Optimism

Hillarism

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Published on Peak Surfer on April 24, 2016

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"The Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump link to a single bad gene in our political DNA."

 


It is the political silly season, although these days it never seems to be otherwise. Delma Rouseff, Brazil’s heroic anti-establishment, anti-corruption President, has been impeached by the lower house on (dubious) charges of corruption, but the former, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called it more accurately a "coup d’état.”

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned after it was revealed he owned an offshore company with his wife to channel millions of kroner. British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he owned shares in a Bahamas-based trust up until 2010. In Malta, protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for the same tax-avoidance activities.

Scores of countries will hold national elections in 2016. In January, Portugal elected Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, former leader of the Social Democratic Party and supported by the Social Democratic Party and the CDS – People's Party. Portugal, which rationalized recreational drug policy in 2001, tilted left.

Ireland, which has a gender neutral election law, requiring any election to be supported by at least 30% male and 30% female voters, in February elected a right-leaning Dáil Éireann (parliament). Sadly the coalition is still too fractious to choose a Taoiseach (prime minister)

In 2013 Ireland consolidated separate county and local water authorities into a single national utility, which proceeded to install meters everywhere and raise rates. In 2014 and 2015 local protests blocked meter installers. Four percent of Ireland's population showed up at one demonstration in Dublin. Irish Water is a wedge between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so no prime minister for Ireland.

Legislative elections for 450 Duma seats will be held in Russia on 18 September. Polls April 10th give Dmitry Medvedev’s conservative United Russia 46%, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s right-wing anti-communist Liberal Democratic Party 11%, Gennady Zyuganov’s left-wing Communist Party 9%, A Just Russia People's Freedom Party 5% and the remainder to 10 other parties, including the Greens led by Oleg Mitvol.

In Peru, the first round on April 10th narrowed the field to Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, of the Popular Force party, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski candidate of the Peruvians for Change party. Fujimori has a healthy lead and the second round of voting comes June 5th. Peru is interesting if for no other reason than the names of its political parties (as translated): 

Popular Force
Peruvians for Change
Broad Front
Alliance for Progress
Popular Alliance
Popular Action
Direct Democracy
Possible Peru
Hope Front
Order Party
Developing Peru
Everybody for Peru

These names seem like something you might read on post-its on the wall of the “creatives” room in an ad agency.

In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last November: "I would say around September–October is when you should expect the next election to be.” However, when parties predictably deadlocked over bills to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a bone of contention for the opposition Labor Party, Turnbull this week announced he would dissolve Parliament on May 3 and call for new elections July 2. Turnbull himself is well known to Australians and his party the clear frontrunner. But lately he has been losing ground to Labor leader Bill Shorten in the polls. Labor needs to win 21 seats to take power, a swing of 4.3%. BBC reports:

“Mr Turnbull will attempt to paint Mr Shorten as a union lackey who cannot manage the economy; Mr Shorten will say Mr Turnbull is an out-of-touch protector of greedy banks leading a divided party that stands for nothing.”

The Philippines just concluded its presidential debate cycle and is headed to national elections May 9th. At the top of the ballot is the election for successor to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. The leading candidate is the current VP Jejomar Binay. His opponents include Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (People's Reform Party) who is suffering from stage 4 lung cancer. Called "the Iron Lady of Asia,” she was the widely expected winner of the 1992 Philippine Presidential Elections, but lost after an inexplicably unscheduled power outage during the counting of votes. The Supreme Court of the Philippines recently declared optical scanner counting devices “corrupt” and forced precincts to return to hand counts.

Santiago announced her candidacy for president in the launch of her book, Stupid is Forever, on October 13, 2015.

Other candidates include Rodrigo “Courage and Compassion” Duterte (PDP–Laban), Grace "Government with a Heart” Poe (Independent) and Mar "Continue the Straight Path” Roxas (Liberal).

While the People’s Republic of China will not be holding national elections this year, what is brewing at the grass roots in Hong Kong is QI — quite interesting.  Wikipedia reports:

The emergence of new political groups led by young activists is set to shake up the political landscape of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence localist group, faired well in the February New Territories East by-election by receiving more than 66,000 votes, coming third after pan-democratic Civic Party and pro-Beijing DAB, gaining about 15 percent of the total votes. A day after the election, localist groups including Wong Yuk-man's Proletariat Political Institute, Wong Yeung-tat's Civic Passion and Chin Wan's Hong Kong Resurgence Order announced a plan to field candidates in all five geographical constituencies.

On 10 April 2016. six post-Occupy organisations, Youngspiration, East Kowloon Community, Tin Shui Wai New Force, Cheung Sha Wan Community Establishment Power, Tsz Wan Shan Constructive Power and Tuen Mun Community, political groups formed after the Umbrella Revolution, formed an electoral alliance planned to field candidates in four of the five geographical constituencies with the agenda to put forward a referendum on Hong Kong's self-determination. Hong Kong Indigenous and another new pro-independence Hong Kong National Party also stated that they will run in the upcoming election.

On the same day on 10 April 2016, the student leaders in the Umbrella Revolution, Joshua Wong, Oscar Lai and Agnes Chow of Scholarism and Nathan Law of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) also formed a new party Demosisto which was inspired by Taiwan's New Power Party which was formed by the Sunflower Movement leaders and fared well in the 2016 Taiwanese legislative election. The new party calls for referendum on Hong Kong's future after 2047 when the One Country, Two Systems is supposed to expire. The party aimed at fielding candidates in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon East, facing competitions from other new political groups while posing challenge to the traditional pan-democracy camp.

Finally, turning to the USA: With Bernie Sanders’ inability to unset the Hillary Clinton base in New York (Manhattan 66% – 33%; Westchester County 67% – 32%) on Tuesday, it looks more and more like a Clinton victory at the convention is a lead pipe cinch. Who knows? She might even have the team to out-Diebold the Trump machine. In Brooklyn, tens of thousands of voters discovered too late that they were ineligible to vote. The New York City Elections Board confirmed that more than 125,000 Brooklyn voters had been scrubbed from the voter rolls and the NY Attorney General's office is on the case. Clinton can now win less than half of the remaining primaries and still gain the required number of delegates.

Can she throw some kind of a aikido move on the Trump steamroller? We don’t yet know who controls the machines, but it is a pretty good bet it ain’t the Donald.

This past week George Monbiot penned one of the best essays of his career, although it was actually a teaser for his new book, How Did We Get into This Mess? published by Verso for £12.99.

In naming Neoliberalism as the root of all our problems, Monbiot linked the Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, rigged Philippine elections, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump to a single bad gene in our political DNA.

