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A Climate of Polarization

Guest blogger Gavin Starks is founder and CEO of AMEE, a neutral aggregation platform designed to measure and track all the energy data in the world. Gavin has a background in Astrophysics and over 15 years Internet development experience.

We’re all aware of the emotive language used to polarize the climate change debate.

There are, however, deeper patterns which are repeated across science as it interfaces with politics and media. These patterns have always bothered me, but they’ve never been as “important” as now.

We are entering an new era of seismic change in policy, business, society, technology, finance and our environment, on a scale and speed substantially greater than previous revolutions. The sheer complexity of these interweaving systems is staggering.

Much of this change is being driven by “climate science”, and in the communications maelstrom there is a real risk that we further alienate “science” across the board.

We need more scientists with good media training (and presenting capability) to change the way that all sciences are represented and perceived. We need more journalists with deeper science training – and the time and space to actually communicate across all media. We need to present uncertainty clearly, confidently and in a way that doesn’t impede our decision-making.

On the climate issue, there are some impossible levers to contend with;

  1. Introducing any doubt into the climate debate stops any action that might combat our human impact.
  2. Introducing “certainty” undermines our scientific method and its philosophy.

When represented in political, public and media spaces, these two levers undermine every scientific debate and lead to bad decisions.

Pascal’s Wager is often invoked, and this is entirely reasonable in this case.

It is reasonable because of what’s at stake: the risk of mass extinction events. If there is a probability that anthropogenic climate change will cause the predicted massive interventions in our ecosystem, then we have to act.

The nature of our actions must be commensurate with both the cause and the effect. The causes are many: population, production, consumption – as are the effects: war, poverty, scarcity, etc.

Our interventions will use all our means to address both cause and effect, and those actions will run deep.

Equally, we must allow science to do what it’s designed to do: measure, model, analyse and predict.

From a scientific perspective we must allow more room for theories to evolve, otherwise we’ll only prove what we’re looking for.

However, if we ignore the potential need to act, the consequences are not something anyone will want to see.

It’s not something we can fix later (for me, “geo-engineering” is not a fix, it’s a pre-infected band-aid).

Given the massive complexity of the issues, and that – really – anthropogenic climate change is only one of many “peak consumption” issues that we face, there is no way we can accurately communicate all the arguments that would lead to mass understanding.

However, the complexity issues are no different from those we face in politics. They are not solvable, but they are addressable.

We can communicate the potential outcomes, and the decisions that individuals need to make in order to impact the causes.

Ultimately it’s your personal choice.

My choice is based on my personal exposure to the science, business, data, policy, media, and broader issues around sustainability. That choice is to do my best to catalyse change as
fast as I possibly can
.

We all need to actively engage in improving communication, so that everyone – potentially everyone on Earth – can make informed choices about the future of the planet we inhabit.


Recommended reading:

http://www.realclimate.org/
is a great resource.

Today, the UK Government launched a campaign “to create a more science literate society, highlighting the science and technology based industries of the future”

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  • hmmm

    Read RealClimate, but be sure to go over to ClimateAudit for a second opinion. RealClimate is very one-sided. They delete most dissenting comments and they (childishly) refuse to link to ClimateAudit, even when they are directly responding to postings there. You really need to read both blogs figure out what’s going on.

  • C

    Presenting your version of the ‘truth’ without presenting all the facts is either called ‘spin’or lying. Take your choice.

    Consider that if you deceitfully present the ‘truth’ and you are wrong about the consequences then you should be held accountable. My guess is that you don’t think anyone will remember your name or political affiliation…

  • http://www.mymeemz.com Alex Tolley

    “It’s not something we can fix later (for me, “geo-engineering” is not a fix, it’s a pre-infected band-aid).”

    Suppose for a moment that GW is shown to be irreversible due to our past actions and that any mitigation we do now will not have significant impact on temperatures and other climatic effects. Then what do you suggest we do if geo-engineering is not in your acceptable armory?

  • Falafulu Fisi

    Gavin said…
    Equally, we must allow science to do what it’s designed to do: measure, model, analyse and predict.

    The fundamental problem with Physical sciences is its blind belief in mathematics. Somehow, mathematics translate straight into physical reality. This a philosophical corruption that has infected the domain of Physical sciences for over 80 years.

    AGW??? Exists in equations only. One has to dig deep to the inferences made in Physics, such theories proposed that time traveling is possible, an object can be located at (or traverses thru) 2 different places at once, instantaneous communications between material objects (ie, faster than light), etc,…? These have to be dismissed as fantasy, because they’re full of contradictions, besides they’ve never been observed directly or verified experimentally. It doesn’t mean that all solutions found from relativity and quantum mechanic’s equations must have a one on one correspondence to reality. Solutions that imply unphysical phenomena must be dismissed.

