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The silver lining of fake news

Posted on 28 August 2018 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from ClimateSight

What exciting times we live in! The UK is stockpiling food and medicine as it charges willingly into a catastrophe of its own choosing. The next Australian prime minister is likely to be a man who has committed crimes against humanity. And America has descended so far into dystopia that it can’t even be summed up in one pithy sentence.

I spend a lot of time wondering how future generations will look back upon this period in history. Will there be memorial museums on Nauru and at the US-Mexican border, pledging Never Again? Will the UK’s years in the European Union be heralded as a golden age for the country? And what will the history books say about Donald Trump?

When I imagine these future historians, giving their seminars and writing their books and assigning their students essays, there is one overarching theme I’m sure they will focus on. One puzzling phenomenon is at the root of so much of the madness we face today. Our future historian might title such a seminar “Widespread public rejection of facts in the early 21st century”. Or, if you wish to be so crass, “Fake News”. A distrust of experts, and of the very idea of facts, now permeates almost every part of public life – from science to economics to medicine to politics.

Climate change used to be the sole target of this. I’ve been wrestling with fake news on climate change for more than ten years now. And I used to get so frustrated, because my friends and family would read dodgy articles in respectable newspapers written by fossil fuel executives and believe them. Or at least, consider them. Reasonable people heard debate on this issue and assumed there must be some merit to it. “Both sides of the climate change debate have good points to make,” they would reasonably say.

It’s different now. Denialism has spread into so many topics, and received so much attention, that reasonable people are now well aware of its existence. “You guys, did you know that there are people who don’t believe in facts?!” is the gist of so many dinner conversations around the world these days. And the exhausted climate scientists sit back, twirl their spaghetti around their fork, and say “Yes, yes we know. So you’ve finally caught on.”

This is the weird silver lining of fake news: reasonable people now take climate change more seriously. When they read bogus stories about global cooling and natural cycles and scientific conspiracies, they just say “Aha! These are the people who don’t believe in facts.” It’s like the dystopia of 2018 has inoculated many of us against denialism. More and more people now understand and accept the science of climate change, even while those who don’t grow louder and more desperate. Climate change deniers still exist, but it seems that their audience is shrinking.

(Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re actually doing anything about climate change.)


PS I am now Twittering, for those of you who are so inclined.

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. Maybe you are right and people are increasingly accepting that the climate is changing, and are seeing through the fake news on this aspect of things. I put any increasing acceptance down to relentlessly increasing temperatures more than anything finally registering with people. Fake news can't really hide this, and it can't hide peoples personal experience of bad weather, and a strong sense it is getting worse.

    But given only 58% of people in America think humans are 'causing' climate change after all we have gone through, its hard for me to see this aspect of the issue changing much more. About the same numbers of 40% are still sceptical about evolution 100 years after the discovery of the thing. Fake news has a long history, even as the internet has obviosly multiplied it all.

    One of the problems is some people go by instincts and so called 'truthiness' while others look more at scientific evidence. Only one of these groups can be looking at information the right way.

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  2. I agree that things are slowly being corrected, slowly improving the development of a sustainable better future for humanity. And I am also aware that there are many powerful wealthy people who understand that their unjustified developed perceptions of superiority relative to others are threatened by that improving understanding of the required correction of what has developed.

    Primitive human nature is a limited worldview (more self-interested, more tribal-limited, less interested in actions being sustainable or in avoiding harm to others). Modern Civilization is the development of expanded worldviews (more altruistic, accepting of other sub-tribes based on altruistic evaluation of the actions of those sub-tribes).

    Tragically, Modern Civilization is still full of plundering bandits who try to get away with benefiting from harmful unsustainable actions, or who fight against correcting unsustainable unjustified social beliefs. And many of those type of people have become very powerful, particularly with the assistance of misdirected critical-thinking and science-minded approaches to misleading advertising developed to appeal to people who are willing to be easily impressed (and by the uniting the diversity of social and fiscal conservatives, all right-wings, to support each other's unjustified interests in a last ditch hope to still win regionally).

    Developing civilization is always challenged by the ease with which people can devolve to a more limited worldview. It is hard work to ensure that actions are governed by good helpful altruistic reasoning (GHAR).

