Sunday, January 30, 2011

the ends should never justify the means

In her comments on a recent workshop in Lisbon, Judy Curry notes that:
  • "Climate scientists seem frustrated by an apparent inability to communicate effectively to the public.  They seem to think that knowledge speaks to power: if we communicated better, people would do what is needed."
Does anyone else get a sense of irony from the fact that so many involved in climate science are either (a) educators or (b) government employees?  Both constituent groups would appear to have as a prerequisite good communication skills.  Is it then the skill that is lacking, or the will?  

Is the explanation indeed in the latter part of the quote, the presumption that knowledge is power and that the science when applied to climate is less about the understanding of fundamental truth for enlightenment and more about the imposition of power to direct behavior towards a presumptive end? 

I will suggest further that the understanding of science, post-normal science and the politicization of science as exemplified by environmentalism (including climate) is enhanced by an appreciation of the ideology guiding the politics that direct the science through its funding.

Reduced to a simple sound bite: the political interest in climate is a contrivance, an excuse to mandate presumptive political controls.  The science is used selectively when it supports the political agenda of economic intervention by government and behavior modification consistent with the mantra of the  environmental ideology seemingly made imperative by the selective science employed.  There is no pervasive interest in "truth", only in the science that provides the convenient answers: the control over funding and the predominance of the IPCC process, are the tools through which the conduct of science is thus "guided".  Self interest and wise career management tend to further correct the system, which is further reinforced by the normal processes of academia.  For example, personalities are enveloped into the system, as we do not do a good job of differentiating ideas from individuals.  This has the effect of furthering tribalism as individuals perceive themselves to be under attack whenever the ideas they have been promoting are queried, scrutinized or "attacked".
Thus, rather than extend a discussion about the relative merits of scientific method and PNS, I would suggest that all recognize the influence that both politics and ideological goals have on both the conduct of science, the framing of the questions asked of the science and the manner with which the findings of science are then communicated and received by different audiences.  The corollary is that those who engage in the debate on climate do so for a wide range of reasons: some as "pure" scientists seeking just the "truth", some as scientists seeking a particular truth, some as political activists seeking to use either sets of knowledge as an appropriate contrivance to some ends and others simply because it is the highest profile (best funded) are of research open to them: no labels, that only serves to obscure the variety of motives and activities that do exist.

My point is that we can either continue to identify when, where and why people agree on our understanding of the science; or we can continue to differentiate what our preferred adaptive strategies are and when, why and how they differ.  To continue to conflate the two, is to continue to confuse the primacy of the science with the exigency of the politics.  To my mind, reconciliation of the science (the means) is not possible without first neutralizing the politics (the ends).  At present, too much of the discussion of climate is characterized by the political ends justifying the scientific means.

much of the above commentary stems from my own reflection on this wonderful post by Ben over at Climate resistance.  He states:
  • The mistake Nurse makes in his treatment of the climate debate is to imagine that it is divided over a simple claim that ‘climate change is happening’. It is this polarisation of the debate into simple categories — scientists verses deniers — which obscures the real substance of debate, its context, and its nuances. The reality is that climate change is a matter of degree, not a matter of true versus false. From this question of degree emerge points of disagreement about the likely material consequences of warming, each of which are also questions of degree. And from these consequences emerge debates about how these Nth-order effects of Nth-order effects of global warming are likely to cause problems for humans. There are then yet further debates about how best to respond effectively.
  • Nurse might argue that this reorganisation of political life around environmental issues comes with the blessing of scientific authority, and that it is science which identified the need to adjust our lifestyles and economy. But the greening of domestic and international politics preceded any science. The concept of ‘sustainability’ was an established part of the international agenda long before the IPCC produced an ‘unequivocal’ consensus on climate; the IPCC was established to create a consensus for political ends. Nurse, nearly recognising science’s role in the legitimisation of such political ecology, worries about loss of trust. If scientists are not ‘open about everything they do’, he says, ‘then the conversation will be dominated by people driven by politics and ideology’. But it is already ‘driven by politics and ideology’... it’s simply that Nurse does not recognise environmentalism as political or ideological, and he does not notice himself reproducing environmental politics and ideology. The loss of trust he now observes is not the consequence of politics and ideology, but the all too visible attempt to hide it behind science and highly emotive images of catastrophe.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

resources are not, they become

I have been asked by a reader to expand upon the construct that resources are not, they become. This is the base construct for all resources management and environmental policy, including sustainability, yet it remains poorly understood by many.  

