Anti-anti-anti-science

by John Quiggin on February 28, 2015

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, and Paul Krugman has given me a nice jumping off point with this column on how to respond to economists (including highly credentialled ones) who push zombie ideas such as the threat of imminent hyperinflation. As Krugman notes, providing evidence-based criticism, whether politely or rudely, has no impact on people who have strong reasons for wanting to believe something. This is even more true on topics like climate change than it is on economics.

Dan Kahan, among others, has made much of this fact, drawing the conclusion, in relation to the debate on vaccination that

The “anti-science trope,” in sum, is not just contrary to fact. is contrary to the tremendous stake that the public has in keeping its vaccine science communication environment free of reason-effacing forms of pollution.
Despite the phrase “contrary to fact”, Kahan doesn’t, as far as I can see, refute the anti-science trope that
concern about vaccine risks to disbelief in evolution and climate skepticism, all of which are cited as instances of a creeping hostility to science in the U.S. general public or at least some component of it.
. Indeed, it’s hard to see how it could be refuted, given that the attitudes cited are both widely held and obviously opposed to the conclusions of science. All he shows is that antivaxerism is much more of a minority position than climate denialism or creationism

Kahan does, however, show pretty convincingly that the use of the anti-science trope in relation to a particular issue tends to deepen the divide between the pro-science and anti-science sides, reinforcing each in their beliefs. Thus, he concludes, this trope should be avoided. The same kind of line has been put many times in relation to climate change.

The implicit, and false assumption in the anti-anti-anti-science position is that there is some better way of convincing the anti-science group to change their minds, for example by framing climate change in terms more congenial to political rightwingers. This is pretty clearly wrong. Long experience has shown that nothing is going to shift the right on an issue that has become a tribal shibboleth.

As Krugman points out, what matters is not the impact on the anti-science group themselves, but on the attitudes to that group among others. The recent measles epidemic didn’t have much of an impact on anti-vaxers, as far as I can see, but it certainly changed attitudes towards them, greatly reducing sympathy for their desire to pursue their deluded beliefs regardless of the risk to the rest of the community.

The other aspect, which evidently pains Kahan, is that this issue has a clear partisan dimension. Not only are specific anti-science attitudes far more common on the political right, but responses to the anti-science trope also break on partisan lines. I can’t find a link now, but the experimental evidence shows that the reinforcing effect of contrary evidence is stronger among Republicans than Democrats. The differences are much starker among the politically active: the discrediting of antivaxerism on the political left is just one example.[^1]

Following Krugman, the effect of the anti-anti-science trope is not to persuade Republicans but to undermine the centrist view, dominant until very recently, which saw the ideal outcome of politics as a bipartisan deal in which Republicans prevailed on most point. The underlying assumption that the Republicans were the sensible party has been eroded very gradually over time.

It’s an obviously debatable question as to whether this development will ultimately harm the right and benefit the left. Recent Republican electoral successes tend to support the observation of the con-man in Huckleberry Finn

“Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”
On the other hand, IIRC, he ended being tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail.

[^1]: The only remaining issue on which parts of the left still take a full-blown anti-science line is the claim that consuming GM foods has adverse health effects. There are plenty of reasons for concern about GM crops, and other aspects of the privatisation of genomic resources, and continuing to push discredited research on safety risks only weakens the position of anyone seeking to raise those concerns. But even here, it’s clear that the pressure to present a position in line with mainstream science is increasing.

{ 550 comments }

1

Peter T 02.28.15 at 7:18 am

Since you have mentioned economics as well as science, I’ll note that this happens in diplomacy too. At LFC’s invitation I recently wrote a piece on the six or so decades of US policy disaster in the Middle East for his blog (Howl at Pluto). And, of course, there was Indochina, as famously documented in The Best and The Brightest. I have no one definite answer to the conundrum of why a group of smart people can persist in an obviously false line of belief for a very long time, but part of it is that these people are trapped between accepting their own social demise and a reality which, although uncompromising in the long run, can be fudged over until ruin makes it undeniable.

2

Neil 02.28.15 at 7:43 am

That evidence you’re looking for: while exposure to a correction of mistaken beliefs may not lead to their rejection among liberals, the correction actually increased commitment to the mistaken belief among conservatives. Of course this is just one study; anyone know of replications?
https://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf

3

bad Jim 02.28.15 at 9:34 am

I’m a fan of Jeff Masters and Weather Underground, but it disturbs me that he typically seems to be rooting for the hurricanes: Lowest pressure, highest winds ever recorded! Yet at times I want to say

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

There may be hope. The recent measles outbreak has deprived anti-vaccinationists of respect and subjected their panderers to scorn.

Maybe a major glacier could slide into the sea and flood a southern city, forcing acknowledgment that we’re facing a problem. Heightening the contradictions has never yet been a winning strategy, but will anything less than a catastrophe change minds?

California is confronting another year of drought. For most of this winter Anchorage has been warmer than Chicago. Senator Imhofe of Oklahoma tosses a snowball in the Capitol to demonstrate that February in Washington refutes climatology. How much damage will we have to suffer, how hard will reality have to bite us, to get our attention?

4

Soru 02.28.15 at 10:17 am

I think you have some parity errors in the counts of anti-s above.

Also, I’m not sure that task of framing action on climate change in conservative/religious terms has been seriously enough attempted to be dismissed. A billionaire funding it for a decade or two would be a baseline.

Focus on the point that all the computer models, European scientists and UN organizations put a survivable upper bound on climate change. They say ice will melt, but not that the seas will boil.

But how can they know that?

5

Brett Bellmore 02.28.15 at 11:12 am

It hasn’t gotten warmer in going on two decades. All the new “records” being set are the result of revising past temperatures down, with no good explanation why, or even public notice that it’s being done. The only reason we even know they’re doing it, is that some people have downloaded the data, gone back to check if there was more, and found that the data they had previously downloaded had been altered. See, for instance, NOAA Quietly Reinstates July 1936 as the Hottest Month on Record

And yet, you’re talking about the seas boiling. And *I’m* anti-science for insisting that the computer models be able to predict things that happen *after* they’re made, instead of just being exercises in after the fact curve fitting?

I’m not anti-science. I’m anti-“what’s being done in the name of science”, which I don’t think is actual science anymore at this point. It’s become too politicized to be done honestly anymore.

6

Neil 02.28.15 at 11:16 am

Thanks Brett; its good to have an example of the kind of thing JQ is talking about. Of course the problem is that lots of people won’t believe that there really are people who believe things like this, and will conclude that all such cases are instances of pitch-perfect satire like yours. In any case, thanks for the chuckle.

7

Brett Bellmore 02.28.15 at 11:36 am

Thanks in turn for demonstrating what a closed mind looks like.

In 2012, NASA announces with great fanfare the hottest month on record. Afterwards, without notice, they change their temperature data so that 1936 goes back to having the hottest month on record. Were you aware they’d done that? Or still under the impression that it was a record?

This doesn’t bother you any? Strike you as just a little questionable that they keep changing what they say the temperatures were a hundred years ago, change their data without telling anybody, and almost always in the direction of making warming look greater?

Did you even know that all the recent “hottest x on record” records were a result of revising the previous records DOWN, not the temperatures going up?

Want to see your warming? Here’s your warming. 80 plus years of actual temperature readings going down, revised into an upward trend after the fact.

A century of the urban heat island effect expanding, and how do they account for that? By revising rural temperature stations’ readings up, to match the trends closer to cities.

Of course the planet IS warming somewhat. We’re in an inter-glacial period, coming out of a recent ice age. It would be freakish if the planet weren’t warming. But I don’t appreciate the data being manipulated to exaggerate it.

8

Glenn 02.28.15 at 12:29 pm

Brett,

Are you familiar with the proverb: “the man who represents himself has a fool for a client”? It happens to be a pretty good rule for a lot of things, including debates on climate science.

If you think you have a compelling case, why don’t write a communication to one of the many peer-reviewed climate science journals around the world? I am sure that if your argument is valid, they would be glad to publish it.

9

CJColucci 02.28.15 at 12:53 pm

Does it bother me that scientists revisit their data and, when they find errors, correct them? Not a bit. As for their not telling anybody, somehow you managed to find out, so it’s hardly a big secret.
And could somebody explain how the incentives line up to manipulate data in a direction that is both horrific and unprofitable to the alleged manipulators? And compare that with the incentives to manipulate them other way?

10

Phil D. 02.28.15 at 1:05 pm

Brett Bellmore attempts to school everyone on science by linking to something called “People’s Pundit Daily” and Tucker Carlson’s Big Boy Website. It couldn’t be any funnier if Paul Feig had scripted it.

Between this and the story from New Mexico about two engineers getting a Darwin Day event cancelled because they wanted “intelligent design” included, I’m beginning to believe that there’s no group of people on earth less skilled in understanding science than engineers.

11

Lee A. Arnold 02.28.15 at 1:09 pm

Dan Kahan is doing a lot of great research in this area, and he has also come up with some possible ways to try to combat it, as related in some of his other papers and video talks about the research. And there are other researchers working on it too.

However, there is a very important point here that is continually missed, by all of them, and for a very interesting reason.

There is at least one anti-science correlation that remains quite strong, and I don’t believe that even Kahan has noticed it:

The climate deniers ALSO believe that climate change mitigation will be a global economic disaster.

This is wrong. Yet it’s always there, although sometimes unspoken and implicit. Here it is again explicitly, in the cornucopia of misdirection and confusion that is linked to in comment #9 above:

“…the greatest and most costly scare the world has known” — quoted there, from Christopher Booker, the denialist at The Telegraph.

It is one of the motors of climate denialism.

And then after that, mitigation is a government plot to control people, and to rake in lots of money for climatologists (rather as some of the denialists have raked it in, from the oil lobby). Etc.

This comes up again and again and again. You will find it about umpteen million times (my own accurate scientific measure). You can even find it in some of the video presentations by Richard Lindzen, who draws a beeline to his government control paranoia.

Yet no one seems to have pointed out that there is this strong anti-science connection: from climate denialism to naive and phony economics.

Why? Because most people do not understand it. Most people do not understand economics, even among people who understand the extraordinary danger of climate change.

I think this lack of economic understanding is rooted in the biases of individual risk perception that are the primitives of “cultural cognition” research, and demonstrates that the biases are spread further than most people still realize, even Paul Krugman.

12

Landru 02.28.15 at 1:09 pm

The only remaining issue on which parts of the left still take a full-blown anti-science line is the claim that consuming GM foods has adverse health effects.

Hmm. I would be inclined to put “anti-nuclear” as always having been the big one, basically the creationism of the left; and it isn’t receding at all as far as I can see. But these are all of a piece: anti-GMO, anti-vax, anti-nuke, anti-pesticide, etc., share the hippie-ish thematic root of “unnatural, therefore dubious”, together with “motivated by greedy, uncaring profiteering, therefore dubious”; and anti-nuke in particular shares “this is how the world ends” and so gets an extra resonant boost.

13

P O'Neill 02.28.15 at 1:58 pm

New York Times, today

Politicians were eager to stake out their positions. “I know three things,” wrote Senator Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, on Twitter. “1) the ACA works; 2) climate change is real; 3) that dress is gold and white.”

Discuss.

14

LFC 02.28.15 at 2:00 pm

Re the first comment in this thread: Permit me to say, as a completely disinterested party, that Peter T’s post at a certain obscure blog is well worth reading.

Also, on climate change: the countries that will feel the most drastic impact, and have already begun to feel it, are island states or ones very near or below sea level that routinely experience severe cyclones and hurricanes (e.g., Bangladesh). Of course it’s more than possible that a Sen. Imhofe (see the ‘bad Jim’ Lear-quoting comment above) only cares about what happens to the U.S., or perhaps to his particular state in the U.S. But isn’t Oklahoma somewhere near ‘tornado alley’?

15

Brett Bellmore 02.28.15 at 2:01 pm

Look, I expect scientists to correct errors. I expect them to do so openly, and explaining the corrections. Not in the dark of the night, without any notice or explanation.

You want to know what your problem is, why you’re failing to persuade the people you’re labeling “anti-science”? One word: “Transparency”.

The lack of it, to be specific. When you’re dealing with people who don’t automatically grant your good will and honesty, you can’t act like you have something to hide.

If they had a good reason for changing numbers that are a century or more old, then they should have held a press conference, told everybody they were doing it, explained why, explained in excruciating detail why each number was changed….

But they didn’t. They just changed the numbers without telling anybody, and the only way the skeptics, who don’t assume they’re on the up and up, ever found out about it, was by comparing the very same database, downloaded before and after.

You’ve got a fundamental problem: The raw data don’t show scary warming. It’s only after the data are adjusted that you get scary trends. This means the entire game is in how the data is adjusted.

So you can’t just blow off doing that in a transparent manner that inspires confidence.

I’m an engineer, not a scientist. But I didn’t get through college without the basic principles of how to conduct experiments being taught me, and this doesn’t fill me with confidence.

16

LFC 02.28.15 at 2:04 pm

P. O’Neill’s blog, which I look at from time to time and which has long been in the CT blogroll, is good, though quite different from mine. (Don’t try to comment there, however, because you can’t.)

17

P O'Neill 02.28.15 at 2:06 pm

@14 long story on the non-comments but in early blogging stage ran into the Irish scourge of the “solicitor’s letter.” ….

18

LFC 02.28.15 at 2:09 pm

@15
Oh, I see. That does sound unpleasant.

19

Charles R 02.28.15 at 2:16 pm

Those in whose eyes this reticence on the part of heretics is no evil should consider, in the first place, that in consequence of it there is never any fair and thorough discussion of heretical opinions; and that such of them as could not stand such a discussion, though they may be prevented from spreading, do not disappear. But it is not the minds of heretics that are deteriorated most by the ban placed on all inquiry which does not end in the orthodox conclusions. The great harm done is to those who are not heretics, and whose whole mental development is cramped and their reason cowed by the fear of heresy. Who can compute what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought, lest it should land them in something which would admit of being considered irreligious or immoral? Among them we may occasionally see some man of deep conscientiousness and subtle and refined understanding, who spends a life in sophisticating with an intellect which we cannot silence, and exhausts the resources of ingenuity in attempting to reconcile the promptings of his conscience and reason with orthodoxy, which yet he does not, perhaps, to the end succeed in doing. No one can be a great thinker who does not recognize that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead. Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.

Perhaps one real test of our ears: hear how little the sibilant sibbolets separate the sane from the show of shunting shibboleths aside.

Which is to say, it’s always the other guy making these stupid mistakes. It’s never ourselves, never our own. At least, it’s not that side who prides itself on being one bulwark of free thought and free discussion, who uses reason and persuasion with evidence and patience, who welcomes the heretics in their midst. We never make such stupid mistakes as shutting down conversations before they ever get started.

The best of listeners, we already know in advance what you were going to say and refuted it long ago. It’s for your own good that we put you in your place.

You see, we’re not like you at all.

20

Rich Puchalsky 02.28.15 at 2:23 pm

JQ: “The implicit, and false assumption in the anti-anti-anti-science position is that there is some better way of convincing the anti-science group to change their minds, for example by framing climate change in terms more congenial to political rightwingers. This is pretty clearly wrong.”

No, I don’t think that this is a good summary of Kahan’s research and implicit position, which I more or less agree with. I haven’t read anything by him that says that there is a better way of convincing people to change their minds once the issue has become politicized. I have read things by him where he says that we should make every effort to avoid politicizing science issues in the first place. In other words, once something gets picked up by the right wing tribally, it’s very hard to dislodge, so if there’s anything we can do to keep it from being picked up that way in the first place, that’s better than any amount of trying to fix it later.

For global warming, Kahan’s approach could never have worked. There are wealthy industries that released planned propaganda to firmly make this a right-wing tribal issue, and what kind of communications scientists made were irrelevant. For vaccination, there are no industries that have an interest in being anti-vaccination, so there is no source of organized and well-distributed propaganda to make it into a right-wing issue.

Perhaps it’s better to go full partisan after the right-wingers have already been committed, in order to discredit them among the centrists. I don’t know. But there is a motivation to do this too early, for general partisan purposes.

21

Anarcissie 02.28.15 at 2:48 pm

Science is generally presented to the masses as dogma, not as the result of the scientific method. Hence, for the masses, the priesthood of all believers applies to it.

22

Consumatopia 02.28.15 at 2:51 pm

For global warming, Kahan’s approach could never have worked. There are wealthy industries that released planned propaganda to firmly make this a right-wing tribal issue, and what kind of communications scientists made were irrelevant. For vaccination, there are no industries that have an interest in being anti-vaccination, so there is no source of organized and well-distributed propaganda to make it into a right-wing issue.

That sounds reasonable to me, but are you sure that Kahan agrees? See http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/6/27/what-se-florida-can-teach-us-about-the-political-science-of.html and http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/2/24/geoengineering-the-cultural-plasticity-of-climate-change-ris.html

23

Cheryl Rofer 02.28.15 at 2:55 pm

One of Kahan’s strongly held positions is that right and left indulge in hanging on to their anti-science positions equally. As JQ notes, the situation may not be quite as symmetric as Kahan would prefer. We might consider attitudes toward nuclear power as well, although that gets complicated.

I recognize that I’m going with my own gut feelings, but it’s hard not to see the right wing as far more opposed to science than the left, Kahan’s neatly contrived experiments to the contrary.

24

Plume 02.28.15 at 2:56 pm

I don’t know of too many scientists saying that the melting of the icecaps will lead to the seas boiling. From my reading, they’re worried that the melting of the icecaps will actually temporarily cool and slow vital currents like the Gulf Stream, which could, in fact, radically reduce temps in certain locales. The Gulf Stream warms many a nation, and if it slows down due to the massive amount of ice-melts, “global warming” could easily lead to deep freezes in certain places.

In addition to the above, from the Guardian:

Risk doubled for harsh winters

The risk of severe winters in Europe and northern Asia has been doubled by global warming, according to new research. The counter-intuitive finding is the result of climate change melting the Arctic ice cap and causing new wind patterns that push freezing air and snow southwards.

Severe winters over the last decade have been associated with those years in which the melting of Arctic sea ice was greatest. But the new work is the most comprehensive computer modelling study to date and indicates the frozen winters are being caused by climate change, not simply by natural variations in weather.

“The origin of frequent Eurasian severe winters is global warming,” said Prof Masato Mori, at the University of Tokyo, who led the new research. Climate change is heating the Arctic much faster than lower latitudes and the discovery that the chances of severe winters has already doubled shows that the impacts of global warming are not only a future threat. Melting Arctic ice has also been implicated in recent wet summers in the UK.

25

Brett Bellmore 02.28.15 at 2:59 pm

“I recognize that I’m going with my own gut feelings, but it’s hard not to see the right wing as far more opposed to science than the left, Kahan’s neatly contrived experiments to the contrary.”

Ironically, this is an example of anti-science thinking. ;)

26

primedprimate 02.28.15 at 3:04 pm

On a local level, I have seen some right wing people change their view on climate change when informed about how insurance companies are reacting to scientific evidence.

Apparently, it helps if the focus is diverted from actual science to the actions of profit-oriented entities that neither need publicity nor continued research funding and academic respectability.

27

Bloix 02.28.15 at 3:05 pm

There are certain religious traditions that view reason as a threat to faith, and actively resist science as a way of understanding the world. Protestant fundamentalist churches fall in this category. Catholicism doesn’t – it has a long tradition of engagement with rational thought. In the US, these very different groups tend to line up together as conservative, at least on social issues, but the way their members understand reality is very different.

28

Layman 02.28.15 at 3:06 pm

Brett Bellmore @ 13

“But they didn’t. They just changed the numbers without telling anybody, and the only way the skeptics, who don’t assume they’re on the up and up, ever found out about it, was by comparing the very same database, downloaded before and after.”

Yes, of course. They’re all engaged in a massive conspiracy, and this is how conspiracies work – secretly, in the dark of night. And they’re smart! They’re scientists, after all!

Think how lucky we are to have geniuses like Tucker Carlson to detect their sinister plot.

29

primedprimate 02.28.15 at 3:14 pm

Or, to put it differently (following up on Anarcissie), if the goal is to change minds, it would be helpful to consider broader types of evidence, some of which even the anti-science folk might find persuasive.

30

Plume 02.28.15 at 3:15 pm

Bloix #25,

The Catholic church has a long history of burning “heretics” at the stake, and persecuting or killing scientists in their midst. Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Abelard, etc. etc. And while the new pope is pretty awesome relative to his predecessors, the Catholic church still pushes anti-science in the form of its ban on contraception and its enmity toward gay people.

It’s not entirely innocent, etc.

31

Cheryl Rofer 02.28.15 at 3:23 pm

[Sad to see this turn into a Brett Bellmore thread, and I’m now going to contribute my little bit to the descent.]

@23. It’s thinking out loud. Recognizing one’s own leanings is the first step in doing science. That said, those leanings aren’t always wrong/right, and experiments aren’t always right/wrong.

Kahan has done a few (possibly only one) experiments on the left-right thing. Psychological experiments are notoriously hard to pin down, but even in my chemistry, I’ve continued to doubt the results from one or two of my own experiments, particularly when they agree too closely with what I’d prefer to believe. As a general principle, a few experiments are always worth questioning.

That dialog between making explicit what one prefers to believe and what experiments seem to show is part of science. It’s one way to come up with better experiments.

32

Watson Ladd 02.28.15 at 3:25 pm

Plume, how does one go from the fact that estrogen and progesterone inhibit ovulation to women must be free to use them? There is an is-ought problem here.

33

AcademicLurker 02.28.15 at 3:32 pm

The scientist is a subspecies of intellectual, and hating them durned pointy headed intellectuals is firmly a right wing talking point, not a left wing one.

Also, most scientific research takes place in universities, and as Scott Walker is demonstrating, hating universities is an impeccably right wing position at this time.

There’s occasional loopiness from the left (see the Science Wars), but from the perspective of 23 years in basic research, I find the idea that there is any sort of parity between left and right wrt anti-science attitudes to be utter garbage.

34

Anarcissie 02.28.15 at 3:44 pm

primedprimate 02.28.15 at 3:14 pm @ 27 — Most people want power and stuff, to secure that which they already have and to get more. For these purposes, we intuit that the best strategy is personal and tribal aggression and intransigence. Hence, it is widely observed that once people identify their person or their tribe with a belief, the belief becomes part of their being, and contrary evidence or opinion will only infuriate them and make them stick more fiercely to their guns. This behavior is not confined to the Right. Thus it is not a good move for the science-minded to politicize (tribalize) a scientific issue.

Bloix 02.28.15 at 3:05 pm @ 25 — Obviously, the Roman Catholic Church does not believe in the priesthood of all believers. If the public face of science has become dogmatic and authoritarian, then they should get along well.

35

Main Street Muse 02.28.15 at 3:46 pm

Just an FYI, the recent measles “epidemic” reached about 150 people in a nation of 318 million people. According to the CDC, 95% of American kindergartners are fully vaccinated for MMR. The hysterical language surrounding the Disney outbreak is far out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the approximately 2% of the US public who eschew vaccinations all together. Data matters in science, or so I thought…

36

afeman 02.28.15 at 3:47 pm

Cheryl @29

The polling data on AGW and evolution show a clear conservative tilt against the scientific consensus, whereas the anti-vax polling I’ve seen is pretty flat across the spectrum.

Moreover, Kahan’s own data seem to go against the conclusions he sometimes presents – here, “Liberal Democrats” were more likely to be swayed by data against their ideological preferences:

http://rabett.blogspot.com/2013/09/chris-mooney-was-right.html

37

Plume 02.28.15 at 3:53 pm

Watson,

I’m not following that. Sorry.

The “is-ought” thing — at least the second half of that — is entirely subjective. IMO, the “ought” part is women ought to be able to decide for themselves. And it’s especially bizarre to be told what to do by (at least theoretically) celebate males.

The Catholic church will eventually succumb to a change. They’ll have to. Most of this is a farce, anyway, as roughly 95% of Catholics use birth control right now.

The other key factor in this? Jesus never once mentions anything about contraception, birth control or gay people. The Church and the Religious Right (in general) gets this entirely from the Old Testament.

38

Rich Puchalsky 02.28.15 at 3:54 pm

Consumatopia: “That sounds reasonable to me, but are you sure that Kahan agrees?”

Clearly I can only speak for myself, and about my impression of what Kahan wrote. But reading the two links you gave, the first one talks about how the science communication process was changed by putting it in a local context rather than a national one, so that the national dialogue didn’t apply. That seems to me to be perfectly consistent with the idea that propaganda created a tribal/partisan division within national politics, but that it was possible to evade this propaganda by bringing up the issue within a different context.

The second link leads eventually to a paper that I haven’t had time to read, but whose abstract says “we found that making citizens aware of the potential contribution of geoengineering as a supplement to restriction of CO2 emissions helps to offset cultural polarization over the validity of climate-change science.” I’m not sure what this has to do with my point. Kahan does write in that post about how geoengineering may be “demoralizing to the egalitarian” because of the egalitarian’s cultural theory of risk. But that doesn’t mean that Kahan is signing on to an idea that left and right are equally anti-science when it suits them.

There’s a second post that that one leads to here:

Second, the egalitarian communitarians in the geoengineering condition were less open-minded in their assessment of climate change evidence than those in the anti-pollution condition. But in absolute terms, they were still plenty open-minded—indeed, more open-minded, less dismissive—than hierarchical individualists in that very condition.

39

stevenjohnson 02.28.15 at 4:08 pm

“And *I’m* anti-science for insisting that the computer models be able to predict things that happen *after* they’re made, instead of just being exercises in after the fact curve fitting?”

Yes, Brett Bellmore, you are. Climatology is an historical science. That Mont Pelerin fraud Karl Popper harped on predictions and defining science as a method in service of his reactionary political agenda, which included ruling out any possibility of a science of history, not as an honest attempt to understand science. Believing this is why it’s your mind that is inadequate and inferior. The only excuse for anyone to tolerate your opening your mouth is a commitment to equal human rights, a principle it is exceedingly doubtful you even comprehend, much less adhere to.

Some guy conducting an experiment with three boxes, with whitewash, latex and no paint, respectively does follow the halfwits’ prescription for scientific method. (Well, except for the part about replicating the results!) Unfortunately, science isn’t just a method, science is knowledge about the way things are (aka truth.) Here’s one fact: Global warming is not just measured by land surface temperatures. The globe includes the oceans. And the factual evidence shows sea level rising, which only makes sense if there’s more melt water and/or thermal expansion.

Your so-called logic boils down to selective presentation of facts and misuse of the word “science.” Which is to say, lying. You’ve exposed yourself in public, like some nasty little flasher, and deserve just as much respect.

40

JimV 02.28.15 at 4:31 pm

Andrew Sullivan made an approving reference to Dr. Kahan’s work in “The Dish”, which I responded to with the following email (stuff in quotes are from the The Dish and from the Kahan article referenced there):

Dear Dish,

Re:

“Relatedly, Dan Kahan recently proclaimed that creationist beliefs don’t indicate scientific illiteracy:

First, there is zero correlation between saying one “believes” in evolution & understanding the rudiments of modern evolutionary science. Those who say they do “believe” are no more likely to be able to be able to give a high-school-exam passing account of natural selection, genetic variance, and random mutation — the basic elements of the modern synthesis — than those who say they “don’t” believe. In fact, neither is very likely to be able to, which means that those who “believe” in evolution are professing their assent to something they don’t understand.”

I found this hard to accept, so I read the link, where the points, such as they are, are a little more coherent, but still way over-blown.

“Zero” correlation between belief in evolution and (detailed) understanding? When something like 99.9% of biological scientists both understand and accept evolution, and creationists use the same scientifically-illiterate arguments over and over*? There may be some hyperbole in claiming that evolution-believers are thereby demonstrating some scientific literacy, but to go to the opposite extreme of zero seems far more fictitious to me.

Those who couldn’t pass an exam in the fine details are at least savvy enough to understand that creationists like Ken Ham aren’t making sense in their counter-arguments, and to notice that mutations do happen and bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics and so on. I think they deserve some credit for that, Kahan’s long rant notwithstanding.

Near the end of the article, Kahan gave his reason for writing what seemed to me to be an unjustified attack on non-creationists: that teachers should not bother trying to convince creationists of the validity of the theory of evolution, because belief is not based on facts and understanding. (In which case why is he trying to convince us to believe in his recommendations?) So he could have saved me a lot of time by just writing the old quotation, “You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place.” (Which is not 100% true, but might be the way to bet.)

*I got into an email discussion of evolution with one of my fundamentalist-raised nephews a few years ago. One of the standard creationist claims he cited was that a fossilized tree had been found which crossed strata from many geological eras, proving that radiological dating methods for fossils were bogus. With ten minutes of googling I found a reference showing that 40-50 years ago, a creationist had taken a photo from a geology text showing a tree buried in several layers of sediment from annual floods, and claimed the layers were supposedly millions of years of strata. Uncritical acceptance of such long-debunked claims seems to me to be a characteristic of creationists which demonstrates more than zero correlation with scientific illiteracy.

Regards, etc. (end of email, what follows is separate)

P.S., On the digressive subject of engineers, I am a mechanical engineer, i.e. I have a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from RPI, which had a thesis requirement. (“Optimum Turbine Start-up Cycle”, if anyone is interested and wants a copy. No?) There are all kinds of engineers. Janitors have been known to call themselves “sanitation engineers”. That may be an extreme example, but the best engineers I have worked with in turbine design were liberal (because of reality’s liberal bias) and understood the logic of evolution and climate change. They were the people other engineers went to with difficult problems.

41

Consumatopia 02.28.15 at 4:35 pm

@Rich, 36, the thing you said that I’m not sure Kahan agrees with is “For global warming, Kahan’s approach could never have worked.” Take what Kahan says immediately following the quote you just gave:

Third, the major impediment, I’m convinced, to constructive public engagement with climate science is not how much either side knows or understands scientific evidence of it. It’s their shared apprehension that opposing positions on climate change are, in effect, badges of membership in and loyalty to competing cultural groups; that is the cue or signal that motivates members of the public to process information about climate change risks in a manner that is more reliably geared to affirming the position that predominates in their group than to converging on the best available evidence.

The key, then, is to clear the science communication environment of the toxin of antagonistic cultural meanings that now envelop the climate change issue.

“The advent of public discussion of geoengineering, the CCP study implies, can help to achieve this desirable result by seeding public deliberations over climate change with meanings congenial to a wider array of cultural styles.”

He is not, at least not in that passage, saying that liberals caused climate polarization, but he does seem to be suggesting that if liberals all listened to him they could overcome the problem.

42

Charles R 02.28.15 at 4:40 pm

Plume @ 35

Perhaps the idea that women “ought to be able to decide for themselves” is acceptable if the actions taken solely affected them, but this isn’t clear. I take it Watson’s challenge is distinctly phrased: “women must be free to use them” is what’s at issue. Not so much the negation of a claim that women “ought to be able to decide for themselves,” but rather the question about those unintended consequences the use of such products has on the rest of us, from humans to all the many non-humans and ecosystems who have to suffer from the overproduction and manufacture of these hormones. Must we let people be free to use products that end up severely disrupting the forms of life around them, especially if selfish ignorance—isn’t this how we’re framing things? that it’s ignorance that causes us to make the global mistakes? and yet this is usually a conservative argument, isn’t it?—alone motivates our disinterest in changing our own behaviors fundamentally?

You cite the men’s celibacy as somehow invalidating or undermining or disrupting—you had a rhetorical intention here, I take it—their concerns for the use of hormonal birth control. But, perhaps we should take celibacy as a model for how not to approach the technological application of our controls over evolved reality in order to secure for us a pathway to realizing our decisions “for ourselves.”

For, our decisions “for ourselves” very rarely affect only ourselves, and we shouldn’t ignore this, especially those of us whose liberal or leftist complaints about the usual capitalist dismissal of externalities as other people’s problems ring loudly, when little of this acumen about the fact that this planet by its self-imposed designs links all of us together gets turned upon our own selves —and we shouldn’t continue ignoring this when all our ignorant selfishnesses keeps us trying harder and harder to use more and more refined and resolved means of control to manipulate the outcome and the attainment of our desires.

Admittedly, it’s likely that birth control doesn’t have nearly these harmful effects as the use of the hormones in food production does. But what is true is that the spirit of using birth control hormones precisely as control of the body is part of a larger pattern of approaching the domination of the world and the bodies within it through unwitting or witting ignorance about long term effects and consequences that’s not necessarily endemic to “capitalism,” late or otherwise. Or even to religion, to men, to anti-science people.

If anything, the persistent justifications of “science” on the basis of all these contraptions and gadgets that enable us to live more efficiently—getting more out life for less to secure for us the space to live as we desire and decide—one finds even in the mouths and blog comments of the most compassionate-towards-others, not yet to go even as far as Arendt to point out that it’s precisely science as the pursuit of useless knowledge that gets/got us confused about our own intentions and decisions and outcomes, —these refrains of the inherent goodness and political necessity of allowing people to use technology to meddle with evolved courses of life as they so decide for themselves ought to arouse our suspicions about just how pervasively and easily we succumb to the temptation of efficiency, the mastery of nature.

It’s not too difficult to dredge through early modern defenses of scientific methodologies and technology a language linking together the Woman and the World, linking together the mastery of nature and self with the mastery of rebellious or incalcitrant persons—women, children, slaves, disbelievers—and not too difficult to see how these early associations submerged throughout the cultural overproduction of machines and gizmos to extract more resources from whatever obstinately refuses to submit to what we decided best for it.

This is to say, maybe there’s a lot more going on to the fundamental insight of celibacy as self-denial that’s needed in any environment where we comfortably allow any people to manipulate their own bodies through technological supremacy, as though these manipulations are okay when we do it to ourselves but not okay when the state does it to its own body politic. Since patterns repeat themselves, we cannot ask the state to do what we are unwilling to do with our selves.

43

Jerry Vinokurov 02.28.15 at 5:07 pm

It hasn’t gotten warmer in going on two decades.

You’ve got a fundamental problem: The raw data don’t show scary warming. It’s only after the data are adjusted that you get scary trends. This means the entire game is in how the data is adjusted.

Oh look, it’s lying shitsack Brett Belmore, lying his fucking ass off again.

44

Watson Ladd 02.28.15 at 5:11 pm

Plume, just because the Catholic Church disagrees with you about using birth control doesn’t mean they are anti-science. The term anti-science could be replaced with boo in your comment and it would still work. Or does it have some meaning where certain moral judgements are anti-science?

You’re completely wrong about the origins and stated reasoning for the birth control ban. There is very little in the Masoretic law about birth control. The Catholic Church’s argument is rooted in conceptions of natural law that have far more to do with Aristotle then the Elohist.

45

Plume 02.28.15 at 5:18 pm

Watson,

They’re anti-science because we know that certain contraception prevents STDs and AIDS, for starters. Just for starters.

As for the origins of enmity to birth control, read Genesis and the call to be fruitful and multiply, and the story of Onan. Again, for starters.

46

Plume 02.28.15 at 5:27 pm

Charles R,

Hormonal additives in food production massively dwarf the impact of their usage for individual women. And, when women use them, they often prevent horrible diseases, cancers, etc. It is also “anti-science” to try to prevent women from easily preventing those diseases/cancers.

Beyond that, when you talk about how this affects others . . . . unwanted pregnancies have a ripple effect on society when babies are born. Not just with increasing populations, which the earth can’t sustain . . . but all of the other struggles that would come from forced births. Having as a default position that women must go to term . . . is not only medieval in its coercion and base misogyny, it also places new burdens on our system that would otherwise be prevented via birth control.

Which is more logical? Being forced to have children? Or having them when that is what you actually want? To me, no church should have even the remotest hint of a role in that decision. It’s not even a whisper of a hint of a remote shadow their business. One way or another. To prevent or force. Not their business.

47

Lynne 02.28.15 at 5:36 pm

Go, Plume!

48

Donald Johnson 02.28.15 at 6:02 pm

I don’t know how much 9/11 trutherism there is on the right, but on one far left blog I read regularly some of the commenters (not the front page posters) seem to think they are experts on materials science and structural engineering and they “know” for a fact that the Twin Towers were brought down by explosives.

And not to revive the communist debate from the other thread, it took some lefties a very long time to recognize the plain facts about Stalinism. Lefties who are closer to the middle make their own type of mistakes, I think, associated with believing that the truth is always closer to the center and not with those crazy people to their left. But anyway, I don’t think immunity to the facts is a particularly rightwing disease–it just so happens that in the majority of cases reality has a leftwing bias, but when it doesn’t, lefties can be pretty dumb.

49

Gareth Wilson 02.28.15 at 6:12 pm

And on that note, what do you guys think of IQ tests?

50

mattski 02.28.15 at 6:14 pm

@ 46

You speak true, Donald.

I firmly believe JFK, MLK & RFK were murdered by–for lack of a better term–the military-industrial-corporate-intelligence-complex. But I find 9/11 Truthers among the most depressing things in the world…

51

Jim Harrison 02.28.15 at 6:19 pm

Plume in #28 writes

The Catholic church has a long history of burning “heretics” at the stake, and persecuting or killing scientists in their midst. Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Abelard, etc. etc.

Not to single out Plume, but this version of the Catholic attitude towards the sciences is not shared by the vast majority of historians of science. People talk about all the scientists that went to the stake, but they never supply a list. it’s actually pretty hard to find even a single man who was executed for objectionable astronomy. Heresy is about specifically religious ideas, not whether the sun’s in the middle. The church didn’t sponsor all those universities because it was hostile to learning, and it is not an accident that the calendar we use today is named after a pope. The point isn’t that Catholicism is wonderful or enlightened—I certainly don’t have much use for it, especially in its contemporary form—but let us recognize what it actually was and not continue to repeat ideologically motivated just so stories that have been rejected by the people who seriously study it. If it is objectionable to reject the consensus of scientists, why is it OK to reject the consensus of historians?

52

Donald Johnson 02.28.15 at 6:21 pm

I’ve become neutral on theories regarding JFK and the others. I feel like it would take a huge amount of time for me to get up to speed on the various (opposing) theories and life is short, though if you have any links or book suggestions I might take a peek.

I see the communism thread is still going strong–to be clear, I’m not saying that all communists are Stalinists. I mostly want to stay out of that thread, though I’m reading it with interest.

53

Plume 02.28.15 at 6:28 pm

Mattski,

I think we’re on the same page there. One could call it the Deep State — that got to JFK, MLK, and then RFK, because he was a threat to uncover the plots. But I think the truthers were nutz. I came to those conclusions long before I read Matt Taibbi on the subject, but he really just shredded them every which way possible.

To me, it was always absurd to think Bush or the Deep State would basically shit where they eat. If they were going to do a false flag op — and America has done them in the past to start wars — they wouldn’t blow themselves up. They wouldn’t go after one of the centers of capitalist power, the center of military power, or Congress. They would have mounted some action in Iraq itself, or some other Middle Eastern nation, not here. Especially not where their own power was concentrated.

And another reason for thinking the truthers were nutz. It’s really not that hard to get Americans to back a war. Tragically so. A plot involving airplanes crashing into skyscrapers and the Pentagon involves far too much risk just to provide political cover for war, when going to war is as American as apple pie already.

54

Plume 02.28.15 at 6:30 pm

Jim #49,

It’s not the consensus of historians. And I’ve “seriously studied it.”

55

mattski 02.28.15 at 6:38 pm

Donald, here is a great jumping off point. Navigating the literature can be dicey because it is vast and there is a lot of dreck out there. Among the best books-

The Last Investigation, Gaeton Fonzi
JFK and the Unspeakable, James Douglass
The Assassinations, edited by Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease

Jim’s website is not elegant but the information collected there is reliable.

56

Rich Puchalsky 02.28.15 at 6:41 pm

Consumatopia: “He is not, at least not in that passage, saying that liberals caused climate polarization, but he does seem to be suggesting that if liberals all listened to him they could overcome the problem.”

Well, he’s optimistic about it. But I see his work as supporting a kind of two-step intervention test: 1) don’t politicize the problem, 2) if 1) fails, try to evade the politicalization via changing either the context or the range of cultural meanings available to people. Vaccination is still in stage 1). Global warming went to stage 2) unavoidably, and scientists had nothing to do with that, because it wasn’t scientist’s communications that did it. So we’re stuck with things like trying to talk about geoengineering, because the best solution isn’t available and never was.

57

Jim Harrison 02.28.15 at 6:51 pm

Plume #52: If you’ve deeply studied the history of Catholic attitudes towards science, you’ll easily able to supply a list of scientists executed by the church.

It seems there were these two guys, Dunning and Kruger….

58

Plume 02.28.15 at 7:03 pm

Jim #55,

You should practice what you preach. Please list the historians that form that consensus. At least some of them.

As for the persecution of scientists: The first isn’t limited to church-based persecution, but includes it:

http://www.wired.com/2012/06/famous-persecuted-scientists/

This one concentrates just on the church:

http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-sciencechristianity.htm

I can list more, later, but CT generally sends posts into moderation if there are more than a coupla links.

Again, please support your own contention of that “consensus.”

59

js. 02.28.15 at 7:09 pm

I firmly believe JFK, MLK & RFK were murdered by–for lack of a better term–the military-industrial-corporate-intelligence-complex.

The weirdly telling thing about this is that you leave out Malcolm X.

Re the Catholic Church—it’s a bit of both, surely. On the one hand, you have famous cases like Galileo (forced to recant) and Giordano Bruno (executed), and on the other hand the monastic traditions, esp. but not only the Jesuits, where intellectual pursuits—including whatever was then considered ‘science’—were very highly valued. But if some bit of science came up against some central bit of Church dogma, you suddenly had major problems, and it wasn’t the dogma that was going to give. How are we even arguing about this? (I mean, haven’t we all read Name of the Rose?)

60

afeman 02.28.15 at 7:18 pm

Rich @54

The problem with political attitudes and geoengineering is that geoengineering tends to get advanced as a way to prevent the need for carbon reduction, whereas specialists in the relevant fields tend to advance carbon reduction as a way to prevent the need for geoengineering. It’s accordingly promoted by those who 1) acknowledge the problem and 2) are committed to the status quo.

Yes, this is madly inconsistent.

61

Consumatopia 02.28.15 at 7:32 pm

@Rich, 54

But I see his work as supporting a kind of two-step intervention test: 1) don’t politicize the problem, 2) if 1) fails, try to evade the politicalization via changing either the context or the range of cultural meanings available to people.

That’s basically how I read it too, and on step 1 I’m in total agreement (and share his and your fear that we’re badly screwing up step 1 with regards to vaccines).

It’s step 2 that I am skeptical of, at least in the case that some with a lot of money and power has an interest in politicization. If energy interests can turn conservatives against carbon credits (which I recall my libertarian-sympathetic intro to econ professor smugly touting as a market-based alternative to more direct pollution controls) why not also turn them against ‘big government’ geoengineering or nuclear? Is there not a danger that of repeating the frequent pattern of liberals embracing a conservative idea as an acceptable compromise, only to have conservatives turn around and denounce it as radical leftism?

62

Plume 02.28.15 at 7:32 pm

js,

True. It’s just historical fact that the Church persecuted, tortured and executed heretics, and that many of those heretics were scientists, teachers, philosophers, etc. etc. As you said, if their teachings went against Church dogma, they were likely going to be severely punished, at least. And we know that people like Descartes and Spinoza had to couch their treatises in such a way to avoid being burned at the stake — with Spinoza being under threat by Jewish authorities as well. The Enlightenment was primarily an attempt to end Church control on that level.

The Inquisition lasted until roughly 1830, give or take. People were still being killed for saying they were atheists in public in the 19th century. And, if we add the forced conversion of Native peoples around the globe, not being a Christian, refusing to become one, could mean one’s death.

Apologetics for Church history, now, in 2015? Sheeesh.

63

mattski 02.28.15 at 7:34 pm

Donald Johnson, here’s another good interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HSSuMo7hBw

js.,

What is so weirdly telling? You want to know why I didn’t mention Malcom X? Because I haven’t familiarized myself with the literature. Yet.

I don’t know why but I have this weird feeling you’re the sort who holds a grudge…

64

Consumatopia 02.28.15 at 7:38 pm

To be clear, though, I think even people who oppose geoengineering because it’s likely to be too expensive and dangerous ought to support studying it, as those studies will probably make the expense and danger clearer.

65

Plume 02.28.15 at 7:38 pm

OT: Mattski,

What do you think of the work of David Talbot on the subject of the JFK assassination? I have his Brothers, and have read a few of his shorter articles on the subject.

66

mattski 02.28.15 at 7:47 pm

Plume,

Not familiar. Vague sense that his credibility ratings are good but a little short of excellent. I’ve come to trust Jim DiEugenio’s website quite a bit. Indeed I’ve linked a couple of times to an article he wrote for Bob Parry’s Consortium News on JFK’s approach to foreign policy. Very informative, and a somewhat hidden history that we aren’t often exposed to.

Going on memory here, the article cites a speech JFK gave for a 50’s Adlai Stevenson election campaign. JFK said some critical stuff about US foreign policy (essentially what was then mainstream thinking) which resulted in the Stevenson campaign asking JFK not to mention foreign policy on their behalf anymore.

67

js. 02.28.15 at 7:51 pm

I don’t know why but I have this weird feeling you’re the sort who holds a grudge…

I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about, but I can promise you that I have never held a grudge against a stranger on the internet. The Malcolm X thing was a random half-joke; I guess the quickest way to say what I was gesturing at is that Malcolm X has not been culturally canonized like the others you mentioned, which as far as I’m concerned is all for the better.

68

mattski 02.28.15 at 7:55 pm

Thanks, js. I’m sorry I misinterpreted you.