    Improving awareness and understanding and acting altruistically is hard work for a self-governing individual (especially when understandably harmful and unsustainable activity is allowed to compete for popularity and profitability, and worse when the employment and tax revenue of such activities result in regional leaders trying to promote and protect those activities rather than correct things). It is even harder for the responsible members of a society trying to responsibly govern or limit the behaviour of all of its members. John Stuart Mill identified the problem in “On Liberty” when presenting that a society had the collective ability to properly educate all of its members. He stated: “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”

    But the harder work of GHAR in pursuit of improved awareness and understanding of what is really going on, and how to collaborate to develop a lasting better future for all of humanity's diversity of tribes, has always been worth the effort.

    Many people have written about the unsustainable damaging ways that things have been developing, particularly in the USA, particularly since the Nixon Presidency, and particularly whenever the Right-wing have won significant control of power in the USA. And that unsustainable and damaging direction of USA development has been contaminating what happens elsewhere in the world. Admittedly there was a lot of bad stuff done by international leadership including the USA before Nixon's time, but people were starting to become more aware. And even today there are many people doing the harder work of becoming more aware, having a larger worldview. Climate science and the need to curtail the burning of fossil fuels is an example of a developed problem with signs that the problem is slowly being overcome, with occasional damaging set-backs.

    There seems to be a correlation between the way that USA Right-wing leadership changed and the timing of the UN report about significant strides made by the global collaborative effort to figure out what was going wrong globally and the corrections required for the benefit of the future of humanity. The Stockholm Conference in 1972 unmistakably indicated that many of the developed profitable and popular activities were unsustainable and harmful. Those unsustainable and harmful activities developed 'because of freedom to do things' (because of a lack of regulation or restriction by global leadership in business and politics). That undeniable understanding of what was going on was a threat to the ideology of fiscal conservatives (and social conservatives). They wanted more freedom to do as they pleased, and to impose their 'being discovered to be unreasonable and harmful beliefs' on others.

    In addition to increased public awareness of the unacceptability of what the fiscal and social conservatives did not want to give up, there was improved awareness that some winners were undeserving. That improved awareness would be a serious threat to the perceptions of superiority they had gotten away with developing. The outrage of the Right-wing against the developing understanding of the required corrections starts at about that time, at the time of the Nixon Presidency, at the time of the UN Stockholm Conference.

    Al Gore wrote about it in “The Assault on Reason”. And I am currently reading Jonah Goldberg's “Suicide of the West - How the rebirth of tribalism, populism, nationalism, and identity politics is destroying American Democracy”. Neither book makes a connection between the improving global altruism and the increased aggressiveness of the Right-wing against being corrected, that is a connection that I am speculating about.

    Developing improved and sustainable perceptions, services, products or means of production (improved meaning: more fact-based, less waste, less harm, and less unsustainable consumption), needs to be more highly-valued than creating unjustified desires and getting more popularity or profit the easiest possible way for as long as can be gotten away with.

    Enjoying a life in ways that are understood to be sustainable and helpful, not harmful, to others (especially all future generations) is hard work. It is also hard work to protect democracy in politics and the marketplace from the damaging influence of secrecy/ignorance, manipulation by misleading advertising, or other gross distortions of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand that requires all participants to be fully aware, wanting to be helpful, and not wanting any harm done by anyone to anyone.

    Undeniably, it can be easier and more personally beneficial to simply do what is thought to be possible to be gotten away with, without putting effort into figuring out if what is being done is sustainable, or if it is helpful or harmful to others. And it can be very beneficial to deliberately try to be secretive or to mislead others about the decency of what is happening.

    Cooperative collaborative human activity is the most beneficial thing humans have developed the ability to do. To be sustained, any collaboration or cooperative action must be governed by Good Helpful Altruistic Reasoning. Competing to improve awareness and understanding of what is going on and to develop sustainable improved ways of living is at a disadvantage if less helpful and actually harmful ways of living are allowed to compete.

    Without GHAR governing and limiting what is done, the actions will corrupt into harmful unsustainable pursuits (tip of the hat to Jonah Goldberg, author of “Suicide of the West”, for helping me understand the possible applications of the term - corrupt). Without GHAR the sub-collectives (tribes) of humanity will devolve into greedier and less tolerant entities (groups of greedier and less tolerant participants). Corrupting to that primitive human nature selfish small worldview is easier than the harder work of improving collective civilization governed by GHAR with everyone pursuing an expanded world-view, harder than embracing and supporting a robust diversity of humanity fitting sustainably into a robust diversity of all other life.