Monbiot writes:

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

When George W. Bush attributed the rise of Islamic jihadis to “they hate our freedom,” what he was doing was reinforcing the neoliberal meme. As Monbiot puts it:

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

Hillary Clinton likes to tell audiences that because of the Affordable Care Act, "We now have driven costs down to the lowest they've been in 50 years.” Actually, health spending in the United States is higher than it's ever been, so the statement on its face is inaccurate. The U.S. spends more per capita than every other country in the OECD; and twice as much per capita as the system in France, with considerably worse average outcomes.

Monbiot writes:

The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income.

Unearned income is what buys elections, and not just in the United States.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. And that is what none of the elections in 2016 seem to be doing.

Here Comes the Sun

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Published on Peak Surfer on December 13, 2015

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Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

"The COP agreed that the era of fossil energy is over. That is no longer in question. It will end by 2050, if not sooner. The question is how, and the Paris Agreement leaves that to fairy dust."

  At 7:27 pm Paris time (ECT), the President of the COP, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, gavelled the Paris Agreement home. The crowd stood, applauded and whooped. The text is here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

Success, it seemed to us, came because of the unions. They were not dockworkers or ironmongers. They were unions of countries with brands that read like corporate logos: AOSIS, ALBA, G77 Plus, High Ambition, the Like-Minded in favor of Kyoto Annexes, stealth-OPEC. No single effort could broker a deal unless it got the big unions on board. In the end ALBA and stealth-OPEC were too small to matter. The Like-Minded splintered in favor of the Ambitious. AOSIS and G77, the Climate Vulnerable Forum, and High Ambition ruled.

In their 2 minute closer, Philippines noted it was the first time that the concept of Climate Justice appears in a legally binding document. In time, they hinted, the United States and other overdeveloped countries will be made to pay reparations to those who will lose all or substantial parts of their counties, including all that high-priced real estate in Rio, Capetown, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Consumerist Empires built on fossil energy may have an unusually large credit card statement coming at the end of the billing cycle.

Pluses and minuses in the new agreement: the 1.5C target is in, thanks to the efforts of UNFCCC head Christina Figueres to give a voice to civil society in these corridors. Five-year 'stocktakes' (Websters Dictionary please take note) — reassessment of progress and commitments — are in. Full phase-out of fossil energy by 2050 is not, but that door is not entirely closed and may be reopened at Marrakech next year.

"Each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances."

What the text mandates, which is actually significant, is to "achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty."

Decarbonization by 2050 is no longer just a t-shirt. Now it's international law.

Bill McKibben said:

“Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry. This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

350.org Executive director, May Boeve said:

“This marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground. The text should send a clear signal to fossil fuel investors: divest now.

The final text still has some serious gaps. We’re very concerned about the exclusion of the rights of indigenous peoples, the lack of finance for loss and damage, and that while the text recognizes the importance of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C, the current commitments from countries still add up to well over 3 degrees of warming. These are red lines we cannot cross. After Paris, we’ll be redoubling our efforts to deliver the real solutions that science and justice demand.”

The thinktank E3G said,  “The transition to a low carbon economy is now unstoppable, ensuring the end of the fossil fuel age.”

Carbon Tracker said: “Fossil fuel companies will need to accept that they are an ex-growth stocks and must urgently re-assess their business plans accordingly.”

The Guardian called it "a victory for climate science and ultimate defeat for fossil fuels."

One piece of statescraft managed by Obama and Kerry was to neatly skirt what killed Kyoto: the 60 Neanderthals in the US Senate put there by the coal kings Koch Brothers. The New York Times spotted the play and reported:

Some elements of the accord would be voluntary, while others would be legally binding. That hybrid structure was specifically intended to ensure the support of the United States: An accord that would have required legally binding targets for emissions reductions would be legally interpreted as a new treaty, and would be required to go before the Senate for ratification.

Such a proposal would be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, where many lawmakers question the established science of climate change, and where even more hope to thwart President Obama’s climate change agenda.
 

***

The accord uses the language of an existing treaty, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to put forth legally binding language requiring countries to verify their emissions, and to periodically put forth new, tougher domestic plans over time.

In just updating regulations enacted under an already ratified treaty, the Paris Agreement bypasses the need for new Senate ratification.

Inside Le Bourget, after the obligatory high fives and selfies, delegates crafted sound bytes for the press and kept the lights on and microphones active past midnight. Outside, 10,000 activists took to the streets to pull a "red line," representing 1.5 degrees, to the Arc de Triomphe.

French President Francois Hollande, who has a gift for hyperbole, said "History is made by those who commit, not those who calculate. Today you committed. You did not calculate." Although not in the way he meant it, this is ironically a first-rate assessment of the Agreement.

There is a quality of awareness among all the delegates to the Paris climate talks that, after 20 years of these discussions, is passing strange. We would not call it a deer-in-the-headlights look, because it is not even quite there yet. Those jockeying for the best outcome for their own economies and constituencies are still quite oblivious to the science of what is transpiring and the seriousness of the threat. They have their noses down in the trough and do not hear the butcher at the barn door.

This should not be surprising. Nowhere in the fossil record is there anything quite like what is transforming the world of humans today. Our physical brains are virtually the same as they were 30,000 years ago, when we were standing upright in the savannah, alert to proximate, not distant, threats and quickly obtained, not slowly exploited, resources.

We make ourselves ignorant in at least three ways: not knowing the basic science of climate change, not knowing what to do about it once we 
become aware of the problem, and being barraged with wrong information about both of those and being unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

We might think that a lamb raised in New Zealand and eaten in London would create more greenhouse gases than one being locally grown, but in the way the world works today, the opposite is true. We might think that going vegan is more climate responsible than raising farmed animals, but because of how pastured animals stock soils with carbon, the opposite can be true. We might think, as climate scientist James Hansen does, that low prices for gas cause more fossil fuels to be burned, but the opposite is true, because low prices keep whole provinces of production from being tapped.

When disciplined and deliberate attempts 
by profit-driven vested interests in the production of 
greenhouse gases cast doubt on science and corrupt politics and the media, grasping these nuances becomes even more difficult.

We are a lucky species in that our optimism is more-or-less hard-wired. People tend to be overly optimistic 
about their chances of having a happy marriage or avoiding illness. Young people are easily lured to join the military, become combat photographers, or engage in extreme-risk sports because they are unrealistically optimistic they can avoid harm. 
Humans are also overly optimistic about environmental risks. Our confirmation bias helps us keep up this optimism even when confronted with scientific truths to the contrary.

The principal outcome is less about the how than about the whether. The COP agreed that the era of fossil energy is over. That is no longer in question. It will end by 2050, if not sooner. The question is how, and the Paris Agreement leaves that to fairy dust.

The Guardian reports:

Throughout the week, campaigners have said the deal had to send a clear signal to global industry that the era of fossil fuels was ending. Scientists have seen the moment as career defining.

