Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Anger, Polarization and Climate

The ongoing polarization we see is amazing and all too predictable. Socionomic modeling calls for it, but it is fascinating to watch it play out in the real world.

My favorite so far has been President Obama, who has been characterized as a far-left communist as he continues policies barely distinguishable from Bush 43. The anger and hostility fed onto him is amazing in its intensity and its variety. I have always regarded him as a lightweight and out of his depth as President, but man oh man, he is in for nothing but one long political beating in the coming years.

My second favorite, though rapidly climbing to the #1 spot, is the "Climategate" scandal. We will look back on this time and recall fondly when polarization and anger was limited to debate and topics like "climate change" instead of ethnic cleansing, IEDs on U.S. soil and radical politics. But those topics will keep until 2010 or 2011 hopefully.

What is so personally interesting about Climategate is watching how many thinkers that I have a lot of respect for handle the issue, specifically James Howard Kunstler and Dmitry Orlov. These are both men that have helped me get my head around some complex issues that face our country as we continue to sleepwalk over the abyss. Watching these normally iconoclastic thinkers ignore or spin away from dealing with a topic that has very simple technical roots is amazing. These are people who have no problem dealing with the hard numbers of petroleum depletion or social breakdown, but for some reason willfully ignore what appears to me as a simple issue.

Why discuss this? Well, I hope it can illustrate how we all have blind spots, especially when some of our sacred cows get kicked around and even more especially when the cows are held sacred by guys who relish the opportunity to savage moronic behavior when they see it. It is a cautionary lesson that we all need to be aware of where our biases lay. Biases in what information we choose to process can literally be the difference between poverty and comfort, life and death, in a hard times future.

My Take

Just to make my opinions and biases clear - I am of the opinion that certainly the globe has experienced warming for at least a century and a half. CO2 has been shown in the lab to act as a "greenhouse gas". That said, I am still not convinced CO2 is the main driver of any human-influenced warming. The heat balances just don't add up. I'm a simple man and I like to do the math myself. Frankly, I would have always assumed that methane would be the focus of any climate change concerns, but hey, that's just me.

My other problem - I hold degrees in History and Engineering. History gives you a great appreciation for variabilities in climate and their effects on human societies. Engineering gives you an appreciation for hard facts that actually show up in the real world, a demanding attitude towards models that work and a strong desire for clear raw data that you can analyze yourself to determine what went wrong when the models and statistical smoothings fail you in the real world.

To me transparency of raw data, of source codes and of all assumptions that go into your equations is an astoundingly basic requirement for science and all parties in the climate change debates - skeptics and alarmists alike - should play by the same rules with ALL their assumptions and data available for review.

For instance, when a nuclear power plant is proposed, everyone has access to the data used to make up the Safety Analysis Report. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission posts all correspondence and meeting notes on the web for everyone to view. Every equation, every correlation coefficient, every assumption, every material property is made available to both supporters and anti-nukes. Just because I don't like the arguments put forth by anti-nukes doesn't mean I get to choke off data to them. They get it all. That is good public policy and it is good science.

In short, the earth has been in a warming trend for at least seven generations. The models used by climatologists are poor predictors of reality. The models don't handle oceanic cycles well and have very little to say about cloud formation and the resulting albedo changes. The models that were liberated from CRU are of astonishingly poor quality and have hard-coded adjusting factors that skew data towards a warming trend (Hard-coded! Actually f*cking hard-coded in adjustments. With no citing of where the upward adjustments come from! Good God, I would have been fired day one from my old programming job if I had put out crap like that.). None of the above is really in debate. Such models and raw data need to be immediately put out into the public domain for a full review.

In the end, it is my opinion that the warming trend will still be shown, but the CO2 adjustments might not be as radical as first thought and the human influence might not be as profound as the camp of Dr. Mann, et al, might have first assumed. I am becoming more skeptical every day of the claims that a 6 deg C or 8 deg C rise is inevitable over the coming century. The data just don't seem to support it. Maybe, if we free the data and improve our models, it might actually show significant human forcings to temperatures. But we won't know until the data are all released and it has had a thorough vetting out in the open - not in some self-appointed series of Star Chambers across the world.

Kunstler's Take

In Climate, Oil, War, and Money JHK kicks it off thusly:

"Against a greater welter and flow of incoherence jerking the nation this way and that way en route to collapse comes "ClimateGate," the latest excuse for screaming knuckleheads to defend what has already been lost. It is also yet another distraction from the emergency agenda that the United States faces - namely the urgent re-scaling, re-localizing, and de-globalizing of our daily activities..."

