Monday, August 24, 2020

A cigarettes and cocaine argument

Been meaning to do a post on this for a while. The basic form goes something like this:

Our household spending is out of control.

Between your cigarettes and my cocaine habit, we're spending hundreds of dollars a week.

You definitely need to cut back on your cigarettes.

The key to the approach is to take two things, related but of wildly different magnitudes, and conveniently aggregate then disaggregate them to reach the desired conclusion.

For years (post Reagan and pre-Obamacare), pundits and politicians pushing for entitlement reform relied largely, perhaps primarily on C and C arguments. Dire projections for the combined finances of Social Security and Medicare were presented to justify severe and immediate cuts in Social Security. Of course, the horrifying shortfalls were coming from the Medicare side of the ledger, but that pea was inevitably lost among the shells.

More recently we've seen a number of articles making the case that everyone going vegan is essential for saving the planet from global warming. For the record, there are a lot of solid arguments for switching to a plant-based diet in terms of the environment, health, food security (there are a lot of arguments for quitting smoking, too), but the ones here have almost all relied on jumping from cocaine to cigarettes.

[So we're absolutely clear, the following refers only to claims about the impact of agriculture on climate change. There are enormous environmental concerns about hog farming and the poultry industry. They are outside of the scope of this post, but they are very much part of the larger discussion.]

Take this article from the Guardian, "Why you should go animal-free" by  Damian Carrington. While the framing is vegan vs. non-vegan, the specifics are almost all limited to beef or beef/lamb with virtually no mention of pork or poultry. What happens to the numbers when we start looking at other animal protein sources?

Holding protein consumption constant. the improvement caused by substituting pork for beef (a fairly small lifestyle change) is far greater than the improvement caused by going from pork to tofu, and the diminishing returns really kick in after that.

At the risk of repeating myself, there are any number of excellent reasons for going vegan, but when people argue that your chicken sandwich is causing global warming, they aren't being analytically honest.

Does anyone out there have their favorite cocaine and cigarette examples to share?

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