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Evaluating scientific consensus

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Posted

Sorry to hammer home a sore topic, but I've spent the last week or so trying to figure out how to make good on my promise to lay out the argument for human-caused global warming. But I've failed at this, none as much time as I wished I have, and maybe to be genuine it isn't very high on my priority list. It's one of the issues that I can do the least about, and honestly isn't very interesting. So engaging this topic is a little trollish for me. Maybe I shouldn't write at all about it. But I feel like I need some closure on the topic, so please allow me to continue.

The only logical argument I could come up that would dispose me is that this is an instance of valid appeal to authority. Everywhere I search on the internet I see plenty of evidence of a scientific consensus for the existence of global warming, and that this is due to human causes. I did find some books that seemed like genuine criticisms of global warming, but they were authored by scientists whose expertise wasn't associated with climate science, like geology.

Aside from this logic, there is the vague plausibility, to my mind, that the thesis is could be true. It is possible to measure the temperature of the earth's atmosphere. Weather stations all over the globe are constantly recording and reporting the temperature. We have satellites who, given some assumptions, can produce a decent approximation of the temperature of the earth. Similarly, we can measure the temperature of our oceans at various points, at various times of the year, under various circumstances.

The existing consensus, no doubt, is a product of decades of what might be thought to be detective work, evaluating various maybe's and probably's. For instance, maybe the upper atmosphere is cooler than the lower atmosphere, or at least doesn't show the same warming that our weather stations report. So deploy high altitude weather balloons. Or maybe, as one skeptical book argues, heating and cooling is a consequence of cloud cover: Fewer clouds would reflect less light from the earth's surface, causing it to warm. But this claim can easily be examined with satellite photography. You could further speculate about volcano erruptions, or the urban heat effect. These maybe's too could be evaluated using rigorous scientific method.

The average educated person could easily speculate on all of these possibilities himself, the more he learns about climate change, the model and it's function. Doubts are produced, and this is scientific. Skepticism is a scientific virtue. So there should be a great deal of credibility achieved when scientists, after decades of investigative work, run out of doubts. Science should be the gold-standard for human inquiry. A scientific institute says that global warming is due to the products of fossil fuels, but Average Joe says that he thinks it's because of volcanic activity. It's very important how this debate should be settled: The institute should be able to respond to volcano conjecture, not by dismissing or demeaning it, and not by questioning who funded Average Joe, but by responding in the like, "We wondered about that too, and here's where that reasoning took us." Science should assimilate, but not oppose. It's character shouldn't be political.

So forgive me when I failed to separate separate things. In the last thread, and I think I admitted this, I failed to distinguish between climate science and the environmental movement. That environmentalism appropriated climate science gave me the impression that climate science itself has been politicized. Also my discussion of ideologies surrounding climate science made it sound like I was disputing climate science. It's a little too sociological, or meta-political, to try to capture the cognitive biases involved in how people behave politically. Generally, when political groups happen to be right about something, they are only incidentally right, this is perhaps the only thing people really need to know about politics. To take a different example, I'm an atheist, but not because atheism is true and somehow I'm predisposed to believe true statements, but because I'm predisposed to become an atheist. Environmentalists have been waging a war against industry for a very long time now. They have made an enemy of industry, and so they were predisposed to find the concepts of athropegenic climate change compelling. It would be a serious mistake to suggest that any political group is inherently rational. They all have their moments.

Now it is worth wondering if I'm being a hypocrit here in excluding science. It's a central question in the philosophy of science to ask whether science is inherently rational. I'm probably too much of an idealist, because I think it is possible for science to be rational, but on the whole the institution of science as it is actually practiced isn't rational. I don't believe that hinging significant policy debates on scientific consensus helps matters at all. I prefer my science to be as clean of politics as possible, and so I remain an idealist, and a bit of a purist.

So let me talk for a minute about scientific consensus. We should trust that humanity has caused global warming because that is the scientific consensus on the matter, by scientists who are qualified to speak on the matter. Logically, this should immediately be identified as an argument. To evaluate this argument, we evaluate it's form. We pretend that we aren't actually talking about anthropegenic climate change, but we're talking about any issue. We ask, is this argument valid no matter what issue we're talking about. It helps if we think of concrete examples rather than just making up issues. For instance, we could ask about genetically-modified food, or the theory of evolution, or of cold fusion.

There are two ways, I think, in which the trust in scientific consensus could be undermined. Basically, if these two issues are shown not to be present, then I think scientific consensus should be trusted. I don't think either of these issues influence climate science, but I implore that advocates cease making scientific consensus a simplistic matter.