69

Matt 02.28.15 at 7:57 pm

The problem with political attitudes and geoengineering is that geoengineering tends to get advanced as a way to prevent the need for carbon reduction, whereas specialists in the relevant fields tend to advance carbon reduction as a way to prevent the need for geoengineering. It’s accordingly promoted by those who 1) acknowledge the problem and 2) are committed to the status quo.

At this point I think that both geoengineering and emissions reduction are necessary to get back to 350 ppm CO2 on less than geological time scales. The IPCC seems to agree: they assume sustained “negative emissions” in the peak-and-decline RCP2.6 scenario, which is another term for geoengineering via carbon dioxide removal.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/rcp.php?t=3

The trouble with “all geoengineering, no emissions reduction” is 1) geoengineering is a more expensive mitigation route than emissions reductions, at least while there’s still so much low-hanging emissions fruit to pluck and 2) none of the proposed carbon dioxide removal schemes can actually scale up large enough to fully offset current anthropogenic emissions, much less increased emissions. You have to first reduce emissions before carbon dioxide removal has a fighting chance at reducing atmospheric concentrations.

The trouble with “all emissions reduction, no geoengineering” is that a significant portion of atmospheric CO2 will remain in the atmosphere over geological time scales, even if anthropogenic CO2 emissions ceased tomorrow. The amount that’s already emitted may or may not be enough to trigger further warming in a feedback cascade, via e.g. increased carbon release from the soils of thawing permafrost, but at the very least a significant fraction of the ocean acidification and radiative forcing effects are already locked in on a centuries-to-millennia scale. That’s unless there are efforts to actually draw down the atmospheric concentration of CO2 again. I will as usual plug David Archer’s The Long Thaw for providing a genuinely long term perspective on the problem: http://www.amazon.com/The-Long-Thaw-Changing-Essentials/dp/0691148112

The problem of anthropogenic CO2 emissions isn’t a situation where you either fix it forever once or break it forever once. It’s going to be an issue for as long as humans live on Earth. No matter how much fossil fuel has been burned at some point in the future, human actions can always make the even-further future relatively better or worse. And no matter how well the atmosphere might be remediated at some point in the future, human actions can always make the even-further future relatively better or worse. Better to think of it as an issue that will be struggled with indefinitely, like the struggle over whether government will serve elite interests or mass interests.

70

Bruce Wilder 02.28.15 at 8:12 pm

If we can choose between Brett and Plume, I’d keep Brett. But, I’m not sure we can afford both on the same thread simultaneously.

71

js. 02.28.15 at 8:23 pm

It’s just historical fact that the Church persecuted, tortured and executed heretics, and that many of those heretics were scientists, teachers, philosophers, etc. etc.

Yes. But the other side is also true: the monastic traditions provided space for and nurtured teachers, scientists, philosophers, etc. I mean, they were pretty much the only thing going in Europe for a few centuries. Look, I have no personal connection to or love for the Catholic Church, but if you’re thinking about the intellectual history of the West, it’s impossible to write out the contributions made by institutions that were part of the Church.

72

Jim Harrison 02.28.15 at 8:24 pm

Plume #56. You directed me to a couple of pop culture sites that merely repeat the usual folk narratives. Meanwhile, you still haven’t given me the name of even a single individual executed by the church for his scientific beliefs. Bruno, Servetus, and Campanella got in trouble for their religious heresies. (Of course Servetus wasn’t offed by the Catholics. He was burned by John Calvin and Co. in Protestant Geneva. And Calvin was upset because Servetus was a Unitarian. That he was also a Copernican was beside the point. Whatever you may think, the Reformation wasn’t about astronomy.) Even the Galileo affair didn’t revolve around scientific questions. During the trial, the church authorities were quite clear that if Galileo could establish the truth of the heliocentric hypothesis, they’d have to go along. He couldn’t do that—the scientific case for Copernicus was actually quite weak at the time—so the problem came down to whether a lay person had the right to interpret scripture on the basis of his own unproven intuitions. (Actually, if you know the history, Galileo’s main sin was irritating Pope Urban, who had been one of Galileo’s patrons before he became Pope. The details are available in books like Redondo’s Galileo Heretic.) By the way, once it became clear that the sun was in fact in the middle that’s what the church schools taught—the Jesuits in particular were completely comfortable with Newton.

I’m sure you could find somebody at some time in history who suffered specifically for their scientific ideas. In the Renaissance there were Aristotelians who got in hot water because their philosophical ideas—the eternity of the world, the denial of the immortality of the soul—conflicted with dogma. Well, keep trying.

The consensus I referred to is made up of essentially everybody who writes seriously about the Scientific Revolution. This has been true for quite a while. It was back in the 1920s and 1930 that historians began to question the Draper/White version of events, the Warfare of Science and Theology narrative that keeps stumbling around Zombie like, especially among the New Atheists. Instead of a rebellion of brave rationalists struggling against an obscurantist church, they found a profound continuity between Medieval thought and modern physics and cosmology—a classic early statement of this revised view can be found in Dijksterhuis’s Mechanization of the World Picture: Pythagoras to Newton. If you want to see what mainstream history of science looks like, you might begin by visiting Thony Charles website Renaissance Mathematicus. Thony’s posts will provide you with a better bibliography than I can. He’s a pro.

73

Rich Puchalsky 02.28.15 at 8:25 pm

afeman @ 58: Yes, but there’s a distinction between proposals for actual geoengineering, and “let’s talk about geoengineering.” Merely talking about it, without necessarily committing yourself to any particular geoengineering solution, may paradoxically increase the acceptability of doing something about global warming for some people. It’s not Kahan’s job as I understand it to evaluate actual geoengineering proposals and whether they work, it’s to see whether putting a particular kind of idea into the discussion changes the discussion. If the idea of geoengineering actively increased resistance to carbon reduction, then I’d say that it would be a bad idea to talk about it. But it might not, no what the motives of the people who bring it up.

Consumatopia: “It’s step 2 that I am skeptical of, at least in the case that some with a lot of money and power has an interest in politicization.”

Yes. My first reaction to the local-Florida link was “Huh, the denialists fell down on the job there — don’t know why they didn’t get someone into local politics to sabotage that one. ALEC asleep at the switch?” Step 2) is always going to be less effective than 1), and the resources available in an extended exchange are uneven.

74

Joshua Holmes 02.28.15 at 8:38 pm

The trouble with “all geoengineering, no emissions reduction” is…

3) It doesn’t deal with ocean acidification at all.

I was skeptical of AGW when I first heard about it (libertarian here). I doubt any particular argument changed my mind. What’s more likely is that I’m open to believing scientists because I love science and am friends with several scientists. The propaganda about scientists being conspiratorial liars and money-grubbers doesn’t explain my friends, their passion, and their motivation.

75

Matt 02.28.15 at 8:52 pm

The trouble with “all geoengineering, no emissions reduction” is…

3) It doesn’t deal with ocean acidification at all.

This is true of geoengineering attempts via solar radiation management, e.g. deliberate creation of sulfate aerosols. It is not true of carbon dioxide removal based approaches such as afforestation, increasing soil carbon inventories, or accelerated silicate weathering. That’s why the IPCC RCP2.6 scenario calls for “negative emissions” rather than, generically, geoengineering*. Reducing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will reduce the equilibrium concentration in ocean surface waters which will in turn send pH rising back toward its historical value.

*That plus the term “geoengineering” has already become a loaded term, in that it often brings to mind the riskiest, cheapest approaches like sulfate aerosol creation.

76

Harold 02.28.15 at 8:57 pm

A well-funded propaganda war has just been launched with the aim of smearing those who question genetic modification of food crops as “anti-science.” This is a war to convince the undecided that genetic modification (with the aim of increasing profits for food and pesticide/herbicide companies) is “good science” and those who oppose it are cranks.

77

Harold 02.28.15 at 8:57 pm

78

Cian 02.28.15 at 9:08 pm

I’d like to push back against a conflation that you often see in these discussions. There is a difference between being anti-science and anti-technology.

None of the opponents of nuclear energy are anti-science, they’re anti a particular technology that they feel is undersold, or overly risky. If they were anti-science they would be denying such a thing is possible. Sure some of them sometimes deny science when making their arguments (though both sides are guilty of this), but mostly the arguments are cultural, or about values, or about risk. One can make a perfectly good argument against nuclear power without bringing science into it. And plenty do, but still get attacked for being ‘anti-science’.

The same is true for GMO, and for the Catholic church’s opposition to contraception. If they denied that it worked, that would be anti-science. Instead they simply believe it to be immoral. You may disagree with that argument (I do), but science has little to do with it. It’s an argument about the deployment and use of a particular technology.

On the other hand opponents of vaccination are anti-science, because they deny the validity of a set of scientific facts. The distinction matters. There is nothing ‘backwards’, or ‘anti-science’ about being opposed to particular technologies. Unless we believe that opponents of CFCs are in some way ‘anti-science’. Such arguments should be judged on their merits, and often there really isn’t a ‘right’ answer. On the other hand, anyone who builds an argument on the wilful denial of reality should be ignored, or scored.

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Cian 02.28.15 at 9:13 pm

Yeah the complaints of the pro-GMO crowd are a bit rich given the various ways they’ve tried to prevent serious scientific investigations into the risks of these technologies. If they don’t have much faith in the safety of them, why should I? Nor for that matter do I see why, given their histories, I should put any trust in Monsanto et al.

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geo 02.28.15 at 9:22 pm

Plume @63: David Kaiser’s The Road to Dallas is very good.

Jim Harrison@70: Might be some examples in A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White (2 vols., 1896, reissued 1978).

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afeman 02.28.15 at 9:26 pm

Matt, Rich,

My point isn’t that emissions reductions are the only response to be considered, it’s that measures such as aerosol injection are advanced as alternatives to emissions reductions, and by precisely the sorts who have sandbagged the latter for whatever reason they can come up with. For a stark example, consider the following regulatory regime:

http://www.samefacts.com/2009/10/international-affairs/geoengineering-from-black-helicopters/

And look who shows up to suggest that this is preferable to emissions reductions.

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adam.smith 02.28.15 at 9:44 pm

Jim Harrison –I thought Redondi’s thesis was exactly the opposite–that Urban was protecting Galileo by keeping charges of Atomism out of the inquisition commission? (And I thought that most people think he’s wrong about that). (FWIW, you’re obviously right about the larger debate here. You won’t have the stamina to win the argument against Plume, though ;)

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stevenjohnson 02.28.15 at 9:49 pm

Jim Harrison’s belief that there was some specific “science” separate from all sorts of things that come under the rubric of religion is unjustified. It seems to me he’s projecting modern secularism backwards, for apologetic purposes.

The idea that Jesuits were comfortable with Newton didn’t mean they were comfortable with interpreting the sun standing still as a mistake, which demonstrated the fallibility of the writers of the Old Testament. I don’t think he can read a dead man’s mind either. He doesn’t know whether Bruno conceived of a plurality of worlds as a consquence of his separate “theology,” or whether his inability to find a material reason to deny the plurality of worlds around stars like the sun led him to change his theology. He doesn’t even know whether Servetus was Unitarian because his scientific world view, where life was blood pumped by the heart, led him to think Jesus wasn’t a God, or whether it was just some irrelevant hobby.

The idea the scientific outlook of men like Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz and Spinoza involved no conflict with theology is absurd, especially when the participants worked so hard to find a workable truce. Basically he is asserting on the authority of the lint in his navel that all these men’s theology had nothing to do with their views of nature. This not only lacks evidence, it is on the face of it improbable.

I think you could make a quick empirical test of the notion there was no real warfare between “science” and religion by surveying the number of navels Adam has in medieval art. It is a scientific fact that men have navels after all.

As for the assertions about mainstream historians? There’s always continuity in history, and triumphantly announcing that water is wet may be a good career move. And compromising with reaction may be too.

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Matt 02.28.15 at 10:04 pm

My point isn’t that emissions reductions are the only response to be considered, it’s that measures such as aerosol injection are advanced as alternatives to emissions reductions, and by precisely the sorts who have sandbagged the latter for whatever reason they can come up with.

Yes, they are, but I don’t think that is a good reason to back away from geoengineering as a term. We need to distinguish different types of geoengineering on their merits. Quoting your linked source,

See the British Royal Society; Hegerl and Solomon (excerpted by Romm here), Robock, etc. These strictures apply to solar radiation management techniques. Carbon recapture and similar methods count as emissions reduction, and so are comparatively safe but slower.

This is what I was saying above. Solar radiation management is a risky and very partial palliative for rising atmospheric CO2. Geoengineering methods that actually take CO2 out of the atmosphere, what the IPCC is calling “negative emissions,” may actually be worth doing. They shouldn’t be dismissed just because some of the usual suspects are promoting a fast, risky, cheap version of geoengineering.

The term may be too hard to rescue by now, but I hope people can continue to use the word “geoengineering” without becoming suspect as AGW denialists or shills for business-as-usual behavior in how humans produce energy. By way of analogy: some people support capital intensive industrial scale farming and some people support organic farming, but they all still call it farming. Farming itself didn’t become such a loaded word that organic farmers had to rebrand themselves as “Earth fertility shapers” or something just to avoid sending the wrong tribal signals. I’m afraid that the perfectly serviceable existing term “geoengineering” is getting run out of polite company among people who actually care about AGW because The Wrong People have been advocating for the cheap, dangerous kind. That just makes it harder to have a coherent discussion.

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John Quiggin 02.28.15 at 10:42 pm

@Harald As I said in the OP, the correct response of opponents of GM (with the aim of profits for herbicide companies etc) is to drop claims about health risks from consuming GM foods (which are either provably wrong or unsubstantiated despite decades of health testing), and focus on actual concerns, like the privatisation of the genome.

Cian, this is one instance where ad hominem really is a fallacy. The fact that Monsanto is a bad actor doesn’t mean that GM science (which has generally been done very carefully, going right back to the Asilomar meetings in the early 1970s) is wrong.

On the anti-science, anti-technology distinction it’s important and goes both ways.
Until they went right off the deep end and started opposing renewable energy technology as such, even the most anti-science Repubs were pro-technology. Shmibertarian SF is full of heroic lone genius engineers defying the scientific consensus and doing the impossible. Conversely, it’s perfectly possible to oppose some or all uses of a technology without rejecting the science around it.

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politicalfootball 03.01.15 at 12:04 am

Conversations on this topic are generally unsatisfying because they have a tendency to be condescend toward people who are “anti-science.”

There is a worldview that isn’t informed by the Enlightenment that is nonetheless very powerful. For example, scientists who know about climate change are frequently wrong about the details, and are compelled to admit it. Deniers are never wrong – they can’t be, because they aren’t involved in the same kind of enterprise that scientists are.

And what does it mean to be “right” anyway? “King vs. Burwell” is a preposterous reading of the law, but at least four Supreme Court justices agreed to hear the case. If there were really no WMD in Iraq, and if bin Laden and Saddam were not in cahoots, would GW Bush have been re-elected after lying us into war? Would we have invaded Iraq in the first place?

Did it help or hurt Colin Powell’s reputation when he acknowledged the obvious fact that he lied about WMD? That confession was a failure of will on Powell’s part that he will pay for the rest of his life. Look at Allan Meltzer, who remains a respected commentator on economics despite the fact that he keeps saying ludicrous things. Will the Wall Street Journal continue to publish him if he starts saying things that make sense? The question answers itself.

The Enlightenment folks understand that they are constrained by facts, but they can’t seem to understand why other folks would choose to go through life without constraints. Scientists are unable to believe certain things, merely because those things are wrong. Brett can believe anything he wants to.

Sure, there are advantages to believing things because they are true, but the Bretts of the world are able to partake of the advantages of believing true things, too. You’ll note that Brett isn’t quoting the Daily Caller on the subject of engineering.

People seem to think that Orwell was ridiculing “doublethink,” but in fact he was discussing the utility of that approach. ExxonMobil funds politicians who deny evolution, but that company sure as hell isn’t hiring creationist geologists. Creationists are generally completely comfortable partaking of modern medicine, despite denying the science underpinning it.

I don’t suppose Keynes would approve of me appropriating his words in this context, but you Enlightenment types need to remember what he said:

But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.

Sure, in the long run, climate change is going to be a big deal, but so what? In the long run, we’re all dead. If you’re going to win over the anti-science crowd, you have to have some method other than reason. And the first step is acknowledging the weaknesses of reason in guiding human affairs, both on the macro level and on the individual level.

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Jim Harrison 03.01.15 at 12:15 am

Adam_Smith @ 82.

Senior moment. I was thinking of Biagioli’s book Galileo Courtier. Any book about Galileo that covers the particulars of what actually happened would be an improvement on the mythic version, however.

You’re surely right about how much stamina it would take to win an argument against Plume. Whatever I write will be assimilated to an us vs them schema that doesn’t contemplate anything besides Reason and Superstition. In fact, I’m not cheerleading for the church. I’m cheerleading for trying to understand the past on its own terms. I’m also interested in the history of history, i.e., how people come to understand or misunderstand history. In that connection, though White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom is truly deplorable as scholarship, it and books like it are highly relevant if you’re interested in the creation of the Manichean theory of science history in the 19th Century.

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Harold 03.01.15 at 12:21 am

@85 John Quiggin, I think you are oversimplifying the position of the anti-GMOers, which has always been very concerned about the inter-relationship of genetically modified foods and the fact that they need to be grown with huge amounts of expensive herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides, which are harmful to the environment and have been blamed for dire effects on pollinators and other wildlife.

As far as, say, non-profit experiments on genetic modification of near-extinct species like the American Chestnut, I for one, have no problem with that, in fact, I think it is a good thing, unless shown to be otherwise.

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John Quiggin 03.01.15 at 12:26 am

Harold @88 I’m fully aware of that: I’m making the point that perfectly valid arguments like these are harmed by the continued use of denier tropes in relation to the spurious health risks of consuming GM foods (“no consensus”, “scientists are all corrupt” etc).

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Peter T 03.01.15 at 12:32 am

A paleontologist, annoyed by an anti-evolutionist’s claim that the fossil record showed no transitional forms, civilly invited her to view trays of fossil sequences. She agreed that they did indeed show transitional forms. The same night she gave a speech claiming that the absence of transitional forms discredited evolution. Likewise one could point Brett to sites where the temperature record is discussed, all the data available for download, and analysis tools provided, invite him to do his own analysis, and he would still claim a pause in warming or some such (as did the backers of the BEST analysis when it failed to confirm their beliefs).

It’s examples like this that make me doubt Kahan’s solutions. I’ve been known to push an argument in the face of evidence and I have my tribal affiliations but I could not go this far without exploding my head. It’s not just tribal identity, nor even money that explains this (there are always alternative badges and other ways of making money). It’s a clash between some corollary of an evident fact and some other deep-seated belief in the way the world works.

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John Quiggin 03.01.15 at 12:34 am

@86 On the other hand, there are difficulties with doublethink. One is illustrated by the “poll unskewing” delusion in 2012. If the Repubs had recognised that they really were behind, they might have changed their campaign strategy and done better.

The other problem is that even the most effective doublethink is useless if you’re not in the (effective) majority. If the Very Sensible People become aware that the US right is engaged in collective delusionalism, it will become more difficult for the Repubs to win elections (as already seems to be true at the presidential level). In that case, we don’t need to convince the anti-science group, just outnumber them.

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Russell L. Carter 03.01.15 at 1:10 am

Harold: “they need to be grown with huge amounts of expensive herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides”

The facts are more complicated:

http://grist.org/food/in-the-insecticide-wars-gmos-have-so-far-been-a-force-for-good/

There are links at the end that show that there are indeed problems, but also major tangible benefits. I say this as a member of an organic gardening family whose very productive garden, in a very harsh environment, uses no pesticides or herbicides. But we tolerate losses no one making a living from farming could survive, and find hand-weeding mentally therapeutic.

So I’m completely with JQ here. The indeed severe IP issues caused by the usual rotten globalized corporate actors do not imply these other things Harold & Co. have latched on to. You can google National Academy of Sciences GMO and get to summaries of the research for the last 30 years that demonstrate that the doomsday claims are just not so.

We need to keep our eyes on the ball here, and not get distracted by spurious side issues. The problem is the imbalance between the power of globalized corporations and individual human beings, and communities of human beings. Occupy Wallstreet, whatever its organizational issues, was aiming at exactly the right problem.

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Collin Street 03.01.15 at 1:31 am

@Harald As I said in the OP, the correct response of opponents of GM (with the aim of profits for herbicide companies etc) is to drop claims about health risks from consuming GM foods

It’s a bit more complex than that.

Current GM crops and what-have-you appear safe after extensive testing, absolutely. But each individual GM crop is an individual project, with its own individual chance of going wrong and presenting health risks: that past ones haven’t does mean that probably future ones don’t have a huge chance of causing health problems, but it doesn’t mean that future ones have no chance. We don’t know: each GM project needs to be individually evaluated for possible problems, same as each individual drug or industrial chemical.

[and since for all commercial products there’s a huge incentive on the producers to say that their product is safe regardless of the actual reality, there needs to be a constant social counterpressure to keep the safety-verification regime in place. [which isn’t to say that the actually-extant social counterpressure can’t be excessive, or insufficient…]]

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MPAVictoria 03.01.15 at 1:36 am

Don’t be a dick Bruce.
/I enjoy your contributions Plume

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mattski 03.01.15 at 1:43 am

This is for geo & Plume.

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Cian 03.01.15 at 2:03 am

John,
Yeah I wasn’t clear (if you were criticizing me). My concerns are environmental, and the ways in which GMO is being implemented and the regulatory climate to which it is subjected.

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Harold 03.01.15 at 3:04 am

I agree with Collin Street, basically. John Quiggin’s rhetoric,”denier tropes” is rather harsh and sounds awfully like he may be buying into the smear propaganda. The very idea of calling consumers “deniers” is deeply disturbing.

I am a gardener, too, and I believe a judicious use of pesticides and even herbicides is ok. But big agribusiness is something else. It is not benevolent. It is not transparent. On the contrary. The monopolies that comprise it need to be broken up. People have every right to know the provenance of their food and how it is produced, including the working conditions of the people who grew it, without being smeared as “deniers”. That is disgusting.

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Russell L. Carter 03.01.15 at 4:18 am

“I am a gardener, too, […] That is disgusting.”

On your substantive points I completely agree! But these points are now different than before, and are non-controversial, IMHO. I understand it’s much harder to get across the truth that the globalist corporate state is bad for health (and a whole bunch of other things) rather than the simple slogan “GMO bad”. But again, IMHO, deploying that slogan w/o addressing the root cause of why the change to GMO (which has already happened, even in India, if I understand correctly) as it was actually done (see recent 600+ comments post on CT) has bad effects is self-defeating.

Best!

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Omega Centauri 03.01.15 at 4:29 am

I think we have almost a consensus that’s Plume’s not being fair to the modern Catholic church, particularly the Vatican. The Great White Hope with regards to climate change this year is the expectation that pope Francis is preparing a climate encyclical which could seriously alter the terms of the current debate. In terms of science versus anti-science, I see the Vatican as being mostly on the science side. I think it is best to give credit where credit is due, is more likely to advance the cause of science, than a hostile attitude towards a would be powerful ally.

It is interesting that someone brought up 9-11 truthers, and what I thought was a policy of belittling those who focused on evidence which didn’t seem to fit the established building collapse theory. One of the suspicious observations was the observation how high temperature liquid metal streams were observed coming from the building. I think these have now been explained as a result of molten aircraft aluminum. But, this didn’t come out until several years later, and the attitude towards all those touting evidence that didn’t support the official explanation was such that it impeded the needed research into explaining all the evidence.

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Omega Centauri 03.01.15 at 4:36 am

Geoengineering including SRM (Solar Radiation Management) isn’t quite as divided ideologically as many assume. It is possible to be pro geoengineering including of SRM methods*, without thinking it can replace the need to cut (reverse?) emissions. Some of us think it could potentially be a useful tool in mitigating damage in the future. Currently in some circles it is fashionable to paint all such research as evil. The attitude that these management strategies should be proscribed, may limit future options to reduce the damages done having been too slow to adopt deep decarbonization.

There are proposed SRM methods that don’t rely on sulphate injection, and most could quickly be reversed if they were found to cause more problems then they solved.

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Roger Gathmann 03.01.15 at 5:09 am

I find suspicion of expert opinion a pretty healthy thing. It can of course be hijacked for pretty disgusting things, just as populism can get hijacked by racism. But it would be hard to live in the US for the latter half of the cold war without thinking that scientific consensus is not the same thing as science. The case in point, the case that I think poisoned the public attitude towards consensus science, has to be radiation, and specifically, the continuous stream of misleading messages about the dangers of radiation issued by the AEC while the US was conducting above ground tests of atom bombs. We know now that while the public face of the AEC was assuring people that there was no fallout danger, the private face was writing memos about the low use population that might be in the path of fallout. And we know, too, from a congressionally authorized study of the fallout that did not cover all the radioactive matter estimated 49,000 fallout related cases of thyroid cancer. During the period between 1945 and circa 1975, the study of the effects of the fallout, and even speculation about it, were severely stonewalled. We now have plenty of information about horrific experiments exposing patients from marginal groups to radioactivity that were encouraged in the US.
There’s plenty of reason to be suspicious of science as an institution, especially when national security or profit is concerned. I”m no anti-vaxxer, and am happy my two year old is in a school in the Los Angeles area that seriously requires vaccination. But I do hate the ahistorical idea that science is some separate social activity, immune to the contours that shape all social activity. That’s myth, not science.

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crytandra 03.01.15 at 5:14 am

It seems to me that the the anti-vax talking points are must the same as the anti-gm talking points. The former caricature big – pharma just as the latter caricature big-ag.

As to the health risks of new crop varieties, there isn’t a single credible case of a gm crop causing a health, yet we have peer reviewed evidence of novel conventionally bred crops causing health problems, for instance a cultivar of celery that expressed a higher than usual amount of psoralen.

Collin’s point about corporate incentives is also obviously false; the most valuable asset a corporation has is its reputation, hence enlightened self-interest compels most corporations value its safety record (although admittedly this incentive doesn’t always work).

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Luke 03.01.15 at 5:19 am

“Collin’s point about corporate incentives is also obviously false; the most valuable asset a corporation has is its reputation, hence enlightened self-interest compels most corporations value its safety record (although admittedly this incentive doesn’t always work).”

This is laugh-out-loud silly.

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john c. halasz 03.01.15 at 5:24 am

Like a lot of CT threads, this one amounts to a Rorschach test.

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Harold 03.01.15 at 7:22 am

Crytandra: “The most valuable asset a corporation has is its reputation, hence …”

they devote considerable resources to secrecy, bribery, smearing and even trying to destroy their critics.”

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Richard Serlin 03.01.15 at 7:24 am

I’ll add that this unconvincibility by evidence thing is not true, or very exagerated. ther was a recent high end study that was in the blogosphere that did show that repetedly getting hit with strong evidence and logic did have, over time, an effect even on strong partisans. I hope to hve time later to find the link to it.

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Harold 03.01.15 at 7:25 am

Enlightened self interest might lead them to paying taxes and decent wages and working conditions for lower level employees, instead of lobbyists and PR people. But no such luck, alas.

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Richard Serlin 03.01.15 at 7:30 am

One more: Smoking. There were plenty of “unconvincibles by science and evidence” on smoking. but what happened over time? They got hit again and again and again by the evidence, a d many did change their opinions. MOany others just died off, but were replaced by young who were raised when young and open on the scientific unanimity. Today ther aren’t many left who think smoking is not harmful.

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John Quiggin 03.01.15 at 7:32 am

Roger, there’s an obvious problem when research is undertaken by an organization with an interest in the results, and which can choose whether or not to suppress inconvenient findings: the AEC on fallout, the tobacco industry on smoking etc.

But, at the risk of “no true Scotsman”, that’s not what I have in mind when I say “science”. I’m talking about peer-reviewed, independently replicated, transparently funded research. There’s plenty of that for the issues I’ve talked about above, including (AFAICT), GMO safety.

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Collin Street 03.01.15 at 8:02 am

It’s autism.

Current science says 1% of the population has autism-spectrum conditions, and most of those — essentially all of the older ones — undiagnosed. That’s a lot of people, and I’m pretty sure it’s enough to fill all the key roles in the crazy Right even after you’ve allowed for the ones mopped up in birdspotting and video games or on the crazy left.

Autism is a real thing that has effects that more-or-less match what we seem to be having and at rates high enough to explain what we get. We don’t need any other explanation: by all means, people can keep on looking, but what we’ve got right here is enough to start acting.

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Chris Bertram 03.01.15 at 9:11 am

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your comment Collin, but on first inspection it seems to consist of some rather unpleasant stereotyping and scapegoating.

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Harold 03.01.15 at 9:28 am

Something that is one percent steadily is likely to be caused by spontaneous mutation.

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Bruce Wilder 03.01.15 at 9:55 am

JQ: . . . that’s not what I have in mind when I say “science”. I’m talking about peer-reviewed, independently replicated, transparently funded research.

You’re describing an ideal. What exists at any moment in time, in any particular area of inquiry, exists in tension with that ideal, but never as the unblemished embodiment of that ideal.

I took Roger’s point to be that the decidedly un-Platonic-ideal is what actually does science. That would be university research “transparently” funded by industry in public-private partnerships. And, regulatory advisory committees stacked with researchers habitually funded by industry. And, corporate interests that regularly adopt unethical policies and tactics with no policing and no penalty.

I’d like to see “pro-science” be a political stance in favor of more generous public funding of scientific inquiry and training. And, I’d like to see a serious price imposed on corporate funders of agnotological productions.

I’m afraid of putting on a partisan “pro-science” t-shirt, or accusing people of being “anti-science”, even if or just because I don’t think they are making sensible arguments. That seems likely to slide into treacherous claims for authority, about matters that are never going to be settled on the basis of science alone.

And, I’m not sure that I want to do much to discredit the genuine and sincere critics and pressure groups and scolds, even if I think they are often too inexpert or circumspect to hit their targets squarely or too passionate about wrongly drawn scenarios of speculative risks. Because, it seems to me that they are often the one source of tension in the public interest in a scientific enterprises that all too easily could otherwise become closed clubs.

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Ze Kraggash 03.01.15 at 10:01 am

“unpleasant stereotyping and scapegoating”

But it’s only a short step from ‘those who disagree with me are bigots’ or ‘idiots’ (‘anti-science’) to ‘mentally ill’.

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Collin Street 03.01.15 at 11:44 am

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your comment Collin, but on first inspection it seems to consist of some rather unpleasant stereotyping and scapegoating.

I thought so too, at first.

I wrote a fairly long piece setting out how I came to this conclusion[1], exactly what my conclusion is[2], why it’s not useful as a preventative[3] and stuff. I couldn’t whip it into shape. The footnotes carry the gist, but it’s getting late local time. Probably best actually if you reconstruct it yourself from my evidence; maybe you’ll see something I missed.

Because, seriously, I really want to be wrong on this one.

[1] I move in circles with a lot of people-with-autism, who I observed — myself included, I have a piece of paper that says “can’t possibly have any major problem, he finished uni!” — had all sorts of politics, but I also noticed that there were certain elements of the behaviour of basically all the people from the hard right that matched what I’d seen from the people I knew that had autism-spectrum problems.

[2] Basically: very small inter-population differences are drowned in the intra-population divergences near the average and only become visible near the fringes; an imperceptable bias towards neglecting the human element in your political conclusions would be enough to get the effects.

[3] Because the effect is much smaller than stereotype threat so “fixing” it with “education” or anything else proactive is doomed to backfire; “your chance of becoming a neonazi is 0.03% — 300% higher than anyone else! — so take extra care!!”, yeah, no.

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Neil 03.01.15 at 11:55 am

Collin Street: is your conclusion based on data collected by people blind to the hypothesis, with controls to ensure that you’re not taking a biased sample and then analysed statistically? Because if its not, its whistling in the dark, at very best. And its offensive whistling in the dark.

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mattski 03.01.15 at 12:43 pm

Collin is fixated on autism. Perhaps he’s a member of the tribe? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, we’re all allowed to have opinions, right?

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 1:03 pm

Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh) (From NBF, but generally agrees with other sources.

Coal (elect, heat,cook –world avg) 100 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal electricity – world avg 60 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal (elect,heat,cook)– China 170
Coal electricity- China 90
Coal – USA 15
Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass 12
Peat 12
Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (0.2% of world energy for all solar)
Wind 0.15 (1.6% of world energy)
Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro – world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

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acv 03.01.15 at 1:12 pm

Colin,

Here’s an example of why you are getting pushback. I myself have been diagnosed with autism. This has been confirmed by many psychiatrists, and I believe it is the correct diagnosis. Yet I am not like these jokers! I am not a right-wing diehard, and I do not lack empathy! In fact, I rather resent the implication that I lack empathy/don’t care about people, and I doubt that many autistics lack empathy. Having poor social skills is not the same thing as being a sociopath!

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 1:16 pm

Hm, strange, only the chart posted.

“But anyway, I don’t think immunity to the facts is a particularly rightwing disease–it just so happens that in the majority of cases reality has a leftwing bias, but when it doesn’t, lefties can be pretty dumb.”

Hm, isn’t that exactly what a lefty suffering from immunity to the facts would think about reality? It is, after all, what a lot of right-wingers think.

“None of the opponents of nuclear energy are anti-science, they’re anti a particular technology that they feel is undersold, or overly risky.”

But the perception of risk IS anti-science, because it requires counter-factual assumptions, ignoring the actual track record of nuclear and facts of biology. For example, you have to cling to the LNT (Linear No Threshold) model of radiation damage, and ignore all the evidence of hormesis. You have to treat radiation from nuclear reactors differently from natural radiation. (We don’t evacuate places with higher than average background radiation.) You have to blow off the actual track record of nuclear power compared to other energy sources:

Insert chart here

“Geoengineering methods that actually take CO2 out of the atmosphere, what the IPCC is calling “negative emissions,” may actually be worth doing.”

Even profitable, in the case of iron fertilization of the ocean. The one experiment that’s been done paid for itself many, many times over in increased salmon runs.

“Likewise one could point Brett to sites where the temperature record is discussed, all the data available for download, and analysis tools provided, invite him to do his own analysis, and he would still claim a pause in warming or some such (as did the backers of the BEST analysis when it failed to confirm their beliefs).”

I could invite you to look at a compilation of photos of weather stations sited next to air conditioners and other artificial heat sources, and it probably wouldn’t change your mind about how much the resulting measurements ought to be trusted, either. In fact, I did, up-thread.

“As to the health risks of new crop varieties, there isn’t a single credible case of a gm crop causing a health” [problem?]

Eh, I’m about as pro genetic engineering as it gets, but that’s not quite true. There was an experimental variety of celery produced, that increased certain chemicals naturally present in the plant to render it insect proof. Turned out to cause photo-sensitivity in people who ate it. (You’d very easily get a sunburn for a day or so after eating.) So it never got marketed.

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 1:21 pm

” In fact, I rather resent the implication that I lack empathy/don’t care about people, and I doubt that many autistics lack empathy. Having poor social skills is not the same thing as being a sociopath!”

The Intense World Syndrome – an Alternative Hypothesis for Autism

“Autism is a devastating neurodevelopmental disorder with a polygenetic predisposition that seems to be triggered by multiple environmental factors during embryonic and/or early postnatal life. While significant advances have been made in identifying the neuronal structures and cells affected, a unifying theory that could explain the manifold autistic symptoms has still not emerged. Based on recent synaptic, cellular, molecular, microcircuit, and behavioral results obtained with the valproic acid (VPA) rat model of autism, we propose here a unifying hypothesis where the core pathology of the autistic brain is hyper-reactivity and hyper-plasticity of local neuronal circuits. Such excessive neuronal processing in circumscribed circuits is suggested to lead to hyper-perception, hyper-attention, and hyper-memory, which may lie at the heart of most autistic symptoms. In this view, the autistic spectrum are disorders of hyper-functionality, which turns debilitating, as opposed to disorders of hypo-functionality, as is often assumed. We discuss how excessive neuronal processing may render the world painfully intense when the neocortex is affected and even aversive when the amygdala is affected, leading to social and environmental withdrawal. Excessive neuronal learning is also hypothesized to rapidly lock down the individual into a small repertoire of secure behavioral routines that are obsessively repeated. We further discuss the key autistic neuropathologies and several of the main theories of autism and re-interpret them in the light of the hypothesized Intense World Syndrome.”

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acv 03.01.15 at 1:21 pm

Hell, I’m not even like Brett Bellmore, and I doubt he lacks empathy! His views are insane, and he often seems to relish provoking controversy, bur that doesn’t make him a bad person.

123

Neil 03.01.15 at 1:28 pm

For what its worth, Brett, this left-winger doesn’t believe that reality skews left or that the left is more resistant to delusion than the right. It just so happens that for a number of reasons, right now the right is one with the problem with science. There are a number of reasons of this. One is the dominance of the United States and the fact that the US is an outlier on religion, coupled with peculiarities of US Christianity (it is creationist and since the 1970s has been right wing). That has led to the capture of the GOP by creationism (in 2008, every single GOP presidential candidate was a creationist; I haven’t checked but I suspect that was true in 2012 too). Another is the fact that global warming has been so inconvenient for a variety of corporations. People on the right are not so dumb that pressures for consistency don’t have some force for them: having thrown out evolution and climate science, it was inevitable that more would follow. I think it is historical contingency which explains why the right is anti-science today. There’s nothing about being left that ensures that in 25 years things may not have swung round, though the degree to which the right has embraced delusion is unprecedented in recent history and may be entrenched for a long time to come.

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Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 1:42 pm

“It just so happens that for a number of reasons, right now the right is one with the problem with science.”

Again, isn’t that exactly what you’re going to expect somebody on the left to think? Self-delusion and ignoring things that make you look bad are universal human failings. Seeing somebody else’s mote, and missing your own beam, is a pretty famous problem.

Nuclear power is probably the best example, but I think the tendency to blow off perfectly valid complaints about how climate science is actually practiced is a pretty good example.

Seriously, visit SurfaceStations.org, and tell me they aren’t doing important work, that needs to be done. Actually going out and checking weather stations, rather than applying computer generated ‘corrections’. I think he’s got a quite valid point about finding the stations that STILL meet the original siting criteria, and trusting them more than stations that started out in the middle of a wheat field, and ended up next to somebody’s air-conditioner.

Don’t blow off real problems with the data. It makes you too easy for the right to conclude you’re at best cranks, and at worst frauds. Because real scientists actually do care if their data is good.

125

acv 03.01.15 at 1:43 pm

In general I would agree with Neil. I also think the paper on autism was interesting, and very much fit what my experience has been.

126

Neil 03.01.15 at 1:47 pm

I wasn’t trying to convince you, Brett. I’m also not engaging with your “real problems with the data”. You may be intelligent and perceptive, but not on the issues that divide us. If you can’t see that you’re standing in front of a cardboard box while shouting “behold my mighty fortress” I doubt my patiently going through your fallacies and delusions would be very helpful.

127

Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 1:57 pm

“I’m also not engaging with your “real problems with the data”.”

See, there’s your beam, right there. People with a scientific world view are always going to engage real problems with the data. But you don’t want to engage with anybody who doesn’t agree with you.

Epistemic closure is endemic on the left, and you’re not even ashamed of it. You practice it every time you decide whether you’ll look at information based on the politics of the source.

Makes the left horribly gullible sometimes.

128

navarro 03.01.15 at 2:00 pm

@brett bellmore

if you may discussions we’ve had at the former reality based community, you might remember that i am a left-liberal who supports the judicious use of nuclear power, particularly as a load-stabilizing power source during a transition to greatly increased use of renewables and the phasing out of coal and fracked natural gas. i also regard increased r&d into more efficient battery systems important to the process and the development of significantly improved battery systems would be a signal that we could decrease our reliance on nuclear power. i think what bothers many on the left about nuclear is that it represents another heavily industrialized, highly centralized, extractive system with problematic waste products and they make the mistake of trying to be scary with the dangers of radiation and thus belie their ignorance of scientific facts.

129

Neil 03.01.15 at 2:01 pm

You’ve been engaged with, again, and again and again and again. There’s no point going around once more. You’ve shown yourself completely delusional on this topic (in fact, on most you comment on; the ones that motivate you). At some point, a wise person would realize that its a waste of everyone’s time to refute you once more.

130

Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 2:11 pm

Nav, the general perception on the right of global warming activists, “warmism”, is that it is less about solving a problem of excess CO2 effecting the environment, than it is about a pretext for making massive alterations to society. What you say fits into this: The people who ought to most support nuclear power, as a proven source of low CO2 energy, oppose it precisely because it DOESN’T require massive alterations to our way of life.

But, for most people, that’s a good thing about nuclear, not a bad thing.

131

afeman 03.01.15 at 2:20 pm

Brett,

The thing is, there are in fact people who do engage real problems with the data for a living, they’re just not going to get involved with you in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the Battle of Austerlitz.

132

Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 2:20 pm

I should add that, it appears from the perspective of the right that this is also why ‘warmists’ reject geoengineering: It wouldn’t require massive societal changes.

133

Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 2:21 pm

Shorter Afeman: “Neener, neener”

134

Plume 03.01.15 at 2:21 pm

Brett,

Right-wingers are far more given to paranoia and fear than the rest of the political spectrum. Your comment falls right in with that. And, yes, I’ve seen that often. People on the right think that those of us on the left, who talk about the need to radically reduce pollution, do so only because “we want to take your stuff.” This paranoia of yours, which, again, is pretty much hard-wired into right-wingers, is what keeps you anti-science. Well, at least one part of it. As others have mentioned, the typical righty is also a creationist, or at least a religious fundy in other respects. More than half of the GOP now says evolution is a fiction, for instance.

135

Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 2:31 pm

Left wingers are for more given to diagnosing people who disagree with them, instead of engaging with them. Probably makes you feel good about being the only sane people in the world. Personally, I’m not terribly impressed with it.

136

Plume 03.01.15 at 2:31 pm

Unfortunately, on the topic of global warming and climate change, “liberals” are fooling themselves, too. Conservatives tend to be in denial that there is a problem at all, while liberals tend to think we can use technology and individual conservation to solve the problem. In reality, the problem is far bigger than that, and it will take a fundamental transformation of our entire society, including dumping and replacing the capitalist system.

Now, the Bretts of this world would say, “See!! I told you so!!” “But they would be wrong. For a host of reasons. Perhaps the two most important being that “liberals” don’t agree that things are this dire, and they don’t generally go along with the Green Left, at all. The other important reason being, even for us, even for those of us on the Green Left, it’s not that we “want to take your stuff.” It’s that we know none of us can keep having so much stuff in the first place. We can’t continue our pace of production and consumption. The earth won’t support it.

By 2030, scientists are telling us that we will literally need two entire earths to support human life here. And if everyone on the planet consumed at the level of just the average American, we’d need four. This is obviously just not sustainable.

A couple of good sources on this:

Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and the website, climate and capitalism

137

Plume 03.01.15 at 2:41 pm

Brett @135,

Oh, we definitely engage. At least we try. But for those of us who have been trying for decades, it becomes more than a futile chore. The basic pattern is this: We supply the data and the logical analysis. We post an argument, with supporting evidence. You and your ilk either ignore it altogether and repeat your usual mantras, or skim it and repeat your usual mantras. It’s actually exceedingly rare to find a right-winger who ever actually responds to the argument posted by a lefty, and it’s always a shock for me in the rare cases that they do.

138

Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 2:43 pm

“It’s that we know none of us can keep having so much stuff in the first place. “

Yeah, you “know” that, because you want it to be true. That’s my conclusion. You’ve reversed premise and conclusion in your argument. That’s why, whenever a potential solution that would permit society to continue largely unchanged comes along, you reject it.

This reveals what you’re actually up to, even if you can’t admit it to yourselves.

139

Rich Puchalsky 03.01.15 at 2:47 pm

Neil: “At some point, a wise person would realize that its a waste of everyone’s time to refute you once more.”

Yes.

To get back to the thread, afeman writes: “My point isn’t that emissions reductions are the only response to be considered, it’s that measures such as aerosol injection are advanced as alternatives to emissions reductions, and by precisely the sorts who have sandbagged the latter for whatever reason they can come up with. “

A lot of what Kahan writes about can be considered as being under the rubric of “framing>” as used by people like Lakoff, a doctrine that I hated as soon as I heard about and was much beloved by nonprofit groups operating out of DC. Basically, environmental groups wanted to win against strong industry opposition and were looking for new media strategies that could help them do so. So there were endless (and expensive) studies about how to frame issues in the media. I can’t really think of a single concrete success attributable to this, though it’s not directly my line of work so I wouldn’t really know.

But framing is precisely decoupled from whatever is actually going on. It doesn’t matter that aerosol injections are advanced as alternatives to emissions reductions, and that people at the level of politics that actually assigns resources may try to have less money spent on emissions reductions by having a lesser or token amount spent researching aerosol injections. What matters, from a framing viewpoint, is that simply talking about aerosol injections is supposed to magically increase the general acceptability of doing anything, because some people always want to hear that there is that kind of a solution.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 2:59 pm

Brett #138,

You prove my earlier point. You’re a paranoid, as is typical with the right.

Again, science tells us that we can’t sustain current levels of production and consumption. As in, we can’t, absolutely, 100%, keep doing this. And that’s without factoring in the additional billions of new human beings, or the likely change in consumption habits in the so-called third world. This is based entirely upon current consumption being projected down the road.

By 2030, we’ll need two entire earths. We’ll need four, if everyone consumed like an average American.

http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/

141

Plume 03.01.15 at 3:04 pm

Of course, Brett, if you’re only concerned about yourself, and your own life, right now, today, and other people and the future for others means nothing to you . . . then, yeah, you’re going to be fine under the current dispensation. But if you do care at all about the future of the species, and other humans, then there is no escape. We must radically reduce our production and consumption habits right now, before the earth forces that change upon us and takes away any shot we might once have had to control the transition.

