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Just my thoughts on climate change and the science behind it.

Science can never produce an unassailable fact and we will never truly know anything. What makes us think we know something is the degree of confidence we have in a hypothesis. We accept what we think is true because we have produced enough results to increase the confidence high enough that we can assume that it is true, even if there is a very small chance that it is false. Data that supports a hypothesis does not make that hypothesis true, but one contradictory result means that the hypothesis has been disproven. What makes the climate especially tricky to study is that it’s impossible to build an exact replica of Earth to use for experiments. Models are probably the closest thing we can do in place of experiments on Earth, and while no models are perfect, some may still be useful. Taking models as fact is definitely a problem in the media, but when models can’t be trusted, what else can we trust?

Despite these limitations, is it still justified that we just do nothing, or should we try to reduce our environmental (not just carbon) footprint as much as we can in case the models actually end up being close to what really happens? In my opinion, I think carbon offsets should still be worth doing, but taking meaningful action like making products more repairable and reducing e-waste is far more important than buying offsets. Offsets can easily be used by companies as a greenwashing excuse to continue making products that are environmentally damaging, but it’s almost impossible for a company to completely eliminate all waste production and greenhouse gas emissions. Offsets can help deal with the unavoidable emissions.

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@ Stephen_C

I hate to be that guy, and while I generally agree with most of what you have said, I would like to point out that Science has produced unassailable facts that can be tested and verified.

Just off the top of my head: The earth is round, The earth is not the center of the universe, and the Sun does not orbit the earth. These things were in dispute at various points within the last 1,000 years, but there is no possibility that any reasonable person could dispute them

Only by being a complete crank and rejecting reason could someone even try to assail those facts.

Beyond that, science tells us many things that must be true in order for the world to work the way we observe it too. The very fact that we are on a website dedicated to computers is proof of that. Computers would not work if various electrical and thermodynamic theories were not true.

I think people get caught up with the whole science can’t prove anything argument and ignore that science is simply the best method of describing characteristics of the universe we see around us.

As for pollution, I grew up in a city that was rather famous for it’s river catching fire. We could not eat the fish. The river was clearly polluted and it was clear that it was the impact of 150 years of lax regulation on water quality which allowed polluters to pollute that river.

That river, by the way, that river empties into a lake that has 115 million cubic miles of water and supplies drinking water for 12 million people in 4 states and two countries.

The point is, we are stewards to this planet, and if there is a means to not pollute, then we should do that. And if there has to be some impact to do what needs to be done, then offsetting that impact is a good thing.

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I’d like to slightly amend this, if I may.

For computers to work, the existing models we have for the various parts of physics must be reasonably accurate. This does not mean that they are complete, but rather that they work “well enough” for the scales we are concerned with for these devices to work.

It’s sort of how the approximation for gravitational attraction (F = mg) works well enough close to Earth but we have to switch to F= GmM/r^2 once the length scales (and masses) involved get large enough. It’s not that F=mg is incorrect. Rather, it’s that it’s only accurate enough in certain contexts and we needed a better model which works at larger length scales to enable us to e.g. go to the moon.

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Thank you for your input, @Terry_Holderbaum. I think I should explain why I think science cannot produce an unassailable fact. To prove a hypothesis (e.g. the gravitational attraction near Earth can be approximated by F = mg), you pretty much have to demonstrate that it will always hold true. This is what makes it far easier to disprove a hypothesis than it is to prove a hypothesis.

In response to the examples that you provided about Earth being round, etc., while these statements may be passed off as fact at the moment because it’s pretty much impossible to argue against them now, will they always be true? As you have described in how people used to think that the Sun orbited Earth, you have to be willing to accept that your hypothesis could be wrong, and when it is proven wrong, you’ll have to let that hypothesis go and start over, not from nothing, but with newfound knowledge.

I agree with the idea that science can build upon the existing model of how the universe works, and that is what makes science so powerful. Despite all of science’s limitations, I think science is the closest we can get to truth. It sounds strange when I’ve been rambling about science in a way that almost makes it seem like it’s useless, but even if a hypothesis is proven wrong, the time spent investigating that hypothesis was not in vain because we still learn a little by proving that hypothesis to be false.

