368. James Lovelock, warms to eco-sceptics

March 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Strong words. Lots of wisdom. Don’t make enemies out of people. Science is too ingrown. The scientific method allows for criticism..

What, I wondered, would be the great man’s view on the latest twists in the atmospheric story — the Climategate emails and the sloppy science revealed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC? To my surprise, he immediately professed his admiration for the climate-change sceptics.“I think you have to accept that the sceptics have kept us sane — some of them, anyway,” he said. “They have been a breath of fresh air. They have kept us from regarding the science of climate change as a religion. It had gone too far that way. There is a role for sceptics in science. They shouldn’t be brushed aside. It is clear that the angel side wasn’t without sin.”As we were ushered in to dinner, I couldn’t help wrestling with the irony that the so-called “prophet of climate change”, whose Gaia theory is regarded in some quarters as a faith in itself, was actively cheering on those who would knock science from its pedestal.Lovelock places great emphasis on proof. The climate change projections by the Meteorological Office’s Hadley Centre — a key contributor to the IPCC consensus — should be taken seriously, he said. But he is concerned that the projections are relying on computer models based primarily on atmospheric physics, because models of that kind have let us down before. Similar models, for example, failed to detect the hole in the ozone layer;it was eventually found by Joe Farman using a spectrometer.How, asks Lovelock, can we predict the climate 40 years ahead when there is so much that we don’t know? Surely we should base any assumptions on things we can measure, such as a rise in sea levels. After all, surface temperatures go up and down, but the rise in sea levels reflects both melting ice and thermal expansion. The IPCC, he feels, underestimates the extent to which sea levels are rising.Do mankind’s emissions matter? Yes, they undoubtedly do.No one should be complacent about the fact that within the next 20 years we’ll have added nearly a trillion tons of carbon to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. When a geological accident produced a similar carbon rise 55m years ago, it turned up the heat more than 5C. And now? Well, the effect of man-made carbon is unpredictable. Temperatures might go down at first, rather than up, he warns.How should we be spending our money to prevent possible disaster? In Britain, says Lovelock, we need sea walls and more nuclear power. Heretical stuff, when you consider the vast amount that Europe plans to spend on wind turbines.“What would you bet will happen this century?” a mathematician asked him. Lovelock predicted a temperature rise in the middle range of current projections — about 1C-2C — which we could live with. Ah, but hadn’t he also said there was a chance that temperature rises could threaten human civilisation within the lifetime of our grandchildren?He had. In the end, his message was that we should have more respect for uncertainties and learn to live with possibilities rather than striving for the 95% probabilities that climate scientists have been trying to provide. We don’t know what’s going to happen and we don’t know if we can avert disaster — although we should try. His sage advice: enjoy life while you can.

via Grandaddy of green, James Lovelock, warms to eco-sceptics | Charles Clover – Times Online.

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367. MAHB seminar at Stanford today

March 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

    1. Per person divided from society, say on the order of $20k for everyone whose income is under 100k, after the age 6. Normal social welfare costs could be eliminated through this alternate and easier to manage system. It also deals with student costs.
    2. Massively intense industrialization with zero emissions technologies that produce the needed items for society.
  • A very good discussion following up on the coal discussion last week ( the need to buy out the coal companies to prevent their co2 production). We ended last week with questions about money and finance. And today we added to it the problem of “unemployment”, which was reframed as a “problem” that the label “unemployment” hides aspects of that may be part of the solution. Obviously the core problem of not working is not receiving an income, under the normal model of no job no pay. To call it “unemployment” however suggests that the answer must be “employment”, but there are alternatives. Follow the argument:

    If we desperately need a major tech push because the currently anticipated pace of tech innovation and deployment is too slow and small scale to sum up to enough change to deal with warming issues (and others such as pollutions), then we must be able to do such an enlivened push on innovative technologies (think nano and bio).

    But what gets in the way of such a major escalation in tech innovation and new industrialization to meet the needs of a more open and sustainable society is that such an expansion would be highly automated, and lead to further loss of jobs, which people rightly fear, both in loss of jobs and loss of wealth.

    But if this resistance were to disappear, rapid tech progress could be made.

    How? It requires something like a negative income tax or guaranteed annual wage. More attractively this could be called a “social dividend” paid to everyone in society based on their being a part of a productive society which in part they “own” and deserve a dividend on the profits thereof. Alaska sends a check to each resident based on the amount of the state owned oil pumped each year. A good outline of this approach is in Capitalism 3.0 by Peter Barnes.

    This led us this afternoon to the political question of how it could be done. We are now talking about two proposals. (we are talking US at this point, but as a model to be extended to the rest of the world).

    There obviously would be massive shifts in social needs (for example long commutes for the poorest workers would dissapear).

    What would be necessary for this to work is a new compelling social narrative that conveys the major aspects in a convincing and attractive systems – holistic way.

    So to get to the narrative we expanded the picture:

    We must avoid

  • Radical climate change
  • Civil wars based on resources and migrations
  • Agricultural collapse through climate and overuse.
  • Coping with the brittleness of the necessary energy shift.
  • Failing world economies

As one can see, sustaining, even enhancing feelings of economic security and well being are absolutely essential.

So the positive moves are

  • New industrialization
  • Annual citizen dividend and
  • Legalize drugs (the cost savings would be large).

Other issues necessary to face.

  1. The need to constrain the concentration of profits obtained through leveraged investments. Basically to take banking back to the original function of loans for productive activities, not derivatives nor selling loan portfolios.
  2. Higher taxes as proposed by Warren Buffet (whose taxes were lower than his staff’s.)
  3. The need to create a culture that gives meaning to non-job holding lives. Extended leisure (the promise of which after ww2 was confiscated by policies that paid workers less and the rich more), and local projects.

If dividends are ok for the rich, they should be ok for the poor.

But the key point here is to get on with the necessary elements for coping with the crisis of a successful expanding species (what a rocky road that has been!) that has reached the boundaries of a round and increasingly crowded world. In other words, the time has come to give up conquest and empire (our ten thousand year history) and embrace meeting our fellow humans in a humanizing project of enhancing the quality of life through appropriate technologies and management of the natural world.

We also discussed the need to take everyone’s opinion seriously and try to meet all argument – mostly fears of economic loss and loss of social roles. Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration” phrase.. “and the pursuit of happiness” meant for him the number of happenings in a life, the range of roles that brought one’s talents into the social process. Not hedonism but engagement.

We expect in part this question of self worth would be met by increased local initiatives in agriculture, schooling, and recreation. There are plenty of needs and so plenty to do.

So this is the first draft of our alternative narrative.

see http://mahb.stanford.edu

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