Islandisation From Our Own Prosperity.

As a recent immigrant back to Victoria, the state of my birth, I have received my first water bill.

As part of this water bill, there is a note that a reduction has been included due to the delays in completion of the desalination plant, which, so the bill informs me, will cost 1.8 million to run per day.

This is precisely the reason why I began MothIncarnate and the more aptly descendent, New Anthropocene, all of which came together in The Human Island.

Vaclav Smil is correct; we are not stupid, we do see the trends. However, our inability to accept sacrifice ensures that we in fact sacrifice greater than we otherwise would have had we been more pre-emptive. More importantly, the industrial revolution has striped us of the only real “ancient wisdom” our species has any real claim to; the acknowledgement that passive measures can make our lives so much easier, cheaper and enjoyable.

What we have instead is the removal of real world wealth, in the form of freely available energy and ecological services, replaced instead by inefficient privatised alternatives. Water management is a prime example.

Rather than creative planning and enhancement of hydrological processes, we remove many natural process (transpiration being the most obvious), replace them with inefficient alternatives (such as damming waterways and creating channels that increase evaporation and costly desalination) and pay the price for it.

This is species islandisation; by removing passive measures, we make resource management increasingly difficult and costly. Failing to acknowledge the shortcomings of the industrial era and letting go of a little anthropocentric ego leads us into greater debt and hardship.

Fresh water is probably the least obscure example and yet, when a couple years ago people were paying close attention to local reservoir levels, today, they return to washing their cars, hosing their lawns and never once questioning the logic in filling up the millions of toilets around us with water that was made potable, at expense, only to face such a fate.

With such an example in mind, how could one expect more obscure issues, like climate change, peak oil and phosphorus supplies to make a lasting impact on an audience already concerned whether or not their lawns are greener than the neighbours?

Our biggest failing is to ourselves. While we have produced many amazing innovations and realisations through the enlightened, industrial era, we have forgotten to match such revolutions with adequate social reflection and education. We are, at the individual level, little better than our ancestors of the Middle Ages. That an individual who believes in magical underwear can stand as a serious candidate for President to one of the most powerful nations of the globe illustrates this fact better than any other could.

We require a social revolution that is inspired by humane and enlightened morality. Some how, our increased awareness of ourselves and the universe around us needs to be adopted into principles that can justify human behaviour beyond greedy individualistic and outdated hierarchical ideologies. We need to use this wonderful treasure trove of factual information to develop notions of human flourishing beyond that capable through our current mediocre attempts.

This is not as good as it gets.

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Who’s Tackling Climate Change?

The Climate Institute have just released an interactive map to look at and compare the actions different countries are currently undertaking to tackle climate change. It’s a nice project and both interesting and of value. I suggest checking it out!

(click the image to visit the Climate Institute’s interactive map)

Is there a Reasonable Mind in the Debate?

Anyone who engages on the non-debate over such subjects as anthropogenic climate change, evolution and vaccination hears, from “both sides” (I hate the term – but it accurately portrays such events for what they are; sport for entertainment) the assertion “reasonable mind” or “rational mind”.

Everyone insists they have reached their conclusions by reasonably and rationally reviewing the available data. The obvious flaw here is that some sort of debate persists, so someone must have reached their conclusions less reasonably and less rationally.

So what is it to be reasonably minded?

The Jo Nova’s of the world would insist they are being reasonably minded because they ask questions. The Donna Laframboise’s would think so because they employ free speech on the subject of committed scepticism. Of course, asking questions is not enough, nor is receiving the answers, as I’ve written with Jo Nova’s obvious lack of understanding of science. Likewise one can dispel the free speech argument by simply referring the Westboro Baptist Church (having an opinion and voicing that opinion doesn’t make that opinion sound or, in many cases, even ethical), but I’ve done a lot more on that subject in this piece and the referenced links.

Perhaps, as I hear often, it’s about being open-minded. Maybe I’m close-minded to what might possibly be true…

This sounds appealing and indeed logical. Science after all proceeds by great minds thinking, “what if…” and testing outside of the box. Are we right to thus reject anything, because, for all we know, it might possibly be true.

This is a favourite of the religiously bent individual which allows for the god-of-gaps. It fails, again, to understand the science method. We need to make three simple assumptions; 1) we exist, 2) the universe is bound by certain rules/laws, and 3) we can learn about the universe by discovering these rules/laws.