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While this can hold true in many cases, I find this line of reasoning to be dangerous, because, if any thing, it is scepticism that makes science progress, it is always wanting to know more, rather than a desire to establish this or that as “settled facts”. Geocentrism was once the “science” of its time, and the assumption that the stars were fixed around the earth, though now known to be false, was never an impediment for their use in navigation, for instance.

And thus in science there should be always the distinction between what we know with more or less confidence. Confidence that the earth is round and turns around the sun is pretty high because every experiment or observation we run using that as premises turn out to produce the expected results. That is not the case with climate science and to pretend that it is so is dishonest. That is not to say that climate science is not valid or that it is wise to keep increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere. What I am saying is that we should not take science as a religion and work first with what we know to be immediate problems, while also paying attention to the incentives this or that interest group may have to adopt this or that assumption.

I think “greenwashing” through carbon offsetting can actually be harmful, because it can serve as a smoke screen to leave other environmental problems, including the one you mention, pollution of water sources, unaddressed. The assumption that an X increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will lead to a Y increase in temperature has spawned an entire industry of its own, while curiously keeping unsustainable and unreasonable models of production and consumption in place. It allows the business elites of the world to continue to predate on natural resources and to fly in their private jets while telling the common people that it is the steak they eat or the electricity they consume to warm their houses that is destroying the planet.

I don’t believe Framework is buying carbon offsets cynically like many other companies do. I believe they believe they’re doing the right thing, and they have proven it by putting their money where their mouths were and addressing an issue that no one else was truly addressing.

Can you link to reputable papers which disagree with the climate change consensus?

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This is absolutely an issue (see this video for concrete examples). But that doesn’t mean that buying offsets after reducing all you can is a bad thing (indeed, CarbonFund and that video both make exactly that point).

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Since this has clearly become a thread about science theory, I’d like to add my two cents to it:

@Stephen_C I kind of agree, but for different reasons than the ones you gave. I agree that it is harder to prove a hypothesis than disproving it. But even that in itself is a hypothesis which e.g. might not hold true when the hypothesis in question is very very narrow and/or basic (e.g. “1 + 1 = 2 if (some metamathematical paradigm)”). Therefore I think that not the aspiration of absoluteness is the achilles heel of every scientific hypothesis, but rather the implicit assumption that there is only one hypothesis capable of reasonably explaining a phenomenon.

That being said, even if there was a second or a different possible hypothesis sufficiently explaining climate change, it would (imho) be foolish to not go with the most probable one there is rn and combat it, as it is hard to deny that the clock is ticking. Carbon offsets might be greenwashing in most cases, but I guess Framework can hardly do much more atm and I appreciate the gesture.

Update: The last comment by @offtobettershores made me realize I may have misread his position a little bit, so I adapted the last paragraph to that information.

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This is an interesting perspective, @Jason_Hottelet. The climate system is very complex, to the point where we need supercomputers to make climate models for us. I agree with the idea that atmospheric CO2 concentration is not the only factor contributing to global warming. You have feedback loops, other greenhouse gases, carbon sinks, and more that add to the uncertainty of every climate model and all of them are likely to play a role in how much global warming we will experience.

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Can you name a single scientific breakthrough achieved through consensus rather than a break from a previously held belief system?

Again, I am not claiming that climate science is entirely bogus or that I have a some new insight on the issue. But people have incentives to stick to consensuses, and companies in particular have incentives to pick fuzzy environmental targets such as carbon emissions over long periods of time rather than more concrete ones such as waste reduction. That’s something one has to keep in the back of one’s mind, particularly when stakes are high.

But that’s why I’m asking if you have any references to such breakthroughs. From what I know, most of the people who buck the consensus are using sham science and are generally politically motivated (for example, funded by oil companies).

