The People are Revolting

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Count de Monet
I come on the most urgent of business. It is said that the people are
revolting!

King Louis XVI
You said it, they stink on ice.

History of the World, Part I (1981)

I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.

But if the willingness of the French to rebel against indignities forced on them by the ruling class is historically predictable, even more so is the fervor with which nominally egalitarian-minded editorial boards like that of the New York Times will defend that class against all comers. Yesterday’s opinion piece from the Times was exactly this kind of tripe (h/t to packmember Mark Kahn). Read it and read it again, because we will see this narrative repeated a thousand times over the next 2-3 decades. Like any abstraction, this one stands in for any legitimate criticism of the outcome of a policy action.

What narrative am I talking about?

“It’s not that the policy was bad. People just misunderstood it, or it was presented the wrong way. Next time we will do it right and it will work.”

It is not just an emerging narrative that will increasingly have the power of the world’s most powerful missionaries behind it – our boldest politicians, popular scientists, authors, entertainers, media members and other luminaries. It is not just condescending. It is also a lie. And like many of the most powerful lies, in this case it exists and will thrive because its adherents believe it serves a Greater Truth: climate change is coming, climate change is real, and the consequences of inaction may be dire.

I believe this Greater Truth really is true. Incidentally, if you work in financial markets and haven’t read Jeremy Grantham’s mid-year note on the subject, I recommend it.

Oh, sure, I entertain some outside chance, like I would with any complex system like climate, that we’ve got it all wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. But I don’t think it is possible to be a serious person and to deny the compelling evidence of a warming earth and human influence on it any longer. I know some of our readers disagree. Some have probably been waiting for us to be a voice to say that climate change and climate science are just more misleading narratives. Sorry. If that’s what you’re waiting for, you’d better find a comfortable chair.

It is also important, however, that the fact that climate change is real does not mean that climate change! is not also a meme.

How do we tell the difference between the two?

A claim of climate science will be falsifiable and will have stood up to
attempts to do disprove it.

A claim of the climate change! meme will be non-falsifiable or will be a social science projection improperly conflated with hard science in order to achieve a desired policy end.

When someone tells you that climate science indicates that it is very likely that continuing to emit greenhouse gases at levels even dramatically below current quantities will result in an increase in mean temperatures, variability in weather and a general rise in sea levels, they are discussing climate science. When someone tells you that not joining this accord or signing that treaty, or not passing this policy or that policy, or not voting for this candidate or that candidate are anti-science, they are promoting the climate change! meme.

I believe it will become increasingly apparent that the predictions about and models for how humans will respond to both climate change and the policy agendas designed to combat it are divorced from the rigor of climate science in profound ways. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that the reams of policy research behind the French gas tax probably didn’t accurately predict the ‘yellow vest’ variable. If a simple tax on fuel proves socio-politically problematic, how much more trouble will come from the more dramatic events and policy outcomes being proposed? For example, we do not – we cannot – grasp how an emerging and enormous Indian middle class will respond to being told that they’re going to have to wait a couple decades on widespread air conditioning. And anyone who says they have a robust model for the behavior of billions of other humans emerging from poverty upon being told, “I’m sorry, I know it was your turn to live a life of leisure, comfort, travel, beef and packaged consumer goods, but that’s just not going to happen now” is no scientist. It’s not just about policy responses, either. We simply cannot and are inherently ill-equipped to predict how people will respond to an incredibly complex set of climate change outputs that will manifest in changing prices for real estate, agricultural commodities and labor, even before we consider any explicit policy action.

There is a great deal more to write about this and what we
should be doing instead than can be contained in a Brief. I DO think there’s a
better solution than the Times’s “The People are Revolting” shtick. I plan to write
more about this in the next few editions of the continuation of my little Bayesian
series – Notes from the Road.

In the meantime, however, I have a question and a challenge: give some thought to your philosophies as investor and citizen. Think about your most passionate views which began as earnest, scientific, fact-based beliefs. Think about some of those beliefs which encountered resistance. How did you respond? Did you change the way you told the story about them? In doing so, did your beliefs slowly become abstractions of the real thing you believed in originally?

Maybe I’m projecting, but I don’t think so. I think this is common. It’s a well-worn path, but it doesn’t lead to truth. Navigating that road requires clear eyes to see the opinions we drape in fact for what they are. I am convinced that this is even more true for the great tests humanity faces from time to time.