The first issue is institutional. If there are institutional reasons to suggest that scientists are taking a certain position on an issue. This basically suggests that the rationality of science has been thwarted on an institutional level. For instance, if there are institutional pressures for scientists to conform, or if they are being rewarded for speaking a certain way on the topic. Similarly, if the scientists themselves are being selected based on their agreement to certain views, and the rest simply fail to attain credibility due to their conclusions alone. There should be no single authority that determines which scientists should be considered credibile. In fact, on the whole, a great argument that the rationality of a science hasn't been undermined by institutional reasons is when you find a diversity of views and competing models and ways of interpreting the data. Consensus can even used as evidence in support of institutional corruption of the scientific process.

The second issue is what Kuhn calls "normal science". Normal science is when scientists all implicitly, though probably not explicitly, agree on a paradigm. A paradigm is when scientists, without being aware of it, have learned to think and speak in narrow ways about the subject matter. This is when there are no radically different ways of thinking about the topic that competes at the same time as the mainstream theory. Basically, the rationality of science is questioned when the concepts involved are assumed, implicit, not questioned not due to dogmatism but because they have become invisible. If the science is involved in normal science, there is the express possibility that any scientific consensus is just a revolution away from being overturned. It would be like citing a scientific consensus on Newtonian physics against Einstein.

I don't know if climate science is engaging in normal science or not. On one hand, the existence of a consensus at all, especially to the degree that it exists. I see numbers citing between 82% and 98% of climate scientists agree that human beings are the cause of global warming. On the other hand, there's a very distinct difference between a concept and a proposition. Whether human beings are causing global warming is a statement, it can be true or false. A scientific paradigm is more about the concepts themselves. So it is certainly possible, even within that scientific concensus, for researchers to be coming to the same conclusion is very different ways, and even disagreeing with each other radically on how they approach the problem.

That said, to be honest, I have a problem with the idea of scientific consensus. The odd thing is that widespread agreement is a sign of irrationality, not of rationality. I'm smarter when my ideas are being met with constant criticism, and by people who think themselves smarter than I am. And I've always associated this with intellectual and scientific virtue. To look for consensus, it seems to me, is to be applying a political formula to science, when it is in this and other ways in which politics and science are fundamentally different.

But my ignorance of the situation in detail prevents me from evaluation whether this scientific consensus is a rational or irrational one, and whether arguments that refer to it are valid or invalid. I also worry that climate science itself is being corrupted by politics, and I don't mean in the obvious way. It interferes with rationality when you are no longer thinking about the subject matter, but about it's humanitarian and social consequences. But I hope that scientific virtue alone can withstand this.

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Posted

The thing about rationality is that it only goes so far, for one always has the question: "was my choice of rationality itself a rational choice?" Everything starts with gut feelings. Rationality is the acceptance of authoritarian rules as to what actions those gut feelings allow. We may not notice the authoritarian nature of rationality if we only hang out with people whose notions of the legitimacy of any particular kind of authority concur with our own.

In early modern period science, the rationality was that we could settle any dispute absolutely by conceiving it in a way that could be referred back to nature. The gut feeling was that nature, being independent of human agency, would provide an impartial and absolute answer. Today, we're much more sophisticated and our gut feeling is that nature does not speak for itself. Its answers are always compromised by our need to represent in symbols experiences that are not inherently symbolic and partial because of the finitude of our experience. Our attempt to compensate for this consists of enlisting large numbers of experts who relentlessly question nature with an ever-expanding variety of techniques. We then further rely on experts to extract whatever 'picture' (arrangement of symbols) is consistent across the board of answers received. Somewhere along the way, we traded "nullius in verba" for "periti in speramus". The periti are supposed to do the nullius in verba on our behalf, but we'll only trust their word if we trust them. And trust isn't instilled though reason.

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Posted

There is a scientific consensus that the earth is an oblate spheroid, and it and the sun orbit each other around a common center of gravity that is near, but not quite at, the center of the sun. Should we now question the factuality of this statement, because there is a consensus for it among scientists? To be sure, some people DO question this consensus. Should we take the Flat Earth Society and geocentrism seriously, at this late date, hundreds of years after Galileo? In Hugo's essay, the Galileo Affair, he showed why back then, it was perfectly permissible, given the available evidence, to plump for either Ptolemy or Copernicus. Hundreds of years later, can we not now choose?

