A reader named Chuck Armitage writes in with a question about which I know nothing but which I’d like to know much more.
So what do you say, readers? What do you know, and think, and what can you tell us?
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Here is my question… Why is shark fin soup still popular?
Ostentation is not a trait that is normally associated with Chinese culture and yet that is what shark fin soup represents. The more expensive it gets, the more it proves that your host honors you by serving the soup. And the more the West vilifies the barbarian finning practices of the shark fisherman, the more the Chinese seem to dig in their heels and say look at your own barbaric practices before you racially attack us. There is a huge disconnect between what are normally considered admirable traits of civilized Chinese society and what is going on with this tradition.
Are the activities of the ecology activists helping or hurting their cause? How do you change the sentiments of a seemingly positive tradition when the act is causing such an ecological disaster? Is seal clubbing or factory farming as bad as shark-finning?
It is a burning issue right now and many species of sharks will go extinct if it is not solved. No matter what we do in North America, the real issue is in Asia. Even if we ban the import of shark fin here, the growing wealth in China will end the shark as we know it in our oceans.
How can this be positioned in a way that will be championed by the Chinese populace?
Our latest podcast, “Weird Recycling,” featured Carlos Ayala, the Vice President of International at Perdue Farms. Stephen Dubner‘s interview with him centered on chicken feet — or chicken paws, as they’re called in the industry. Until about 20 years ago, paws were close to value-less for a U.S. chicken company. But thanks to huge demand in China, paws have become big profit centers. The U.S. now exports about 300,000 metric tons of chicken paws every year. Perdue alone produces more than a billion chicken feet a year, which according to Ayala brings in more than $40 million of revenue. In fact, Ayala says that without the paw, chicken companies would be hard-pressed to stay in business: Read More »
In our “Weird Recycling” podcast, Nathan Myhrvold talks about TerraPower, the nuclear-power firm that he and Bill Gates are promoting, which would use depleted uranium (castoff waste from traditional nuclear plants) as fuel. TerraPower has impressive plans but has yet to build its first plant.
It was a long interview, only a sliver of which made it into the podcast. One leftover part concerned the U.S.’s skittishness about nuclear power: Read More »
In our SuperFreakonomics chapter about global warming, a central argument was that greenhouse-gas emissions (and pollution in general) are an externality, and it is inherently difficult to control and/or price externalities. So, while it might seem sensible to encourage fewer emissions by taxation or price controls — or international agreements — the reality is complicated:
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Besides the obvious obstacles — like determining the right size of the tax and getting someone to collect it — there’s the fact that greenhouse gases do not adhere to national boundaries. The earth’s atmosphere is in constant, complex motion, which means that your emissions become mine and mine yours. Thus, global warming.
If, say, Australia decided overnight to eliminate its carbon emissions, that fine nation wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of its costly and painful behavior unless everyone else joined in. Nor does one nation have the right to tell another what to do. The United States has in recent years sporadically attempted to lower its emissions. But when it leans on China or India to do the same, those countries can hardly be blamed for saying, Hey, you got to free-ride your way to industrial superpowerdom, so why shouldn’t we?
Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Weird Recycling,” included a field trip to Golden Unicorn in New York’s Chinatown to eat some chicken feet. Our guest was Carlos Ayala of Perdue Farms. Ayala told us that the export of chicken feet, primarily to China and Hong Kong, is such a big part of Perdue’s business that the firm might be in trouble if that export market didn’t exist. Here are some snaps from Ayala and Stephen Dubner‘s chicken-feet lunch at Golden Unicorn. Read More »
In our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Misadventures in Baby-Making,” we describe an academic paper by a Dutch mathematics professor that might have been one of the inspirations of the controversial One Child Policy in China.
Here’s the story: in the early 1970s, Geert Jan Olsder co-authored the paper “Population Planning; a Distributed Time Optimal Control Problem.” He saw population as a mathematical constraint problem, where an optimal birth rate could be found:
“Given a certain initial age profile the population must be “steered” as quickly as possible to another, prescribed, final age profile by means of a suitable chosen birth rate.”
The model considered the natural birth rate and mortality rate, an economic constraint, and time. And like any good empirical scientist, Olsder makes this warning in his paper:
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“This paper is not concerned with the social and political problems involved in establishing the best mechanism for a program of population management….The optimal birth rate may unbalance the age distribution during the time interval concerned, which could give rise to economic and social problems.”
Chances are, if you’ve heard of the Chinese technology giant FoxConn, it’s because it manufactures the iPhone and iPad. Last year, at an iPhone manufacturing complex in South China, there were a number of worker suicides that made news.
In apparent attempt to fix some of its labor issues, Foxconn’s parent company, Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry, is now making a big push into robots.
From the AFP:
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The project, which is initially forecast to cost the Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry Tw$6.7 billion ($223 million), was unveiled Saturday when Terry Gou, chairman of the conglomerate, broke ground for the construction of a research and development unit in Taichung, central Taiwan.
“The investment marks the beginning of Hon Hai’s bid to build an empire of robots,” the Central Taiwan Science Park authorities said in a statement.
In honor of the world’s estimated population hitting seven billion next week, Foreign Policy has compiled a list (with beautiful photographs) of the world’s seven fastest-growing cities. China and India dominate the list, but a few of the entries may surprise you. For example, number five is Kabul, Afghanistan.
“One of the oldest cities in the world, it is growing rapidly despite — or perhaps because of — the security concerns that plague Afghanistan,” writes Kedar Pavgi. “The city has 6 million inhabitants, and continues to expand at 4.74 percent a year. But the city faces serious resource shortages. By 2050, the city will need six times the amount of water it currently uses in order to quench the thirst of its inhabitants. Read More »