Friday, 17 October 2014

Serving the Empire of lies

Last night I had occasion to have a debate with Nicole Foss of Automatic Earth, on Facebook.  The entire thread can be found HERE


A discussion with Nicole Foss

Seemorerocks

Nicole Foss


Yesterday I posted this comment from Guy McPherson.

The shit no longer hitting the fan. The fan is covered in shit. The shit is hitting the shit.

It nicely encapsulated how I was feeling about the events of the day.

I was surprised when I came back a few hours later to find a response from Nicole Foss of Automatic Earth who is now resident at Atawahi, near Nelson.

Here are some excerpts:


"Factually accurate? But it's a fact-free statement.... As bad as things may objectively get, we perceive them to be worse on the downside. Good contrarians wete trying to take away the puch bowl on the way up and will be called pollyanna on the way down. The world is not ending, just the world as we know it."

"Various risk factors are accelerating to the downside"

"We rationalize causation, but we see only correlation"

"Anything fear-based will get a lot of traction, just as things grounded in irrational exuberance got a free ride on the way up". 

"We hang the shuft on Ebola, but the shift is part of an endogenous pattern"

What the f..k does all that mean?, I thought.  (An endogenous pattern!!)

So, I went  asking what she meant by an exogenous pattern while expressing my opinion that:

"The world IS ending - unless you are referring to it as a geologic entity. You really should look at the entire evidence and not just get caught in your own are of interest and expertise."

I have a huge respect for people (especially scientists) that are able to use simple language to express complex concepts - but I have difficulty with people who express simple concepts in difficult-to-understand language.

The response came back quickly:

"An endogenous pattern is one that is a characteristic of the system's internal dynamics, with trend changes requiring no external trigger".

Well, I have to say, it was all downhill from there.

For me it got even worse when she responded to my request to look at all the evidence.  She felt she had to establish her credentials as a Big Picture thinker and as a scientist

"I do look at all the evidence. I am a big picture person, a generalist, but I have significant expertise in biological and geophysical systems in addition to human and economic systems. For what it's worth I was top graduate in the faculty of science, majoring in biology"

It soon became clear to me that the discussion was not at all about climate science or whether or not it was true that we have an increasing number of self-reinforcing feedbacks or that the methane releases mean that we already have runaway climate change.

Instead, it became clear that this was all about Guy McPherson:

"I do not engage in emotional responses dressed up as intellectual argument. I cannot review and deconstruct your link on my phone. I would be more interested in doing so once I have wifi again if it were by a different author not given to misrepresenting sources and data"

"McPherson runs a doomsday cult IMO. It is highly anti-intellectual, and does nothing but feed on and feed back the fear that is gaining so much destructive traction in this world. It does nothing useful at all." 

Really, the essence of her argument came at the end.

"I prefer to concentrate my efforts on factors that operate at a human scale which we can therefore hope to do something about. We aren't going to do anything about climate change. Either economic collapse or eventual nuclear winter will change the trajectory or they won't. We cannot know and cannot even presume to know. Why concentrate in that which cannot be changed by human agency? That is just a recipe for pointless angst. Work with the humanly malleable and you never know what may be possible. What purpose does it serve discounting those possibilites in advance? All that would do is make sure we change nothing at all, even that which might have been within our power to influence. It is a recipe for premature despair and hopelessness, and as such is highly, and pointlessly, disempowering."

Really, Nicole - do you mean you don't seek to find out what is true but you base your efforts on what you assess to be useful, what we can "hope to do something about"

Well. The kindest thing I can say about this is that this is not my approach!

Most of the people I know who have come to this conclusion are NOT engulfed in "pointless angst" but are living their lives positively and to the full ("living with death in mind")

Several times over the past few years I have had to completely revise my set of assumptions because the world does not stand still and I have been faced with new evidence that shattered the older assumptions.

THE ARGUMENT WITH GUY McPHERSON

I had been vaguely aware from various statgements I had picked up from Nicole accusing Guy of 'intellectual dishonesty', but was not aware of what lay behind this.

For what it's worth I never heard any mention of Foss until I asked him about it.

In the course of our discussion the whole background came out.

Foss responded to statements by Australian permaculturalist, David Holmgren that we need to break the economic system to save the climate with her own arguments.

This, according to Foss, was the one article where she 'covered' climate change.

As an aside, this was an argument of Guy's (based on a scientific paper by Tim Garrett) - until some time in 2012, when he realised that positive feedbacks meant that the genie was out of the bottle and we are already in a state of abrupt climate change.

