Monday, February 26, 2007

Globalization and sustainability

Globalization means the world is not only more prosperous, it also is more stable. This short commentary got me to thinking why is it that people struggle to accept globalization as a positive force for change. Two things come to mind. One is an ongoing and widespread mis-conception about wealth. The second is the persistence of false predictions of resource scarcity. In both instances, the root ideology appears to be a concern that the world either has too many people, and/or too many people consuming too much.

Both over-population and over-consumption represent core eco-myths that underscore most ideological environmentalism. Both reflect a moral belief that the world is a perfect and pristine place until besmirched by human beings. The origin of this morality is excellently described by Bidinotto in an essay on individualism and environmentalism. Sadly, I find many eco-zealots have never considered the moral philosophy implicit in their assertions, let alone the practical ramifications that their ideas would manifest.

Contemporary globalization is an imperfect process: but it does show that economic freedom and trade liberalization do result in prosperity and stability. And despite the global warming hysteria, there are no global environmental limits threatening our survival. Economically and environmentally we have the capability to be sustainable. What we lack is the political and cultural will to tackle the social imperatives for sustainability. Why? In large part because ruling elites and intellectuals continue to frame social problems in the guise of "us" versus "them", of "haves" and "have nots", resplendent with fear, prejudice and envy. Human history shows us that any experiment with social engineering has been dependent upon propaganda and the mass mobilisation of fear. And, make no mistake, today's fixation with ecomyths is just that: an experiment with social engineering.

The solution?
  • the empowerment of individuals and nation states in their desire for economic freedom
  • the removal of trade barriers, tariffs and all other elements of protectionism and nationalism, including "cultural" safeguards
  • education that teaches adaptation and self-esteem, and not dogma infused with political correctness and fear
  • political discourse that puts a premium on principles, alternatives and policies and not personalities, polemics and polls.
Easy to stipulate. Much harder to put into practice. Because positive creativity is difficult, the default is criticism and negativity. Persist, as the movie Pay it Forward illustrates, we don't always know how and when our creativity will affect others.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Stern, Suzuki and the silent majority

Here is an excellent discussion of the latest media blitz seeking to invoke continued fear for climate catastrophe and necessity for self-anointed guardians of correctness (the "smart", intellectual elites) to control the world. The same people promoting fear are those who supply the answers that require them to take control for "the good of all".

Funny thing happened on the way to the forum, however. First up, the media itself is refusing to lay down and die while the vestiges of political discourse are denied by "liberal" thinkers such as David Suzuki. Secondly, it seems the general public is not quite as gullible and malleable as eco-advocates would want either.

All in all, the three commentaries re-enforce a faith in the human condition and civil society. That while we empathize and are compassionate, allow intellectuals space to float out ideas and constructs, the general masses are not inclined to completely trust abstract models, projections and/or alarmism, especially when the fears that they seek to promote fly in the face of an individual's own life experiences. Perhaps, perhaps, the eco-advocates may just be guilty of over-stating their case, past the point of redemption. Between the ice in New York of The Day After Tomorrow and the self-promotion implicit in An Inconvenient Truth, the general public just can't accept that we collectively have any certainty about the climate for the next century, simply because no-one appears able to even forecast next week's weather on a consistently accurate basis. Mentally, it is an awfully big leap of faith to go from inaccurate weather next week, to any sense of confidence in life-changing policies based on anybody's projection for the state of the world 100 years from now. Given we don't know what the price of gas will be 5 years from now, the scale of certitude claimed by proponents of AGW is just too much outside of most people's general belief box.

I'm reminded of all the old Monty Python skits, where the response of the old lady to any extended philosophical debate was always a polite "that's nice dear."

So, for the Nicholas Sterns and David Suzukis of the world, just smile and say "that's nice, want some tea?"

Sunday, February 18, 2007

powerpoint presentation

This concept map is a construct organizer for a new powerpoint presentation of mine. Here is a link to the presentation entitled 'Global warming and other ecomyths' that I am giving to a general public audience this month.

Not only do I welcome the opportunity to talk to various groups but I am excited that I have finally worked out enough of the technical details to allow wider public access to the educational materials I like to employ (such as concept maps) when presenting ideas.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wikipedia, education and engaging the individual

One of the perils of an open society, especially the open education and open publishing society of today's web, is the premium it places on the reader to be their own editor. Intellectuals often fear for the demise of the monopoly position they hold over both education and media, and some find it galling that an on-line encyclopedia even exists, let alone that it is flourishing. This article discusses some of the perceived problems.

For me, much of these fears are over-stated. Mistakes and ideology embedded within Wikipedia are rapidly exposed by an Internet search of links, commentaries and blogs. The reader self-selects and self-edits. We agree with those who offer perspectives that fit our world-view and we modify our world view, our opinions and our ideology in response to what we read -- each person reads up to the point where that level of comfort exists for them. Trust in the individual. A concept most elites struggle with.

This week I was invited to participate in the student-run World Affairs Conference held at Toronto's Upper Canada College. This year's conference was the 24th and its focus was on population and the impacts of future population growth. I was on a panel discussing globalization. The keynote address was given by Thomas Homer-Dixon, who's presentation nicely promoted his latest book. Sadly, he presented for the students a familiar litany of alarmism and potential catastrophe: population growth means energy crisis, and, in conjunction with climate change, "stresses" of "tectonic" proportions for which the only option would be austerity and massive intervention by agents of global governance. Powerful metaphors, suspect theories and selective data: he even invoked Al Gore's movie as an example of excellence in education.