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Mark Kahn
Member
Mark Kahn

“In the meantime, however, I have a question and a challenge: give some thought to your philosophies as investor and citizen. Think about your most passionate views which began as earnest, scientific, fact-based beliefs. Think about some of those beliefs which encountered resistance. How did you respond? Did you change the way you told the story about them? In doing so, did your beliefs slowly become abstractions of the real thing you believed in originally?

My free market / capitalism / libertarian leans, which developed out of a reasonable, to my mind, understanding of my economic and history studies in my school days and early work years (with real-world experience confirming book learning) hardened in my later twenties into Randian absolutism, in part, owing to equally strident resistance from the all-around-me liberal New Yorkers.

(One of the great misconceptions – a false meme – is that Wall Street is populated by all hard-core conservatives and libertarians; whereas, the reality is that there’s always been a meaningful population of liberals on the Street, which, IMO, has increased in percentages over the past three decades.)

After spending a decade in my mid twenties to mid thirties building Fort Libertarianism with a Randian moat around my ideology, I realized I had let passion replace reason and have been trying, ever since, to reverse course and let reason replace passion.

The challenge is that few people today want to have a reasoned, nuanced conversation about these type of ideas – those on the right think you’re “squishy” or not a “true believer,” while those on the left either are angry that you don’t fit into an ideological “right” box that they are familiar with (and have set arguments against) or use any “concessions” you make as evidence your entire philosophy is a fraud.

Said another way, having a thoughtful, rational and reasoned conversation with a passionate believer – someone on either side whose ideas are “abstractions of the real thing -” is frustrating and has had me pulling away from interactions with others.

So, while I believe (or am kidding myself) that I’ve moved past my “abstractions of the real thing” phase, I’m finding that while it is helping me grow as a person, it is also causing me to grow further away from other people.

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michael gjerde
Member
michael gjerde

I love this post Rusty! Thanks for pointing out the difference between climate change and all the policy memes that swirl around it. There is so much to uncover here with clear eyes and a warm heart that I am so glad to have joined the pack.

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chudson
Member
chudson

I was actually meaning to write you via email and ask if you could do a Quid cloud of the climate change! meme. I did some Google Trends analysis on the subject and it looked like the number of searches was down significantly and I wondered if your Quid software was seeing the same things.

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Mike
Member
Mike

Great conversation…
Any change will reduce the paper output, and they don’t want this. It’s not institutional pressure that creates this resistance, it’s that scientists/experts themselves don’t want to move their butts.

Noise reduction
The new findings led the researchers to hypothesize that when people get very good at a task that requires complex computation, the noise will become smaller and less detrimental to overall performance. That is, people will trust their computations more and stop relying on averages.
“As it gets easier, our prediction is the bias will go away, because that computation is no longer a noisy computation,” Jazayeri says. “You believe in the computation; you know the computation is working well.”

Causes:
* Failure of nerve.
* Hesitation.
* Being unable to shift into a defensive shape.
* Lack of imagination.

Cords of a very good song…

Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
It takes a lot to change a man
Hell, it takes a lot to try

That last line is the most important…

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Mike
Member
Mike

“In the meantime, however, I have a question and a challenge: give some thought to your philosophies as investor and citizen. Think about your most passionate views which began as earnest, scientific, fact-based beliefs.”

Losing GOP States Try To Lock In Power Before Democrats Take Over

Two years ago, North Carolina set the precedent for this kind of move, when the Republican-controlled legislature stripped then-incoming Democrat Roy Cooper’s power over Cabinet appointments, made the state’s judicial system more partisan, and ensured that the state’s board of elections would be controlled by Republicans in election years. Cooper has been in legal fights over the changes since.

Now Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan are playing by the same book.

“We simply cannot and are inherently ill-equipped to predict how people will respond to an incredibly complex set of climate change outputs that will manifest in changing prices for real estate, agricultural commodities and labor, even before we consider any explicit policy action.”

Yes, its across the full spectrum of belief and policy!
…After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth.