The environment exists and is neutral stuff until it is transformed by human use into a resource.  This is a utilitarian definition of a resource and the corollary is that we manage resources, i.e. human use of the environment, not the environment per se.  The act of management itself is for human purposes, it is management of resources and especially, human use of those resources.  We might engineer the environment, but we manage people.

A resource is defined by four conditions:
  • it is known
  • a demand exists for it
  • it is spatially delineated, and
  • its development and production are economically viable.
All four of these conditions change with technology.  As technology advances, so does our conception and definition of the resource base.  Resources are not, they become.  And because their definiton changes with technology several important associated concepts can also be derived:
  • Limits do not exist.  Long before we run out of any resource, technology will have supplanted that resource with something better, cheaper, more effective, more efficient.  Resources become obsolete, they do not become extinct.
  • Intergenerational equity is a fallacy.  Because the rate of change of technology advances so rapidly (and the contemporary rate of change ever more rapidly than that of the past), we simply do not know what future generations will want or need as their resource base.
  • Most appeals for conservation are unwarranted.  Because there are no permanent resource scarcities, no resource limits and no intergenerational equity, all most conservation efforts do is deprive existing populations from the advantages that exist of contemporary use of the resource base.
  • Much of sustainability is predicated upon the wrong questions. The defining construct of sustainability is change, and our adaptation to the changing dynamics of the future, not the preservation of existing conditions. Because this perspective is missed,  sustainability is incorrectly framed from a stasist perspective of command and control, fear of limits and inequality, and the wrong questions are advocated as the defining characteristic for future policy.  For example, climate change has begun to morph into a wider concern for alternative energy and a call for de-carbonisation of energy production.   Yet, the central element of the most productive era of development and growth if the human condition in the past 200 years has been the provision of cheap, accessible power.  Ergo, our guiding premise ought to be: "how do we develop more cheap power in more places in a decentralized, non-polluting manner?"  The answer to that question beyond our lifetime, is not simply one of changing fuels, generating electricity with windmills or solar, replacing oil with propane or hydrogen, electric cars or hybrids.  Does anyone seriously think we will be driving a Prius or any variant on one in 2111?  No, what is needed is alternative means to produce energy: alternatives to mass produced, centralized electricity; alternatives to electricity, alternatives to the internal combustion engine, to the steam turbine.  An alternative energy, not just an alternative fuel.
Especially on my last point, too often this perspective is dismissed in a cursory manner as too idealistic, as naive, as unrealistic.  (Meanwhile those same critics are quite willing to completely destroy contemporary globalization and development in the name of prospective climate change in that same 100 year window).  

Look back to 1811.  The world traveled by horse and buggy, by sail and was powered largely by water mill and coal.  The full advent of steam power and the transformation of ocean travel and  the development of the railways had yet to occur.  Move on to 1911 and the advent of the internal combustion engine and the steam turbine, and the long-range transmission of electricity are about to underscore another full scale transformation leading to jet propulsion and nuclear power.  

Technology has not slowed, it has continued to advance, become cheaper, smaller, more effective, more efficient and finally, more equitable under contemporary globalization.  What will power the world in 100 years is unlikely to be oil, but just as with coal, we will not have run out of the stuff, just supplanted it with something more useful, more resourceful.