Carbon Tracker said:

“New energy technologies have become hugely cost-competitive in recent years and the effect of the momentum created in Paris will only accelerate that trend. The need for financial markets to fund the clean energy transition creates opportunity for growth on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution.”

What will replace fossil energy? The basket of renewables described by Jeremy Leggett in Winning the Carbon War? There is a slight problem there, and one wonders how long it will take for that to catch up to the delegates. Perhaps by the first stocktake, but maybe longer.

The problem, as often described on this site and elaborated in our book, the Post-Petroleum Survival Guide (2006), is net energy, or return on energy investment (EROEI), first elaborated by systems ecologist Howard T. Odum. These days the leading scientists in that field are calling it "biophysical economics."

To put it as simply as possible, the source of almost all our energy is the sun. When the EROEI of a resource is less than or equal to one, that energy source becomes a net "energy sink", and can no longer be used as a source of energy, but depending on the system might be useful for energy storage (for example a battery, or the tidal storage in Scotland). A fuel or energy must have an EROEI ratio of at least 3:1 to be considered viable as a prominent fuel or energy source. This chart shows typical values for various technologies.
 

Right now most of what powers the world comes from the top half of that chart. The Paris agreement suggests that most of what we need by 2050 must be selected from portions of the bottom half of the chart — the so-called "clean" energies." Quoth the prophet, Wikipedia:

Thomas Homer-Dixon argues that a falling EROEI in the Later Roman Empire was one of the reasons for the collapse of the Western Empire in the fifth century CE. In "The Upside of Down" he suggests that EROEI analysis provides a basis for the analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations. Looking at the maximum extent of the Roman Empire, (60 million) and its technological base the agrarian base of Rome was about 1:12 per hectare for wheat and 1:27 for alfalfa (giving a 1:2.7 production for oxen). One can then use this to calculate the population of the Roman Empire required at its height, on the basis of about 2,500–3,000 calories per day per person. It comes out roughly equal to the area of food production at its height. But ecological damage (deforestation, soil fertility loss particularly in southern Spain, southern Italy, Sicily and especially north Africa) saw a collapse in the system beginning in the 2nd century, as EROEI began to fall. It bottomed in 1084 when Rome's population, which had peaked under Trajan at 1.5 million, was only 15,000. Evidence also fits the cycle of Mayan and Cambodian collapse too. Joseph Tainter suggests that diminishing returns of the EROEI is a chief cause of the collapse of complex societies, this has been suggested as caused by peak wood in early societies. Falling EROEI due to depletion of high quality fossil fuel resources also poses a difficult challenge for industrial economies.

When we hear pleas from underdeveloping countries for greater financial assistance to allow them to adapt — meaning building out renewable energy and migrating coastal cities inland — we have to ask ourselves if they really comprehend what they will need to adapt to, and whether any amount of money will ever be enough. The status quo ante – the way things worked before — is gone, and so is the modo omnia futura. One hundred billion dollars per year is not enough to save human beings as a species but asking for more won't help, either. What might help is committing to degrowth, depopulation, and scaling back our human footprint to something closer to what we had coming out of the last Ice Age, before we started building monumental cities, mining metal, and inventing writing. We don't need to abandon writing, but lets get real — those megacities may be unsalvageable on a solar budget.

Dr. Guy McPherson writes:

Astrophysicists have long believed Earth was near the center of the habitable zone for humans. Recent research published in the 10 March 2013 issue of Astrophysical Journal indicates Earth is on the inner edge of the habitable zone, and lies within 1% of inhabitability (1.5 million km, or 5 times the distance from Earth to Earth’s moon). A minor change in Earth’s atmosphere removes human habitat. Unfortunately, we’ve invoked major changes.

This discussion seems strangely absent, despite the pushback against Saudi Arabia and India after they succeeded in excluding the substantive recommendations of the Structured Expert Dialogue from the COP. They were not allowed to dump the provisions on transparency and uniform accounting, although it was not for lack of effort.

Instead, we keep hearing reference to an outdated and unfortunate IPCC number — the bent straw everyone is grasping for — that to have a 50-50 chance of limiting warming to 2°C (itself untenably overheated), cumulative emissions to end of century and beyond must be limited to 1 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide in total, starting 5 years ago. In that past five years we burned through one tenth – 100 Gt. Most predict that with added growth (a big assumption) we’ll have burned through 75% of this "budget" by 2030 and we’ll bust the budget around 2036. If we cut back, we might have until 2060.

Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace said, "We have a 1.5C wall to climb but the ladder is not tall enough." But he acknowledged, “As a result of what we have secured here we will win… for us Paris was always a stop on an ongoing journey… I believe we are now in with a serious chance to succeed.”

Glen Peters, scientist at CICERO, said 1.5C effectively requires a fossil fuel phase-out by 2030. He later clarified that was without negative emissions or the immediate introduction of a global carbon price, which are some of the assumptions in 1.5C models. His personal view was chances of achieving 1.5C were “extremely slim.”

Will voluntary pledges, revisited every five years starting in 2023 be enough to cut emissions and hold to the budget? It is the wrong question. That budget does not exist. Closer scrutiny of embedded systemic feedbacks reveal we'd blown though any possible atmospheric buffer zone by the 1970s and have just been piling on carbon up there every since.

The Atlantic today reports:

Recent science has indicated that warming to two degrees, still the stated international red line, might be catastrophic, creating mega-hurricanes and possibly halting the temperate jet stream which waters American and European farmland.

From that perspective, 1.5 degrees is an encouraging, ambitious goal. But it’s also a promise that costs negotiators nothing while indicating great moral seriousness.

Because here’s the thing: The math still doesn’t work. 2015 is the hottest year on measure. Because of the delay between when carbon enters the atmosphere and when it traps heat, we are nearly locked into nearly 1.5 degrees of warming already. Many thought the world would abandon the two degree target at Paris due to its impracticality.

Once we apply honestly science-based Earth system sensitivity at equilibrium, excluding none of the feedbacks and forcings that we know of, we discover we passed the 2°C target in 1978. To hold at 2 degrees we would need to bring CO2 concentration down to 334 ppm, not increase it to 450 as the Paris Agreement contemplates. To hold at 1.5°C we would need to vacuum the atmosphere even lower, to a level last seen some time before mid-20th century.

Outside of elite scientists such as those we've mentioned this past week — Anderson, Schellnhuber, Rockstrom, Hansen, Wasdell, and Goreau — few in Le Bourget seem to grasp some simple arithmetic. And so we are treated to the spectacle of fossil producers like India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and many of the underdeveloping countries demanding more time to fill up the available atmospheric space, when in reality there is none and hasn't been for quite some time.