Very few people, at this late date, challenge heliocentrism. But there is also a scientific consensus around evolution, and this IS challenged. How shall we respond? Shall we say that because there is a scientific consensus around evolution, we should doubt evolution, precisely because there is a consensus around it? That seems to be what you are saying.

Yet where are the politics in all this? The politics is not in the scientific consensus for evolution. The politics is in the evolution denialism. Why don't you address your skepticism to the motives of the deniers, rather than the motives of scientists?

And so it goes with global warming. My understanding is that the evidence for human-caused global warming is in the area of five-sigma, which means it is as certain as anything can be in science, bearing in mind that science is an inductive and not a deductive enterprise.

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Posted

I book I recently read called "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us" is written by a paleontologist, not a climate scientist. I think the author does a pretty good job contrasting Earth's past (natural) climate changes to our current one, which seems to be a major sticking point with many climate change deniers (many tend to think it is a natural cyclical change.) Anyway, the book may be worth a look to bolster interdisciplinary arguments about human instigated climate change.

However, like Peter mentioned, the rational argument will only go so far. Academics who believe otherwise will likely have their ego and/or their funding tied to their opinions to the point they won't change them. If there is any science behind the deniers, I think it is behavioral science; and there's money there.

I read an article about a study of the Moral Foundations Theory being applied to effectively “guilt” people with contrary political opinions into caring about the environment. I was going to provide a link here, but I am unable to find that article at the moment. You can Google Moral Foundations Theory and find their website-- perhaps there is something useful there for you. While I mention the theory here, I'll say I'm not entirely sold on how effective it may be.

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Posted

In philosophy of science terms, I think you have a number of ideas merged here. Your association of criticism with intellectual and scientific virtue strikes me as Popperian, but Kuhn's normal science explicitly rejected Popper's view that anomalies should result in the rejection of a theory or that progress is associated with such rejections. You say that "widespread agreement is a sign of irrationality" but, on Kuhn's view, this is what we should expect in a period of normal science: scientists will work within the established paradigm to refine and incrementally add to the body of knowledge. No doubt there are institutional factors involved in climate science like any other field; however, one of the early criticisms of Kuhn's conception of normal science was that there is no such thing: the "diversity of views" you talk about always exist and the supposed paradigm is always in flux. Look, for example, at quantum mechanics or evolution, probably the two best-confirmed theories we have: there is exactly the kind of diversity you are advocating, even though at (what you might call) the macro level there is widespread consensus. Maybe this is also the case with climate science?

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Posted

Peter, I knew I could be challenged on what rationality should be defined as, and any definition is bound to be stipulative because the lexical definition is manifold and inconstistant. Depending on the definition, the question as to "whether my choice of rationality is rational" could be coherent or not. I do have a definition in mind, and it coheres I think with your proposition that rationality is the obedience to authoritarian rules, depending on how tyrannical you fix this authority to be.

Here's my suggestion. Let's take rationality to be defined in terms of consistency. With all the discussions of scientific method, and how there is no single scientific method, grew my interest in that there are many scientific methods, but not at all in the character of asserting "this is how science should be done." Consider something as simple as measuring the length of an egg with a ruler. As mundane as this example is, it employs a method. If I were an operationalist, and I could be close to one, I would say that measurement is nothing other than the methods employed to measure something. But the crux of this method is that I could measure the same egg, presuming that the egg doesn't change in length, multiple times and get the same length. Furthermore, everyone could measure the same egg, and get the same length, quite independently of each other. Of course, if independence strikes you as contradictory to the notion of authoritarian, then rationality isn't authoritarian, because we can all derive our own answers independent of the authority.

However, there is definitely a sense in which measurement is authoritarian, and that's because one of the sentences that I just said is actually false. If everyone measured the same egg, we would not all get the same length. There is no method without discipline, and by discipline I mean a certain kind of training by which, using the same method we get the same results. To some extent we have all been disciplined in this way, and by this alone we are considered educated. It was by authority that we are disciplined, and it is by authority that we are told that we are employing the method correctly or incorrectly. And rationality is the process by which, all of us, by using the methods correctly, we obtain consistency of the results.

I realize there is a serious danger of circular definition here, but I also think there is a sense in which the definition can be saved of circularity. I don't want to unravel this right now, however.

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Posted

davidm, your reductio seems valid to me, and even when I say it to myself it sounds contradictory to say that it is irrational for scientists to engage in consensus. Even Aristotle says that true statements are consistent with each other, and if there is global warming, and human beings are causing it, then all scientists who engage in earnest inquiry on the matter should come to consistent conclusions. Maybe my own bias is that I worry more about group think and conformity than the opposites.

