Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Are We As Doomed As That New York Magazine Article Says?

[This post is a mess but I got all sucked into it with too little caffeine in my system...but there it is anyway...]
Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic says no.  (Thanks to Anon, in comments, for the pointer.)
   This Meyer thing is itself a bit all over the place. Mixed in with straightforward debunking of the David Wallace-Wells piece (about which I expressed some skepticism) is a bunch of distracting points of a kind that tend to annoy me--e.g. that it's rhetorically/politically bad to say that things are really bad because then people will give up instead of trying to fix them:
Over the past decade, most researchers have trended away from climate doomsdayism. They cite research suggesting that people respond better to hopeful messages, not fatalistic ones; and they meticulously fact-check public descriptions of global warming, as watchful for unsupported exaggeration as they are for climate-change denial.   
They do this not because they think that climate change will be peachy. They do it because they want to be exceptionally careful with facts for such a vital issue. And many of them, too, think that a climate-changed world will look less like a starved wasteland and more like our current home—just more unequal and more impoverished.
Anyway, that starts off bad, but segues into a point about the basic reasonableness of climatologists.
   Anyway, here's the real point: Wallace-Wells's account is:
    ...a scary vision—which is okay, because climate change is scary. It is also an unusually specific and severe depiction of what global warming will do to the planet. And though Wallace-Wells makes it clear that he’s not predicting the future, only trying to spin out the consequences of the best available science today, it’s fair to ask: Is it realistic? Will this heat-wracked doomsday come to pass?
   Many climate scientists and professional science communicators say no. Wallace-Wells’s article, they say, often flies beyond the realm of what researchers think is likely. I have to agree with them.
   O.k., groovy. (a) that's what we really need to know: DWW's account isn't in accordance with the consensus of experts, and (b) things are unlikely to be that bad. Though...it's more than a little weird to say that it's ok for his story to be scary "because climate change is scary." I can't write a story radically exaggerating the threat posed by Zika and defend it by saying that it's ok that my story is scary, because Zika is scary...
   There's also this weird paragraph:
This isn’t to say that his piece is worth discarding in its entirety. Wallace-Wells paints a vivid and frightening version of a doomed world. Many scientists just don’t think we live in that world—and they don’t think it’s helpful to tell people that we do.
Yeah...well...at this point we should be less interested in what's allegedly helpful, and more interested in asking what's true... But, more to the point: if Wallace-Wells is wrong (i.e. "we don't live in that world"), then why is the thing not "worth discarding in its entirety"? It's damn near cheating to respond: something something worst case scenario...
   My guess is that one must not be too enthusiastic in one's debunking of climate change extremism...but it's just a guess...

   Look, why are people skeptical about climate change? 
   [1] Some are just dogmatic conservatives, of course. 
But, just speaking for myself, I take it all with a grain of salt because:
   It's become obvious to me over the past ten-or-so years that:
   [2] When science and social science intersect with politics, the former will start producing results that are favorable to liberal / progressive / lefty positions (usually with no corresponding righty ones). And that's the way the causal arrow goes--so don't try that "reality has a liberal bias" stuff. 
   [3]  Climate change is to at least a significant extent a stalking horse for promoting other policies independently favored by the left, most notably: greater pollution controls and alternative energy. (Two things I'm in favor of, incidentally.) But also, e.g., public transportation and more bureaucracy in general. There also seems to be a bit of world-government-ism in the mix. Other obvious solutions--like trying to slow population growth--that are unpopular with the left are rarely even mentioned.
   [4]  When the left is in favor of something, the cultural superstructure is shifted in its favor--news media, movies and television, and universities will all favor it. There's the good and reasonable view and the sinister and unreasonable view. Results in accordance with the (liberal) zeitgeist are promoted and represented favorably; those that run afoul of it are ignored or turned into jokes or worse. Thus the left-favorable results from science and social science will be promoted. Also, science and social sciences will tend to produce new results that are left-friendly: scientists favoring the left-favored position will get more grants and strive to produce results that will be favored. (See [1])

   Scientists are only human, and there is nothing magical about science. It tends toward the truth in the long run...but it works best where confounding influences are weakest. The current Approved Story about climate change is partially a scientific story, but it's partially a political one. The left is eagerly promoting climate catastrophism, and that influences the trajectory of at least the stories we hear from climatology...but also, probably, climatology itself. The right tries to pull things in the other direction...but they just don't have much influence on the cultural superstructure anymore.
   I'm no "climate denialist"...but if I'm betting money, I'm betting that the threat is more likely to be overstated than it is to be understated.
   If climatologists really are playing it all straight, then they ought to be yelling at the other scientists and social scientists who are producing patently politically-biased results--the exaggerated college rape statisitcs, the "trans brain" silliness, the anthropological race nominalism, and all that nonsense, because climate change alarmism is seen against that background.. But IMO smart money says that climatology is itself not playing things quite straight.
   Well, my $0.02, insufficiently caffeinated, on a Tuesday morning.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a lot of fluff in the Atlantic piece which I can't parse as anything other than, Wallace-Wells is basically full of shit, but we still want to stress that climate change is very dangerous, so let's give him a pass.

I mean, the point about oxygen depravation negatively impacting peoples' brains is off-the-rails crazy. CO2 levels just won't get to that level unless you have a gas leak in your house. I wouldn't even want to guess a decent betting line on his predictions would be, but let's say it isn't flattering to Wallace-Wells' ability to understand the probability distributions at play on this topic.

I think Meyer was trying to play Wallace-Wells' piece as a sort of dystopian fiction. The problem is people don't come to journalists for thought experiments, and they really shouldn't. Journalists are woefully underqualified in proportion to their audience to actively participate in a lot of these debates. And on climate change in the era of Trump, hell, we've already seen Stephen Hawking beclown himself, so...

9:26 AM  

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