Quora – Climate Change

Quora – Why isn’t climate change causing changes in behaviour

The simple answer is, because reality is complex beyond our ability to comprehend in detail, and we look for simple answers we can manage.

That applies to everyone, every level, however abstract and complex our models and understandings.

Every human is complex beyond the ability of any human to understand, but that is too hard to deal with, so we try and group people and put them in simple boxes by things like age or culture or gender or ethnicity or class or some simple model of a belief structure etc. And certainly each of those will have an influence, and far less so than most of us would like to believe in most contexts.

So rather than admit of complexity that demands of us a level of humility and respect for difference; we try and create a confidence and bravado that allows us to create a kind of comfort with a group that reflects back a similar set of beliefs.

Climate change is real.

For a scientist like me, someone who is prepared to question anything if there seems to be good enough evidence that something needs questioning, the evidence for human impacts on climate was overwhelming over 20 years ago.

But the signals from weather and climate are noisy. Weather is highly variable naturally. You can’t rely on a small set of observations.

And reality is just mind numbingly complex, even for geeks like me who have written computer systems larger than the bible. The more one begins to understand complexity, the more complex and unpredictable it gets in many sorts of contexts.

Sure some contexts are very regular and predictable much of the time, but not all. And most contexts fail to be predictable some of the time.

And some contexts are just so complex that they are not predictable at all.

So all of us have to make what sense of this reality that we can with what limited time and resources and tools we have at our disposal. And even if one has the most abstract of mathematical tools at their disposal, those tools have to admit of many different types of fundamental uncertainty and unknowability that deliver uncertainty in trying to classify what class of system one is dealing with in any specific instance.

Now look at the incentive structures.

Where is the profit?

There is a vast range of costs of oil.

Probably the cheapest and the most plentiful is Saudi oil. The fully capitalised cost of refined oil FOB the port is about US$0.40 per barrel, about 1c per gallon. Most of what is between that and the pump price is profit for someone. That is a lot of incentive to keep making that profit.

Compare that to solar. It is a distributed energy source. It cannot be confined and monopolised, so people can get their own. No profit in that. Some profit in making the original tools to capture and store it, but none in the operation. A capitalists nightmare.

So the incentive of capital is to keep hold of oil, whatever the cost to anyone else. And there is a lot of profit there to buy any level of story generation and propagation technology (at any and all levels of abstraction and governance).

Planting trees cannot solve the problem, they can only possibly cover the trees we cut down to make way for our farms and cities and motorways. All real solutions require step changes in technology, but those are considered dangerous and unproven by the more conservative elements in society (with some very real justification). And sometimes, reality doesn’t actually give us many options. The dinosaurs had nothing to let them deal with the meteor that took them out. They had no historical precedent for it.

Climate change and technology are a bit like that for us. There is no historical precedent in written history, but there are things in the deep geological record and the deep record of our genetics and cultures that give us good warnings if we are prepared to look.

Technical solutions to climate change are possible, but are only safe in a globally cooperative context. That is the sticking point for many.

It is easy to cooperate with those with whom it is easy to see the commonality.

When the need to sell things reduces us to oversimplifying people and cultures down to good or bad, rather than accepting diversity as the necessary outcome of any real expression of freedom, then we are all in trouble.

We need to be able to see that we are all far more alike than different, for all our many cherished differences.

The hardest thing for many to see will be that it is actually the incentives of the values measured in the market place that actually create the greatest risk profile present in this exceptionally complex system that is human life within the technical, cultural and ecological systems of this planet.

I am all for individual life and individual liberty, and that universal respect for life and liberty demands constraints on liberty within the set of actions that actually allows for life to survive and prosper.

We all have that responsibility.

We must all make that choice for ourselves, to the best of our limited abilities (whatever levels those abilities extend to).

Making changes is hard.

It demands leaving the seeming security and comfort of what we think we know (even if we are in error) for the uncertainty of an untrodden path. That must create a certain amount of fear in all of us.

Where is our personal balance of fears, and our balance of future rewards?

For me it is clear.

We face a suite of problems (climate change is but one of many) that require exponential technology to mitigate the risks and that can only be made reasonably safe in a globally cooperative context.

We need fundamental respect for individual life and individual liberty, and that will demand responsible action from each and every one of us. There is no stable way to offload that responsibility to anyone else. We each have to claim it for ourselves (to the best of our limited abilities).

In a very real sense it doesn’t matter how we get to that sense of the ineffability of reality, of humility and the personal call to action. It doesn’t matter if we get there by a study of scripture or a study of evolution and the mathematics of positive sum cooperative games, or a study of existential level risks, or by reading comics or by listening to music. What matters is that we get there, that we are cooperative, and responsible and respectful, each to the best of our limited abilities. And part of that is looking for and weeding out strategies that are cheating on the cooperative (while showing respect for the agent currently exhibiting those strategies).

So nothing easy.

We all need to dig deep.

We all need to show respect and tolerance.

We all need to accept diversity.

And unless we want to lose all our coastal cities, and all the port infrastructure that they contain, then we need to put some serious effort into developing some very high tech solutions in the very near future.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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