Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Language of Climate

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  • Tom Semmens,

    My point is that if NZ is going to participate in an experimental program with new reactor designs

    “we” means “we, the people of earth”. If we don’t adopt nuclear, how do we keep the lights on without thermal power? Wind might work for a tiny population living on an island with uninterrupted access to the roaring forties, but it won’t for two billion Chinese and Indians.

    If nuclear is the lesser of the evils (better a world with nuclear power and polar bears) then we (the people of planet earth) might as well design and build the safest and least polluting.

    slow air/sea travel cheaper.

    Sea travel will never be cheaper than flying, because unlike cargo people need to eat, have somewhere to sleep and things to do on the 15-18 day passage on a high speed liner.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    “we” means “we, the people of earth”

    If you focus on the experimental nature of the reactors that you're proposing and think about the timeframe I beleive my objections still apply. The optimistic views that I've seen suggest we might have a fourth gen reactor working by 2030, and an experimental thorium one about the same time. If the global "we" pushes the point.

    But if the global "we" just keeps building CSP, PV and wind generation at the current rate, by 2030 we'll be meeting half our electricity needs from renewable sources. If the build rate was kicked up by adding even half the required nuclear budget we could be 100% renewable by 2050. Australia could do that at a profit, I assume NZ could if we stopped trying to lower the the renewable fraction. Possibly other countries are in similar positions, but for some reason there's a lot of nonsense being talked about renewables not being able to provide baseload power. How that objection flies is the topic Russel was addressing in the post, I beleive.

    If nuclear is the lesser of the evils

    That's a really big, really important question. To date it's been very mixed, but the greater evil appears to be in the long-term pollution. Which currently we're addressing much in the same way as we address the long-term aspect of CO2 pollution from burning stuff. ie, by pretending its not really a problem at all. The answer might be to just declare some part of the planet permanently off limits and dump all the nuclear waste there. Maralinga, perhaps, or Chernobyl.

    Hopefully Russell will remove the abuse from your post and let the rest stand.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Moz,

    Hopefully Russell will remove the abuse from your post and let the rest stand.

    Yes, I have. Tom, that was unwarranted and unhelpful and if you can't show respect to others I'll remove you from the conversation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    Righto then, I'll leave you all to rail about annoying plebs and their love of cheap holidays in the raified atmosphere of Russells kindergarten.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Howard Edwards, in reply to steve black,

    I wondered about this during a Holmes interview (remember Holmes? It now seems so intelligent when compared to its replacement) on vaccination - they had the public health advocate lined up against the mother with a child who had some terrible birth defect. Surely with all the CGI expertise now available they could set up 10000 avatars of mothers with perfectly healthy children behind the public health advocate?

    This would translate the esoteric concepts of odds and risk into a (sort of) concrete reality that the audience could relate to and hopefully understand

    Albany • Since Apr 2013 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    Sorry, let me correct the "cost of renewables" point and make it clearer. According to this study Australia could transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2020 and do so at a (long-term) profit. What is missing is the political will to override the vested interested who don't want that to happen. Some of those vested interests are in government (broadly defined as not just MPs but public servants).

    NZ could switch to 100% renewable electricity very easily, and the reasons for not doing so are as much about language as anything else. Maybe a bit of sunk costs fallacy.

    In other countries it's harder to know. One point that is worth noting is that nuclear power plants need a lot of water - a chunk of France's nuclear plants cut back in the heatwave (peak demand!) because they couldn't cool the plants enough to run them at full power. CSP, on the other hand, requires very little water while PV and wind require none.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    A very topical article :

    In April and May of 2013, Yale Law professor Dan Kahan — working with coauthors Ellen Peters, Erica Cantrell Dawson, and Paul Slovic — set out to test a question that continuously puzzles scientists: why isn’t good evidence more effective in resolving political debates? For instance, why doesn’t the mounting proof that climate change is a real threat persuade more skeptics?