142

Metatone 03.01.15 at 3:05 pm

I’m coming to his way to late, but a couple of things need to be said about Kahan:

Beware of psychologists pretending to talk about culture. Individual level theory is a broken method for understanding emergent behaviour.

This is actually usually the hole in Kahan’s work. He gets hold of nice data, does nice slicing on it and then extrapolates to behaviours and what works. The trouble is, buried in that extrapolation is his model (a psychological one) of how cultures change.

Likewise, his theories of persuasion tend to be embedded in his work. All this is fine, but the lack of inquiry into his assumptions drives everyone who works with culture rather than psychology (like myself) into viewing him pretty much as someone out to mislead…

143

Brett Bellmore 03.01.15 at 3:27 pm

“You prove my earlier point. You’re a paranoid, as is typical with the right.”

See, that’s the problem: We’re proving each other’s points.

144

afeman 03.01.15 at 3:39 pm

Metatone:

Yes, that’s an interesting point about scalability.

This seems relevant to the OP:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/02/26/can-this-gateway-belief-get-people-to-accept-climate-change/

Anybody really into the subject might be interested in this epic thread that gets into some detailed critiques of Kahan’s conclusions:

https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/peter-doran-on-the-97/

145

Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 3:42 pm

Brett Bellmore #130: “a pretext for making massive alterations to society… oppose [nuclear] precisely because it DOESN’T require massive alterations to our way of life.”

I’m glad my comment at #11 finally got out of moderation. There I pointed-out that Kahan (and everyone else) misses the constant link of climate denialism to this other anti-science canard: the econ-right INSISTS that mitigation requires a “massive alteration to our way of life” (particularly if we do not promote fission!), a net economic loss, a reduction in living standards, and government control. Denialists almost always mention it explicitly; it is the denialists’ animating motor, so to speak.

Why does no one point this out?

It is because most people who understand the climate danger, ALSO think that there must be economic reductions too. This nonsense comes from both the right and the left.

And it is complete, absolute nonsense.

Economic misunderstanding is endemic throughout the population. Just ask people on the right OR the left to say if they think US government debt is a danger, or inflation is a danger. (Correct answer: Neither one is a danger.) Ask them why these are “dangers”, and how either one will be solved. Their answers are erroneous gobbledegook, or else they stare like deer caught in automobile headlights. I’ll bet that over half the professional economists won’t answer these correctly. Our whole society is living in a fantasy of “received opinion”, the “conventional wisdom”.

I would love nuclear fusion, and I expect that one day we will get there. Creating fission waste seems to me to be as short-sighted as pumping CO2 into the atmosphere.

There are other ways to do this. What is happening right now in materials science and in energy production, storage, transmission is changing the game. Nanotech, biotech. We could bioengineer a microbe to suck in CO2 and turn itself into gasoline. Neural-net machine-learning is going to devise the genetic code to do this (and many other things!) in less than 5 years. 3-D printing will make it happen. The only thing the human will do is push two buttons.

A separate canard, this one from the eco-left, is that this is somehow a sin, a forgetting of values, and that moreover, economic growth requires ecological damage.

But there is nothing always wrong with technical fixes to problems. There was nothing wrong, for example, with inventing the wheel. We are about to see an explosion of new ideas created by kids walking off the street and into the new “fab labs”. What is necessary to preserve, in natural ecology, are wildlife areas, ocean chemistry, ecosystem services, clean air and water for humans, etc. This is what those kids need to be educated about. They will do the rest. Technological invention does not necessarily preclude any natural ecological virtue.

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stevenjohnson 03.01.15 at 3:42 pm

Newsflash: Most of the surface of the Earth is covered by water!

Newsflash: The amount of ice in ice caps and glaciers is data about global warming!

One of the most popular discussions of geoengineering was in a Freakonomics book. In that same book, the authors said that if there was any single thing the whole book was about was the power of incentives. Their discussion of geoengineering of course considered absolutely nothing about incentives. This is unsurprising because their economics is ideology, not science in any sense of the term.

But if you ask yourself who in a capitalist world system would have the incentive to carry out geoengineering? Those who benefit from global warming would have a disincentive to accept such projects. Those who are cope with climate change without much cost have a disincentive proportional to the cost of the geoengineering (likely to be substantial of course.) And those who most benefit would be less able to pay, precisely because change has harmed them economically. And finally in a capitalist world system who has the legal power to carry out geoengineering projects that affect world climate? Everyone who babbles about geoengineering as a solution to global warming (anthropogenic or not makes no difference!) is just bullshitting. No exceptions.

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steve 03.01.15 at 4:06 pm

“It wouldn’t require massive societal changes.”

Falling back on the old trope that it is all a conspiracy to change the word into a liberal model. That is why scientists have made up all of their research. When that is your starting point, I don’t see how you can claim to look at data with any semblance of objectivity.

Steve

148

afeman 03.01.15 at 4:19 pm

What I find remarkable, and probably shouldn’t, about the broader discussion of what do to in the face of climate change and other sustainability issues is the insistence on categorical conclusions: all nuclear ASAP vs. shut them down ASAP, economic growth is doomed vs. economic growth is completely decoupleable, nothing has to change vs. everything has to change. None of these, particularly regarding social relations, are obviously inevitable to me.

While the underlying physical problem is deadly real independent of politics, I do see a tendency for lefties to imagine their favored arrangement as the Only Possible Solution to keeping industrial civilization going, and it looks an awful lot like trying to let historical inevitability do the hard work. It’s not clear to me why a “solar fascism” isn’t a perfectly plausible outcome.

149

Rich Puchalsky 03.01.15 at 4:23 pm

“Anybody really into the subject might be interested in this epic thread that gets into some detailed critiques of Kahan’s conclusions:”

That thread seems to be mostly about “consensus messaging”, which is an idea where I don’t agree with the view attributed to Kahan. In other words, I think that the message that scientists have a strong consensus about global warming has to be said (because it is true) and I doubt that it has a polarizing effect that overwhelms its direct effect. So I find Kahan’s blog (as opposed to his research, which I can’t really evaluate) more useful in suggesting new things that might work rather than in discrediting typical means of science communication.

But note that this is still fully consistent with my views on anti-vaccination. Scientists have to say what is true, but they do not have to use the “anti-science trope”. I think that the “anti-science trope” might possibly be useful after the polarization has already occurred, because of its effect on moderates, but using it before polarization has actually occurred is a bad idea.

150

Neil 03.01.15 at 4:27 pm

Afeman,

The author of the OP is a well-known economist who has argued at length that we can decarbonise and avoid the worst consequences of global warming within the confines of a market economy and while having economic growth? I’m sure there are plenty of people on the left saying we need a social and economic revolution, but it’s pretty inappropriate for you to be ascribing that view to the left in the comments thread on his post.

151

afeman 03.01.15 at 4:29 pm

Neil,

That wasn’t at all aimed at JQ.

152

Stephen 03.01.15 at 4:38 pm

Stefan Lwendowsky and colleagues have stdied this problem extensively. One of their better papers is here

http://sitemaker.umich.edu/norbert.schwarz/files/lewandowsky_et_al_misinformation_pspi_ip.pdf

I like the latter because they discuss the problem, the source of the problem, and the solution. Lewandowsky and colleagues have also looked at the propensity of some to substitute conspiracy ideation when one is confronted with information that conflicts with one’s world view

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0075637

They have also done psychological profiling of people who repeat anti-science and post misinformation across blog sites. This did not sit well with those who run anti-environmental blog sites.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/files/2014/03/fpsyg-04-00073.pdf

I won’t name names.

153

Plume 03.01.15 at 4:45 pm

Lee #145,

It is because most people who understand the climate danger, ALSO think that there must be economic reductions too. This nonsense comes from both the right and the left.

And it is complete, absolute nonsense.

No. What is complete and absolute nonsense is your belief, your faith in technical solutions, sans replacing our current economic system. Because even if we solve energy and transportation issues via “clean, renewable sources,” which I’m all for, capitalism will still be in the business of producing as much stuff as is humanly (or robotically) possible, without any concern for ecological repercussions. Those concerns cost money. Capitalism’s sole purpose is to make money.

Being environmentally sane — much less, “friendly” — goes against the capitalist system by definition. It is the very essence of capitalism to produce more and more and more, to market more and more and more consumption. It can not operate on a reduction of either. It collapses when its Grow Or Die imperative fails. And short of serious legal limits on what it can or can not produce — which capitalists will never allow — it will always be in the business of producing billions of tons of waste and pollution, going into our landfills, our air and our oceans.

How will technology, for instance, reverse this?

Trillions of tiny plastic pieces reside in arctic ice

Sorry, Lee, but the aims of capitalism are in direct and permanent conflict with the health of this planet and its inhabitants. There is no escape from that, if we keep capitalism in place.

154

Plume 03.01.15 at 4:53 pm

btw,

I don’t think our debt is a problem, either. We owe pretty much all of it to ourselves. And inflation? It’s been in the 2-3% range for more than thirty years, despite the Fed playing helicopter with the currency. It printed some 16 trillion dollars and handed that out to various billionaires and corporations around the world, and inflation didn’t go up a peep.

The Ron Pauls of this world, basing most of their nonsense on the Austrian School and its derivatives, have been preaching the gospel of imminent hyperinflation for decades — and they’ve been wrong for decades.

It’s never been about the total amount of the money supply. It’s always been about who has that money, and where it’s concentrated, etc. etc. It’s the distribution, stupid, not the total amount, etc. Coupled with stagnant or falling wages for the rank and file, the maldistribution, the grotesque levels of inequality of wealth will block high inflation rates for the foreseeable future. We’re actually in a deflationary period right now.

155

Donald johnson 03.01.15 at 5:13 pm

“Hm, isn’t that exactly what a lefty suffering from immunity to the facts think about reality?”

No, Brett, but your response is exactly how an ideologue would read my statement. I qualified it by saying that in the majority of cases the left is correct, which implies that in some cases it isn’t, and I gave two examples. I also think some of the left opposition to nuclear power is driven more by ideology than science, though I don’t say it all is. And the same is probably true regarding GMO’s, though that’s not an issue I follow closely. Many anti- vaxers are on the left.
The point being that one can think the left is correct in the majority of cases without being an ideologue. I don’t think you can understand how anyone could disagree with you in good faith.

156

Bruce Wilder 03.01.15 at 5:16 pm

Rich Puchalsky: I can’t really think of a single concrete success attributable to [framing]

Death taxes

Lakoff as I recall had quite a few examples of the Right’s success with framing.

It is a method well suited to the cynical manipulation of authoritarian followers — people who have predictable fears and attitudes, but not much spare information processing capacity, and are therefore easily manipulated. If you care about being persuasive, and do not care about your target, it is as cheaply effective as any technique of the conman.

I fear the anti-science label is just a cousin to the charge of racism: a way to feel good about ourselves politically, while rejecting as unwashed a mass of people the leadership of which is necessary to political power. JQ’s prospective political calculations strike me as naively self-deceptive.

Much of the Left wants “everyone” to understand and agree. There is a lot of fantasizing about how people would respond to a particular appeal. It speaks well, generally, that those leaning left that they want to be sincerely right. It is not realistic, though about the range of human ambivalence and interests, and the Manicheism of wanting to be right is a temptation to reject others as being wrong in ways that make it hard to build stable majority coalitions in competition with people, who do not always see the value of truth or sincerity or care (but might be persuaded, on a case-by-case basis).

I am not saying that aggressive slanders are not to be used politically. I am all for attacking people for their motivated anti-social behaviors. I would target corporate funding of disinformation with a go-for-the-jugular spirit. I would not attack anti-vaxxers in that way, and I do not like Manicheist labels, let alone the hazardous endorsement of bureaucratic authority about which JQ seems unaccountably complacent.

157

Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 5:18 pm

Two things about Kahan:

1. His work is part of a longer research program in political science going back decades. It points to a multitude of solid results already showing that there is a pervasive social cognitive bias, on both the right and the left, and one of its traits is that rational argument and evidence barely makes a dent in it, at least initially and for some time thereafter. This thing is like a meso-level socio-emotional organism composed of individuals.

I went back through citations, pulled out a lot of interesting stuff, collated it under basic categories, and posted the list in comments here at Crooked Timber, not too long ago, under another Quiggin post on this topic:
http://crookedtimber.org/2014/07/17/condemned-by-history-crosspost/#comment-543475

2. Kahan’s suggestions for dealing with it are tentative, and he doesn’t make any claims for success. His suggestions are centered upon disrupting the “confimation bias” of the in-group identification (to understand what that is, see the list in my link).

Examples of such a strategy?

1. Find experts already trusted by the denialists on other matters, to state the proper science. 2. Make arguments that account for (or even share) the other values of the cognitive bias, by showing how their fears and risk perception play out, how individualism and technological solutions are required and prominent, etc.

But I think that things have developed a little beyond these solutions. At the present time this has become a childish political-party issue, where nobody ever wants to capitulate because they would take losses in the next election. In the US, the Republicans are against Obama, but not for any real issue. Romney would have continued the move toward universal healthcare just as soon as he won an election by lying to his base that he would end it. There are a few real nuts among them, but I think the basic problem is that the rest have gone too far with the denialist stupidity to back down without embarrassment and severe consequences in morale.

158

navarro 03.01.15 at 5:22 pm

@brett bellmore

unless you’ve found a workaround for the three laws of thermodynamics we really can’t keep on going down the path we’ve latched onto in advanced “capitalist” societies. to argue that a future of everyone on the planet leading the lifestyle typical in the g8 or the oecd or even the g20 is pretty preposterous simply based on the physics of it. that path is a dead end and even an immediate and massive program of nuclear power plants isn’t going to do much more than forestall reaching it.

many of the geoengineering concepts come with their own problems. sulfate aerosols do not solve the problem of ocean acidification, for example. it’s not simply pique because ” It wouldn’t require massive societal changes,” to use your phraseology, that leads to resistance towards that course. even a relatively successful program of geoengineering would, at best, forestall reaching a dead end which will certainly result in massive societal changes.

your pattern of debate shows great rhetorical flair but limited foresight.

159

Donald johnson 03.01.15 at 5:25 pm

Thanks for the links, mattski. I’ll read some of the articles, but just looking at one of your links illustrates why I have avoided the JFK issue. To feel comfortable having an opinion I’d have to read the mainstream arguments in detail, the rebuttals, the rebuttals to the rebuttals, the rebuttals to those, etc…. This is why I stick to reading about human rights issues which are relatively straightforward. Knowing that the U.S. supported some death squads in country X and lied about what happened usually doesn’t require much in the way of detective work.

160

Denis Drew 03.01.15 at 5:25 pm

Anyone who doubts evolution should stick their fingers in their mouths and check out the GIANT ROOTS above their eye teeth — their FANG ROOTS. Ask their dentists. :-)

Don’t worry; these will fade to normal in another million years or so. Any structure not held in place by the evolutionary pressure that created it will fade to random drift mutation of genetically equivalent genes: the Neutral Theory of Molecular Biology.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 5:31 pm

Plume, at the risk of inciting another diatribe, I want to ask, would you have been against the invention of the wheel? Four thousand years ago, would you have been wailing at the temple wall that this new “wheel” thingy would only increase the power of the priests of the Mesopotamian city-states to make the farmers pay more tribute thus send more salt into the Euphrates? So we should not adopt the wheel?

Technologies have to be evaluated and re-evaluated. We learn new stuff, and learn to avoid it. If you want to get plastic out of the Arctic, set some kids to think about how to do it. There is no absolute here. There is no logical algorithm which proves that technology leads to ecological destruction.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 5:40 pm

Navarro,

Well said. In addition: One of the problems associated with the focus on just climate change and greenhouse gases is that it tends to push aside all the other maladies due to pollution, mass consumption and waste. We’ve lost 50% of the species-life on the planet, just since 1970, for instance, and 90% of our fish stocks since then. Nitrogen pollution levels are off the charts now. Eco-system after eco-system is under attack. In thousands of different ways, we are making this planet uninhabitable for ourselves and most of the current lifeforms in existence. If we don’t make radical changes, we’re not going to be here 100 – 200 years from now, and we’re going to lose most of Nature along the way.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 5:49 pm

Lee @160,

No diatribe. Just this. Context is everything. When the wheel was invented, what else had been produced, was in the air, the sea, the land in the form of waste and pollution? How many humans were on this planet at the time?

In short, it’s not a good comparison. I would have been for it, at the time, definitely. And I’m for many technological innovations now and going forward. And none of that has anything to do with capitalism. We can create that technological innovation without it. There is no necessary or logical link between retaining capitalism and continuing to innovate. But there is a direct link between retaining capitalism and ecological Armageddon.

This is a classic bit of straw man, with a bit of bait and switch thrown in for good measure:

There is no absolute here. There is no logical algorithm which proves that technology leads to ecological destruction.

I never said technology necessarily leads to ecological destruction. I said capitalism does. I also said that technological innovation, if we don’t also replace capitalism, won’t solve our problems. That’s a far cry from saying that tech causes ecological destruction.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 5:50 pm

Sorry for the blockquotes error.

This should have been outside them:

I never said technology necessarily leads to ecological destruction. I said capitalism does. I also said that technological innovation, if we don’t also replace capitalism, won’t solve our problems. That’s a far cry from saying that tech causes ecological destruction.

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mattski 03.01.15 at 5:51 pm

DJ @ 158

You’re welcome. And you’re right, the vastness of the literature is hugely off-putting to the average person. If you want to read just ONE book, read The Last Investigation. Fonzi was an investigator for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He had an inside view of the politics of the process, and he tells the story first hand of how the process became corrupted. He also did some heroic investigative journalism on behalf of the HSCA. There are many entertaining tales of shady characters in the book and the coup-de-grace is about as devastating it gets.

The Lip TV interview link I put up is well worth 50 minutes of your time as well.

:^)

166

Bloix 03.01.15 at 5:57 pm

#145- “We could bioengineer a microbe to suck in CO2 and turn itself into gasoline.”

Is it really necessary to point out the scientific illiteracy of this? Do we really want to spend our time arguing with people who are in favor of building perpetual motion machines?

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Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 5:58 pm

Navarro #157: “…unless you’ve found a workaround for the three laws of thermodynamics we really can’t keep on going down the path we’ve latched onto in advanced ‘capitalist’ societies…pretty preposterous simply based on the physics of it.”

I believed this too for many years, but it is an error. We can invent technologies and goods that use less energy and/or material throughput, and we frequently do. (Not all technologies do this.)

It is also true, that we can then make MORE of the stuff that uses less, and increase the total throughput anyway. But this is an economic effect, variable and soluble, not a physics effect.

My error was in thinking that the third law of thermodynamics, the entropy law, is a preserved relation; in other words, that if it takes a certain amount of energy to perform a task, then any new invention that does it, must also use the SAME amount of energy, somewhere else in the process. That is untrue. It may use, and thus degrade, less energy.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 6:07 pm

Lee,

How do you solve the problem of mass depletion of natural resources along the way? Not only from the extraction process for that new tech, but also from the destruction of the environment that must go with it?

As you ramp up the new tech, you also ramp up the burden on ever dwindling finite resources. We already have serious scarcity issues with certain metals and minerals. How does tech solve this?

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Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 6:15 pm

Bloix #166: “Do we really want to spend our time arguing with people who are in favor of building perpetual motion machines?”

It would use sunlight to complete the chemical process.

170

Plume 03.01.15 at 6:18 pm

Mattski,

Henry Winkler was involved in the investigation of the assassination plot? Who knew?

171

mattski 03.01.15 at 6:23 pm

Naughty, Plume. Naughty.

172

Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 6:34 pm

Plume #168: “How does tech solve this?”

We would need to get into a discussion of each different resource, go do the research to see what is currently happening.

Of course some nonrenewables are in trouble, water notably, and so we have to mitigate climate change because it is causing extreme events that dislocate water supplies. The western US is already getting back to Medieval Warming Period drought levels, and it got much worse before.

But generally speaking not all new tech uses more materials or energy. In addition, there are also innovations in the materials and the energy.

Now, there are also rapid innovations in the design process, computers working combinatorial possibilities beyond human ability. We still won’t be able to do every possible combination in the periodic table of the elements; it would take longer than the remaining time in the universe to do that. There’s all sorts of things going on.

I think it’s smarter to find where our own individual focus should be: on finding new stuff that will work, or on preserving old stuff. For example, it’s probably more effective to work on wildlife preservation than to wait for the destruction of capitalism as a precondition of salvation.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.01.15 at 6:50 pm

Bruce Wilder: “Rich Puchalsky: ‘I can’t really think of a single concrete success attributable to [framing]’

Death taxes

Lakoff as I recall had quite a few examples of the Right’s success with framing.”

Sorry, I meant that I can’t think of any success from framing techniques as used by moderately left-leaning groups.

But also I disagree that “death taxes” was a success of framing. It seems to me like a classic issue where a small and wealthy group cares a lot about it and no one else cares very deeply about it. That’s made to order for our current plutocracy. And the whole “death taxes” push succeeded in phasing out estate taxes down to zero for one year and now they’re back, so it seems to me like many of the gimmicks used by the Bush W administration that had no lasting policy effect.

In short, “framing” works on authoritarian followers, but anything works on them as long as you’re pushing some sort of right-wing idea. It’s not clear to me whether it really works on anyone else to any great degree, in conditions of actual use.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 6:51 pm

Lee,

I am in no way advocating “waiting” for any of that. We need to work rapidly toward green, clean, renewable systems, now. At the same time, we should admit to ourselves that capitalism will block most of our efforts along those lines, and that its countering effects will mitigate most of the benefits the new tech brings.

Plus, in a sense, you’re talking about a kind of utopian, far-sighted planning regime for that tech, ignoring the profit motive factor and the political power of capitalists to block those projects. Capitalists will likely sit on the sidelines, waiting to jump in until they know they can make big profits from the new tech, and/or work their butts off to prevent the public sector from developing them in the first place.

In short, your proposals rely heavily on the extremely improbably scenario of a kind of wise, forward-thinking altruism in motion, while the economic system in place fights this to the death. It’s not just a matter of capitalism endlessly producing useless stuff, waste and pollution for money . . . . it’s also that it won’t support tech that might hurt its profits, and that it won’t fund tech that won’t make profits.

There are just too many ways that our current economic system wants to and will block your projects.

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stubydoo 03.01.15 at 6:53 pm

I’m going to engage Collin Street’s claim about (libertarian) politics coming from Autism.

Yes perhaps it is offensive – though nowhere near the most offensive thing ever said about autism (cf. saying that someone has certain political views because they are greedy, or they have “authoritarian” personality. Even when you think someone making such claims is misinformed, you don’t generally try to silence them because they are being “offensive”).

I also happen to believe that autism actually does cause political views. More to the point, I believe that my own autism causes my own political views. Though the political views my autism has given me are not libertarian ones – they’re pretty much middle of the road (i.e. just a bit further to the right than most people around here). I’d even suggest that your average seemingly autistic libertarian is failing to think about politics “autistically” enough, and has gotten caught up in a tribal vortex the way that non-autistics are prone to do. And yes, I view (at least some of) the far left similarly.

But I seriously doubt any significant connection between autism and the mainstream political currents of either the Republican or Democratic parties, and certainly not the most anti-scientific strands of either one.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 6:57 pm

For instance:

Do you really think that Big Oil, Big Chemical or Big Energy in general will sit idly by and allow, say, the mass dispersal of the energy grid to individuals? That they wouldn’t do everything they could to block the establishment of individual, green, clean, self-provisioning of energy? Solar or wind, for each citizen, that would allow us all to cut the cord, etc.

This kind of coercion is happening all the time, and not just regarding the environment. It’s likely we could have had cures for all kinds of diseases long ago, including cancer, if not for the desire of Big Pharma and various other sectors to continue their cash cow. It’s not in their best interest, obviously, if someone comes up with a stem-cell cure for X, Y or Z, that would actually end all need for further treatment. They’d lose billions. Capitalism actually and continuously blocks actual innovation in a thousands ways and fields — if it means the end of their revenue streams.

And while I find this morally repugnant, I fully understand why they do this. Real innovation is an existential threat for a host of industries.

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William Berry 03.01.15 at 6:58 pm

A little late in the thread, I know, but can’t help observing that that guy Manta’s wood is just as straight, or straighter, than Straightwood’s wood.*

And, yeah, the best proof that these would-be high-brows are phoney?

Well, name one truly great artist, in any medium/ genre whatsoever who wasn’t a defender of demotic art or, at worst, silent on the subject.

*Belle Waring, at least, will get this reference.

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William Berry 03.01.15 at 7:00 pm

Or, as earlier Shakespeare mention reminds us, wasn’t a practitioner of demotic art [themselves].

179

Bruce Wilder 03.01.15 at 7:04 pm

generally speaking not all new tech uses more materials or energy

William Stanley Jevons.

Also, there’s the small matter of population, which has more than doubled in my (and your) lifetime.

You can get some improvements in technical efficiency, which is to say, control of technical production processes, to reduce the ratio of waste to useful product, but any use of energy entails waste and error. And, there’s are some pretty good arguments, and abundant evidence, that the current scale of energy use, given our population, is way over the limits that would leave the earth’s ecologies viable. Just the issue of adding to CO2 to the carbon cycle alone suggests that we are very close to the permissible limits, so close that our descendants will only be able to save themselves by devoting a significant fraction of their economic output, not to satisfying their consumer desires, but to undoing the contribution of the industrial revolution’s use of fossil fuels.

There’s also a problem of tail risk with simultaneously multiplying and accelerating technological innovation. We’re deploying many more new technologies on an accelerated time-scale to a much larger world economy: a new cellphone generation can reach tens of millions of people in a matter of months! And, hundreds of millions within a few years. A bio-technology innovation could roll thru the world’s industrial food system in a very few years. We are not giving ourselves the decades we had to discover the risks of cigarette smoking or lead in gasoline or freon in refrigerators and pressurized spray cans.

Meanwhile, the ocean ecology is on track toward collapse.

It is definitely good news that technological advance can reduce the resource cost of producing the material stuff of a good life, but it doesn’t obviate the reality that there are more lives waiting that good stuff than in the recent past, and no economy to date has actually reduced the aggregate volume of energy use. There’s a good case to be made that the assimilative capacity of the environment is less than our current scale of energy use. And, no amount of focusing on the details of this or that perpetual motion machine will solve that aggregate problem.

I get that people do not always respond well to realistic assessment; they prefer Reaganistic optimistic, a comforting lie to an inconvenient truth. But, they’ll just have to get over it, and suffer the consequences of delay in doing so.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 7:18 pm

Bruce @179,

Well said.

Again, the richest 20% of the world consume 85% of all our resources. This presents a horrific dilemma and is already obscenely immoral.

What happens when that “bottom” 80% starts consuming even remotely close to the top, if the top just stays the same — which it likely won’t? It likely will increase its consumption as well.

Math and physics tell us this is impossible for the earth. The percentages don’t work.

The richest must radically decrease their consumption, while we help lift the bottom without repeating the mistakes of that richest 20%.

Two worlds needed by 2030. Four, if everyone consumes like an average American. This can’t be sustained, obviously.

181

Omega Centauri 03.01.15 at 7:25 pm

I likes Lee’s general arguments, but I think his belief in how far technology can advance in a short amount of time is too optimistic by one or two orders of magnitude. And of course some things just won’t be possible no matter how smart (machine assisted) humans become.

Couching limits in terms of energy is distorts the problem as I see it. Its clearly possible to have a steady state civilization consuming several times our current energy consumption, but having it all be from sustainable sources. In fact we could probably create credible blueprints for getting there without making any heroic assumptions about technological advance. But that doesn’t solve the general source/sink problem. The best it does is decouple it from energy.

182

Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 7:28 pm

Bruce Wilder #179: “people do not always respond well to realistic assessment”

But if they are not submerged in the cultural bias, if they are honest and reasonable, then they usually pose the question, What is your practical response to realist assessment?

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Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 7:30 pm

Plume #174: “we should admit to ourselves that capitalism will block most of our efforts along those lines”

Some parts of capitalism will. Some will not.

“the extremely improbably scenario”

No, I’m describing what is happening now. Just go read the science research news, the technology innovation news, and the business startup news, for about two months.

184

Stephen 03.01.15 at 7:34 pm

Bloix & 145, there are scientists working on using algae and bacteria to convert CO2 into biodiesel. (using sunlight as Lee Arnold points out) It already works. The problem now is in scaling up the process and finding locations that have the resources (water, trace nutrients, sunlight, etc).

185

Bruce Wilder 03.01.15 at 7:40 pm

Rich Puchalsky: In short, “framing” works on authoritarian followers, but anything works on them as long as you’re pushing some sort of right-wing idea.

I think that could make “right-wing idea” a bit circular in its definition. As politicalfootball @ 86 made clear, the cynical sociopath seeking after power for its own sake is the ultimate political pragmatist. A pure politics of mobilizing “right-wing” authoritarian followers is fascism: philosophically incoherent, but well-adapted to the expectations of right-wing authoritarian followers. Hostile to out-groups, conformist and hypocritical in its public morality, irrational at its core, but egalitarian and even socialistic.

Fascism is quite a different species of right-wing politics from the perennial desire of the powerful to establish and maintain an hereditary aristocracy, with pretense to honor without accountability and merit without ethics.

As for the issue of confiscatory inheritance taxes, if someone were to demagogue the issue successfully, we’d just as plausibly argue that it was an issue tailor-made for a populist politics of ‘soak the rich’, having symbolical value but no cost to most voters, and affecting an electorally insignificant minority, while having real merit as a liberal policy for preventing the emergence of an hereditary aristocracy in an economically competitive economy.

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Stephen 03.01.15 at 7:40 pm

Nice quote from above cited Kanan paper:

“Climate change and other issues that generate persistent states of polarization are pathological, both in the sense of being rare and in the sense of being inimical to collective well-being. Such conditions occur when positions on risks and other policy-relevant facts become entangled with antagonistic cultural meanings that transform them into badges of membership in, and loyalty to, opposing affinity groups (Kahan, 2012).

Because ordinary individuals have a bigger stake in maintaining their status within their defining groups than they do in forming correct understandings of science on societal risks, they will predictably use their reasoning powers in such circumstances to give information the effect that protects their identities as members of these groups.”

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Plume 03.01.15 at 7:43 pm

Lee,

of course, that should have been “improbable.” I wish we could do post-post editing.

:>)

And, yes, I definitely agree. Some sectors of the capitalist economy will innovate — and they’re far more likely to do so with public sector support, or all public sector action. But there is enough opposition to that to block a great deal of it. I think your vision, with good intentions, is overly rosy.

And, again, I’m 100% supportive of the kinds of innovations you talk about. I definitely support a shift to green, clean, renewables every which way. More than 100% behind it. I’m just saying we’re kidding ourselves if we think it will be enough to counter the force and momentum of capitalism, which takes us down a very different road. We need to pursue both. Green innovations within the capitalist context, as we find a way to replace that context.

188

Matt 03.01.15 at 7:48 pm

Metals other than nuclear fuels are recyclable indefinitely. Conservation of matter means that you never “use up” minerals that are turned into products, though there comes a point where old landfills are richer ore sources than the remaining accessible natural ore bodies. Renewable resources like forests and animals are more easily “used up” than metals. An old copper pot can much more easily become new copper wire than an old newspaper can become a new baseball bat. You can’t make a breeding pair of passenger pigeons out of the feathers of dead ones.

If capitalism requires endless growth, then capitalism will fall without being pushed, because endless growth is not possible. Any fixed positive percentage growth rate that impinges on the material world — even in the lightest ways, like consumption of digital information — runs into unphysical absurdities after a few centuries to millennia. I don’t know if the end state after growth looks like present day Japan, neo-feudalism, post apocalyptic hellscape, localism with 3D printers, or whatever. It’s not obvious to me that the post-growth phase of the world economy is “naturally” a post-market phase as well.

Nothing in history indicates to me that a non-market economy is either necessary or sufficient to ameliorate the destructive effects of industrialization. North Korea, China, the USSR, and all its satellites had or have problems with worker exposure to toxic materials, environmental pollution, and over-exploitation of natural resources that were comparable to or worse than contemporaneous Western market economy countries. I’d welcome contrary historical evidence. I’m probably inviting another long lecture on “state capitalism.” If the evidence for industrialized non-market economy states preserving the environment better than industrialized market economy states is hopeful aspiration, then I think people who insist the market economy must go are just riding their hobby horse. It’s like someone who is always explaining how $CURRENT_EVENT shows the importance of Jesus, or hemp, or gold-backed money.

I think that mortality per terawatt hour, along with morbidity per terawatt hour, is a useful way to think about the risks of different power sources. Nuclear does very well if you accept the consensus from e.g. the World Health Organization. If you think the WHO is carrying water for Big Nuclear and you use much higher casualties from meltdowns as estimated by Greenpeace, nuclear power still comes out ahead of combustion based energy sources. Of course every non-combustion energy source beats fossil fuels. I live within a few miles of an operating nuclear power plant and I much prefer it as a neighbor over any fossil fueled power plant.

My problem with modern nuclear power is more the inability of the industry to build to a schedule and a budget. Also the long lead times even when everything goes as planned. China is supposed to be the great hope for nuclear power but even their reactors average 6 years from construction start to commercial operation. I fear that some nuclear enthusiast will be coming along to “explain” that every FUBAR in the history of nuclear construction is really the fault of regulation, but I don’t buy it. Pharmaceutical approval and manufacturing are regulated to the hilt too, and that raises costs, but it doesn’t lead to epic farce like Olkiluoto 3.

For Hinkley Point C EDF is insisting on a strike price per megawatt hour, and guaranteed duration, that is higher than onshore wind or solar PV just got in reverse auctions for renewable energy in the UK. One of the biggest players in the nuclear industry is apparently trying to make the case that you should never buy nuclear. Yes, nuclear power works on cold windless nights. But 10 years ago costing nuclear-vs-PV was a slam dunk in favor of nuclear without trying to assign value to anything but the free-floating megawatt hour. Now you need an imputed value for a lot of extra stuff to make a case that the next marginal gigawatt should be nuclear instead of renewables. And I suspect that by the time these very-long-lead projects are operating they will be further overtaken by storage-backed renewables, so no amount of squinting will make them look like a good deal.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 8:03 pm

Matt,

No long lecture. But they weren’t “non-market” economies, and yes, they had state capitalism. Capitalism is basically M-C-M, exchange value, with the capitalist appropriating the labor surplus from workers (exploitation) for the capitalist, for his or her benefit, not the workers. In the Soviet system, et al, the state acted as the capitalist and did the appropriation. Lenin called it state capitalism too, and said this was necessary to yank Russia, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century. He and his successors even used many of the primitive accumulation techniques first forced on the Brits in the 18th century.

You are correct, of course. Their environmental record sucked.

190

Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 8:13 pm

Omega Centauri #181: “belief in how far technology can advance in a short amount of time is too optimistic”

It’s pretty clear that research and innovation in the area of soft energy is accelerating far beyond the rate that anyone expected even a few years ago.

There are different factors going into this, which makes for a different discussion. Almost all researchers and engineers are NOT climate denialists; there is business opportunity; consumers are looking for it; etc. etc.

It will remain an open question of whether it can be enough in time. But it doesn’t make one a “technological optimist” to report what it happening, or to question pessimism that is based on the induction that there are such things as bad complex-system crashes. Yes, there are such things, and it looks bad right now, but there is no precise prediction possible.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 8:14 pm

I think the facts are:

1. The world is in a bad crisis with many dimensions to it.

2. It is mainly caused by population growth and resource use, and bad capitalism and bad technology.

3. But there is no logically necessary connection between capitalism and destruction, or between technology and destruction.

4. And there is a huge acceleration of technological innovation in the right direction.

5. The question is whether we can do it in time to avoid final disaster.

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Bruce Wilder 03.01.15 at 8:17 pm

Lee A Arnold @ 182: What is your practical response to realist assessment?

Personally, I think I’m insignificant, so no ego involvement on my part.

My concern about left activism on the issues of climate change/energy change/environment/economic development is that we’re not “tough” enough in framing the limits. I think any realistic path forward has to involve a substantial constraint on energy use, a program of fairly radical energy conservation involving the outline of an infrastructure that would accommodate that. So, for example, I think we should be envisioning rail instead of airplanes and automobiles. All the advances in computing technologies can be applied to make rail even more energy-efficient than it already is, and it doesn’t involve much of a hit to anyone’s lifestyle or welfare. Rail permits much denser living, much less land-use by sprawl, while also leaving economic development possibilities for small towns and villages that simply aren’t there for air travel (which flies over a lot of people). I fear that people put way too much faith in the shiny tech of people mover systems that are not really all that practical or in electric cars that do not have anywhere near the order-of-magnitude potential for resource conservation in energy (both transport and structures) and land-use. We can maintain a high degree of specialization and scale of production with a rail system. But, without a collective commitment to rail infrastructure as a constraining device, I think the Jevons effect dominates and most of the potential of technological advance to reduce energy and resource use while maintaining a high level of human welfare and productivity will be lost.

Given the increasingly hard limits on resource use, an elite will continue to increase its profligacy and masses of people will find themselves cut off by depression and deflation and failed governments and war.

What I think is happening right now, in the absence of a collective consciousness of the need to radically conserve, an absence fed by unrealistic optimism about both the plug-compatibility of solar or wind electricity generation and the upfront investment requirements for renewables, is that the global plutocracy is putting the screws to marginal populations. I don’t buy the Clash of Civilizations rhetoric: I think the Arab Spring was mostly about masses of people being cut off from economic resources by a remorseless neoliberalism. Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Greece — global resource consumption is being reduced by pushing the lemmings off the cliff. I’m not saying there’s a global conspiracy, though some of those orchestrating this are pretty cynical; I’m saying that in the absence of a realistic vision of collective, inclusive, socialized efforts of sufficient and realistic scale, what we are going to get from neoliberalism is oppression through abandonment and war.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 8:31 pm

Lee @191,

The logical connection is obvious, at least to me.

Capitalism operates on the profit motive. It also operates on the assumption of growth. To grow means to produce and consume more. To produce and consume more means to extract, pollute and waste more. To extract, pollute and waste more means to destroy ecosystems, air, water, land, etc.

Capitalism also means individual businesses, maximizing wealth and growth for individuals. Societal good is not in the equation. Or is at least quite rarely in that equation. Not many people go into business for altruistic reasons. They don’t go into business to reduce consumption or conserve land, water, air, species. They don’t go into business thinking long-term about the consequences to the planet and the idea of its survival. They go into business to make money for themselves. And given the range of products we all can see on our shelves, along with their impact on the environment, it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of businesses don’t produce goods and services with an eye toward doing what’s best for the planet. There is just no evidence to support that beyond a tiny percentage of new and existing firms.

And where did the vast majority of early “industrial” businesses locate? Next to rivers, so they could dump their wastes. And where do many of them go now to continue similar practices, if they can’t do that here? Third world countries that lack regs, laws and monitoring.

Not only does the internal logic of capitalism lead to environmental hell, all the evidence of its actual practice (since its rise with the industrial revolution) tells us this as well.

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Antoni Jaume 03.01.15 at 8:34 pm

Brett Bellmore 02.28.15 at 11:36 am

” Thanks in turn for demonstrating what a closed mind looks like.

In 2012, NASA announces with great fanfare the hottest month on record. Afterwards, without notice, they change their temperature data so that 1936 goes back to having the hottest month on record. Were you aware they’d done that? Or still under the impression that it was a record?”

So you keep confusing local with global, that 1936 temperature was limited to the USA, per your reference, not valid for the whole Earth. And what is more limited to summer temperatures, when what matter is the yearly cycle. I’d think that is indicative of a very closed mind.

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Consumatopia 03.01.15 at 8:34 pm

There is an interesting contrast between Kahan’s philosophy and Mercer and Sperber’s argumentative theory of reasoning that Henry linked to some time ago. Mercier and Sperber claim that human beings use reason not to make better decisions, but to make more persuasive arguments. This only results in better decisions when we’re forced to make our arguments in argumentative context–and so some experiments show that allowing people to consciously reason about a decision in a solitary context actually results in a poorer decision.

One could naively take this idea and reach the exact opposite of Kahan’s advice–that the way for the public to make better decisions is to have each partisan side compose its best arguments and then put those arguments in collision with each other. That’s too reductive, but I think there is a key insight here–rather than try to stop people from engaging in motivated reasoning (as if there is any other kind), try to create institutions in which motivated reasoning is collectively useful.

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Plume 03.01.15 at 8:37 pm

Boiled down, it makes no sense for a capitalist to promote buying less of its own products and services, obviously. It makes no sense for a capitalist to get behind conservation efforts. It’s the opposite of what they want. They want you to consume more, not less. And, they generally make their products so they don’t last very long and you have to replace them — ye olde planned obsolescence. Is it in capitalism’s best interest to make a product that lasts and lasts and needs no replacement? Or, better yet, one that you could keep for generations, and then transform parts into other useful objects?

No. The capitalist wants you to buy more stuff. They don’t want you to keep stuff forever and repurpose it, etc. How are they going to make any money if you do that?

197

Matt 03.01.15 at 8:37 pm

I would nominate Jevons Paradox as a zombie idea of energy economics. The Jevons Paradox was a historically contingent observation. Observed trends for fossil fuel use in the UK and other developed economies have changed somewhat since the 1870s! US oil consumption per capita and total energy consumption per capita peaked in the late 1970s. Energy efficiency has continued to increase since then, but the paradoxical acceleration in energy consumption predicted by Jevons hasn’t happened. How many decades of contrary data do we need before Zombie Jevons can be buried?

198

Omega Centauri 03.01.15 at 8:41 pm

Bruce, I hear what you are saying and value your observations. I usually learning from your comments. But, where I’m coming from is I like to think of myself as a tiny piece of humanity that is pushing for society to take the first substantial efforts towards ultimately radical decarbonization. The trope, that they will have to give up a lot (usually framed as freezing in the dark), is often successfully used to block/delay these first steps. So the message that radical changes to lifestyles are being demanded creates tremendous PR headwinds. And I don’t think whats needed in the first twenty years of this long transition will hurt lifestyles much at all. We can still have a combination of personal and public transport. If we can timeshare something like robotically driven transport pods (rentable google cars or whatever) the distinction may in fact blur.
We do also have plenty of newish technologies that allow us to accomplish things we are used to doing for substantially less energy (say 10% to 50% of typical current average use). An obvious example is lighting, compare LEDs against the old incandescent mainstay. And big screen TV power consumption is essentially lighting, with newer LED models consuming a small fraction of what last generation stuff needed. So we ought to be able to commit to say 50% renewables within twenty years without worrying too much about what we will have to give up. Beyond that timeframe, is the business of the generation that follows me, not mine. We can’t know what constraints/opportunities they will have to work with.

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mattski 03.01.15 at 9:24 pm

Agree with Lee Arnold @ 191.

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CJColucci 03.01.15 at 9:28 pm

Probably makes you feel good about being the only sane people in the world.

Feels pretty bad, actually.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 9:50 pm

Plume #193: “It also operates on the assumption of growth. “

This is where things get interesting. What grows need NOT be material and energy throughput that causes ecological pressure What grows can be weightless goods like information technology. Or hands-on services that incur no more matter/energy cost than the individual was using while idle.

And what grows need only be the price of assets and durables. This leads to financial bubbles and inequality. This just happened, and is happening. We just had one big crash, and even now prices are going up in high-end real estate, the rich competing with each other for baubles.

Clearly this bubble thing is leading to some sort of social reckoning, because on the one hand, almost everybody understands that there are ecological limits. And at the same time, people are not going to put up with the “crises of capitalism”, either the increasing cycles of disemployment or the bubbles.

Significantly, almost every major economist is now talking in a very unusual way about a new policy era. It’s a conversation very much worth listening to. They have no idea what to do, but they know this system has gone seriously haywire, and it’s not just a short-tem problem. This is a major sea-change from even 20 years ago.

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Roger Gathmann 03.01.15 at 9:57 pm

ohn at 109 – hey, I’m not doubting that the peer review system is good. Nor am I particularly claiming that you are not paying attention to institutional interests, although I think that such interests have more to do with peer review than you concede. For instance, the FDA has consistently refused to ban or put severe controls on Syngenta’s atrazine, even though there is a lot of scientific evidence that atrazine is dangerous to unborn children. Because Syngenta is powerful and has powerful agra-industry friends, the FDA has required proof at a level of rigor that is very expensive to achieve – except for scientists funded by Syngenta. Thus, one can appeal to the highest standards or rigor and still actually serve a corrupt agenda.
But still, my point is more that the science scandals of the past does make people more suspicious of science.
I guess the second sociological point is that we are all primed, by our particular moral views, to evaluate science according to those views. The anti- climate change people are, fundamentally, defending a culture of lifestyle choices. If those lifestyle choices have led us to disaster, they feel both accused and defensive. Myself, I’m all for reigning in the consumer culture, but if the scientific consensus of our time was, for instance, that gasoline fumes make us healthier, I’d be very suspicious of that conclusion.
A good example of the way values can skew science is given by nutrition, and the vast amount of attention given to “bad” nutrition, ie cholestoral and fat rich foods, as the source of risk for heart attack. James Le Fanu, in The Rise and Fall of Modern Medcine in 2000, excoriated the epidemiological methods that were used to explain the epidemic of heart attacks that seem to traverse the Cold War era. He claimed that it was an illegitimate and sloppy extension of Bradford Hill’s work on tobacco. But in the sixties and seventies, the idea that fat was the enemy corresponded to a certain moral turn in the culture. The result, of course, was the food industry shifted disastrously to carbohydrates to make up for the low fat regime, even as the evidence for the crusade against cholesterol became more and more doubtful, especially after the WHO Monica project failed to find any link between cholesterol and cardiac problems. I think the nutrition wars are very good illustration of the ways in which a population is predisposed to accept certain scientific discoveries and block inquiry about them.

