Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ecopolis: an ecomyth returns

How do ecomyths start? And why do they persist long past their due date? Well here is an article that gives some answers to both these questions.

Ecomyths prey on people's fears, their guilt and their lack of general knowledge. They utilise slick graphics. sound bites, spin and 'cleverly executed' pieces of propaganda to parse doublespeak into dogma that can be peddled by anyone with a loud and/or authoritative voice.

But ecomyths are easily uncovered. Just ask the advocate of the latest myth a simple question: 'why would you say that?' Listen quietly to their reply and then ask again: 'why would you say that?' All too often the response will encompass the phrase 'well, as you know...' or 'well, as everyone knows'. Which is the vocal advocate's way of stating that they don't know, they are merely reciting what they believe to be axiomatic: so much that is commonly understood that they have no need to account for it.

Good ideas are robust. They withstand scrutiny and embrace sound principles. Ecomyths hide behind dogma and a few well chosen 'whys?' will unravel them and reveal them for the morally authoritative constructs they are. Then you can deconstruct them, because the science is a just mask for the morality that drives the central belief.

The Real News About Mann-Made Global Warming

If you are a casual observer of global warming there are two excellent posts on tcsdaily outlining the NAS report on the hockey stick controversy. The first summarizes the findings of the NAS and contrasts their findings with the media reports about their findings. The second gives some added background on how the NAS got involved in the first place.

Of course if you have more in-depth knowledge, there are more substantive discussions on the climate audit and Prometheus blogs.

Bottom line is this: the hockey stick graph became an axiomatic emblem of global climate warming and its active promotion was integral to the public acceptance of both global warming and the need for intervention by governments in the form of Kyoto style intervention in the economy. The hockey stick was not based on data and methods that were available and amenable to replication and refutation -- the gold standard of scientific inquiry. That this was revealed was not because of the actions of those within the fraternity but due to questions from those without.

Any dead fish can float downstream: it takes energy and purpose to swim against the flow.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Deciding the 'common good' by committee

I don't like committees. By and large, I have real problems with blind obedience to authority. The fundamental appeal of democratic rights for me has always been that my life is my responsibility, my choice. I can be right, I can be wrong but if it is to be, it's up to me! So, I have an inherent and deep-seated abhorrence for elitist political prescriptions that mask their self-interest behind altruistic concepts such as 'environmentalism' and 'the common good'.

Given this pre-disposition, I welcomed these comments on spiked by Josie Appleton on the new left's attempts to re-package itself as the political voice of the commoner.
What her article highlights is the overwhelming dearth of new ideas extant in today's intellectualism. It is a shortage that stems from a lack of true understanding of society.

This systemic ignorance is born out of a reliance on theoretical ideas and a concomitant insulation from real-world experience and reflection:
  • if our minds are closed to new ideas
  • if we reject information that runs counter to our pre-determined and defining constructs
  • if we never stop to reflect for ourselves and compare what we have been taught with our own life experience
  • if we never stop to question what we think, for ourselves
  • if we stay passive,ignorant and apathetic
...then we become the mass of common sheep that the new left wants to "save" and the elements of stasis persist, the world is run by committee and people are merely the 'passive objects of inequality policies, never the subjects driving policy'.

It's as if Orwell had never been born. In any politics of the 'common good' it is always important to remember that all animals are equal, its just that some are more equal than others.

Management by commitee is never that. Committees administer. And what they administer are stasis constructs that the elite foist on the collective "in their interest". It is the antithesis of true leadership. Leaders stand alone, accountable for their deicisions. Administrators hide behind the collective anonymity of the committee. What Orwell called doublespeak has morphed today into the politically accepted activity of "spin" where words are used to justify, mask, intimidate and obscure rather than illuminate the political process.

Democratic freedom requires good leadership. Good leaders are accountable for their ideas and actions. They have integrity. It is a virtue in short supply at all levels of the political spectrum.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Understanding business

A short comment in the Times today by Madsen Pirie which addresses many of the common mis-perceptions of business and its role. At the heart of the environmentalist's clamour for "corporate social responsibility"” is a sub-text that suggests that corporations left to themselves are not socially responsible.

Fundamentally those who advocate this view are anti-capitalist. They equate business activity with greed. Indeed, because they inhabit a world cushioned from reality by government largesse, they often promote a world where everyone's activity is similarly encompassed within in the public sector. A world free of the perceived evils of profit-making. As Pirie notes "we have seen this world, those of us who remember it. It was called communism and it reduced the human condition to squalor and servitude".

