Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

A Conversation about the Weather

October 11, 2012

I pulled up to a table at a local Starbucks – I shared a largish table with a stranger who kindly offered to share in the completely full Starbucks with a sea of laptops adjacent to empty coffee cups… I was glad to share this fellow’s table, and he was happy to strike up a conversation about the weather.

“Strange weather out,” he said.

“Yup,” I replied.  “The western storm system is pushing moisture into our region of the country, and a cold front is whizzing through the plains right into Texas.  Strange weather,,,”

“This isn’t global warming, though. That’s nonsense,” he said. “This is just strange weather.”

“You think that global warming is nonsense,” I asked?

“Yes, of course it is,” He said. “Just a conspiracy for someone to get rich off of carbon taxes. Just an excuse to justify more and more Government regulation. People don’t understand that we have bastards all around us who want power and money. They can all go to hell for all I care.”

“Sometime it does seem that we are surrounded by greedy, power hungry people who want all my money – and yours, too.” I retorted.

I am smiling on the inside. I don’t want to offend this gentleman.

“Who is the real expert on global warming,” I ask?

“Well, it’s not Al Gore. Rush Limbaugh says it is all nonsense. So does Glenn Beck,” he pronounced.

I guess that I shifted visibly in my chair.

“You think that global warming is real? Heck, they say the ocean is a half degree warmer than it was fifty years ago. A half of a degree – that’s nothing,” he says. “A half of a degree doesn’t matter at all. The ocean is just absorbing more sunlight, is all.

“Maybe so,” I said. “Maybe so.”

I am thinking to myself that a half degree warmer ocean is pretty significant, and that this fellow should be somewhat alarmed about that if that is indeed the case. But the reality is that a warmer ocean is disputed in scientific circles because the data is largely inconclusive considering other factors such as ocean currents and salinity.

My brain was busy preparing a slew of questions to put this fellow in a corner so he would realize the degree of ignorance he was displaying, but I refrained.

I asked, “What do you think the weather will be like tomorrow?”

This conversation brings me to the point I really want to make: Our society as a whole is terribly ignorant about science. This fellow I was having a cup of coffee with was turning to Limbaugh and Beck for scientific confirmation – two gentlemen who are none too credible in my book for scientific reporting.

More to the point, when a person is ignorant, they are easily manipulated. Extend ignorance to an entire society, and important decisions about policy and priority are easily swayed by a measure of “razzle-dazzle” and a convincing face. Give me facts that I have the knowledge to comprehend, and I will apply them to a relevant context, and I will make better decisions. So will the public – if the public can in fact comprehend the most basic of facts.

My observation is that much of the public is held in ignorance about most things scientific. The average person seems to want the “convincing face” to tell them the answer they want to hear so that they don’t have to think about something they are ignorant about – someone with a good haircut can do a fairly good job as the “convincing face”! I just want the facts (and they can be hard to come by) – and I wish that society as a whole was better educated, particularly in the sciences, than we seem to be.

Oh well… The weather tomorrow will be a little cooler!

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16 Questions – Answers, anyone?

February 18, 2010

The Economy – is there a paradigm shift happening that we don’t see, yet? One that will impact us in the future? One that gives us new opportunities?

1. Economic modeling – why did the economists miss the recent global economic crisis? What should the average person look for and change in their own mental models of the economy? What is changing at the macro level and the micro level that may not be apparent to the casual observer – or maybe it is apparent, but we don’t see it very well as individual participants in the economy? Can a major economy shed almost all manufacturing, retain managerial and oversight functions, add to the service sector, maintain the current standard of living and still be a sustainable economy? Does a vibrant economy have to manufacture?? Hyper-Inflation could cure this country’s debt load (but ruin the value of my savings) – is that likely? What will potentially high future inflation do to retirement planning, and how does one insure their future financial security today?

2. Workforce – is the US workforce transitioning from an army split between sole proprietors and “W2” corporate employees to an army of “1099 mercenaries”? How do you evolve from a “W2’er” to a “1099’er”? What will the workforce look like in 2025? How do you recast your career at mid-career? What is the risk to a company that sheds experienced staff and chooses to retain larger numbers of cheaper and less experienced skilled workers? Will mentoring return to professions as a new way to utilize experienced workers?

3. Geopolitics – is China a threat to the US? Will the US economy play very well/very happily as second fiddle to China? Will the US economy even play second fiddle? To China? To Europe? Will there be a new rise of Russia in the world economy? Does a capitalist system tend to decompose into a communist system just like a communist system tends to decompose into a capitalist system? Is China really communist? Russia really capitalist? What is the economic “steady state” – a socialist system of some kind? Are the Scandinavian countries at a real macroeconomic “stable point” compared to the rest of the world?

