Saturday, March 31, 2007

World peace?

There can be no sustainability without peace. Oh, we can achieve some environmental successes and economic prosperity, but ultimately, there can be no sustainable future for the human race without world peace, without social sustainability.

In the immediate future, the prospects for world peace are intimately linked to the ongoing war on terror, events in the Middle East and some form of resolution between Islam and Christianity as competing faiths. In this respect, this post and the linked speech by Bernard Lewis are insightful starting points for reflection and consideration. Embedded within this discussion are our constructs of governance, the role of religion, freedom and our abilities to not only comprehend differences in cultures but realize that in the words of Walsch, "what differentiates us, does not have to divide us".

Follow up: the earlier post has elicited numerous comments and this excellent, subsequent posting with a link to an article written by an Islamic scholar and former terrorist. Once more we see the role that ideology plays in people's acceptance and rejection of opinion, often without stopping to first consider the relative merits of the position presented.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Education: the final frontier

Two recent films: one common topic -- educational dogma and the cessation of academic freedom.

Education should be about bringing knowledge out, not about indoctrination. The choice begins at kindergarten: it is the choice between giving a student a blank sheet of paper and some colours and asking them to create, versus giving them a pre-defined outline and having them follow directions on how to colour the blanks correctly, with the correct colours,
within the correct lines. It is the difference between developing students who can think for themselves, creatively and those who know only how to memorize what they have been told, to follow directions and to mimic their trainers in criticising what they reject as outside their correct perspective. It is the difference between teaching and training.

Political correctness is not just about an axiomatic dogma, reinforcing a prescribed ideology: it is primarily about invoking a mindset of dependency, orthodoxy and fear that makes its citizenry compliant, complacent and constrained within the dominant constructs of the ordained "correct" ideology. Education is the primary tool by which elites oppress the citizenry. This was vividly shown to us in Nazi Germany, in Stalinist Russia and in novels such as Orwell's 1984. It is being shown to us again in the guise of ideological environmentalism and the propagation of ecomyths. And, most sadly, the central vehicle by which this fraud is being perpetrated is our institutions of "higher learning".

The two films linked above illustrate the various ways in which higher education has been supplanted by political correct training: there is no learning, only the transference of prescribed opinions.

Think I exaggerate? Ask a university student or recent graduate about any contemporary public policy issue. Follow up their answer with this question: "why do you think that?" and see how far the discussion progresses. They know on a superficial level what the "correct" answers are to everything, but as to why, and the basis for their belief -- well, doesn't everyone, you know, well like, everyone knows that...don't they? And anyway, it must be true, everyone says it....

Friday, March 23, 2007

Keep politics out of science and vice versa

So the follow up to my post below on environmentalism as dogma and ideology closer to religion than science, it this excellent post by Brendan O'Neill on the interplay between science and politics manifest in the AGW ecomyth. He suggests the real problem is that science is being actively use to frame politics and that its mis-use in this fashion does a disservice to us, to science and to the political process. Hopefully, his reasoned comments will provide an area of agreement for all viewpoints: the ideological high ground needs to be clarified and cultivated.

Sadly, I deal all too often with academics who show no cognition that the political use of their science is either a problem or an ideological activity. There will be no consensus on the morality of the politicization of science if scientists fail to acknowledge their complicity in its corruption and their recognition that the ends do not justify the means. (I'm sure I stated this on other posts: it seems to be a recurrent theme concerning ecomyth propagation).

The religion of environmentalism

Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a fraud. It also is the pre-dominant meta-narrative for today's ecomyths. AGW is a fraud because:
  • There is no clear science that shows global temperatures to have increased to unprecedented levels.
  • There is no causal link for human activity being a trigger in observed temperature changes.
  • Any benefits of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are being ignored in the hysteria surrounding possible costs/impacts that increased levels may incur, and;
  • It is unclear if present levels of carbon dioxide are unprecedented or even harmful.
So why is AGW being so heavily hyped? Mostly because environmentalism exists today almost exclusively as an opposing ideology to free-market capitalism. As Czech President Vaclav Klaus puts it, "communism has been replaced by the threat of ambitious environmentalism".

How did saving the environment become such a pernicious, political movement?

happened in large part because today's generation has only known environmental responsibility. Students today have never not known sustainability as a guiding mantra: they get it, they are aware and mostly quite environmental conscious. All the environmental protests and awareness raising issues of the Woodstock generation have now been addressed, largely rectified and are part of the very political mainstream old school environmentalists wanted to fight. Old school environmentalism is now centralist public policy, embraced by all political parties and the electorate.