Business is an easy target for mis-representation and vilification. Much of it seems faceless and anonymous. Often it lacks direct personal connection. Moreover, those who argue against capitalism often do so with a dislike born from a misunderstanding of how it works: "There is a primitive and naive view that one person can only get rich at someone else'’s expense, and that if a business is making money, someone else must be losing it".

Most critics have never been in business for themselves but they do have lots of theories about business and the capitalist system. Mostly they seem to suggest that capitalism, business, growth, globalization and/or Americanism are synonymous and represent a global '“zero sum game'” that act only to benefit the strong and can only survive with the exploitation of the weak. This fallacy completely misses the point, which is that business activity creates wealth instead of just redistributing it. As Churchill once noted, there are lots of economic systems for the re-distribution of wealth, thus far we have only found one (capitalism) that consistently generates wealth.

And today, as throughout history, "it is business, not pious posturing, that is making poverty history".

And today, as throughtout history, it is still easier to teach people how to blame the system, abuse the system and partake in controlling the system, than it is to be individually responsible as an entrepreneur for the expansion of that economic system.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Consensus science: an oxymoron

A wonderful commentary in Friday's National Post by one of my favourite columnists, Terence Corcoran. Citing the Wikipedia overview on consensus science, Corcoran discusses the true nature of scientific discovery and explores the implications that arise when empiricism is displaced by consensus politics in the determination of truth. As he rightly points out, the age of enlightenment originated with a desire to replace authoritarian dictates in the definition of "truth".

Contemporary environmentalism is the latest and most visible scientific arena to supplant empiricism and skeptical enquiry with a collective, social theory of science: a theory based on axiomatic constructs and diligent compliance by mutually supportive actors, notably bureaucrats and activists. Rigorous enforcement involves the marginalization of any outside the collective and social intimidation of those who question the prevailing orthodoxy.

If science does not question prevailing orthodoxy, what are our prospects for further enlightenment?

Climate change is not the issue. Lawn pesticides are not the issue. Garbage disposal is not the issue. The real issue is whether or not we are going to base our public policies regarding these issues on the science or on the collectivist portrayal of that science.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Just the Facts: a Promethean tale

Quite often my position on ecomyths in general, and climate change in particular, makes people uneasy. It invokes in them a reactionary desire that I just stick to the facts. That somehow I must be forgetting about the science and over-emphasizing the social, economic and/or political aspects of issues. Wouldn't all of these questions just be resolved if only we stuck to the facts? What we need here is more science.

Well here is a tremendous post that illustrates why this is not the case. It examines a discrepancy in the last IPCC report: the scientific "bible" of climate change, the consensus summary of refereed journal articles and research, the pinnacle of academic enquiry.

In itself, the issue can be viewed as minor but its meaning is actually far bigger. The factoid under discussion has become imbedded in government policy documents in at least three countries and it has been cited extensively. In short, it has become an axiomatic construct. But its meaning and its origins are ambiguous at best.

As a sidebar, read also about the authors (futile) attempts to have his questioning published. It highlights the value of blogs and the difficulties facing anyone who questions the emperor's new clothes.

Lest anyone think that this is an isolated instance, think how often you have read about the impending levels of species extinction in the next century and then ask yourself: 'just where and when did that number originate, and with whom?'

(Hint, the number is a random guestimate with no mathematical basis nor relationship to empirical data).

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A tyranny of 'respect'

Here is a very thoughtful essay by Stuart Waiton which examines the premise that "ours is a society that lacks the capacity to connect people with one another through a system of meaning". Its theme is the issue of anti-social behaviour.

Noting the tendency for people to insulate themselves socially within their own "bubbles", Waiton examines the broader implications that arise from state intervention in the determination of societal norms and an understanding of respect that encompasses the "same asocial and equally amoral outlook that is coming to dominate politics and social policy". He notes that respect is all too often discussed and/or defined in terms devoid of content or character and he explores the ramifications that arise when a society fails to develop the necessary capacity for social integration.

Broken down to its basic elements, the idea of respect today is really: ‘Respect my bubble, my rules and I will respect yours.’ Rather than the individual being drawn out of himself through values that relate to society, society is validating the inward-looking and insecure outlook of the ‘therapeutic me'.