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Omega Centauri 03.01.15 at 10:25 pm

If I can go back to the “original?” anti-science evolution, resistance is more a result of perceived conflict with other values, especially religious truth. And it isn’t just whether certain narrowly defined religious truths are threatened, obviously we have significant sectors of for example Christianity which made their peace with the science, including the before mentioned Vatican. But, yet there is a perfectly logical reason why those for whom having an overwhelming plurality of believers into the indefinite future is more important than truth. For these people realize that while the acceptance of scientific rationalism doesn’t preclude someone from being religious, accepting modern science, including evolution, and cosmology does substantially increase the odds that a person will become agnostic or atheistic during their lifetime. For those for whom this is a far worse tragedy than not learning the truth about nature, opposition to modern science is a logical consequence.

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ZM 03.01.15 at 10:45 pm

“This is where things get interesting. What grows need NOT be material and energy throughput that causes ecological pressure What grows can be weightless goods like information technology. Or hands-on services that incur no more matter/energy cost than the individual was using while idle.”

The problem with this is that it is a very bad plan for implementation. If you want to implement something you don’t say: the thing I want to change (X) need not happen, and the thing I want to implement (Y) can happen.

If that is the end of your implementation plan no one would take your implementation plan seriously. You have to work out how to stop X from happening, and how to ensure Y does happen.

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Tom in MN 03.01.15 at 10:54 pm

Anti-vaxers fail the “what if everyone did that?” test. And thus it seems different from the others in that it clearly can’t ever be a majority opinion by definition. They need others to take the risk (of the vaccine) that they wish to avoid for their choice to appear to be the low risk choice.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 11:11 pm

ZM #203: “You have to work out how to stop X from happening, and how to ensure Y does happen.”

Certainly true! But before getting to that, we have to correct the misperception that it cannot be done. This was in answer to Plume, who wrote (#193), “To produce and consume more means to extract, pollute and waste more… the internal logic of capitalism lead[s] to environmental hell…” –as if it is inexorable.

And once again, it clearly is not inexorable, because growth can be matter-energy weightless in a few different ways. Information goods and personal services are well-known beneficial examples. And that is where the developed world is heading now.

Not all of the ways are good, because another way, financial asset bubbles, is toxic.

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Anarcissie 03.01.15 at 11:24 pm

Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 11:11 pm @ 204:
‘…[G]rowth can be matter-energy weightless in a few different ways. Information goods and personal services are well-known beneficial examples. …’

So far, information technology has hardly been weightless.

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ZM 03.01.15 at 11:28 pm

“And once again, it clearly is not inexorable, because growth can be matter-energy weightless in a few different ways”

I suppose this is true because it depends upon what you decide to measure. But at the moment economic growth is not decoupled from the growing consumption of physical resources. You would have to work out how to decouple this, since it hasn’t conveniently happened all by itself despite everybody knowing of the environmental toll for decades.

I guess you could allocate people a small amount of income for the consumption of physical goods, and then a larger amount of income for the consumption of non-physical goods. But this would be quite a big change to the economy.

If I think of all the changes that need to be made in the next 30 ish years — if we do make them, as I hope, then I think the economy will be quite different.

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mattski 03.01.15 at 11:42 pm

Growth can manifest as increasing complexity and sophistication without necessarily increasing finite resource consumption. Merely building something, taking it apart, then re-building a more sophisticated, energy-efficient version of the original makes for constant economic activity and at least theoretically, growth.

Pun intended: efficiency is a growth industry.

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mattski 03.01.15 at 11:45 pm

***There is an important role for government to play re creating the right incentives.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.01.15 at 11:54 pm

Information goods are not weightless. For you to read this, a whole host of servers have to be kept going, using electrical power that comes from somewhere. As well as whatever you’re reading this on.

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Peter T 03.02.15 at 12:00 am

I think this is one of those interesting intersections between individual psychology and social structure. Kahan focuses on the first, and a lot of explanation on the second, but it may well be the combination.

People have a comfort zone, one where they feel they can deal with most of the issues they encounter. The initial learning period – shorter for some, longer for others – is pretty fraught (think adolescence, or first week on the job). People can cope with pretty extreme environments if they feel they have a handle on them, and a sense that the overall effort is going in the right direction. But if events push people continually into the zone of uncertainty, or if there is a sense that the overall effort is going nowhere, then behaviour tends to veer between passivity and reckless disregard of risk.

Socio-economic systems can back themselves into traps. As an uncontroversial example, most early chieftainships and some high civilisations (Mycenae, Vikings, Incas, Ottomans) were built around loyalty and booty: getting the booty is organised by a centre, distributed from it in return for loyalty; loyalty, cohesion and incentive make getting the booty possible. Everybody happy except the victims, women and serfs. When these systems run out of booty-providers they become unstable: the centre can’t distribute enough to keep the followers happy, the followers feel betrayed or short-changed, feel the centre is not doing its job and conflicts erupt. One typical response is ever more reckless aggression, but when this fails it makes things worse. Efforts to move to some new system challenge all the social and psychological bases built into the old system: everybody is new on the job, uncertain and awkward, and mistakes are inevitable, even if there is a collective consensus agreement on the new direction. Civil war is a common outcome, historically.

For a lot of reasons, we can’t go on as we are. We are at or over the limits of what the ecosystem can provide. I think environmentalism as a way of life is the emerging new direction, but it challenges so much of what we are that I don’t expect a peaceful transition. I expect a lot of passivity and a lot of extreme risk-taking.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 12:13 am

ZM #206: “…how to decouple this, since it hasn’t conveniently happened all by itself…”

It is proceeding quite rapidly by itself, in the developed countries.

Since we are analyzing the dangers of capitalism, then already we know what measure causes ecological damage: it is what is valued by money. Software has money value to people, yet it is weightless. It’s a big industry, and the products don’t use significant physical resources.

The tendency in all advanced economies is ALREADY to spend less income on physical goods, and to spend more income on information and service goods.

I believe the two fastest growing sectors in the US at the moment are medical services and solar energy. I would have to check that to be sure.

Again, I’m NOT saying that everything is good. But it’s important to describe what is actually going on.

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Omega Centauri 03.02.15 at 12:16 am

I would agree with Peter. The psychological/political dimension is the difficult part. It is easy for me and Lee to dream up modifications to our culture that reduce material consumption without having major impact. And a lot of the work can be done by technology. But we still have serious issues with attitudes. How much of the energy/resources are consumed supporting various forms of resource heavy conspicuous consumption? Speedboats, fancy sports cars, yachts, mansions. Valuing solar panels over granite countertops, And on and on. But how to we get this sort of change of value system to penetrate deeply into society. Otherwise if all we do is to just provide new more efficient technology, the effects will be overwhelmed by Jevon’s effects. And as Peter makes obvious the changes if wrenching enough could trigger political instability.

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William Berry 03.02.15 at 12:18 am

My earlier comments in this thread should have been posted on the “cultural studies” thread. Apologies.

Matt: “Metals other than nuclear fuels are recyclable indefinitely.”

Minor nitpick from someone who worked in non-ferrous (primarily aluminum alloys) for forty years:

This is not strictly true of non-ferrous metals. Light metals, especially aluminum, pick up heavier tramps (Fe, Mn, Cu, Cr, Ni, etc.) that cannot be got rid of easily. After a few cycles they degrade such that less and less of the scrap can be added to the alloying hearth. Continuously recycled aluminum is destined to end up as the lowest grade “pot metal”, suitable only for the cheapest die castings. The only factor that keeps this problem from becoming critical is that primary aluminum is still produced in smelters at a high-enough rate to provide a primary alloy base (ingot can be sold as primary so long as secondary alloying constituents are kept below a certain percentage).

As readily accessible bauxite sources are exhausted, the aluminum industry will run up against a wall. Methods of purification such as distillation are, for obvious reasons, prohibitively expensive.

Iron is different. Super-heated oxygen removes differentially oxidizable impurities very efficiently. This fact is key to the collapse of the U.S. steel industry. Over two centuries of iron and steel production in the U.S. caused quality scrap (rail scrap, etc.) to eventually reach a critical level. Blast furnaces around the Great Lakes producing primary steel from ore could no longer compete with (mainly Japanese-owned) mini-mills that were capable of producing high-grade steel entirely from readily available, low-cost scrap.*

*Much more to the story than this, of course but, as I said a key factor.

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Plume 03.02.15 at 12:30 am

Lots of really good comments here from many sources this afternoon.

Peter T. Really interesting comment @212. This does seem to fit quite well in with capitalist distribution of “booty” as well. This very volatile system counts on the co-optation, if not cooperation, of folks who want their Ipads. It also counts on the billions of people who never will be able to get them keeping silent enough. Another aspect to that recurring dynamic: It’s not necessary that you get the majority of people to accept the system or your rule. It’s necessary to get the right people to do so.

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Plume 03.02.15 at 12:36 am

Something that should give everyone at least some pause. It does far more than that for me:

The vast majority of pollution and waste on Planet Earth comes from the richest 20% of the population, with Americans (less than 5% of the population) contributing in the neighborhood of a third of it. There are several billion human beings who, so far, have contributed only negligible amounts of pollution and waste to the total. They aren’t capable of doing so, even if they wanted to consume and pollute that much, etc. etc.

What happens when those (roughly) five billion humans start to consume, pollute and produce waste like the average American? The earth is in crisis mode right now, without them being on the grid (in that sense). Add five billion more people to it, and it’s game over. Literally. Again, we’d need four earths just to meet resource demands, not to mention handle the pollution and waste. It’s game over.

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Layman 03.02.15 at 12:40 am

Plume, you’re not focused on the more immediate crisis, which is what happens when the 5 billion decide to kill and eat the 20 percent?

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Richard H. Serlin 03.02.15 at 12:42 am

Here’s the link I was talking about with regard to, persistence with evidence and logic can make a significant difference over time, even with the hard core:

http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/the_backfire_effect.php?page=all

Quoting:

“He pointed to a 2010 paper in Political Psychology by David P. Redlawsk and others, “The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners Ever ‘Get It’?”

The researchers sought to determine if a tipping point exists that could cause voters to abandon motivated reasoning and view facts in a more rational way.

“We show experimental evidence that such an affective tipping point does in fact exist,” they write. “… The existence of a tipping point suggests that voters are not immune to disconfirming information after all, even when initially acting as motivated reasoners.”

This tipping point is far from being identified, but it’s encouraging to think that repeated efforts to debunk misinformation, or to simply to spread the truth, may have an effect.”

220

ZM 03.02.15 at 12:44 am

Lee A Arnold

“It is proceeding quite rapidly by itself, in the developed countries.

The tendency in all advanced economies is ALREADY to spend less income on physical goods, and to spend more income on information and service goods.”

I am doubtful about this – do you have figures which include imported consumption not just domestic production?

Maybe because in America you had more of an economic downturn than us here in Australia people might consume slightly less than before the GFC, but I don’t think people here are consuming notably less physical goods and energy now than ten or twenty let alone fifty or sixty years ago. I suppose buying second hand things is more widespread – but there are so many more second hand things to buy now than there were when I was a teenager – so I think that would be evidence of higher consumption and then more rapid turnover of goods rather than lower consumption.

This is not to say some people do consciously try to consume less – but when I was a kid lots of our hippy-ish parents did that too, and I don’t know that the numbers are all that more vast?

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Layman 03.02.15 at 12:48 am

“Software has money value to people, yet it is weightless. “

It may be weightless, but when it is, it’s useless. No one buys software and treats it as a poltergeist. It’s going to be installed on something, somewhere, which is not weightless. Not to mention that, like any other manufactured good, a factory is required to produce it, which is in turn not weightless.

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Anarcissie 03.02.15 at 12:50 am

I am curious as to what sort of social order you all envision when speaking of environmentalism and the like. Certainly it isn’t the current one of domination by capitalists and their interests and concerns. Also, how to get there, of course.

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Plume 03.02.15 at 12:51 am

Layman,

I didn’t think of that. While I don’t qualify as anywhere close to the richest 20%, I live in a nation that houses a goodly bit of that bunch. It’s time to work on my End of Days, Zombie Apocalypse bunker.

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Matt 03.02.15 at 12:54 am

“Metals other than nuclear fuels are recyclable indefinitely.”

Minor nitpick from someone who worked in non-ferrous (primarily aluminum alloys) for forty years:

This is not strictly true of non-ferrous metals. Light metals, especially aluminum, pick up heavier tramps (Fe, Mn, Cu, Cr, Ni, etc.) that cannot be got rid of easily. After a few cycles they degrade such that less and less of the scrap can be added to the alloying hearth. Continuously recycled aluminum is destined to end up as the lowest grade “pot metal”, suitable only for the cheapest die castings. The only factor that keeps this problem from becoming critical is that primary aluminum is still produced in smelters at a high-enough rate to provide a primary alloy base (ingot can be sold as primary so long as secondary alloying constituents are kept below a certain percentage).

You might not be able to reuse aluminum indefinitely without transforming degraded alloys to oxide and back again, but the heavier metals are separable. Aluminum is amphoteric and easily forms soluble sodium aluminate when treated with sodium hydroxide — much like the Bayer process for purifying bauxite, but with more vigor and evolution of hydrogen. None of the other metals you mentioned are soluble in base under reducing conditions, though chromium and to a lesser extent manganese form soluble anionic species under oxidizing conditions. Even if some chromium and manganese are carried into solution, they are much more easily reduced than aluminum; treating the solution with a little alcohol will reduce them back to solid oxides that can be filtered or centrifuged out. Everything downstream of that would be like using Bayer process solution from virgin bauxite.

I don’t mean to suggest that anyone is doing this industrially today, of course. Virgin bauxite is cheap, and given the typical energy sources of today I’m not sure that recycling impure aluminum alloy via purified oxide is yet environmentally beneficial. But, speaking as someone who enjoyed analytical chemistry in school, it is possible to separate metals indefinitely.

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ZM 03.02.15 at 12:57 am

Plume,

” While I don’t qualify as anywhere close to the richest 20%”

You should check with an online calculator, I was quite surprised at my results (supposing they are accurate) https://www.givingwhatwecan.org

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Rich Puchalsky 03.02.15 at 1:14 am

Anarcissie: “I am curious as to what sort of social order you all envision when speaking of environmentalism and the like. Certainly it isn’t the current one of domination by capitalists and their interests and concerns.”

The truth is that pretty much all current major ideologies are equally bad. There’s a lot of work that’s been done on sustainability, environmental economics, conservation biology and so on but none of it has really been picked up on as foundational by any major part of the left. What we get is going to depend heavily on what kind of technology is developed as well as what kind of social capability for action we have.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.02.15 at 1:21 am

Plume: “While I don’t qualify as anywhere close to the richest 20%”

75% of the people in the world live on less than $1,500 US per year each, so essentially everyone in the U.S. is in the richest 20%.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 1:29 am

ZM, Sorry I should have written “less” and “more” as percentage of GDP, which is usually understood. Is the service sector poportion of the Australian GDP in services shrinking?

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 1:30 am

Yes your phone and your computer weigh something. But they may as well not weigh anything. At the level of fear exhibited in comments above about the depletion of ecological resources per work performed, information goods are effectively not a problem. We are already in a world of about 6 billion cellphones. How many trees would you have to cut down to send all the messages as smoke signals from hill to hill? I have no idea, I will guess a million planets’ worth of trees. And what about all the messages tomorrow? How many messages are people going to send this week?

The energy for a phone can be provided a high-efficiency photovoltaic.

For many things like this, the undeveloped countries can step in at a high degree of weightlessness, without incurring the same amount of resource depletion which the developed world inflicted upon the globe in the 100-year process of technological development to get to this point. So estimates of resource depletion to get the rest of the world up to higher living standards are probably less than imagined.

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William Berry 03.02.15 at 1:34 am

“speaking as someone who enjoyed analytical chemistry in school, it is possible to separate metals indefinitely.”

Absolutely. But speaking as someone from practical metallurgy, the process and the cost are precisely the issue. The idea that tramps can be removed from aluminum economically with current or even foreseeable industrial technology, analytical chemistry notwithstanding, is preposterous.

It is not true that high-quality bauxite is still widely available. Scrubber operation today requires alumina mesh sizes that are getting more and more difficult to obtain.

But whatever. Sorry I mentioned it.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.02.15 at 1:39 am

“information goods are effectively not a problem”

Just not true. People are always arguing about this, but here’s a recent press story saying that the digital economy uses 10% of the world’s electricity.

I’m in no way in favor of telling people to reduce personal consumption: it’s an effectively right-wing frame that takes the responsibility away from people who build infrastructure and puts it on people who use infrastructure. As long as the infrastructure is there, your personal choices are meaningless. But pixels are not weightless.

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Peter T 03.02.15 at 1:53 am

Two quick thoughts. First is that ALL complex human systems are systems of cooperative production and redistribution (which makes the standard economics focus on exchange an …interesting… choice). “Capitalism”, whatever is meant by that, is not the issue. When you have to lessen your footprint, you have to lessen complexity (roughly the number of levels of production and redistribution). This is a major challenge for elites. Cliometric historians like Peter Turchin are worth reading on this, although I don’t buy 100% of their arguments.

Reinforcing this, environmentalism is intrinsically local. It does not deal in high-level abstractions of value, but in understanding how this swamp goes with that forest and these fields. This too challenges elites: they live at and on the top of a chain of abstractions.
How do we get there with a minimum of suffering? Damned if I know.

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ZM 03.02.15 at 1:59 am

Lee A Arnold,

“ZM, Sorry I should have written “less” and “more” as percentage of GDP, which is usually understood. Is the service sector poportion of the Australian GDP in services shrinking?”

I don’t think the proportion of the service sector’s contribution to GDP is a good equivalent to the amount of material consumed. Material goods are mostly produced off shore now in lower income countries . I just do not see evidence that people in Australia have decreased their material consumption – and really I see the reverse because things don’t last long these days, eg. computers only seem to last 4 or 5 years. My grandfather still drove a mid-20th C car into the 2000s, and had mid century furnishings and drawers of bits of string and flattened out butchers’ paper etc. I think material consumption has increased, not decreased even if the services sector has grown.

Rich Puchalsky,

I disagree – it saves resources whether people reduce consumption by themselves or if the government regulates for it. And since the government is not regulating for it at the moment, people can practice how to live more simply themselves and set a good example that the government can later use in its discussion papers on how to reduce consumption without negatively affecting wellbeing.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.02.15 at 2:09 am

ZM: “I disagree – it saves resources whether people reduce consumption by themselves or if the government regulates for it”

I’m not going to have time in this thread to really discuss this, but as far as I know it doesn’t work that way. The amount of consumption that people can possibly save by personal volunteerism is negligible and will make no difference, unless the volunteerism really becomes a mass phenomenon, in which case it would be far more effective for all of those people to push for political change directly. You can save maybe 20%, maybe 10% of people will do that, that comes out to 2%. Heriocally saving 100%, if 1% of people do that, adds another 1%.

Burning lots of gas to use your pickup truck to go some meetings about what kinds of power plants are going to be built will on average save your lifetime consumption probably thousands of times over.

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ZM 03.02.15 at 2:16 am

I read that a big problem is that people tend to overestimate how much they have cut their consumption or how big an impact their actions are taking. you probably are not going to make as big a difference as necessary. But most people who do that also support political action (although I think some permaculture people here favour a collapse of society – but I think this is poorly thought out because we will get hordes of starving city dwellers in all our country towns if that happened and there would be too many for the permaculture farms)

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js. 03.02.15 at 2:29 am

Plume: “While I don’t qualify as anywhere close to the richest 20%”

75% of the people in the world live on less than $1,500 US per year each, so essentially everyone in the U.S. is in the richest 20%.

Yeah, but PPP makes this a whole lot more complicated. (An obvious point, admittedly.) I’m not really talking about genuine poverty, because I honestly don’t know about that much, but for example you could be making the equivalent of US $20k p.a. in India, and you would be genuinely well off (though by no means wealthy). You could, e.g., afford the kind of apartment in Bombay that you could in NYC if you were making $80k (I think, give or take). This is also a problem with kind of the calculator ZM linked to @225.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 2:58 am

ZM #233: “I think material consumption has increased, not decreased even if the services sector has grown.”

I did not mean in absolute terms, sorry to mislead. I think that material consumption would indeed increase, at least with the rate of population growth. The question I have is whether it is at the full rate which had been previously anticipated, and whether it is unsustainable. Let’s recap. The green argument to this point has been that economic growth is causing unsustainable resource depletion. When it is pointed out that it isn’t all of economic growth that does this, perhaps not even the fasting growing portion of economic growth, then the argument becomes, it doesn’t matter, resource usage must actually be forced into reverse. But why must it reverse, exactly? How are you drawing this line? I can understand drawing the line for specific resources — water availability; the capacity of the atmosphere to be a carbon sink; wildlife environment as a public good — when we have a fairly good prediction of catastrophe, indeed multiple catastrophes, but I don’t get the general fear about everything else.

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Peter T 03.02.15 at 3:09 am

Lee: we can have catastrophic outcomes for air, ocean, water, soil and wildlife, but let’s not exaggerate….

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John Quiggin 03.02.15 at 3:10 am

@Rich The source for the story is the Breakthrough Institute (enough said, as far as I’m concerned). Every previous calculation of this kind, usually from similarly dubious sources, has turned out to be garbage, and I don’t have time to check this one.

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js. 03.02.15 at 3:28 am

I will also note that if you think of climate change as a genuinely global problem that needs a global solution, going on about the limits of consumption/how we “all” need to reduce consumption is a lot of fun if you’re white and in the West, but it doesn’t play so well in a lot of the rest of the world.

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Anarcissie 03.02.15 at 3:46 am

Peter T 03.02.15 at 1:53 am @ 232:
… “Capitalism”, whatever is meant by that, is not the issue. …

By ‘capitalism’ I mean the private ownership and control of the means of production in an environment of liberalism (markets, ‘economic freedom’ for the rich, etc. etc. etc.)

Capitalists dominate their communities through their role as accumulators, holders, and managers of productive wealth. What makes this role very important is scarcity, by which I mean ‘less of what people have than they want, or think they need.’ The powers of modern industrial production are such that any specific scarcities can be overcome, so capitalists must create new scarcity. They can do this by increasing consumption, that is, the conversion of resources into garbage and money. Consumption can be increased by means of war, imperialism, sequestration, waste, mismanagement and deliberate destruction, and by means of consumerism: inducing or compelling working people to also work at buying and consuming what they have produced, or paying someone else to do so. Since capitalists compete, they usually can’t throttle production; they have to make more than the other capitalists, even when they belong to the same companies or cabals. They must increase production, so they must increase consumption. Otherwise, if scarcity falls below the level necessary to drive the workers to work and to buy, the capitalists’ role in the social order will decline, and they will get depressed. This will be called a depression and much talk about growth will be heard. That is, ever-increasing production-consumption will have to be restored, in other words, the Earth must be destroyed. This is contrary to such ideas as environmentalism, sustainability, and the wetter hippie stuff.

No doubt the above is a gross oversimplification, crawling with nits to pick, but that’s the general idea.

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John Quiggin 03.02.15 at 3:51 am

I’ve demolished the claim that decarbonizing the economy requires massive reductions in living standards so many times, never receiving any response that amounted to more than “I don’t believe it”, that I can’t be bothered repeating myself. And there is nothing idiosyncratic about my analysis. Everyone who has looked at the issue seriously has reached the same conclusion: that a full scale decarbonization of the economy would reduce global income by no more than 5-10 per cent, relative to the growth that would otherwise have taken place, and that the range 2-5 per cent is more likely to be accurate.

I’m not surprised that those arguing to the effect that massive reductions in living standards (‘a wrecking ball through the economy’ as our PM Tony Abbott put it), are similar in their treatment of contrary evidence to climate deniers. They are, largely the same people. I

I am, however, disappointed to find people who support action to mitigate climate change overstating the costs, and frequently adopting the arguments of climate deniers to do so.

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js. 03.02.15 at 4:10 am

I wonder if it’s the same kind of thing where right-wingers and centrists insist that we must “tighten belts” and “live within our means”, dammit! It’s like some kind of “consumerism is bad” (whatever that means) plus some kind of generalized prudery plus some weird misplaced thought of moral hazard or something.

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Crytandra 03.02.15 at 4:25 am

I think some on the Left find the idea of civilizational collapse and the “return” to a simpler way of life kind of romantic. While these dreamers are small in number, they are drawn to blogs like moths to a light bulb.

As JQ argues, we already have available at reasonable cost the technology to decarbonize the economy. All that is needed now is the political will.

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ZM 03.02.15 at 4:35 am

Lee A Arnold,

“The green argument to this point has been that economic growth is causing unsustainable resource depletion. When it is pointed out that it isn’t all of economic growth that does this, perhaps not even the fasting growing portion of economic growth, then the argument becomes, it doesn’t matter, resource usage must actually be forced into reverse. But why must it reverse, exactly? “

If you look at your first sentence the key phrase is “unsustainable resource depletion” — if we accept this is true then you should be able to see why “resource usage must actually be forced into reverse” in order to correct the unsustainable resource depletion.

So then if you think that conclusion is wrong you must not think that resource use is unsustainable .

But most reports say that current resource consumption is environmentally unsustainable, as well as not being fairly distributed globally.

I found this helpful paper on material flows — it says there has been relative (or weak) decoupling from 1980-2002 but please note “At the same time, however, overall levels of resource extraction are increasing in absolute terms in all regions of the world. ” And concludes advanced economies need to decrease material consumption so poor countries in the South can have more resources.

“On the global level, material intensity, i.e. resource extraction per unit of GDP, decreased by about 25%, indicating relative decoupling of resource extraction from economic growth.”

“The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report (2005, p. 16), for example, states that “over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, fibre and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.””

The paper covers four types of materials
“Fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas, peat)
Metal ores
Industrial and construction minerals
Biomass (agriculture, forestry, and fishery)”

” global used resource extraction grew more or less steadily over the past two decades, from 40 billion tons in 1980 to 55 billion tons in 2002,”

The trend of continued absolute growth in resource extraction “is clearly incompatible with sustainable development, considering the fact that global environmental problems such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution (all closely linked to the material and energy throughput of the global economy) are already putting pressures on the world’s ecosystems beyond a sustainable level (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005; UNEP, 2002).”

“By means of outsourcing extraction and related “ecological rucksacks” to other world regions, many industrialised countries have been successful in maintaining or even in- creasing their regional and/or national environmental quality. As a result, industrialised countries are generally physical net-importers of natural resources from other world regions….However, in a closed global economy, it is impossible for all countries to be net-importers of raw materials. “

“the remarkable expansion of China’s physical basis is a good example to show that current development paths and the adoption of western lifestyles and associated environmental consumption by ever more people cannot be generalised on a global level. From this point of view, the key challenge of sustainable development will be to reconcile highly resource- intensive prosperity of industrialised countries and the aspiration of developing countries to copy Northern develop- ment models within the environmental limits posed by the biosphere. These findings underline the need for radical changes in production and consumption patterns, particularly in industrialised countries, in order to generate “environmental space” for Southern economic growth.”

Behrensa, Giljuma, Kovandab, Nizac (2007) “The material basis of the global economy: Worldwide patterns of natural resource extraction and their implications for sustainable resource use policies”

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Rich Puchalsky 03.02.15 at 5:10 am

JQ: “The source for the story is the Breakthrough Institute”

Oops, I should have caught that. The perils of hasty Googling.

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Plume 03.02.15 at 5:12 am

The issue of relative income or wealth is contingent on one’s own cost of living. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to compare, say, a 21K salary in America and a 21K cost of living, with a 1.5K salary elsewhere and a $500 dollar cost of living. As in, comparing just the income.

. . . .

John, if you’re referring to me, I’m not saying we need to drastically reduce our living standards. I’m saying we have to radically redefine what those living standards are. If we slash our consumption, are we really slashing our living standards? If we could, say, dramatically increase the Commons, provide free education, cradle to grave, aggressively increase access to the already existing fruits of society which now are subject to monetary exclusion for most . . . while giving up most of our plastic gadgets and throwaway consumer goods . . . . our “living standards” go up, not down.

To keep from making this another TLDNR post . . . . we DO have to massively reduce production/consumption, if we are to survive as a species. But this doesn’t mean we have to lower our living standards. It just means we have to grow up and see what really matters when it comes to those standards — to prioritize and realize what really makes a good life and a life worth living. It aint the ability to swap out the latest smartphone every six months. It aint about having individually wrapped, single food servings, when we throw away half our food anyway.

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reason 03.02.15 at 8:51 am

Brett @15
“Of course the planet IS warming somewhat. We’re in an inter-glacial period, coming out of a recent ice age. It would be freakish if the planet weren’t warming. “

What???? Yes we are in an inter-glacial, but the next ice age is by some calculations OVERDUE!
http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/ice-age-interrupted

(And the point is that single observations might be news, but they are not the main story.)

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reason 03.02.15 at 9:14 am

I realize, I’m late to reply to Brett here, but I always thought Brett made earnest if annoying arguments, but this one is so laughable, I think I must reevaluate him.

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ZM 03.02.15 at 10:17 am

His arguments about climate models are the wrong way about too – just last year I heard a talk where the problem with climate models is they don’t correctly move into climates very different to our present climate – so if they work them backwards they can’t get them to be as different sort of climates as in the past geological times – so the models projections forwards are also likely to remain too close to our present climate rather than be accurate as to the difference.

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Peter T 03.02.15 at 11:02 am

I don’t dispute JQ’s finding that the costs of moving to a low carbon economy are modest. If this cost were the only issue, then it would be hard to see where the resistance is coming from (other than from fossil fuel companies). But if you take seriously the need to move back within the envelope of what the environment can sustain, then a lot of it involves economic losses concentrated in particular segments of the population. Land has to be reforested, farmland used less intensively, farms reduced in size, coasts and estuaries returned to mangrove or marsh, fishing fleets reduced in number and vessel size and so on. Changes like these need not reduce productivity, but they do impact the power and position of a lot of people.

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Brett Bellmore 03.02.15 at 11:31 am

Reason, I’m guessing you’ve never heard of the Little Ice Age? Yes, we are just coming off an ‘ice age’, and should expect warming. In fact, if we weren’t warming this soon after the last bout of cooling, it would be cause for worry.

Antoni: “So you keep confusing local with global, that 1936 temperature was limited to the USA, per your reference, not valid for the whole Earth. “

The US has the best coverage of weather stations in the world, it is considered the gold standard for climate data. If we find that gold is actually gold plated lead, what does that say for data in the rest of the world?

Seriously, do you think they should have announced “hottest month on record”, and then rejiggered the data afterwards, and not publicly done a retraction, with just as much fanfare?

Data is the foundation of science, if the data is bad, the science can’t be good. You can’t paper over problems with the way the science is actually being done, by having Bill Nye shout, “Respect my authority!”

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reason 03.02.15 at 11:36 am

BB @252
Now you are really getting ridiculous. The “little ice age” was not an “ice age”. There wasn’t massive glaciation.
http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/11/solar-activity-and-the-so-called-%E2%80%9Clittle-ice-age%E2%80%9D/

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ZM 03.02.15 at 11:42 am

Brett Bellmore,

You are also not up to date with the theories of the little ice age — this is a controversial sort of theory: climate change started just slightly with the deforestation caused by early agriculture — the little ice age was caused by so many people dying from the plague that great swathes of trees grew back absorbing carbon and cooling the climate nicely until the effects of population growth and the industrial revolution warmed things up again.

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RSA 03.02.15 at 1:28 pm

@252: You can’t paper over problems with the way the science is actually being done, by having Bill Nye shout, “Respect my authority!”

Have you downloaded the data and analyzed the discrepancies you’re talking about for yourself? If not, how do you decide which authority to believe?

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Plume 03.02.15 at 2:10 pm

Brett,

Have you considered this? You’ve said you doubt the science because you believe “the left” just wants to take you stuff. Logically, that’s telling us that your doubt doesn’t come from the data, from a look at the data, or an analysis of the data. It comes simply from your fears. Conversely, your belief in the position of the deniers comes from those fears, too, not from the data, not from an analysis of the data. You believe them because they counter the stance coming from the folks you think “want to take your stuff.”

Either way, you’re ignoring the science in favor of a tribal lurch, backward or forward. Tribal fight or flight, etc.

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Anarcissie 03.02.15 at 2:28 pm

Crytandra 03.02.15 at 4:25 am @ 244:
‘I think some on the Left find the idea of civilizational collapse and the “return” to a simpler way of life kind of romantic. While these dreamers are small in number, they are drawn to blogs like moths to a light bulb. …’

People, left, right, and other, who are far from the center of power, ideologically and materially, often prefer to believe that the end of the world is nigh. People who are close to the center of power often prefer to believe that everything is basically all right. Sometimes these are correct, sometimes those.

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Barry 03.02.15 at 2:34 pm

reason 03.02.15 at 9:14 am
“I realize, I’m late to reply to Brett here, but I always thought Brett made earnest if annoying arguments, but this one is so laughable, I think I must reevaluate him.”

In cases like this, it’s – amazing – that so many alleged engineers don’t understand rates of change, or multifactorial causal models.

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Plume 03.02.15 at 2:35 pm

For me, personally, I don’t want a civilizational collapse to precipitate a “return to a simpler life.” I want us to voluntarily make that return long before our current pollution, waste and overconsumption cause that collapse.

As in, I think that’s the wrong way to formulate it. If we don’t return to a simpler life, civilization will collapse. And I don’t find that “romantic” in the slightest.

And, to repeat the response to Mr. Quiggin’s comment. I don’t see that return as a loss of living standards. Just a reevaluation of how we define them, what it means to live “a good life,” etc.

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Chris Grant 03.02.15 at 2:36 pm

bad Jim @ #3: “California is confronting another year of drought. . . . How much damage will we have to suffer, how hard will reality have to bite us, to get our attention? “

The report by the NOAA Drought Task Force seemed to downplay any connection between the current California drought and global climate change. See pages 25 and 27 of
http://cpo.noaa.gov/sites/cpo/MAPP/Task%20Forces/DTF/californiadrought/california_drought_report.pdf

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politicalfootball 03.02.15 at 3:01 pm

I really think y’all are missing the point with Brett. He’s not attempting to discern the truth, he’s attempting to make the truth.

Look at his very first comment. He tells us that temperatures are rising because we are exiting an ice age. But he tells us that temperatures haven’t been rising for two decades. As proof that carbon dioxide isn’t causing the warming that is taking place, he cites a political publication, the Daily Caller, which says this:

“These show that the US has actually been cooling since the Thirties, the hottest decade on record; whereas the latest graph, nearly half of it based on ‘fabricated’ data, shows it to have been warming at a rate equivalent to more than 3 degrees centigrade per century,” Booker adds.

So the temperature is rising, but also falling for two decades, and falling since the thirties. There is no set of facts that doesn’t favor Brett’s argument, and absolutely no way to rebut it scientifically, because Brett is not engaged in science.

Brett’s approach is fantastically powerful, rhetorically. No true science can come up with answers Brett disapproves of, so science must not be the thing that all of you folks think it is.

And instead of defending real science as an approach to knowledge, y’all find yourselves trying to explain the facts to Brett, as though he doesn’t understand them. He’s an engineeer for Chrissakes. When he goes about his professional duties, do you think he’s quoting the Daily Caller’s opinons on engineering?

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Hector_St_Clare 03.02.15 at 3:03 pm

Plume, how does one go from the fact that estrogen and progesterone inhibit ovulation to women must be free to use them? There is an is-ought problem here.

+1.

I support birth control, but ‘science’ can’t say a whole lot about the morality of it, one way or the other.

263

Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 3:34 pm

What is the NOAA reason for determining that sea surface temperature and ocean oscillations are not affected by climate change?

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 3:40 pm

Brett Bellmore #252: “Yes, we are just coming off an ‘ice age’, and should expect warming.”

We should not expect this severe spike in temps. The temp change into the Medieval Warming Period, then out of it again into the Little Ice Age, were both much gentler transitions. If we are initiating Dansgaard-Oeschger events via CO2 buildup, we should be very afraid.

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Chris Grant 03.02.15 at 4:01 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ #261: “What is the NOAA reason for determining that sea surface temperature and ocean oscillations are not affected by climate change?”

Maybe they’re funded by Big Oil and the Koch Brothers!

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Charles R 03.02.15 at 4:15 pm

Plume, back at 46, you said it is ‘anti-science’ to “try to prevent women from easily preventing those diseases/cancers.”

I am not sure why you think it is ‘anti-science’ to prevent someone from preventing something else. Does this mean you think it is ‘pro-science’ to prevent diseases and cancers? Or is it strictly ‘anti-science’ to prevent the use of technological applications of control—which is a point either you’ve ignored or I’ve not emphasized strongly enough?

You said use of hormons in food production “massively dwarfs the impact of their usage for individual women.” I agree. I said this is probably true, but I also went on to point out—at least, I thought I did, but then I’m horrible for judging what speedy readers are used to concluding for themselves from what I write, apparently—that what motivates the use of hormones in women and cattle is quite likely the same underlying social and political ideologies. I think this is not only an important point to what I’m getting at, but I also think it’s a point about the nature of these debates, a nature also Cian and Peter T and politicalfootball address from different vectors. (My apologies to anyone I missed who’s approaching this not from picking a side on the left or the right.)

I think this is largely why I have the sense my concerns were dismissed for sounding too much like something you had a stock answer for, given the following observations.

You responded that whereas I am concerned with “how this affects others,” it’s important to remember that there is a “ripple effect on society when babies are born.” Yes, completely, I understand that, which is one of those kinds of inescapable conclusions one develops reading The Human Condition and Arendt more generally, I take it.

You then noted that babies birthing is something “the earth can’t sustain.” I agree.

You then noted that it’s also important to remember “all of the other struggles that would come from forced births.” Now, here’s the thing: where did I say women must be forced to birth?

You adduced that hormones are responsible for “easily preventing” those diseases and cancers. How easily? How preventable? Which cancers? Are there really no unintended consequences to the wholesale use among any group of humans hormonal regulations their histories didn’t select for them? Yet, even if we approach this from the standpoint of “regulating” how these products filter into the population, who has access to them, how they must be manufactured and how they are disposed, we are still accepting as a baseline the idea that bodies are things we must control through finer and more resolved forms of control.

You said, irrelevantly to my arguments yet still directed towards me, that a “default position” of forcing women to term is “not only medieval in its coercion and base misogyny” but also “places new burdens on our system that would otherwise be prevented via birth control.” Notice your own language, here. It’s a system through which we control the rates of reproduction of our species not through habits of self-control or self-understanding or self-education (all of which, we understand now, accomplish reductions), but through the market-driven distribution of hormonal regulators, an approach we now allow as free choice to farmers and food (re)production industries in their own forced responses to profit from the gluttonous desires of consumers —you yourself make this argument all throughout this thread, do you not? Am I incorrect in understanding you are arguing that consumption is out-of-control in the sense that it’s unsustainable, driven by inequality and disproportionality?— and yet, rather than notice in what ways our own desires drive us to alleviate their unintended consequences with more efficient deployment of control at even more refined or more technical layers of reality and from this conclude the problem is in our desire for control over what has already delimited us biologically, we’re supposed to agree that there are really only two options in this discussion: the right-wing option of forcing women to birth and the left-wing option—neither forcing nor preventing, but always predictably the glorious gift of allowing people their freedoms to indulge in whatever unwanting of reality itself they choose, in controlling and preventing what they do not desire from their own bodies, their own selves—of allowing women the access to the latest in technological self-mastery.

As I wrote earlier, what you call “base misogyny” I’d say is also found deep in the traditions of a society who thinks its answers and solutions to its own inevitable mortality come from technological mastery of what already consumes them, has always consumed them, and will consume them for long after they are dead.

You asked me what’s more logical between two choices. One of them, you say is force, and the other is actual want. I put this choice back onto you: given a question of what is logical, is it logical to continue to expect technological mastery leading to finer and more resolved control over “our system” will produce a better, healthier system of getting what we actually want, or acknowledging that we are better prepared for the deaths we are all trying to avoid when we give up the total maximalizing of our self’s control over everything but ourselves?

Given your opposition to unsustainable (and conspicuous) consumption you’ve demosntrated, does it really seem like these are the only two options available in terms of which is “logical?” Or, as it’s important to recall, isn’t it worthwhile to step back, think for a moment, and question why it is there are always and only two options people such as ourselves force one another into?

Before there was capitalism, there was fear of the indifferent Mother, who became so depersonalized it took an eternal Father to subdue and control. While secularization prompts us today to think of these categories for making sense of life, reality, and the world as quaint childhood reminders, what hasn’t really been replaced is the same association of mastering and controlling the unwanted, the burdensome, the despoiling, the dispossessed with technological application of power to something who consents but never asked for this interference. That is, the body will always respond to how its controlled, but it doesn’t always respond the way we want. Since patterns repeat themselves, how we think about what governments do with our responses ought to not be far from our thinking about how our selves deal with the responses of our bodies—and given the long history of associating the naturally evolved materiality of our lives with ‘Mother’ and the sovereign will of a potent power with ‘Father’, it’s worth it to slow down and think more carefully about what’s really “base misogny” and what is just what one sees.

You take it as a given that preventing those diseases/cancers is enough of a reason to permit the use of these things. But let’s be reasonable, or perhaps for some academic types locked in to their views, largely unreasonable: if those diseases and cancers are the natural unfolding of one’s bodily reality, how does preventing them unfolding as they do doing anything other than waging a further war of enslavement of the body—take Rousseau, take Hobbes: on Rousseau’s account, compliance of the will by the body through its enslavement with that use of power isn’t a negotiated one, it’s still war; on Hobbes’ account, compliance generated by that use of power restores the body to a state out of war enabling it to cultivate and grow and develop its higher faculties in order to effectively wage war or peace against rivals on the level of its own reality—control the body to allow the space for the sovereign comprising the body to act against or alongside other sovereigns. Yet while we’re supposed to resist Hobbes or Rousseau for respectively different reasons, we’re still left with these metaphorics of bringing a body into an alignment of purpose and will.

In this sense, disease is rebellion, sickness is usurpation, madness is incivility, death is death. But everything, including governments and “our system” will die and must die, or else they are not part of human life.

If technological mastery does not lead to these further technological attempts to reverse the earlier impotent technologies’ mistakes and inefficiencies, then what is it making available for us? We might dislike conservatives, but they have this much right: overproduce food, and mouths will be born to it. Humans, in this respect, are not much different in their environments than algae in eutrophied ponds. Lacking competition as a species, taking our places among the plenipotent gods we don’t believe in any more (while even as comic book heroes our gods aren’t really divine, now we’re back to them as broken but powerful) is the only goal worth killing for, it seems. We might not want to split atoms over local populations who’ve done us no wrong, but the real power of wholesale celibacy, learning to live with the isolation of our own desires, hasn’t even really been tried, even though we’re at the point where neuroscience gives us enough clues to turn back the illusion of selfhood long enough to make actual differences in our endless need to control our wanting, so that we no longer even think splitting the atom “harmlessly” in a controlled setting is something wonderful.

Ever noticed how problems in Star Trek, all those ventings of plasma and warp core breaches and destruction of planets and disruptions of warp-space causing harm to certain indigenous peoples, betray a certain subversion of what’s the core principle of the mythology: the technologies healed the political and social wrongs?

Fantasies are the hardest things to notice, when they’re our own.

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Brett Bellmore 03.02.15 at 5:45 pm

“You’ve said you doubt the science because you believe “the left” just wants to take you stuff. “

I’ve said I doubt the science, because the models didn’t predict the hiatus, and because the quality of the data is dubious. I doubt the motiviations of some of the people involved because obvious solutions are rejected if they don’t result in things the left wanted anyway.

If you really believe that climate change is some kind of existential emergency, you don’t act the way climate change activists do. You don’t reject the only proven large scale source of low CO2 energy, you don’t rule out things like ocean fertilization, if it’s an emergency. That’s like refusing to let the bucket brigade use green buckets to fight the fire. Do you really think there’s a fire if you qubble about the color of the buckets?

And, on the science, let me say that I am a firm believer in the greenhouse effect. It is, after all, why the Earth isn’t a gigantic snowball. But noting that attributing the hiatus to natural variation implies that natural variation was enhancing warming prior to the hiatus, and so the empirical forcing coeficients in the models must be too large, doesn’t make you a flat earther.

Suggesting that actually going out and LOOKING AT weather stations is the sort of thing real scientists think worth doing, doesn’t make you a flat earther.

Science goes wonky, as soon as it has political implications, instead of being about things nobody but scientists care about. People are bad at objectivity, and scientists are people, and when you care the most, is when you need to fight hardest to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, and take seriously the possiblity that you might have messed up.

That’s what I think.

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Plume 03.02.15 at 5:53 pm

Brett,

Where is the likely pressure coming from to alter the science? From the left, which is in disarray, poorly funded, scattered, marginalized . . . or the center-right and further right, which has a ton of funding, effective organization and ideological conformity? Corporate America and MNCs in general have far, far more reason to want to taint the science, and far, far more money to make that happen. It’s not close.

It’s always puzzled me why “conservatives” are so skeptical of environmentalists and their motives while giving a big fat pass to their opposition. There is a massive, grand canyon-like gulf in funding and resources between the two “sides,” and the advantage is all on the opposition to the various “green” movements, etc.

Politics? Money rules there. And the left can’t go toe to toe with the establishment there. There can’t even get into the building.

269

Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 6:02 pm

Chris Grant #263 — Sorry, I thought you were interested in the science of it! It turns out they note that the connections of SST to radiative forcing pose a complex, open question.

