Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mainstream metadelusions

Re [RealClimate comment] #69 “The poster is deluding himself”: Delusion is an important part of our evolutionary toolkit. We tell ourselves what we want to hear because doing so worked for us on the savannah. Nate Hagen (The Monkey Trap) talks about this in an interesting lecture he gives called The Converging Energy and Environmental Crises – A Pep Talk for those Paying Attention. Science helps us correct for our delusional biases, but it doesn’t make them disappear. Science also makes our delusional biases more dangerous, by empowering us to cause trouble. Pretending that we aren’t deluded (i.e. delusion about delusion) gets us into serious trouble.

But regarding the allegation that the message needs to be more mainstream, let’s explore that a bit. How about a message that everyone should keep right on doing what they’re already doing, but shop for slightly different products? That sounds pretty good right? Corporations and their shareholders will like it too. It also sounds suspiciously similar to what we've been doing all along. I live in the United States, so let’s see how that's worked out for us. Some fun facts, here in the USA:

  • Forty percent of births are unintended [actually it's 49% but hey, who's counting?].
  • Americans eat 815 billion calories of food each day - that's roughly 200 billion more than needed - enough to feed 80 million people.
  • Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily.
  • The average American generates 52 tons of garbage by age 75.
  • The average individual daily consumption of water is 159 gallons, while more than half the world's population lives on 25 gallons.
  • Fifty-six percent of available farmland is used for beef production.
  • There are more shopping malls than high schools.

And so forth. Looks to me like selling the most wasteful people on Earth lots of electric cars and solar panels is unhelpful, because it sends the wrong message, which is that the affluent classes of developing countries can emulate our example, and feel good about themselves too.

It might be useful to consider how Americans fared the last (and only) time there was anything resembling top-down egalitarianism here (run-up to and aftermath of WWII). Let’s see, private automobiles weren’t manufactured, food and gasoline were rationed, women made do without nylons, etc. And of course the top marginal income tax rate was over 90%, incredible but true.

So even rapacious Americans are in fact capable of making altruistic sacrifices on a mass scale, given sufficient motivation. Which suggests that climate change possibly fails to constitute a sufficient motivation, the subject of George Marshall’s fascinating book “Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”. He quotes Daniel Kahneman (Nobel-winning author of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow") as saying “No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living.” That goes double for the ultra-rich, and they own the fossil carbon.


johnm1066 said...

I assume you are familiar with this: http://www.dieoff.org

johnm1066 said...



Anonymous said...

I like to pleasure myself to mass extinction.