Critical Thinking Should Be Independent of Spin

I do not find spin and sloppy thinking to add to our well-being.  Accordingly, I am depressed about the level of political discourse and have distinct concerns about income redistribution and climate change.

My early career training is in mathematics, programming and accountancy.  I liked Latin when I was in high school.  You see the connections.  I prefer being an orderly thinker and to consider all the information I can find.  Politicians and their spin people work from the other end of the spectrum.  Take a single point, preferably a dramatic one, and derive an action plan from there.

I recently came on an article about climate change.  We Can’t Afford To Wait, by Jim Kasting and Michael Mann.  It is a response to an earlier Jonah Goldberg column wherein he took issue with the current political state of climate change (formerly global warming.)

I think that Drs Kasting and Mann, Mr Goldberg, and I could all agree that we prefer the environment to be benign and fruitful.  Clean air, clean water, ample plant-life, good soil and non-violent weather.  History teaches us that these conditions are variables and we have, over time, learned to adapt to them.  Sea side erosion control for example.  Hurricane or tornado proof buildings.  Flood walls.  And more.  There is little evidence to indicate that the variables will become constants.

I further notice that climate is a super-set and weather a subset of it.  To pay attention to the weather subset and then infer the super-set is risky, but common among many when it suits their pet theory.  The question of climate change is big and generally unsolved.  Climate is a massively complex, even chaotic, condition and we know too little to make strong assertions.  The massive models have so far proven inadequate to their purpose and I suspect will remain so.

I can be easily convinced that there is climate change.  After all that is our history, from ice ages, to desertification, to warming periods to the little ice age.  Climate change is not so new and humans have been involved only briefly.

I am less able to see the cause of the change.  Carbon seems to be the popular choice and the rhetoric is shrill and insistent.  Shrill and insistent are unnecessary when the facts support the view.  Then it becomes merely an educational exercise.  It is like Einstein’s approach.  “Why 100 authors? If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!”  A single fact will destroy an infinite number of opinions.

The denial side has not yet come up with the single-fact defeater either and that points to the complexity.  We know there are many possible causes of climate change.  Sunspots, carbon, cloud, cosmic rays and reflectance come to mind.  To pick one seems odd.  Chaotic systems don’t work like that.

I can appreciate the feeling of despair that carbon based climate change advocates feel when faced with deniers.  They could improve their position. As part of the advocacy, demonstrate how each of the other potential causes are inoperable this time.  You cannot prove much with correlation to CO2. Correlation with other factors is there too. 

As an alternative, suppose all the factors contribute to the outcome.  Then, from a policy perspective, the question of climate change mitigation becomes different. 

If the primary cause is something we cannot influence, say sunspots or cosmic rays, then the research money should be going to defense.  If it is cloud cover or reflectance there may be active steps we could take, with difficulty, to minimize the effect.  Carbon seems to be chosen because it is more easily controllable and the methods match some political agendas.

There is nothing greatly wrong with competing political agendas and certainly nothing wrong with competing scientific theories, but both miss the point.

The Kasting and Mann article makes a valid point.  We cannot afford to wait.

The real question is what should we do?  If they are right and carbon is the culprit then the current activity is well-directed.  If they are wrong, or if carbon contributes little, then the attack on carbon alone will prove catastrophic.  It will have delayed the development of other defenses and will have consumed too much money.  It is not good enough to say that it would do no harm to reduce carbon even if something else is the real factor.  We will have implicitly waited to deal with the real problem. 

Suppose we discover that carbon is just a bit player in a bigger play. we will have then too little resource to defend ourselves from the bigger and more insistent problem.

When deciding policy, consider that some of the carbon effects are helpful.  Warm and carbon dioxide enhance plant growth.  Food should be more available and maybe cheaper.  Living in Canada, a little more warmth would be welcomed on most days in January.  It is easier to die from cold than heat.  Carbon controls run up the price of energy which is the antidote to cold.

A more elegant approach is to be holistic.  Consider all of the possible elements that could influence climate change.  Weigh them.  Decide if we can amend the cause and if so how.  Set about dealing with the results instead of focusing solely on the causes, because it will likely turn out that some of the causes are uncontrollable.

A better approach could be a game theorist approach.  To focus on a single player in a multi-player game works once in a while, but it is not the way to play for a predictable range of outcomes.  If climate change is a worry, then do many things.

First be sure you can defend the outcomes, then work on causes.  That doesn’t work for the political agenda, but so be it.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is find appropriate investments.  There will be big profits for some.  They are there and will be clearly visible after the fact.  Try and work it out now.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you. 

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