Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I don't want to write this post...

...for a couple of reasons.

One, I have not watched and analyzed every video in this list. Some might argue that I therefore can't comment on any of them. (I haven't eaten every anchovy ever canned, either, but I still don't want them on my pizza.) And it's possible - perhaps likely - that somewhere in the hours of humorous, be-hatted, alarmist YouTubery linked above, my objections are answered. (Maybe some kind commentor with more patience than I will provide the link.)

Secondly, I am not a climatalogist, nor do I (ahem) play one on the internet. As far as climate change / global warming is concerned, I figure I'll do what most humans do when faced with changing conditions: adapt. Hey - it worked for the Cro-Magnons when the woolly mammoths went away. (I'd love to see a New Yorker cartoon showing a caveman with a "Stop Global Warming - Save the Mammoths" sign.)

Third, I really would prefer to do other things with my time. For example, watching videos like this (in my dreams...) or this (the boys still have it!).

Fourth, the chance of anything I write having the slightest impact relative to the hours of content churned out by Greg aka "wonderingmind42" aka "that science teacher with the hats" is pretty slim. But the subtitle of this blog IS, "We speak of things that matter, with words that must be said." As an ethologist might say, I've reached my blogging activation threshold on this topic.

So what's my beef with Greg the Hatted? Two things. One, he's misusing one of my favorite rhetorical devices, Pascal's Wager. Second, he presents a three-dimensional problem in two, ignoring a critical aspect of the debate that totally changes the risk-management equation.

First, Pascal's Wager. The whole point of the Wager as a decision-making tool (or rhetorical device) is that it presents us with a pair of linked dichotomies. Either God exists or He doesn't/ Either we believe or we don't. These are binary choices. Either-or. There is no spectrum, no range of options, no middle ground. Your daughter is either pregnant, or she is not. She is either married, or not. There's no "sorta-kinda" in a Pascal's Wager decision matrix.

But the decisions that Greg presents are both spectra, not binary choices. It's not, "Is climate change happening, or not?" It's "To what extent is it happening?" It's not, "Either we do nothing, or we do something." We're NOT doing nothing. Individuals - and big companies - are voluntarily taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints. The question is, "How far are we going to go?" More on that in a minute.

The second problem I have with Greg is that he leaves out a critical 3rd dimension of the decision matrix - to what extent can we do anything about it?

Here's Greg's argument in a nutshell (ok, a hand-coded HTML table):
 We do somethingWe do nothing
It's not realI: Economic inconvenienceII: No worries, mate!
It's realIII: Different but livableIV: End of the world
Ok, so I've oversimplified an oversimplification, but there it is:

Quadrant I: If global warming (GW) isn't real, but we try to fight it, we have some economic disruptions.

Quadrant II: If GW isn't real, and we do nothing, no problem, mon.

Quadrant III: If GW is real, and we do something, the world will be different but livable.

Quadrant IV: If GW is real and we do nothing, Game Over.

There are two problems with this analysis beyond false dichotomies already described. One, it glosses over the nature and scope of the economic impact of making a really significant impact on carbon emissions, never mind the political intricacies of getting India and China to go along. We're not talking about curbside recycling, folks. We're talking about turning out the lights and shuttering whole industries. Massive disruptions in the global economy. Millions thrown out of work.

"Different but livable?" Sure. The Middle Ages was "different but livable". The Amish have a "different but livable" lifestyle. To take it to an absurd extreme, we know that the cattle industry produces a whole LOT of methane. Should we then kill all the cows and enforce a worldwide "diet for a small planet?"

The second problem is that it assumes that we can do anything about it. Maybe we're past the tipping point. Or maybe the largest component of GW is solar activity, or it's just the natural climatic cycle, like the past several ice ages and warming periods. Maybe no matter WHAT we do, climate change is (or isn't) going to happen. So let's look at that table again:
It doesn't matter what we doWe do somethingWe do nothing
It's not realI: Economic disasterII: No worries, mate!
It's realIII: Climate catastrophe PLUS economic disasterIV: Climate catastrophe BUT we have resources to adapt
See how that changes things? The picture is much bleaker - now we have THREE chances of bad things happening.