With this in mind, no-one can seriously suggest that, perhaps the Earth is really flat or that gravity isn’t really a constant law of attraction (ie. changing unpredictably). It’s not close minded to reject such hypotheses without wasting time on investigating them in depth (and at great expense), but reasonably minded to accept that the body of work is largely done and dusted on these matters and, if anything, it’s in a stage of fine turning (eg. the Earth isn’t a perfect globe, but more pear shaped and there is still a lot of work in understanding the force of gravity).

We also know about the misadventures of Mr. Credulous.

The great appeal for others to be reasonably/rationally minded quickly becomes, with only a general review, a complex matter from this perspective.

However, I don’t really think such appeals are anything about a methodical and critical review process, as the ego of such people suggests it is, but rather one hooked on personal values which filter acceptable data.

Listening to such discussions, it’s clear that the “debate” is really one over where the individual deems the appropriate height for the bar of possibility. A creationist, to render their ideology plausible, requires the bar to be set low, for instance, appealing to the mentioned “all things are possible” mantra. A committed climate sceptic probably has the bar a little higher – sensible on most subjects but low enough so that if they cannot understand the science in its entirety and if there isn’t universal agreement on every little detail, well then the jury is out on the subject and we can get on with business as usual. Even higher still perhaps (but unlikely from my experience) could be the bar for the anti-vax individual; it needs to be low enough just so that hear-say and YouTube videos render their objections sensible.

If others refuse to set the bar at the required height, they must be closed minded, not (what is really the case) that the quality of the data isn’t of the quality required to make the bar.

A lot of what my writing these few years has been on addressing these short comings. The links provided above to posts on the likes of Jo Nova and Donna Laframboise are about me looking at their claims and the “ergo…” conclusions drawn and finding the original position either false or irrelevant, which strips away the foundations to their conclusions.

It’s an unpopular approach because it doesn’t engage – for the blood thirsty trolls – but only exposes genuine shortcomings. It also taps into personal values which is most easily ignored by characterising me as close minded.

So what is it, in my opinion, to be reasonably/rationally minded?

First and foremost, it requires one to understand critical review and investigation. One needs to understand the scientific method and review the actual study articles, perhaps some of their underpinning studies as well as relevant review papers. It’s not glamorous nor is it as easy as reading a post on WUWT or Jo Nova and parroting that off anywhere that will let you.

Secondly, one needs to remove emotional ties to desired conclusions. By doing so, one is often more easily able to take the next step and change one’s mind after critical review of the available data. Two personal examples I offer are my views regarding invasive species and religion (separate, below).

Many of the debates we encounter are nothing more than emotionally fuelled beliefs in how the world ought to be – or is perceived to be doing us harm. God loves us. Hidden bankers are out to take over the world. The “environmental movement” is nothing more than a thinly veiled socialism uprising. Governments are always trying to find ways to undermine rights of the individual. Reasonable parental love and care coerced  into illogical fears propagated by anger/upset individuals whom have latched on to anything rather than the truth (ie. “we’re just starting to understand autism, but it shows no relationship to vaccination”) message of science.

In each and every debate we encounter on such topics, we find such beliefs entwined intimately with them. For instance, no committed climate sceptic has discussed the validity of their conclusions without including conspiracies involving the government, secret agents or devious scientists (all without a shred of evidence). Why is that? It’s because their argument cannot be justified or explained without such conspiracies. There’s no point for it.

Remember this the next time you find yourself in such a debate. You cannot win, nor are you likely to alter the position of the other – you both are likely to have the bar set at a different height. Who is really reasonable and rational? That’s open to later reflection.

Just save yourself the effort, as you would on a troll insisting on a flat earth.

________

In the case of the former, I chose my degree (and hoped-for career path) based around a deep love for the environment through which I hiked and explored. I have come to understand that it is not always feasible – indeed sometimes impossible – to remove invasive species and in a few cases, such species provide valuable services to the surrounding ecosystem. In the latter case, I was raised a Lutheran. In my teenage years, I began to question the validity of the stories I had grown up with. I started to discover how the fundamental points of the doctrine (most notably, the book of Genesis) just didn’t match the facts known about the world, thus muting the rest of the doctrine. I also discovered vast amounts of the good book, that had previously been overlooked in Sunday school etc, to be immoral. After researching a number of other faiths, I had to conclude that none represented any verifiable truth. I became a non-theist (not an Atheist, who I see to hold a religious stance, albeit negative; my position is more like zero – it’s a nonissue) which had many of its own hurdles to overcome (ie. rationalising death, morality, meaning etc).