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Bruce Wilder 03.02.15 at 6:04 pm

Peter T: I don’t dispute JQ’s finding that the costs of moving to a low carbon economy are modest.

I do not, either.

“Collapse now and avoid the rush,” seems like bad advice all around to me. The welfare losses relative to where we are now, from restructuring the economy to be more sustainable do not seem to me to be particularly large. Vast amounts of fossil fuel energy, and energy generally, are expended wastefully in the sense of producing little of economic value. (All energy is expended wastefully in a physical sense — an important point that seems unaccountably lost at times.) More people could lead recognizably modern, easy lives in the future without destroying the planet, provided that we act to constrain ourselves, so as to not destroy the planet.

Where I part company with JQ and the very serious economists is this analytic framing: “. . . a full scale decarbonization of the economy would reduce global income by no more than 5-10 per cent, relative to the growth that would otherwise have taken place, and that the range 2-5 per cent is more likely to be accurate.

This is not particular to JQ. It is now conventional, and appeared in the recent IPCC mitigation report. I don’t know what that bolded phrase could possibly refer to. I’ve objected to this before and JQ has told me I have peculiar tastes.

I get that replacing infrastructure and energy systems within their regular cycle of reproduction implies that even very large expenditures on these systems imply small “incremental” costs, since the systems they replace were also enormously costly. It is “the growth that would otherwise have taken place” that makes me feel I am engaged in conversation with a character from Alice’s Wonderland.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.02.15 at 6:20 pm

If you think that climate scientists don’t understand their data, then you must think they’re either all exceedingly incompetent, or literally 97% of them are in cahoots to fake the data. This is rather like the Bircherite debate about whether Eisenhower was just a dupe of the international communist conspiracy or an active participant, and with the same degree of connection to the actual facts.

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Plume 03.02.15 at 6:29 pm

Jerry,

Good analogy.

And who’s more likely to fake the data? A scientist working for the IPCC, or one working for Exxon or Monsanto?

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.02.15 at 6:38 pm

I think in general we should be very careful about accusations of outright fakery, as that is an incredibly serious offense in the scientific world. I know plenty of scrupulous scientists who work for corporations. The problem comes when the data and methods are not available for analysis and replication by outsiders; this is an issue with corporate projects, but not with (most) public science.

274

politicalfootball 03.02.15 at 6:45 pm

I’ve got a comment stuck in moderation, but I don’t understand why one would engage with Brett with arguments based on factuality. Brett is working a different side of the street, and only makes rudimentary efforts to conceal that fact.

275

Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 6:47 pm

ZM #245: “‘unsustainable resource depletion’ — if we accept this is true then you should be able to see why “resource usage must actually be forced into reverse” in order to correct the unsustainable resource depletion.”

I no longer accept it as true, that’s the point. I think it’s an open question. The rate of resource depletion may not remain commensurate with economic growth, IF much of economic growth is going soft-energy and weightless faster than anyone thought possible, even a few years ago. Moreover the attention of many business people and engineers hos turned upon the problem, because they DON’T believe the denialists.

We are hearing about photovoltaic efficiencies that were dismissed as impossible.

Look at another area: Look at automobiles and gasoline. A big thing that is likely to happen, indeed is already now technically possible, is driverless cars with accidents reduced by several orders of magnitude. That means they can be made of lightweight materials, and that means they can be entirely electric. They won’t be competing with the big heavy cars on the big highways right away, but they could be very popular for close urban/suburban transport. In fact they are going to be very attractive to consumers, not least because they are going to be self-contained virtual-reality environments, with apps for entertainment, news, office connectivity. The car will do automatic traffic updates, it will pick up local environmental signals emitted by businesses and restaurants as you pass by. If it senses an impending heart attack it will change course and drive you to the nearest hospital. It will have photovoltaics on the roof, energize itself and put the oil companies out of business. Apple is going to take over the world (even further!) The relatively weightless automobile.

We are seeing

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 6:49 pm

all sorts of new stuff

277

TM 03.02.15 at 6:52 pm

Cian 78 makes an important distinction that can’t be emphasized enough: techno-skepticism is not anti-science, and conversely, techno-boosterism is not pro-science. Often the opposite is true.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 6:52 pm

It’s going to be like, I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus.

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js. 03.02.15 at 6:53 pm

A big thing that is likely to happen, indeed is already now technically possible, is driverless cars.

This is, to put it mildly, optimistic.

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Plume 03.02.15 at 6:57 pm

Lee,

What is your take on food waste, packaging, water use, etc. etc.? We Americans currently throw away half our food, literally, and the plastic packaging involved has skyrocketed and narrowed. It’s used for smaller and smaller servings, which means more of it.

You mentioned a shift toward “weightless” economies. Agro is far, far from that, and getting heavier all the time. Heavier for our oceans, land, air, with plastic waste, pesticides, hormones, anti-biotics, etc. etc.

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Consumatopia 03.02.15 at 6:57 pm

@Omega, 203 I’m not sure whether that phenomenon is a matter of keeping people in the flock, or a way of signalling to other members of the flock that you put their interests and perspective ahead of those of outsiders in the way politicalfootball was hinting @86.

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engels 03.02.15 at 6:58 pm

A big thing that is likely to happen, indeed is already now technically possible, is driverless cars.

True

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Bruce Wilder 03.02.15 at 7:14 pm

engels beat me to it

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Matt 03.02.15 at 7:32 pm

I personally dislike driving. It’s an annoying chore. When I need to travel out of town, and I can get there by train in less than 6 hours, I take the train.

But.

There are huge swathes of American suburbs where rails and train stations wouldn’t work well. At the very least you need to be able to get people from their dwellings to the train station and back. I think that wheeled electric vehicles are the best solution for that in many areas. It could be e-bikes, electrified buses, electrified taxis, or personally owned electric cars. Any of those is a significant improvement on the single-passenger internal combustion engine commuter vehicle. Whether it’s driverless or not makes much less difference than whether it needs fossil fuel or can consume electricity directly.

Yes, it would be better for the environment if suburban sprawl had never happened in the first place. But since it did, I think it’s better to try to mitigate that in-place than to mentally write off the suburbs and assume that everyone is going to move to new urban high density housing with mass transit planned in from the beginning. Abandoning millions of houses that are still serviceable and relocating the occupants to denser housing, apart from stretching my suspension of disbelief, has a substantial environmental cost of its own. Casually throwing things away is bad enough for small things like telephones. It’s worse if scaled up to houses. The future may be increasingly dense and urban but I think that the end of suburbia, if it’s to happen, will be a slow decline spread across decades.

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Matt 03.02.15 at 7:39 pm

PS If you want to get more people into the cities, figure out how to prevent the positional goods pricing race for urban real estate. I’d love to move to Seattle or the San Francisco Bay area but my housing costs would go up by 4x or more, and housing is already my number one expense. My wife’s father could afford a home in the Bay area on enlisted Navy pay in the 1970s. The same home recently sold for nearly $900k.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.02.15 at 7:43 pm

I’ve got a comment stuck in moderation, but I don’t understand why one would engage with Brett with arguments based on factuality.

Mostly for the opportunity to make a Bircherite joke.

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adam.smith 03.02.15 at 7:46 pm

@282 – I think Yglesias is right about this one: the problem are NIMBY zoning restrictions and they’re horrible not just for environmental reasons, but also because they prevent people to move towards the jobs that best use their talent.

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Ze Kraggash 03.02.15 at 7:48 pm

Funny. I don’t normally follow these things too closely, but from what I hear recently it sounds like technological miracles are mostly in the area of extraction of oil and gas, in places where it was impossible or prohibitively expensive just a few years ago. Prices go down, futuristic projects get shelved.

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Bruce Wilder 03.02.15 at 7:58 pm

Consumatopia @ 278

“Belief” means a completely different thing, in the realms of science and functional, technological interaction with the world, than it does in the realm of meaning and religion. And, although it’s a distinction we can grasp in the abstract, it is not one with a clean separation that we can easily maintain in our personal psychologies.

To say that I “believe” it will rain tomorrow, based on meteorological data and forecasts, is completely different from saying that I “believe in” the divinity of Christ, or His coming in final judgment and the resurrection of the body for the occasion.

A mythic story of the earth’s creation, that gives meaning to people’s lives, is completely different in its nature from the cosmology of the Big Bang. And, yet, this distinction is not so easy to maintain as a separation in the mind.

Some resistance is almost certainly a combination of disinterest in the functional analysis for its own sake, and the implied demand that cognitive resources be expended re-constructing myths, so as not to “conflict” with the stories of science. If you are not curious about the order apparent in natural history, Darwinian evolution is not going to have much charm for you, and any demand that you abandon or re-work your confidence in your own worth as God’s creature is going to elicit a hostile response.

I’m not sure that we are understanding the resistance to the emerging politics of global warming as resistance to the science behind global warming. It may, or may not, be an effective political tactic, with or without undesirable side-effects as Kahan indicates.

It seems to me that rather than charge people with embracing teh stupid, we might try to understand how they may experience stories about global warming as implicating the meaning of their lives.

People, who are just managing to eke out some kind of meaningful life in the exurbs, and see the fragility of those efforts threatened by every tick up in the price of gas or every rumble of financial instability threatening their jobs or underwater mortgages, might not be interested in the science. And, they might take exception to the kind of left rhetoric that suggests that they are not the hard-working, decent people they imagine themselves to be, but, instead, the undeserving beneficiaries of colonial exploitation et cetera.

The need people have for meaningful narratives — and their tendency to read all narrative analyses for their moral meanings, rather than their scientific content — should not be neglected or overlooked in trying to understand political conflicts that only seem to be debates about science. Insisting that it is about science may still be part of a good strategy — I’m not saying it isn’t.

I am saying that people do not resist facts so much as meanings. And, a resistance to facts may disguise resistance to a narrowing of the diversity of conventionally accepted meanings. As Peter T @ 251 pointed out, even if the cost of decarbonisation may add up in the aggregate to some modest percentage, the details may affect the power and position of a lot of people. And, I would add, their sense of their place in the world, their mastery of tasks and even their self-regard.

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Bruce Wilder 03.02.15 at 8:12 pm

Matt @ 281

Not necessarily disagreeing, but if we are trying to reduce resource use, reconfiguring suburbs and small towns to be closer to the train station, to be denser and devote less space to streets and parking lots and using energy to traverse distances becomes part of the argument for rail as constraining infrastructure. As Lee points out, we could also make personal vehicles much lighter in general; the SUV is obscene.

We’re talking about changing infrastructure in the long-run and very-long-run — in people years, that’s a generation or more: 20, 30, 40, 50 years. Streetcar suburbs circa 1910 were much denser and more walkable than Levitt town circa 1950 and neither was anything like the sprawling wasteland of SUV tickytack post-1990. I’m not saying we have to “go back”, but I am saying that the way to limit welfare losses from using much less energy and producing much less waste and pollution is good architecture.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 8:23 pm

I love trains. I got to ride on one pulled by an old steam engine through the mountains in Pennsylvania. Everybody got out at one station; they backed it up a few miles, then highballed it back through the town so we could all take photos. That was magnificent.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 8:25 pm

Js. #276: “This is, to put it mildly, optimistic.”

Pretty much already in the bag, on that issue. Mike’s article at Rortybomb is from last October. The tech news on “neural-net machine-learning” is that computer visual identification will very soon be several magnitudes better than the human eye, within a year or two. They’ll know sooner than you whether it’s a rock or a newspaper. Identification of objects in photos is already nearly flawless.

It’s neural-net machine-learning. Computer speech recognition is already many times better than human speech recognition, and will be available on your smartphone in a year or two.
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-23/speech-recognition-better-than-a-human-s-exists-you-just-can-t-use-it-yet.html

You won’t be interfacing with smartphones or laptops via keyboard or touchpad, except for a few things. For the most part, you’ll be talking to these things like the computer on Start Trek. Within 5 years at most.

I’m not being a “technological optimist” here. I have always been a realist. I do not make stuff up. You guys should start monitoring the news in technology and start-ups. I have always been a realist, and I am now astonished, several times a week.

You have to keep reading it every week; it is now accelerating beyond any fixed attitude you might have had about things last week.

Meanwhile, Apple is unlikely to be getting into automobiles as an underanalyzed vanity move.

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Matt 03.02.15 at 8:32 pm

@Bruce 287: I agree with that. I was pushing back against an attitude that may not actually be present in this thread: that American suburbs are so inefficient that we should just throw them away and start over. That would actually be even more inefficient. Rather how it’s inefficient if you bought an SUV last year, but even more inefficient if you decide to crush the SUV for scrap and buy a new compact car this year. Improving infrastructure has an energy/emissions cost of its own, so work on setting better patterns for the next generation of infrastructure when the old stuff had reached end-of-life and would be replaced anyway.

One example of a simple, helpful change: get rid of laws that require retail businesses to provide car parking space. This may be unsurprising to everyone ITT, but I didn’t even realize there were such laws until a couple of years ago!

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 8:33 pm

I also love light rail. I used BART out of Berkeley from 1978 though 1990. Now I’m back using the PATCO line into Philly.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.02.15 at 8:40 pm

Lee, with respect, I submit that your assessment of the state of machine learning is overly optimistic. Computer vision still has a long way to go to get to the level of human vision in ecologically valid scenarios; it shines on artificially restricted domains but is much more limited in what it can do in the wild.

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js. 03.02.15 at 8:58 pm

computer visual identification will very soon be several magnitudes better than the human eye

So… not already in the bag, then? Look, I’ll take your word for it that you’re not a technological optimist, but the things you’re saying sound a ton like what technological optimism has sounded like through the decades. So I think I will, as the saying goes, wait to see it before I believe it.

(And “neural nets”, by the way, were a huge deal in the ’80s. They’re referenced in the first Terminator movie. Fodor and Pylyshyn (I had to look that up) did a mind-numbingly thorough, 80-page long takedown sometime in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Just saying that “neural net machine learning” isn’t some very new idea.)

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Matt 03.02.15 at 9:08 pm

I think it’s too early to tell whether Lee A. Arnold is right about the technology that will be ubiquitous in 5 years. There have been a lot of false dawns in all sorts of technological domains. That said, machine vision has improved a lot in the last 10 years.

One example I like to bring up because even many tech-savvy people don’t know it: since at least 2006 several algorithms have surpassed humans at matching human faces from photographs. Some caveats apply: computers aren’t yet better with blurry low-resolution photos, or with familiar faces (e.g. close friends and family). But even surpassing humans on reasonably clear photographs of strangers is impressive. In the 1990s facial identity matching was frequently considered one of those “computers will never do it better” problems. If you don’t follow niche tech news you might still have thought that computers were still terrible at it. Or if you follow TV shows you might think that the problem was perfectly solved long ago.

http://biometrics.nist.gov/cs_links/face/frgc/FaceRecognitionAlgorithmsSurpassHumans.pdf

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TM 03.02.15 at 9:13 pm

This link I think is relevant to the science/anti-science thread (which I guess has morphed into something else but if you are still interested…):

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/02/27/1367408/-Between-the-llamas-and-the-dress-you-may-have-missed-Fox-News-reaction-to-Net-Neutrality-decision

What is documented here are the reactions of Fox News readers to the FCC net neutrality rules: they think – because they have been told so by Fox news and other authorities they trust – that the FCC has abolished “internet freedom”. The point being: right-wing anti-scientism isn’t at all about the intricacies of the scientific method and of who has read which peer-reviewed articles. It’s really just plain old anti-realism.

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Collin Street 03.02.15 at 9:15 pm

> In the 1990s facial identity matching was frequently considered one of those “computers will never do it better” problems.

Eh, not as I recall. I was a comp.sci student back in the ’90s, and I don’t recall that one ever being mentioned as likely to be particularly technologically difficult or intractable, unlike say machine translation.

300

engels 03.02.15 at 9:18 pm

I remember reading somewhere that for the majority of people on the majority of days, driving to work is the most mentally challenging task they perform.

301

Layman 03.02.15 at 9:27 pm

Brett Bellmore @ 264

“And, on the science, let me say that I am a firm believer in the greenhouse effect. It is, after all, why the Earth isn’t a gigantic snowball. But noting that attributing the hiatus to natural variation implies that natural variation was enhancing warming prior to the hiatus, and so the empirical forcing coeficients in the models must be too large, doesn’t make you a flat earther.”

Taking this step at face value (a mistake, I know), I can’t see the point of it. It sounds like you believe in the mechanisms, but doubt which levers are applying them. Suppose you’re right. How are the looming catastrophic effects mitigated by your superior knowledge? And don’t say there are no looming catastrophic effects – if you believe in the mechanisms, it’s just a matter of time, right? Or is it your view nothing can be done in mitigation? If so, why not? If you agree we contribute anything to the problem (and you seem to), how can you at the same time thing we can’t un-contribute to the problem?

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 9:42 pm

Jerry #292 — As I wrote above, I would give it only a year or two, but you know more about this than I do. As you know, neural network machine learning is in a renaissance. (Link to Microsoft’s new announcement below.) If these systems are made binocular, and they set up a refreshed 3-D model, what’s the remaining technical hurdle? How much time, do you think?

Insofar as it is necessary for self-driving autos, note also that it may not incur much ecological difficulty to identify a rock or a newspaper, or tell them apart, against an asphalt road. And the implementation of self-driving cars does not depend entirely upon computer picture recognition anyway, as I’m sure you know.

Here is what I found last week:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelthomsen/2015/02/19/microsofts-deep-learning-project-outperforms-humans-in-image-recognition/

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 9:46 pm

Here is a link to Microsoft’s technical paper; it’s completely beyond me:
http://arxiv.org/pdf/1502.01852v1.pdf

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 9:50 pm

Also, these recurrent neural networks are going to be applied to look at and try to resolve mathematical problems, scientific theory problems, technical problems, material design problems… then it’s Skynet and Terminator III.

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RSA 03.02.15 at 9:55 pm

@289: You won’t be interfacing with smartphones or laptops via keyboard or touchpad, except for a few things. For the most part, you’ll be talking to these things like the computer on Start Trek. Within 5 years at most.

I’m skeptical. Not because of speech recognition capabilities, but because designing user interfaces is hard to do right. Consider that we’ve had commercial graphical user interfaces to be controlled with a keyboard and mouse since the mid-1980s, with their precursors going back to the late 1970s, and after 30 years they’re still clunky in many ways. We know much less about how people will use really good speech interfaces or how to build them.

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engels 03.02.15 at 10:05 pm

People enjoy driving, I believe, because it is an exercise of skill, a rare opportunity in today’s white-collar pin factories. Of course it stands to reason it must be abolished. Thanks Sergey! While I can’t I deny the idea that Google’s self-driving cars are to be the solution to inflated property prices in the Bay Area has a certain elegance, I’m inclined to favour this:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/20/us-techbus-protest-sanfrancisco-idUSBRE9BJ1BC20131220

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Matt 03.02.15 at 10:21 pm

I’m skeptical. Not because of speech recognition capabilities, but because designing user interfaces is hard to do right. Consider that we’ve had commercial graphical user interfaces to be controlled with a keyboard and mouse since the mid-1980s, with their precursors going back to the late 1970s, and after 30 years they’re still clunky in many ways. We know much less about how people will use really good speech interfaces or how to build them.

Agreed! I have Ray Kurzweil’s lesser known first book from the 1980s, The Age of Intelligent Machines. In some ways he got the tech quite right, in other ways quite wrong, but he gets the human factors really wrong. One of his prediction was that speaking will soon become the dominant mode of human-computer interaction. Even in the 1980s he should have been able to realize that’s wrong. Look at an office full of workers with computers. Now imagine that instead of quietly typing and clicking away at computers they’re all speaking aloud. “Sort using column C, order by date descending. Update E6 to one point eight seven five. Email results to Pam Lewis…” Cacophony, and voice fatigue at the end of the day. It only seems like a good idea in fiction. Outside the office, young people with phones text more than they speak over them, by choice and not by technological limitations.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 10:41 pm

RSA #302: “We know much less about how people will use really good speech interfaces…”

Well, we can take some guesses. I’m guessing it will be backformed from smartphone requirements.

The facts, so far: There are 700 million PC’s (personal computers, i.e. laptops & desktops) on the globe, and sales have permanently leveled-off into what looks like a replacement market. However, there will be around 5 billion cellphones in the world by the end of 2015 (I think I wrote 6 billion above, sorry) and that market is still exploding, probably going to higher than total world population.

Cellphones get replaced an average of once every 2 years (these figures are all from reading the indispensable Benedict Evans). So they’re all going to be smartphones shortly. The smartphone will be most people’s only computer, and for most of them, all they ever need. Right now, PC usage already pales in comparison to smartphone usage.

And many people in developed countries will never replace their old PC’s, because now they don’t really need them. If they foresee occasions when a bigger screen would be helpful, they will buy a larger smartphone, a “phablet” instead. This is happening in my household.

To summarize, smartphones drive these considerations, not PC’s. PC market growth has stopped.

So that helps to answer your question, a little. The issue is how to manipulate the thing, which is why apps arose; they’re one-touch easy for a small screen. Voice recognition makes apps obsolete, EXCEPT for situations where silence is desired or required. Because voice is even faster. You are going to say, “Send this photo to Joe,” in whatever language you speak, and it will happen.

On the other hand, I am on an iMac right now and I use Adobe After Effects to make video animations. I don’t think much of animating could be efficiently verbalized. Even if they wanted to, I can’t imagine Adobe will see any market demand to do it any time soon.

You will hop in your Applecar, say “Take me to Joe’s,” and it will happen. I think at this point, you can almost count on it.

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afeman 03.02.15 at 10:51 pm

Whereupon is asks “how would you like your steak, free of bones?”

310

engels 03.02.15 at 11:09 pm

Well, I’m happy that you’re so excited about it, Lee.

311

Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 11:14 pm

Afeman — All the Applecar will need is a loo.

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Anarcissie 03.02.15 at 11:14 pm

Matt 03.02.15 at 10:21 pm @ 304: ‘… Cacophony …’

Well, for the office, they could learn ASL. But in fact many businesses have been reducing the cubicle walls to nothing, so everyone can interfere with everyone else anyway. Maybe a background of random blabber will be thought desirable. I think there will be a serious problem, though, in that most humans do not normally speak in well-formed sentences using a standard vocabulary. If you’ve ever seen a literal or phonetic transcript of informal conversation you’ll know what I mean.

How will self-driving cars alleviate real estate inflation in the Bay Area, though?

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engels 03.02.15 at 11:22 pm

Because you can commute from the banlieues while playing Call of Duty I assume

314

Consumatopia 03.02.15 at 11:25 pm

Bruce Wilder@286, I definitely agree that a lot of this is about choosing meanings rather than ignorance of facts. I just don’t think that meanings are innocent in the way Kahan seems to. People have chosen myths with meanings that fit their values, but those values are exclusionary–zero or negative sum. The fundamentalist believes they are created in God’s image, but that the rest of us are abominations Because The Lord Said So. The proud exurbanite rejects the narrative that paints them as a beneficiary of colonialism, but that just means that suffering peoples are to blame for their own problems. One could imagine a society that accepts the fact of anthropogenic climate change, but insists that flooded coastal communities are to blame for their own predicament because they didn’t have the foresight to move inland or build flood walls. Kahan is essentially suggesting that we let the other side write the theme tune.

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engels 03.02.15 at 11:34 pm

Rather more useful than any of this would be knowing how (if) it’s still possible to extricate myself from 24/7 USG / SV surveillance. Any suggestions?

316

Lee A. Arnold 03.02.15 at 11:42 pm

Engels, I,m not happy abut all of it. The militaries are going to develop bipedal robots with weapons. There are serious Silicon Valley people warning about the future dangers of AI. There was this little movie nobody saw, called The Terminator. Lots of science fiction becomes true. A lot of Jules Verne became true.

317

RSA 03.02.15 at 11:48 pm

Matt @304: Nice examples of the challenge of doing things right.

Lee A. Arnold @305: Thanks for your interesting explanation.

The issue is how to manipulate the thing, which is why apps arose; they’re one-touch easy for a small screen. Voice recognition makes apps obsolete, EXCEPT for situations where silence is desired or required. Because voice is even faster. You are going to say, “Send this photo to Joe,” in whatever language you speak, and it will happen.

This is a plausible case for a speech interface. I think it’s a better case for what’s called multimodal interaction, which here would combine speech and touch: the user browses through a set of photos via touch and then issues a command via speach. So I think you’re looking in the right direction. Just underestimating the difficulty.

Speech is great for human-human interaction, so it seems a natural for human-computer interaction, but all sorts of subtle problems arise. Speech isn’t great for input of spatial information (e.g., for interacting with video, photo browsing, maps); human communications are full of clarification dialogs that feel intrusive when a computer’s on the other side; speech interfaces are non-transparent, in the sense that you can’t easily figure out what the system can understand, and it’s typically a lot less than it can express with speech; understanding context is a very hard problem. It may take a long time before it all shakes out.

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ZM 03.03.15 at 12:09 am

Lee A Arnold,

“I no longer accept [unsustainable resource consumption] as true, that’s the point. I think it’s an open question. The rate of resource depletion may not remain commensurate with economic growth, IF much of economic growth is going soft-energy and weightless faster than anyone thought possible, even a few years ago. “

You seem to be making two different points here –

1 – “I no longer accept [unsustainable resource consumption] as true” – but all the reports say that current levels of resource use are unsustainable and causing extinctions and pollution and climate change and so on and is threatening Earth’s life support systems for future generations. I have not seen any report that congratulates all the countries for such sustainable consumption patterns.

2. “The rate of resource consumption may not remain commensurate with economic growth”
The article I quoted showed that there has already been some decoupling of resource use from economic growth but in a context of absolute growth of resource consumption. As current consumption levels are unsustainable according to the reports then overall global consumption should go down to what is sustainable (it is difficult to find anything that specifies what this would be). “May not” is not a good implementation plan – you would have to come up with a number of laws and policies you would use to cut people’s overly high resource use down to sustainable levels (while ensuring these are fair and decrease rather than exacerbate global inequalities)

319

John Quiggin 03.03.15 at 12:39 am

It is “the growth that would otherwise have taken place” that makes me feel I am engaged in conversation with a character from Alice’s Wonderland.

Are you really saying you don’t understand the difference between counterfactuals and fairytales? Or do you have a specific difficulty with counterfactuals about economic growth? To spell it out.

(a) Under Business as Usual, income per person in the world is likely to grow at x per cent annual (plus or minus some delta) over the period to 2050, but we will experience severe adverse environmental consequences
(b) Under decarbonization, income is likely to grow at x – 0.2 per cent annually (plus or minus some delta) over the period to 2050, and we will avoid the worst of those consequences

320

Lee A. Arnold 03.03.15 at 12:45 am

RSA, You make a plausible case for the continued integration of finger motion, because it’s easier. You make me think of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, where he shows that pointing is required to create some of our meaning in life, to begin with. (and so therefore, the logical positivist program of explaining the world entirely by algorithms will never work, etc. etc.) It’s reasonable to conclude that some sorts of cognitive operations in life will ALWAYS remain simpler and quicker by finger, such as your examples of browsing photos on smartphone, expanding maps, etc.

I feel the same way about making simple computer animations.

There is also the little problem of “When is it NOT listening to you?” E.g. while you are in conversation with others, the phone might pick up the words and start doing things you don’t want. On Star Trek even Spock always addressed it: “Computer, calculate this…” Or give the volume button on the side, a dual purpose of sound-input switchoff.

There’s also the issue of security. I think a TV screenmaker just had to assure its customers that its new TV screens aren’t picking up livingroom conversations.

321

Lee A. Arnold 03.03.15 at 1:11 am

ZM, I don’t understand your argument from the general premise. Current consumption levels of WHAT are unsustainable? Fossil fuels? Absolutely yes. Water? In many areas. Soil? Yes, if we don’t change more practices. Food? Probably not, if we can fix water. Copper? I haven’t studied it, but I’m guessing not. Concrete? I think we have plenty of goddamn concrete, but I really don’t know about that either. Solar energy? No! huge consumption levels of solar energy are sustainable.

Which one of these are you are talking about? Is it everything? What do you want to do about it?

322

Matt 03.03.15 at 1:22 am

The problem IMO is more that we are running out of capacity to dispose of wastes than that we are running out of raw materials to turn into wastes. This applies to both fossil fuels and concrete, for example. We have way too much fossil fuel to safely burn it all and dump the waste CO2 in the atmosphere. Concrete too is constrained more by how much CO2 we can dump in the atmosphere while calcining limestone than by how much limestone we can find. If the only constraints on the use of fossil fuels or concrete are “stop when you’ve used up all the raw materials,” we’re in for a very bad time. Because there is a lot of raw material left.

323

Brett Bellmore 03.03.15 at 1:23 am

” It sounds like you believe in the mechanisms, but doubt which levers are applying them. Suppose you’re right. How are the looming catastrophic effects mitigated by your superior knowledge?”

This is not a matter of levers. The models that are predicting catastrophic warming are not purely based on physics. This is because a lot of the relevant phenomena are not well understood. Cloud formation, for instance.

Because of this, the models incorporate empirical coefficients, derived from past climate measurements. Lots of them. I would say that the models are, to a significant extent, exercises in curve fitting with excess variables.

Curve fitting works well over the range of the points the curve is fitted to. It is no good substitute for understanding when leaving that range. So, I start out not being terribly confident in these models. Add that almost all of them failed to predict the hiatus, and my confidence declines.

My willingness to see vast expenditures of resources and massive changes to our way of life declines in concert with said confidence… But I notice the level of hysterical urgency among ‘warmists’ seems to increase as the hiatus goes on, which seems backwards to me. Unless maybe motivated by a fear that they might not get what they want before the whole edifice falls in.

This is just to make my 6 year old happy, he wants to know what a strikethrough looks like.

324

RSA 03.03.15 at 1:25 am

Lee A. Arnold @320: Cool that you mention Wittgenstein! There’s little enough philosophy that makes its way into computer science (leaving out artificial intelligence), but Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Merleau-Ponty are the main influences in human-computer interaction.

325

Lee A. Arnold 03.03.15 at 1:46 am

Brett Bellmore #323: “as the hiatus goes on”

It appears the hiatus has stopped, dude. And it wasn’t a true hiatus to begin with; it had a mean slope upward. And it was in only a brief slowdown in surface air temperature; there are other places for the heat energy to go. And it is possible to find where the energy can go; in fact it now looks like the explanation is in an oscillation involving two oceans. And this doesn’t mean it’s the last word; perhaps another mechanism will be found too. And it doesn’t mean the models were wrong forever; it means they need to be improved. And this doesn’t mean we need to wait until the models are perfect; there is so much other confirmation it isn’t funny any more. And there will be no massive changes to your way of life by mitigation; because you wouldn’t notice a 2-5% drop in economic output over 50 years, EVEN IF IT HAPPENS. And there is no guarantee it will happen; the econ model predicting that, is much faultier than the climate model predicting disaster.

326

john c. halasz 03.03.15 at 1:55 am

@320:

” Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, where he shows that pointing is required to create some of our meaning in life”

Umm… I think you got that backwards, if your referring to the early part discussing ostensive definition. Or the basic impossibility of any such “pure” definition. Some questionings there are apparently intentionally silly, such as how do we know that the pointing gesture is directed at the thing pointed at, rather than, say, operating in the reverse direction somehow. Others are more acute, as asking just what in the thing pointed at is being selected as what is at issue in a definition. But the upshot is that a whole lot of “stage-setting” is required for an ostensive gesture to function as a definition, so any purely ostensive conception of definition, (i.e. any immediate notion of reference) can’t work. The broader implicit point is that regarding pure unmediated experience, “knowledge by acquaintance”, as the primary and even foundational basis of knowledge, is really just an epistemological fantasy. Unlike Freud, who claimed to show the hidden sense behind apparent nonsense, Wittgenstein was intent on showing the hidden nonsense behind apparent sense.

327

js. 03.03.15 at 2:08 am

I was living in a small town in Ohio a few years back (it has a college, predictably), and there were road signs at intersections there that made me feel like I was living in the first few pages of the Investigations. It was seriously like ostention in fucking reverse.

328

politicalfootball 03.03.15 at 2:45 am

My 261 finally posted. And Brett gets it. He’s using some science words, but there’s no scientific content there at all.

Climate scientists, he tells us, are cooking their data to be more favorable to the climate change hypothesis. How do we know? Because the Daily Caller says they changed their data to make it less favorable to their hypothesis.

The planet is warming, he tells us, because we are departing an ice age. Also the temperature of the planet has stayed the same. Also, the temperature is going down.

Is that gibberish? A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of scientists; it’s not a burden for people who understand the deeper truths.

Scientists are forever in peril of being wrong. Brett will never have that problem, because he’s not trying to be right in the way that scientists are.

329

TM 03.03.15 at 3:56 am

JQ: “Under Business as Usual, income per person in the world is likely to grow at x per cent annual (plus or minus some delta) over the period to 2050, but we will experience severe adverse environmental consequences”

What always amazes me is the assumption that GDP would continue growing as if nothing happened while severe environmental crises are playing out. As Beckerman has stated it, without any sarcasm intended: So what if Climate Change ruins agriculture, it would only affect one percent of GDP. It’s an insane delusion – we really can’t eat money.

This is not meant as a retort against JQ but the idea that there IS going to be business as usual under runaway climate change is a dangerous fantasy.

330

TM 03.03.15 at 3:59 am

Granted that the more severe effects of climate change will not play out before 2050 but there definitely will be some, including very likely declines in agricultural productivity.

331

Omega Centauri 03.03.15 at 4:16 am

TM. True the BAU scenario used as a baseline is probably overoptimistic. But the point what JQ and others are making is that even ignoring those nonlinear effects (on BAU secenario), the net “cost” of decarbonization will be small. If you add in the dangers/costs accruing from BAU the cost becomes even smaller (or negative). So the case becomes stronger still.

In any case the problem with justifying decarbonization also has a lot to do with high discount rate, and the fact that benefits (or avoidance of harm) only accumulates slowly. So it is easy to decide to wait or go-slowly. This is largely a consequence that CO2 concentration depends upon cumulative emissions, not emission rate, and weather/climate effects are also buffered by the heat capacity of the oceans, so the benefits of present day mitigation are typically decades in the future.

Also of course there is the far greater problem of well funded mis(dis)information, and the outright purchasing of political actors by deep pocketed fossil fuel interests. So the public debate (at least as it affects general elections), does not feature a rational weighing of costs/benefits, but tends to be dominated by fearmongering.

332

Lee A. Arnold 03.03.15 at 4:27 am

John #326 — By “meaning of life” I did not mean “word definition”, but I suppose I am once again causing confusion. Wittgenstein might have said something like, Pointing is a possible method of creating “understanding” in a circumstance (or setting) of a particular “training”.

Anyway it suggested to me that in the case of interface design, we should always consider the possibility that nonverbal pointing could remain the fastest way to perform certain acts in certain settings.

333

Peter T 03.03.15 at 6:53 am

What close ecological management calls for is a good measure of de-globalisation. The social and political issue is that globalisation, or financialisation, is the mechanism that transfers wealth to places like London, New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Sydney. Limit the flows and these places suffer. Badly. Not just the rich who command the wealth, but all those that live off/with/around them. In terms of the overall wealth of humanity, it may be a small cost. But it will be a cost concentrated quite tightly.

334

Bruce Wilder 03.03.15 at 7:51 am

JQ: Are you really saying you don’t understand the difference between counterfactuals and fairytales?

Strictly speaking, there are no counterfactuals in this argument. To have a counterfactual, you have to have a factual. What there are in this setup are two stylized projections — two “counterfactuals”, but no factual. It is an act of imagination. That doesn’t make it a fairy tale exactly, but it makes its ostensive function rather murky.

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

335

reason 03.03.15 at 8:21 am

Peter T
“What close ecological management calls for is a good measure of de-globalisation. The social and political issue is that globalisation, or financialisation, is the mechanism that transfers wealth to places like London, New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Sydney. Limit the flows and these places suffer. Badly. Not just the rich who command the wealth, but all those that live off/with/around them. In terms of the overall wealth of humanity, it may be a small cost. But it will be a cost concentrated quite tightly.”

I don’t think this follows at all. Yes we need to move away from fossil fuel powered road transport, and just in time may have had its day. But slow massive ocean transport is not particularly energy intensive. And cities are more energy efficient than distributed living. Lots of small local transportation still uses lots of energy, and less efficiently than massive flows. I don’t really understand the view that localization is the way to go. I would have thought the logic was move things slower and more concentrated loads to minimize the loss from air resistance (there are other ways, but I suspect the engineering cost is too high (vacuum tubes for instance). People will still want to maintain variety in their lives, trading will live on.

336

Joseph Brenner 03.03.15 at 8:22 am

Kahan is a confirmed “both sides do it” kind of guy, and he has
some evidence on his side. Yes, the right is bad on climate
change, but the left is bad on nuclear power, in almost an
exactly parallel way (e.g. any expert opinion that disagrees with
your side is rejected– either accused of being a deluded
ideologue or corrupted propagandist).

Krugman, on the other hand, argues that in his experience the
right is even worse (and Kahan is remarkably, irrationally pissy
about the fact that Krugman dares to disagree). There’s a key
point that supports Krugman: the left has is cranks in odd
corners, and the right has its cranks occupying Congress. For
example, you don’t find Democratic politicians who are violently
anti-nuclear the way you can find Republicans who are violently
anti-climate change.

So, there’s a pretty simple fix to the United States ills:
elect Democrats.

337

Joseph Brenner 03.03.15 at 8:29 am

Matt 03.01.15 at 7:48 pm:

My problem with modern nuclear power is more the inability of
the industry to build to a schedule and a budget. Also the long
lead times even when everything goes as planned. China is
supposed to be the great hope for nuclear power but even their
reactors average 6 years from construction start to commercial
operation.

France. After the 70s energy crisis, France is the only country
that responded intelligently. They did a massive scale-up of
nuclear power in a short period of time, and consequently they’re
C02 emissions are really low.

If you think 6 years is a long time, think about how long it’ll
take you to build an equivalent photovaltaic plant.

Lee A. Arnold 03.01.15 at 3:42 pm:

Creating fission waste seems to me to be as short-sighted as
pumping CO2 into the atmosphere.

And you’re completely wrong. The high-level waste from light
water reactors is sealed-up by design, and by and large you get
to decide where to put it… even if it was a global threat on
the level of CO2 emissions (it isn’t), that alone would be a huge
advantage.

And the fourth-generation reactors in the works are designed to
produce less waste, even using the existing high-level waste
as fuel. China is aiming to get one working in 2017, the
TerraPower startup is aiming to get one working in 2020.

338

Peter T 03.03.15 at 9:54 am

reason @335

You are right if the major problem is energy production and use. I’m thinking more of water use, topsoil loss, invasive species, over-fishing, coastal development, nitrogen over-use, loss of genetic diversity of both farmed and wild species, reforestation…

Financialisation and globalisation makes it too easy to hide or disregard the “externalities”. Once you have put a financial value on something, you have by that fact put it up for sale, and made money the standard by which the value will be computed. And the developers, banks and intensive farmers will always have more money. So part of the way to go is to take a lot of the environment off market. But the market flows are what the global centres live on, so they will take the hit.

339

Salem 03.03.15 at 10:20 am

What is documented here are the reactions of Fox News readers to the FCC net neutrality rules: they think – because they have been told so by Fox news and other authorities they trust – that the FCC has abolished “internet freedom”. The point being: right-wing anti-scientism isn’t at all about the intricacies of the scientific method and of who has read which peer-reviewed articles. It’s really just plain old anti-realism.

This is silly. There is no scientific definition of what “freedom” or an “open internet” means. They are value-laden terms.

From one way of looking at it, the FCC has abolished “internet freedom” – the freedom of ISPs to create and charge for preferential services. From another way of looking at it, the FCC has strengthened “internet freedom” – the freedom of every packet to be treated equally. From a third way of looking at it, the FCC has intervened to force Comcast to pay for Netflix’s high bandwidth use.

You may not agree with comments about net neutrality like:

I didn’t realize that something needed to be “fixed”. Leave it to the government to step in a fix something that didn’t need to be fixed.

But they reflect a difference in values and priorities, not “anti-realism,” and it says far more about you (and the Daily Kos) than it does about Fox News readers, that you fail to realise this.

340

Brett Bellmore 03.03.15 at 11:07 am

“And it wasn’t a true hiatus to begin with; it had a mean slope upward.”

Pfh. You’ll use natural variability to dismiss a pause that goes on for a decade or two, a huge gap between the predictions of the models and actual measurements, and then hang your argument on a slope that’s less than the accuracy of those measurements? Funny how that noise comes and goes as convenient. It has a mean slope upward OR downward, depending on the exact dates you chose for plotting your line, which is as practical a definition for having no distinct slope as any. It certainly conspicuously diverges from the models’ predictions.

“What always amazes me is the assumption that GDP would continue growing as if nothing happened while severe environmental crises are playing out.”

Shouldn’t surprise you, given that the “severe environmental crisis” represents a shift in the mean temperature that’s smaller than an hour’s normal temperature variation in the weather. Changes you’d never even notice if you weren’t taking careful measurements. Literally, no larger than the difference between two different fields on the same farm. Humans could not detect it without thermometers.

Now, there ARE predictions that, at some point, something will go “sproing”, and suddenly huge changes will happen. From models that predicted enormously more warming over the last couple of decades than actually happened.

Of course you’re going to get that from models that have positive feedback just short of runaway built right into them. The question is whether the models are right about this.

341

Barry 03.03.15 at 1:20 pm

“… represents a shift in the mean temperature that’s smaller than an hour’s normal temperature variation in the weather. …”

Again, an alleged engineer doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate, and doesn’t understand that small average shifts can cause great damage.

Do you even understand why somebody might use a CUSUM chart rather than a good ol’ X-bar/S chart?

342

Brett Bellmore 03.03.15 at 2:09 pm

This seems to be a common line of argumentation: “Agree with me, or else you don’t understand the subject!” Of course I understand the difference between climate and weather. I also understand that the projected temperature shifts are rather small compared to daily and seasonal variations in temperature. Not at all a matter of “the seas boiling”.

And I am acquainted with SPC, though we don’t to my knowledge use CUSUM charts at this plant.

In theory, of course, under some circumstances a very gradual shift of climatic zones 50 miles or so towards the poles might have some dramatic effect in an isolated ecosystem. You would not expect it to have dramatic economic consequences. You would not even expect it to have uniformly negative consequences.

Particularly since the expected warming is projected to be accompanied by smaller variations in day/night and winter/summer temperatures. That’s what adding insulation to a system does, after all.

343

TM 03.03.15 at 2:12 pm

Salem 339, very amusing. You say that these Fox News viewers are well-informed, internet-savvy people who just happen to think that the most important aspect of “freedom” is the freedom of ISPs to fleece their customers, and are mad at “Obama” for restricting that freedom. Well I guess it’s not impossible. Except this is what they are actually saying:

“There goes Internet freedom. First thing will be no Fox News web site.
So I guess our first amendment rights don’t matter.”

This is just a reasonable disagreement over the definition of freedom, right?

344

David J. Littleboy 03.03.15 at 2:20 pm

“From a third way of looking at it, the FCC has intervened to force Comcast to pay for Netflix’s high bandwidth use.”

It’s more complicated than that*. For Netflix to use a lot of bandwidth, it has to be close to the backbone (i.e. able to get the bits from its servers onto the internet). Service providers still get to charge Netflix for the bits it puts onto the internet. What the providers don’t get to do is charge a second time for those bits as they come off the internet. Of course, presumably Comcast isn’t also a corporate close-to-the-backbone provider, so is irritated it doesn’t get to charge for those bits.

This is all very irritating, since the idea that there’s a public internet that functions as an information superhighway just like the interstate functions as a network for physical communications, and that we can have this argument about how packets should be prioritized, is really kewl, and Al Gore really did create it. (Which is what he actually said, and is, in fact, actually true.)

*: Truth in advertising: this was my revelation the other day when I asked a bloke who works for an ISP here in Tokyo what his company’s official take on net neutrality was. Since they’re a corporate provider, they didn’t have one, and it was then that I realized that it takes two to tango.

345

Plume 03.03.15 at 2:25 pm

Brett, you’re aware, I hope, that “global warming” has already had severe effects. It’s not just about future projections. For quite some time now, we’ve seen the changes. Bird migrations have been altered. Mass destruction of bees. Vineyards moving to higher, cooler locations around the world. Coffee plantations doing the same. Sea levels rising. The impact of storms being greatly heightened because of those already higher sea levels. Sandy was a recent example.

Farmers around the world have had to make major adjustments due to the higher temps. Animals sense it and have altered their behaviors, as have insects.

This isn’t just about computer models, good or bad. This has already happened, and the logic of pollution/greenhouse gases and all around capitalist consumption/pollution/waste tells us it’s going to get worse, and worse and worse.

346

politicalfootball 03.03.15 at 2:49 pm

Lee@340:

And this doesn’t mean it’s the last word; perhaps another mechanism will be found too. And it doesn’t mean the models were wrong forever; it means they need to be improved.

This starts to get at the real issue.

When you explain to Brett that oceans play a role in absorbing heat, do you think this is something he doesn’t know? Of course he knows it; that’s why he doesn’t talk about it.

The examination of evidence is a means to an end: your end is to try to figure out the truth; Brett’s is to show that climate science is bunk. You get different results because you are doing different things.

Do the two of you have any meaningful factual disagreements? Brett acknowledges that the data show a continuing upward trend in air temperatures; I’m sure you would acknowledge that the graph of that trend has less slope lately than it has had in other periods.

Both of you understand that discussing ocean-related data doesn’t serve Brett’s goals.

So what’s this debate even about? I’d argue that it’s about the utility of science as a method of knowledge — or it’s about nothing at all.