    Mathematical modeling in physical science has overtaken philosophical arguments. Philosophy must underpin Physics and not mathematics. The problems with mathematics underpinning physics is that one could always blindly ended up with unrealistic solutions that can’t be physically exist. AGW is similar, where most of its claim are mostly rely on numerical modeling.

  • http://www.mymeemz.com Alex Tolley

    FF: “The fundamental problem with Physical sciences is its blind belief in mathematics. Somehow, mathematics translate straight into physical reality. This a philosophical corruption that has infected the domain of Physical sciences for over 80 years.”

    You have this completely wrong. Mathematics is used as a language to describe phenomena. In physics, these descriptions are extremely accurate in predicting phenomena. Mistaking mathematics for reality is not something scientists do.

    As for AGW being only seen in mathematical models. All I can say is read the literature. The building blocks are fairly basic, e.g. CO2 as a “greenhouse” gas.

  • http://www.amee.com Gavin Starks

    Alex T – good question. I’d love to have more confidence in GeoEng and it’s not that we can’t have it as part of the armoury.

    It’s more that if we get to the point of using it I don’t hold out much hope for the side-effects, or non-linear consequences.

    We have nuclear weapons in our “armoury of peace” – using them is a different matter. I use that as a reference because it’s on a similar scale.

  • Falafulu Fisi

    Alex Tolley said…
    Mistaking mathematics for reality is not something scientists do.

    No, no Alex, this has happened many times over the last 80 years, since modern physics emerged (ie, the era of relativity & quantum mechanics ).

    You have probably heard of Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (QM). QM is non-causal and its full of contradictions. In saying that, it doesn’t mean that QM is not useful. It is the most successful theory in the history of science that gives correct predictions of unseen physical phenomena. There are certain mathematical solutions of QM equations that has gone beyond physicality (existence) into the domain of non-physicality (non-existence) in its interpretations.

    The most well-known example of this (also its philosophical description is covered by the Copenhagen Interpretation) is the double-slit experiment, which is the epitome of QM. Just watch the YouTube double-slit animation below, and you see what I mean. Mathematical solutions to QM says that there are some probability that a material particle can go through 2 different point in spaces at once. For physical reality to exist, this QM claim of being at 2 places at once has to be dismissed as non-sense. Note that the claim was only inferred since the QM equation solutions says, but not because of any direct verifiable experimental confirmation. Also QM forbids any observer from ever discovering this, ie, ever being able to observe the scenario of being at 2 places at once, since the moment the observer sets up his measuring device to do that exactly, the very goal of the experiment is destroyed, therefore he/she can’t observe that goal.

    Dr Quantum – Double Slit Experiment

    This is just one of the many examples (double-slit) of how blindly following mathematics can lead you to unrealistic physical interpretation of reality.

    Alex said…
    As for AGW being only seen in mathematical models. All I can say is read the literature.

    I do occasionally read the climate science literatues (numerical climate modeling), so I am reasonably well informed on this issue (ie, numerical modeling).

    Don’t get me wrong here. Mathematics is the pillar and foundations of modern physical science, and it is undisputed, however the problem is that every mathematical solutions is taken at face value by physicists and inferred that they must correspond to physical reality even those solutions suggest unphysical phenomena (even if physicists would never able to observe/verify those solutions in reality). This is the problem of blindly following mathematics. Once must stick to philosophy of meta-physics to guide his solutions ie, only pick/accept solutions that don’t violate existence itself and discard those that do violate them, simple as that.

    Here is a simple every day example in finance. In the calculation of Internal rate of return (IRR), the model involves a polynomial equation and the order of this polynomial equation depends on frequency of cash flow payments. If one makes a payment of say 4/per year, then the order is fourth order , where x is the IRR and a1, a2, a3, …, are constants that represent the cash flow.

    0 = a1*x^4 + a2*x^3 + a3*x^2 + a4*x + a5.

    If one makes n payments then the polynomial has n-th order.

    This equation is always solvable, but does that mean that every solution correspond to reality? Nope. Solutions that give complex (or imaginary IRR number) must be discarded, because there is no such thing as imaginary IRR, there is only real IRR. All polynomial equations have solutions, but the solutions can involve both real and imaginary numbers, involve only real or involve only imaginary, but polynomial always has solutions.

    My finance example here is exactly what physical sciences has gone through in the last 80 years, except that physical sciences don’t discard anything. Everything and anything is interpreted as reality, which in certain cases are clearly not. I am not saying all physics are bollocks. I am saying that there are mathematical solutions that give rise to non-physical phenomena and it should be obvious not to hold on tight to them like they’re God given solutions to physical reality and this is the problem, I am highlighting here. AGW??? Nah, it is more like that double-slit experiment I have linked to above.