    So the answer to Russel's original question may be: we can't solve this problem by providing more information, or even by the pro-climate-change people gaining more information. Their study shows that it's effectively a social mechanism - people are more likely to beleive what those around them do, and choose their facts accordingly. That's great for individuals, but can be fatal for communities.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to Moz,

    why doesn’t the mounting proof that climate change is a real threat persuade more skeptics?

    Because that is not in dispute by those that you label sceptics.
    I believe that climate change can be a threat as well as an opportunity, but I'm a denier, apparently.

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 778 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Moz,

    why doesn’t the mounting proof that climate change is a real threat persuade more skeptics?

    So we get occasional seminars by people studying this sort of question for different issues and I loosely follow the literature on it as well, again because of similar issues.

    There are several things going on but one thing to note is that on any issue there will be what are called polar bears and penguins, essentially people on opposite sides of an issue who will never change their minds about their position. They interpret every new data in the light of their position, dismissing opposing data and inflating the importance of confirming data, regardless of the veracity of the source.

    Once you understand that you come to realise it is pointless to address either polar bears or penguins.

    But you can talk to the people in the middle.

    The thing about most folks in the middle is that what they believe to be true depends very much on a set of core beliefs about the world. What's interesting scientifically is that a mixture of common beliefs is often found together. You can group people by sets of beliefs. Most folks in the middle will listen to data and can change their minds but different sets of people need different kinds of data to be willing to change their minds.

    The language I naturally use and the metaphors and examples I naturally use will only be heard by a certain set of people. For other sets of people there is no point in me using those examples and metaphors. It takes considerable effort to try and communicate to a really wide audience and be heard and accepted by them all.

    Nothing I ever say will affect the position of the extremes and worse, engaging with the extreme people really turns off the people in the middle who are capable of listening. There are people with whom I never engage on some subjects, it does nobody any good at all.

    The most important thing to know of all is that I am just the same as everyone else, I interpret data with the filter of my core set of beliefs. On some issues I am as intractable (because I'm right of course :P) as anyone, on some issues I view data with as skewed a bias as anyone. I hope knowing that about myself makes me more careful of my assumptions, but I'm not certain.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Farmer Green,

    Because that is not in dispute by those that you label sceptics.

    I quoted that rather than claiming it, but I'm happy to stand by it. I disagree with you, for example two of the top 10 myths here feature quotes from people I'd label skeptics who explicitly deny that the climate is warming.

    Why do you claim to be a denier, and what are you denying? Since you think climate change can be a threat, I assume you're either denying that humans have anything to do with it, or that we should do anything about it. Your only recent comment on the topic seems to be

    I am a denier because I doubt that people in Godzone, 100 years from now , will be worse off than we are today.

    Which doesn't really address the issue. I hope they'll be better off because mankind acts successfully to reduce and mitigate AGW (and other threats), for example, so we have that "denial" in common.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    There are several things going on but one thing to note is that on any issue there will be what are called polar bears and penguins, essentially people on opposite sides of an issue who will never change their minds about their position.

    I heard a great quote the other day: Science advances one funeral at a time.
    Which is apparently a paraphrase of Max Planck's

    A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 830 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    I heard a great quote the other day: Science advances one funeral at a time.

    But you don't actually need to change the extremes. The people in the middle are the ones that count - even if they aren't the loudest. But you do need to take the time to listen to them and understand what they see as relevant and important.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    but different sets of people need different kinds of data to be willing to change their minds

    This is very true. I've had great discussions with a wide range of people over the years on controversial topics, and often the initial formulation of the controversy appears to be responsible for most of the controversy. And listening through the problems can resolve a lot of them, often by finding common ground (surprisingly few farmers actually like the mega-dairy-farm corporations, for example).

    But today where there's aggressive out-of-context quoting used as an attack tactic by the extremes, it's very hard to produce those segmented messages that convey meaning accurately. You just can't say to the gamers "I bought a signed Mein Kampf because it's uber memorabilia" while saying to everyone else "I'm a rich idiot and it seemed like a good idea at the time, ooops". With climate change that really means that the extremes get to push chosen messages to out-of-band audiences specifically to inflame issues. Even just specific words, like "theory" and "statistic", leading people like me to scream "gravity is just a sodding theory too!!".

