Searching on that phrase, do the math, yields many different perspectives: 1- The Journal of Statistical Mechanics uses it to suggest “an optimization problem: weighing different variables and crunching the numbers to find the optimal combination of those factors.” What factors? “In the case of where to put your car, the goal is to strike the optimal balance of parking close to the target—a building entrance, for example—without having to waste too much time circling the lot hunting for the closest space.” In other words, the most efficient way to find a parking spot. 2- Forbes online blares the headlines “Do the math: It’s a six person race for 2020.” For Democrats that is.
3-The San Diego Union Tribune has an article on why in America has being a celebrity become such a big business? “Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese soccer star has 183 million followers on Instagram. Do the math–the entire population of Portugal is less than 10 million people. This guy has some major reach.” 4- Math Solutions company uses that phrase in their marketing: “Do The Math® helps students in grades 1 and up catch up and keep up with grade level content. Do The Math develops students’ understanding of whole numbers and fractions through lessons that foster reasoning and number sense.” 5- The Free Online Dictionary defines the phrase as an idiom, meaning: Figure out or put together the information for yourself. They give two helpful, amusing examples: “Do the math—can’t you see that he’s just using you to get ahead in the company? and “What happened? They convinced you to give them a lump sum as an ‘investment,’ and now they’ve cleared out of town. You do the math.”
Last week a staunch climate change semi-alarmist (“I don’t know if it’s time to panic yet/it might be too late”) friend of mine in Hawaii who’s anti-GMO, pro-vegan, anti-fossil fuels profits, pro-sustainability sent me a video she was sure would convince me to adopt her position. I have made my own position clear in previous posts. The video was entitled Do The Math. Given that the title of the video could have meant at least 5 different things, but she is a scientist, I expected the Do The Math would mean actual math proving how dire global warming is, or will become. Not so. The video was actually the 5th meaning. Do The Math (fossil fuels stink/oil companies are bad).
The only actual math was misleading. “Last year (2014), the top five oil companies made $137 billion.” When someone quotes what they “made”, they are referring to revenue, how much was taken in. How meaningful is that figure? I decided to calculate how revenue translates to profits, which is what stockholders care about. While profits are not the only measure by which to determine whether or not to buy a stock, they are a more relevant measure of what the video was trying to condemn–greed. Why? Let’s say two investors owned identical apartment buildings in New York or S.F. (this is a theoretical exercise-no two buildings would be identical). Since rents are very high, your revenue would be high. If the profit margin (after taxes, upkeep, salaries, repairs, etc.) of investor #1 were 20%, and the profit margin of #2 was 5%, which investor is greedier? The only factor accounting for the difference is expenditures. Investor #2 must be spending more on either repairs, upkeep, salaries or taxes, or all. Whose building would you rather live in? “Making $137 billion is impressive, but you then reduce revenues by costs of goods sold, depreciation and other factors to get gross income. Then you reduce gross income by operating expenses, taxes and other factors to get net income. Then you reduce net income by dividends and other shareholder expenses to get profit, which changes constantly. By my calculations, using Exxon (the largest oil company) as a proxy, the $137 billion revenues would be about $761 million, or about .56% of revenues. Not peanuts for sure, but not nearly as impressive.
Aside from math, Do The Math video had such objective gems as: “Nobody should be able to pollute for free. That’s what keeps us from getting renewable energy” and “You have to pay for garbage hauling, why should oil companies pollute for free?” “BP’s business was wrecking the Gulf of Mexico.” “Exxon has done all they can to destroy the tundra.” I wonder what these polemical hyperbole statements have to do with math. Am I a shill for the oil companies? Am I defending their anti-competitive and pollution practices? No and No. I just really dislike it when a movement uses such statements to confuse the issues and fire up their troops–the statements about BP and Exxon got the loudest applause. I mentioned all my criticisms to my friend. One thing I asked was “What renewable energy will power vehicles?” Her answer was electric vehicles. What about the pollution from manufacture of batteries which power electric cars?
From Scientific American, 2016: Electric cars are great for eliminating oil from transportation, because very little U.S. electricity is generated by burning petroleum. But electric cars may or may not help the country combat climate change—and it all depends on where the electricity comes from. Cars and trucks are responsible for roughly 24 % of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution—nearly 1.7 billion metric tons per year. Because those emissions come from hundreds of millions of tailpipes, this source of pollution seems difficult to control. Shifting it to hundreds of smokestacks at power plants that supply electricity to charge electric cars therefore seems like a more effective way to clean up the fleet. But those smokestacks, many attached to coal-fired power plants, are the single-largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., at two billion metric tons of CO2 per year. That source would grow as electric cars demand more and more electricity, unless tighter pollution controls are placed on power plants or electric utilities shift to less polluting sources such as solar. As it stands, a conventional Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle, which burns gasoline when its batteries are not engaged, and the all-electric Nissan Leaf produce roughly the same amount of greenhouse gas pollution: 200 grams per mile, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy.”
Things have gotten considerably better since 2016. China, the worst coal polluter, is switching over to cleaner power sources (like hydro) and applying stricter pollution controls. The U.S. is switching from coal to natural gas. The Tesla “gigafactory” will be powered entirely by renewable energy (an aerial photo shows hundreds of windmills within sight of the facility). At Rice University, scientists have invented a new method for turning carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel that can efficiently store energy in fuel cells. The fuel could one day be the future of green transport, cramming more energy into the tank than the same volume of hydrogen while also serving as a building block for a whole chemical production industry. Technology is moving far faster than global warming. This paragraph represents only a few of the hundreds of positive changes.The last thing we need is Pavlovian rallies under deceptive phrases like Do The Math.