So really today, there is no more need for increasing awareness: no need for full-time advocacy, protests nor media stunts. The entire repertoire of environmentalism is passé. We get it. Environmental groups can disband and their members go home.

So, what is needed? Because problems still exist don't they? Certainly they do, but they are none of them problems that can not be fixed by the correct application of existing technology and political will. The answers are so obvious they could be incorporated as a version of the TV show Jeopardy:
  • So indoor air pollution in Africa: clean cooking fuels and light -- uh, let me see, "what is electricity Alex!"
  • Dysentery: "that would be plumbing for $400, Alex".
  • Systemic poverty: that would be free market capitalism, democracy, land reform, micro-loans and social justice.
Ah, but you say, these aren't easy to institute. Correct. Implementation of sustainability is where the rubber meets the road. It is hard, context specific and requires commitment and hard-work. And getting one's hands dirty.

Eeww! Can't I make posters, march, and protest and blame some big corporation instead? Can't I stay a long, long time at university and complain in a sophisticated post-modernists frame about over-consumption, globalization, corporatism, capitalism and Americanism?

Well you could, but you'd need a really good issue. One with no hope of any answer, no practical political solutions, no policies that any rational government would actually impose on its economy -- you know an issue where you could invoke the full precautionary principle, one with obscure, nascent science -- irrefutable really -- one where you could whip up a religious fervour with dogmatism, alarmism, beliefs and a really good media program. Be good if you could seduce an obscure group of scientists, elevate them into their 15 minutes of fame, bribe them with research funds -- be good for them, keep our organizations going and we could wrap the whole thing into a holistic global governance kind of thing using the UN -- those cats love a good scam, years of conferences and boy, those guys really know how to avoid any meaningful implementation of anything!

Yep, all in all, this whole AGW thing is perfect: no chance of ever fixing it. Any alternatives are voided by incessant repetition of the basic mantra -- and look, while everyone knows things are so much better, guilt is such an easy emotion to dump on the collective. And, get this, anyone who calls us on it we can just marginalise, vilify and call "denier" -- yes, really evoke some emotional rhetoric for this baby. Meanwhile, we won't ever actually have to do anything! Perfect. Now all we need is some ex-political hacks desperate for an issue to get them back into the spotlight....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

EU farm socialism further exposed

Ah, there's no insanity quite like government-authorized insanity. Latest example? Under the European Union's common agricultural policy, people are making money by classifying their land as a "farm" and then receiving the rather generous subsidies the EU provides, not to farm -- not they would/could, not being farmers in the first place.

I have friends who farm: I can't wait to tell them how its really done...

Development: the new media event for celebrities

African development has been on the periphery of everyone's front page for ever it seems...until now, with celebrities seemingly tripping over themselves to tell both Westerners and Africans themselves how they can develop sustainably. The usual prescription is environmentally friendly, with low carbon impact and low intensity: i.e. not too different to the non-industrialized, no electricity, poverty they presently "enjoy". Climate friendly but still impoverished, and with high levels of mortality from respiratory diseases and dysentery -- both problems fixed by such radical technological advances as electricity and plumbing, otherwise referred to as development born of free-market capitalism.

Perhaps the most high-profile example has been Bob Geldorf, who managed to resurrect his public profile by assuming the role of organizer of Live Aid and last year's high-profile campaign to impart guilt to westerners over the status of African poverty: sorry, to "raise awareness" of their situation.

However, as this story shows, Geldorf's exhortations and personal promises have fallen a long ways short of practical implementation: another case of encouraging awareness, making headlines and ignoring the hard graft of actual development.

Environmentalists have become the leading exponents of Marxist ideology. In the name of the environment, Africans are being told they should avoid the perils of capitalism, over-consumption and industrialization. Instead, they are informed that they will be happier if they retain their cultural traditions, their close to the land lifestyles, and resist succumbing to the malaise of western-style development: global warming.
Sadly, I wish I was exaggerating. But in the past few months articles expressing the very views I seek to parody have been expressed as serious academic and political suggestions for sustainable African development.

Oh, yes: better check to see if your diamond has Leo's seal of approval. A celebrity for every dogma.

Monday, March 19, 2007

UK (C4) Documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle - Google Video

Here is the link to the Great Global Warming Swindle which is now available on Google video.

