That Which Kills Me Also Costs Me Money: Study

Blackout 1965: Think of it — all those people trapped in all those apartments, needing to know: how much is this going to cost?

According to a new study, if a solar storm blew out most of America’s electric grid, it would cost us $41.5 billion dollars. The worst scenario calculated in the study would affect 66 per cent of the population, as well as the nation’s manufacturing, government and finance sectors. Other countries would be affected as well, but we don’t care about that, the study simply created a seven-billion-dollar chump-change jar for the foreigners. After putting a price tag on every imaginable aspect of Apocalypse Now, one of the study’s authors said somberly, “We felt it was important.” He found it “surprising” that prior studies — yes, there are prior studies making the same calculations — lacked “transparency” and missed entirely some direct and indirect costs.

Encyclopedic as it may be, and transparent as well — you can see right through it — the study raises at least as many questions as it answers [Please disengage your fake-news sensor and engage your irony alert]:

  • now that we know what the incineration of the grid will cost, can we just not do it? Is that why you told us?
  • now that we know what it will cost, shall we just put that much money in a savings account, so that when it happens, we can just write a check and we won’t be affected at all?
  • Utilities have always known about the threat from severe solar storms, and  how to protect the grid from them, but have so far refused to spend the money. So now can we get them to spend up to $40 billion? At least?
  • Isn’t this pretty much the same things as commissioning a financial analysis to calculate how much money you will not make in the 10 years after your death? (A million dollars? Holy crap! Now I really don’t want to die!)

But here’s the real question. Have we as a culture become so devoid of human values and empathy that we no longer even have the language to discuss the meaning of anything without assigning cash values? Where are the studies concluding that an event like this would put us all instantly back in the Stone Age, that most of us would die in the first year, that our civilization might never recover? 

In our world, knowledge has been industrialized. Armies of researchers often funded by the companies that will benefit from a right conclusion, delve into everything from the health benefits of food to the effects of chemicals, from evaluating stocks and bonds to  the economic cost of homophobia. If the conclusion is wrong — that is, of no benefit to the sponsors — it can be buried, and alternate studies funded. See “Exxon and climate-change research.”

Rice University researchers have calculated the cost of carbon emissions, and called for a compensatory carbon tax. In other words, never mind the visible pall of pollution, the coughing children, the elevated cancer rates, the increasingly obvious destabilization of the planet’s climate, let’s figure out how many dollars it might cost and impose a fine, in dollars. Similarly, Stanford researchers have estimated the high cost of global climate change. Duh!

As with all crimes against humanity, we must first ask cui bono? Who benefits? Studies cost money, often big money. Promoting their results to a gullible public costs really big money. Somebody is getting something for all that money. [Note to self: Apply for grant to conduct large-scale study of the cost of studying the cost of things.]

Without conducting a study, I can only surmise that the beneficiaries of studies such as the solar-storm accounting are the very industries it studied. If we focused in detail on the human cost of such a Black Swan event — that is, an event of extremely low probability but extremely high cost — and the relative ease with which the industries could prevent it, we would be storming their gates. Or at least trolling them on Twitter.  

But put a price tag on it, any price tag, and our tendency is to think, “Yeah, we could do that.” It doesn’t matter how big it is. Personally, I cannot get my head around any number that has more than six digits. I thought it was a private affliction, but it turns out to be pretty widespread.

Talk to any industry about its responsibility to the humans it is supposed to be serving, and to future generations of them, and it goes into a defensive crouch and insists that a corporation is not a person when it comes to ethics and responsibility. But threaten them with a future fine or cost, and the board meets, and says “Yeah, we could do that.” 

So that’s cui bono, baby.

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14 Responses to That Which Kills Me Also Costs Me Money: Study

  1. Tom says:

    Ah yes, the monetization of everything – including extinction level events – is the new paradigm. Great observations on this, Mr. Lewis – how the psychology of an assigned monetary value practically dismisses the actual threat, how corporations can both have human rights and NOT be human (or care what happens to them while destroying the environement), and the big picture of who benefits always lurking behind the scenes.

    It’s a tacit “given” that humanity will keep doing what it’s doing until it can’t, so look for MORE pollution, MORE degradation of the planet, MORE war and financial shenanigans to keep up the status quo at all costs. It doesn’t matter who is in the White House, this is bigger than civilization. We’ve been warned all along the way, but those warnings fall on deaf ears as we’re mesmerized by all the distractions that keep us from any kind of coherent thoughts about any aspect of it being completely unsustainable for much longer.

  2. ACD says:

    Exactly-oto- Quasimodo

  3. Craig Moodie says:

    Ármies of researchers often funded by the companies that will benefit from the right conclusion.
    How is it, that climate scientists are exempt from this same scrutiny?