"My understanding is that the evidence for human-caused global warming is in the area of five-sigma, which means it is as certain as anything can be in science, bearing in mind that science is an inductive and not a deductive enterprise."

I heavily disagree with this. I think it just depends on whether you would rather emphasize it's deductive or inductive qualities, and also which school of which science you are talking about. The chemistry of gases and the biology of evolution lean more heavily on induction, while the astronomy of black holes is very deductive in character.

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Posted

Hugo, I became emboldened from reading the first part of Ian Hacking's Representing and Interveening. But I think you're right about "normal science". Even with the consensus on Darwinian evolution, you still hear talk about Lamarckian evolution in connection with "epigenetics".

Maybe one way you can look at it is that if different scientific paradigms are, to Kuhn, like different languages that can't exactly be translated, then it is as if these different languages are constantly borrowing from each other, the way "Karate" is both English and Chinese, and may eventually merge.

Anyway, I guess I can't really say anything more about climate science, not really. Just wanted to get it out there.

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Posted

How is the astronomy of black holes deductive in character?

In point of fact, no one knows what happens inside a black hole. Either there is a singularity or not. No one knows.

Worse: No one can say because the nature of a black hole, at the presumed singularity level, as is true for the 'Big Bang, is currently unknown, because the ontology involves both general relativity and quantum mechanics, and on the singularity level, these two theories are irreconcilable. So I've no idea what you mean when you say this.

Epigenetics is not Lamarckian evolution.

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Posted

Look, for example, at quantum mechanics or evolution, probably the two best-confirmed theories we have: there is exactly the kind of diversity you are advocating, even though at (what you might call) the macro level there is widespread consensus. Maybe this is also the case with climate science?

I think this is an important point about climate science consensus. While there may be consensus that global surface temperatures are generally rising and that the most plausible cause of this is increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane resulting from human activities, I think there's still considerable diversity of opinion on how best to predict the climate effects of any postulated change in human activity. That however, is exactly where one needs consensus if one is, with confidence, to draw up a credible policy aimed at securing climate stability.

The real argument therefore is about the credibility of policy proposals supposed to secure climate stability. While arguments doubting the credibility of the climate science consensus might be valid, I remain unconvinced.

Note that as soon as there is a credible basis for policy aimed at stabilising climate, their will inevitably be proposals to 'optimise' climate. That will open up another level of dispute as to who's optimum holds sway.

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I think the political issue is how much of a sacrifice should be expected. There is a sense in which carbon emissions is linked to prosperity, and of course the debate within nation-states about who should make sacrifices never end well. (Or we could just demonize oil companies while benefiting from their activities...) Or if, let's say, the United States reaches it's target emissions level only by off-shoring most of it to China lets say, who is already the leading producer of carbon emissions, then you haven't actually made any global progress. Oddly enough, and I just found the Wikipedia article on the Kyoto Protocol, the notorious treaty that earned former President Bush the ire of environmental groups worldwide by not signing, considers China a "developing country" therefore had no requirement to reduce or cap their emissions levels at a particular level. This might have been a "give away" to help get the treaty ratified, or consciousness about how much the world has been using China's manufacturing capabilities, making it hypocritical to put restrictions on them, but this doesn't make too much sense in a direct "let's reduce carbon emissions" manner.

Peter, to be fair, the goal of reducing carbon emissions in itself isn't complicated. In the United States at least, it seems that the strategy has been to offer incentives rather than penalties, but I don't know how well this has been working. The fleet of automobiles has very slowly been including hybrid and electric cars, and my sense is that more fuel-efficient vehicles have been replacing less fuel-efficient vehicles. Realistically, this is a direct response to gasoline prices, putting some support to the idea that the free market will solve some of the problem on it's own, premising that gasoline pricess will continue to rise. But this ignores that some states impose taxes on the purchase of gasoline.

Another sector is the energy sector, and I've tried to find some data on this. Again I turn to Wikipedia where a chart divides up carbon emissions based on economic sector. I was hoping that energy and transportation would make up for the bulk of the emissions, but the chart shows that we would need to include also "industrial processes" in order to account for barely over half of the carbon produced. Energy is a touchy subject because so much of our quality of life depends on it's consumption. By premising the law of supply and demand, we should suppose that the production of carbon emissions is going to correlate with the production of energy, which correlates with the demand for energy. I think there is a real movement to the use of energy efficient appliances, but I doubt that this will compensate for population increases. This is one way in which the United States is fundamentally different from most of Europe where the population is expected to decline, whereas the United States population is increasing.