The current consensus was formed after lots of bucking of the previous consensus. And maybe this isn’t all there is to know about the climate crisis (in fact, it probably isn’t, going by history). But we can’t just nebulously postulate that perhaps there are things we don’t know yet when everything we do know points to a global climate catastrophe which we will likely not survive as a species (or if we do, many, many people will die). That’s what’s at stake here.

If you have links to papers which reliably question the current consensus, great! I’d be more than happy to read them. But the current consensus around climate change is literally: do nothing (or barely anything). Oh great, we’ve made cars slightly more fuel efficient. Fantastic, we have a small percentage of our global electricity needs being met using renewable resources (though how we generate the machines needed to harness those resources is…iffy at best). The consensus is to not offset carbon or to play games with “net zero” emissions.

I feel like you’re attacking the wrong people here. I looked into CarbonFund a bit and they seem fairly legit, and Framework seems committed to reducing their carbon footprint first and then offsetting whatever they can’t eliminate. That’s literally the best case scenario under the current circumstances.

You’re conflating scientific consensus and corporate/political consensus, which are entirely different. The scientific consensus around what needs to be done on climate change has remained fairly similar, even if the predictions around exactly what will happen have changed a bit as our models have gotten more accurate. The political consensus on climate change has largely been to do nothing and is markedly different from the scientific consensus. You can’t conflate those two and say that the corporate consensus to do as little as possible has anything to do with the scientific consensus around what needs to be done.

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But my whole point is that people who stick to the consensus are often also politically or financially motivated. Sure, oil companies do their lobbying and manipulation. But “low carbon” is big business too, and heavily reliant on government subsidies, and that’s a problem. And what else do we see in the world today? We see increasing inequality and a drop in the living standards of the old middle classes, who own an increasingly smaller share of the wealth. Wouldn’t “climate change” be the perfect excuse to allow this process to continue? Or also a good distraction so that we don’t pay attention to everything else that is wrong with the way we are governed? Climate change may be real, but it is also very convenient. And it is sure as hell more convenient to keep it around than to solve it.

You put too much faith in scientists as a class. Do you think scientists are really above the fray? I believe in science, but scientists are people too, and they work under incentives. Those can be financial, or just relevance. And science today is unfortunately just as infected with politics as any other area. It’s also an industry rather than a noble academic pursuit. That means that if you’re a honest scientist who wants to buck any consensus it is more difficult than ever. For us, lay people, it means that it is unwise to take their word as gold. Use some Confucian common sense wisdom here: pay attention to what people do, not to what they say. Governments, corporations and the wealthy in general are not acting like climate change will kill us all. So why should I?

In contrast I know for a fact that people kill each other over mineral resources in Africa, that people in China are not allowed to organise to defend their labour rights, that plastic is being dumped into oceans and harming marine life, that soil and water contamination are affecting people’s health. And that many people claiming to be concerned about “carbon emissions” are the same people responsible for all of that happening. I don’t need scientific papers to tell me that. Those are plain as daylight.

I don’t mean to attack CarbonFund. Maybe they’re well-intentioned and many of their initiatives are legit. But we’re living in an age of narratives, and it’s increasingly difficult to separate narratives from facts.

To put all of my cards on the table, I’m a (democratic) socialist, so I would agree that it’s absolutely a problem that big business is involved in all of this and that labor rights have been decimated in both the US and in many other countries. But the fundamental fact remains that this is a “Yes and” situation. That is, it is both true that big businesses have gotten involved in the “low carbon” movement (much less so than with the “keep polluting like there’s no tomorrow” movement, btw) and that we must reduce our environmental footprint (including our carbon footprint).

Obviously most of the emissions come from a few, heavily polluting companies, so there is very little impact we as individuals can have (other than banding together for a mass movement, as has already been happening).

As for living standards and climate change being “convenient” to allow those to drop…I don’t particularly agree. Climate change is, however, a convenient backdrop to stunt the growth of the Global South, but much of the Global South is pushing back (and I would argue rightly so).