Some say the UN is hamstrung by multilateral consensus, but voting would be no better. After the COP meeting in Durban, the UNFCCC adopted a traditional South African negotiating format to speed up decision-making and bring opposing countries together. The Guardian's John Vidal explains:

Zulu and Xhosa communities use “indabas” to give everyone equal opportunity to voice their opinions in order to work toward consensus.

They were first used in UN climate talks in Durban in 2011 when, with the talks deadlocked and the summit just minutes from collapse, the South African presidency asked the main countries to form a standing circle in the middle of hundreds of delegates and to talk directly to each other.

Instead of repeating stated positions, diplomats were encouraged to talk personally and quietly about their “red lines” and to propose solutions to each other.

By including everyone and allowing often hostile countries to speak in earshot of observers, it achieved a remarkable breakthrough within 30 minutes.

In Paris the indaba format was used by France to narrow differences between countries behind closed doors. It is said to have rapidly slimmed down a ballooning text with hundreds of potential points of disagreements.

By Wednesday with agreement still far away, French prime minister Laurent Fabius further refined the indaba by splitting groups into two.

“It is a very effective way to streamline negotiations and bridge differences. It has the advantage of being participatory yet fair”, said one West African diplomat. “It should be used much more when no way through a problem can be found.”

What may need to happen next year in Marrakech is that the COP host an indaba with experts both in the climate sciences and in biophysical economics.

What may hold out the best hope lies buried 20 pages in, at Article 4:

In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Article 5:

1. Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests.

2. Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.

It is not yet clear whether integrated food and fuel sequenced permaculturally designed forests, composed of mixed aged, mixed species robust ecologies and maximum carbon sequestration though biomass-to-biochar energy and agriculture systems will be scaled fast enough, but these two articles could be the spark they need to spur investment.

As the clock ticked on towards end of day, the leader of the High Ambition group, Tony de Blum, introduced to the plenary an 18-year-old girl from Majuro who spoke of water gradually rising on three sides of her home.

"The coconut leaf I wear in my hair and hold up in my hand is from my home in the Marshall Islands. I wear them today in hope of keeping them for my children and my grandchildren — a symbol, these simple strands of coconut leaves that I wear. … Keep these leaves and give them to your children, and tell them a story — of how you helped my islands and the whole world today. This agreement is for those of us whose identity, whose culture, whose ancestors, whose whole being, is bound to their lands. I have only spoken about myself and my islands but the same story will play out everywhere in the world."

On the Nature of Belief: Appendices

Off the keyboard of Geoffrey Chia

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 22, 2015

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APPENDICES TO THE ESSAY “ON THE NATURE OF BELIEF

G. Chia, April 2015

APPENDIX 1: THE PROPOSITION OF PREDISPOSITION TO A PARADIGM BASED ON POLITICS, PERSONALITY &/OR PROFESSION (the 6P)

Some dictionaries may define the term “ideology” simply as a system of beliefs. However, it is more useful to define a term according to the manner in which it is used in the real world. Thus, an “ideology” is more accurately defined as a rigid system of beliefs. When we say “Mr X is driven by his ideology” we imply that he holds rigid views which he refuses to change, no matter what the circumstances.

As such, the Scientific Method is not an ideology, because it is not a rigid system of beliefs. It is a rigorous, rational process by which hypotheses are accepted or discarded according to the best evidence, reason and investigation. If we say “Mr X is driven by his scientific enquiry”, we mean that he assesses a situation, then formulates a few hypotheses on the basis of the best evidence and reason available at the time (in medical parlance this is known as making a list of “differential diagnoses”). He then tests each hypothesis for validity and falsifiability and adopts the one which best stands up to scrutiny. His evaluation (or diagnosis) may change later, if better information comes to light. This is exactly how a Physician works.

Pretty much all other belief systems are ideologies with varying degrees of rigidity. Some ideologies are less rigid in that they are willing to adopt selected paradigms from Science and reason-based progressive social policies. For example, some Christian groups and clerics are willing to accept that evolution and global warming are realities and that women deserve equal respect and status to men, notwithstanding their “Adam’s rib” fable (hence women are allowed to be pastors and hold positions of authority in their church). Even the Pope has come to accept the reality of AGW and advocates that humanity must take measures to deal with it http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/27/pope-francis-edict-climate-change-us-rightwing Fundamentalist Christians however remain abjectly insistent on their particular interpretation of their version of their sacred doctrines, as is equally the case for Fundamentalist Muslims or Fundamentalist Jews. They each demand their “divine right” to pursue their (self serving) agendas to the point of murder and death. This is a major reason why the conflicts in the Middle East will never be resolved. Such a mentality brings to mind lyrics from the Dire Straits song “Industrial Disease”:

…I go down to Speaker’s Corner, I’m thunderstruck,
They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks,
Two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong,

There’s a protest singer singing a protest song

Obviously the amusing irony here is that both men who claim to be Jesus are certainly wrong and the listener laughs in amusement, that to entertain the idea that even one of them may be Jesus is an insane delusion. However, by that same token, rational thinkers know that the superstitious ideologies of all the Abrahamic religions (indeed all religions) are certainly wrong and are just as insanely deluded.

Here is an idea widely prevalent (and widely promoted by the media) in society at present: that political persuasion, personality traits or professional background determine one’s ideology. Let us call it the Proposition of Predisposition to a Paradigm based on Politics, Personality &/or Profession, or for simplicity, the 6P.

Here are some elaborations of the 6P based on:

1. Political views:

The “right wing conservative / left wing liberal” political dichotomy was particularly well satirised by the late Kurt Vonnegut in his classic essay “Cold Turkey” (now nearing the tenth anniversary of publication):

Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative…Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other. If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut. If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it easy for you. If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other and want to give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re a liberal. If you are against those perversions and for the rich, you’re a conservative. What could be simpler?

In the article by Lissa Johnson, “At All Costs: The Dark Psychology Of Abbott Government Climate Policy” she wrote…”Right Wing Authoritarianism is fearful and cautious, driven by a view of the world as a dangerous place. It seeks safety and stability via conformity to traditional hierarchies in which everyone knows their place…Social Dominance Orientation, in contrast, seeks to win at all costs, via the ‘strong’ in society dominating the ‘weak’…‘Superior’ groups coming out on top is the goal…Put briefly, they are the two faces of authoritarianism: authoritarian obedience and authoritarian dominance…Social Dominance Orientation correlates negatively with empathy, altruism and honesty, and is predicted by high levels of the personality trait ‘tough mindedness’, which involves lack of sympathy and compassion. So strong is the ruthless emotional foundation of Social Dominance that in 2013 it was empirically recognized as not only correlating with the ‘dark triad’ of personality (narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy), but as being a member of the dark personality cluster itself… (Researchers Daniel Jones and Aurelio Figueredo) found that the interrelationship between the three dark triad traits and Social Dominance Orientation was explained by a common ‘Dark Core’. This Dark Core consists of two parts: manipulation (or dishonesty), and callousness (or lack of empathy)…The authors concluded that, like those high in narcissism, Machiavellianism or psychopathy, “Individuals high in Social Dominance have a dark personality”. What distinguishes Social Dominance is that it manifests “at a group level with a politically oppressive style.”…The primary goal of Social Domination is to maximize inequality between social groups in a “superior-inferior” order. This requires a capacity, if not a zeal, to oppress and subordinate other human beings.