 

 

 

More Fun With Jo Nova

I love her poor graphics – especially in the second, more hysterical handbook – which brings me back to her writing time and time again. Occasional, something stands out to me which is clearly wrong, such as her Decarbonised planet image I’ve discussed previously.

Such errors stand as illustrations of her own hopes, misconceptions and outright delusions and so are worth sharing. Here’s a couple more from the same handbook;

” Real deniers claim something needs to be peer reviewed in order to be discussed. (Bad luck for Galileo and Einstein eh?) At the very least this slows down debate for up to a year, instead of discussing results that are right in front of us now.” (pg 14)

Committed sceptics love this theme. They see the peer review process something like a bunch of old crabby men, sitting around a large mahogany table scoffing down printed articles that challenge their world view. It’s used as buoyancy to hold up their favoured papers when critical analysis leaves them in tatters. It’s also the theme used when individuals, such as Christopher Monckton, publish material outside of peer review or in recorded lecturing. Ultimately, if the evidence being presented to support a hypothesis was strong enough, it would be repeatable and undeniable (ie. peer review, thus the strength to the scientific method).

The constant attraction to Galileo and Einstein is understandable, both men were revolutionary and faced hardship for what evidence their investigations returned. However, did both men really avoid peer review? Did they simply publish their ideas and, while they faced a strong backlash, these conclusions were otherwise embraced?

Of course not!

Their studies may have been published without peer review, but their studies were debated and tested time and time again. Their research was peer reviewed. It’s only in recent times that we have began to have the technological advancements required to physically test some of Einstein’s mathematics. Apollo 15 Astronaut Dave Scott’s hammer verses feather test was itself further confirmation of Galileo. Amazing stuff!

What did the committed sceptic really think would happen when Chris Monckton drew strong, contrary conclusions about climate change? The world would take a brief look over his world, leap out of their chairs with a cry of “hallelujah!” and hold a street party in his honour?

No; they tested his reasoning, critically and thoroughly… It didn’t turn out to be that strong – don’t lose sleep over it!

Yes, the results are in front of us right now, but science is about independent retesting and alternate lines of investigation (ie. you don’t just look at the elephant from 3 inches from it’s trunk and claim to have done an intense physiological investigation). Confirmation, or at least increased certainty, comes from critical review.

“A Scientist: Gives out all their data, all their methods, everything other people need to repeat their experiment; Is helpful; Is polite…” (pg 13)

The first point here is a lot of fun – it contradicts the indignation the committed sceptic expresses when others repeat their logic (ie. peer review) and find it wanting… hmmm… It isn’t sensible to give raw data (eg. some errors are known only to the technical staff, thus validation is imperative), but otherwise, yes, data and methods tend to be given for review. More important is to independently repeat the study to test the methods themselves.

Helpful? Polite? I don’t remember undergoing finishing classes as part of my degree – perhaps that’s part of post graduate courses?

Scientists are humans too. I’ve known a lot and I’ve found them to be everything from warm and inviting to demonstrating incredibly poor social awareness, just as I have the general public. Newton was a genius, but he was also rude, grouchy and secretive.

Personally, I find Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to both be thoughtful, patient and polite public speakers, especially when debating with contrarians, however, I know their critics would disagree with me. I think their critics, like Nova, don’t like it when they’re informed, in no uncertain terms, that their favoured hypotheses are blatantly wrong. That’s not being rude, it’s being honest.

“A Non Scientist: Uses circular reasoning; Uses argument from authority; Uses argument from ignorance; Uses ad hominem attacks; Hides or loses their data; Adjusts the data to fit the theory; Won’t debate or answer questions; Bullies, threatens, name-calls [repeating herself here]; Idolises human institutions. (Hail the IPCC!); Has “faith” in systems, committees, or authorities” (pg 13)

I don’t know which scientist she has been speaking to, but the only circular reasoning, arguments from ignorance, ad hominem attacks and refraining from genuine debate or answering questions I’ve witnessed have been online, in blog threads, from committed sceptics (have a look under the alfoil hat or George from this post from WtD for example). No good scientist, indeed no respected scientist, gets to such accolades and maintains them for long by playing such games. Same with dodgy data – the truth has nasty habit of popping up time and time again. Bad ideas fall down under critical investigation – both methodology and data (what science is all about).

