Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Vested Self and Climate Change

In the book Think Fast and Slow by Nobel prize winning psychologist (now 79) Daniel Kahneman, he makes some astute observations about confidence of practitioners of specific arts, science and skill:

“We are prone to think that the world is more regular and predictable than it really is….The confidence we experience as we make a judgment is not a reasoned evaluation…Confidence is a feeling, one determined mostly by the coherence of the story and by the ease with which it comes to mind, even when the evidence for the story is sparse and unreliable”. (Emphasis added).

“..overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion.”

He gives many examples. For example, stock brokers who are very confident that they are “
better than average” are in fact no better at producing results than would occur by rolling a dice. This is what he says:

“Mutual funds are run by highly experienced and hard-working  professionals who buy and sell stocks to achieve the best possible results for their clients. Nevertheless, the evidence from more than 50 years of research is conclusive: for a large majority of fund managers, the selection of stocks is more like rolling dice…At least two out of every three mutual funds underperform the overall market in any given year…The funds that were successful in any given year were mostly lucky; they had a good roll of the dice.”.

We can see this in the work of economists with respect to austerity. When it is patently clear from detailed economic observations that austerity in Europe is not working, the austerians continue to claim that: (a) it will; (b) there is no alternative: and (c) that this is the consensus of economists. Paul Krugman, who has been right about the economics of austerity and is against the current policies of the European Union, points to the unwillingness of proponents of austerity to accept either the evidence that they are incorrect or to respond with reason to the skeptics.

We have seen this too in climate science. There is no disagreement that the climate is changing. The issue is why and what should be done about it. There are those who have the ear of policy makers who are committed to a view that the primary cause of climate change is the actions of humans which lead to the emission of greenhouse gasses. This is a factor. But the climate models have failed (within a 95% confidence level) to predict what has been happening for some time – CO2 continues to rise but the global surface temperature has changed hardly at all since 1998. Rather than accept that this means that a more complex understanding is needed and that there is a need to revisit the models and theory itself, warmist behave like austerians: (a) it will get warmer; (b) there is no alternative theory of climate we can accept; and (c) this is the consensus of climate scientists.

This is why this observation in Khaneman’s book is so interesting:

“Facts that challenge such basic assumptions – and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem – are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them”.

Climate science and policy making is a multi-billion dollar industry with many vested interests. A lot depends on the “warmist” being right – lucrative contracts for wind and solar systems, the whole of the electric car industry, carbon capture and use/storage, the “clean coal” sector as well as the torrified wood pellet business, not to mention CO2 offsets and emissions trading. The multi-million dollar annual gathering of policy makers and environmental NGO’s (Conference of the Parties – COP) also depends on the warmist view and related predictions. There is just too much at stake for the warmists, from a psychological perspective, to consider alternatives. Too much of their “self” is vested in their commitment to the anthropogenic view of climate change for them to consider alternatives.

So it is not illusory – it’s a defence mechanism. “Denialism” is rife among the warmists as it is among the extreme skeptics – those who deny that any climate change is happening beyond natural climate cycles. 

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