347

TM 03.03.15 at 2:56 pm

Climate change is increasing the risk of severe drought in California by causing warm periods and dry periods to overlap more often, according to a new study.

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-california-drought-hot-and-dry-20150226-story.html

Nothing to see here, move over!

[Ceterum censeo trollum not alendum esse.]

348

Plume 03.03.15 at 3:01 pm

politicalfootball,

Good points. The purpose of the right wing is primarily to cast doubt on attempts to make progress in the world. It is to cast doubt on the efficacy of trying to make a better life for the world’s citizens. It does this because the job of the right is to secure the privileges, wealth and power of the high and mighty, the financial aristocrats of this world, and to some degree, their upper-level tools. That would include religious zealots, who have a great deal of influence over their flocks of sheep.

Cast doubt. On everything from evolution to climate change, minimum wage to consumer and workplace safety, to fair trade and higher taxes on the rich. Cast doubt. This is done to slow the pace of progress and change, or bring it to a stop entirely, or reverse it. And in the last few decades, that effort has seen billions and billions of new dollars come to its aid in the form of right-wing billionaires who have forgotten how they got there — or couldn’t care less to begin with.

The left has been far too accommodating since the 1960s, it’s last hurrah, so to speak. Now, it seems to believe that giving the right a “fair shake” is far more important than actually working toward progressive change. Being “fair” trumps all, apparently. Meanwhile, the right has taken the left’s lunch and is working on its body now.

349

Brett Bellmore 03.03.15 at 3:16 pm

“Farmers around the world have had to make major adjustments due to the higher temps.”

Bingo, and this is why it is rational to anticipate little in the way of negative economic consequences in the face of warming. The seas aren’t going to boil, farmers will simply grow different crops.

“When you explain to Brett that oceans play a role in absorbing heat, do you think this is something he doesn’t know? Of course he knows it; that’s why he doesn’t talk about it.”

I didn’t mention it, because it seemed like piling on. Do you have any idea how freaking huge the heat capacity of the oceans is, compared to the amount of energy we’re talking about here? How long they could absorb the Earth’s excess heat balance without appreciably warming? Have you ever run the numbers yourself? I have. I suggest you do it.

350

Brett Bellmore 03.03.15 at 3:17 pm

“Brett’s is to show that climate science is bunk. “

Do you grasp the difference between “bunk”, and “firmly grounded enough to justify massive expenditures and huge societal changes”? Because I assure you that it’s a distinction I’m clear on.

351

Plume 03.03.15 at 3:23 pm

Brett @349,

But not all farmers have the means to make those adjustments. Those adjustments cost money. All too many farmers are barely making it as it is. Do you seriously think this doesn’t have a major economic impact on them? And do you seriously think “switching to other crops” is easy and without repercussions?

And, again, this is just the beginning.

Btw, the Pentagon and the CIA, those bastions of leftist ideology, believe global warming is a major threat to our national security. The CIA predicts mass disruptions and billions of refugees, while the Pentagon believes its going to have to relocate most of its Naval bases. Google seal levels and Norfolk, VA, for instance.

352

Plume 03.03.15 at 3:24 pm

Whoops. Google “sea levels and Norfolk, VA.”

I think the seals in some places are worried, too.

353

Phil 03.03.15 at 3:29 pm

Particularly since the expected warming is projected to be accompanied by smaller variations in day/night and winter/summer temperatures. That’s what adding insulation to a system does, after all.

Oh well, I’m sure there are no flora nor fauna, nor any systems of interaction between the two, that rely on the existing variability to survive. Nothing to see here!

Do you have any idea how freaking huge the heat capacity of the oceans is, compared to the amount of energy we’re talking about here? How long they could absorb the Earth’s excess heat balance without appreciably warming? Have you ever run the numbers yourself?

Luckily the temperature is the only important factor here and the increased acidification due to the absorption of additional CO2 has absolutely no effect on the coral or phytoplankton populations. None whatsoever! And even if it did, those don’t affect anything!

354

Anarcissie 03.03.15 at 3:30 pm

Plume 03.03.15 at 3:23 pm @ 351 — That means the Navy will get to spend more money and use more land and other resources, which they can hardly see as detrimental — a relationship which encapsulates much about the more general situation.

355

politicalfootball 03.03.15 at 3:51 pm

So again: The oceans are absorbing excess heat, which doesn’t exist. And the oceans will continue to do so indefinitely. And this won’t cause any rise in sea level or other ill effects.

Why? Because Brett says so. Scientists are slaves to information. Brett makes the truth.

The only counter-argument is factual, and while facts have a sort of limited practical utility, they have none to Brett here. Is he going to make more money if he gets the facts right? For Brett, climate science is all costs and no benefits.

Meanwhile, engaging in science has enormous costs. Scientists, unlike Brett, don’t know everything they need to know to reach firm conclusions. They are pretty much always having to revise theory in light of data. Brett can say that there’s a “hiatus” in global warming, but then say that no, there is no hiatus, but it doesn’t matter because the warming has been absorbed the ocean for a few decades, and warmer oceans can cause no harm.

And well, no, come to think of it, the warming hasn’t been absorbed by the oceans, only the “excess” warming. Why? Because Brett says so.

Not only are the rest of us constrained by facts, but we feel a need to maintain internal consistency. Brett is a free man, and until people acknowledge the power of his position – or even acknowledge what his position is – then they’re not going to be able to grasp his subtle understanding of the world.

356

Jerry Vinokurov 03.03.15 at 4:22 pm

politicalfootball is killing it. One more thing: Brett, and the kind of people who engage in his kind of arguments, perpetually seem to act as though the truth of climate science depends on the ability of internet commenters to rebut their bullshit. They are purposefully disengaged from the actual world of climate science, because subjecting themselves to the kind of peer review required in legitimate scientific practice would be devastating to their credibility. So Brett will putter on and on, and move the goalposts when he wants to. Oh, you explained phenomenon X? Well, here’s phenomenon Y, where is your science god now, lieberals?! *smirks*. All the while being unable to acknowledge that phenomena A-Z are adequately covered by actual work in the field. There’s no actual argument here, just a bunch of white noise and suggestions that scientists are either idiots or criminals (which, again, are literally the only two logical possibilities in Brett’s world).

@Lee,

I read the paper you linked to. It’s quite interesting and cool, and surely an important advance, such as it is, but I think it’s orthogonal to my point. Computer vision has come a long way, and convolutional nets have been a big part of that progress in the last 10 years or so; that is undeniable. At the same time, I think it is drastically overselling that progress to call it “surpassing human vision.” When examining the technical details in the papers, those differences come out rather starkly. For example, CN systems typically require vast amounts of training. This is because they are based, fundamentally, on supervised algorithms that extract features from the underlying pixel representation. That’s what the “convolutional” aspect of it more or less refers to; you have a bunch of hidden layers that learn various relevant features by being told, “this is an example of a dog, this is not a dog, this is a cat, this is not a cat,” etc. If you have the right amount of data under the right amount of conditions, you will do very well, but if the data of interest is badly illuminated or seen from the wrong angle, or otherwise imperfect, so will your results be. The generalization capabilities of some of these networks are quite impressive, but they have nothing on human vision, and they require extensive parameter tuning to get them to do the right thing, which is what I mean by performance on restricted domains.

Contrast this with human vision, which is a fundamentally active process. I don’t just look at my coffeemaker and recognize it as such; I actually go to it and manipulate it to make coffee. Human vision is also incredibly robust. I can undertake these operations when the light is bad or from different angles or under any number of other conditions that would cause a computer vision system to break down. Vision is also deeply linked with semantic knowledge, so that, for example, in watching a blurry video I can make inferences about the locations of certain objects (say, human limbs) from non-visual common sense knowledge, and use that knowledge to aid me in perceiving the thing of interest.

I’m not saying this to at all denigrate the impressive engineering achievements of the good people at Microsoft. I’m just saying that there’s a lot more to vision and understanding than just photons coming through the lens of your eye; computer vision does pretty well on some tasks and not at all well on others. That’s important, because understanding what you can and can’t do delimits the field of applicability. I think computer vision probably is or soon will be sufficiently advanced to handle things like self-driving cars (although note that the current generation of Google cars doesn’t actually do recognition on things like traffic lights or signs, but rather knows of them because it contains a heavily annotated Maps dataset). It’s a lot less well suited to heterogeneous data sets of varying quality like, say, natural video (to say nothing of the complexities accrued by introducing a temporal dimension into the analysis). So I think we should be much more modest in what we can realistically expect CV and other AI-type applications to achieve in the proximate future.

357

Brett Bellmore 03.03.15 at 4:25 pm

I’m saying I don’t see a firm enough basis to make massive decisions, and you’re interpreting this as certainty? Are we speaking the same language here?

358

bianca steele 03.03.15 at 4:35 pm

I think we’re coming to some kind of Singularity (or at least a singularity). Over on other threads, Plume has realized that on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog, John Halasz has realized that comments sections are often in the nature of a Rorschach test, and Jerry V. writes:

One more thing: Brett, and the kind of people who engage in his kind of arguments, perpetually seem to act as though the truth of climate science depends on the ability of internet commenters to rebut their bullshit. They are purposefully disengaged from the actual world of climate science, because subjecting themselves to the kind of peer review required in legitimate scientific practice would be devastating to their credibility.

Which is excellent.

Now . . . can we have a thread on the philosophical implications? (Other) John H.? Hope it’s not a black hole, watch out for the crushing force of gravity! (This isn’t a dig at Jerry’s post, which really is excellent. Just weariness.)

359

Jerry Vinokurov 03.03.15 at 5:27 pm

I’m saying I don’t see a firm enough basis to make massive decisions, and you’re interpreting this as certainty? Are we speaking the same language here?

What you see or don’t see is irrelevant. None of us is capable of perceiving the whole of human knowledge; that’s why we have experts in specific areas and we create institutions to try and ensure that those experts are trustworthy. Your attitude is basically that you don’t care what actual experts in the field say because you get to choose the reality you live in; since the reality of global climate change doesn’t directly impinge on your day-to-day life (unlike, say, the reality of internal combustion engines or signal transmission), you’re free to not care and say the most absurd things. If someone actually engages you on a factual level, you just feint in a different direction without actually answering any objections that arise and pretend that your trivial observations like “models make mistakes” and “we don’t literally understand every interaction taking place at every physical level to an arbitrary precision” constitute serious problems for climate science. It’s tiresome, and you always shit up these threads with this nonsense instead of, you know, going off and learning something.

Let me broaden the scope of inquiry here: science is hard. It’s just really difficult to even achieve a small amount of mastery in an area of your own alleged expertise. There’s just so much of it, and so much more appearing every day. There are varying responses to this problem. One response is to just write off any results that disagree with conclusions that one has already reached by other means. Another is to set up institutions in which legitimate queries after truth can actually be carried out and debated. That’s a great meta-solution, in my view, but unsurprisingly it comes with its own meta-problems. Now you’ve got this whole other layer of professional scientists that, to the untutored observer, appear interposed priestlike between you and the truth. As with any sufficiently complex (i.e. involving more than 5 people) institutions, mystification sets in. If you’re already predetermined to disregard what the scientists are saying in the first place, what is in reality an imperfect mechanism for adjudicating truth claims begins looking like a conspiracy to suppress your great uncle’s naturopathic cure for cancer. And the thing about conspiracies is that they can never be disproven; any evidence counter to the conspiracist conclusion is merely additional proof that those who offer the evidence are in on the conspiracy.

In the right (wrong) sorts of circumstances, this problem becomes a horrible vicious circle. It can only be resolved by taking a step back and trying to understand science as a human institution and scientists as human practitioners; in other words, trying to figure out what scientists are doing and why. That is also very hard, especially if you come from outside a scientific discipline, because you’ll be entering into discussions in which you lack the requisite terminology for understanding all the little details. That’s why scientific communication is a two-way street: if the average person holds some responsibility for trying to understand how science gets done, then scientists have commensurate responsibility to explain that process in a way that’s understandable. Sadly, scientists have often failed at this task; those who can do it well, like Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and P.Z. Myers, are worth their weight in gold because they’re quite rare.

The problem with people like Brett and the anti-vax crowd is that everything they do undermines these institutions. If you only care about being right instead of getting it right (parsing the distinction is left as an exercise for the reader), then all this stuff like peer review and independent verification is just so much cruft that you can discard when it runs up against something you want badly to be true. The danger of that is that sooner or later you’ll cut down the very tree you sit in, as the Russian expression goes, and when you actually require those mechanisms and institutions to function properly because they impact your own life, they won’t.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.03.15 at 6:02 pm

Brett Bellmore #340: “use natural variability to dismiss a pause that goes on for a decade or two… conspicuously diverges from the models’ predictions…”

Bellmore’s complaint is that the divergence of the computer models away from the real data proves that the models aren’t good enough to justify “massive expenditures and huge societal changes” (#349).

I think this is wrong on both counts, and his arguments don’t stand to reason. The models are already very good, and mitigation won’t be a big net cost or social change.

Thus on the climatology AND the economics, Bellmore is wrong. But let’s just deal with where he’s getting it wrong on the first one, the climate:

The computer models have CONVERGED upon the real data, conspicuously. Bellmore is exaggerating the last divergence.

Anybody who doubts this, should look at the total comparison of models and data. It’s really easy, just look at one picture. For the gold standard in this, go to page 768 of the following PDF, which is the “modeling” chapter of the IPCC’s AR5 (2014). This PDF starts at page 741, so it’s a very small file, no download problem, and you don’t have to scroll down that far to get to page 768:
http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter09_FINAL.pdf

Let’s discuss this picture.

Bellmore complains of the “models that predicted enormously more warming over the past couple of decades than actually happened” (#340). He is complaining about that last little visual divergence on the graph, the thickest red line moving away from the thickest black line, from about 1997-98 onward: the MODELS’ “mean line” (the single thick RED line) diverges upward from the real DATA (the thick BLACK lines — solid, dashed, and dotted, all mashing together along the whole chart, for the most part). Clearly the word “enormously” is his misleading exaggeration, when you look at it, but there is something else there too, so please everybody go look at it first, before we proceed.

Having looked at it, my next question is very different: What would Bellmore say about that other “enormous” divergence between model and data, between red and back, that occurs earlier in this same graph, from around, say, the year 1905 to around 1930? What was happening in that timespan, before the models and data afterward began to match-up again nicely for the next 60 years, until the late ’90’s?

Well, Bellmore, or anyone else, has only three possible responses: 1. the data are wrong, 2. the models are wrong, 3. both data and models are wrong, in other words, the whole thing is wrong.

Well, we can argue about the data, and sometimes that is Bellmore’s strategy.

But of course he also argues about the models, so let’s do that. There are two main possibilities:

A. The models are all nonsense, as follows: There are divergences from the data, but it’s worse than that, all the places where there are CONvergences WITH the data, are accidental mathematical coincidences, like old Bode’s Law.

B. The models are not good enough, as follows: Insofar as there are divergences from the data, therefore the models cannot be trusted for prediction of the future.

Well, if you really claim A, that the models are all nonsense, then that’s the end of the discussion. For one thing, in that graph, the models are tracking the data closely, within a tiny range of a degree-and-a-half C. over 140 years. That is amazingly accurate, to me at least, and makes the models quite plausible. After seeing this graph, we would have to see a continuous divergence, a continuously WIDENING divergence, for somewhere around 30 or 40 years, before deciding it’s nonsense.

And after that point, any claim that it’s still all nonsense is a discussion in the philosophy and general methodology of science, and you lose. Or, you yourself will have to come up with a whole new better model, before anybody will trust you further.

For all of these reasons, I will assume that Bellmore is not defending A, and he already says, it’s not total nonsense.

But if Bellmore is claiming B, that the models aren’t good enough? Then, he must first explain why the models converge with the data over MOST of the graph, yet are still not good enough, and thus explain why it is that we should not accept the models as the best prediction of the future: “The models are diverging now? Well, they also diverged from 1905 to 1930, then got back on track, so what?’

The rest of us, of course, look at it and ask, What is HAPPENING at the divergences where the models separate from the data? And can we make these models catch those things, too?

The answer usually given by climatologists is a catchall term, “natural variation”.
Bellmore writes that this is unacceptable, and that scientists are using “natural variability to dismiss a pause” (#340) in order to fudge the models, stop clear thinking, and even divert other people’s attention by nefarious sleight-of-hand.

But it is none of that. “Natural variation” is just a catchall term that means, “We don’t yet know what causes that. Something, sometimes, happens to the additional energy that we know is coming in, but the additional energy isn’t perfectly showing up in the air surface temperature (i.e. the data in that graph). We don’t yet know what is causing it, so it isn’t in the model yet, and until we find out what it is, we will call it ‘natural variation’, and maybe put a model statistic on it. And that might even help us, from the model point of view, to look back in the real world, and to figure out what it is.”

So then — if we’re still on B, and we haven’t given up and slipped back into tactic A — what is causing the divergences?

Well it could be different things, and/or different things at different times. Maybe aerosols (you may have noticed that the graph linked to above, also locates major volcanic eruptions) which can counteract the effect of the CO2 for a while. Maybe a sudden huge change in cloud area, similarly. Maybe ocean heat sink, caused by change in rate of icemelt. Maybe wind currents: the heat energy goes into kinetic energy. Maybe ocean currents, similarly. Maybe all this stuff switches around, and it causes unique little tipping-points at certain locations in continents and oceans, and then there are complex cascades of new currents of air and water, or changes in old currents, then changing heat transport and differentials still elsewhere, and on and on and on it goes.

And finally, all these caveats do not mean that it is likely to be less dangerous in the future, which is yet another tactic used by the denialists. It argues that it will be MORE dangerous. Increased forcing is more likely to increase the changes, which increase the risk of volatility and extremes.

So when Brett Bellmore writes, “use natural variability to dismiss a pause,” it’s pretty clear that this misconstrues the word “use”, misunderstands the term “natural variability”, misleads with the word “dismiss”, and misdescribes with the word “pause”.

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Anarcissie 03.03.15 at 6:05 pm

Jerry Vinokurov 03.03.15 at 5:27 pm @ 359 :
‘What you see or don’t see is irrelevant. None of us is capable of perceiving the whole of human knowledge; that’s why we have experts in specific areas and we create institutions to try and ensure that those experts are trustworthy. …’

Let me repetitiously point out (once more, and then I’ll quit) what a tremendous problem that view of science (and a lot of other human projects) poses for equality, democracy, personal freedom, and indeed much of liberalism and points Left.

I would say the power of science, ideal science, that is, lies not in getting it right but getting it wrong in a non-fatal, productive manner. Because no matter how great you are, even if you’re Newton or Einstein — or Ptolemy — no matter how well your system explains the phenomena, you know that someday someone is going to come along with a better one. And the historical record shows that massive authoritarian institutions of determining rightness have not gotten along well with that principle and have often impeded its workings.

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Salem 03.03.15 at 6:07 pm

This is just a reasonable disagreement over the definition of freedom, right?

Broadly speaking, yes. Frankly, I found the Fox News commenters (sometimes ignorant) remarks to be more on point and less tendentious than the Daily Kos article about them.

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politicalfootball 03.03.15 at 6:09 pm

Brett says the scientific consensus that the earth continues to warm is provably wrong:

It hasn’t gotten warmer in going on two decades.

He tells us that climate scientists’ models are prone to an elementary errors of statistical analysis.

I would say that the models are, to a significant extent, exercises in curve fitting with excess variables.

Also:

I’ve said I doubt the science, because the models didn’t predict the hiatus, and because the quality of the data is dubious.

Climate scientists are crooked, because they didn’t put out a press release announcing that that, in their opinion, the hottest month on record was actually only one of the hottest months on record. Their adjustment to past data, which argued against their interests, was proof that they manipulate data to argue in favor of their interests.

In 2012, NASA announces with great fanfare the hottest month on record. Afterwards, without notice, they change their temperature data so that 1936 goes back to having the hottest month on record.

So okay, Brett says that climate science is wrong, and it’s wrong because it’s crooked and incompetent, but he finds it ridiculous for me to say that he believes climate science is wrong or crooked or incompetent. He’s just saying there is some doubt:

I’m saying I don’t see a firm enough basis to make massive decisions, and you’re interpreting this as certainty? Are we speaking the same language here?

I think the reality-based are going to be tempted to read this as goalpost-moving. He’s staked out an untenable position, and now needs to back off to maintain some self-respect.

And sure, that’s part of it, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. I think Brett is taking us a level deeper. He’s not opposed to climate science; he’s opposed to the political implications of climate science – that’s why his authoritative sources are political, and not scientific.

Take these two statements:

1. The consensus conclusions of climate science have been reached through incompetence and deliberate fraud.
2. The consensus conclusions of climate science are supported by significant amounts of valid science, but are insufficiently proved to take remedial action.

Only superficially do these statements differ. The underlying truth — the truth that Brett knows — is that action against climate change is unwarranted. Knowing this truth, Brett’s task is to find out why it’s true. Why should it matter whether it’s because the entire edifice of climate science is suffused with obvious fraud and incompetence, as Brett says, or because the entire edifice of climate science is not suffused with obvious fraud and incompetence, as Brett says.

This gets us closer to what Brett is actually talking about, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet, and he’s not going to willingly tell us. Does he know himself? I’m not sure.

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bianca steele 03.03.15 at 6:10 pm

I actually agree with both Jerry and Anarcissie, and based on what’s been said here, I’d suggest the possibilities for democratic input actually aren’t as bad as Anarcissie suggests–we were all taught critical thinking, evaluating science journalism, distinguishing science from pseudo-science, we all know how to see whether statistics were done properly, and we all know about scientific facts that were later shown to be wrong or limited, etc.–which is exactly not the kind of critical thinking that Brett is engaging in.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.03.15 at 6:15 pm

Let me repetitiously point out (once more, and then I’ll quit) what a tremendous problem that view of science (and a lot of other human projects) poses for equality, democracy, personal freedom, and indeed much of liberalism and points Left.

What’s your alternative? I’m not trying to be snide here, nor am I advocating for any sort of “massive authoritarian institutions of determining rightness.” If you got that from anything I wrote, then I would suggest that it’s a misreading of what I said and does not represent anything that I believe. That said, I do not see, except as an unachievable ideal, any alternative scenario in which expertise on all relevant topics is uniformly distributed throughout the population. That’s just not possible for any number of reasons. Our circumstances absolutely require us to outsource our scientific endeavors to a group with sufficient expertise to undertake them. Of course we should not just relinquish all policymaking to experts, but there are going to be times when the experts have knowledge that bears directly on public policy questions, and if we don’t take that knowledge into account, we’re likely going to be making shitty decisions.

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Brett Bellmore 03.03.15 at 6:27 pm

“The underlying truth — the truth that Brett knows — is that action against climate change is unwarranted. Knowing this truth, Brett’s task is to find out why it’s true.”

IOW, I can’t really believe what I’ve said I believe.

Shortly, as in just a few years, the hiatus will either continue, or end. If it continues, the models will, yet again, have to be altered to converge with the real data, which will improve them. If it ends, I will accept the models are good enough to work with, and we can move onto the next phase, which is, what to do about it.

Frankly, I’d be in favor of a massive build-out of nuclear, and abandonment of fossil fuels, even if the hiatus continues. Nasty stuff, fossil fuels.

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William Berry 03.03.15 at 6:52 pm

All this technology shit don’t mean shit because the singularity is just around the corner and then we will all disappear.*

*Unless we are rich enough to bobble up.

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TM 03.03.15 at 6:54 pm

Ana 361 and Jerry 365: The science of climate change is accessible to anyone who makes the effort to understand it. By accessible, I mean that anybody with a grounding in basic logic, numeracy, and science can understand the physical mechanisms involved, understand the main lines of evidence supporting the main conclusions of climate science, and distinguish valid arguments from BS. Of course to be actively involved in scientific research requires immense specialization but understanding and critically evaluating scientific findings doesn’t. It’s just not true that lay people have no choice but to defer to authority. We may of course quibble about what it means to have a “grounding in basic logic, numeracy, and science”. In my anecdotal experience, that is true of only a minority. That may be blamed on the failings of the educational system but it really depends on the “making an effort” part.

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TM 03.03.15 at 6:56 pm

Forgot to add: Ceterum censeo trollum non alendum esse. (In case you missed it: it’s a hint! Wink wink!)

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.03.15 at 7:05 pm

All this technology shit don’t mean shit because the singularity is just around the corner and then we will all disappear.

You jest, but I know people who unironically believe this.

The science of climate change is accessible to anyone who makes the effort to understand it. By accessible, I mean that anybody with a grounding in basic logic, numeracy, and science can understand the physical mechanisms involved, understand the main lines of evidence supporting the main conclusions of climate science, and distinguish valid arguments from BS.

See, there are two words doing a lot of work here: “accessible” and “effort.” You are right, in a way: anyone who wants to understand, can. It’s just that acquiring all those other prerequisites (numeracy, scientific literacy) is a non-trivial process. It requires an investment of time, it requires intellectual curiosity, etc. In other words, work, for a lot of people, many of whom don’t really want to or care to do it.

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TM 03.03.15 at 7:16 pm

Of course. But you agree we are not forced to blindly “trust the experts”?

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Matt 03.03.15 at 7:17 pm

France. After the 70s energy crisis, France is the only country that responded intelligently. They did a massive scale-up of nuclear power in a short period of time, and consequently they’re C02 emissions are really low.

If you think 6 years is a long time, think about how long it’ll take you to build an equivalent photovaltaic plant.

I am really impressed with what France did in the 1970s and 1980s to switch to nuclear power from fossil fuels, and it has certainly lowered their emissions per capita relative to comparable electricity users. I would have more enthusiasm if the current build generation were living up to its promises. You are aware of the difficulty the French nuclear industry has encountered in the past decade with its new generation of reactors, yes? Let me remind viewers at home: Olkiluoto 3 construction began in 2005 and was originally supposed to be complete by 2010. It has been delayed time and again. Areva is currently estimating 2016 for startup. It is also more than €5 billion over the original construction budget. Flamanville 3 started nuclear construction in 2007 and was supposed to be complete by 2012. Completion has been delayed to 2017 and it is also a bit more than €5 billion over budget.

I was excited by the coming Nuclear Renaissance back in the early 2000s. If the current generation of nuclear reactors hadn’t encountered so many problems I would still be pretty enthusiastic about nuclear decarbonization. But I judge performance on the basis of what has happened and not what I wish to have happened. In the past 10 years wind and solar power deployment slashed costs, met construction timelines, and scaled up much faster than I imagined they would. Western nuclear power projects were again beset with delays and cost overruns, even though standardization on the AP1000 and EPR was supposed to make those problems a thing of the past.

Of course you’re not going to build a single solar or wind facility to match the output of a new nuclear reactor. You wouldn’t even want to. Having to install generating capacity in gigawatt-plus chunks is a nuclear power bug, not a feature. But you can certainly deploy a bunch of smaller wind and solar projects sufficient to match an 1117 MWe or 1650 MWe reactor in annual output, and do it faster than building a reactor.

I have been scraping data from the California Independent System Operator about hourly and daily electrical supply from different sources. I have a script that aggregates it and lets me look at output from different sources across time slices as small as 1 hour. The first full year of data is for 2011, though there is partial data for 2010.

In 2011, California’s output from solar and wind averaged 952 megawatts. In 2012 it was 1296. In 2013 it was 2072. In 2014 it was 2784. This is actual power produced, not nameplate capacity. It does not include rooftop solar, only commercial/utility scale projects.

The AP1000 is supposed to achieve a 93% capacity factor and the EPR is supposed to achieve 92%. With those capacity factors the real average output of an AP1000 is 1039 MWe and that of an EPR is 1518 MWe.

The real annual output of wind and solar power in California grew by 611 MWe per year since the end of 2011. This is equivalent to adding an AP1000 reactor every 1.7 years, or adding an EPR every 2.5 years.

In fairness we don’t yet know how to get a majority of electricity from wind and solar power, the way France is able to get a majority of its electricity from nuclear power. Windless nights are still a problem and it’s an open question if storage will become cheap enough to let renewables penetrate to very high percentages. But until you bump up against the limits of renewables penetration — and those limits seemingly increase a bit each year — nuclear looks like the more expensive option. Many wind and solar power purchase agreements signed last year in the USA were already priced below the projected cost of energy from nuclear power. Some are lower even if you add in the renewable tax incentives as an extra cost. By the time the first AP1000s and EPRs are actually in operation, solar and wind projects entering operation the same year will be cheaper yet.

Decades past, nuclear electricity was cheaper. Just one decade past, renewable electricity was a lot more expensive. Neither of those facts is representative of new-build electricity costs in 2015 and beyond.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.03.15 at 7:52 pm

Matt, that’s super cool. Do you have a github where this script is accessible?

Of course. But you agree we are not forced to blindly “trust the experts”?

I would agree that our trust need not be blind. But even when we make educated decisions to trust the experts, we’re still doing so with a fraction of the knowledge that they have. Again, no particular magic insight, just a sad fact about the limits of time and how much cognitive effort we’re willing to expend.

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Bruce Wilder 03.03.15 at 7:54 pm

Brett Bellmore @ 357: “I’m saying I don’t see a firm enough basis to make massive decisions, and you’re interpreting this as certainty? Are we speaking the same language here?”

I think it becomes a matter of ordering the limited knowledge we have, sensibly.

Like most libertarians, you enjoy taking the powerful rhetorical pose of a critic, who never has to defend any affirmative position on anything. The general libertarian stance is: do nothing, have no rule, have no definite policy. This is disguised as anti-authoritarian and pro-“small”-government. But, it is often deceptively applied to situations, in which there can be no null. There will be some policy, some rule. But, pretending that there won’t be saves you from exposing yourself as its advocate.

“Do nothing” in the context of adding carbon to the carbon cycle is not actually an option. There’s no conservative, go-slow approach on offer here. And, if there were, it sure would not coincide with any variation on business-as-usual, which is anything, but conservative or go-slow, measured in terms of how much carbon is being added to the carbon cycle.

As for the science, there are a few things we know with relatively high degrees of certainty. They are mostly very basic things, like the role of CO2 and methane in the greenhouse effect.

There are a lot of things we do not know much about. We don’t know very much about the climate as a natural dynamic system. The tools to explore those issues, like climate models and meteorological models, are as complex as any computer simulation modelling ever done. Truly, the frontiers of science.

You use the failings of the climate models as if it might disprove the more basic, more certain knowledge, and it won’t. The climate models are not testing the more basic knowledge. The climate models are serving a different scientific function: they are searching for the consequences of adding CO2 to the atmosphere and oceans, consequences that may go far beyond the first-order effect on average global temperature of having more CO2 in the atmosphere.

It is the near-certain knowledge that there will be consequences far beyond the first-order effects, without the knowledge of exactly how those second-order and third-order effects will sort out that is so alarming.

The assessment that the additional carbon will be destabilizing to the climate system rests on a base of knowledge not in much genuine dispute or doubt. The knowledge of exactly how that de-stabilizing will play out over the next 50 to 300 years is far more speculative. We probably won’t really know until and as things actually happen; in the end the climate models will only help us sort out our interpretations, and maybe aid in the response. We will be sorting out the models, and fitting data to them retrospectively as things happen, indefinitely. That’s in the nature of the inquiry.

The immediate political choice is whether and how much and how fast to constrain the otherwise accelerating addition of carbon to the carbon cycle.

Given what we know — that there will be de-stabilizing consequences to climate and ecologies — and what we don’t know — the exact nature and timing of those consequences and a reliable and feasible method of undoing the cumulative additions to the carbon cycle — caution calls for constraining further additions of carbon to the carbon cycle.

The logic of this argument is accessible and plain. There’s no reason to pretend you cannot understand it.

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bianca steele 03.03.15 at 8:08 pm

What’s your alternative?

Not speaking for Anarcissie, who’s apparently bowed out for now. And drawing on personal history, not anybody on this blog. But I’d take that, when scientists and engineers are taught social theory and the place of science in society, some idea of the context and the epistemological status of the theory is conveyed to them. That might also require some acknowledgement on the part of instructors and textbook writers that engineers and English majors are going to interpret the theory differently, and some anticipation of problems that might arise when graduate-level social theory is taught to people who missed basic civics and Poli Sci 101 (or who got “Poli Sci 101” in the form of “senior level Historical Materialism”).

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politicalfootball 03.03.15 at 8:13 pm

IOW, I can’t really believe what I’ve said I believe.

No, not at all. As I said above: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of scientists; it’s not a burden for people who understand the deeper truths.”

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Matt 03.03.15 at 8:21 pm

I had meant to put my California electricity scraper on github a while ago. Now is as good a time as any.

https://github.com/mattbernst/renewable-electricity-scrapers

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Bruce Wilder 03.03.15 at 8:23 pm

Anarcissie @ 361: I would say the power of science, ideal science, that is, lies not in getting it right but getting it wrong in a non-fatal, productive manner.

A lovely phrase, and, potentially, a great insight.

Jerry Vinokurov @ 365: What’s your alternative?

That’s a very scary phrase.

The problem with arguing with the Brett Bellmores isn’t going to be solved by “an alternative”. Science — real science — is going to be careful, conditional, dubious, contingent. Demanding that science serve as an authoritative arbiter is not going to make science any better, nor will it produce a trustworthy arbiter.

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TM 03.03.15 at 8:27 pm

373: “But even when we make educated decisions to trust the experts, we’re still doing so with a fraction of the knowledge that they have.”

I don’t see that as a problem specific to science. We have to rely on professionals who know more than we do in their areas of expertise all the time – plumbers, electricians, car mechanics, tax advisors. Still we neither have to trust them blindly (we have the choice to inform ourselves about the basics of what they are doing) nor does the fact that they know more than we do necessarily lead to some authoritarian structure (*). We usually have ways to judge their work even if we can’t follow every detail they are doing. There are multiple ways to evaluate a plumber: check references; check credentials; check for complaints with the regulatory agency; ask them to explain what they are doing and use common sense; last not least, check whether the plumbing works after they repaired it. The same is true for scientists. What is always overlooked by the “I know better than the scientists” crowd is that a lot of our technology wouldn’t work if the underlying scientific theories were just guesses.

(*) In some cases, it does. A prime example is the legal profession. You are almost completely at your lawyer’s mercy even if you know something about the law.

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TM 03.03.15 at 8:28 pm

Darn. Forgot it again: Ceterum censeo trollum non alendum esse.

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Bruce Wilder 03.03.15 at 8:42 pm

TM @ 379: I don’t see that as a problem specific to science.

Exactly. It’s not. It’s a problem that arises from the division of labor, and particularly from the phenomenal success of the division of labor.

I would point out that a division of labor creates multiple problems of information and knowledge: the specialist expert can not decide independently on the basis of his own, local knowledge alone. He doesn’t know enough within the scope of his experience. Much of what we consider “expertise” is the laboriously acquired theoretical knowledge that encapsulates a broader awareness of systems and mechanisms into analysis and rules. Also, what bianca steele @ 375 was talking about.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.03.15 at 8:43 pm

That’s a very scary phrase.

Asking someone a direct question about what they propose is a scary phrase? I thought we were having a conversation here.

The problem with arguing with the Brett Bellmores isn’t going to be solved by “an alternative”. Science — real science — is going to be careful, conditional, dubious, contingent. Demanding that science serve as an authoritative arbiter is not going to make science any better, nor will it produce a trustworthy arbiter.

Good thing that isn’t what I said. If you can show me where I’ve advocated for science that isn’t “careful, conditional, dubious, [and] contingent,” feel free to do so; I predict you’ll come up empty, since I never said any such thing. I was writing specifically about a particular attitude widely held in relation to science, not directly about the practice itself, but if you’d like me to pick up that thread, I’m happy to do so.

I don’t see that as a problem specific to science.

It isn’t! Except in scale, and that rather proves the point. If your mechanic tells you that your car needs a new transmission or it won’t run, well, it isn’t running now, is it? You feel those effects quite directly, so you pretty much need to choose between trusting the mechanic and not having a working car. And so on for all the other various specialties; our lives are just interconnected webs of trust with various formal and informal vetting mechanisms built in.

The difference is that it’s hard to ignore your mechanic or lawyer and easy to ignore the person who works at the NOAA because what that person says will, most of the time, not have any effect on you whatsover. Until the sea makes your city uninhabitable at which point it’s too late.

What is always overlooked by the “I know better than the scientists” crowd is that a lot of our technology wouldn’t work if the underlying scientific theories were just guesses.

An important point! Every successful interaction with technology increase the posterior probability that scientists, by and large, know what they’re talking about.

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CJColucci 03.03.15 at 8:53 pm

(*) In some cases, it does. A prime example is the legal profession. You are almost completely at your lawyer’s mercy even if you know something about the law.

After a tough day with some clients, all I can say is “would that it were so.”

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Matt 03.03.15 at 8:59 pm

Every successful interaction with technology increase the posterior probability that scientists, by and large, know what they’re talking about.

This doesn’t necessarily change minds if a scientific field doesn’t produce much in the way of applied technology though. Astronomy, cosmology, climatology, paleontology: all safely ignored/contradicted, because people don’t use gadgets based on them. Productive engineers aren’t necessarily good scientists.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Engineers_and_woo

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Brett Bellmore 03.03.15 at 9:10 pm

“Every successful interaction with technology increase the posterior probability that scientists, by and large, know what they’re talking about.”

Personally I think we engineers deserve some of that credit. Chances are unless your car is either an antique or electric, it’s got at least a half dozen parts manufactured on tooling I personally designed.

Richard P. Feynman himself couldn’t have claimed that. ;)

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Bruce Wilder 03.03.15 at 9:22 pm

JV: What you see or don’t see is irrelevant. None of us is capable of perceiving the whole of human knowledge; that’s why we have experts in specific areas and we create institutions to try and ensure that those experts are trustworthy.

What I would object to is, “What you see or don’t see is irrelevant.

That’s the challenge to liberal democracy that Anarcissie referenced and I echoed. There are so many things “you haven’t said” that it can be a little hard to follow your comments.

387

William Berry 03.03.15 at 10:02 pm

@TM:

I took your Latin (mine is four decades rusty) to mean something about not feeding the troll, but Google Translate gives: “On the other hand, I think, is not to be nourished on troll”. Which is also true.

In addition to not being nutritious, they are tough and chewy as hell. And completely indigestible.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.03.15 at 10:36 pm

“Researchers discover new material to produce clean energy” PhysOrg

One of about a dozen great tech stories in the last 24 hrs.:

http://phys.org/news/2015-03-material-energy.html

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TM 03.03.15 at 11:20 pm

William, that’s fun. I get an even better result from Google: “However, the estimates TROLL not be nurtured”. The problem is the ceterum censeo – google doesn’t understand that.

390

floopmeister 03.03.15 at 11:29 pm

The biggest problem with the science of climate change is clearly ideological – it implies a market failure on a global scale.

The only real solution (only the hypothesis is accepted) is some sort of global action, which presupposes collective/government involvement.

To take the logic further – if collective/government action is necessary to deal with climate change, then why not inequality? Racism? The fact that idiots still want to ride motorbikes without helmets?

Where will it all end?

Hence the trope about watermelons (ie greenies are really just communists in disguise) and the paranoia that ‘the Left’ is coming to take away everyone’s individual freedom (and consumer goodies).

Climate change is a line in the sand for ideological reasons, and heroic deniers can see themselves as the heroic Dutch kid with his finger in the dike (watery connotations intended).

391

floopmeister 03.03.15 at 11:30 pm

Typo: should have been ‘(once/if the hypothesis is accepted)’

392

Consumatopia 03.03.15 at 11:48 pm

Let me repetitiously point out (once more, and then I’ll quit) what a tremendous problem that view of science (and a lot of other human projects) poses for equality, democracy, personal freedom, and indeed much of liberalism and points Left.

On the contrary. If you can avoid the consequences of your mistakes by just “not seeing” them, then you can do whatever you want to anyone you want, and equality or any other kind of justice is impossible. If two factions cannot appeal to some kind of shared reality to resolve disagreements, then every disagreement will be resolved according to who fears violence less.

Institutions shouldn’t be blindly trusted. But almost everything we, as individuals, believe about this world is stuff we have learned from other people. Moreover, we’re actually pretty good at reaching conclusions close to reality in response to information from other people when we want to be. (I say pretty good in the sense that if someone made a machine that was better at this process than humans, all of the other tech accomplishments that Lee is excited about–not that he’s wrong to be excited about them–would look infinitesimal in comparison.) Yes, professional expertise can lead to a kind of blindness, but, no, not the kind of blindness that would make Young Earth Creationism plausible. This is a “problem” for liberal democracy in the sense that transportation or electricity is a problem–we have very imperfect solutions that we are working to improve, and the very same problems would exist under any other social system Ultimately all of us are our own arbiter–we all decide who we personally are going to trust. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with other people judging your trustworthiness by the people you have chosen to trust.

393

Lee A. Arnold 03.04.15 at 1:05 am

Bad news: new study suggests icebergs are calving off of Antarctica faster than expected, which would revise sea-level increases upward:
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/02/26/1415137112

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soru 03.04.15 at 1:20 am

In posts 5, 342 and 349, Brett references ‘the seas boiling’ as a thing environmental scientists believe, which he is skeptical about.

As it was me who first used the phrase, I guess it is my chore to point out the _specific_ way he is bull-shitting this time. My post @4 says:

European scientists and UN organizations put a survivable upper bound on climate change. They say ice will melt, but not that the seas will boil.

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Plume 03.04.15 at 2:03 am

Soru,

And one of the dangers of that ice melting is that it may be cooling the Gulf Stream, which will slow it down, and likely bring frigid temps to places it normally warms. As in, paradoxically, global warming could cause deep freezes in parts of the world.

And this is something far too complex for Fox viewers and most conservatives in general. They live in a far too black and white, either/or world.

396

Jerry Vinokurov 03.04.15 at 3:00 am

What I would object to is, “What you see or don’t see is irrelevant.”

That’s the challenge to liberal democracy that Anarcissie referenced and I echoed.

What an ungenerous misreading of what truly was a throwaway remark; incidentally, I’ve noticed that ungenerous misreadings are something you seem to do a lot when you deign to respond to me. I don’t believe I’m terribly hard to follow, since I don’t write in the Holboian register of cryptic irony (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), so I’m not sure why this is your go-to maneuver. In any case, I believe context makes it quite clear that my response was tailored specifically to Brett’s position and that in general it concerns the fact that, as I went on to outline, no one person can encompass all of scientific knowledge, and therefore the argument from personal incredulity (you know, the bit about “I don’t see a firm enough basis to make decisions”) has no bearing on whether there is, in fact a firm enough basis, and not, as you and Anarcissie seem to be suggesting, eliminationist rhetoric that puts liberal democracy in grave danger.

I mean, sure, on the one hand here’s a bunch of fabulists spreading lies about the state of climate change science. But on the other hand, a liberal scientist thinks that good science can be used to inform public policy; clearly that guy is the real enemy!

There are so many things “you haven’t said” that it can be a little hard to follow your comments.

Hmm, yes, if only there was some way to find out what a person thought. Perhaps… no, that’s too ludicrous… one could… read? the things that person posted on a public forum? All…

/opens up wordcounter.net
/Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V,…

~2000 of them in this thread. Yes indeed, it is a real mystery what my opinions might be, given the great lengths I’ve gone to in order to disguise them. Efforts like repeatedly posting in a public forum with my real name and being straightforward about what I actually believe. I guess since those are unreliable hermeneutic techniques it’s probably better to pretend I said very different things since that affords maximum opportunity for incredulous sanctimony.

The wafting of genteel disdain from your comments is as palpable as any Internet phenomenon can be. Tell you what: why don’t you just be honest and tell me you hate my guts, or whatever problem it is that you have and spare me the high-minded condescension of reading positions into my words that I don’t hold.

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The Temporary Name 03.04.15 at 3:09 am

I don’t think the cabal of natural scientists is gonna jeopardize the mission of the cabal of economists any time soon.

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afeman 03.04.15 at 12:07 pm

Plume-

A nitpick – it’s not that cooling the Gulf Stream might slow it down, it’s a more complicated mechanism that the addition of fresh water from melting would interfere with thermohaline circulation, slowing down the Gulf Stream.

It’s also a highly speculative outcome. We have enough certainty on our plate with sea level rise, heat waves, and hydrologic cycle changes.

399

engels 03.04.15 at 2:22 pm

It’s nice to know that after having scanned a trolley load of grocery shopping myself, I won’t have to drive my car home afterwards. Progress!

400

Jeff 03.04.15 at 2:24 pm

Regarding climate change and science: on Judith Curry’s website there is a discussion of the simple model paper by Monckton, Soon, et al. Judith Curry’s comments were (to paraphrase) that the paper added nothing new to the literature. Monckton responded to a discussion of his paper (not Curry’s comments) and, subsequently, Dr. Curry wrote that there are new developments and she will have an updated set of comments. Further, she has requested links to other critiques of the paper (I find this curious).

My position is that this poses a dilemma for Dr. Curry. Either she completely understood the paper when she made her comments or she did not completely understand the paper. The fact that she says she is going to update her comments due to new developments means (doesn’t it?) that she did not completely understand the paper when she made her comments.

If that is true, then she made her comments KNOWING she did not completely understand the paper or NOT KNOWING what she did not know. In either case, it seems to me, it sheds doubt on her credibility as an expert in that domain.

My friend strongly disagrees with me. Am I not looking at this correctly?

Thanks,

Jeff

401

Anarcissie 03.04.15 at 3:52 pm

Jerry Vinokurov 03.03.15 at 6:15 pm @ 365:
“Let me repetitiously point out (once more, and then I’ll quit) what a tremendous problem that view of science (and a lot of other human projects) poses for equality, democracy, personal freedom, and indeed much of liberalism and points Left.”