2. Personality: Optimists vs Pessimists

This is the view that irrespective of objective facts, the natural optimist tends to select positive information to construct their world view and the pessimist selects negative information. It does appear that most people may be hard wired to have an optimism bias (see explanation in main Belief essay and also: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jan/01/tali-sharot-the-optimism-bias-extract ). Optimism bias serves several purposes for the individual: it makes them feel better, it gives them hope and motivation to work towards their desired goal and it boosts their popularity within their social group. No one likes a wet blanket to dampen a party. Unfortunately, such “rose coloured glasses” can blind these people to the potential pitfalls and problems they may encounter along the way. The “she’ll be right, mate” Aussie attitude (or the condescending admonition, “cheer up, it’ll probably never happen”) is in fact is a recipe for disaster. Real world observation suggests that a cautiously pessimistic approach is more likely to lead to success or prevent disaster, precisely because problems are actively avoided, or if encountered are anticipated and therefore tackled promptly (compared to the incautious optimists who will flounder about and remain in denial when faced with crises they did not prepare for). According to neuroscientist CJ Bajada, “optimism bias is a well established psychological phenomenon that, despite criticism, has been replicated in many experiments. While it is generally an adaptive phenomenon, it can have disastrous consequences (such as an economic collapse).” http://www.academia.edu/7957545/The_Optimism_Bias_A_cognitive_neuroscience_perspective

Hence what is the best way to approach challenges in an uncertain future? Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Self professed optimism, apart from being an emotive ploy to win popularity in a crowd, can be simply an excuse for inaction by the person who is too darned lazy to make contingency plans.

3. Professional background

“To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. The implication here is that a person’s occupation shapes their world view. I can offer some personal perspective regarding this matter, specifically in relation to the prospect of Near Term Human Extinction. I will contrast my views with those of Dr Guy McPherson, a conservation biologist and relentless promoter of the “inevitability” of NTHE. In some of my previous essays, I was significantly influenced by Dr McPherson’s opinion due to his summaries of overwhelming dire information sourced from the peer reviewed scientific literature regarding the exponential worsening of global warming. There is no doubt whatsoever that we are headed for the catastrophic devastation of our planetary biosphere. Nevertheless to “prove” that NTHE is “inevitable”, it is necessary to show beyond any reasonable doubt that there is not a single future scenario where even one small group of human beings can possibly survive in the long term.

For example, the Limits to Growth scientists have conclusively shown beyond any reasonable doubt that the collapse of Industrial Civilisation is guaranteed this century. They have shown there is not a single realistic scenario (using even the most optimistic inputs) where modern industrial society can continue functioning by the end of this century, even without taking into account the guaranteed impending global financial collapse as a result of our Ponzi scheme economics. Even if we were to ignore the LtG projections, the most conservative estimate by climate scientists of a global average temperature rise of 4°C by the end of this century means that climate change alone guarantees that large scale agriculture (and hence cities and civilisation) will collapse. Not only that, the inevitable decline of high net energy sources (Peak Oil) alone also guarantees the collapse of Industrial Civilisation. The impending collapse of global Industrial Civilisation is a certainty beyond any reasonable doubt. But what about NTHE?

After pondering NTHE for two years, I was able to work out a feasible scenario by which at least one population of humans may be able to survive even the worst global warming projections, putting the lie to the “inevitability” of NTHE: http://www.thecanadiandaily.ca/geoffrey-chia-critique-guy-mcphersons-views/ Despite cursory admission that my views had validity, McPherson continues to propagate the overall message of the “inevitability” of NTHE to the public, spurred on by his echochamber of anonymous uberdoomer blogfans. Could our different professional backgrounds possibly account for our different views?

I do not deny the possibility of NTHE, indeed I agree it may be a likely outcome. Nevertheless I am working towards and promoting the idea that survival of a tiny number of humans is possible if adequate preparations are made and I advise sapient people around the world to give it a go. McPherson has not denied the possibility that a tiny handful of humans may survive. Despite this, his overarching message to the public remains that NTHE is guaranteed. He dismisses any other opinion as “hopium” and therefore he promotes hopelessness.

Why the different strategies? I am certainly not a natural optimist, hence that personality trait can be eliminated as an explanation. My success as a medical practitioner stems from my habit of always pessimistically considering the worst case scenarios in my patients, which I then take measures to protect them against, hence minimising their future risk. I am not unfamiliar with death, having experienced, as a junior doctor on call, patients dying in front of me from cardiac arrest who failed to respond to resuscitation. My own death and the death of my species are not beyond my contemplation. On the other hand I have also witnessed remarkable advances in cardiac therapy over the years with dramatic reductions in cardiac mortality and prolongation of good quality life in patients who would have been written off as hopeless cases a decade ago. Perhaps it is the latter which motivates me to strive for the survival of our benighted species, for better or worse.

I suspect that Dr McPherson’s professional experiences have been different. As a conservation biologist, if all that he has witnessed, researched, documented and read about over the past few decades have been relentless mass extinctions (about 50% of all vertebrate species have gone extinct over the past 40 years), then he may well consider the human species to be on the same trajectory and the outcome to be inevitable. The Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson stated that over 99% of all species that have ever existed have gone extinct. The difference for humans is that if we go extinct in the near term, it will be self inflicted.

What purposes do the 6P serve?

  1. The 6P is an easy model for the mainstream media to sell to the general public. It pigeonholes people into categories. It is a form of stereotyping. It is lazy simplistic thinking. Therefore, just like high-fat sugary food, it slides down the gullets of the simpleminded sheeple most readily*, delivered in the form of a 30 second sound byte between “infomercials” (*in contrast to more complex, more truthful ideas, which require greater time and effort to properly deliver, ruminate on and digest).
  2. The 6P is used for targeted advertising by corporations and for identification of “persons of interest” by governments.

This is based on the following premise: surveys have shown that interests in, beliefs in or purchases of “a, b, c, d and e” are associated with personality or political inclination “Z”. You have shown interest in “a, c and e”, therefore you must be a “Z” type person and should also be interested in “b and d”.