Key words “idolise” “faith”: the terrible religion of science she doesn’t like. Of course, if scientists are generally convinced that the evidence is very strong for a given idea that is contrary to something one knows must be true, it must be the scientists who have falling from the perch of reason and entered the sand box of dogma… okay.

Again; present the evidence for a contrary hypothesis and have it critically reviewed. Don’t be upset if it is actually looked at – Monckton, as a “non scientist” should have been grateful that scientists took him seriously enough to spend their time evaluating his research. That it didn’t stand up to such evaluation is just as good; it means one less potential hypothesis we can rule out – meaning we are more certain than we were!

The only conclusion I can draw is that her writing exposes a poor understanding of science and scientific method. She seems to be openly offended by critical  investigation and honesty; both of which, I assume, must not leave her with much grounds to stand her hypotheses upon. She seems to want anthropogenic climate change to be false. That science cannot draw the same conclusions as her must mean science is wrong, or so her book reads to me. That not all scientists are personable tends to be inflated; that critical review finds her ideas (and those favoured ideas produced by others) wanting; it’s all inflated to the level of conspiracy. How else to explain such a fork in the road without seriously analysing her hopes and expectations?

Donna Laframboise: How to Avoid the Argument

It’s been a while, so I figured I’d see how the charming Donna Laframboise has been going of late. To my surprise, she had recently made it downunder to market her new book. She has a video up of her presentation to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), an organisation described by McKewon (2012) as a “neoliberal think tank and high-profile news source that rejects the evidence of anthropogenic climate change and opposes mitigation strategies such as an ETS”. In the same article, McKewon (2012) defines neoliberal think tanks as “keeping with the interests of the economic elites who fund them, neoliberal think tanks promote core values of the political Right – free market capitalism, anti-socialism, privatisation, small government and deregulation…”

You get the picture. With the wonderful work the IPA did for Plimer’s 2009 book, Heaven and Earth: global warming – the missing science (McKewon 2012), Laframboise rightly should have been appreciative of their interest in her book.

You must watch the presentation;

It seems the book took a different turn than what I had been expecting from her hype in the lead up. I was hoping for more of a religious zeal to be waxed over the IPCC and any individual who comes to the same conclusions. I was disappointed by the mundane summary provided.

To summarise what I took aware from the presentation above;

    1. Most professional bodies speak highly of the professionalism of the IPCC authorship
    2. Authors didn’t turn out to be the cream of the crop in the field of their chapter
    3. Indeed some authors seemed to have been selected for political grounds rather than due to science background
    4. Professional activists co-authored the IPCC reports (some of which are associated with rich green activist groups)
    5. The World Wild Fund for nature recruited many of these authors for its own panel on climate change
    6. The WWF “has an interest in affecting the very questions [the IPCC] were supposed to be examining”.
    7. Thus authors throughout the chapters were affiliated with the WWF.
    8. The IPCC has no consequences for disobeying governing regulations/rules; “It’s like putting up a speed limit. But if there’s no police officers enforcing that speed limit, what do you suppose is going to happen?”
    9. All of the above taken into account and that no scientist has public stated the above is contrary to what the IPCC has said about itself – what else has the public been misled about?
    10. Thus, the IPCC isn’t trustworthy or reliable and we need our heads examined if we are to trust its opinion on something as complicated as climate change.

Please point out if I’ve missed something.

Now, the questions that continued to repeat within me were as I watched the presentation were; what has this got to the material that was peer reviewed within the reports? What has this got to do with the peer reviewed literature more broadly that removes all doubt of the role of CO2 as a greenhouse gas and a vast amount of the uncertainty in what we can expect from doubling CO2 concentrations above pre-industrial limits?

I suspect, not a lot.

Maybe the internal configurations of the IPCC could learn a thing or two from Laframboise’s book, however this doesn’t change the fact that audits of the 4th report found that it was above board (albeit, with a few mistake – such as the heavily inflated “Glaciergate”).

I’m not sure as to why a committed sceptic would make much of her book. To think its status undermines the genuine science of climate change is to be fooled by the Heartland’s despicable billboard campaign. Someone un(der)qualified or undesirable believes climate change is real and due to our actions, thus the science is flawed!