    Critical-thinking science-minded people can also be misdirected into pursuits of new ways to be more profitable or personally beneficial that rely on secrecy (ignorance among the public), or unjustified permission (marketing created social licence/popularity or political leadership allowing/promoting it) to get away with harmful actions for as long as possible. Technology can be a particularly insidious and damaging distraction. It is the result of hard work, but that work can be misdirected into creating appealing distractions from the harder work of GHAR. And that misdirection can develop unjustified desires for unsustainable and harmful to make-use-tossaway “New Amazing Gadgets” or “New ways to Harm or Threaten to Harm Others that can be excused as New Defensive Capabilities”.

    Developing a sustainable constantly improved future for humanity is possible. The UN development of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals is proof that helpful developments of improved awareness and understanding can occur in spite of temporary regional set-backs from the push-backs by the right-wing. It is hard work that can never stop, because the right-wing attempts to get people to corrupt into primitive divisive tribal selfishness. will never go away.

    GHAR needs to govern everyone everywhere forevermore, never allowing primitive human nature to significantly influence things without being evaluated by GHAR for acceptability, only allowing actions that are sustainable and harmless to compete for popularity and profitability.

    That change is developing, in spite of temporary regional set-backs. Sadly, the future of humanity suffers more every time anyone allows their primitive human nature to over-rule their modern human ability to be considerate, reasonable, helpful, altruistic.

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  3. The Nixon administration was not Americas finest hour, and indeed  started the backlash against the sensible altruist economics that started with the "New Deal",  but Nixon was surprisingly good with environmental legislation, and he started the EPA and vehicle emissions standards.

    At that time there was a level of political consensus in America on environmental matters, but a coalition of ranchers and miners then started to oppose environmentalism in the late 1970's. Anti environmentalism really gained traction with Ronald Reagon, and he downgraded some environmental legislation, and it has unfortunately now become a GOP core ideology culminating with their climate science denial but clearly not limited to this as anyone looking at people like Scot Pruitt would know (and his replacement). 

    I was reading this yesterday. From Vox news : How Republicans came to embrace anti-environmentalism.

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  4. "Climate change used to be the sole target of this."

    Unfortunately, that just isn't true. Evolution is an obvious example, but there are many others. The largest and longest running is likely the whole Southern delusion about their 'noble' Civil War ancestors. The most impactful would probably be the insanity of supply-side / trickle-down / 'give all the money to the rich so they can hire more people' / feudalism 'economic theory'... which HAD nearly died out after the Great Depression, but then came roaring back after the oil embargo and Reagan.

    Et cetera.

    Know nothingism is not some new phenomena in US life. It has been with us for a very long time and has been steadily growing to swallow the Republican party for my entire lifetime (starting with Nixon's 'southern strategy' to embrace the racist narrative rather than letting it politically die when the Democrats finally grew out of it). Climate change was never more than a side skirmish in this ongoing war of reality vs delusion.

    I was warning about this growing problem 20 years ago... it is just that we have finally reached the inevitable end stage where a Republican president has to constantly deny observed reality because that is the only way to pretend their policy positions make sense.

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  5. I think this is being oversimplified. It’s a complex issue. It is enticing to dismiss those who mistrust science as being uneducated on the subject. But that leads us to the same dead end of thinking all we have to do is tell the real facts and people will come around to the right way of thinking. Research doesn’t support that view.

    As reported here in the past, regarding climate change, the more educated a conservative is the less likely they are to be persuaded by facts. Presentation of science facts drives deniers further into denial. So I don’t think the problem lies with denialist falsehoods. In my experience, climate change denialists are in love with the lamest over-simplifications. How often have you read the comment about how temperatures could have risen in the past if the cavemen had no SUVs to drive? Ever hear any denialist try to use Roy Spencer’s argument about natural variation tied to the Pacific multi-decadal oscillation?