In effect, we have lost the ability and willingness to accept responsibility for either our own actions or those of others. The corollary is that "government" is its various manifestations assumes an accountability beyond its capacity and capability. Moreover, we are constantly told that the solution is yet more governance and an even smaller expectation for individual responsibility. In effect, 'people are encouraged to have respect for the "self" rather than actively achieving self-respect'.

To me, the issues of respect, individual responsibility and social accountability are at the very heart of today's environmentalism. The continued propagation of ecomyths are symptomatic of a much broader societal malaise: a coma of complacency that stems from a stasis culture of axiomatic beliefs and learnt acquiescence to elitist intellectualism.

Wow. Every so often my narrative reverts back into academic mode.

In real words, what we have is lazy people, encouraged in their laziness by those who will exploit widespread apathy in society as an opportunity to invoke their own ideas and agendas, even though those concepts largely foist on others activities that have marginal effect on the elite proposing them. Do as I say, not as I do and obey me because I make the rules for you to follow. Because I am smart and you aren't.

It is arrogant. It is elitist. And it is also the very essence of a lack of respect for others. Central to its continued acceptance in society is a vociferous dismissal of anything that smacks of questioning its authority and fundamental "correctness". As Orwell so aptly illustrated, stripping respect of its inherent character and content is essential to the furtherance of a stasist society.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Libertarianism and Poverty

What is the fundamental cause of poverty? What is the record of government programs in ameliorating the pathology of poverty? These are two key questions discussed by Arnold King. He indicates that governments have had a mixed record in alleviating poverty and that government programs persist not because they are effective in addressing social programs but because they develop political constituencies.

Indeed, in his book It's O.K. to leave the plantation, Mason Weaver went so far as to suggest the primary purpose of most government programs is to induce a dependency that necessitates that program's further expansion and thus provides a continued justification for the government providing that "service".

Perhaps, as King suggests we "can do better with less government and more decentralized programs to address poverty" and he outlines what a libertarian approach to poverty would embrace.

The biggest problem is separating people from the self-fulfilling notion that only government has the capacity to address poverty. And at the heart of that construct are people's beliefs about governance and the nature of capitalism.

As Churchill stated the "inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries".

Make do and mend: the inner morality of environmentalism

A thoughtful piece on Spiked today that highlights the discrepancy between defining the problem and enacting a solution within environmentalism. All too often, science is used a guise behind which a moral agenda is hidden and it is only when solutions to the perceived problem are promoted that the true nature of the moralism is revealed.

Is the environmentalist's obsession with climate change really driven by the scientific evidence? Or is the true determinant of the environmental agenda an ongoing obsession with limits and an elitist desire to control who has what within the world?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Smog causing untold damage: ecomyth creationism

I don't have to go very far for today's example of ecomyth creationism. The London Free Press is full of foreboding that smog is causing "untold" damage and that the "proliferation" of smog days may only be revealing a "fraction of the harm dirty air inflicts on residents". The story reports on some preliminary results from a study at a local college which measured ozone levels on an hourly level rather than the standard measure which is an average of levels over a one or three hour period. Readers are enjoined to be alarmed at the fact that levels "spike" over short 10 minute periods (they recede just as quickly) but the study of 60 local residents with existing respiratory illnesses showed they "sometimes" suffered stress from these ozone spikes.

Coincidentally, the research in question had just run out of its funding.

How does this fit the profile for ecomyth creationism?

Well it deals with a "well-known" environmental health hazard (smog) that everyone knows is rising and now we have further "evidence" from vital (but no longer sponsored) research that shows residents are at "added" risk and where "the reality may be worse". So we have fear, escalation, supposition and the implied element of new science indicating catastrophe unless action is taken -- preferably against big bad SUVs and people who create smog by not cycling enough.

Signs of the ecomyth?
  • The absence of context. North American studies show smog to be in serious decline over the past 20 years. What are the longitudinal data for London?
  • The selective use of data and lack of description in the media of the study protocol. The sample of residents was only 60 and the data only showed "a slight correlation" in the preliminary analysis.
  • The jump into fear and hype mode, with concomitant vagueness around possible and dire future consequences: at least in horror movies you can hear the sinister music being played in the background.
Anyways, who needs Al Gore when you've got the London Free Press. All the ecomyths that are ready for promotion.