This is only true if climate change has no negative long-term impacts on the human species, but that is demonstrably false. Keeping it around will lead (at the very least) to massive infrastucture overhauls at the 11th hour by countries which can afford it while other countries quite literally drown. It’s not particularly convenient to keep climate change around for anyone, even the Global North — even if infrastructure changes are expensive now, they will be astronomically more expensive at the 11th hour.

Everything is political, so yes, science is political. But unlike politics, science is nominally accountable to the facts. The politics enter when you weave a story around those facts, but that’s true about every narrative around a set of facts. This is true of historical narratives, political narratives, journalistic narratives, and scientific narratives.

The difference is that scientific narratives actually tend to change with changing facts, unlike many other types of narratives. This is why the predictions surrounding the effects of global warming have changed over time — the facts changed, and so too did the narrative.

No, they’re acting like climate change won’t kill them, and sadly they’re probably right. That doesn’t mean people won’t die or be displaced or start fighting over basic necessities like food and water. They’re also not scientists, so why would you rely on them for accurate information regarding a scientific question?

I don’t really understand your point here. Is it that since corporations are doing bad things, we shouldn’t care about carbon emissions? We can tackle many things at a time, and we can applaud actual moves towards a decarbonized future while still lambasting the same entities for other horrendous shit they’re doing. These aren’t contradictory or mutually exclusive.

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My point is simple: Can you blame people for driving and wanting cheaper gas if the cities they live in are designed for cars and public transportation sucks? Can you blame people who live from pay check to pay check for wanting reasonably priced electricity and water bills? Can you blame families for wanting to live in suburbs when crime is rife in inner cities and there’s no safety to raise children? No, you cannot blame them for that. But the cost of living is rising every where, including food, because companies pass on to consumers the cost of all policies designed to combat “climate change”, while also raking in subsidies from the government for that same end. There’s a lot of money to me made in it, and it’s ordinary people who’s paying for it. Now do you see corps and governments being held to account for any of the other environmental and social issues I mentioned? No, because much of the political and corporate classes, in rich countries just as much as in poor countries, work together to shaft the common people and preserve their privileges as a “priestly” class of sorts. “Climate change” is the only environmental issue they figured out how to make money from while pretending to be addressing it.

Which goes back to the question. Is climate change an extinction-level threat as many claim it to be? As I said, the elites don’t seem to believe it to be, despite what they’ll proclaim in public. If it was, governments would be building nuclear plants like there was no tomorrow, and you won’t convince me that they don’t just because of the oil lobby. Is it possible that it will affect the lives of poorer and more vulnerable people? Yes, perhaps. But those people are already being affected by other environmental and social issues today, and addressing those issues now will certainly help them become more resilient to the effects of climate change if they do indeed come in the future. If you support addressing those issues because it helps reduce carbon emissions (which it undoubtedly does), that’s all good. But I’ll support them for the positive effects addressing them can create today. More green areas, less roads, better designed cities, less waste and pollution and more durable goods all make for a better way of living. If those reduce carbon as well, that’s a plus.

I’m neither a free-market ideologue nor a socialist. I don’t think it’s helpful to see issues through ideological lenses. Everything today is political, but I don’t think it should be so. The common sense of the common people goes a long way, and that’s what I usually support.

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My main take is that large, particularly multi-national, corporations cannot be trusted, however consumer-friendly they try to portray themselves. eg Apple, followed by Samsung and others, remove chargers from their packages and claim this is to help the planet rather than to improve their bottom line. And more seriously, although decades ago, tobacco companies advertised their products as beneficial to health, even though already knowing cigarettes are a major cause of cancer. Unfortunately, many governments are in the same category as they are governed by short-termism so that they can be re-elected.

For me it is not ‘trust but verify’, it is ‘verify, verify, verify’. The only problem is I do not have the ability to verify and have to rely on consensus of, hopefully, independent scientists. But always try to see whether they have any agenda.