    At times there's a lack of experience leading to lack of empathy, and that's hard to work around. Conveying to, say, an educated person the lack of job options faced by a less fortunate blue collar worker can be very hard, but that lack explains a disturbing amount of the objections to (say) ending native forest logging.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green,

    @Moz.

    Sorry, I don’t actually claim that I am a denier ; it is just that here at Hard News I was immediately labelled as one by Bart The Chief Inquisitor .

    Do we share this, my second statement of “denialism” in the post to which you referred?

    “I am a denier because I believe that if , 100 years from now, that most of the people in Godzone are worse off than we are today, it will be because of inequality, over-population, indebtedness to foreign interests, dissipation of capital (of various sorts), entrenchment of a class of elite . . . etc. etc. (feel free to add) and not because climate has made survival of humanity in Godzone nigh on impossible.”

    I’m sure that we move in different circles but I can honestly say that I have never encountered a sceptic who explicitly denied that the climate is warming. Where did you personally encounter such a person?

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 778 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Moz,

    Since you think climate change can be a threat, I assume you’re either denying that humans have anything to do with it, or that we should do anything about it

    He said it can be a threat AND an opportunity. That's not inconsistent with thinking things will not be getting worse, if you think the opportunity side of it is highly significant.

    But it does seem odd to call oneself a climate change skeptic if one does not deny climate change. Would a new word for people who accept climate change but are skeptical that it will be a catastrophe be helpful?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I was thinking that the cascading questions I gave earlier might give us a framework for more precision in labeling positions. A pure denier is a "level 1 skeptic". They deny climate change is even happening. I'd put FG as more like a "level 4 skeptic". He denies that we should do much about it, although I'm not sure if it's as simple as that. It seems to more be denying that we aren't already doing something about it, which will probably be enough. A Humans Can Adapt skeptic. Remember, he is actually a farmer who IS doing something about it, although I think his reasons aren't to prevent climate change, but more about sustainable agricultural practices, and pollution.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to BenWilson,

    He denies that we should do much about it, although I’m not sure if it’s as simple as that

    Well done. I was just looking back at the initial exchange in Nov. 2012. to see how it went off the rails immediately. It's quite informative.

    What surprised me most though, re-reading that thread, was the way that Bart , without reading or understanding what I had actually said , leapt in and was so busy refuting what I had not said at all.

    From there on it was downhill ; very entertaining.

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 778 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Farmer Green,

    I can honestly say that I have never encountered a sceptic who explicitly denied that the climate is warming. Where did you personally encounter such a person?

    Click the link I posted. There are quotes there from people denying that the climate is changing. Admittedly it's an alarmist site, but the quotes appear genuine and I find it's often easier to get key problematic quotes from people's opponents.

    I agree with you about the other problems you pose, I just think they're secondary. They're important more as symptoms of the reason we as a nation/species make really dumb decisions, even though they're actually bad decisions in their own right.

    To be clear, I'm not convinced at all that we can wipe out humans, let alone all megafauna/ mammals/ life. What I fear is that AGW will make technological society impossible. I'm not convinced that isolated bands of humans living on manual labour is a desirable future, and I think it's worth spending a huge chunk of our technological resources to avoid it (rather than watching helplessly as we lose those resources).

    Ben:

    Would a new word for people who accept climate change but are skeptical that it will be a catastrophe be helpful?

    Possibly, although Bart's point about the extremes being loudest militates against it. Personally I find it hard to understand how someone can beleive on the evidence that the climate is changing but it won't be catastrophic. I count them as unreasonably optimistic. Montreal notwithstanding, we have a very poor record as a species at dealing with long, slow catastrophes.

    It's also a position full of people who don't want to be labelled extreme, regardless of their beleifs. On the one hand I do like that we have people like that, because they're the reseviour that fills out social change movements once the momentum starts to build. Unfortunately, they'll often move in whatever direction the momentum goes rather than deciding on the evidence, then complain if that turns out to have been the wrong "decision". They'll say "someone should have been more persuasive"... on that basis "someone" should have just made the decision and left them out of it. Say "moo".