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Mark Clark
Member
Mark Clark

The interesting thing about the climate debate is the idea that somehow a warming planet is a disaster, especially for agriculture. Higher CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere increase plant productivity. Is it a coincidence that crop yields are at record levels in conjunction with the highest carbon dioxide levels since the end of the last glacial period of the current ice age and the warmest temperatures of the past 600 years? As someone who has farmed in Maryland and south Georgia, let me say that I was able to grow far more forage to feed my dairy cows in the warm climate of Georgia than in the short growing season of Maryland. The average annual temperature in south Georgia is about 12 degrees F higher than Maryland. Even the worst case scenarios of climate change don’t predict a 12 degree warming.

Of course climate change is real. It’s happens with or without humans. But warming is preferable to cooling. The inevitability that “Winter is coming” brings a sense of doom and dread to the people of Westeros. Maybe our meme should be “Summer is coming” or “Winter is not coming” perhaps. The real disaster will be, as Grantham notes, will be running out of fossil fuels before we find a better source of energy than wind and solar.

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John
Member
John

Respectfully, I think you may have missed something in the Grantham piece. He doesn’t postulate that the real disaster will be running out of fossil fuel before better energy sources are found. In fact, he stipulates that new wind and solar plants have already achieved economic superiority to existing coal and nuclear (even assuming the latter’s initial capex is already paid-off).

He also doesn’t mention increased CO2 as a direct threat to agriculture (because, I suppose, he knows it’s not). Rather, he postulates that topsoil erosion (stemming from a combination of existing use and climate-related causes), diminishing productivity gains from fertilizer, loss of fertile land to sea level rise, and to a lesser extent the collapse of pollinators and competition from C4 weeds, may all combine to flatten or reduce global food supplies at roughly the moment we hit peak population. The resulting tension (mass migrations, aridification, and global demand for higher standards of living) may cause quite a few “disasters” that are quite apart from the direct perceptional experience of living our present lives a few degrees warmer.

It’s not an existential threat, because humans are remarkably adaptable and ingenious, but why make the planet so much less hospitable to ourselves and go through the awful process of adjusting to that when alternative paths exist at affordable costs?

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Mark Clark
Member
Mark Clark

Yes there are lots of threats to agriculture in the future and Grantham makes good points. Soil erosion is controlled easily with the proper tillage techniques so that doesn’t scare me. What really worries me is the depletion of the mined macronutrients, specifically potash and phosphate. That’s a serious problem.
The benefits of warmer temperatures far outweigh the negatives for total production. As warmer temps spread toward higher latitudes the growing season will lengthen by weeks, enabling double cropping on tens of millions of acres. Even if yields were slightly lower per acre, two crops give you much more food then one.

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JCH
Member
JCH

What struck me was the “They’re Doing It Wrong” reaction by the NYT given that there was no spokesperson(s) for the protesters:

“But when the government tried to open talks, there was no one to talk to. Some unofficial interlocutors appeared but were pulled back by threats from other yellow vests. So Mr. Macron and Prime Minister Édouard Philippe were left with no choice but to retreat…”

Maybe the NYT was nonplussed and annoyed by their inability to determine label the protest or tell the story through the individual(s), but it strikes me as an interesting dilemma for the Macron administration as it precludes the strategy of divide and conquer. Speaking to the leaders of the protests provides the opportunity to co-opt or intimidate the group through the individual(s) to minimize the changes offered to appease the protesters. The individual can be turned either by the carrot (becoming an elite or having their particular grievance addressed) or the stick (detainment or worse). After the individual is turned, they are used to placate or cow the group. Centralization, even among protesters, provides authoritarians a means of control.

This seems to dovetail nicely with Alex Gladstein’s thoughts around the potential use of blockchain as an anti-authoritarian technology , as long as leadership is distributed, there is limited ability to capture and control the protest. While it seems inevitable a charismatic leader will emerge to continue the old system with new faces, distributed leadership might delay the process or offer a path to maximizing change until the critical mass of the protest is lost.

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Ian VanReepinghen
Member
Ian VanReepinghen

Great note — but to your last paragraph; very hard for typical individuals to carry around or know proof of everything they say; some stuff just is too time consuming to study. WHo has time after work and kids to study everything that’s going on? It’s a meme now but the $400 in the bank stat is kind of real. Maybe retirees and older people have time for this? Yet I don’t see many inspirational, learned and wisemen, wisewomen, elders, “chiefs” or “uncles” around me. Mostly they don’t have a clue either. Is the choice be a specialist or just shut up?

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