I will freely admit that I am disinclined to go through all the ins-and outs of the arguments of Foss' article.  In fact her comments about climate change boil down to little more than a few paragraphs and are a string of assertions that have no science to back them up.

Much of the article is a discussion about permaculture and Holmgren's vision of energy descent.

When she does finally talk about climate change (as a sort of aside, really) she says:


"I do not focus on climate change in my own work, partly because top-down policies vary between useless and counter-productive, and partly because, in my opinion, the science is far more complex and less predictable than commonly thought, and finally because success in generating a genuine fear of climate change is likely to produce human responses that achieve far more harm than good"

And

"Apocalyptic predictions of near term human extinction have been made by some commentators, and drastic ‘solutions’ proposed as a result. I would regard such predictions as unlikely, disempowering and dangerous, in the sense that they could, when fear is in the ascendancy anyway, provoke a disproportionate fear response that could in itself be very destructive"

Once again it doesn't seem to matter whether whether something is true or not, but it is important what the perceived response might be.

This comes very close to the official Green response of 'we can't tell people the whole truth about Peak Oil or climate change because it would cost us votes'

Then comes this:


"The difference is that both financial crisis and peak oil are far more personal and immediate than climate change, and so are far bigger motivators of behavioural change. For this reason, addressing arguments in these terms is far more likely to be effective. In other words, the best way to address climate change is not to talk about it."

Guy's response quite understandable response to this was:

I'd be hard pressed to find a stupider statement than this: "the best way to address climate change is not to talk about it.”

Mildly inflammatory polemics it may be, but hardly enough, I would have thought to evince the response it has.

Then, Foss goes on to express her opinion of what she feels  such 'fear-mongering'  might give rise to:


Specifically, the harms that would likely proceed from a deliberately induced fear of climate chaos include:


1) Carbon trading systems - Carbon credit trading programs would likely fuel an new boom and bust cycle which would further enrich speculators, bankers and other parasites while doing nothing to reduce global carbon emissions.


2) Massive infrastructure investment in adaptation - If the accepted wisdom is that mitigation is impossible and adaptation necessary, then resources which could have built bottom-up resilience would be squandered on over-built, top-down boondoggles.


3) Geo-engineering - Deliberate attempts to change the composition of the atmosphere to counteract the effects of increased carbon are almost sure to have unintended consequences. The cure could well be worse than the disease.


4) Eco-fascism - Fascists capitalise on fear and insecurity, and they’re not picky about the pretext they use to exert control over people’s lives. Fear of climate catastrophe can serve their purposes just as easily as paranoid fantasies about The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.


5) A mood of collective self-flagellation - Misanthropic environmentalists and doomsday cultists see every aspect of human civilization as corrupt and unworthy of preservation. If this attitude proliferates, and if people started to act on it by, say, blowing up dams or engaging in other destructive acts that would, rightly, be denounced as acts of terrorism, then all ideas held by any environmentalists, no matter how peaceful, could be demonized and thus removed from consideration in mainstream discourse.


I ask you when any of this was part of Guy's arguments.

This is pure, unabashed climate change denial.

In fact, it's worse than that. 

There's no denial on the basis of the science (in fact, the science doesn't even rate a mention)  - but what is being said is: 'we won't talk about this because it doesn't suit our purposes" - which are to bring about "change from below" 

(Discussion of climate change) is just a recipe for pointless angst....What purpose does it serve discounting those possibilities in advance?...It is a recipe for premature despair and hopelessness, and as such is highly, and pointlessly, disempowering."

So, we won't talk about it!


BACK TO OUR CONVERSATION

I tried, naive as it seems now in retrospect, to encourage Foss to put her argument with Guy McPherson aside and simply look at the scientific evidence on its own basis.

I posted a video of Natalia Shakhova discussing methane emissions in the East Siberian ice shelf but that didn't evince any response.

Instead the conversation went on along the lines of:

"The world is based in positive feedback loops at all degrees of trend in almost every subsystem of reality. It doesn't mean we can extrapolate those out to infinity. They hit a wall and reverse. We need to anticipate trend changes in many spheres. Extrapolation of trends is not analysis."

"I am not being at all emotional. I am an objective observer of the system"

"Of course I know about Kubler-Ross. My background us in neuroscience and psychology, as well as environmental science".

"I have described objectively disreputable behaviour (of Guy McPherson)."

Objectively disreputable behaviour!!?