To me this is one of the best illustrations of the power of the internet: rather than wait and hope that the film may get shown on your local television network, the internet allows an instant viewing and download.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Post-normal science and climate change

Here are two excellent posts by Melanie Phillips on the new tenor of the climate debate. Finally, advocates of AGW are admitting that the discussion is not being framed by conventional, empirical scientific method, but instead by post-normal science, driven by belief, values and ideology. And, finally, the popular media is beginning to question the motives and rationale for such post-normal science. This comes quickly on the heels of the results of the big debate in New York between three leading promoters of AGW and three prominent skeptics, which clearly favoured the skeptics -- not just because of their debating skill but because the pro-AGW team committed two fatal errors:
  • they failed to advance any scientific facts to substantiate their frequent assertions of absolute truth, and
  • they attempted to mislead the audience by mis-stating and/or lying about third-party statements which could be verified for their accuracy later.
On these grounds, the AGW team were tried and found to be wanting.
Finally, opposition to the imposition of the AGW thesis is moving beyond the ad hominem attacks and slurs. Give enough journalists enough studies to review and the mainstream public will finally get to read what specialist bloggers have been writing about for the past few years. The next stage will be the refusal of a highly-rated political candidate to wrap themselves in this particular shade of post-normal green and instead invoke the need for policy to be based on real science and for environmental policy to tackle real issues and not ecomyths advocated by ideologues.


Just returned from a week's vacation in Orlando. Completely unplugged for the week: sat around the pool, visited the theme parks, mini-golfed and squired the Smith girls around just about every shopping outlet in Orlando -- teenage girls have an infinite capacity for shopping with Dad's money.

Being unplugged was refreshing, although I missed the sports updates, how the Raptors are doing and the latest English soccer scores: but as for everything else, a week's inattention just goes to show how issues persist week to week and that a week without me standing vanguard did little to change the prospects for the global future.

The week allowed me to recharge and focus. I alternate between intense passion for tackling the stupidity I see in the world and a more dispassionate resignation that the majority seems quite comfortable with what they know and are used to (incompetence, self-aggrandisement and political pomposity) rather than any ideologically derived choice and thought.

Sitting around the pool allowed me to indulge in reading Heinlein's stunning novel
Time Enough for Love, which is fictional in so many spheres but social and political commentary in so many others. I find it highly inspirational and full of pithy insights such as:
  • Never try to outstubborn a cat
  • The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.
  • Deductive logic is tautological; there is no way to get new truth out of it, and it manipulates false statements as readily as true ones...Inductive logic is much more difficult -- but can produce new truths.
  • A committee is a life form with six or more legs and no brain.
  • An elephant: a mouse built to government specifications.
Would that more academics, journalists, politicians and commentators could imbue their work with such truths, humour and engagement, rather than the earnest, self-serving and jargon-infested tedium most seem bent on inflicting on the world.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle

The climate change debate keeps changing media but the elements remain the same. Here is the link to the Channel 4 counterpoint to Gore's Inconvenient Truth. Not sure if there are plans to air the broadcast on this side of the Atlantic or not, but the website does give a synopsis of the documentary and its scope. At least for those of us who have not seen The Great Global Warming Swindle, the link will allow us some traction on the discussion it is generating.

At the same time as Channel 4 was airing The Great Global Warming Swindle, the BBC News website environment correspondent Richard Black initiated contact with a list of climate skeptics in order to write a more fully nuanced discussion about their ideas and concerns regarding climate change. His request for respondents to fill out a questionnaire met with mixed reactions: some of those contacted do not see themselves as AGW skeptics at all (their concern is with the IPCC system and issues of process as they relate to science and policy), others were reluctant to respond having being badly mis-characterized in previous media encounters and some (like myself) responded. What became immediately apparent from this exercise is that skeptics are not a homogeneous, organized nor corporately sponsored collective. Instead, they are a group of individuals with questions for which answers have either been absent, unconvincing or simply unknown, all of which cast doubt on any climate theory's claim to certitude. This in turn translates for many into a general dislike for any process that seeks to enforce that theory as a pervasive dogma onto society in the name of science rather than ideology. Skeptics are not anti-environment: they are anti-environmentalism, ideological hegemony and hypocrisy.

It will be interesting to see when and what appears on the BBC News website and how well it does indeed capture the nuances of the ongoing reluctance to accept the IPCC prescribed view of reality.

In the meantime, it appears the producer of the Global Warming Swindle, Martin Durkin, is receiving the full-court press from the ever-intolerant environmentalist lobby, which seems to operate on the premise of smear first,last and always, in preference to engage, discuss and dialogue.