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Farmer Green,

    From there on it was downhill ; very entertaining.

    Well, let's try not to do that here. That is what I understood Russell to be asking for, a framework in which discussion could progress. I wouldn't have bothered with such a lengthy analysis otherwise, being busy and all. I don't even think those questions are sufficient at all, didn't feel at happy with it. But it's a start. At the very least it means we can say with some clarity what our actual position is without restating every part, every time.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Moz,

    Possibly, although Bart’s point about the extremes being loudest militates against it.

    And that is true, but doesn't remove all usefulness from seeking to increase clarity. Indeed, it's giving in to that, and playing the same game. I don't see the need for Bart vs FG, in a rhetorical debate where they talk past each other. I don't want to see either of them leave. If FG goes, we don't even have a dissenting opinion, although I can say I'm a level 4 skeptic myself. But it's not something I put a lot of time or thought into, and certainly don't want to carry on such a debate alone against scientists and Green Party advocates.

    The call from Russell was

    So, again … is there a better way of talking about this? There must be.

    And I'm suggesting that YES, there is. If we talk with greater precision, and in good faith, we may make more progress.

    Religious debate, for instance, can get very deep and detailed when people at least attempt precision. The world's not divided into Atheists and Theists at all, even if they dominate the oxygen supply. The same could and should go for this debate.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to BenWilson,

    Agreed. I wonder if part of that framework has to deal with how the words are appropriated to one side or the other, and how to reverse that appropriation.
    e.g. when the term "climate change" is used in a science forum it means purely and simply a change in the climate ; no positive or negative consequence ; no attribution of cause etc. that's the part of the impasse that I find interesting.
    Terms like "climate denier" and "climate change denier" have cult meanings. If you use those words in a science forum they mean exactly what they say ; no more and no less. And make no sense whatsoever.

    But your other point is also interesting ; i.e. " we can say with some clarity what our actual position is ". My view is that a hell of a lot more can be done without crystallising a position. I don't believe that all the facts have emerged yet, but I can see plenty of reasons to be acting in a manner which coincidentally achieves a lot of the desired outcomes of one side , but for all the "wrong" reasons.
    That is , the actions are consistent with dealing with AGW , but are done to achieve another highly desirable result, which is not in dispute and is under our control (we don't need to wait for other countries) and benefits us immediately and for the future.

    But as someone pointed out back then , my suggestions were unacceptable to most because they came from the wrong side of the fence. It's so much like C of E vs RC.
    You wouldn't immediately recognise that they were both claiming to exhibit the pure form of Christian tolerance :-)

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 778 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to BenWilson,

    If we talk with greater precision,

    I apprehend that we cross-posted on that point. Slow typing ; even slower construction.

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 778 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Farmer Green,

    I wonder if part of that framework has to deal with how the words are appropriated to one side or the other, and how to reverse that appropriation.

    I'm suggesting to unappropriate, rather than to reappropriate. The words themselves, if laid out with sufficient precision, should not be battlegrounds.

    The easiest way I can think of to achieve that is to use different words, that carry no particular connotation. They are merely markers that showed how you answered a series of questions. Those particular questions are something I consider a work in progress. Obviously a big part of even answering them would be to define the terms used in them. There could certainly be one asserted right at the start:
    0. Do you believe the climate changes at all?
    Almost everyone is going to answer Yes to that. It gets that out of the way, though, and pigeonholes a particularly extreme kind of denier. And the second question becomes:
    1. If so, do you believe that the climate is currently changing in a way that is out of the ordinary for the planet?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    It should be clear that people further down the rung, but not all the way to the bottom, might still vehemently disagree with people further up, agreeing strongly with people further down, on points relating to the earlier questions.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Farmer Green, in reply to BenWilson,

    1. If so, do you believe that the climate is currently changing in a way that is out of the ordinary for the planet?

    That might not be precise enough.

    Lower North Island • Since Nov 2012 • 778 posts Report Reply

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