No it isn’t.

Instead, the creator has presented nothing more than guilt by association. I don’t care who is telling me that gravity acts as a constant acceleration, the evidence is compelling. You could have a debate between a serial killer insisting that the human eye is an imperfect result of evolution and the love of my life insisting rather that it’s the perfect example of divine creation and I’m sorry, but as detestable the character is, I’d have to agree with the former on this single point, regardless of their other failings.

Evidence cannot be characterise into or out from a valid conclusion. It’s that simple.

Funny how she should take such a route when, on her own website, she has a page of Smart People Who Beg to Differ (one of which, Fred Singer, was brave and accurate in also begging to differ on the subject of smoking causing cancer and CFC’s role in the depletion of the Ozone layer… oh wait). Admittedly she mentions that these characters are not infallible, but urges us to consider their arguments before making up our minds… If this isn’t a direct contradiction to the book where she seems to avoid the argument completely and instead focus on the author’s value as an expert in the field of climatology, I don’t know what is!

Lastly it’s also noteworthy that Donna has a little chuckle about “consensus”. As McKewon (2012) states, “As neoliberal think tanks are not academic or scientific organisations, their strategy for neutralising the consensus in a number of scientific fields has often involved recruiting contrarian scientists (often not experts in the relevant field) who are willing to undermine the scientific consensus in interviews with the media; this creates the impression of a genuine “scientific debate” while legitimising attacks on authoritative scientific research…”

Of course, time and time again I quote Dr Nurse, “Consensus can be used like a dirty word. Consensus is actually the position of the experts at the time and if it’s working well – it doesn’t always work well – but if it’s working well, they evaluate the evidence. You make your reputation in science by actually overturning that, so there’s a lot of pressure to do it. But if over the years the consensus doesn’t move you have to wonder is the argument, is the evidence against the consensus good enough.”

Another day, the same old spin!

______________

For more on Donna, check out Donna Laframboise and cloud screaming and the links there in.

Debt / Fuel and the Changing Climate: Pick Which Edge of the Sword

I’m roughly a third of the way through Vaclav Smil’s Why America Is Not a New Rome. It’s an excellent book that clearly articulates how flawed the notion is that the US represents an empire to match that of ancient Rome.

Besides that, Smil got me thinking. In chapter two, Smil discussed the abysmal state of the U.S. economy and;

“[T]he U.S. annual trade deficit has become larger that the annual GDP of Indonesia or Australia, indeed larger than the annual GDP of all but 14 of the world’s nearly 200 nations. And while budget deficits can be cut relatively rapidly by determined administration, in the near to medium term America has no choice but to continue its extraordinarily high dependence on energy imports, for which it cannot pay either by its disappearing manufacturing products or by its food. In 2006 almost exactly one-third (32.3%) of the trade deficit was due to petroleum imports. This reality also has strategic implications; a nation that imports two-thirds of its crude oil is obviously highly vulnerable not only to sudden price spikes but to actual physical storages of the fuel.”

It seems mind-boggling to me, that the country fuelling committed scepticism of climate change is probably the same country that would do best to support initiatives to mitigate long term trends due to further emissions from a purely economic view point (ie. increasing energy security and debt prevention). Unfortunately, the noisy committed sceptics tend to be the same people to whom the term “determined administration” sends shivers down their spine. They are also the same people in favour of strong individualism, best reflected in the supersized American dream, as Smil puts it;

“While America thus advanced abroad, at home its wealth created excessive consumption that spread far beyond the traditional high spenders. Steadily falling savings rates and readily available credit made it possible to supersize the American dream (the common use of the verb supersize was itself notable). By 2005 the average size of all newly built houses reached 220m2 (an area 12% larger than a tennis court), and the mean for custom-built houses surpassed 450m2, equivalent to nearly five average Japanese dwellings. Houses in excess of 600m2 became fairly common, and some megastructures of nouveaux riches covered 3000m2 or more.

“All these homes became crammed with consumer products ranging from miniature electronic gadgets to in-home movie theatres, from sybaritic marble bathrooms to granite-top counters in kitchens some of whose centre islands were larger than entire kitchens in small European apartments. These new palatial villas came to be situated further from city downtowns and were reached by driving ever larger SUVs, vehicles connected neither to sport nor to any rational utility. There is surely no need for more than 1 tonne of steel, aluminium, plastic, rubber and glass to convey one woman  to a shopping centre, but vehicles in common use weigh 2-3 t and in the case of the Hummer, a restyled military assault machine, nearly 4.7 t. Ownership of these improbably sized vehicles became the ostentatious symbol of the decade, whose other marks of excess were ubiquitous gambling and mass addiction to (not uncommonly drug-fuelled) performances of televised baseball or fake wrestling.”