The more fanatical an ideology the less democratic it becomes: extremism in all stripes becomes totalitarian -- something Orwell warned off and a lesson eco-activists ignore often as for them the "end justifies the means". Blissfully, human history stands as a loving testament to the utter infallibility of this proposition. The means are always much more significant than the ends.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Everybody wants to rule the world

Heinlein aptly describes politics as deriving from two perspectives: those that desire more centralised government control (stasists) and those who desire to minimize the role of governance in favour of individual freedoms and responsibility (dynamists). Here is a thought-provoking discussion about the lethargy with which most people accept administrative controls and constraints in their everyday lives.

It concludes with this message: If you don't like being controlled by others, then you have to resist control. Don't be afraid to pitch a fit, to bureaucrats, politicians, clerks, or anyone else that wants you to just shut up and take it. Otherwise, they see no reason to alter their desires to control your life.

It is an article that resonates deeply with me as it reflects many of my own ideals.

The QandO blog gets a lot of comments and this article provoked a range of responses, including one from a reader who (it appears) wanted to both show off her own intellectual superiority and dismiss the commentary itself with a fairly presumptive put-down. Trouble is, many bloggers don't blog because they can't publish elsewhere but because they genuinely prefer the media and the control they retain. So when faced with the academic snobbery of the first comment, a reply is posted that is quite delightful in its tenor and meaning: not only had the blogger read what the commentator was chastising him for ignoring, he has signed limited edition copies of the book and personal knowledge of the recommended author.

The irony is of course that the original post is about control and the desire intellectuals have to impose constraints and limits on the conduct of others. Here is a simple example of real knowledge exceeding the presumptive knowledge of the academic.

The moral? Keep intellectuals far, far away from the realities of politics. If we must have politicians, let them be the used car salesmen and others versed in the vagaries of human desires and behaviour, and not the abstract theoreticians who have "our best interest" in mind while they act to curtail, control and limit all that interests us.

End the chill

Here is the summation to Lawrence Solomon's series on global warming skeptics. His conclusion? The science is far from settled, considerable doubt exists in several fields, the alarmism is both unwarranted and unsubstantiated by the data and the term "denier" should be removed from the lexicon of the debate. He also alludes to the fact that many of those he profiled had mixed reactions to his profile but did agree that their reluctance to obey IPCC edicts, pledge allegiance to the hype and alarmism and otherwise persist in asking pertinent questions, had exacted a personal cost and their ostracising within the climate community.

A new site with excellent precis of contrasting hypothesis for climate change is here. Also here is a nifty quiz to examine what people do and do not know about climate change.

Finally here is some commentary on the whole Al Gore and carbon off-sets hypocrisy and the funniest quote I've yet to find on the topic is here.

Its a good sign that climate change has finally become a topic for humour: perhaps we are finally ready to turn the corner as a society on the topic instead of treating it with the reverence reserved for a biblical sermon.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Why there are no fixed resource limits

One of the most enduring ecomyths is that of limits to growth. Every generation has its prediction of dire consequences when resources will run out. Simply put, it never happens. Never has, never will. Why? Long before the absolute limit of any resource is reached the economics of supply and demand mean that technological innovation has created a better substitute and/or a more efficient means to produce the existing resource, keeping prices low.

The latest resource predicted to "peak" is oil. But as this article explains, new technology is allowing up to 80% recovery in fields where only 10 to 30% of the oil was ever pumped. What does this mean? That after a 100 years of increasing use the world's oil reserves are actually higher now than at any point in history. It also means prices are unlikely to rise, may even slump a little and that as new existing technologies are employed, even greater efficiencies will apply to the next generation of automobiles, many of them diesel fuelled with efficiencies over 80% better than today's average and emissions over 60% lower. Not conjecture . Facts. New technological innovation waiting for adoption, once the price necessitates market adjustment. Prices, markets and innovative technology. Not protectionist governance nor environmental preservation.

Of course, hydrogen and other alternate fuels may just make the whole question of oil reserves moot within the next generation, but that is speculation. The future will be very different to today. Based on human history for the last 3000 years or so, ever indication is that what is different will also be substantially better: more wealth, greater efficiency and less pollution.

The biggest ecomyth is that we don't teach this message of optimism about future change. Instead the mainstream media and educative message in society is one of fear, apprehension and potential disaster all gilded in a green bow. The problem with the environmental litany is that it is not supported by the facts. The problem with limits to growth is they are an ideological construct, not an empirically verifiable one. A belief, not a scientific nor economic reality.

Why be an optimist about the future? Because our history validates our progressive improvement and increasing technological innovation.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Change, the global economy and models

The one constant in the world is change. Two articles that highlight one of the most dramatic changes that will affect the world in the immediate future are here and here. Their topic? The economic and political changes currently underway in China and the impact that this might have on globalization.