Not understanding the primary role of technology and, more significantly, technological change, is one of the central reason people continue to subscribe to stasist constructions of resource management and environmental policy.  Ecomyths persist as a natural consequence of this belief.  In turn, ecomyths are then used to promote the dogma of resource limits and the necessity for increased governance. Fear instills the need for stasist controls and limts.

Recognition of the full implications of the construct "resources are not, they become" enables the mind to envisage the true potential for technological transformation of resources, the absence of limits and the empowerment of all to determine their future prosperity.  It is a future that builds upon hope and a belief in the capacity for people to not only want to improve but to act on that desire through the constant innovation and creation of new technology.

Sustainability is not the suppression of change:
  • Sustainability is the capacity of a system to engage in the complexities of continuous improvement consistent with deep values of human purpose. (Fullan)
Sustainability is change.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

eviseration by Eschenbach

It is possible that someone might look first to this blog and has not yet seen this guest post by Willis Eschenbach over at WUWT.  For that reason alone it is worth summarizing his key points.  And for those who have read his post, add mine to the list of those other blogs who should take the opportunity to both praise and highlight his excellent evisceration of some of the most pernicious AGW, IPCC myths.

These myths are promulgated by the type of expertise politics exposed by the Climategate emails -- the arrogance, bullying and self-serving politics that hides behind an academic sheen but is ultimately as self-serving as any other bureaucratic, stasist politics of control.  The tactics are the same.  The language and the derisiveness, the same.  

What we do not learn from history, we are condemned to repeat. Science is not politics and when people assert their science as politics, they cannot select which rules and criteria should apply to their assertions and hide behind their academic pretensions for their bad politics.

But enough of the rant.  Eschenbach's excellent evisceration:
  • This hypothesis, generally called the “AGW hypothesis”, is that if greenhouse gases (GHGs)  go up, the temperature must follow, and nothing else matters. The hypothesis is that the GHGs are the master thermostat for the globe, everything else just averages out in the long run, nothing could possibly affect the long-term climate but GHGs, nothing to see here, folks, move along. No other forcings, feedbacks, or hypotheses need apply. GHGs rule, OK?
  • Which is an interesting hypothesis, but it is woefully short of either theoretical or observational support. In part, of course, this is because the AGW hypothesis provides almost nothing in the way of a statement or a prediction which can be falsified. This difficulty in falsification of the hypothesis, while perhaps attractive to the proponents of the hypothesis, inevitably implies a corresponding difficulty in verification or support of the hypothesis.
  • In addition, a number of arguably cogent and certainly feasible scientific objections have been raised against various parts of the hypothesis, from the nature and sign of the forcings considered and unconsidered, to the existence of natural thermostatic mechanisms.
  • Finally, to that we have to add the general failure of what few predictions have come from the teraflops of model churning in support of the AGW hypothesis.
  • So to date, the evidentiary scorecard looks real bad for the AGW hypothesis. Might change tomorrow, I’m not saying the game’s over, that’s AGW nonsense that I’ll leave to Dr. T. I’m just saying that after a quarter century of having unlimited funding and teraflops of computer horsepower and hundreds of thousands of hours of grad students’ and scientists’ time and the full-throated support of the media and university departments dedicated to establishing the hypothesis, AGW supporters have not yet come up with much observational evidence to show for the time and money invested.
So what to do? Eschenbach offers the following shortlist of rules for the reigning Climatocracy:
  1. Show that some aspect of the climate is historically anomalous or unusual 
  2. Show that the anomaly can be explained by human actions 
  3. Defend your work 
  4. Show your work 
  5. Stop trying to sell the idea that the science is settled 
  6. Don’t try to change the rules of the game in mid-stream 
  7. Stop calling people “deniers” 
  8. Stop avoiding public discussion and debate of your work 
  9. Write scientific papers that don’t center around words like “possibly” 
  10. Stop lauding the pathetic purveyors of failed prophecies 
  11. Enough with the scary scenarios, already 
  12. Speak out against scientific malfeasance whenever and wherever you see it. This is critical to the restoration of trust 
  13. Stop re-asserting the innocence of you and your friends 
  15. Admit the true uncertainties 
  16. Scrap the IPCC 

I would argue that the only people who will find discomfort or disagreement with this list of game rules are those who worship at the alter of expertise and elitism, and not the primacy of democracy.  These rules do not dispute nor diminish the substantiation of scientific evidence, only the political assertion of gut instinct, ideology and personal opinion as scientific facts.