  • http://www.mymeemz.com Alex Tolley

    FF

    The 2 slit experiment can be mathematically described perfectly, but it is the interpretation[s] of the result that is in question. The maths is not the reality even here. As for your suggestion that “this QM claim of being at 2 places at once has to be dismissed as non-sense” is false, that only applies to classical, not quantum, mechanics. Physicists have been arguing what the underlying reality is ever since.

    Your IRR example formula is not the one I ever used, which only offers real number results, never imaginary ones. But again, imaginary numbers are used as a “trick” to solve equations, they are not used to map the underlying realty.

    Your issue with AGW seems to hinge on the GCMs. This is not the only evidence. But let’s suppose it was, what example of infeasible reality do you think the math is describing and that climate modelers are using [incorrectly]?

    In the general case, if a mathematical solution produces accurate predictions of reality, AND also non-feasible solutions that are discarded, since the modeler has discarded the infeasible solution, doesn’t this prove the case that the modeler is not mistaking mathematics for reality?

  • Falafulu Fisi

    Alex said…
    The 2 slit experiment can be mathematically described perfectly

    That’s it. It describes it perfectly, but it doesn’t mean that is exactly what reality is. Can you see the difference? Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Physicists had put interpretations in order to describe reality. There is nothing that one can say, aha! QM describes the end result perfectly, but I won’t go into its interpretations, because it is littered with contradictions and spookiness as Einstein complained to Neir Bohr during their long decades in debating the completeness of QM.

    Alex said…
    that only applies to classical, not quantum, mechanics.

    No, it applies in all scale, but its effects are more obvious in quantum scale rather than classical sense.

    That’s where the problem lies, don’t you see it? Does the universe has an objective reality independent of an observer? QM says not. It says that reality is dependent on the presence of a conscious observer (a human for example). Or perhaps reality only materializes whenever someone somewhere observes. Meta-physics says , that reality must exist independent of an observer and QM is wrong. Which do you believe? Objective facts of subjective one?

    It is fair to say that whatever is taking place in the double-slit experiment must be physical (ie, the particles all go thru either of the 2 holes but not both) and then stop there, but it is wrong to say that the mathematical solutions is in superposition that suggest that some of the particles went thru the 2 holes at once.

    To exist, an object must have a clear defined identity, it can’t be both wave and a particle at once, because being 2 identities at once is a contradiction on its own.

    May I suggest you start from the following short guide to philosophy and meta-physics:

    Metaphysics – Importance of Philosophy

    See if you can refute the arguments described in that page. Familiarize yourself with existence & identity.

    Alex said…
    But let’s suppose it was, what example of infeasible reality do you think the math is describing and that climate modelers are using

    Yes, I have seen some papers that showed that the models are incomplete, wrongly modeled and insufficient data, that implies unreliable conclusions, such as the following PDF publication from Dr. Rossow of NASA (freely available) :

    Inferring instantaneous, multivariate and nonlinear sensitivities for the analysis of feedback processes in a dynamical system: The Lorenz model case study

  • Falafulu Fisi

    Alex said…
    imaginary numbers are used as a “trick” to solve equations, they are not used to map the underlying realty.

    Now, tell that to researchers who are vigorously pursuing research in tachyon particles that are traveling faster than light. These particles have imaginary mass according to the theory. Now, can you tell me what the heck is imaginary mass? Is it real or its just that, something that exists only in equation and never a map to underlying reality. Tachyons has never been observed.

    Alex said…
    In the general case, if a mathematical solution produces accurate predictions of reality, AND also non-feasible solutions that are discarded, since the modeler has discarded the infeasible solution, doesn’t this prove the case that the modeler is not mistaking mathematics for reality?

    There is nothing wrong with looking for a theory that has less or no self-contradiction at all, something that explains the current observations, but avoid the spookiness (non-physicality). There was a theory that was proposed about a decade ago, that has the same observations as QM, but it avoids all the hokum & spookiness of QM (2 palces at once or faster than light infinite speed. The theory established a causal connection between observations and measurements in QM.

    Theory of Elementary Waves (TEW)

    There hasn’t been any recent researches on TEW, but the point is not to abandon reason in favour of mathematical predictions that is littered with hokum, ie, things are purported to be reality even though they are clearly unphysical. Read TEW, it is interesting. This doesn’t mean that TEW is right and QM is wrong, the point I am making is to not abandon the philosophical principles briefly described in that link I have provided for the meta-physics page, because if one is ready to abandon those objective philosophy and reasons, then he/she is capitulating to non-reason and must admit that everything he/she observes in this universe is illusion (ie, non-physical). This is the problem with blindly relying on mathematical equations to tell us what is the underlying reality. Mathematics give very useful predictions, no doubt about it, but it should stop when the solution to equations imply something unphysical.