel quite strong and I will make it to the finish line, but I am still quite short on reaching my fundraising target. Please donate if you feel this a cause that is worthy of your hard-earned $$.

For myself and for many people who have donated generously, I am sharing my accounts of my marathon trials, tribulations and insights on this blog.
Part I | Part II

This post will remain sticky, till I reach my target of $2620

Just when I thought

In preparation for SfN I have been working more than twice my usual hours and not surprisingly, making weeks' worth of progress in a few days. As a graduate student there is a lot of latitude with respect to working hours, but all students regardless of whether they are working hard, or hardly working cannot but feel the inescapable feeling of guilt. We often feel that like Boxer in Animal Farm we must constantly promise "I will work harder!".

After having got not much sleep in the past few days reading this article from Nature makes me feel better about my usual lifestyle and suggests that my current 'overdrive mode' might not be too productive in the long run.

This article from Nature Jobs writes:

"Ernest Rutherford once asked a student who was working one evening whether he also worked in the mornings. The student proudly answered yes. "But when do you think?" Rutherford replied. He was convinced that the creative scientists spent evenings and holidays relaxing with their families, and imposed strict limits on the hours his students worked. A high proportion of them went on to win Nobel prizes."

Marathon Diary - Part II, or Sex and Sexism in Marathons

Why do men have nipples?
Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg tried to answer the question in this book. If as a guy you never wondered or even paid much attention to your diminished twin assets then you will once you try to run more than 7 or 8 miles. God bless you if do this on a hot day with a cotton t-shirt. This is just one of the many things that you learn along the way. A little lubrication goes a long way.

Can they do it or should we allow them to do it?
The jockstrap was invented in 1874, and the jog bra was invented in 1977. This just goes to show the sexism rampant in sport. In sport, it is most apparent when it comes to the marathon. During the Boston Marathon in 1967, race official Jock Semple yelled at #261 - Katherine Switzer, "Get out of my race!" and then tried to rip off her bib number. Since women were not allowed to compete she had registered illegally and she showed women could run 26.2 miles. It took another 5 years till finally in 1972 women were officially allowed to compete in Boston. The IOC took another 12 years before the made it an Olympic event, a full 88 summers after Spiridon Louis won the first Olympic Marathon in Athens.

My own Stanford Prison Experiment
Occasionally I do get honked at when I am running, since I sometimes run red-lights or do not strictly cross at zebra-crossings. But more than a couple of times I was simply honked at while I wasn't annoying any drivers. And always, it has been a bunch of a girls in the car who honk, then scream at me, laugh and then zoom off. I am always taken aback at first, since I don't expect that, then flattered, and then I wonder - "Lord, why me?". Was it something to do with my high-cut running shorts? (The reason for the sexy shorts is related to the problem described at the start, but let's not go there!) Were they cheering? If they were, then why did they always laugh and drive off? It is flattering to teased by eves and a moment to be treasured, since how often does this happen, huh? It does make me think more deeply about eve-teasing. While it is often a yucky guy-thing to do, I think that anyone will do it provided he or she is in a powerful or advantageous position. Often, men are in a position of advantage should a confrontation occur. In my case, the usual positions were reversed in favour of these girls. They were in a group, in a car and I was alone and on the road running alone in skimpy shorts. It set up a situation where they could get away with it. Only in this case, as I guy, I felt it was as much fun for me as it was for them. Eve-teasing is a product of the environment that gives a certain set of people power over another set, as shown by the Stanford Prison Experiment. The Blank Noise Project is one of the most courageous and powerful attempts at changing the status-quo. They have hit the nail on the head with their direct action program. Women need not constantly feel vulnerable and passively accept the humiliation of being eve-teased. The best way to deal with the problem is to tackle it head-on and challenge the perception that there is indeed an asymmetry of power. So guys, be prepared to be honked at!

Camping out for Shakespeare

Courtesy the UMS, The Royal Shakespeare Company(RSC) will be in residence in Ann Arbor once again, and will perform Shakespeare's first Roman play - Julius Caesar, the sequel - Antony and Cleopatra, and his last play - The Tempest.

Tickets were up for advance purchase early this March at ridiculously high prices and were bought by people, to borrow from Lennon, who jangle their jewellery. Tickets that went on sale to the general public were also sold-out in a week. Students had to wait a little for the cheap tickets to not-so-cheap-seats. Patrick Stewart a.k.a. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who performs the leading roles of Antony in Antony and Cleopatra and Prospero in The Tempest, had some role in the frenetic sales by appealing to the Trekkies. The University, in its infinite wisdom and judgement, reserved 2500 tickets for 'poor' students, but quite characteristically did not forgo the opportunity to make a few extra bucks. Tickets were reserved for students registered in classes that teach drama, Shakespeare, acting, etc, which earn fat fees for the University. So, in effect only 443 tickets out of the 2500 tickets were available to the general student population.

So what do you do to ensure you get tickets? Camp outside the box-office door! So On Friday at 9pm, exactly 12 hours before the doors opened, we took our folding chairs and stood in line. We were still #22 in the line. There were other crazy people before us and after us. Not long after we settled ourselves in our chairs, a guy walked in with a shoulder-bag packed with a poncho, bananas, a flashlight, a blanket, energy bars and hat. Almost instantly, he took charge of policing the line and ensuring there were no crooks jumping the line. Then a guy walked in with his guitar, people got out their cards, scrabble sets and it did not take long for it to soon turn into some sort of picnic. Waiting in a line overnight is the safest and best way to experience a refugee-camp situation. People were willing to share coffee, keys to nearby building with restrooms, extra blankets, space in the tent in case it rained.

We, the the people who came before midnight, felt we were the 'privileged few' since we were almost guaranteed tickets unless 120 people emerged from a large tent at the head of the line. It was suspiciously large and rather quiet, and it seemed to suggest to the rest of us that at the moment those chaps were digging a tunnel. As the night progressed, more people showed up and set up shop behind us, and all that seemed to be missing from the scene was a camp-fire. Throughout the night we were visited by people from the UMS checking to see if were okay. From the glimmer in their eye, I could tell that once upon a time, they too had camped out and had loved every moment of it. At 2am, the director Ken Fischer showed up with a camera and members of the Emerson Quartet who performed that night to show off the legendary Ann Arbor fanaticism for art and culture. It became colder and started to rain, but the thought of those folks who would wake up at 4am and still find themselves ticketless made us feel happy and warm. In the morning we gloated even more as the line by then had gone around the sidewalk, to the street, and around the block and we couldn't help but smirk at the lost causes who trooped in at 6 am. For the ones who walked in after 8am we had no respect whatsoever.

The funny thing about all the people who camped out that night was that none of us were Shakespeare fanatics, but rather we were all doing this because we all wanted a story to tell - 'How we slept on the sidewalk in the cold and the rain, to get tickets to a play that we couldn't afford otherwise'. If you ever wonder whether you had a good life or not, just think about whether you have these stories to tell...

By morning we were rather groggy and I almost lost the hard-won tickets by misplacing them somewhere. That would have been some story!
Hmmm,so much drama, for drama.