I became progressively more emphatic with my admonition to look at the evidence, so I repeat the request FIVE TIMES without any response.

Finally this was put down to her inability to access videos on her cellphone, and 

"Hectoring me as if this affected my credibility is beneath you"



CONCLUSION

Last night on Facebook I saw only a person unwilling to stop and look at the evidence.

However, on reading much of the material that she has written I find something worse that that:

I do regard this issue (climate change) as of lesser importance than those things we can hope to change. This not to say that climate it not important of course, merely that investing time in the humanly immutable is probably wasted time, and I don't have a lot of time on my hands

The difference is that both financial crisis and peak oil are far more personal and immediate than climate change, and so are far bigger motivators of behavioural change. For this reason, addressing arguments in these terms is far more likely to be effective. In other words, the best way to address climate change is not to talk about it.

For some reason the words of Marx,( I thought it was Lenin), come to mind:


"Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."

I am hard-pressed to think of an approach that is more unprincipled and intellectually honest.

For me this is all the more so because I have had to painfully reassess all my assumptions in the past couple of years - from a position that was (in 2011-12) quite close to Foss' (based on buildng lifeboats as a response to economic collapse and energy descent), to one that has to recognise that the window for positive change has well-and-truly closed and that we are looking down the barrel of runaway climate change if not the near-term extinction of life on this planet within the next half-century.

I have had great respect for the work of Nicole Foss and indeed she has produced some of the best material available on economic collapse.

However, reading her position on climate change has seriously eroded that respect.

.....

24 hours ago, I might not have done so - but I will give the final word to Guy McPherson:


"I'd be hard pressed to find a stupider statement than this: "the best way to address climate change is not to talk about it." In other words, channelling Orwell, "truth is treason in an empire of lies." At least in this case, Foss apparently prefers the empire of lies."

Insensitive it may seem, but it expresses the reality quite nicely.


NOTE

So that you can make up your own mind the entire thread of last night's Facebook conversation is available HERE.

The following are the relevant articles: 


Crash on Demand? A Response to David Holmgren

Radio Ecoshock: Crash on Demand with David Holmgren and Nicole Foss

Dirty Pool: A Response to Guy McPherson


Here is Nicole Foss' response to this article

This an an entirely unworthy piece from someone I used to respect. That is a great shame. I really thought you were better than that. Evidently not. Note in your thread that I was complementary about your work, despite our major disagreement over near term human extinction. In return you have taken a leaf from the Guy McPherson slander protocol. My argument with Guy McPherson is grounded in exchanges you have not seen, where poisonous things have been written both to me and about me, deliberately and maliciously misrepresenting my work while clearly being unfamiliar with it. This is entirely disreputable and unprofessional conduct, as I said in the thread. Moreover, he treats everyone who disagrees with him the same way. One cannot have an intellectual argument with McPherson at all. He does not operate in that sphere, but in the 
This an an entirely unworthy piece from someone I used to respect. That is a great shame. I really thought you were better than that. Evidently not. Note in your thread that I was complementary about your work, despite our major disagreement over near term human extinction. In return you have taken a leaf from the Guy McPherson slander protocol. My argument with Guy McPherson is grounded in exchanges you have not seen, where poisonous things have been written both to me and about me, deliberately and maliciously misrepresenting my work while clearly being unfamiliar with it. This is entirely disreputable and unprofessional conduct, as I said in the thread. Moreover, he treats everyone who disagrees with him the same way. One cannot have an intellectual argument with McPherson at all. He does not operate in that sphere, but in the cultic sphere. You don't know who and what you are defending. Hopefully people who actually read the articles I wrote will see how much of a distortion of a nuanced argument is being presented here. I made it perfectly clear why I do not focus on climate change, and that, as I explicitly said, has nothing to do with denying it's existence. Anyone who cannot see that from the material I presented has reading or listening comprehension problems. As for choosing to live as if you are about to die, you ahead if that's what works for you, but don't expect others to make the same sad choice. There's nothing ignoble about focusing on things which are do-able and making the best of a bad situation, and there is no reason to believe that very useful things might not be achieved in doing so. Near term human extinction is a fantasy that reflects the apocalyptic psychology of our times, and is sadly getting traction as a result. I am entirely in agreement with John Michael Greer on this point. We create our own tragic trajectory in our own minds by closing off the potential for adaptation and mitigation across all the aspects of limits to growth. Of course there will be a bottleneck and some highly unpleasant consequences flowing from that as we face the thermo-gene collision (to use Jay Hanson's terminology), but extinction? Not any time soon, unless we annihilate ourselves through nuclear war.