To favour business as usual is to ignorantly assume to be living within one’s means. Limits to Growth isn’t some harebrained notion concocted by a bunch of socialist hippies; it’s the reality that exists in the growth debt that cannot foreseeably be paid off. The only harebrained complaints are the cries for small government, zero regulation and individualism: clearly the individual has a tendency for gluttony paid off on credit.

While it is a myth that the U.S. is anything like ancient Rome and maybe it can avoid collapse, the loan being taken out for the new model Hummer next year is a concerning act of self-denial.

I hope enough individuals globally (as I’m certain a similar reality exists elsewhere, including Australia, where the supersized American dream has rubbed off) wake up from this state not only for the sake of climate change mitigation, but also for the health of their local economies…

Imposing Meaning: The Conflict Between Ideologies Masked as Reasoned Debate

Light in the absence of eyes, illuminates nothing. Visible forms are not inherent in the world, but are granted by the act of seeing. Events contain no meaning in themselves, only the meaning the mind imposes on them. Yet, the world endures…

As a teenager, I was obsessed with the animated series Æon Flux. The above is part of a quote that opened episode 5 of season 3, where Trevor Goodchild was having a ‘Hamlet moment’. It has been changed in a more recent release of the series.

It has stuck with me for close to twenty years now. Memorised. Hardwired.

Musing over it today, I see it differently than I did as a teenager. Perhaps less moved, but still as thought provoking.

While meaningful to the state of mind of the character, it is at once an illustration of the human ego and also desperately fatalistic.

Visible light is but a small region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some species, take for instance certain bee species, can see wavelengths outside this range. Perhaps on a much grander scale, infrared plays more influence over the universe…

More importantly, in reflecting the meaning of events, we hit the fatalistic note. It’s the mind that imposes meaning. Well, of course it is.

Meaning is, after all, the way a self-aware entity makes sense of the information it receives about the known universe surrounding it. Meaning is as important to the self-aware entity as is itself. It has to be. One cannot be self-aware without assigning meaning to the information that bombards for it is that information which leads to the persistence of the self-awareness (ie. staying alive).

This is an important note to my recent posts on values and science. The separation of personal values and scientific certainty is clearly an illusion, based on an impersonal (and functionally impractical) philosophy. All information that reaches each one of us must contain both objective and subjective meaning or else it would be rejected as meaningless. This seems a no-brainer, but in practice, we do separate meaning into pigeon holes as though there were functionally different categories, which in practice, there clearly are not.

I’d like to thank the author of Climate and Stuff for the post, Good God! This is realy scary stuff. In the post, the author highlights some of the points of the declaration on global warming from the Cornwall Alliance. While no surprises are to be found, they deserve reflection by anyone interested in the communication of increasing scientific certainty.

Here are a couple worth pointing out;

What we believe

1) We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.  Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

What we deny

1) We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

Points 2 – 5 are also worthy of reflection and debate, however as they are hinged on these two points of belief and denial (I thank them for using that word) and are points rebutted elsewhere, at great length, I won’t bother here.

The first thing to note here is that the points quoted are clearly wrong. A casual look into species abundance over the industrial era demonstrates ecosystems are not robust, suited for human flourishing, they are self-evidently fragile to outside impacts, such as human induced degradation. So much so that Rockström et al (2009) places biodiversity loss as significantly more impacted by human activity than climate change, ocean acidity and a host of other variables. Left to their own devices, with ample range and resources, it has been demonstrated that ecosystems can be resilient (Fischer et al 2006), but this remains contradictory to the rest of the statements being made.

The core value being address in this declaration is that the earth and ecosystems are “created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence”. This is the meaning that many minds have imposed on the information they received.

Directly, it has nothing to do with climate change or biodiversity loss, but simply that the world is our divine playground in which we can do no wrong. Thus, errors such as those I’ve pointed out above miss the point of the declaration entirely. To say as much or to point out that “minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry” relates to more than 10 gigatonnes additional CO2 per year and can only be considered “miniscule” if unfairly balanced against Nitrogen and Oxygen (both of which play no role in the greenhouse effect) is translated to, “you are wrong about your core value; that is, your god”.

