Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Pick your own prison, or walk away; resolution

Let's think about the big things and our relationship with our world.

Things like Freedom. What does it mean to be free? Surely, if nothing else, it means maintaining the right to determine your own way of life, your own choices, and your own intentions. It also means being able to choose to walk a lone furrow or join hands with others and make the journey of life together. It also means not being constrained by the demands, commands or chains of other forces which you do not control.

So, who enjoys the greater Freedom? The Conservative, who is satisfied with a nominally free market, the opportunity to gain for self at the cost of others, the ability to have goods provided in response to demand, the liberty to labour and spend, indefinitely, irrespective of cost. Or the Radical, who refuses to listen to the clamour of advertisers and marketers to consume for the sake of it; who chooses to share and to give for the benefit of others, rather than take, use and dispose; who chooses to work, not for the increasing wealth of the already wealthy, but for a fair and sufficient exchange of needs.

Freedom means liberation from chains. In the twentieth century, many millions of people around the world were liberated from the chains of poverty and subsistence, from unfair exchange of labour for reward (Flavours of slavery), from mass genocidal paranoia, disease and epidemic, from a nasty, rough, brutish and short life. But not everyone.

But times change, and so do circumstances. And so we come to the point where some people argue that the better path to a better life for more people is to continue along the path already trodden, while others argue that, having discovered that there is, after all, a price to pay for greater wealth, the time has come to move away from the clamour for growth at any cost, and towards a way of being more attuned to the need to find a better balance between the hunger of human enrichment and the needs of the planet's natural systems.

For the coming year, I choose to be Free. Free to make a fair effort at worthwhile labour for a reasonable and proportional reward. Free to ignore the markets and refuse to play the consuming game, having enough to satisfy my needs. Free to share with others, in communication, in wealth, in caring to make the world a better place. Free from the chains of intimidation and fear thrown at me by governments, corporations, shills, cheats and liars. Free to live without constraint, been constrained from nothing but what I do not need. Free not to invest in companies who are irresponsible or immoral. Free not to use the product of other people's misery. Free to love others, myself, and the world.

I will not bow down to the demands of 'the system' and place myself in chains. I was free, I will be free again.

Happy New Year to all.

Monday, 30 December 2013

What do you know?

Different people have different reasons for being skeptical about climate change and AGW. This is a given. For some people, in particular, those so-called 'thought leaders' in the broader movement of 'counter-alarmism', the reasons can be cast as motivations - in other words, there is a (perceived or real) personal benefit to be won from taking this type of position. 

For others, these reasons are political, polemical or personal - the choice of skepticism is a derived one, in that this kind of skeptic believes that accepting AGW is necessary because some other personal motivator, which takes precedence in the mind of that person, seems to demand some form of denial.

Then there are what we can call the 'authentic/genuine skeptics'; 'ordinary' people (from any background, like me and you) who are reluctant to 'believe' or unwilling to accept as 'knowledge' the substantial body of material which otherwise constitutes the evidence for AGW and the subsequent sense of responsibility  which such 'knowledge' implies.

I won't talk to the first kind of skeptic here, because their skepticism is not necessarily about the credibility of climate science, but instead has to do with their sense of themselves, their interests, and their personal integrity. Such discussions are perhaps better conducted in private, one to one. Such people are generally disinclined to examine these things in public, for obvious reasons, but I for one would be happy to reopen dialogue with any of the people with whom I formerly had some (limited) private dialogue (via email); MacIntyre, Spenser, Pielke Sr., Curry, Tol, etc. 

I want to understand why you feel that you are doing good by overtly allowing your reputation and (often authentic) skepticism of the 'orthodoxy' of climate science, to be hijacked by others whose motivations have nothing to do with the good of anyone, and whose pleasure is to despoil, damage, destroy and disinform. You cannot deny that this happens, so I want to understand what motivates you to permit this, and what personal responsibility you are willing to take upon yourself for the abuse of your science and name. Please feel free to email me. Note; there is no accusation or blame being placed here, and no judgment implied; I always presume that you are, like me, someone who wants to do good and make a positive difference to the well-being of mankind and/or the planet.

As for the second kind of skeptic, (for some reason, Matt Ridley comes to mind), there isn't a lot to be gained because the subject matter is not really AGW or climate science, but those other, precedent personal convictions. I think there is ground to be made discussing the nature of the requirement to be skeptical as a consequence of your pre-existing beliefs, but this is a complex and, again, probably a personal matter. Not expecting any kind of response or attention, you, too, are welcome to email me and put me in my place.