Quad I: If GW is not real and we wreck our economy for no reason, then we've ... wrecked our economy for no reason.

Quad II: If GW is not real and we do nothing.. :-)

Quad III: GW is real, but remember, in this table there's nothing we can do about it. So we blow all our economic resources on commanding the tide to not come in. Ecological disaster plus economic disaster. Hey buddy - got a spare soylent cracker?

Quad IV: In this scenario, GW is real. Eco-catastrophe. But at least we'll have the resources to adapt, since we didn't destroy the global economy trying to forestall the inevitable.

We can relocate the coastal cities, build bio-domes, starships, whatever. But at least we'll have options.

The third dimension - does it matter what we do? - totally changes the risk-management analysis.

If we CAN make a difference, then we get one of two flavors of Doomsday. Choose your poison - economic collapse (Quad I) or ecological collapse (Quad IV). Presumably, if we CAN avoid climate change by dint of human effort, then Quad III will be simply "different but livable." (But no, you can't haz chzbrgr. We had to kill all the cows to save the planet.)

But check this out - if it turns out that it doesn't matter what we do, the climate is gonna change anyway, we get THREE flavors of Apocalypse! Economic disaster - but no climate disruptions (Quad I), ecological disaster - but economic resources to deal with it (Quad IV), or a combination of both (Quad III).

If we can have an impact, Quad III is "different but livable."

If we can't...

Instead of Amish Paradise we get Soylent Green.

Mad Max.


Or this.


Jared M. Stein said...

Well-reasoned _and_ funny. You can haz chezbrgr!

~!jesseloop said...

tr td -very funny- /td
td -not quite "right" lol -/td/tr
ok ok...i haz to argue, uh, i think...ok i'm not sure i do...i'm kinda lost...
oh wait! i know- and A to B series fits just right! hehe...//flashback//
A. our impact is real. if in no other sense that the damaging hydrocarbon emissions have, in my lifetime, in the Antelope Valley, to my own naked eyes, increased exponentially.
as a child, i lived in the foothilss of a mountain range in LA county that looked over a 100 mile valley. the sky is HUGE there. It used to be clear blue from horizon to infinity.
now, a VERY distinct brown haze is about...hmmm "this" thick (3 inches holding fingers in front of eyes) from horizon to infinity, clearly noticable, and growing and ugly ("smog" from the LA basin.
B. the business of clean energy is really a boom, not a bust. (sorry, not so much evidence on this one per my experience and with "my own eyes" but "according to experts," it's so, or should be so.)
got love fo ya - you wah wah peddlin' middle right brainiack.

SkyDaddy said...

Thanks for reading, Jesse.

I don't think I ever said that we don't have an impact on the environment.

The question is, are we really changing the climate of the planet to the point that life will become unsustainable? And if we are (and IMO that's not settled), is there anything that we can do to stop it - even if we shut down the factories and power plants and kill all the cows.

But my argument really isn't about global warming per se. What I'm really taking issue with is the simplistic and illogical rhetoric employed in the videos.

~!jesseloop said...

on the question, then, absolutely one-hundred percent not. awful and tragic and sickly for a while (300-400 yrs?), perhaps, but ruling out life? not gonna happen-we are small (humans), as compared to this planet. (my opinion.)
simplistic and illogical rhetoric seems to be terribly abundant these days, so agreed on that one, too.
and as unrealistic as it sounds, i'd say the shutdown, cow massacre, etc, would do the trick, but it's...well, unrealistic...
yet still-action is admirable and awareness is never bad...
oh, and have you read books by John G. Fuller? (careful there are two fuller's out there writing...but this Fuller you'll enjoy immensly...airmen that wouldn't die, and ghost of flight 401... promise to be hits with you...as they are with me. ttys...