Follow up
just as I was commenting on Eschenbach, Lindzen posted his latest exposition of the failings of AGW alarmism, excellently placed in context by this commentary on QandO.  
More to come...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

language, narrative and use of the pejoritve

One of the fascinating features of on-line discussion is the propensity for advocates of differing perspectives to talk past one another while contemplating ideas and their meanings.  A key feature of this dialogue is the use of the pejorative to define, describe and dismiss the contrary perspective and thus frame the narrative in a manner that best serves the forthright assertion of the perspective being advocated.  In short, language is used not to illuminate differences and nuance, but, rather, to restrict and confine consideration of variations of meaning: dialogue has as its purpose the constriction of discussion, that obviates values and asserts prevailing dogma, rather than a means to examine, explore and parse meanings, intent and consequences.

This restriction is most evident when issues of presumed scientific character, such as ecomyths, are discussed by scientists who must perforce consider the politics that interplay with their preferred science only framing of the problem and its potential remedy.  In particular, political perspectives tend to be understood in terms characterized by the media and largely reduced to caricature in the process.   Thus, political perspectives. values and ideas are subject to considerable confusion and diminution, especially when the media caricature is used to define the pejoritive characterization that serves as its dismissal by those of a differing suasion.

Samizdata recently posted this quote of the day:
  • I know, my friends, that you are concerned about corporate power. So am I. So are many of my free-market economist colleagues. We simply believe, and we think history is on our side, that the best check against corporate power is the competitve marketplace and the power of the consumer dollar (framed, of course, by legal prohibitions on force and fraud). Competition plays mean, nasty corporations off against each other in a contest to serve us. Yes, they still have power, but its negative effects are lessened. It is when corporations can use the state to rig the rules in their favor that the negative effects of their power become magnified, precisely because it has the force of the state behind it. The current mess shows this as well as anything ever has, once you realize just what a large role the state played. If you really want to reduce the power of corporations, don't give them access to the state by expanding the state's regulatory powers. 
  • It doesn't matter which party is captaining the ship: regulations come with unintended consequences and will always tend to be captured by the private interests with the most at stake. And history is full of cases where those with a moral or ideological agenda find themselves in political fellowship with those whose material interests are on the line, even if the two groups are usually on opposite sides.
What differentiates dynamism from stasism, is the desire for state control versus the preservation of individual freedom.  There are only two basic perspectives in politics, as the quote from Heinlein used on this blog summarizes:
  • Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. 
Perhaps the construct most subject to selective, pejorative interpretation and definition is capitalism.  Peter Foster provides this succinct discussion on capitalism, its essential characteristics and its selective mis-interpretation by stasists:

  • Kremlinism, statism, and cronyism are all in fact negations of capitalism, which is a system based on private property and the rule of law. Government is needed to protect the system, but that does not mean that it is compatible with anything that government chooses to do.
  • Unless people understand what rightly defined capitalism is — as opposed to the demonic parody of greed and exploitation crafted by Marx and more recently gussied up with accusations of environmental fecklessness — it becomes impossible to defend or promote.
  • Many people understandably fail to grasp that capitalism is not necessarily what is either practised or preached by capitalists. Capitalism is an ideal, but unlike the socialism of state control it is an attainable, and moral, one. A system in which private business must co-operate with authoritarian government is called fascism. Historically, fascism and Communism were both rooted in hatred of capitalism. “Kremlin capitalism” is an Orwellian contradiction.
There are few true polymaths: people with extended expertise and genius in multiple fields.  On-line discussions provide a forum wherein people can (often anonymously) indulge in their pretensions of intellectual omnipotence, cast aspersions on the values of others and. most conspicuously, frame the narrative in a manner that is self-serving to their own pretensions, ideology and prejudices.