You must be aware of the fact that corporations and governments are collecting all your digital metadata and using idiot computer algorithms to profile you. For example, Google trawls through your internet browsing to identify your “pattern” of searches. Their algorithm then makes an assumption about your values and beliefs, pigeonholes you into one particular category of consumers and automatically triggers a suite of advertisements directed towards you. In your subsequent searches you then find commercial options ranked on the top lines or ads displayed on the side of the webpage representing suggested searches or purchases. It does not matter if the algorithm is not 100% accurate regarding your personal situation, a 30% hit rate on those ads among a billion consumers represents a great deal of money to Google and the advertisers.

The database of your searches and purchases by eBay and purchases by PayPal also represent valuable commercial intelligence to advertisers, to be used in the same way.

Facebook in particular is a goldmine of personal information, by which narcissistic individuals and the means to manipulate them can be identified. How many “friends” do you have?

Government collection of your metadata is even more chilling. The previous US government tactic of racial profiling and kidnapping people of “Middle Eastern appearance” and rendering them to prisons for torture without trial resulted in monstrous travesties of justice against innumerable innocent people. It may even have led to the radicalisation of previously moderate law abiding individuals. Nowadays, phonecalls, emails and browsing history of the general population are electronically trawled by dumb programs which flag key words or phrases such as “terrorism”, “bomb making”,”jihad” or the phrase we used in the main essay, “evil corporations”, irrespective of context. “Persons of interest” are then identified, categorised and can later be singled out for “special treatment”. This process “analyses” hundreds of millions of people more than the old blunt instrument of racial profiling, which means that potentially magnitudes more innocent people will be unfairly flagged. The fact of the matter is that any terrorist with half a brain will use untraceable phones and anonymized web browsing to avoid identification. It is the innocent citizens who will end up being targeted and harrassed by the authorities.

  1. Fraudsters such as Fox News (of “WMDs in Iraq” fame) use the 6P as a mental Trojan horse by which they outrageously distort the public perception of reality. Specifically, we refer to the way Fox News claimed to be “fair and balanced” by seeking views about AGW from “both sides”. Typically they would interview a legitimate climate scientist, then seek the opinion of a scientifically illiterate denialist, say, a “freemarket” economics professor with impressive academic titles (but no scientific credentials). Fox News would then conclude that there is considerable doubt regarding AGW: the scientific experts hold to a left wing version of the “truth”, the economic experts hold to a right wing version of the “truth”, so Fox News implies that reality may lie somewhere in between.

It is as though the scientists claim the Earth is round, the economists claim the Earth is flat and Fox News, being “fair and balanced”, concludes that the Earth could be oval.

To reiterate yet again, here is the objective truth: AGW is a fact recognised by ALL the National Academies of Science around the world (including the Royal Society of London). It is not a “left wing politically motivated opinion” as Fox News would like to portray it. AGW deniers are either liars or fools or both. The Earth is round and anyone who claims it is flat or oval is a liar or a fool or both.

Another personal experience as to why the 6P is flawed:

I too had been a “brain hostage” of the 6P in the past. Specifically, I previously assumed that other atheists would have reached the conclusion that “Man” created “God” (rather than the other way around) in the same way that I did, by means of evidential analysis and rational thinking. I therefore assumed they would also accept the rational consensus, based on decades of irrefutable evidence, of all the academies of Science around the world about the reality and importance of AGW. I was stunned to discover (in my interactions with the Brisbane Atheist group about 10 years ago) this assumption was incorrect and a significant number of them were intransigent AGW denialists and extreme right wing rednecks. They mounted ad hominem attacks against me for my position on AGW and I called them liars or fools or both. Not my finest moment I admit, but a reflection of my deep disappointment in my inability to find sensible thinkers in what I had wrongly assumed to be a forum of rational minds. On one topic (the existence of God or gods), they adopted a rational position; but on another topic (AGW – which they felt threatened their comfortable lifestyles), their self-serving arseholery trumped any rationality. An avalanche of further overwhelming climate data over the past decade have only proven more conclusively the fact that AGW deniers are either liars or fools or both.

I was subsequently motivated to look beyond assumptions which could prove false (eg. that as a rational atheist, I assumed other atheists to be rational) and to try to find a way to achieve an better understanding of the origins and purpose of each and every one of the beliefs of each particular individual, rather than lump people into categories as the 6P does.

CONCLUSION:

We regard the 6P as being of limited utility to help us understand the beliefs of a person. Saying that a person subscribes to right wing views because they are predisposed to believe in right wing views explains nothing. Saying a person is predisposed to right wing views because they have an authoritarian personality has some explanatory value, but still requires the nature and origin of that personality to be further assessed.

The 6P can be misused in this way: Belief in AGW is portrayed by Fox News as a function of “leftie/greenie” political ideology (ignoring that AGW is a scientifically validated fact beyond any shadow of a doubt, which has nothing to do with politics). Fox News followers then feel that their own views denying AGW, which stem from their self serving motivations (and indeed from their nonscience or nonsense based political ideology), can be regarded as equally valid as the “political views” of the “warmists”, thus perpetuating a dysfunctional denialist mindset.

The analytical method we outlined in our main essay on Belief requires firstly to determine whether a particular belief of a particular individual has been scientifically validated beyond any reasonable doubt, or at least whether that belief is considered to be reasonable evidence-based speculation by the scientific community. If the explanation for their belief is that it is a reality based belief, no further explanation for that belief is required. If not reality based, then that particular belief of that particular individual needs to be evaluated according to the nine major functions of belief we outlined (and ancillary factors if applicable – in parts 2 & 3 of the Belief essay, of which the 6P is just a small part). By applying that process to all the individual’s beliefs, we can establish a precise and purposeful explanation of the unique nature of that individual’s belief system. The 6P in isolation however offers limited explanation as to what purposes an individual’s beliefs serve, it is primarily a form of pigeonholing and can be prone to misuse.

GC Appendix 2 follows…

APPENDIX 2: THE MISREPRESENTATION OF “COGITO ER SUM” BY PHILOSOPHERS AND THE FAULTY LOGIC OF PASCAL’S WAGER COMPARED WITH THE GOOD SENSE OF THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE

COGITO ER SUM:

Here is a common misrepresentation of “I think therefore I am”:

The sensory information I receive, my perception of the world, is impossible to absolutely verify. It is impossible to be absolutely certain that my perceptions represent an external objective reality. It is possible such information may in fact be hallucinatory and entirely false. The only thing I can be abolutely certain of is that I am thinking about this issue and therefore I and only I alone definitely exist. Therefore the denial of external objective reality is a reasonable philosophical proposition.

Such a declaration by a pundit (usually male) is the ultimate in egocentric blather, essentially being a dismissal of everyone else around him and an acknowledgement only of himself. Perhaps the best response to such dumb pontification is to kick him in the shins, then say to him that according to his own philosophy, the kick was merely a figment of his own imagination.