I am not certain about my reader, but I’m not here to challenge the religious faiths of other people. They can choose to believe any ancient mythology of their choosing. However, I don’t want their beliefs to be shoved onto me. Here is a clear example of faith based values doing just that; through the continuing paralysis on both biodiversity loss and climate change I am party to ideologies that amount to, “she’ll be right – God’s looking after us.”

I find such apparent dependency (assuming there is a god looking after us) infantile and degrading, especially when it is obvious the Raphus cucullatus (Dodo), the Thylacinus cynocephalus (Thylacine) and Rheobatrachus silus (Gastric-brooding frog) among others as well as the difference in ambient conditions between the earth and her satellite all stand as evidence to the contrary.

Hence such musings have not only exposed the core values of people such as those of the Cornwell Alliance, but also my own. At the root, I cannot help but feel I am being asked to relinquish a sense of control – thus meaning – to my life. I’m being asked to take a leap of faith that common-sense tells me is a bad move.

It’s easy to see how quickly such discussions can go astray.

While we may be addressing the science, in reality, we’ve walked into a debate over ideologies; in the meaning the mind imposes on events. How we avoid this, when such groups as the Cornwell Alliance explicitly thread their theology to certain views of the world (such as climate change and biodiversity loss), remains to be seen.

Personally, I won’t hold my breath on a superpower saving us from ourselves. I just can’t do it. History is too full of plague, famine, extinction and hardship that I can’t take solace in a higher force whom, we are told, sides with the victors. Likewise, in weaving their core values to a certain way of seeing the world,* it seems clear that such people are equally unlikely to budge.

So what remains? My suggestion would be to question. “What real world evidence do you have that ecosystems are robust and self-correcting?” or “How does extinction fit into this?” or “Climate has indeed changed over the millennia – but it has been too cold and too hot to support human life in a way that “flourishes” today, what if this occurs again?” for instance.

You would be unlikely to change their minds, true, but maybe, just maybe, the cracks might start forming between the evidence available and the contradictory meaning already imposed. Hopefully, at the very least, the poor marriage between the evidence and certain ideologies may lead groups such as the Cornwell Alliance to unpick the threads they’ve sowed between the two.  Maybe they will find a better match with governance – good stewardship of a wonderful world – as a divine practice over unquestioning dependence.

Who knows? It couldn’t hurt to try.

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*The Cornwell Alliance lists a number of signers with a scientific background. I have to admit, I feel the science teachers of these signers failed them. The most important lesson one should be taught in science is to be plastic with the evidence. We all have pet hypotheses, but all too often they eventually crash and burn. Even Newtonian physics can only go so far – falling to pieces on the very small or very fast scales. For a scientist to sign a declaration stating that the universe is set in one way, perfectly definable today, represents a lapse of understanding, that will look as silly in retrospect as a similar historical document would regarding the flatness of the earth or pivotal (and unchanging) position of the earth in space.

The Values of Anthropogenic Climate Change

Today, in the latest publication of Nature, I stumbled upon the article, Climate Science: Time to raft up, by Chris Rapley.

We are naturally good at finding patterns – perhaps too much so – and I found it interesting that I stumbled upon this article just after reading Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape and at a point where I was ready to return to my online writing, but not knowing where to start.

I was drained from my previous efforts in science communication and welcomed all the activities that have, over the previous twelve months, kept me away (or, at best, mere status updates).

I have avoided the arena of climate change debate, for it seems in some ways doomed to the course of the evolution “debate”. So what was I to write about?

Both of the mentioned material are worth reading. However, I have to disagree with aspects of Rapley’s article.

On climate science advocacy, Rapley writes;

“There are dangers. To stray into policy-advocacy or activism is to step beyond the domain of science, and risks undermining legitimacy through the perception — or reality — of a loss of impartiality.

“However, as Sarewitz6 has pointed out, scientists carry authority “in advocating for one particular fact-based interpretation of the world over another”. So acting as a ‘science arbiter’ — explaining the evidence and contesting misinterpretations — is part of the day job.”

However, I feel this has been part of the problem with science communication on climate change and perhaps other topics such as evolution.