Of course I don’t blame people for doing what’s convenient. Hell, I still drive instead of taking the train most places (even though I live in an area where taking the train is actually possible) because the train is way too expensive. And of course there’s an issue with corporations passing on higher costs to customers, because what else will they do? That’s the way they operate. They only care about profit, so of course they will pass on any increased costs to the customer (to protect their profits). That’s not a bug, that’s a feature.

Does that mean that we should just stop implementing climate policies though? Or does that mean we should be shifting the way we think about the economy and society? If we can’t rely on companies doing the right thing (and we obviously can’t), then maybe we need to nationalize things so that the profit motive isn’t the only thing driving decision-making. Like, what you seem to be arguing for (and what I agree with) is climate justice.

Fundamentally, I would argue that our current social-political-economic system (whatever you want to call it) is not equipped to handle the climate crisis. Governments either are not accountable at all (looking at autocracies) or only have a thin semblance of accountability (so-called “democracies”) while preserving their privilege by tilting the political chess board in their favor. Corporations (particularly the corporations that created this mess) obviously don’t give a crap. And, as you said, ordinary people get shafted on all fronts, including the climate crisis.

I don’t know why you keep privileging the claims of purely political and partisan actors over those of (ostensibly) more neutral people who have actually done the science.

There could be a million reasons, from the public’s general aversion to nuclear energy to issues with storing waste to any number of other issues.

I’m glad we agree on this part :slight_smile: Even if we disagree as to how much of an existential crisis climate change is.

Everything is political, though. “Common sense” trumping (pardon the phrase) elite “expertise” is a political opinion (mostly aligning with so-called “populism”). Everything has always been political. You don’t think it was a political act to declare that the earth goes around the sun? Of course it was.

I would also say there’s nothing wrong with something being political. All it means is that there is no “neutral”. Everyone comes at the same facts from a particular point of view (including a particular political worldview) which colors their perception of the facts (or which facts they deem important or not).

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This is the beginning of something.

I think populism and socialism today share more ground than what both sides are willing to admit. But the reason I side with populism is precisely because I disagree with this characteristically socialist notion that everything is political. In a sense it’s true that having a view on a certain issue will always be in itself a political preference or have political ramifications. But every choice is based on values. Siding with the common sense of the people may not be “neutral”, but it is as neutral as it can be, as it stems from values that are the most, for lack of a better word, “organic”, values such as family loyalty, the defence of local communities, tradition, and yes, also religion and spirituality. The notion that the political aspect of a preference trumps all the others is in itself a value proposition, and, to be honest, a rather artificial and empty one. It comes from the belief that all human existence can be reduced to political strife, i.e., to the pursuit of power. It is for that reason that socialism (or perhaps more accurately Marxism), despite all good intentions and the support of many genuinely good people, often resulted in authoritarianism and disastrous social experiments. Power is a reality, but it is not all there is.

I don’t think this is a notion @Chiraag_Nataraj is trying to defend here. Of course my preference for whole milk for example is not primarily a political one, but it is not completely apolitical either for the reasons you mentioned yourself.

In contrast, I think the notion that there are values more “organic” and therefore more worthwhile to pursue than others is in essence a naturalistic fallacy. Socialists and populists may both believe in the existence of the “right” values (as do I), but if any of them think they can derive them from what is already there, they will commit said fallacy.

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Yeah, it’s not that the political aspect of something trumps everything else. It’s that everything has a political aspect, and thus there is nothing ‘apolitical’.

Sure, everything is built on a moral framework. But everything you mentioned isn’t “neutral”. Tradition meant for a long time that women could not get educated in most of the world. Family loyalty meant covering up spousal abuse. Many religious traditions tend to hew conservative and ostracize (or even kill) people who don’t conform. There are, of course, other aspects to these values. But those are absolutely not ‘neutral’ values. There is a very specific world-view that is privileged by taking those as your value choices, and those choices tend to benefit a very specific set of people (at least across most earlier societies, though there are exceptions).

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Absolutely correct, but tbf @offtobettershores kind of adressed this:

You may have shown though that the second part of that quote is not true when it comes to applying those values, whereas I tried to show that the root of them isn’t a neutral one either.