But incentives are being used to encourage more environmentally friendly forms of energy. I used to be skeptical about solar energy, but I've seen some reports that in some locations solar power has already reached "grid parity" to conventional forms of energy. But there are serious limitations to the ability for this mode of energy to expand, such as the amount of solar energy available in areas of the country where overcast conditions dominate the weather. I have become skeptical of the optimism of environmentalists who wrongly assert that alternative energy is practical at the same time that they oppose nuclear energy. The numbers I have seen support the idea that nuclear energy is the only serious alternative to modes of energy that consume fossil fuels. The rage against oil, gas, and coal companies is easier to explain when you couple it with wild exaggerations about how much energy "green energy" can realistically produce. Then it is easy to suppose that it isn't technical or engineering considerations that have slowed the adoption of clean energy, but the political and economic corruption of corporations who profit from the use of fossil fuels. But clean energy isn't as simple as installing a couple of large solar panels on the roof of a family of four. This won't even run the dryer, and it doesn't matter how many CFL's you install, or whether everyone turns off the light after they leave the room.

This said, a lot can be done, I think. But I doubt it will be enough. The manufacture of solar panels, itself, involves the emission of greenhouse gases, and this doesn't even include the energy required in it's manufacture. But the data seems to show that economic recessions and even the potential for a great depression is good for the environment. I just hope that environmentalists acquire judgement on these issues, and stop posing as one-sided advocates who forget the interest of nations in their own prosperity and well-being. But I'm not optimistic.

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Posted

I find it strange that you think environmentalists should be blamed for anything. Blamed for what? For telling the truth?

Can alt-energy replace fossil fuels? No. In fact, so-called "clean energy" isn't clean at all, and is an adjunct of the fossil fuel industry. Eliminate fossil fuels and you eliminate alt-fuels. You aren't going to use solar panels to make more solar panels.

Nuclear energy has no future. It can't come close to replacing fossil fuels without a massive expansion of nuke plants around the world, which is not going to happen.

There is also the little matter that uranium, like all resources, is finite.

I do fault environmentalists only on this, that many of them pretend "green energy" is a viable replacement for fossil fuels. It isn't.

But in addition to the fact that fossil fuels are of course also finite, the continued burning of them sentences the world to global warming, and if the methane hydrates are released from the permafrost (and they already are) catastrophe is not just possible but likely.

Bottom line: Barring some unforeseen miracle, high-tech industrial civilization driven by capitalism has no future and will come to end shortly. To succeed, capitalism depends on three percent growth per annum. As James Kuntsler pointed out years ago, do the math. If you had three percent growth for the next hundred years, there would not be a buildable lot left on earth.

To survive, again barring some unforeseen techno-miracle, which is possible but probably unlikely, humanity will have to revert to a pre-industrial standard of living at the very least. And that might be OK. The idea that our "standard of living" is tied up with "growth" and "technology" is probably a gross error. "Quality of life" and "standard of living" have diverse meanings. If someone is poor but loves poetry and art, and loves the natural world, is this person somehow worse off than some idiot who thinks the meaning of life to accumulate as many possessions as possible?

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davidm, I said that I wish that environmentalists acquire judgment. You're asking me what to blame environmentalists for, but who to blame for what really isn't something I'm concerned about.

Nuclear energy has no future. It can't come close to replacing fossil fuels without a massive expansion of nuke plants around the world, which is not going to happen.

I think we should massively expand nuclear plants around the world. Why don't you think this will happen? It seems to be mainly environmental groups who oppose this, isn't it? On the other hand, if the environmental goal is to try to replace fossil fuel energy with "clean energy", then nuclear energy should at least be considered the lesser of the evils from an environmental perspective. I guess I premise this on believing that nuclear power plants can be very safe, even if catastrophes in the past like Chernobyl didn't represent the safe design and practices. Back when we were discussion the peak oil problem, it seemed to me that nuclear power plants are both proven and comparable in energy output with fossil fuel plants, whereas solar and wind farms were simply dwarfed by fossil fuel energy output. Additionally, solar and wind power is transient, rather than permanent, unless coupled with extensive battery systems or molten salt tanks to hold on to the energy, which doesn't fully address the problem. They both smooth out the output curve, but don't flatten it completely.

There is also the little matter that uranium, like all resources, is finite.

So is all human existence, the life of the sun, the duration of the universe... The issue is about time frames. If a climate crisis is imminent, it's prudent to speak in more practical and actionable terms.