Later, Rapley goes on to write;

“The climate-dismissive think tanks and organizations have been effective because they have understood and put into practice the insights of social science. They deliver simple messages that are crafted to agree with specific value sets and world views. Their flow of commentary is persistent, consistent and backed up with material that provides deeper arguments.”

And:

“Regarding the vast body of evidence on which all climate scientists agree, we need to offer a narrative that is persistent, consistent and underpinned by compelling background material.”

But previously, he wrote;

“We need to respond to questions that go beyond facts, such as ‘What does this mean for me?’ and ‘What are our options?’.”

The article is right in many ways in my view, but Rapley is too tentative and maybe, in light of the previous when compared to the others, contradictory.

In chapter three of The Moral Landscape, Harris talks about belief. Rapley does in fact (under the subheading, Why don’t we get it?) talk about very much the same thing.

Belief, that is, the acceptance of certain evidence to be true, is not so strongly based on rational verification as we would like to think it to be. We’re not calculators after all. Belief derives from shared values that in turn derive from different factors, such as social norms, genes etc. We are far more likely to accept evidence presented when it confirms our already held values / the social norms of our community than those that challenge those values.

Sam Harris, in a presentation on Death and present moment, puts it in no uncertain terms (about 13 mins in);

“When we’re arguing about teaching evolution in the schools, I would argue that we’re really arguing about death. It seems to me the only reason why any religious person cares about evolution, is because if their holy books are wrong about our origins, they are very likely wrong about our destiny after death.”

Evolution thus challenges more than one idea (ie. that we were divinely created in recent millennia in our current form), but rather an entire outlook on life and a total way of living, not simply for the individual, but also the social group with which they associate themselves with. The wealth of evidence supporting the theory of evolution is simply not enough to counter such a wide scope of personally held values which are also attached to what we often mistakenly take as one, individual and isolated premise.

Likewise, I suspect the potential reality of anthropogenic climate change, based on very strong evidence, challenges a much wider scope of values that remain unaffected by rational debate over that one point (ie. whether or not our contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrate affects potential heat storage). We fail to move the “committed sceptics” because the evidence we provide challenged just one point of a wider range of related personal values.

Perhaps, for instance, it challenges the idea that a god is the sole force shaping the world and that we are incapable to such radical modifications (or that an intervening god wouldn’t allow us to harm ourselves in such a way) for certain religious individuals. Perhaps the idea challenges values associated with neo-liberal markets that ought to make us and future generations rich. Perhaps it’s something else.

Rapley was right about the success of climate-dismissive think tanks applying value to their message. He is also correct to argue that we need to go beyond facts and address questions, such as ‘What does it mean for me?’ and ‘What are our options?’ which are at their core really questions regarding a network of wider social and personal values related to the problem of anthropogenic climate change.

Maybe we need to be clearer which hat we’re wearing – that of scientific investigation or of advocacy – or, as Dana Nuccitelli once mentioned in a comment thread (that, if I can locate, I will link to), we should apply a “Gish gallop” approach, the favourite approach, successfully applied by Christopher Monckton in debate, because, unlike with Monckton, when reviewed, the evidence will support the statements we’ve made.*

I tend to agree with Dana’s idea as it allows more value based discussion intertwined with the evidence. You can say what the evidence supports and swiftly move into its personal and social ramifications. This latter arena does truly need debate.

We have done all that can be done to explain the science of climate change and there are many excellent reference sites to which people can venture if they so decide. What we need to talk about are the value question as it is the answers to these that will define who we will become and how our society will look and function.

It’s understandable that people would be uncomfortable with such unknowns. We need to be part of a community with shared values to feel content. In the “debate” over climate change, we hear predictions of how the future might look and how foolish “deniers” are for not understanding science proven over a 150 years ago.

This isn’t only counter-productive, it also dehumanises the issue completely. The global climate has changed many times before without human influence or consequence. This time it is personal. We need to make our  debates and communications just as personal if we are to do the best we can for future generations.

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* To further explain the point made by Dana, by Gish gallop, Dana suggests that instead of focusing on the evidence, do as Monckton does and just fire through the evidence points and get on instead with the value enriched story, which links to the evidence first briefly mentioned. Unlike Monckton, if reviewed, no errors would be found in the points made if one is presented the evidence honestly.

It isn’t an approach favoured in scientific debate, obviously, but it is effective in public debate – science communicators seem to miss this point entirely.