4. Global Warming – what is the real economic impact of global warming? The real social impact? To me? To my city or State and country? To the world? Where/when is the” tipping point”, and just what is the tipping point?? What is the real cost to curb global warming? How does curbing global warming impact my lifestyle today? Five years from now? Twenty years from now? Is there a net financial gain or loss due to the paradigm shift required to curb global warming? On a micro-scale and a macro-scale? Will it matter in our lifetime? Does it matter at all – in the big scheme of things (over eons)? Is Global Warming a real problem? Is attacking global warming like adding a stoplight to a busy intersection – you have to have a significant accident before you can justify acting to fix things?

5. Healthcare – roughly 1/6 of the US economy is in the health care sector forecast to grow to 1/3 of the US economy in the future – is this a realistic forecast? Is this an unhealthy concentration of industry in the economy? The healthcare industry wants every dollar in my pocket – and when it is all gone, then I can die, I guess… I want to spend zero dollars on healthcare, not 1/3 of my personal wealth (or more) – is a 1/3 concentration on healthcare in the future economy essential for a sustainable future economy? Do we have to adopt this spending habit at this level to be fiscally healthy in the future? I want this industry to treat me like a consumer – what will it cost (tell me beforehand) – if I am not satisfied, is there a guarantee or warranty? Why should I pay for ineffective treatments or medications? Should the compensation model for healthcare change – should we pay to stay healthy, and not to get better, for example? Should we tax consumption of unhealthy food ingredients such as saturated fats, sugar and salt and health-impacting products such as cigarettes and alcohol to pay for the medical cost to society that results from the consumption?

6. Taxes – what is the real impact of the average person being unable to do their own taxes? How many people do their own taxes by following the IRS publications that the IRS mails out? Should the taxpayer be able to allocate a portion of their taxes to specific programs? What are the real consequences of a consumption-based tax system or flat tax system compared to the current progressive tax system? What would be the “ripple effect” in the economy, in other words, with different tax systems – would spending habits change significantly with a different basis for taxation?

7. Disruptive technologies – where does future opportunity lie, and what current opportunities are in decline that will be replaced by these disruptive technologies? Will “Local” and community power generation (windmills and solar panels) actually replace centralized power generation on a large scale in the future? What about miniature nuclear reactors? What about backyard fuel cells? Will nanotechnology change “everything” – paper and pens, paint, medical instrumentation and medicine delivery, food production and processing, new pollutants and new approaches to pollution management?  When will homes become “super-efficient” and LEED-certified – how will “going green” affect established housing and new housing? Ubiquitous computing and “ad-hoc” computer networks – how will computers invade our clothing, appliances, cars, homes, businesses, bathrooms, grocery stores and workplaces? How do you “jump on the bandwagon” and pitch a business plan when banks are risk-averse and VC’s are reluctant to invest, too?  Who has been successful and how did they succeed – what was the nuance that they exploited and the critical difference they brought to the market? Social networking on-line – how do you build and manage an on-line presence? Are Internet-based social networks going to change the “face” of local, State and Federal governments? Of education? Does a Tweet deliver enough context and information, or is tweeting harmful because it stifles deeper thinking and communicating en-masse?

8. Intellectual Property – is there really value in patenting inventions? For the individual inventor? For the corporation? What are the flaws in the system that must be repaired? How does the individual best protect their intellectual property today and tomorrow? How does “open source” impact the future of intellectual property ownership and its exploitation by the creator? By others?

Odds and ends – a hodgepodge of curious mishmash – with tangible impact to our prosperity and well-being…

9. Education – is there a beter way to learn? The US spends more per student on public education than any other country in the world, but ranks in the middle ground on measures of success in the K-12 programs – why is that? How can schools better engage students? Parents? Teachers? What is the impact to the future economy of the US if our children are poorly educated compared to the rest of the world?

10. Privacy – do we actually have a Constitutional guarantee of privacy – a “real” right to privacy? Is privacy now a “thing of the past”? How do you protect your privacy? Should you even worry about it? Do you want to be bombarded my “meaningful” advertising and promotion in the future instead of the mass-mailings received today because a marketer knows more about you that you know about yourself? Do we need to sacrifice our privacy for the sake of our security? Is there a shifting balance in privacy vs. security that needs to be recognized and arrested or even reversed?