The 'ordinary' people; people like us. Not convinced that AGW is that certain a diagnosis. Not convinced that climate science, or computer models, have enough predictive capability to guide action or policy choices. Not convinced that climate scientists (or any scientists) are a reliable authority to act as a basis for belief in AGW. If this is you, and you have cut away the various coincidental political, religious or cosmological grounds for doubt, what you are probably genuinely uncertain of is the knowledge-status of climate science. 

Please continue to be skeptical. Challenge and question your own understanding and 'knowledge'. Seek your own conviction. But in all cases, please keep your conclusions 'open', your minds clear. Use your own reasoning and thought skills to look with care at what is presented to you as 'evidence'. Ask yourself, constantly, what it might mean for you to understand that your original opinion might have been 'wrong'. Weigh, as impartially as you can, the balance of information, authority, probability, credibility that you have uncovered. And use your judgment.

If I get round to it, I'll post another time about knowledge, doubt and evidence, in the hope that it might help you cut the wheat from the chaff and help you understand better what you are evaluating.

A short maxim for the Genuine Skeptic: If in doubt, find out.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Comments on the blog

Ho, hum,
There's been trouble since October for folks trying to comment on the posts, for which I apologise. It seems to be an artefact of Google plus. Having dug around for a bit, I think the problem has now been resolved; time will tell. It would be nice to know that people are listening.

Friday, 27 December 2013

What is it worth?

Dear Mr Mephistopheles,

My associate Prof. Rabett informs me that your organisation has been providing much-needed financial support to struggling incompetents willing to set aside their integrity, self-respect and the truth in exchange for slightly tarnished souls, at an appropriate price.

I can happily reassure you that I lost my integrity many years ago, when I discovered that unenlightened self-interest pays better than sticking to principles. I confess to have struggled with self-respect as an issue for some time, but since retaining any of this has proven to be less profitable than setting it aside, I'll concede that this will have to go by the board for a while, at least.

As for the truth, well, I can be confident, as a practised abuser of epistemology, that I can confidently present a front of uncertainty and credible doubt to people who are even stupider than me, and already disposed to believe pretty much only what suits their existing prejudices. I would note, however, that sustaining this in the face of overwhelming evidence and people who have maintained their integrity involves some effort and hoop-jumping, for which I expect to be suitably rewarded.

Though my track record in pyramid sales, Ponzi schemes and Real Estate has been somewhat inconsistent, I note that my qualifications are at least equal to those of the folks who have already signed up to your 'pact', so I hope my request meets with your approval. 

I'd also note the added value of a proportion of the 100 million souls which will soon be up for grabs. I'll admit to a little sympathy for these poor folk, but they are after all poor, foreign and mostly young or near death anyway, so we'll barely notice the loss at home, and besides which by the time that matters I'll be long dead, hopefully having passed on whilst having my 'findings' manipulated by a glamorous 'research assistant' aboard my yacht in the Caribbean. 

In terms of recompense, I suggest that a soul-trade value somewhere between that of a retired politician and an accident insurance lawyer seems a reasonable amount.

In anticipation of your approval, I am sir, 

Yours truly,
R. B. Bot, PhI, MsT, BA(dishons).

Monday, 16 December 2013

If I listened long enough to you...knowing what we don't know

(AKA The Rumsfeld Conundrum)

Following on from a discussion amongst a number of internet friends at Planet 3.0, The Usefulness of Knowing what we don't know , it occurs that, since I was educated in Philosophy (specifically Epistemology) by some of the players mentioned in the literature, and on the basis that some of their cleverness might actually have been absorbed, I might have something useful to say on the matter.

It's important not just as an intellectual exercise (of the type that causes non-philosophers to tear their hair out and kick things) but also because even a cursory exploration of some of the more modern ideas of knowledge, belief and justification can lead us down some revealing paths when we look at the expert/public interface in science and the media.

It's also revealing of something else - the motivations for 'skepticism' and the reasons why some people (without trying to judge them) are still not convinced by some arguments and conclusions arising from climate science and the policy implications of AGW.

In general, Epistemology is the Theory of Knowledge ; in other words, attempts to address or answer questions such as 'What do we mean when we make a claim to know something?' Immediately it is clear that this is relevant to climate science discourse, since many of the things which are traditionally associated with a 'common sense' understanding of what constitutes 'knowing' are challenged by 'skeptics'; from what fundamental 'facts' are to be accepted, to what counts as evidence in support of AGW, through to more sophisticated problems such as whether there is justification for certain policy decisions (such as the immediate mitigation of AGW via CO2 emissions management).