It brings to mind this limerick:

There once was a Reverend named Peel,

Who said, “Although pain isn’t real,

When I sit on a pin,

And it punctures my skin,

I dislike what I fancy I feel.

Humans are certainly prone to hallucinations and illusions, however we can overcome these limitations by performing independent observations and measurements by different people using different modalities at different times in different places (and ensuring we are not in a drugged out state when we do so).

Descartes’ thought experiment was intended to argue that only the certainty of existence of the thinking self was indisputable, however it did not necessarily conversely follow that everything else was non-existent. Decartes was a pioneer of the Enlightenment and an advocate of empirical observation, precise measurement and the testing of hypotheses. Therefore he clearly believed in external objective reality. For philosophers to hijack “cogito er sum” and argue that just because something could not be absolutely proven, therefore it could be regarded as unproven and therefore could be considered false, is an absurd stretch. Objective Truth exists but we can never achieve Absolute Truth. This misinterpretation of “cogito er sum” reflects the fact that those who demand Absolutes are absurd thinkers who simply do not understand Reality. This is mirrored in contemporary times in the absurd argument by the AGW deniers, who say that because AGW cannot be proven to the absolute level of their scientifically illiterate satisfaction, therefore AGW does not exist. The best response to them is to kick them in the shins.

PASCAL’S WAGER vs THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE:

The brilliant mathematician Blaise Pascal justified his belief in God as follows, best illustrated in this 2×2 table:

God exists God does not exist
I choose to believe in God and follow the rules of the Church Consequence: a few lifetime inconveniences, rewarded by Eternal paradise (finite disadvantage, infinite benefit) Consequence: a few lifetime inconveniences, with no Eternal reward (finite disadvantage, no benefit)
I choose not to believe in God and live life as I best see fit Consequence: self determination in life, but Eternal damnation (finite benefit, infinite disadvantage) Consequence: self determination in life, with no Eternal consequences (finite benefit, no disadvantage)

Pascal’s Wager bears some superficial resemblence to the Precautionary Principle shown generically below:

Low probability but high impact (major consequences) scenario High probability but low impact (minor consequences) scenario
Precautionary action Consequence: minor inconveniences from taking precautionary actions, mitigation of severe event Consequence: minor inconveniences from taking precautionary actions, mitigation of minor event
No action Consequence: no inconveniences from taking precautionary actions, but if event does occur, outcome will be terrible Consequence: no inconveniences from taking precautionary actions, and even if event does occur, disadvantage will be minor

What is the similarity between the two tables? In both cases, the upper left hand box of the 2×2 table seem to represent taking out insurance, which we all do for our cars, property or for overseas travel, so why not do so? Furthermore the outcome to avoid at all costs is the bottom left hand box of the 2×2 table, the worst case scenario. Hence, why not hedge our bets?

In theory one could express the various benefits and disadvantages of Pascal’s Wager better numerically, if we could establish a probability for the existence of God and could also rate the inconvenience of following Church rules. Even using a small probability of God and an afterlife, say one in a million, and using quality of (earthbound) life or QOL “units” from 0 to 10 (zero being dead and nonexistent, 10 having an optimal self determined full life and 5 representing a halving of your quality of life due to religious rules), what would the numbers look like? The aggregate quality of existence or AQOE will be the quality of your earthbound life combined with either eternal paradise (positive infinity) or eternal damnation (negative infinity)

God (and afterlife) may exist God (and afterlife) do not exist
I choose to believe in God and follow the rules of the Church Earthbound QOL = 5, AQOE taking into account 1/1000000 probability of God = 5 + (1/1000000 x infinity) = POSITIVE INFINITY Earthbound QOL = 5, AQOE = 5 + 0 = 5 (no afterlife)
I choose not to believe in God and live life as I best see fit Earthbound QOL = 10, AQOE taking into account 1/1000000 probability of God = 10 + (1/1000000 x negative infinity) = NEGATIVE INFINITY Earthbound QOL = 10, AQOE = 10 + 0 = 10(no afterlife)

So there it is, a nice neat table with nice neat numbers enabling you to make a nice neat decision. Hence the cold calculating brain tells us it is best to believe in, or go through the motions of believing in God. No matter how you run your calculations, even with a one in a billion or one in a trillion probability of the existence of God, it is still best to believe in God because even the smallest imaginable number multiplied by infinity is still infinity. A convincing logical argument? Actually, it is unmitigated bullshit.

Pascal’s Wager is so deeply flawed it is difficult to know where to begin and we can only scratch the surface of the counterargument in this appendix. No doubt, you will spot many flaws for yourself, however we would like to highlight just a few points. The refutation can be achieved quantitatively, or qualitatively by commonsense argument.

We have assumed, as Pascal and the Church had done, that the probability of the existence of God and the probability of a human afterlife go together. However how do we know the two are not mutually exclusive? That, for example, a creator God may exist but humans do not have an afterlife, just as we assume that God created all other animals but did not give them an afterlife? Furthermore, how do we know that any purported human afterlife goes on for an infinite duration? What is the evidence for that assertion? The only bases for those religious assertions (indeed, the assertion that God exists in the first place) are the human interpretations of “sacred” texts which were written by other humans in antiquity who claimed to have been inspired by God.This mindset is identical to that of Scientologists who intensely believe in Xenu the galactic overlord on the basis of the “sacred” text written by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

Nevertheless, let us lump the probability of existence of God and the afterlife together and assume an infinite afterlife, for simplicity. How can you quantitatively judge the probability of the existence of God? You need to look at any evidence suggesting God may exist, against evidence suggesting God may not exist, multiply each by weighted factors determined by you, do some kind of subtraction judgement and come to a percentage likelihood. As stated before, whatever number you arrive at is irrelevant, because any positive number, no matter how small, when multiplied by infinity, becomes infinity. But what if there is NO evidence whatsoever for the existence of God? Without rehashing the same arguments which Richard Dawkins made in his book “The God Delusion”, the evidence for the existence of God or gods is in fact zero, zilch, nada, nothing. There is simply no evidence. What is zero multiplied by infinity? An infinity of zeroes, ie zero.

It was understandable in the time of Pascal, when proper knowledge of the physics based origins of the Universe, of biological evolution and of DNA were lacking, that the appearance of a clockwork universe and the apparent “intelligent design” of organisms seemed to represent convincing evidence for a creator. Knowing what we now know however, we can completely dismiss both arguments (in particular that of I.D.) as utterly bogus (see “Confronting the Wizards of ID, http://archive-au.com/page/2595960/2013-08-10/http://www.dissent.com.au/backissues/issue22.htm ). There is simply NO evidence for the existence of God. All our reality based knowledge points to the fact that the Universe is utterly indifferent to humanity, that the current favourable conditions on this planet for our existence have arisen due to an extremely rare convergence of circumstances in time and place in an ancient and vast Universe. Such a rare convergence was bound to happen sometime, somewhere, in an old enough and big enough Universe.