    Things are even worse on the economic front. Workers who have been profoundly hurt by supply side fiction insist that the wealthy pay too much in taxes. Educated upper middle class conservatives think the top tax rate in America’s Golden Age (the 2 decades after WWII) was 20%. Trying to explain the idea of a progressive tax to young conservatives shows how our education system has changed over the years. We were too distracted by defending evolution in public education to notice that the curricula on basic economic theory took a wrong turn somewhere. Now it seems the age old divide between property rights and majority rule is becoming an economic war and the rich are winning. That doesn’t bode well for the sanctity of our democracy.

    Research has shown physical differences in brain patterns between conservatives and liberals. So part of the problem is that some of us tend to believe those in positions of authority while others tend to ask how they rose to that position.

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  6. This website talks a lot about 'inoculation' against fake news, as a method of countering it.  So, I guess there is a 'silver lining' to fake news, in the same way that typhoid fever led to the 'silver lining' of a vaccine.  Still, surrounded by people screaming from a raging infection of 'truthiness', its hard not to mourn what was, and is no longer.  We can innoculate against fake news, but we can never put that demon back in the box.

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  7. I first got worried about denialism as a grad student studying philosophy of science, as religious fanatics and politicians in the US began promoting 'creation science'.  Some colleagues thought paying attention to that absurd movement was foolish, but it seems I'm now having the last (somewhat bitter) laugh.  The threat posed by such points of view lies in the policy implications— largely educational in the case of evolution denial, but truly frightening in vaccine and climate denial.  When public authorities declare their independence from facts and evidence, we are all in danger... @dkeierleber, Paul Krugman has commented forcefully on the fictional 'economics' that dominates public economic discourse... Improving education is generally a slow, uphill effort, but when causes and effects are not obviously linked to voters, working connect the dots for them seems to be part of what needs doing.  

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  8. "Climate change used to be the sole target of this."

    No as others have said,  fake news has a very old history. Refer fake news on wikipedia.

    Earliest example quoted: "In the 13th century BC, Rameses the Great spread lies and propaganda portraying the Battle of Kadesh as a stunning victory for the Egyptians; he depicted scenes of himself smiting his foes during the battle on the walls of nearly all his temples."

    Obviously the internet has multiplied the quantity and spread of such material, and unfortunately this has coincided with the climate science denialism.

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  9. Republicans have an anti intellectual tendency. "Republicans are increasingly antagonistic toward experts. Here’s why that matters." One way to try to drown out uncomfortable messages is obviously fake news, but it won't change reality. Reality will have the last laugh.

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  10. nigelj.

    Though "Reality will have the last laugh", what is really going on is no laughing matter.

    Uncaring undeserving people are getting away with enjoying their lives more. They are developing unjustified perceptions of superiority relative to others by getting away with harming the development of a sustainable better future for humanity. And they can get away with it because the future of humanity has no chance to vote for representation, no purchasing power, no marketing power, no legal power. The future of humanity can do nothing in retaliation against those doing harm to them.

    When did the global leadership of humanity stop caring about its future? It certainly seemed to collectively care more in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And the global pursuit of improved awareness and understanding has continued since then. But that increased awareness and understanding has not been embraced by all of the leadership contenders in the supposedly 'most advanced nations', because they have only developed perceptions of advancement.

    What will need to happen for all leadership contenders in the supposedly more advanced nations to embrace the understanding of, and urgency of, the required corrections of what has developed?

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  11. CBDunkerson @4
    I see similar things in Alberta and other parts of Canada, with some regions headed as significantly in the incorrect direction as many parts of the USA.

    When GW Bush announced that the USA would not ratify Kyoto he proudly stated that the American people did not have to change the way they lived. Republicans have continued to present the same claim to Americans, a claim many Americans like to hear. It is an unjustified claim because the way they are living, trying to maximize their benefit from harmful burning of fossil fuels, is undeniably an unsustainable and harmful dead-end (though undeniably popular and profitable for some for as long as it can be gotten away with).

    My engineering experience has taught me that accurately identifying the root parts of a problem is critical to developing a sustainable solution or sustainable correction of a problem.