About the only thing we know for certain is that China is likely to continue to emerge as the world's largest economy and that as its economy continues to progress it will have an effect on the rest of the world. Beyond that, all discussion reflects the ideology of its author: one can view the changes positively, with a dynamist's perspective, or negatively, with a stasist fear of change.

The beauty of the future, especially the economic future, is that it can not be modelled as it is inherently reliant on human behaviour that consistently defies the logical (and even the stochastic) assumptions upon which models are built. This does not mean that modelling is futile, but it does mean that we should treat all models (especially those relating to social and economic change) as a perspective, a guideline to assist our thinking and preparations, adaptive strategies and policies: modelled behaviours should never be taken as literal projections of reality, as policy outcomes nor as "scientific" gospel.

Lastly, when viewing modelled projections and forecasts, it is wise to remember the words of Heinlein: Belief gets in the way of learning.

If we really want to have prescience we should free ourselves of ideological constraints: the opposite of how most models are designed.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

A new theory of climate change

Here is the link to the innovative work on cosmic rays and climate conducted at the Danish National Space Centre. The key scientist involved is Henrik Svensmark and he has collaborated with Nigel Calder to publish his work in a book intended for the general public entitled The Chilling Stars.

No comments yet, as I have just ordered a copy: once I've read it I'll post comments but the website does a good job of explaining the basics and the basics are quite contradictory to the supposed "consensus" of AGW. It seems the science is not yet settled.

Remember, the truth is not a popularity contest.

(Update posted Sunday March 4, 11:55 am)

And to reinforce this point, here are two links to a recent summation of scientific uncertainty regarding climate change issued by the Centre for Policy Studies in Britain. The articles offer an excellent and very readable precis of doubt concerning the attempts to foist scientific consensus where so much remains unclear and contradictory.

pop quiz

If someone came into your house and offered you a cocktail of butanol, iso amyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatechin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin and inorganic salts, would you take it?

This is the question posed by an independent charitable trust in Britain called Sense about Science. Their site seeks to inform and balance awareness of scientific facts, and their little pop quiz is intended to highlight
six common misconceptions about chemicals:

  • You can lead a chemical-free life
  • Man-made chemicals are inherently dangerous
  • Synthetic chemicals are causing many cancers and other diseases
  • Our exposure to a cocktail of chemicals is a ticking time-bomb
  • It is beneficial to avoid man-made chemicals
  • We are subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled experiment

In other words, Rachel Carson was wrong. I am constantly surprised by how influential Silent Spring is still perceived to be: but then most of my students who refer to it do so without ever having actually read for themselves.

My rule of thumb? If a book is going to be your mantra, you better own your own copy, it should be dog-eared and highlighted, with post-it notes and text annotations: in short, yours and a source of functional knowledge that you implement in your actions on a daily basis.

Green tyranny

"Once an individual can pose as the mouthpiece for the needs of the planet, there is no limit to their the name of tackling the climate emergency, it seems that anything can be justified".

In a few brief phrases, Josie Appleton reveals the true environmental manifesto behind media-appointed guardians of environmental purity. And while she is describing the proposals of Britain's Ken Livingstone, she could equally well be describing Canada's David Suzuki or America's Al Gore.
What all these self-appointed gurus have in common is a prescription for how other should be living. Not necessarily how they live as in a Ghandian model of leadership and inspired change, but in a tyrannical, totalitarian, use the full authority of law, government and celebrity endorsement to intimidate, style of societal control.

In his book, Changing Minds, Howard Gardner highlights the different leadership styles people must adopt when they seek to change human minds about basic constructs. What is clear, is that large-scale systemic change requires inspirational leadership that has personal integrity as its cornerstone: hence the success of Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.

The whole tyranny thing is another option but it is short-lived change, enforced but not sustainable, and tenable only when the state also is used as an instrument of force, intimidation and to suppress personal freedoms: as was the case with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and the Taliban.

Contemporary environmental gurus seem to want their cake and eat it too. They want to be regarded as pantheons of human virtue, media accredited eco-Ghandis, but lack the conviction or patience, and thus also want to justify the totalitarian politics of dictators. As Appleton points out, "t
his is what happens when environmental management becomes a political and moral programme rather than a pragmatic response to a particular problem".

Her solution? Vote Ken Livingstone out of office. For the rest of us? Look not to the celebrities who endorse the candidate but look to their principles and policies. Do they empower you as an individual or will they impose on you societal controls that ecomyth dogma deems necessary and justifiable.

I always look to the politician who knows that accountability comes before justification in the dictionary.