    • Apneaman says:

      Who said thy were? Where is that written? Please provide a link to a study comparing and contrasting the different levels of scrutiny for each branch of science. I would say that climate scientists are the most hounded and scrutinized bunch there is. In addition to asshole politicians (and their staffers) they have think tanks and an army of denier true believers following their every move. That’s a lot of man power scrutinizing and harassing them. Further the climate scientists receive regular nasty emails and letters from these sub humans and even some have had death threats. Somehow, I don’t think the PhD chemist working for General Mills trying to come up will the “Bliss Point” for kids cereal see’s the same scrutiny.

  4. Mike Kay says:

    So many potential tracks to take on this piece…it really offers food for thought.
    I have long agreed with Tom Waits, that the true God of this society is money. This piece illustrates one aspect of what this ultimately brings to us all.

  5. Craig Moodie says:

    Every branch of science has been compromised for god knows how long, due to both the profit and/or political motive. The corruption is so rife, it is now impossible to know what the truth really is. To suggest that one branch of science is immune from this corruption is ludicrous.
    The scrutiny you talk about, comes from the lunatic right wing. I don’t see any scrutiny coming from the left side of the aisle.

    • Pintada says:

      Actually Craig, you are absolutely correct. Most climate scientists lie their asses off to protect their income, their grants, or their job. They always say that there is a way to fix climate change while they no for certain that there is no way. They always make light of the self-reinforcing feedback loops that have already pushed the scales past redemption.

      If those scientists could speak freely, they would explain that asshole deniers through years of delays have made it impossible to save humanity from the effects of anthropomorphic global warming.

    • Apneaman says:

      Actually, Craig the medical sciences are more corrupt than all the rest put together. One merely needs to look in which fields the most research money is spent the corruption correlates with the money in medical and even the former editor of the Lancet said half the studies are bunk. Many studies, but not all, in psychology cannot be repeated by others. Of course one of the true test of science is how it’s predictions pan out and in that matter climate science is bang on for all the major metrics, except a great many predictions were too conservative – “Faster than previously expected” Another way to confirm this is to count the intensity and number of climate disasters. Breaking records on all fronts and it’s hard to keep track now. Everything they predicted has come to pass and more. With the current record breaking wild fires in Chili that makes three town that have burnt down in nine months. Fort Murray,Alberta, Gatling Ten, and Santa Olga. These are all AGW jacked fires via drought.

      AGW consequences alone will break economies. That was predicted too.

      Look at the numbers for yourself. Here is a little sample.

      U.S. Communities Clobbered by $53 Billion in Extreme Weather and Climate Disasters in 2016

      Fire season in Alberta is now 2 1/2 months longer than it was in the early 1990’s and prior and this too was predicted many decades ago.

      Fort McMurray wildfire costs to reach almost $9B, new report says

      ‘This is an underestimation of the actual cost’

      Gatlinburg is over a billion, but the costs grow as time passes, so look for the bill on that to climb as well.

      Climate science, tragically, is pretty solid.

  6. Denis Frith says:

    This anthropocentric debate is interesting but the it does not touch the real bottom line. Sciece made the mistake many years ago of proposing fossil fuels be used to power industiralization without understanding the unintended consequences. So now the climate has been irreversibly disrupted and the ocean acidified and warmed. the most that can now be done is adopt measures to cope as far as possible with the sea level rise and more frequent stroms, droughts, floods and wild fires.

    • Oji says:

      This must be the new tack: blame scientists themselves for climate change.

      So, I’m to believe Colonel Drake, JD Rockefeller, steel and rail magnates, Henry Ford, and all those other industrialists (and the bankers who financed them) were actually scientists promoting fossil fuel use, not, in fact, Robber Baron capitalists. Got it.

    • Apneaman says:

      Denis, science is a set of tools. The best we could come up with to discover truths of the universe. Tools don’t and can’t make mistakes. Only the humans who wield the tools can. Guns are also tools. It’s like saying that guns made the mistake of propelling lead into human bodies. Humans love to invent things, misuse them, then blame the negative consequences on the invention. “It’s them damn smartphones what’s causing all these car wrecks”. No it’s the humans causing all the fatal wrecks. More than drunk driving ever did. yet they don’t let the drunks blame it on the alcohol do they? Funny how that one works eh? Societies need their human scapegoats too.

  7. Rob Rhodes says:

    I have always found such studies ironically hilarious. As if such a thing would happen in isolation. It will cost x billions to build 10 foot levees and locks to keep all the major seaports running as the oceans rise but the industrial economy is otherwise uninterrupted. I guess the work will all be done with solar powered bulldozers! The grid that left all the self driving electric cars stranded will be repaired by techs carrying their equipment the same way I go shopping, towing a trailer with a bicycle.

  8. SomeoneInAsia says:

    Oscar Wilde said it well: Today we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.