The first thing to observe is that much (most?) of the public discourse, though it sometimes appears to be about what is 'known', actually revolves around what different people believe, and the reasons why they believe these things (in epistemological terms, justification). One of the reasons for this is that Climate Science is not an easy thing to do or test, and most of the public discourse is amongst people with varying degrees of ignorance (with some notable exceptions, such as RealClimate). We frequently hear scientists voicing concern over the public interface and the difficulty of communicating effectively, but the problem won't go away easily, because a lot of the work done by 'skeptical' communicators is aimed (directly or indirectly) at reducing the epistemological status of the science, the scientists, and the milieu in which the science is undertaken. By this I mean that the justifiability of a certain scientific proposition is undermined, creating doubt amongst some of us who don't, or can't do the actual science, or even fully understand the methods.

We often find it hard to see another person's point of view if we disagree about the 'facts' or the 'conclusions' of a position, regardless of the reasoning either has undertaken to reach the conclusion. In other words, we start with a problem of Belief. There are many ways to reach a condition of believing in the truth of a proposition, some logical, some rational, some intuitive, some pre-conditioned. It can be revealing to ask a person who you disagree with, why they hold that particular belief. In the case of we ignorant masses (the 'non-climate-science community'), investigation leads down any number of paths, but often reduces down to a relatively small number of core, or foundational assumptions about ourselves, the world and how we interact with it. Sometimes, these fundamentals are derived from religious or spiritual beliefs, which hold a privileged status in our personal epistemological landscape, and are therefore highly resistant to challenges, not least because they are often self-consciously 'irrational' as well as being deeply embedded in our psyches.

So, how can we make progress, about what we can claim to 'know' about climate science, or about why emissions controls (regulation, taxation, limitation of freedom, of trade, of wealth) matter now?

One way is to shift the epistemological landscape to newer ground, from the 'traditional' or 'common-sense' notions of truth, knowledge, belief and justification, to more modern, 'hard' notions of knowledge and belief, such as Bayesian Confirmation Theory, or Bayesian Social Epistemology. Without going into the details here, since they are well expressed elsewhere, for example here), this can lead down tracks such as betting on climate change, a popular and readily understood activity which has the power of publicly testing both the credibility of a person's stated belief (how much they really believe it being measured by how much they are willing to bet on it), as well as the actual grounds on which two differing views are justified, in relatively simple and measurable terms.

For scientists, there is appeal in the betting meme, since it relates to some very interesting ideas about probability and statistics, exemplified by what are known as Dutch Book Arguments. This type of discourse - the climate bet - (see here, for example), is accessible and its results understandable, with the added piquancy that someone is going to get 'smacked down' by the result. For the public, it can work as an immediate measure of the sincerity of the exponent of a given belief, which in turn has an effect on the justification for believing in that person's stated belief (both in common-sense, and Bayesian terms).

Yes, it is essential to have a sense of 'what we don't know'. In climate science discourse, most of us are obliged to confess that our personal beliefs do not depend on first-hand science; we must depend on others to provide the evidence, so our beliefs are more or less justified by the weight, credibility and logic of others. But we also can have a sense of what we should be able to claim to know, without too much controversy, and it is important for the discourse that climate scientists understand that communicating this is still very important. But enough for now, so later I will look at trying to find the grounds (fundamental principles) for a claim to know that policy action is no longer avoidable.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Would you do it for the 'Gipper? Save the curve

Direct from the warren, and important enough to be worth raising:

If you have been around the Climatosphere for a while, you will already know how important it is to climate science to have reliable, long-term data sets to work with.

One of the most iconic images, seen many times over, on the 'net, is the one which shows the continuous record of CO2 atmospheric concentration, the Keeling curve:

This data set and the measurements which underlie it, is at threat of being broken for a while due to recent funding changes and delays in securing funds for its continuation. The Scripps Institute has started a public fundraiser to cover the shortfall.

Why should it matter? Because it is difficult enough to achieve public recognition of AGW without making a mess of the important work which lies at the heart of the science, as well as the public outreach. Because we need to know. Because the best science (and climate change projections) comes from the best observations.