To succeed, capitalism depends on three percent growth per annum.

We've argued this before, but I still have my doubts that this is about capitalism. It was never very clear what you meant by capitalism, now how to divorce the concept of capitalism from the requirements of economics as a whole. Population itself could be said to require economic growth, or it could just be mainstream demand for increasing prosperity that is the cause for this.

To survive, again barring some unforeseen techno-miracle, which is possible but probably unlikely, humanity will have to revert to a pre-industrial standard of living at the very least.

It may not be fair to call a technical solution a miracle. I was looking at the Wikipedia article for geothermal energy, and it seems that there is a great deal of energy available, but development is constrained by the costs of capital. If you compare drilling for geothermal energy with drilling for oil, you can see the only difference is that one technology is proven and reliable, where the other one is largely unexplored. But as the price of oil goes up, we create a situation where it is more profitable to take more risks on more unproven technologies.

I agree with you insofar that we are talking about possible technologies that haven't been invented yet. Simply "more research" doesn't tend the increase the rate of discovering new technologies, as the history of technology appears to show. And after invented, it usually takes a substantial amount of time to develop those technologies into commercial products that can be mass marketed. But there do seem to be a number of technologies that already exist which are hindered not by research but by development, which is just waiting investors with a large enough bank who are willing to gamble with it. I'm talking about the usual suspects here: Solar power, geothermal, wind farms, nuclear energy, but not nuclear fusion, algae ethanol, etc. The former are proven technologies which lack development on a wider scale. Or I should say they are actually being developed rather intensely, despite the pessimism in this thread.

If someone is poor but loves poetry and art, and loves the natural world, is this person somehow worse off than some idiot who thinks the meaning of life to accumulate as many possessions as possible?

This is a pretty simplistic and archaic notion you have here. This concept of poor people who still have the time and education to develop an appreciate for poetry and art is a symptom of the modern, developed, and affluent world. For most of the history of humanity, before the great evils of capitalism and the middle class, the poor were burdened largely by survival interests, and didn't survive. When people lived off the land, working the land consumed most of their time, from sun up to sun down. Technology and fossil fuels is what allow farmers to get away with six hour days and still have time for second jobs, schooling, and holiday parties. It is far better to be a poor person in the developed world these days than it has ever been in the past.

And the affluent, in my judgment, don't actually judge their lives based on the quantity of their possessions. Wealth is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to live the good life, and by this I mean the possibility to enjoy to a higher degree the finer things in life. Affluence is more about the ability engage your abilities, to participate in opportunities that poor people could scarcely imagine. If I was wealthy, I could tell you the things I would do with it, and they wouldn't involve collecting useless things, but in using wealth as a means toward becoming something more, probably an engineer of some sort, or working on some of humanities greatest problems.

Look, I know what it is like to experience envy, and it is too easy to console oneself with sour grapes. The idea that wealthy people don't actually live the good life, or can't, is a prejudice of the lower class.

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To survive, again barring some unforeseen techno-miracle, which is possible but probably unlikely, humanity will have to revert to a pre-industrial standard of living at the very least. And that might be OK. The idea that our "standard of living" is tied up with "growth" and "technology" is probably a gross error. "Quality of life" and "standard of living" have diverse meanings. If someone is poor but loves poetry and art, and loves the natural world, is this person somehow worse off than some idiot who thinks the meaning of life to accumulate as many possessions as possible?

This paragraph just about sums it up for me. So much of what is taken as "progress" or "civilization" is really just convenience. Yes, good things have come (and gone) and people live to longer ages now, mostly due to drastic reductions in childhood mortality, but that doesn't mean we have to take all "technology" as a package deal. Why can't we enjoy the benefits of the polio vaccine without having to suffer through social media smartphone apps?

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Peter, to be fair, the goal of reducing carbon emissions in itself isn't complicated. ... But I doubt it will be enough. The manufacture of solar panels, itself, involves the emission of greenhouse gases, and this doesn't even include the energy required in it's manufacture. But the data seems to show that economic recessions and even the potential for a great depression is good for the environment. I just hope that environmentalists acquire judgement on these issues, and stop posing as one-sided advocates who forget the interest of nations in their own prosperity and well-being. But I'm not optimistic.

While I find it perfectly plausible that climate is presently being destabilised by the rate of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, I see it as much less certain as to just what kind of stability would be established by any given program of reduced emissions. The whole thing reenters the political: whose initiative to restabilise climate gets taken up and why, and what form of stability can we expect from it? Shouldn't a democratic political culture have answers to those questions?

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