Nothing unusual in the language for JHK (there are few who can match him when he gets rolling), but notice that for someone who is passionate about facing facts and the truth, the only thing he can say for those parsing through the ClimateGate emails and, more importantly, source codes, is to call them "knuckleheads."

"...What seems to be at stake for the knuckleheads is their identity, their idea of what it means to be an American, which boils down to being an organism so specially blessed and entitled that it is excused from paying attention to reality. There were no doubt plenty of counterparts among the Mayans when the weather changed and their crops failed, and certainly the Romans had their share of identity psychotics who doubted reality even when Alaric the Visigoth was hoisting off their household treasure..."

Amazing. For once, people ARE paying attention to facts, to source code, to raw data - begging for facts. And they are being denied access by the elites. Here is a swath of Americans who really do want the truth and they are being branded knuckleheads by a man who should know better. They are challenging the powers that be, they are challenging those who restrict data (oh if we could only see as much passion in those who want to have the Saudis come clean on production and reserve numbers for Ghawar...) and they are being given insults and obfuscation in return.

Orlov's Take

The posts I wanted to link to have been killed. Mr. Orlov is passionate about climate change and regards the models used as accurate enough to make long-term plans based on them. Those bringing new data are given insults and funny pictures.

Alas. For someone who I owe a great deal to in terms of my scenario planning (from his wonderful series of articles on how people dealt with the implosion of the USSR and his book-length treatment, Reinventing Crisis) I am amazed that new data is not allowed to enter into his frame of reference.

Another big warning to me to watch out for similar blind spots in my model of how the world works...

Action Item

We all have blind spots. Drill that into your skull. Try to find them in yourself. Thoroughly review your assumptions about politics, religion, the "social contract," taxes and any other strongly held belief. Look for automatic, sleep-walking reflexes in your "thinking" on hot emotional topics and root out the sleep-walking part. That doesn't mean change your opinions on subjects, but it does mean be open and flexible. We are heading into times that will try not just our souls, but the very fabric of our society. Be ready and willing to upgrade your opinions based on reality - not wishes, hopes or unverified jabbering from some self-appointed guru or political hack.


Mark Moore said...

This post is very helpful. Meta-thinking about the rhetoric of public policy issues is very thin on the ground. Thanks!

David said...

Michael, do you make your living via this blog or a profit-center business to which it directs readers?

No. You may make a dime here or there on ad space (something that will probably dwindle as economic cycling spins down in Supercycle a) but mostly you're just sharing with people. This renders your insights less vulnerable to sandbagging preconceived notions.

Kuntsler is a professional author. In order to maintain a paid readership (or paid writing gigs) he must sustain a degree of Guru Status, which tends to make one dogmatic in ways that preclude admitting past errors. Such people simply can't imagine that a central pillar of their thought was built on other people's mendacity.

I write for "free," as do you. While I am pretty sure of my current views, I can readily admit to gross errors in the past, and believe I could change my mind publicly without consequences if "the data" changed. I lost respect for people like Kunstler (or Ayn Rand, for instance) long ago because such people appear(ed) incapable of admitting error. I always acknowledge I could be wrong, and say so publicly and repeatedly. I have no respect for those whose table-pounding certainty deafens them to new information.

Flagg707 said...

@David - you know, I have never thought of it that way. This blog is mainly a way for me to thrash out some thoughts I have on these amazing times we live in, but I certainly don't make any income of consequence from it.

Thanks for pointing out the differences in audience and the need to maintain the Guru status - great point.

David said...

Hi Michael,
People like you and me may get it right or we may get it wrong, but odds favor our ability to cut past the illusions and obfuscations better than "professionals" (in any endeavor) because we are less likely to have a dog in the fight biasing our premises.

This is the paradox of our age, where deference to "expertise" and "credentials" became a religion unto itself. The very people most trusted to "get it right" and guide society are the biggest salesmen for their own peculiar set of errors. This is why public policies based on such experts' pronouncements (professional economists, professional soldiers, "climate scientists," physicians, etc.) are almost certain to veer off course and into disaster. This explains why everything the nation-state attempts turns out badly. It is an axiom of existence, true in all times and all places.

I wish that made me feel good, but all it does is inform me that I'll be among the first passengers on the airplane to see that we're going to crash and burn. I'm not piloting the vessel so I can't act to change things, but unlike the professionals around me in coach, I lack the biases that blind them to the inevitable. Even if I were piloting, the very act of doing so would blind me with the same biases. Catch-22 rides again.

This is at the heart of why the Wave Principle is truly Nature's Law as described by Elliott.