If you understand the importance of us having datasets like this, and the importance of consistency and continuity, I follow Eli in suggesting that you may wish to make a small donation. This process has been shown to be effective and the 'cause' in this case is eminently worthy. Give if you can, and promote publically.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Never mind the widgets - here comes the bomb

Perhaps a little late, but I've just got through Hansen et. al. : 

Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature

Here's the abstract:

We assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. We use Earth’s measured energy imbalance, paleoclimate data, and simple representations of the global carbon cycle and temperature to define emission reductions needed to stabilize climate and avoid potentially disastrous impacts on today’s young people, future generations, and nature. A cumulative industrial-era limit of ~500 GtC fossil fuel emissions and 100 GtC storage in the biosphere and soil would keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted. Cumulative emissions of ~1000 GtC, sometimes associated with 2°C global warming, would spur “slow” feedbacks and eventual warming of 3–4°C with disastrous consequences. Rapid emissions reduction is required to restore Earth’s energy balance and avoid ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects. Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice. Responsible policymaking requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.

And here is a graphic from the paper which I'll be referring to:

Doing my usual trick, I'm going to try and extract the points which struck me in the simplest form possible:

  1. Setting a 2c target for future warming (the current 'standard' policy approach) is no good. This level is likely to result in 'dangerous' impacts.
  2. A 1c target is better. It is also, with radical action, achievable.
  3. We need a 6% per annum reduction in emissions from 2013, with other actions, to limit warming to 1c this century.
  4. We've got about 128GTc of fossil fuels left for use if we want to avoid 'dangerous' change.
  5. Failing to act now (or, as in the article, in the 2014/15 cycle of the UNFCCC), represents 'an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice'; in other words, our leaders know the consequences of inaction and may choose to account for them or not.
  6. From the paper: Ultimately, however, human-made climate change is more a matter of morality than a legal issue. Broad public support is probably needed to achieve the changes needed to phase out fossil fuel emissions. As with the issue of slavery and civil rights, public recognition of the moral dimensions of human-made climate change may be needed to stir the public’s conscience to the point of action.
  7. Mitigation is desirable, achievable and (arguably) essential for the future of the planet's ecosystems and the welfare of humanity.
  8. short term delays now result in much greater difficulties in mitigation later, in time scales of less than a decade.
  9. (see the graphic above) We have known about this since at least 1992, yet the progress of action to date is derisory, as evidenced by the rate of growth of emissions in the timescale referred to.
  10. We have a choice: act now and make a difference, or avoid acting now and accept the moral responsibility for the consequences, with all their implications.
I have been involved in discussions, for example at Stoat and Rabett Run, in which I have tried to point out that the moral dimension of Climate Science is not just important, but is central to the arguments about policy implications. Hansen seems to agree with me.

No doubt, more on this paper later.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Valuable free resource pool on climate adaptation (but only till Sunday)

It's a shame I didn't pick up on this earlier, but there are still a few days left to take advantage of FREE ACCESS to some useful and interesting papers on Cities and Climate Change, courtesy of the IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development).

The introductory article, here, explains the remit of the pieces. The paragraph below seems to provide a helpful context to understand this:

The theme for this issue of Environment and Urbanization (our fiftieth issue) draws on Mark Pelling’s book on Adaptation to Climate Change: From Resilience to Transformation. (4) The focus on resilience and transformation was conceived as a theme that is of relevance to all urban settings, namely how the capacities to withstand or recover from all direct and indirect impacts of climate change (resilience) can be developed while also contributing to the so much-needed transformation to a low carbon (local and global) economy where everyone’s needs are met – and to achieve this quickly enough to avoid dangerous climate change. This has, as a central component, the delinking of successful cities, towns and rural settlements (and their inhabitants’ consumption patterns) from high greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, these are inter-connected, since reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally reduces the direct and indirect impacts of climate change.

In all there is access, either on the main page, linked above, or attached to the articles (including the first), to around sixty pieces, all connected by the interface of Urban society, climate change action and the notion of resilience.

There's way more than a couple of days reading here, but recent commentary at Stoat (look at the comments thread, in particular), suggests that, as a resource, this will be of interest and value to a number of us who attempt to deal with such issues on the internet and in our thinking.

Enjoy the free access and make the most of the opportunity. This whole package is strongly recommended, not least because it raises interesting points about some of the implicit assumptions and principles which are used.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Antarctic ice break-up update


Update on my earlier suggestions about big lumps of ice in the Antarctic. Take a look on the right hand side of yesterday's AMSR2 image. Around 80E, 62S: I can't find the satellite imagery yet, but if we are to believe the picture, there's a HUGE chunk of ice (I don't know how thick, continuous or potentially persistent it might be) free-floating there. If this was a single entity iceberg it would be hundreds of miles across. I don't think it is likely to be so. Looking closely around the coastline nearby, more big chunks are likely to be liberated shortly.

I don't think there's any risk associated with these at the moment, I just find them interesting. There's probably precedent, too, but I'm too lazy to go check.