What was refreshing for me was the student reaction next day when I presented my comments. They had listened to Homer-Dixon's litany but had not been deceived by it. They heard me state my disagreement and wanted to understand how my views contrasted, and why, with those of fellow panellist, Maude Barlow: mine free market and individual responsibility, hers the need for collective action and regulation. Same problems, different answers: the basis for good discussion. Passion and advocacy but not the irrational alarmism and dogma of the keynote address.

I left the conference with renewed hope that ideological debate can occur, that engaged students can, and will, seek out their own truths, and that the next generation will not go quietly into the good night. Increased population certainly means change, but that change is not pre-ordained to be cataclysmic, dire nor deprived -- it can indeed be prosperous, informed and unprecedented in its level of human achievement.

Uncertainty, climate and the need for new roads in Britain

Refreshing to read a different perspective on climate. Here Arnold Kling offers some reasoned advice and some constructive policy options.

I particularly like his reference to the macro-economic modelling on the seventies and how it was unable to achieve its stated aims: you simply can not model a free market nor the pace of new innovation. Similarly, the dynamics of climate change present an enormous challenge to modellers: all the more reason for questioning any proposals for massive economic intervention as to its true purposes and ideological advocacy.

What is mainstream environmentalism today, is most often yesterday's socialism as this discussion of transportation policy in the UK by Mick Hume reveals. Although his article focuses on road construction in UK, his comments apply to a whole slew of issues that have become enveloped in the environmental green of socialist politics.

Climate change, road (non) construction, recycling, energy options: eco-myths infused with an ideology of alarmism necessitating government control, widespread austerity and a suppression of human enterprise -- the "science" compels this, action must be immediate and no debate can be sanctioned. To question or to disagree is to be "in denial", to be anti-environment and an obvious corporate stooge.

Blessedly, there are enough independent free thinkers like Kling to posit alternatives and sufficient common sense in the silent majority to challenge green orthodoxy when it passes from humorous into intrusive and stupid.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The pernicious influence of climate change

Why am I still skeptical about climate change? Mostly because I see the science as being still very nascent and any public policy that is based on it as premature. I have colleagues who are convicted that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are dangerous but who can't say how those levels influence climate accurately: the assumption is that rising levels of carbon dioxide lead to rising temperatures, that those levels exceed both natural changes and changes from other variables, and that the rise in carbon dioxide levels drives temperature: whereas the historical record has an equally good fit for rising temperatures being causative in increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, there are several equally plausible explanations for climatic variability and neither the rate of change nor level of change are empirically significant.

These questions aside, my main problem with climate change is that most physical scientists are either oblivious to, in denial about , or feel justified in how the science is being utilised in framing current public policy issues. Here is the main problem. Environmentalism as an ideology rests on the certitude of its science for its credibility: because the science requires us to act, the following measures are justified. In large part, the measures that are advocated are those involving increased state control, less individual empowerment and a large proportion of moral judgement.

A good example of this is examined in an excellently written article on the reframing of underdevelopment and poverty in Africa as climate change "vulnerability".

The commentary is one of a series of excellent articles in response to the release of the IPCC summary on climate. One looks at climate change as a contemporary morality tale. A second asks why faith teaching is viewed as zealous propaganda but environmentalism in the curriculum is considered to be "raising awareness". And the third tackles perhaps the worst case of mis-appropriation in the name of environmental correctness, the reframing of African poverty as climatic vulnerability.

Taken in conjunction, the articles exemplify my concern regarding the real danger posed by the present tone surrounding climate change. Yes we have moved from global warming to talking about climate change. But now the rhetoric is characterized by catastrophe, vulnerability and the morality of being for the environment or being a denier.

Language reveals much. The scientific method I learnt from the works of Popper and Kuhn relies upon a healthy dose of skepticism: science progresses by questioning authority, not by pandering to political nor moral concensus. Reframing all issues into a paradigm of catastrophic climate change does get research money and media attention but I for one do not prescribe to its defining tenets nor the personal submission to dogmatic ideology it requires.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The summary for policy makers, and on getting interviewed without noticing

A good use of blogging here by Nir Shaviv, clarifying both his perspective on climate and his reasoning.

And here, where humour is used to stress the dangerous waters we tread by affirming science by consensus, without open and full debate and without full consideration of alternative explanations, adjustments and policies. The rush to indict heretics and deniers only goes to confirm that so much around climate change is ideologically driven belief and not science at all.

And lest we think this only applies to environmentalism, another well known case of consensus continues to have wide repercussions. The same blog comments on the IPCC summary here and on the elephant in the climate change debate here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

An Inconvienient truth

So right after the IPCC releases its Summary for Policy Makers on Friday, what's on the forefront of most people's minds in Ontario? Well climatologically speaking its the weather, specifically the ongoing cold spell currently enveloping Central Canada. Monday's temperature was a record low for London, Ontario. Previous record low? 1996. Strange, all that global warming and the record low for February 4 in London, Ontario is 2007. Next worst, 1996. Both in the past 20 years.

Bad timing.

As for the Summary itself, not much of a surprise. Disappointing that the science will follow three months later after it has been edited for conformity to the political message in the Summary. Disappointing that the discredited hockey stick is not totally laid to rest. Disappointing that the rhetoric is just as alarming and inflammatory. Disappointing to see the discourse swing so heavily towards catastrophe and away from adaptation.

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