‘What’s your alternative? I’m not trying to be snide here, nor am I advocating for any sort of “massive authoritarian institutions of determining rightness.”’

I think we’re stuck with them. Once science became economically and politically important, it was inevitable the general project would assume the form of the state it is embedded in: tending towards centralization, hierarchy, coercion, dogmatism, credentialism, and governance by a privileged caste. There might be other ways of doing science (and technology, engineering, industrial development, and a lot of other things) as there were in the past, but they won’t be explored much, except maybe at distant margins or by accident. I think it would be pretty obvious how this state of things is diametrically opposed to the Priesthood of All Believers, which underlies the ideas of liberal rights and democracy.

402

Charles R 03.04.15 at 3:55 pm

On interacting with machines, there’s more ways to interact with computers than talking or swiping. When you can move machines and gather information without having to utter a sound other than the same sounds your body makes prior to your internally willing your arm to move, talking to computers takes too long and far too noisy. Somewhat like writing comments nobody cares about.

Actual published article here.

403

Stephen 03.04.15 at 3:58 pm

Jeff, what is your opinion of the simple model paper by Monckton, Soon, et al.? I agree with Curry. But although I didn’t see anything new in that paper, I feel that it fails to encompass enough parameters to yield an accurate prediction. Parsimony doesn’t always work.

404

politicalfootball 03.04.15 at 4:03 pm

The only real solution (only the hypothesis is accepted) is some sort of global action, which presupposes collective/government involvement.

To take the logic further – if collective/government action is necessary to deal with climate change, then why not inequality? Racism? The fact that idiots still want to ride motorbikes without helmets?

Brett has anticipated you here in 366.

It’s pretty much inevitable that the science of climate change is going to become influential in politics – even if it’s far too late to forestall drastic damage. Brett knows that, and has gamed it out already:

Frankly, I’d be in favor of a massive build-out of nuclear.

Once it becomes obvious that collective steps are required, we need to find steps that concentrate wealth and power.

This is what I’ve been talking about: You can’t read Brett sensibly if you are relying on him for factual statements. He can switch on a dime from “global warming is natural” to “global warming isn’t actually happening.” To make any sense out of his commentary, you have to look at his instrumental goals. “Discerning the truth” is not among those goals.

It’s interesting that, according to his claims in 366, the conditions for a massive nuclear buildout have already occurred, but that he only supports such a buildout in the indefinite future. The only way to make sense of that position is to figure out instrumentally what he’s going for – it’s gibberish otherwise.

405

bianca steele 03.04.15 at 4:07 pm

I’m going to disagree with Anarcissie a little, actually: There may be authoritarianism within “the scientific establishment” (I’m not convinced, I don’t think “the scientific establishment” could possibly be a kind of solid thing that’s the same all the way through), but this is still different from authoritarianism from outside it. The authoritarian outside it still doesn’t know how to pick the correct expert within it, but chooses based on irrelevant criteria like wealth and power, believing a chemist who went to Harvard is a better expert on climate change than a climatologist who went to UMD, and would rather ask a Ph.D. in chemistry than a M.S. in climate science. Scientists are less likely to make this mistake, but I suppose the anti-science philosophers may be right and the value of c may be just as imaginary as Freud’s id as the crystalline spheres of the heavens.

But to the extent @401 is true, it’s really a bonus for us non-experts, because all the knowledge is concentrated in one place, and we know where that is.

406

Brett Bellmore 03.04.15 at 4:08 pm

“but that he only supports such a buildout in the indefinite future. “

No, I’ve supported a buildout of nuclear power for years now. It’s our best bet for displacing coal, and coal is about the nastiest source of energy around.

407

Anarcissie 03.04.15 at 4:18 pm

Brett Bellmore 03.04.15 at 4:08 pm @ 406 — I would think a person of libertarian prejudices would be somewhat disturbed by the necessary social costs of nuclear power — government intervention, centralization, police power, surveillance, and the like — especially related to security issues, to say nothing of the dubious political muscling which seems to be necessary to get a plant built.

408

Jeff 03.04.15 at 4:26 pm

Stephen at 403: I have not read it but based on the sites I go to (And Then There Is Physics, Skeptical Science, Real Climate) there is nothing to discuss. This ties into the discussion about reliance on subject matter experts, and the ensuing difficulties. I am only looking at it from the perspective of the implications for the expertise of Dr. Curry. I contend that claiming that the paper is nothing to talk about (no new results) and then writing that new info has come to light so “hold the phone” casts doubt on her technical expertise (for the reasons I outlined above).

409

afeman 03.04.15 at 4:32 pm

The political tropisms of nuclear power are actually kind of fascinating in themselves. What form of energy production is more centralized or statist? Most successfully implemented in late 20th century France!

410

Lee A. Arnold 03.04.15 at 4:34 pm

Jeff #400, Curry may be embarrassed to have to comment on Monckton et al. It’s simply beside the point.

The current tiny diversion of models from data is meaningless for the overall validity of the models. The models are in great shape. If you have any doubts about this, follow my careful argument in comment #360, above. It proves this beyond doubt.

All should note, in pursuance to other comments above, that in the conclusion of the new paper by Monckton et al. they get back to the fear that climate mitigation will have net economic costs. This is stated as if a foregone conclusion (it is not) in the conclusion of a “scientific” paper that has nothing to do with economics. It is the constant pattern you find everywhere; the other shoe that always drops with these propagandists. This is a part of the “cultural cognition” that I hope Kahan investigates further: the economic phony belief part of it.

411

Jeff 03.04.15 at 4:44 pm

Lee @ 410:

I believe you. I am firmly in the camp that the strongest arguments, by far, are on the AGW side of the ledger.

But Dr. Curry is an acknowledged expert: she presents congressional testimony, she is a former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and she provides technical cover for the minority on the other side of the ledger. If she changes her assessment of the paper then, to me, it logically destroys that veneer of expertise. My friend strongly disagrees, and so I wanted other sets of eyes to assess my position.

412

TM 03.04.15 at 4:55 pm

“But Dr. Curry is an acknowledged expert: she presents congressional testimony”

Cough cough. In any case, although she has expertise in atmospheric science, she hasn’t herself done climate change related research afaik. So I don’t see why the somewhat inconsistent opinions of that one expert should merit so much attention.

413

RSA 03.04.15 at 5:02 pm

Charles R @402: When you can move machines and gather information without having to utter a sound other than the same sounds your body makes prior to your internally willing your arm to move, talking to computers takes too long and far too noisy.

It’s a very specialized target audience, people for whom brain implants are worthwhile. Non-invasive brain-machine interfaces can’t yet show anything like that level of performance.

414

Salem 03.04.15 at 5:16 pm

Lee: the problem with your #360 is that it confuses in-sample and out-of-sample prediction.

It’s very easy to build a model that “predicts” the past. This is particularly the case in areas with a lot of free parameters (of which climatology is one). In fact, there will be an infinite range of models that “predict” a known series of data points. So the fact that data that was already known when you built your model (in-sample) matches your model’s “predictions” isn’t really evidence for anything. What matters is its predictions for data that wasn’t known when you built your model (out-of-sample). Sometimes known data is held back from model determination to provide a simulacrum of out-of-sample prediction, but this really isn’t adequate, because the researchers do in fact know about that data, and so it will bias their actions. The only true out-of-sample data is data that the researchers could not have known about at the time the model was built – for example, future data.

To put this in another context, all kinds of financial strategies look great if you only subject them to backtesting.

This problem becomes particularly acute when you are still learning about the subject as the data comes in. So when you adjust your parameter specification based on the new data, then you’ve immediately lost that new data from your out-of-sample group, and are back to square 1.

Most climate models have only been developed, or had their parameters specified, in the past 30 years. And most much more recently than that. So their “predictions” of pre-1990 trends aren’t evidence for their reliability. Frankly, the fact that the models discussed look really good from about 1960 to 1995, but shaky on either side of that date range, seems like evidence of overfitting.

I think people who put a large amount of political stock in these climatology models* are making a rod for their own backs. The case for carbon mitigation does not rise and fall with them. We know about the greenhouse effect, and there is very good evidence that there is substantial positive feedback to the forcing effect. That is enough to make the case, without relying on estimates that frankly cannot support that weight of emphasis.

* or the DSGE models of the economy on which they are based, but that’s another story.

415

Salem 03.04.15 at 5:20 pm

An addendum to my 414, in case it gets misinterpreted:

I am not claiming that climatological models are “wrong.” Merely that they do not have the predictive power Lee was claiming in #360. They are our current best estimates, no more, no less.

416

Brett Bellmore 03.04.15 at 5:21 pm

“to say nothing of the dubious political muscling which seems to be necessary to get a plant built.”

Necessary in the face of dubious political muscling to prevent them from being built.

I don’t let my politics skew my assessment of engineering realities. The best available low carbon power source today is nuclear fission. It works now, the fuel won’t run out until some time after the Sun has moved off the main sequence, and it supplies highly reliable baseline power which is not at the mercy of the wind, and runs 24/7. Good EROEI, and the lowest number of deaths per TWH of any energy source out there.

Couple it with nuclear driven synfuel, and it is capable of powering our entire industrial world, with minimal societal changes. And I consider that last a plus, not a minus.

417

Plume 03.04.15 at 5:41 pm

Brett,

Wind and solar are clean, green renewables, with very little waste. Nuclear energy has this rather problematic issue with waste. And its half-life, etc.

We should be spending hundreds of billions on developing Wind and Solar and switching to that pronto. Germany gets close to a third of its energy that way right now.

Nuclear energy, with its existential dangers and waste is not the way to go.

418

Bruce Wilder 03.04.15 at 5:44 pm

Consumatopia @ 392: If two factions cannot appeal to some kind of shared reality to resolve disagreements, then every disagreement will be resolved according to who fears violence less.

That’s a reason to have a legal and judicial system. Legal systems construct shared reality at least partly out of deliberately concocted fictions. Sometimes, the contrast with science results in a humorous illustration, like a legal decision that tomatoes are vegetables (still the law of the land in the U.S. afaik).

Liberal political regimes go to a lot of trouble to try to force the exercise of political power through a constitutionally mandated sieve, which might sometimes have the effect of forcing people exercising power by means of legal authority, to engage in rational deliberation and rationalization.

Consumatopia: . . . almost everything we, as individuals, believe about this world is stuff we have learned from other people. Moreover, we’re actually pretty good at reaching conclusions close to reality in response to information from other people when we want to be. . . .

I’m not so sure about that. Convention and conformity seem to be aided more by our mimetic instincts than any rational faculty. Go walking in the park, and we’re soon enough walking in step with our companions.

It’s admittedly confusing. The superstructure of emotional impulses in our instinctive sociability seems to include a more than healthy dose of potential for resentments and ornery contrariness, too.

Global warming and related issues seem to me to elicit a number of familiar human responses along the spectrum of human ambivalence. Some people filter the scientific information into hysterical imaginings worthy of the worst Hollywood scriptwriting; others, are predictably repulsed by the hysteria, and are sure nothing dramatically bad will happen and that the hysterics will on about the coming ice age next week; some people find their inclination to be repulsed by consumerism, capitalism or whatever, confirmed, others leap to the defense of fossil-fuel living and buy a McMansion to go with their SUV; some people praise their iphones and are sure that flying cars and replicators are just around the corner, others imagine the collapse of civilization coming in ten years or 300.

I make fun of the impulses, only to emphasize that the impulses are not neatly proportional to a detached perception of scientific reality. (Full disclosure: from time to time, I share in many of them, and don’t imagine myself above any of them.)

Yes, professional expertise can lead to a kind of blindness, but, no, not the kind of blindness that would make Young Earth Creationism plausible.

I’m not so sure about that, either. Certainly, scientific outlooks and practice require a curiosity that is at odds with the kind of belief structures that adhere to something like Creationism, which is about closing the door on curiosity. But, professional expertise is centered on learning and adhering to conventions, which can swallow packaged foolishness at least as silly and scientifically unfounded as Young Earth Creationism.

The practice of medicine, which is certainly a profession, has a history replete with unfounded or poorly founded beliefs and conventions of practice. We know about them because of medical science, and because the profession of medicine wanted the prestige of being scientific badly enough to grudgingly give up some of the crazier conventions of practice. They don’t give them all up at once though; it’s a steady drip of reform, with quite a bit of backsliding, where backsliding is especially lucrative or convenient.

Consumatopia: This is a “problem” for liberal democracy in the sense that transportation or electricity is a problem–we have very imperfect solutions that we are working to improve, and the very same problems would exist under any other social system . . .

I think science, being as Anarcissie said, an enterprise that goes wrong in a peculiarly useful way, is an engine and a source of political reform and adaptation in a liberal polity. The risk, when we move away from the liberal allergy to authoritarian monoliths, or toward a neofeudalism that honors no public authority or purpose, is that we lose that engine of reform.

People want science to be an arbiter with the right answer. And, it doesn’t work that way. Science constantly tells us that we’re wrong. It keeps finding out that our conventional belief about x, y, z was wrong — sometimes as a whole, sometimes only in certain details. But, science is always about rejecting the hypothesis.

We do need to arbitrate disputes and arrive, politically, at “right” answers, or at least answers. That’s a political necessity at times.

The whole anti-anti-anti-science partisan political dialectic encourages rigid commitments, that makes it harder for people to digest additional information. It’s early days in the long process of understanding what we have wrought on this planet, and there’s going to be a lot of revision of understanding ahead.

Liberalism is founded on a priesthood of all believers principle in the way liberal politics tries to mediate between science and authority. We let experts testify before juries; we don’t let experts decide in place of juries. Admittedly, in practice, the system can be corrupted — whether it is by juries being stupid, or experts being liars or otherwise corrupted, that’s an open question.

I reacted against Jerry Vinokurov’s “What’s your alternative?” because I heard an echo in that phrase of the Obamabots, who would acquiesce without effective protest in closing the door on electoral democracy. For him, “What you see or don’t see is irrelevant” is a throwaway phase. It’s not the phrase that I worry about throwing away.

419

Bruce Wilder 03.04.15 at 5:55 pm

Plume @ 417: Wind and solar are clean, green renewables, with very little waste.

There’s always waste. Using energy implies waste in proportion to the energy.

Lee is certainly right, that the details matter. Some kinds of waste might be easier to manage than others.

We shouldn’t imagine that there are perpetual motion machines. And, we shouldn’t imagine that there’s energy use without waste. They are part of the same equation, so to speak.

420

Plume 03.04.15 at 6:00 pm

Notice that I said very little waste, as opposed to none.

If you would prefer the addition of “relatively speaking,” I’m fine with that, too.

421

Charles S 03.04.15 at 6:10 pm

I realize that arguing with Brett’s lies is a waste of time, but:

“In theory, of course, under some circumstances a very gradual shift of climatic zones 50 miles or so towards the poles might have some dramatic effect in an isolated ecosystem. You would not expect it to have dramatic economic consequences. You would not even expect it to have uniformly negative consequences.”

In the past 16 years, the US has shifted by more than half a hardiness zone:
http://www.arborday.org/media/mapchanges.cfm

Under business as usual, average temperatures in the US are likely to increase by at least ~8 F by 2100, that is a shift of more like 1000 miles towards the poles (so Brett’s “very gradual shift of 50 miles” is the shift roughly every 5 years). A shift of 10 miles a year is not a gradual shift and will have huge impacts in many ecosystems. Some organisms can easily shift that fast, plenty can’t, so ecosystems will shift over the next century towards species that can survive under warmer conditions and species that can move quickly to take advantage of newly warmed conditions.

For US forests: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/forests.html gives some good details. Favorable conditions for maple-beach-birch forest will vanish from most of the US; favorable conditions for loblolly-shortleaf pine forests will vanish east of the Mississippi, etc.

422

TM 03.04.15 at 6:14 pm

“Necessary in the face of dubious political muscling to prevent them from being built.”

That is so precious. I guess in the libertarian paradise, nuclear power stations would be a snap to build because popular opposition just wouldn’t matter. I can build a nuclear reactor in my backyard if I want to and there’s nothing you are gonna do about it!

Ceterum censeo trollum non alendum esse.

423

Charles S 03.04.15 at 6:16 pm

And, wasting some more of my time:

“almost all of [the global climate models] failed to predict the hiatus”

Models that happen to be in phase with the ENSO cycle accurately predict the hiatus. Models out of phase with the ENSO cycle don’t. The average of the ensemble doesn’t (although it will predict well over the multi-decade long term, it will produce a smooth increase rather than a stair-step).

http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-models-accurate-when-reflecting-natural-cycles.html

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Brett Bellmore 03.04.15 at 6:17 pm

“Nuclear energy has this rather problematic issue with waste. And its half-life, etc. “

You’re getting into my area, which is engineering. Toxic heavy metals like Cadmium and Selenium have infinite half-lives, and solar power doesn’t neatly sequester them in carefully secured little packages, it spreads them all over the place.

Further, most nuclear ‘wastes’ are not waste, they are simply fuel that can’t at present be used without reprocessing. I expect that next generation molten salt reactors will be able to neatly deal with accumulated ‘wastes’, and derive energy from them in the process.

425

Matt 03.04.15 at 6:37 pm

Toxic heavy metals like Cadmium and Selenium have infinite half-lives, and solar power doesn’t neatly sequester them in carefully secured little packages, it spreads them all over the place.

The first part about infinite half-lives true, second part about solar power “spreading them everywhere” is bullshit on two levels.

Level 1: the vast majority of solar modules use neither cadmium nor selenium. Thin film CdTe and CIGS modules contain those elements, but they represent maybe 3-4 GW-peak in an industry that produced around 40 GW-peak last year. The industry is dominated by silicon and silicon modules don’t contain those materials in the first place.

Level 2: thin film CdTe and CIGS solar modules contain cadmium and selenium in solid forms that are separated from the environment by multiple layers of packaging. It’s not readily mobilized into the environment even after the packaging is broken. The risk of cadmium from solar panels entering your body is roughly that of ingesting the arsenic present in GaAs integrated circuits in cellular phones or the lead from automotive starter batteries. It’s asymptotic to zero during ordinary use. Of course defunct solar modules, like all spent electronics, should be separated for recycling and not mixed in with general trash.

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soru 03.04.15 at 6:43 pm

Germany gets close to a third of its energy that way right now.

And 45% from coal and lignite, and another chunk from nuclear, oil and gas. Much of the ‘renewable’ energy is biomass and hydroelectricity, which cannot be scaled up any further without displacing food production. Solar is 6% and wind 9%.

Notably despite vastly greater spending, Germany has 50% more CO2 emissions per capita than France, and is currently rising where France is falling: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC/countries/DE–XS-FR?display=graph

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/world/europe/germany-carbon-emissions-environment.html?_r=0

A German-style energy policy is very good if your goal is demonstrating a commitment to enduring pain, but rather less good at actually achieving results.

This is, perhaps, a point with some wider applicability.

Nuclear is not the only option, but those who rule it out because of vague anti-science talk of ‘existential danger’ and ‘waste products’ are really not in much of a position to lecture anyone on anything, except perhaps the art of precision pedi-targeting.

427

Brett Bellmore 03.04.15 at 6:47 pm

“The risk of cadmium from solar panels entering your body is roughly that of ingesting the arsenic present in GaAs integrated circuits in cellular phones or the lead from automotive starter batteries.”

I would agree with that, I’m just trying to treat the risks of solar in the same way the risks of nuclear are: By ignoring the precautions, and extrapolating the dangers into the far distant future assuming no technological progress. Isn’t that SOP for looking at nuclear?

428

Plume 03.04.15 at 6:54 pm

Soru,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany

And I’m not lecturing anyone. But it sounds like you are. And you jumped on a comment that stated nothing more than the percentage of energy Germany derives from solar. It wasn’t an endorsement of their overall policy or a suggestion that they were somehow pollution free. It’s just proof that we can use solar to meet our energy needs to a large degree right now, and (I believe) that heavy investment in the technology could get us the rest of the way.

Oh, the horror!!

429

Lee A. Arnold 03.04.15 at 7:17 pm

Salem #415: “I am not claiming that climatological models are ‘wrong.’ Merely that they do not have the predictive power Lee was claiming in #360.”

Oh come on, I did not claim that! I look at it the way you do, pretty much: Modeling is not meaningful to the case for mitigation.

Yet if Bellmore thinks, instead, that modeling is indeed a decisive factor, he STILL doesn’t have a case.

The issue was, whether the current model divergence justifies not doing anything. The answer is “No, it does not justify inaction.” Why? First, the divergence is being exaggerated.

Next, the in-sample/out-of-sample distinction would not suggest inaction, at least not yet. The example of the earlier divergence (of around 25 years, about 1905-1930) suggests that it could go either way. That’s why I wrote, “after seeing this graph, we would have to see a continuous divergence, a continuously WIDENING divergence, for somewhere around 30 or 40 years, before deciding it’s nonsense.” We have to go with the evidence. How else would you proceed?

And I agree with you, it’s all the other real evidence. I would add: the clear evidence that rapid extremes have occurred in the past, such as the Dansgaard-Oeschger events. Climate bounced 10 degrees C. in as little as 10 years. That is even greater than the zonal shifts calculated by Charles S. in #421.

If we are in the process of triggering a recurrence or acceleration of a D-O-type syndrome, we will destroy civilization as we know it. Agriculture will crash, we won’t be able to have anything like political system of freedom, (such as it is), and we won’t be supporting as large a population.

430

Anarcissie 03.04.15 at 7:23 pm

Brett Bellmore 03.04.15 at 5:21 pm @ 416 — The political muscling comes about because of the factors I mentioned which you forgot to quote. Besides the possible physical dangers, illustrated by Chernobyl and Fukushima, the centralized authoritarianism necessary to build and run such a plant frightens people — as it should.

431

PaulB 03.04.15 at 7:39 pm

You’re getting into my area, which is engineering. Toxic heavy metals like Cadmium and Selenium have infinite half-lives…

Selenium is nothing like a toxic heavy metal. It’s in the same column of the periodic table as sulphur.

432

Brett Bellmore 03.04.15 at 8:06 pm

Ok, selenium isn’t “heavy”, just “toxic”. Happy?

433

Matt 03.04.15 at 8:11 pm

I’m just trying to treat the risks of solar in the same way the risks of nuclear are: By ignoring the precautions, and extrapolating the dangers into the far distant future assuming no technological progress. Isn’t that SOP for looking at nuclear?

If that tribe is going to make bad arguments against nuclear power, I will make bad arguments about solar power to match them! That’s just polluting the discourse further. It’s a terrible way to argue. There are already enough ignorant arguments about energy without deliberately injecting BS to needle anti-nuclear diehards, thanks.

434

Consumatopia 03.04.15 at 9:07 pm

We do need to arbitrate disputes and arrive, politically, at “right” answers, or at least answers. That’s a political necessity at times.

Here I think is the core of the problem. Expecting the arbitration to always result in the actual correct answers is absurd–science is always an error prone process. But “or at least answers” isn’t good enough. They must be trustworthy answers. Not that any of us will find the answer to every individual dispute agreeable or credible, but the system stops working if enough of us think that the arbitration is always rigged against us. In fact, what you and Anarcissie like about science–that mistakes can be productive–absolutely depends on this. A system that consistently makes disingenuous judgments for the convenience of a particular faction is a system that cannot learn from mistakes.

It would be a bad idea to organize all scientists into a single bureaucracy that would dictate conclusions for all scientists–science depends on multiple hypotheses being tested at any given time. But our system depends on people trusting that it depends on something more than the mere prejudice of the deciders–some sort of truth out there, beyond opinion, that we get ever closer to without ever quite reaching (even though “closer” always feels like climbing a hill only to see a larger mountain behind it). Expert testimony alone shouldn’t decide the outcome in any individual situation, but a system that consistently ignores expert testimony is an untrustworthy one.

435

Peter T 03.05.15 at 3:34 am

re Bruce @418

“But, science is always about rejecting the hypothesis.”

There is a strong tendency to exaggerate the uncertainty and intellectual iconoclasm of science. Partly because contrarian heroism is a staple trope of out culture, partly because the really interesting bits of science are at the cutting edge, where the uncertainties are thickest. So scientists stress that bit the most. But science – or any other cumulative discipline – builds on a huge amount of accepted, proven in the sense of taken-for-granted, working every day knowledge. Brett does not query the tables and formulas in his handbooks, or the results from his computer programs, even though scientists are labouring as he works to refine or extend (sometimes reformulate in different terms) the knowledge embodied in these things. We are learning new things about air flows as I write, but A-300s fly every day.

If Brett could be bothered to look, he would find that 90% of climate science is in the A-300 class: well-established, used in a variety of fields every day, taken for granted by every competent scientist. And it’s that 90% that points to real problems.

436

Jerry Vinokurov 03.05.15 at 4:03 am

But, science is always about rejecting the hypothesis.

It surely is not.

437

Stephen 03.05.15 at 4:39 am

Jeff, if your interested, these are two relatively recent papers that show just how good the climate change models are

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n9/full/nclimate2310.html

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14240.html

The first actually misses the genious of their own approach, that of circumventing dephasing in chaotic systems. The second is a test of the fundamental radiation transfer physics. They show that basic physics works on Earth too.

438

js. 03.05.15 at 4:41 am

I had a somewhat longer comment, but instead I’ll just say that Jerry Vinokurov is making a lot of sense (see esp. @@359, 365). I can barely even understand the objection, or rather… Well, let’s just leave it at that.

439

David J. Littleboy 03.05.15 at 4:47 am

Brett’s wrong, again.

“Ok, selenium isn’t “heavy”, just “toxic”. Happy?”

It’s so toxic it’s included in infant formula.

“Selenium salts are toxic in large amounts, but trace amounts are necessary for cellular function in many organisms, including all animals, and is an ingredient in many multi-vitamins and other dietary supplements, including infant formula.”

440

John Quiggin 03.05.15 at 4:49 am

Brett is certainly doing a great job of representing the anti-science viewpoint across a wide range of issues. I fear people may start suspecting him of being a false-flag sockpuppet.

441

Russell L. Carter 03.05.15 at 5:03 am

@JQ possibly 440

I am actually a bit worried(!!) about the underlying cause of the comprehensiveness of BB’s completely reactionary responses. His narcissism is getting repaid in vivid amplification that I dunno might be gratifying but the responses he has made are not remotely well thought through.

This has been an interesting experiment across multiple posts, but…

442

Bruce Wilder 03.05.15 at 6:25 am

Peter T @ 435:

I’m not sure what the numerator would be and what the denominator would be for your “90%”.

I would think much of climate science is the grunt work of measurement and record-keeping — the very stuff of Weberian bureaucracy — which is done and reported with meticulous care and integrity. Measuring temperatures of course. And, snow depths. And arctic ice cover. And, the ratio of isotopes in air bubbles from ice cores. And counting tree rings. And on and on. And, behind the tedious measurements, with all the necessary adjustments and scrutiny of detail, there’s an impressive creative force, reasoning out ways to infer atmospheric chemistry or temperature or any number of other variables from nature’s leavings and fossils, and ways to observe, not just with the eye, but with instruments of exquisite sensitivity and narrow but significant focus. Most of that routine — if we can call what are often heroic efforts, routine — is well-grounded in established science.

The prize in climate science, though, is the identification of mechanisms: positive and negative feedback loops that can serve to amplify or dampen the de-stabilizing effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry and related effects. And, then, the truly epic task of adding them altogether, getting the relative magnitudes and timing of these mechanisms.

It is a source of amazement that human beings can push back the frontiers of knowledge with concerted efforts. And, at the same time, we can be such a bunch of morons, thinking that (as an example) it all comes down to whether the hottest month on record was in the 1930s or 2010s. Like it was contest to get into the Guinness Book.

443

Collin Street 03.05.15 at 8:22 am

> but the responses he has made are not remotely well thought through.

“Pragmatics” is the word for how paragraphs and arguments are structured. There are rules — patterns drawn from observation — and someone who can’t communicate very well because they have difficulty building a paragraph or a compelling argument has an impairment in their language pragmatics, what’s called a “pragmatic language impairment”.

The rest flows from that.

444

ZM 03.05.15 at 12:39 pm

Lee A Arnold @321

“ZM, I don’t understand your argument from the general premise. Current consumption levels of WHAT are unsustainable? Fossil fuels? Absolutely yes. Water? In many areas. Soil? Yes, if we don’t change more practices. Food? Probably not, if we can fix water. Copper? I haven’t studied it, but I’m guessing not. Concrete? I think we have plenty of goddamn concrete, but I really don’t know about that either. Solar energy? No! huge consumption levels of solar energy are sustainable.
Which one of these are you are talking about? Is it everything? What do you want to do about it?”

It is “everything” — because all together current global consumption of materials by humans is unsustainable. Possibly there are some rarely used things that are being used sustainably, although if they are living we might make them extinct by using their habitat for other purposes.

You can hardly expect me to write an account as to the sustainability of the use of every single material in the world in a single comment — it would take me forever to find out and the thread would be well over before I finished.

For just one example — you say that current food production is sustainable — but actually one of the driving forces of ecosystem destruction is land changes to cater for changing diets, especially animal products, and farming too much of the same crops lessens food plant diversity too, while animals release methane and artificial fertilisers release nitrous oxide which are both harmful greenhouse gasses, and agriculture uses machines and transportation vehicles which release greenhouse gasses too. Farming interferes with the healthy nitrogen and phosphorus levels. Game animals and fishes are over-harvested so their populations are declining and in some cases also going extinct like the animals and plants that don’t have any habitats left to go to. Food is also packaged in wasteful ways, where the packaging often just goes to landfill, and food waste regularly goes to landfill too instead of being composted and then it releases greenhouse gasses while it decomposes improperly as well as making the landfill smelly and rusting the metals. Food production also uses large amounts of water which would otherwise be flowing through creeks and rivers and wetlands or flooding plains etc.

I just have time to look at and summarise one report from UNEP for you:

Sustainability is here envisioned as ecosystem health, human health, and resource provision capability for human welfare ( acknowledging that ecosystem health is affected by resource provision ).

Scientists have found that over the past 50 years humans have altered ecosystems faster and more extensively than at any previous time, resulting in a great loss of the diversity of Earth’s living forms. The 5 biggest drivers of impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem health are habitat change/land transformation/land occupation, climate change, invasive species, over-exploitation, and pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus). Impacts on human health are more from unfairness and uneven development, with environmental impacts like unsafe drinking water being a relatively small share of the global disease burden and also related to development.

With regard to the capacity to produce resources for human wellbeing (iii) “On a finite planet the supply of [these] resources is limited… [and resources come in] two broad categories: living (biotic) and non-living [including water] (abiotic)…. Living resources… are part of ecosystems…. Non-living resources… can be either renewable when properly managed [water], intrinsically renewable [sunlight], recycled [some minerals], or non-renewable and non-recyclable [burnt fossil fuels].”

The impact of the scarcity of abiotic non-renewable resources has been a matter of controversy for some time since Malthus. More recently a 2006 analysis looked at the amount of copper used in the U.S. and calculated the amount needed if all the world used the same amount of copper – this was just over the copper resources projected to have been discovered by 2050. Some economists said prices would just go up and then the mining companies would mine more scarcely distributed ore — but this would then damage more land for less copper as you might imagine, and other papers say that it would be technically problematic and use too much energy for the small amounts of copper.

With regard to other minerals “[t]he materials where scarcity is predicted are largely low-volume materials of high functional importance. Predicting both future demand and potential other uses is difficult. Nonetheless it is clear that mineral scarcity is a serious issue.” Life cycle impact studies find platinum, gold, and rhodium to be most in danger of becoming scarce. Fossil fuel scarcity is also a risk in the future due to economies relying on plastics.

Overexploitation of biotic resources causes other species to decline and possibly become extinct — the environments facing the most pressure are the marine environment, tropical grassland and savannah, tropical forests, and coastal regions. “Biotic resources are flow limited, that is, only a certain flow of resources is available”. Biotic resources are important for ecosystem health and for human health due to their being the whole source of food.

“An important problem is harvesting above sustainable levels, endangering the reproduction of the resources…. For many fish species populations have dwindled and harvests have vanished. This is also true for some tree species, especially some slow growing hardwood species.”

Biodiversity can be measured by the genetic diversity within a species — with declining population species lose their genetic diversity which reduces their chances of adapting to changes such as habitat change or climate change. Loss of genetic diversity may also reduce the prospect of humans being able to find things to domesticate for human use, and, indeed, current farming practices often reduce genetic diversity — before the Green Revolution over 42,000 types of rice were grown in India whereas now only a few hundred are grown.

The main causes of stress on land biotic resources are the production of human food, animal feed, and fibre; while the main causes of stress on marine biotic resources are human food, animal feed, and oil production.

Unfortunately the problems of the scarcity of abiotic resources and the pressures on biotic resources and ecosystems health are compounded by governments not spending enough money to get sufficient data about the state of all the resources — so much more funding and scientific work is required, as well as everyone acting to lower their consumption of resources or the governments introducing strict rations.

One study in Finland looked at the relation of categories of consumption to environmental impacts, as I can’t make a table I will just tell the results like a list: Out of the monetary value of total demand, private consumption accounts for 39%, government 17%, expenditure on capital goods 15%, and exports 29%; out of material flows the same categories are respectively 21, 6, 23, 50; for energy 39, 6, 9, 46; for waste 17, 4, 15, 64; for GHG 40, 7, 11, 42; for acidification 42, 6, 9, 43; for photochemical oxidant formation 45, 5, 9, 41; for eutrophication 55, 7, 8, 31.

From other detailed national studies “it becomes apparent that the use of private cars, the consumption of meat and dairy products, and [the use of] electric appliances cause a disproportionately large share of [GHG emission] environmental impacts. Emissions from aviation, while still relatively a small part of the impacts of mobility, are relatively high per Euro or dollar spent on this service.” Offshoring also hides national GHG emissions — e.g.. in the U.S. 1/3 of all household emissions are offshored to poorer manufacturing countries.

There are not many studies directly looking at consumption’s relation to environmental impacts, although some look at acidification as an impact, that is on p. 53 if you want to read it.

Other studies look specifically at the environmental impacts of particular materials or products:

Biotic materials can be categories as growing naturally, or grown agriculturally. Growing naturally indigenous biotic materials rarely cause harmful environmental impacts, however harvesting naturally growing biotic materials can cause environmental impacts — however unfortunately there is not yet an agreed way of working out how to calculate these environmental impacts.

Biotic materials grown agriculturally can cause many environmental impacts – from habitat loss, to pollution, loss of genetic diversity, emissions of GHGs, use of water. About half of the world’s land has been converted to agricultural land, and about 70% of the world’s fresh water is used in agriculture. Different crops have different impacts, some studies have

For abiotic materials: fossil fuels contribute to a number of impact categories — GHG emissions, acidification, eutrophication, and toxicity; the impacts of metals relate mostly to the mining, extraction and refining stages which are energy intensive and can pollute the air, soil, and water. Metals do not degrade but accumulate which in some unnatural concentrations can affect ecosystem health and human health, and they can make landfill polluted. Renewable energy technologies presently use high impact and scarce metals such as platinum, indium, and selenium — recycling could help with scarcity as long as you make it safe for the workers.

The products that most contribute to environmental impacts are vehicle manufacturing, pig iron/crude steel products, livestock farming, non-metals extraction industry, coking plant/mineral oil, meat processing, concrete products, milk processing, other foodstuffs industry, chemistry, cement/lime/gypsum, paper industry.

Source: UNEP (2010) Assessing The Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials

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Cranky Observer 03.05.15 at 1:20 pm

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2015/03/04/areva-turmoil-losses/24359947/
.
= = = PARIS (AP) — France’s nuclear industry is in turmoil after the country’s main reactor manufacturer, Areva, reported a loss for 2014 of 4.8 billion euros ($5.3 billion) — more than its entire market value.

The government of France, the world’s most nuclear dependent country, has a 29% stake in Areva, which is among the biggest global nuclear technology companies. The loss puts its future — and that of France as a leader in nuclear technology — at risk.

Energy and Environment Minister Segolene Royal said Wednesday she asked Areva and utility giant Electricite de France to work together on finding solutions, amid reports of a possible merger or other link-up = = =

446

Lee A. Arnold 03.05.15 at 2:04 pm

ZM #444, What do you want to do about it?

447

Bruce Wilder 03.05.15 at 3:13 pm

I know what I want to do about it: use less and structure developed political economies by deliberate planning to use less. We should be thinking seriously about reducing population and all energy use in the long-term. “Sustainable” isn’t a coherent concept at the present weight of humans on the global scale. If we are to manage our impact, we will have to reduce our impact. That’s what I hear ZM saying, and I agree. The most worrisome thing about the techno-optimist enthusiasm for solar energy to me is the completely unrealistic assessment that we can use as much as we like without untoward consequence — that there is no waste or pollution, therefore . . . It doesn’t work that way.

448

afeman 03.05.15 at 3:25 pm

449

Phil 03.05.15 at 3:44 pm

Ok, selenium isn’t “heavy”, just “toxic”. Happy?

Everything is toxic at the right dose.

450

Plume 03.05.15 at 3:45 pm

We can’t conserve our way out of this disaster, nor use tech to get us to safety, either. Nothing short of getting rid of the capitalist system will work, as it is the main driver in the race over the ecological cliff.

Its internal logic will always generate more and more consumption and production — which means more and more waste and pollution. And, because capitalists call the shots politically, all over the globe, folks are in complete denial if they think there is a political solution to this. Capitalists have no incentive to slow down or pay for the massive damage they’ve done. Their incentive is to keep sticking the people with the tab, convince them there is no other choice, and to get on with the race to planetary collapse.

451

Anarcissie 03.05.15 at 3:55 pm

Plume 03.05.15 at 3:45 pm @ 450 — They don’t want to hear it.

452

Lee A. Arnold 03.05.15 at 4:07 pm

I don’t know, it sounds to me like what you want to do, is to talk about what you want to do. I was hoping for more along the lines of, what are you going to do about it, today?

453

bianca steele 03.05.15 at 4:15 pm

Brett does not query the tables and formulas in his handbooks, or the results from his computer programs, even though scientists are labouring as he works to refine or extend (sometimes reformulate in different terms) the knowledge embodied in these things.

This is basically true, but overblown. If it were 100% true, Brett’s job could be done by a computer. In reality, it seems to me, the problems involved in implementing the theory usually require the same kind of knowledge of the science involve in querying the validity of those tables. Then again, the contrary overblown overgeneralization is Levi-Strauss’s, which holds that engineers don’t actually know science after all, but “tinker” in a naive way directly with the materials.

Learning things like this in management programs and required “science in society” programs–as dogma–to the point of chastising subordinates who appear to be doing more than looking things up in tables–is part of what I was complaining about earlier in the thread. (I don’t know this is what’s being taught, but some of the assigned literature does come close to it, and I do know (in some cases) the past education of people who manage that way.)

Not that it’s really relevant in this thread.

454

William Berry 03.05.15 at 4:40 pm

Engineers are to scientists as “meteorologists” are to climatologists.

Also, the half-life of toxicity thing is a red herring. Half-life is meaningful wrt to toxicity only when chemical compounds that can break down are under consideration. Elemental toxicity (Pu, Be, many others) is the same across isotopes and through time.

455

William Berry 03.05.15 at 4:46 pm

[, and therefore has no “half-life”.] I should have added.

456

Anarcissie 03.05.15 at 5:20 pm

William Berry 03.05.15 at 4:40 pm @ 454 —
People’s intellects are not constituted by what they do for a living.

457

bianca steele 03.05.15 at 5:25 pm

Actually, I look forward to the next mass-market work of popular social science, in which we learn that the A-300 was designed and tested in a secret lab at Cambridge, and that a convenient stooge [1] with a security clearance was found to sneak the plans into Airbus HQ and pretend they were his. Really, this is silly and petty.

[1] named Shaxper, maybe?

458

William Berry 03.05.15 at 5:37 pm

@anarcissie:

No shit, Dick Tracy.

That was deep and ever so perspicuous.

Guess you missed the sarcasm in the “meteorologists” reference.

459

ragweed 03.05.15 at 7:23 pm

RE The seas boiling – in fairness to Brett, some of the more extreme predictions of some climatologists are awfully close to the seas boiling. In particular, James Hansen’s belief that we risk a runaway greenhouse effect like what happened on Venus (and I believe that “belief” is the correct term in this case – it is not part of any of his formal research, and appears in popular works like Storms of my Grandchildren. If I remember correctly, he phrases it “I firmly believe that …”.)

Now Hansen is not literally talking about the seas boiling, but about a potential scenario in which water vapor begins to act as a forcing (causing more warming, which causes more evaporation, which causes more warming) rather than a feedback (where warming from CO2 is amplified by increased water vapor, but the water vapor does not act on its own in the absence of other greenhouse gasses). He is also pretty clear that this is not a consensus positioned, but rather his own professional opinion based on an interpretation of paleoclimate conditions and the current increased solar radiation (since the last time we had CO2 levels in the 800-1000ppm range). But it is understandable and not a gross hyperbole to call that “the seas boil”, and some environmentalists have latched onto it.

Now, to be clear, Brett is cherry picking his data point on what climate scientists predict, by picking a speculative extreme position, that the author acknowledges to be speculative and highly uncertain, and equating it to the mainstream climate science position. It’s a straw man to say the least. But it is not made entirely from whole cloth.

This is one place where Kahan is sorta right, in that many on the environmental activist front have latched on to Hansen’s opinion with an equally unclear understanding that it is a speculative position, not scientific consensus. There are a great many popular environmentalists and regular folks who have a hard tome understanding the difference between low-confidence, low-agreement scientific positions and high-confidence high-agreement positions. And there is also a failure to distinguish between well supported science and more questionable speculation, like Wadham’s arctic sea-ice death spiral (he predicted a collapse of sea ice and an ice-free pole by 2013, when most of the actual scientists were putting it closer to 2030-2040).

The difference of course is that less informed people on the left/green side are wrong in many cases about the magnitude of climate change or the degree of uncertainty, whereas the right hasn’t even gotten the sign right.

460

ragweed 03.05.15 at 7:31 pm

Brett also exemplifies another point Kahan makes – that as conservatives get more scientifically literate, their denial of anthropogenic climate change tends to become stronger. In essence, they know enough to more effectively mislead themselves and others.

461

PaulB 03.06.15 at 12:04 am

Ok, selenium isn’t “heavy”, just “toxic”
It’s not toxic in trace amounts, and it’s not a metal. Other than that, “toxic heavy metal” is spot on.

462

Charles S 03.06.15 at 1:03 am

ragweed,

Actually, Hansen has peer reviewed publication post-“Storms of My Grandchildren” in which (among other things) he tested the hypothesis that we could produce a run-away warming leading to a Venus-Earth. In that paper, he determined that it was not a possibility (the time scale for the Venus-Earth warm-up is too long, and anthropogenic CO2 would wash out long before the feed-back loop could get very far in that direction). On the other hand, he did find that burning most of the reserves of fossil carbon would probably producing 16-25 C global warming, which puts most of the Earth at a temperature where summer-time heat spells would be routinely fatal to large mammals.

463

Charles S 03.06.15 at 1:09 am

But I agree with your larger points. My brother, who is not particularly scientifically literate but definitely environmentally concerned, views Hansen’s disproven speculation as a reasonable likelihood.

On the other hand, I have a friend who is scientifically educated who had bought the luke-warmist claim the AGW was unlike to be large relative to the change in temperature in the last Ice Age (although he still acknowledged AGW as being a major disruption). Happily, I was able to point him to the literature showing that while temperature change by 2100 will be a smaller increase than the end of the last ice age, it isn’t as though climate change stops in 2100 under business as usual.

464

geo 03.06.15 at 4:56 am

Brett, upthread, challenged believers in global warming to account for the failure of surface temperatures to rise in recent years. Here’s one explanation:
http://motherboard.vice.com/en_au/read/we-may-see-a-supercharged-surge-in-warming.

465

ZM 03.06.15 at 10:05 am

Lee A Arnold

“ZM #444, What do you want to do about it?”

I can’t make a whole implementation plan in just a comment. Very basically:

Two things need changing — the physical infrastructure needs to be changed to support more sustainable ways of living; and social practices around production and consumption need to become more sustainable.

As I understand it at this stage I don’t think there is a definite idea about what a real sustainable outcome would be like — this being the case it would be best to phase the implementation in steps and you might start with a two phase approach of setting clear achievable goals in the near term of, say, five years, and then conduct research and policy development to over this period to come up with a staged longer term strategy and also more extensive but also achievable goals for the next 5 year period.

So in Australia our first five year goals might be to increase renewable energy production by say 5% a year or 25% over 5 years, public awareness campaigns regarding energy use and better waste management, and beginning some infrastructure projects such as more provision of electrified public transport and active transport corridors, more water sensitive infrastructure, support local governments to work on planting more of an urban canopy and so on.

It is unlikely the government would try to reduce consumption in the next five years because they would worry about a recession.

So then there could be international negotiations during this period as well because the globalised economy is interconnected and consumption and waste products are often geographically distanced from their negative impacts and different territories are experiencing different negative impacts. This is just like the Sustainable development Goals international negotiations later this year.

International negotiations include negotiations for poor countries to move towards more fair outcomes and wealthy countries to agree to lower their high consumption and then they both can agree on some sort of ideas on how to stabilise economies in the context of these changes. Presumably there are some economists that have written down some practical ideas about how to stabilise the economy when consumption contracts to be sustainable.

Then the individual countries would work out their strategies of how to stabilise their economy in this next phase of implementation, and the government can encourage consumption to be more fairly distributed and resource use to begin an overall decline. Personally I think they will have to implement some sort of rationing, which should be easy with the internet, since I doubt people will reduce their consumption by a significant degree without the government imposing some rationing system. The government can work with businesses and communities to develop rationing, and work out how to help people whose businesses are impossible to convert to being sustainable, and what to do about any unemployment arising as consumption declines.