Are we seeking first to understand others, and then to be understood ourselves:? Or are we seeking a venue to assert of own sense of "the truth"?  The former sees education as a process of self-actualization, discussion and personal growth.  The latter sees education as being  synonymous with training people through an elitist indoctrination of approved dogma. 

It has been my experience that it is easy to distinguish the two: one is civil, ridden with self-deprecation and humour.  The other is loud, brassy and boorish.  One is respectful and complementary in its consideration of alternate perspectives: the other is abusive, insulting and disparaging. 

People of integrity expect to be believed, and when they are not, they let time prove them right.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

and tomorrow is a brand new day

Whereas yesterday was for reflecting on the year past, today is for considering the optimism of the New Year -- or not.

Over at Spiked, the always excellent Brendan O'Neill has these thoughts:
  • You couldn’t have asked for a better snapshot of the chasm that divides today’s so-called expert classes from the mass of humanity than the snow crisis of Christmas 2010. They warn us endlessly about the warming of our planet; we struggle through knee-deep snow to visit loved ones.
  • ...the snow crisis demonstrated, in high definition, the gap between the fear-fuelled thinking of the elite and the struggles of everyday people. It illuminated the million metaphorical miles that now separate the fantasy politics of our so-called betters from the concerns of the rest of us.
  • What it really shows is the extent to which the politics of global warming is driven by an already existing culture of fear.
  • This reveals the stinging snobbery at the heart of the politics of global warming. Because what we have here is an updated version of the elitist idea that the better classes have access to a profound and complicated truth that the rest of us cannot grasp. Where we have merely sensory reactions (experience), they have reason and analysis (knowledge). Our critical reaction to the snow actually revealed our failure to understand The Truth, as unveiled by The Science, rather than revealing their wrongheadedness in predicting an ‘end to snow’. We are ‘simple’, they are ‘reasoned’. 
  • In 2011, we should take everything that is said by this new doom-mongering expert caste with a large pinch of salt – and then spread that salt on the snow which they claimed had disappeared from our lives.
One of the joys of on-line publishing is the access one has to excellent prose and stimulating ideas.

I have long subscribed to the view that the fuss over climate is nothing but a contrivance, the climatocracy merely invoking the latest of a long series of potential doom scenarios as an imperative that justifies their continued and expanded control over society.  The interest of the ruling elite is solely in the promulgation of the exercise of power, a control greatly diminished by the inherent democratization of globalization stemming from dynamic changes in technology, communication and finance.

Ecomyths are not about the science.  They are founded on the selective use and exploitation of science in the service of elite ideology. 

What is re-assuring is that the lay public has not yet completely succumbed to somnolence and winter remains palpably still winter despite any amount of alarmist AGW hype.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

the broader persepctive

James Delingpole ended 2010 with an excellent commentary.  He writes:
  • ...the reason I bang on about AGW is not because I’m obsessed with “Climate Change” but because I recognise it as a strategically vital campaign in a much broader global culture war.
  • This is why I believe this year’s most important publication is not any of the superb crop of books on AGW...but the book that goes closest to the heart of this great ideological struggle, Christopher Snowdon’s The Spirit Level Delusion.
In particular, Delingpole appreciates the manner with which Snowden not only eviscerates the stasis pre-occupation with equality but also its prevailing mantra wherein:
  • Limiting choice, reducing wealth and lowering aspirations are now openly advocated as desirable ends in themselves.
Using De Tocqueville, Snowden makes the point that liberty is not lost overnight but fades incrementally:
  • The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Not only do I echo James' sentiments, I offer my thanks for a good way to start the New Year: a renewed commitment to the implementation of dynamism and a well written book to read and share.