For qualitative refutation of Pascal’s Wager, we need to consider the following:

Firstly, Pascal’s argument assumed dichotomously that either the Christian God exists or does not exist, a monumentally flawed assumption. The impartial observer will recognise that his view was merely a tiny microscopic smallminded perspective of the broad vista of human religious belief, hamstrung to the extreme by his ethnocentric culture. The fact is that many thousands of different Gods were and are purported to exist by many different groups of people, with many different versions of afterlives (or reincarnations), with many different purported rewards or punishments for following or not following their particular doctrines. It did not and does not make any sense whatsoever to place the probability of existence of the Christian God above the probability of existence of any one of thousands of other Gods (unless one’s brain had been captured by the “might equals right” paradigm outlined in our Belief essay). Hence in order to hedge one’s bets, it would be logically necessary to follow all the practices of all the religions around the world (including making blood sacrifices of your enemies, flaying their corpses and wearing their skins, as was the practice of Mesoamerican Religions) to maximise your chance of eternal reward and minimise your chance of eternal punishment. Due to the fact that many religious practices are mutually contradictory, such a strategy is clearly impossible. The honest observer therefore has to conclude that Pascal’s strategy, properly applied, is completely unworkable. Pascal chose to dismiss non-Christian Gods as pure superstitions, not worthy of any consideration in his Wager. Accordingly, by that very same token, the impartial observer is also justified in dismissing the Christian God as pure superstition not worthy of any consideration in the Precautionary Principle.

Secondly, just for the sake of argument, let us say that the Christian God, Heaven and Hell do indeed exist. Certain clerics who claim to know the mind of God assert that disbelievers are guaranteed to go to Hell, however on what evidential basis do they make such an assertion? Or is that something they just made up, so they could use fear to control the behaviour of others? I personally had a memorable conversation with a Catholic priest while on attachment to a hospice as a junior doctor. I was surprised to hear he believed that ethical non-Christians or Atheists, who did good deeds in the world, were not condemned to Hell and could even end up in Heaven. Indeed multitudes of people around the world in history had never been exposed to Christianity and were completely unaware of the Christian God through no fault of their own. He could not believe a compassionate God would condemn such people to Hell. Was that Catholic priest a heretical deviant who himself was headed for Hell for opposing the doctines of the church, or was he simply a compassionate man who believed in a fair, compassionate God?

Thirdly, let us employ some common sense as to the origins of the threat of an eternity of punishment in Hell. Most parents at one time or another would have invoked the threat to their four year old child that a horrrible Bogey man would kidnap and torture them if the child did not do the bidding of the parent eg “if you don’t stop wiping your snot with your sleeve, the Bogey man will grab you in the night”. Striking fear into the heart of a naive child using an imaginary threat can enforce compliance until they grow up and wise up. In the absence of any evidence of Heaven or Hell throughout the entirety of human (or paleolithic) history, sensible adults will dismiss the threat of Hell as no different from the fabricated threat of the Bogey man. Unfortunately some naive people never grow up nor wise up.

The 2×2 Precautionary Principle table is actually too simplistic for proper decision making and is better replaced by the “Probability-Outcome Graph” I previously formulated:

http://guymcpherson.com/home/doomstea/public_html/guymcpherson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WISDOMDecisionMaking.pdf

With regard to Global Warming and the Precautionary Principle: AGW should never have been regarded as a “low probability but high impact” scenario. It was always a “high probability, high impact” scenario and it was always a no brainer that humanity should have worked hard to prevent it. Unfortunately planetary policies had been hijacked by people with no brains, hence nothing substantial has been done. The fact is that AGW is no longer a “future probability”, whether low or high. It is a present certainty. Catastrophic events will become unimaginably more severe in the years to come and desolation of our biosphere is baked into the cake. We have missed the boat.

Attributions: Geoffrey Chia: inflammatory language, Rebecca Willis: critical feedback

April 2015

Of Fossil Fuels and Human Destiny

Off the keyboard of Ron Patterson

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Published on Peak Oil Barrel on May 7, 2014

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A Window Into Our World By Cognitive Dissonance   Every year during the early spring awakening I qui [...]

Event Update For 2019-09-21http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2019-09-20http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2019-09-19http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2019-09-18http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2019-09-17http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

With fusion energy perpetually 20 years away we now also perpetually have [fill in the blank] years [...]

My mea culpa for having inadvertently neglected FF2F for so long, and an update on the upcoming post [...]

NYC plans to undertake the swindle of the civilisation by suing the companies that have enabled it t [...]

MbS, the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attem [...]

Daily Doom Photo

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Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

A Tyranny of Time"“We will move to a low-carbon world because nature will force us, or because policy will guide [...]

The Trickster's Tale"Everyone has some wisdom, but no one has all of it." Come gather 'round my children [...]

Nothing Again - Naomi Klein Renews Her Climate Prescription"By now we should all be well aware by now of the havoc being caused by climate change." I [...]

Leaves of Seagrass"Seawater is the circulatory system of Gaia"In 1855, Walt Whitman penned the free verse, “ [...]

Treeplanting Olympics"Withdrawing 700 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere could be accomplished by as early as mi [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

What extinction crisis? Believe it or not, there are still climate science deniers out there. And th [...]

My new book, Abolish Oil Now, will talk about why the climate movement has failed and what we can do [...]

A new climate protest movement out of the UK has taken Europe by storm and made governments sit down [...]

The success of Apollo 11 flipped the American public from skeptics to fans. The climate movement nee [...]

Today's movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British an [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

Tim Garret, and others are saying all consumption is material. So and so many dollars per MWh . [...]

I am afraid you may be right: " . . . we are not only in a game of musical chairs to stay in th [...]

I didn't think that economists thought that energy was very important in the whole scheme of th [...]

She has a job she likes now, working for an acoustical society as an editor of some of its publicati [...]

Hi Steve. I recently found what I believe is a little gem, and I'm quite confident you'd a [...]

The Federal Reserve is thinking about capping yields? I don't know how long TPTB can keep this [...]

As some one who has spent years trying to figure out what the limits to growth are. let me say that [...]

Peak oil definitely happened for gods sake. Just because it isn't mad max right now is no indic [...]

@Volvo - KMO says he made some life choices he regrets. Not sure what they were. And I don't th [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

Barocaloric is a solid-state not-in-kind technology, for cooling and heat pumping, rising as an alte [...]

Terrestrial ecosystems and their vegetation are linked to climate. With the potential of accelerated [...]

The Antarctic Centennial Oscillation (ACO) is a paleoclimate temperature cycle that originates in th [...]