As the social changes become more pronounced the infrastructure changes can be stepped up — for instance the administrative system used for rationing can also be used in administering a move to a more circular economy and physical infrastructure can be built for this purpose.

And then there is the detailed work to do at the local and community and individual business level — in terms of what infrastructural and environmental designs are most suitable ecologically as well as fitting local heritage and community tastes; how particular communities and groups will maintain wellbeing while lowering consumption; and business plans to adapt or exit their businesses.

This is quite vague, but it would take a long time and lots more people to develop a proper plan.

466

Brett Bellmore 03.06.15 at 7:22 pm

Geo, that was interesting, (Not anything I was really unfamiliar with, though.) but I would characterize it more as “a theory of why we were wrong”, than “proof we were right”. Since the predictions made were still wrong. As I’ve said before, the gold standard for science is predicting things that haven’t happened yet. Changing your model so that it ‘predicts’ events you already know of just demonstrates you can fit a curve to points.

If that article is correct, we should resolve the matter within a few years, right? That’s what I said not so long ago: If the excuses for the models having diverged from the actual climate were correct, we should know it in under a decade. If they keep diverging, then something is fundamentally wrong with the models.

Let’s assume that the excuses are correct, the models are finally capable of accurately predicting climate. What comes next?

I’m fairly confident that what comes next is not instant international agreement on agressive, enforcible reductions in CO2. I’m very confident about that. Whether you take my view that people warning about global warming haven’t yet made their case well enough to justify expensive action, or I take your view that the public is being messed with by well funded interest groups, the fact remains that many nations have built their entire economies on fossil fuels, and aren’t about the voluntarily agree to their economies imploding.

It will take decades to turn that tanker around.

And, so, here’s my (Entirely falsifiable!) prediction: If global warming undeniably resumes, with a vengence, the response will not be renewables and austerity. It will be geoengineering and nuclear. Geoengineering because by the time agreement is reached, it will be too late for anything else. Nuclear, because people won’t volunteer to be poor, and relying on low EROEI energy sources = poverty for the masses.

467

Charles S 03.06.15 at 7:41 pm

Brett,

You are wrong that the models were wrong. We remain within the range of the model predictions from 1990. The way ensembles of models are often processed means that features that depend on the phase of the internal cycles (like ENSO and PDO and AMO) get smoothed out from the central tendency, but are still visible in the full ensemble. The “hiatus” has dipped the observations to the lower end of the model runs, but that is what you would expect when we are at the cool-surface-air-temperature end of multiple internal cycles. Nothing in geo’s link is about rejiggering the models so they correctly fit the past. That is just something you are pulling out of your preset list of talking points. There is no way you haven’t been told this before. There is no way you don’t understand that point. But still you keep repeating the same nonsense. Why?

468

Brett Bellmore 03.06.15 at 8:40 pm

Yes, I’m aware that the actual climate is still, just barely, with the 95th percentile range of the models. Which is why five more years will tell the tale. A few of the models replicate 15 year pauses, none 20 year pauses.

469

Plume 03.06.15 at 8:55 pm

Rereading William Everdell’s The First Moderns, and stumbled on this quote, again. Seems to be germane — and German, too:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

— Max Planck

470

Stephen 03.06.15 at 9:19 pm

Brett, I’d like to call your attention to the two articles I posted links to in comment #437. They show that the radiation physics and global circulation models are indeed accurate. I consider these to be the best indicators that what scientists thought was happening is indeed happening. Here they are again.

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n9/full/nclimate2310.html

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14240.html

The first paper addresses what was known to be an issue with the global circulation models. These are climate models and do not presuppose any particular phase. But the climate does have phase. The chaotic behavior lends to dephasing of the projections. To circumvent this, the models have been run several times to get the range of possible outcomes. But climate doesn’t change “on average”. It follows a particular trajectory. The Nature Climate paper then selects those trajectories that follow the current climate observations. The selection of models based on phase results in more accurate predictions of measurements out to 10 or 15 years. Gaia spawns from Chaos.

The second paper shows that longwave downwelling measurements are precisely that predicted from the greenhouse warming model. They were able to show that the radiative forcing tracks both seasonal and average carbon dioxide levels.

471

Ogden Wernstrom 03.06.15 at 10:51 pm

Thank you for this new-to-me euphemism:

That is just something you are pulling out of your preset list of talking points.

472

Lee A. Arnold 03.06.15 at 11:21 pm

In re: The top post: The conflation of climate-scoffing with ignorance of economics has also been demonstrated consistently by Richard Lindzen. He used it again just two days ago, in his piece in the Wall Street Journal that defends Willie Soon, a man who appears to be another one of the bought-and-paid-for “merchants of doubt”.

In the new piece, Lindzen advises us, once again, that reducing emissions will hurt the poor!

This is not some new talking-point. Lindzen, Monckton and the others have been using it for years.

Misunderstanding of economics and innovation is a basic part of the fear-mongering which drives people into climate denialism. It is intimately joined to the whole “tax-cuts-are-always-good” and “government-action-is-always-bad” intellectual disaster.

473

The Temporary Name 03.06.15 at 11:54 pm

One would think that consistent association with kooks like Monckton would also be a red flag. And yet Soon co-authored a paper with a guy who’s an embarrassment to liars. Somewhere around there’s some relevant post about trusting the position of people who need to lie to sell their position…

474

Charles S 03.07.15 at 7:51 am

Brett,

Please read this to get a sense of why you are wrong to call the models wrong because the observations are in the bottom 5% of the model range some of the time:
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v517/n7536/full/nature14117.html

So out of 30 years of climate forecasts, we have a 5 year period that is below the 75th percentile and a 2-3 year period that is around the 95th percentile (roughly). Given that the range of model results is caused by climate variability for which the models are not necessarily in phase more than by parameterizati0n differences (see the Nature paper mentioned above), what percentage of the 30 years of model forecasts would you expect to be in the bottom 25%, what percentage would you expect to be in the bottom 5%? (Of course, the larger climate cycles are much larger than 30 years, so it would be a mistake to expect that out of any 30 years 1.5 would be in the bottom 5% and 1.5 to be in the top 5%, maybe, like the paper mentioned above, it would be better to look at the last 100+ years).

It is numerically illiterate (or dishonest), to call a prediction model wrong because 5% of the time the observations are in the bottom 5% of the range of the prediction.

475

ZM 03.07.15 at 9:48 am

I know an engineer and while he is not a libertarian like Brett Bellmore he also has some issues with climate and sustainability thinking. He has the same problems with economics — which he did a degree in too — stemming from the same sort of reason : because in engineering things have to be very accurate and precise and also you have to ensure the things you engineer will be very safe for people to use. Economics does not have this high degree of rigour and safety, like Brett Bellmore always complains grievously about all the people hurt by trying to implement communism in Russia etc, but also in various other economic policies that hurt people too.

Climate science and sustainability are not like economics, but they are fuzzier sorts of science than engineering uses and have a lot more interconnections and a very large scope compared to engineering.

Engineers have to be very careful that their cars work properly and safely — but they usually do not have to worry about the health and environmental and social impacts of their designs and products. We had an engineering professor talking about how he bought a leaf blower but then he didn’t exercise enough and developed a bad back so he should have just done his chores himself and not wasted materials and energy since he has a young son he worries about now with climate change.

476

John Quiggin 03.07.15 at 9:50 am

As the OP suggests, Brett is totally impervious to any kind of argument or evidence. The tribe requires this belief, and he upholds it.

477

Lee A. Arnold 03.07.15 at 4:26 pm

“Limits Sought on GMO Corn as Pest Resistance Grows”

–Wall Street Journal, two days ago.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/limits-sought-on-gmo-corn-as-pest-resistance-grows-1425587078?mod=e2tw

478

Phil 03.07.15 at 6:00 pm

Brett #466 is a perfect example of how the GOP con game works. Engage in unreasonable, unwarranted skepticism — and feed it to the rubes — for long enough to continue to get GOP politicians elected and to continue delaying investment in mitigation via new energy sources, better environmental protections, better development policies, etc. Then, when the effects can no longer be ignored, say, “Well, it’s too late for any of that, let’s do all of these things that support my policy preferences instead!”

479

Crytandra 03.08.15 at 12:58 am

I’m looking at the anti-GM sentiments on this thread and I’m not seeing anything qualitively different from the anti-vaccine crowd.

Sadly, John Q, who I generally agree with, has endorsed Harold’s fearmongering in comment 88 with his comment 89:

Harold @88 I’m fully aware of that: I’m making the point that perfectly valid arguments like these are harmed by …

It is also worth noting the intellectually dishonest fearmongering of prominent left-leaning science groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists as well as the continuous stream of anti-gm articles by left wing publications like Mother Jones.

I’ll feel much better when we get our own house in order.

480

Lee A. Arnold 03.08.15 at 1:23 am

There’s a big difference between criticizing GMO’s for health reasons and criticizing GMO’s for adverse effects on insect ecology.

481

Anarcissie 03.08.15 at 2:49 am

Only connect.

482

John Quiggin 03.08.15 at 6:18 am

@479 Do you think we ought not to be concerned about the privatisation of genomic resources? By displacing public efforts in crop breeding, it has already had signigicant adverse effects on our capacity to feed the world.

483

js. 03.08.15 at 6:44 am

crytandra @102:

the most valuable asset a corporation has is its reputation, hence enlightened self-interest compels most corporations value its safety record (although admittedly this incentive doesn’t always work).

Just sayin’.

484

dsquared 03.08.15 at 7:06 am

482: particularly since the major contribution so far from commercial GMO is Monsanto’s gift of glycophosphate-resistant weeds.

485

Crytandra 03.08.15 at 7:35 am

John,

Could you provide a compelling cite that backs up your point.

I’d be swayed if the American National Academy of Sciences and other peak science bodies were making your point with the same vigour with which they have issued public statements in favour of GM crops, but if they have it’s passed me by.

I also note your support for compulsory labelling contra the advice of of various peak science and medical bodies like the American Medical Association and AAAS.

On this issue at least, you appear to at least one foot outside the science tent.

486

Brett Bellmore 03.08.15 at 1:49 pm

“It is also worth noting the intellectually dishonest fearmongering of prominent left-leaning science groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists”

Which really ought to be called “The Union of Concerned People Who’d Like To Be Thought of As Scientists”, in as much as they don’t actually require you to be a scientist to join.

487

afeman 03.08.15 at 2:50 pm

Nonsense. UCS requires your scientist license number to become a member.

488

Layman 03.08.15 at 3:07 pm

Thanks to Brett Bellmore for offering a demonstration of the right’s anti-science approach:

First, he claims the climate data are being cooked (5, 15), there is no warming (5), and the scientists are frauds motivated by their desire to impose their own leftist values on society (130, 132).

Pressed into a debate, he shifts to new views: The underlying theories are sound, and the earth is warming, but it’s part of a natural cycle, not an emergency (252, 267). The models which suggest urgency are wrong, again because ulterior motivations by the modelers (323). The degree of warming we’ll see really won’t be a problem because farmers are crafty (349). There’s no need for drastic measures here (350).

Presented with more information, he shifts ground again: Yes, well OK, the models aren’t exactly wrong (366), in fact they’re more or less right(468). Maybe there is some urgency after all, and in a few years we should adopt my preferred societal changes, not yours (366).

I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad – we’ve arrived at at least some agreement with the facts here! – were it not the case that, at the very next opportunity, BB will return to the first step, and start the dance over again.

489

Lee A. Arnold 03.08.15 at 3:39 pm

For forty years I’ve been following the science, economics, and media rhetoric of ecological issues in the U.S., and we have heard the same rhetorical progression on many different problems, as follows below. I noticed this pattern first in the denialism of wildlife ecosystem disappearance, at the level of local chamber-of-commerce rhetoric about development of suburbs in the southern New Jersey area (where we pioneer in forms of intellectual corruption) which I covered as a teenage cub reporter for the county paper, and guess what, it applies as well to climate change:

1. Outright denial: the [environmental problem] isn’t happening.

2. The [environmental problem] is happening, but not for the reasons the scientists say it is.

3. The [environmental problem] is happening for the reasons the scientists say it is, but it’s not that bad.

4. Okay, the [environmental problem] looks bad, but hey, do you want to do without economic growth?

5. Economic growth is necessary to cure this [environmental problem.]

6. The [environmental problem] is better, so the warnings about it were unfounded!

Rinse, and repeat.

At first it took years to cycle through this pattern. Then the clowns realized that they could go back and forth, as the news allows, and as propaganda thinktanks strategize. Now they are so clever as to combine two or more gobs of this bafflegab at the same time.

You may also substitute “[economic condition]” for “[environmental problem]”, with the exception there being that only half the economists are scientists. The other half are “on the take”, and/or numbskulls.

490

Crytandra 03.08.15 at 10:06 pm

The climate of fear created by left-wing activist groups has seriously retarded the growth of genetically engineered crops and has led many developing countries to ban GM. For instance, after Seralini’s now infamous paper that purported to show that rats fed gm maize develop cancer, Kenya banned all GM crops.

Nonetheless, according to Reuters-

From 1996 to 2013, biotech crops have increased crop production valued provisionally at $US133 billion; helped alleviate poverty for more than 16.5 million small farmers and their families – more than 65 million people, collectively – some of the poorest people in the world; and decreased the environmental impact of food and fiber production by reducing pesticide use, increasing land savings and reducing CO2 emissions.

According to Brooks and Barfoot, had the additional 441 million tons of food, feed and fiber produced by biotech crops from 1996 to 2013 not been produced, an additional 132 million hectares of conventional crops would have been required to produce the same tonnage. This required increase in hectares could have negative implications for biodiversity and the environment due to an increased need for cultivated acres.

Also-

These findings are consistent with a rigorous meta-analysis, conducted by German economists, Klumper and Qaim (2014), which concluded that GM technology has, on average, reduced chemical pesticide use 37 percent, increased crop yields 22 percent, and increased farmer profits 68 percent during the 20 year period of 1995 to 2014.

How much further along the GM road would we be without the climate of fear created by cashed up green groups like Greenpeace; left wing publications like Mother Jones; journalist hacks like George Monbiot and Green political parties and associated chattering class elements like Michael Pollan?

The anti-science left has blood on its hands.

491

MPAVictoria 03.08.15 at 11:24 pm

“the most valuable asset a corporation has is its reputation, hence enlightened self-interest compels most corporations value its safety record (although admittedly this incentive doesn’t always work).”

Wow. Just wow.

492

Stephen 03.08.15 at 11:27 pm

Crytandra, the American GM food issue is neither left- nor right-wing. It cuts across the political spectrum

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0075637

The issue does not appear to be one of anti-science either. The issue is not whether or not GM crops have improved society but rather one of practical consumer information. People resent being told that they cannot know what they are eating on the left and the right. The issue is one of labeling.

493

Sebastian H 03.09.15 at 12:54 am

“We can’t conserve our way out of this disaster, nor use tech to get us to safety, either. Nothing short of getting rid of the capitalist system will work, as it is the main driver in the race over the ecological cliff. “

This is a classic example of “everything can be jammed into my political narrative”.

John has shown that it doesn’t require the destruction of the capitalist system. You are just saying that because you want the destruction of the capitalist system.

And that is how science gets politicized….

494

afeman 03.09.15 at 1:02 am

That’s not according to Reuters; it’s quoted from a press release for a paper by this group: The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) is a not-for-profit organization with an international network of centers designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing knowledge and crop biotechnology applications.

http://www.agprofessional.com/news/global-biotech-crop-acreage-nears-20-years-growth

…which might even be fine and dandy, but I keep getting whiffs of motivating reasoning in the service of this fine and dandy thing.

495

afeman 03.09.15 at 3:30 am

Here’s a question that’s been bothering me for a while: whenever anybody talks about fear mongering about GMOs, Michael Pollan’s name inevitably comes up. But as far as I can remember his positions have been skeptical but nuanced. What exactly has he said that make him a villain to anybody protesting resistance to GMOs?

496

Crytandra 03.09.15 at 4:16 am

afeman rebadged:

Here’s a question that’s been bothering me for a while: whenever anybody talks about fear mongering about GMOs climate change, Michael Pollan’s name Lord Christopher Monckton’s inevitably comes up. But as far as I can remember his positions have been skeptical but nuanced.

Pollan has lied through his teeth at each every available opportunity, just like the aforementioned numbskull. See here for numerous examples: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2013/10/24/michael-pollan-promotes-denialist-anti-gmo-junk-science-brags-he-manipulates-new-york-times-editors/

I don’t see how the anti-gm sentiment from left wing commentators on this thread differs from what I might see on a right wing blog thread in regards to climate change. Or an anti-vaccine thread of any persuasion, for that matter. We’ve even seen the infantile Monsatan trope rear its predictable head.

As far as I can tell, I’m the only left winger in the almost 500 comments on this thread who has mounted a vigorous defence of GM.

497

js. 03.09.15 at 4:57 am

Well… left-wingers don’t tend to say the sort of thing I quoted @483. Hostility towards business elites is pretty much one of the defining features of the left (for all sorts of good reasons). I’d say start with that and maybe you can you can work out why the left (or large parts of it anyway) is pretty iffy about GM foods under the current dispensation.

498

Sebastian H 03.09.15 at 5:39 am

“I’d say start with that and maybe you can you can work out why the left (or large parts of it anyway) is pretty iffy about GM foods under the current dispensation.”

Which is why science gets so politicized. The science part is ancillary to the rest of it.

499

dsquared 03.09.15 at 5:46 am

We’ve even seen the infantile Monsatan trope rear its predictable head.

The claim that suspicion of Monsanto is “an infantile trope” sounds like the sort of thing that should be argued for rather than merely asserted. They were, for example, dead wrong in their claims about glyphosphate resistance when lobbying for licencing of Roundup Ready maize, and that’s a subject on which they really ought not to be making mistakes.

500

Asteele 03.09.15 at 9:35 am

496: Huh? first you claim to have a source in Reuters, but instead simply lift a paragraph from a pro-GMO press release, and secondly you cite Jon Entine, who certainly seems to be a paid shill for whoever, he wrote a book defending Ted Stevens for Gods sake, no one does that without someone offering money.

501

Brett Bellmore 03.09.15 at 10:32 am

IMO, the proponents of GMO’s can make a fair number of mistakes, and still not reach the horror of opposing golden rice in order to prevent GMOs from getting a good rep by saving enormous numbers of lives. Which appears to me to have been the motive for fighting against it.

502

Crytandra 03.09.15 at 10:53 am

Asteele

Here is the Reuters link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/28/isaaa-idUSnBw276340a+100+BSW20150128

So what if it is a press release by a third party; the science cited is either bunk or not.

Moreover, if you are going to dismiss every pro-GMO outfit then you’ll have to dismiss the National Academy of Sciences; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the American Medical Association and dozens of like organisations outside the US.

But certainly the endless procession of propeller hats on this thread has destroyed John’s argument.

So I again ask the question, how are we going to clean up our own embarrassing anti-science backyard?

503

ZM 03.09.15 at 11:16 am

“how are we going to clean up our own embarrassing anti-science backyard?”

Given your stances on colonialism and indigenous people, market forces and business reputations, pro GMO, I am having some trouble trying to puzzle out what your leftist views are?

504

Brett Bellmore 03.09.15 at 11:41 am

Now, wait a minute: You’re listing being pro-GMO as being contrary to leftist views? You just conceded the anti-science point there; How can a technical position rightfully be tied to ideology?

505

ZM 03.09.15 at 11:47 am

Some other thread where this came up I found a EU study and well over half of all people say they don’t want GM foods – so it is a majority opinion.

Being pro or anti GM is not a technical position – it is a value judgement. I would be making a technical point if I said : “GM is a lot of hogwash – scientists can’t put genes from one organism into another!”

But if I asserted that then I would hardly need to be anti-GM would I ?

506

crytandra 03.09.15 at 12:19 pm

No wonder John Quiggin has gone in to hiding.

Nuuuuurse!!!!!

But more seriously, can ZM tell us about his ethical objection to GM?

Can he tell us how it is that Bt Cotton, which has lifted Indian farmers out of poverty and decreased their exposure to pesticides, is in conflict with his own version of left wing ethics?

507

Brett Bellmore 03.09.15 at 12:24 pm

“Being pro or anti GM is not a technical position – it is a value judgement.”

Right up until the moment you defend the ‘value judgement’ by reference to a technical position. Which is generally what’s going on, people don’t say, “I oppose golden rice because I want lots of children to go blind!”. They do it on the basis of bs safety concerns.

508

ZM 03.09.15 at 12:38 pm

Our present biodiversity problem is not that we need new GM varieties of plants and animals – what we need to do is conserve the plants and animals that already exist and our actions are threatening to make extinct in what looks like turinging into a geological time scale extinction event.

Poor people should not have to eat GM rice to get vitamin A (is that the thing they add?) – they should be able to have plenty of proper fruits and vegetables which have vitamins in and make a pleasant meal unlike plain GM rice with maybe a bit of soy sauce or green tea for flavour if they’re lucky.

This is a land use and food distribution problem – agricultural land use should change to make more fruit and vegetables instead of corn for syrup making and grains for livestock that emit GHGs , and distribution should be improved so poor people have nice fruit and vegetables with lots of natural vitamins and anti-oxidants etc.

509

Brett Bellmore 03.09.15 at 12:53 pm

I see, it’s a value judgement: It’s better to go blind from lack of a proper diet, than to have your vision saved by a genetically altered crop. The best is the enemy of the good, and deserves to prevail no matter the cost.

510

Stephen 03.09.15 at 1:02 pm

Here is nice analysis of why people in EU have not embraced GM food.

http://ips.sagepub.com/content/33/3/301

511

ZM 03.09.15 at 1:02 pm

I already said that a variety of fruits and vegeatbles should be available and did not advocate that people should be forced to go blind from malnutrition at all :/

512

Phil 03.09.15 at 1:23 pm

The best is the enemy of the good, and deserves to prevail no matter the cost.

For his next trick, Brett Bellmore will do an in-place 180 and explain why we shouldn’t invest a single public dollar in large-scale solar, wind or hydro until they can completely take over the existing grid.

513

MPAVictoria 03.09.15 at 1:23 pm

Would also like to point out that calling for labeling requirements is not the same as wanting GM food banned.

514

afeman 03.09.15 at 1:28 pm

crytandra:

That Forbes article kind of drives home my point. The author cites one interview where Pollan notes that for a while there was no pushback on his work, and then there was: this is framed as “boasting” and “Says He Manipulates New York Times’ Editors” (perhaps changed from the “brags” in the URL). The rest is built on largely neutral tweets to studies on GMOs that were later discredited — you’d think that 20-odd years of long-form writing would provide examples more damning than that. What those screen caps don’t always reveal — sort of strange for an article about ethics in food journalism not to provide links — is that he was generally linking to thoroughly mainstream sources. But for that he gets compared to Monckton, who was regularly comparing climate activists to Nazis and threatens to sue people to criticize him.

This kind of thing verges on a genre. Consider this post on a generally admirable blog:
http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2013/06/12/pollan-and-bittman-the-morano-and-milloy-of-gmo-anti-science/

Most of it is an able critique of the pig stomach study, best summarized by the xkcd on jellybeans. But if you have the least familiarity with Morano or Milloy, the comparison to them is extraordinary. To what do Bittman and Pollan owe this insult? Tweeting links to articles about the study in, respectively, the Chicago Tribune and Consumer Reports.

What’s it all about, I wonder.

515

Lee A. Arnold 03.09.15 at 1:35 pm

I suggest a compromise!

We should label products with GMO’s, and also we should label products which cause accelerated atmo CO2, whether in their manufacture or in consumption.

Let the consumers decide!

Capitalism, baby!

516

Stephen 03.09.15 at 1:48 pm

An interesting result of the International Political Science Review paper (link in #510) addressing GM food acceptance in EU is that the greatest correlation was found to be the person’s sex. Females tend to reject GM foods. Being in favor of consumer protection also showed a correlation.

The authors did not say anything about the female correlation even though it was the strongest correlation in the study. This was because this didn’t fit into their hypothesis which was that science literacy would be the main correlation. They concluded that their work showed that science literacy was the main correlation. But in fact, it wasn’t.

MPAVictoria says that this is a labeling issue not an anti-science issue. The USDA Organic label was developed in part to give consumers a choice in using GM foods. Organic label foods are more expensive but they appear to be successful in the US. EU has labeling laws for GM food. Are EU packaged processed food is gaining a greater foothold in US markets? These items are appearing more and more in my local (rural) supermarket.

517

Robespierre 03.09.15 at 2:14 pm

Labelling is not the same as banning, and I would have nothing against it, but the reason it is pushed is because it would discourage GMO consumption by appealing to popular prejudice – especially in Europe.

518

Robespierre 03.09.15 at 2:15 pm

Also, labelling something as if it were dangerous reinforces the public perception that it is, in fact, dangerous.

519

Stephen 03.09.15 at 2:26 pm

Robespierre #518, EU sans OGM labeling does not imply health risk any more than does the USDA Organic label.

520

afeman 03.09.15 at 2:28 pm

Here is the Reuters link:

Here is what follows the title at the Reuters link:

Reuters is not responsible for the content in this press release.

Ok.

So what if it is a press release by a third party; the science cited is either bunk or not.

But you weren’t arguing the cited science, you were arguing that it was reporting by Reuters, which many would hold in higher esteem than a press release. Reuters among them.

It’s a funny way to wave the flag of science and reason.

521

afeman 03.09.15 at 2:47 pm

Oh, and it’s not a press release by a “third party”; they’re announcing their own research. Nothing wrong with that, of course, so why the distancing?

522

Anarcissie 03.09.15 at 2:59 pm

Robespierre 03.09.15 at 2:15 pm @ 518:
‘Also, labelling something as if it were dangerous reinforces the public perception that it is, in fact, dangerous.’

It’s simply stating something about its contents. Foods are also labeled (in the US) as to whether they contain vitamins, calories, salt, preservatives, colorants, emulsifiers, and so on. The values attached to these notations are in the minds of the consumers who read them. As to GM foods, it is not anti-science to wish to not be the guinea pig.

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TM 03.09.15 at 3:10 pm

I haven’t been back in a while but now we seem to be inundated with GMO propaganda. A lot of it is demonstrably just propaganda. It is an uncontroversial fact that GMO methods have caused the emergence of resistance among weeds and insects and it outbreeding of GMO traits has also been amply demonstrated. What is controversial is to some extent how much of a problem you think these incidents are. There is no rational way to say that they are no problem period. GMO proponents have to claim that resistance and outbreeding can be managed etc. etc. People are justifiably skeptical of that.

The other thing with the GMO=science trope is that GMO propaganda has always relied on claims that “we need GMO to feed the world”, claims that have never had any remotely scientific justification. GMO propaganda has always been based on willful exaggeration of the benefits. You cannot claim the rational scientific mantle and then make wild and fantastic claims about the benefits of the technology you wish to promote. This is too obvious to merit much discussion but let me provide a concrete example.

Tne NYT a year ago published an op-ed by supposedly expert authors claiming that US wheat production is lagging because of the absence of GMO wheat varieties (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/opinion/we-need-gmo-wheat.html). I contacted one of the authors (Lusk) and asked him to explain his position in light of the following facts (which I looked up on FAOSTAT). I’ll just quote (skip if you are not interested in the details:

The main premise of your article is that in the US, corn and soybean yield have increased due to genetic engineering and that wheat is lagging behind because no GMO varieties have been commercially introduced. You also suggest that wheat production in the plains relies on the Ogalalla aquifer for irrigation and genetic engineering would reduce wheat’s reliance on irrigation (you don’t say this explicitly but I can’t make sense of your argument any other way).
After reading your article, I looked up some data on FAOSTAT and would very much appreciate your thoughts or comments. What I found – see screenshot attached – is that while corn yield in the US has indeed increased 29% between 1990 and 2010, maize yield increased as much in Germany and even more – 46% – in France. In 2011, maize yield both in Germany and France was better than the US record of 2010 (2012 of course was a catastrophic drought year in the US).
GMO maize is irrelevant in Germany and France so the yield improvement in these countries – matching or exceeding US figures – cannot be attributed to the magic of Monsanto. Where does that leave your argument? I’m sure you know the numbers quoted above so you must know something else that I don’t know and I am burning to know what that is.
As to wheat, French and German farmers grow more than twice as much per hectare than their US counterparts. Since 1990, yield has improved at almost identical rates – 17% – in the three countries but looking back further in time gives a more intriguing picture. From 1960-1990, wheat productivity per hectare increased 170% in France, 119% in Germany, and 65% in the US. Surely these stark differences cannot be attributed either to genetic engineering or to climatic differences? And surely, an Oklahoma professor of agricultural economics is just the right person to ask for an explanation of these very interesting trends?
I would also like to ask for any data you may have concerning the extent of wheat irrigation, as compared to GM corn, on the Ogalalla aquifer.(*)
Again, I found your contribution very interesting and would highly appreciate your comments to further inform a very important debate on food and agricultural policy, which in my view too often suffers from insufficient familiarity with empirical data and superficial if not biased thinking.

Lusk was friendly enough to engage in a correspondence but substantially he had absolutely nothing to say. He clearly was unfamiliar with the data I had quoted. He has no actual expertise about wheat agriculture (the topic of his article). Nothing in his NYT article was based on rigorous science. His claim that US maize is more lucrative than wheat because of GMO is grotesque. What makes maize lucrative are the billions of tax-payer subsidies. It is hard to believe that any expert would not know this. It was a propaganda piece pure and simple and a great deal of writing – even so-called expert writing – about GMO is on that level. Granted both sides do it. But that makes the GMO controversy a poor example for a science vs. anti-science narrative.

(*) The actual statement was: “Wheat farmers missed out on perhaps the most important benefit of genetic engineering: the development of crops that can survive droughts or grow with lower-quality water” – a claim that is totally outlandish since not a single important commercial variety of any crop is drought-resistent due to genetic engineering – certainly not GMO corn which is grown by mining the Ogalalla aquifer.

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Brett Bellmore 03.09.15 at 3:17 pm

That’s the chief objection to GMO labeling, actually: Foods in the US are labeled according to what they contain, not how it got there, and GMO isn’t “what they contain”, it’s “how it got there”.

Now, if somebody went and genetically engineered quiona to contain gluten, or wheat to contain peanut allergens, THAT would certainly demand labeling. But most genetic engineering of crops has no special impact on what’s in the food. Maybe golden rice should be labeled, “contains beta carotene”. But labeling it “genetically engineered” conveys no information about what’s in it.

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Anarcissie 03.09.15 at 3:47 pm

Brett Bellmore 03.09.15 at 3:17 pm @ 524:
‘That’s the chief objection to GMO labeling, actually: Foods in the US are labeled according to what they contain, not how it got there, and GMO isn’t “what they contain”, it’s “how it got there”.’

— or that there may be unknown substances in the product which the consumers might not like. For example, in the laboratory, animal genes, including human genes, have been inserted into plant genomes (or so I have read — I wasn’t there). So will you violate kashruth or commit cannibalism if you eat the broccoli? Who knows? Furthermore, if you read popularized science articles, as I do, you also discover that much is not understood about genetic mechanisms, the latest being the role of ‘junk DNA’, some of which interacts with known genes in odd ways. In other words, the corps pushing GMOs don’t really know what they’re doing, only that it seems to be profitable for the moment. People generally assume as well (from long experience) that if profit is in question, they will not be told the truth, which is confirmed by the effort to conceal genetic modification which we’ve been discussing.

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Stephen 03.09.15 at 3:48 pm

Brett @ 524, perhaps an appropriate food label could say “Bt Cry protein” and the consumer would then be able to choose according to diet preference. Bt Cry protein can be applied or produced internally.

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TM 03.09.15 at 3:52 pm

BB, that is your opinion, nothing more. “People disagree about these things. They have *actual* disagreements.” Remember? Would you for once just agree to disagree and leave it?

Lots of people do care about how their food got into being. How were the chickens treated? What were the cows fed? What kind of agricultural operation did this grow on? Where was this grown? Some even want to know how the workers were treated. Why do you think that your opinion on food labeling is the only valid one? (Rhetorical question I know).

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Stephen 03.09.15 at 3:58 pm

Food items are themself ingredients. People with gluten allergies look for ingredients like wheat or barley. However, “gluten free” labeling helps them choose more efficiently.

If one prefers to not consume GM foods, they can buy USDA Organic or EU products.

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Robespierre 03.09.15 at 5:10 pm

Fine. If we get to label non-gmo products as “obtained from random genetic mutations”.
Consumers will appreciate.

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PaulB 03.09.15 at 6:10 pm

This discussion is getting back to the point of the OP.

I doubt that left-wing commentators in general are better equipped to work out for themselves that Seralini’s notorious GM paper is junk than are right-wing commentators able to work out that Monckton’s recent climate paper is junk. Nor is one more likely that the other to accept on trust any expert consensus. And even those of us who can tell have got better things to do than check all the junk papers. (Sorry, I can’t think of a humbler way to express that.)

However, mistrust of GM is based on the theory that corporates are willing and able to distort the science to make money. Since the object of corporates is indeed to make money, and since there’s ample history of their deceiving the public about risks (eg tobacco, tetraethyl lead), the theory has legs.

Mistrust of AGW science is based on the theory that government is willing to distort the
science to increase its power. It’s true that governments like to get involved in stuff, and it’s true that governments quite often present a crude – you might even say distorted – version of the science behind their policies. But what is utter rubbish is the notion that governments have any significant influence over the papers published by academic scientists. The denialist argument that AGW science is not to be trusted because universities are government funded is plain stupid.

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Matt 03.09.15 at 6:10 pm

I don’t think that GMO-based selective resistance to herbicides is the long term future of weed control. Weeds evolve resistance and then you’re back to the beginning. It’s hard to find new herbicides with safety/environmental profiles no worse than the old ones and a brand new mechanism of action that the weeds aren’t resistant to. It’s kind of like seeking new antibiotics for use against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. You could see improvements for a decade or two with each novel mechanism of action, and I guess that’s worth something even if it can’t go on forever.

I think that the long term solution to weeds among heavily capitalized farmers like those in the USA will be vision-guided mechanical weed control by autonomous machines. People have been uprooting weeds since the beginning of agriculture and the plants have yet to evolve to survive it. Farmers wouldn’t need to continue paying for herbicides or herbicide resistant crop seeds, or worry about pesticide runoff or worker exposure. The products could be labeled organic. I wonder if established organic farmers with more labor-intensive practices would lobby to get organic certification changed to exclude robotic pest control, introduce a new label like “hand tended” to reflect their own practices, or just fade away.

Actually, existing organic farms in the USA already try to limit hand tending. There’s more reliance on mechanical tillage instead of chemicals for weed control, which means organic farms tend to have somewhat higher diesel fuel consumption per unit of output than conventional farms growing the same crops. Heavy tillage can also accelerate soil erosion. More targeted application of mechanical force is likely to reduce erosion and emissions from the burning of diesel in heavy machines. If the weeding machines are relatively small/light it will also reduce the deleterious soil compaction you get from heavy machines rolling through fields.

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TM 03.09.15 at 6:39 pm

Cryt 490: Brooks and Barfoot are consultants to the biotech industry. Their training is in economics, not in science. And they cite two other economists. Sorry to break it to you but such studies are not the equivalent of IPCC reports on climate science. If you knew the literature a bit, you would be aware that precisely these claims – that GMO have increased food production and reduced pesticide use – are hotly contested in the literature. Myself, I have no more expertise than your sources but it is enough to look up data myself and they do not conform to the propaganda picture. See my 523.

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Brett Bellmore 03.09.15 at 7:08 pm

“Fine. If we get to label non-gmo products as “obtained from random genetic mutations”.
Consumers will appreciate.”

I’d be cool with that.

“I don’t think that GMO-based selective resistance to herbicides is the long term future of weed control. “

I think perenial crops, likely genetically engineered, are the long term future of weed control. That, and robots with multi-spectral imagers and lasers. The first will reduce disturbed soil that weeds can get started in to an absolute minimum, the last will ensure that any weeds or undesired insects get toasted.

But the thing about long term futures, is that they’re long term, and you frequently have to get through the short and medium term first. And in the mid-term GMO-based selective resistance to herbicides probably does have a place.

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Stephen 03.09.15 at 7:11 pm

Robespierre, that is a false choice. People already know what is in conventional food.

On the other hand one might show some empathy for the libertarian view that it’s not ethical to hide ingredients not expected in a food product. Natural foods obtained from random genetic mutations have intrinsic labels. Humans know to not eat green or sprouting potatoes to avoid stomach distress, a practice that also avoids teratogenesis.

Food labeling is a public health issue. Many people have food allergies. Some don’t even know they do or what is causing them distress. If Americans suspect that they have an immune response to, say Bt cry protein, they can test this by buying USDA Organic or EU food items. Enough said.

On a personal note, I have learned to avoid certain foods by trial and error and my wife (French) taught me to pay attention to ingredients and preparation. Some food items that my body responds to adversely in one form is perfectly tolerable when prepared in another fashion. Food is complex, individual, and at the same time necessary for survival. I no sooner tell others what to eat than I expect to be told what to eat. Everyone should be allowed enough information to choose and test things out for themselves.

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Brett Bellmore 03.09.15 at 7:55 pm

I think that’s fine, Stephen, but labeling foods as “genetically engineered” is both vastly over-inclusive, (As many genetic interventions won’t introduce new compounds into the food.) and hugely uninformative. (As those interventions that do will simply be listed as “genetically engineered”.)

Now, there are a moderate number of compounds frequently found in food that are known to be problematic for some people. I suffer from a shellfish allergy, for instance. It would certainly be informative to demand that if any of these compounds were introduced into a food you wouldn’t normally expect them to be in, that they be prominently labeled as such. “Contains gluten!” “Contains peanut allergens!” “Contains shellfish allergens!”

These would be useful labels. “Contains genetically engineered organisms”? Tells you diddly squat that’s actually useful.

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Stephen 03.09.15 at 8:28 pm

Brett @ 535. I’m not arguing for GM food labeling. I feel that the USDA Organic label is enough. But, I am sympathetic to persons who want to know what they are buying.

I also agree with PaulB @ 530 who says “mistrust of GM is based on the theory that corporates are willing and able to distort the science to make money.” There’s certainly a history there. Conspiracy ideation tendencies that people may have regarding the chemical and food industries are only strenthened by pushing back on labeling laws. I think industry messed up on the PR front there.

The USDA circumvented direct industry regulation with the USDA Organic label program. The food production industry is not required to disclose ingredients but they may voluntarily claim USDA Organic if they meet certain requirements. This allows people options in lieu of information.

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Stephen 03.09.15 at 8:41 pm

TM @ 523, The environmental issues associated with the GM argument is certainly one worth paying attention to. I have read that agriculture produces about 1/3 of the Earth’s anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Any budget on greenhouse gas emissions will need to address this point. I lost any hope of society being able to address this upon reading the WG 3 report in the latest IPCC assessment. It’s understandable that the IPCC recommendation shifted from one of prevention to one of preparation in the last report.

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Matt 03.09.15 at 9:06 pm

Natural foods obtained from random genetic mutations have intrinsic labels.

This is kind of begging the question about what is natural IMO. People began deliberately inducing mutations with mutagenic chemicals and ionizing radiation much earlier in the 20th century. The mutations were random but induced at a much higher rate than would result from normal DNA replication errors or ambient chemical/radiological mutation. Mutants with desirable phenotypes were selected and introduced into the human food system.

My first instinct with GMO food labeling, even though I wouldn’t avoid them myself, is that more disclosure of information is always a good thing. My second trollish instinct is that it would be at least a little funny to label both GMO foods and those derived from random but accelerated mutation and see which label repels consumers more. “Notice: this crop’s genetic line has been engineered” vs “Notice: this crop’s genetic line has been selected from radiation induced mutants” or “Notice: this crop’s genetic line has been selected from chemically induced mutants.” Kind of like trolling people with warning labels about dihydrogen monoxide. But it’s probably not going to lead to people learning more about genetics, and it’s not even funny after a few times.

I think that my first instinct wins out: it’s better to tend toward more disclosure of information rather than less, even if more information appears to induce utility-reducing behavior among many people exposed to it. I feel this way about medical test results too. Even if people make poor decisions because they can’t interpret diagnostics in context like a medical professional, I think they should be able to access the information.

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Matt 03.09.15 at 9:08 pm

I’m not sure what sent my last comment into moderation. I didn’t even have any links.

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TM 03.09.15 at 10:05 pm

I don’t have strong opinions on GM food. My main objection to the anti-GM camp is that their focus is too narrow. I believe that agri-industrial practices need to change on a grand scale because they are simply not sustainable. GM, or at least the way it is used, is probably a concern but it’s not the only one and not the main issue. On the other hand I call BS on attempts at branding anti-GM as anti-science. There are valid concerns based on a solid understanding of the science. Perhaps they are exaggerated, but hardly more so than the other side demonstrably exaggerates the hypothetical benefits of GM agriculture. So the premise of the whole debate needs to be rejected. It is absurd to draw a parallel between rejecting a certain technology (for reasons that may or may not be valid) and rejecting the whole edifice of biological science (as anti-evolutionists do) or physical science (as climate change deniers do). The latter two groups reject the whole idea that there is an objective reality that can be studied with scientific methods. As I said earlier, I’m not convinced that the “anti-science” meme is really helpful when what is really at stake is a right wing extremist movement that lives in a Goebbelsian parallel universe bereft of any contact with empirical reality.

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Stephen 03.09.15 at 10:56 pm

Brett @ 535, many genetic interventions won’t introduce new compounds into the food. I don’t believe this statement is correct. If the genetic ” intervention”, aka “modification”, didn’t introduce new compounds into the food, then there wouldn’t be ELISA tests. Granted PCR tests the DNA. But that DNA is engineered to produce the protein and the latter triggers the immune response. (PCR is more sensitive than ELISA)

GM ingredients do in fact introduce new compounds into the food else there wouln’t be established tests for GM foods.

But I still think the USDA Organic label is a good program for addressing the public health issue. The environmental issues of herbicide use, genetic “pollution”, ecological diversity, and the like are a different matter altogether.

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Harold 03.09.15 at 10:57 pm

Well said, TM.

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Brett Bellmore 03.10.15 at 12:00 am

Stephen, genetic interventions *can* add new compounds to food. They can also modify levels of existing compounds, or delete compounds from food. (For example, “Knockout” varieties.) Finally, they can modify structure, where the structure is still composed of the same chemicals. For example, knocking out the myostatin gene produces heavily muscled animals, (“Bully” dog varieties, or Belgian Blue cattle are examples of this.) but the muscle is just muscle, it’s not in any way chemically different.

Your ELISA test isn’t testing for genetic modification. It’s testing for compounds in the food. And not all gene modifications change chemical composition.

And not all chemical composition changes a produced by formal genetic engineering. Plant and animal breeding have long relied on natural mutations. The only difference with genetic engineering is that it is more controlled.

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Lee A. Arnold 03.10.15 at 12:22 am

New paper today in Nature Climate Change shows that the CMIP5 model shows that the “40-year rate-of change of mean temperature” will accelerate to a 1000-2000 year high by 2020. North America, Arctic, and Europe are up for the biggest changes first.

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2552.html

Overview of what this might mean at Scientific American, today:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/global-warming-could-hit-rates-unseen-in-1-000-years/

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John Quiggin 03.10.15 at 3:49 am

Crytandra @485 Being Australian, I’m perfectly happy with the position of the Australian Academy of Science, which states “The Academy supports labelling of food, in particular where it assists consumers making deliberate dietary choices; but such labelling must be scientifically based.”

The disagreement between the US and Australian position isn’t scientific. Labelling is a policy issue, and one that different jurisdictions have decided differently. Unsurprisingly, given that our system has worked pretty well, the AAS doesn’t share the fears of US bodies about the damage that might be caused by labelling.

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Bruce Wilder 03.10.15 at 4:55 am

BB: The only difference with genetic engineering is that it is more controlled.

I think we are too prone to confuse the science with the system. Genetic engineering, because it is so precise an intervention, enables the (re-)design of whole systems of food production and distribution, and it is the implications of the system, which ought to be subject to critique for consistency with the public interest.

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Stephen 03.10.15 at 3:42 pm

Brett, I haven’t heard of Belgian Blue cattle. The ELISA tests do detect products at the molecular level. As such, ELISA detection constitutes a new ingredient and therefore the food is not subtantially equivalent to the non-GM variety.

But again, although it would be nice to have these new ingredients listed for persons who suspect food allergies, the USDA Organic label does offer the information, albeit in a convoluted fashion.

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Stephen 03.10.15 at 4:58 pm

Brett, I found that Belgian Blue cattle are natural.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_Blue

I think I know what you were getting at though. People were I work have mapped the goat genome and are doing gene-level manipulation to produce large animal models for studying human disease. They also spliced in a spider gene so these goats produce spider silk protein in their milk. I understand spider silk is the next carbon fiber. Hopefully they won’t use this milk to produce a stroger chèvre. Camambert is strong enough for my tastes.

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Brett Bellmore 03.10.15 at 5:06 pm

“Hopefully they won’t use this milk to produce a stroger chèvre. Camambert is strong enough for my tastes.”

Personally, I’m a fan of Saga. But you should be relieved to hear that they’ve given up on the use of goats to produce spider silk protein, E. Coli has proven more effective.

So it’s not tough cheese, but whole new levels of constipation, that you have to worry about. ;)

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Stephen 03.10.15 at 6:46 pm

Brett, that last comment would explain a lot. Perhaps it’s time for some yogurt. Oh wait, that would have rBGH!

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