11. The law – I can’t read the law and understand it (and I am pretty smart) – is that ultimately damaging to a democratic society? There are so many laws – how do you remove from the body of law when the compulsion of legislators is to add to the body of law? Is it harmful to have laws that are inconsistently enforced, or laws that are unpopular or onerous and simply disregarded by the public? Why isn’t computer or network hacking treated like criminal trespassing, and identity theft treated like burglary? The law tends to focus on the tail-end (the consumer end) of an illicit “food chain” and not the head-end (the producer) or the middle (the distributor) – why this enforcement focus when it isn’t effective to stop the flow of illicit goods and the resulting profiteering?

12. Prisons – roughly 10% of the US lives has lived in prison at some time – what is the cost? What is the lost economic contribution of the prison population? What is the ability to constructively reintegrate convicts into society? The ability for a convict to be reformed? What is the opportunity cost of the “war on drugs”? What is the cost to incarcerate individual consumers for “victimless” crimes and “possession” crimes?

13. Terrorism – can technology ever really protect us effectively from terrorists? Full body scanners, ariel drones with cameras, particle detectors for bio/rad/chem threats? What’s next? How do you evacuate a city?  What is the real threat of “cyberterrorism” – what will it look like, and how would it impact us? What is being done about cyberterrorism, and how are we protected today? How will be better protected tomorrow? Is ID theft really a dimension of cyberterrorism – should it be considered as such?

14. Religion – has the notion of “separation of Church and State” disappeared from our culture? Is the US really a “Christian State” just like Iran is a “Muslim State”? What does the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights really say about the separation between Church and State?

15. Media and creative self-expression – how do you self-publish a book or magazine or blog and make it a business? Amazon and Lulu publish individually generated physical media (paper, CD’s and DVD”s) on demand for anyone. WordPress and Blogspot publish on-line media on demand for anyone. How do you market and prosper with these relatively new capabilities? What is the business model? How do you get started?

16. The power of volunteering – is volunteering a new future wave of economic contribution for the individual? Has it ever been measured? What is the total economic value of volunteerism today locally? Nationally?Globally? Are some cultures reluctant to embrace volunteerism? Which, and why? How to “infect” uninterested individuals and cultures?

If you know the answers, please let me know…

A Wedge Obscures Truth

December 11, 2009

I have been engaged lately in “lurking” in discussions online and face to face on global warming and climate change. I am lurking because I do not really know enough to participate. These discussions are truly fascinating, but they don’t expose the science very well, and they don’t focus on the eventual benefits of change for everyone.

Scientists employ a methodology focused upon experimentation, observation and analysis that was demonstrated almost 1000 years ago by ibn al-Haytham (Alhazan), a famous Muslim scientist, while writing a treatise on optics.

1) Ask a question;
2) State a hypothesis;
3) Design an experiment;
4) Run the experiment and collect data;
5) Analyse the data and state your conclusions;
and finally, communicate your results so that they can be challenged and refined by others.

Does this process sound familiar? No? You haven’t seen much of the scientific method in the global warming debate? Neither have I. The global warming debate is largely a battle of dogma and rhetoric surrounded by generalizations, assumptions and some outright falsehoods. In this debate, cherry-picked findings and palatable conclusions form a convenient basis to support an argument – hardly the scientific method – it is more akin to the political method. Don’t you find that frustrating? I certainly do.

In global warming debate, I am also reminded of the Rotary International guiding principle of the “4-Way Test”:
Guiding principles

The Rotary International 4-way test is ideally applied to everything a Rotarian thinks, says and does:

Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Coincidentally, my e-mail bell has just sounded, and tonight’s Slashdot summary includes this related discussion – more food for thought:
The Science Credibility Bubble

I believe that the political style evident in the global warming debate speaks to the real complex nature of global warming and climate change science. The public’s difficulty to grasp science is often more easily overcome by political tools of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and HAC (hope, ambition and confidence) than by education and a presentation of facts. Unfortunately in this particular debate, a few scientists have “stooped” to the level of political squabble to promote the science of climate change and the premise of global warming in the public view to counter an uneducated press and public.

A wedge has been created in the global warming debate that widens the gap of understanding between adherents of differing viewpoints and loses sight of the benefits equation – this wedge obscures truth. A wedge is created when FUD and HAC is presented in lieu of facts. The gap of understanding widens when the public hears the FUD and the HAC and fails to demand the facts early in the debate. I have seen this same wedge created in debates surrounding evolution, stem cell research and healthcare reform. If only the public was better educated in fields of science and mathematics, the scientists uniformly adhered to the rigors of the Scientific Method, and those involved in this debate practiced the 4-Way Test to seek the greatest measure of benefit for everyone.

A wedge of FUD and HAC obscures truth. We should all present facts – quickly and as often as necessary to beat back the wedge of the political method. We should all focus our debates on the measurable benefits to everyone. Eventually, we will see truth emerge.