You don't know who and what you are defending. Hopefully people who actually read the articles I wrote will see how much of a distortion of a nuanced argument is being presented here. I made it perfectly clear why I do not focus on climate change, and that, as I explicitly said, has nothing to do with denying it's existence. Anyone who cannot see that from the material I presented has reading or listening comprehension problems. As for choosing to live as if you are about to die, you ahead if that's what works for you, but don't expect others to make the same sad choice. There's nothing ignoble about focusing on things which are do-able and making the best of a bad situation, and there is no reason to believe that very useful things might not be achieved in doing so. Near term human extinction is a fantasy that reflects the apocalyptic psychology of our times, and is sadly getting traction as a result. I am entirely in agreement with John Michael Greer on this point. We create our own tragic trajectory in our own minds by closing off the potential for adaptation and mitigation across all the aspects of limits to growth. Of course there will be a bottleneck and some highly unpleasant consequences flowing from that as we face the thermo-gene collision (to use Jay Hanson's terminology), but extinction? Not any time soon, unless we annihilate ourselves through nuclear war.

Well, it looks as if agreeing or disagreeing with certain people trumps over the truth and evidence.  Scientific evidence and drawing conclusions from that evidence has become a "cultic sphere"

We are, indeed living in an Orwellian world where white is black, black is white and 2 + 2 = 5.

---SMR

6 comments:

  1. The intellectually dishonest, climate denier, Nicole Foss has removed that FB thread. Attempting to cover her scat trail of idiocy, I'd say.

    Robin, your response and repeated attempts to evoke some sense of honest intelligence from her was a noble effort. Sadly in vain. Hypocrites like her, who enjoy the financial luxury of being able to run away from civilization to hide out in equatorial locations in hopes of riding out the extinction train, yet hurl their feces at others (Guy McPherson) who pointed the way for them, cannot be reasoned with.
    They live in a logical heresy, rationalizing the ludicrous, defending the obscene, and slandering those who are brave and honest and who have sacrificed much to tell the truth.
    She sounds like a complete idiot who cannot hold a thought or idea in her head, juggling contradictory thoughts, i.e., The world is not ending VS The world is ending and there is nothing we can do about it.
    But I'm going to move somewhere that might be more survivable, if the world WERE to be ending. Which it is not. Which I can't do anything about anyway. So I won't talk about it and will insult anyone else who tries to.

    In other words:
    Captain of Titanic to passengers : The Titanic has struck an iceberg and is sinking fast.
    Passengers: Can we stop it?
    Captain: No. It will sink and most of us will die.
    Passengers: We "would regard such predictions as unlikely, disempowering and dangerous, in the sense that they could, when fear is in the ascendancy anyway, provoke a disproportionate fear response that could in itself be very destructive"
    Captain: Fine. Whatever. You're going to die anyway you nitwits.
    Passengers: Stop being so negative. Let's not talk about this anymore.
    Captain: You really are a bunch of nitwits, aren't you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. With some regret I agree with every word you have written, Pauline.

      Delete
    2. Guy reads and interprets the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
      Foss (and to some extent Baker) 'read' their own scat piles (for self-aggradidizing confirmation) and pronounce same to be pleasingly aromatic.

      Delete
  2. I'm pretty sure Nicole Foss is not a climate denier. I had a brief chat with her once on this. I think she's wrong not to focus on the central issue of our time (along with ocean acidification) as I think it is just as likely to hit us before some of the other issues she does focus on, and will ultimately have a much bigger impact.

    However, I don't think Guy has made the case for NTHE (not everyone who looks at the same evidence will come to the same conclusion). If he's wrong, then insisting that there is nothing to be done is counter productive. And it's impossible for him to know that he's right.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just saying. One should not minimize the hatred for Guy McPherson afoot in many parts of the science community. After I had him on my radio show a few years ago, I was unable to book some other guests with a different point of view after they found out Guy had been on. The best excuse I could wring out of them was that McPherson's message was 'counterproductive'. To me, that's a worthwhile radio discussion, but it never came to pass.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As a reader of both Guy, and Nicole, I have to say (raspberry)! Haven't they (and you) got better things to do than than this? Guy repeatedly stresses pursuing a life of excellence...as YOU SEE IT. (Personally, I'm growing vegetables.) If pointless argument (which will only serve to entrench opinions rather than open minds) is your version, I encourage you to go to it. Just don't expect me to feed you.

    ReplyDelete