    A root part of the problem in the USA and many other locations (in developed and developing nations), is leaders and wanna-be-leaders hoping to unjustifiably win leadership in many unjustified ways:

    • They abuse how easily many people can be tempted to believe unjustified perceptions of popularity, profitability, prosperity, or superiority relative to others. And the unjustified perceptions of superiority include perceptions that their beliefs are superior to other beliefs. The unjustified pursuers of winning that way tempt people into allowing their selfish primitive human nature over-rule their modern human ability to have Good Helpful Altruistic Reasoning (GHAR) govern their beliefs and actions.
    • Their bias in favour of their preferred beliefs is spun in their minds in order to justify why they won't accept actual improved awareness and understanding. Improved awareness and understanding is declared to just be beliefs expressed by someone else who thinks they are superior. They will even declare that their own beliefs are superior to the improved actual awareness and understanding of what is actually going on (without legitimate justification).
    • They then hope to get those people who have allowed themselves to develop unjustified and unsustainable perceptions of: prosperity, opportunity for prosperity, and superiority relative to others to vote.
    • They creatively make-up laws in the hopes of keeping 'those others not tempted to like them' from voting.
    • They also abuse critical and scientific thinking to Gerrymander voting districts in their favour.

    Rather than improving the awareness and understanding of the population, the unjustified pursuers of Winning deliberately mislead people by making unjustified claims that support unjustified developed perceptions of superiority relative to others (or unjustified perceptions that they are being denied their right to that superiority relative to others).

    Those types of unjustified leadership actions can be seen to apply to groups like ISIS as well as Unite the Right groups around the planet (not just the current USA Republican Party).

    The real problem is the number of people growing up with a small worldview, uninterested in the effort, changes and corrections required to have a larger worldview. Those small-worldview people are happy to be told things by people they consider to be leaders worthy of their loyalty and support. They like people who tell them things that sound like what they want to hear. They dislike the complications of reality-based justification. Improved awareness and understanding of reality, including the need to everyone to have their actions governed by GHAR, makes it more difficult to believe what is otherwise easy for them to believe. That is similar to your reference to know-nothingism, which can also be called freedom-to-believe-whatever-you-likeism (the key words being that Freedom one, and Freedom of belief).

    Freedom needs to be understood to only be deserved by people who responsibly pursue improved awareness and understanding of what is going on and responsibly pursue helping to develop the required conditions to sustain a robust diversity of humanity fitting in as sustainable parts of a robust diversity of life on this or any other amazing planet. Freedom is reserved for and deserved by people who consistently show they are acting based on GHAR. (a potential answer to the question I posed in my comment @10)

    Many of the current winners in the games people play clearly would not like that type of correction to occur during 'their lifetime'.

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  12. Another way of expressing the root part of the problem I presented in my comment @11 is: In many developed socioeconomic political systems people who increase awareness and understanding of what is going on and try to help advance humanity to a more sustainable future are less likely to be seen as valuable, less likely to be rewarded, than others who tell people stories that excuse them being less helpful or even harmful.

    In many of the developed systems people are encouraged to allow their primitive human nature over-power their ability to develop modern considerate thoughtful humanity (everyone is capable of personally developing that, but they may be reluctant to do that if it may not be as rewarding). And the required corrections of popular and profitable developed activities identified by helpful people can result in a significant portion of the population unjustifiably perceiving helpful people to be threats.

    Many of the developed systems have developed ways of living that are understandably unsustainable and harmful to collective humanity, particularly harmful to the future of humanity because the future of humanity has no influence in the systems what has been developed. And those systems make up understandably unjustified stories to excuse the unsustainable and harmful developed activities. A very appealing story is that the activities develop good results (never admitting the lack of sustainability and ignoring or understating the harm being done). Another appealing story is that everyone freer to do as they please will produce Good Results (significant evidence contradicts that story - and no sport that has ever developed has accepted that story - even Aussie rules football has some rules and some degree of self-limiting of behaviour by the competitors).

    Climate science, and the visceral negative reaction to it, undeniably exposes the requirement for significant corrections of what has developed in order for humanity to have a lasting improving future. And the required corrections are not just the curtailing of the burning of fossil fuels. And the required curtailing of the burning of fossil fuels is unlikely to occur in a way that is significantly beneficial to the future of humanity without significant correction of those other incorrect developments, particularly the correction of the freedom for wealthy or powerful people to claim whatever they want and be believed by enough people to be able to get away with significantly influencing what is going on.

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  13. I think we have three important issues at the heart of the climate problem:

    1) Capitalism is useful machine that promotes efficiency, but it doesn't put a cost on environmental damage, particularly long term damage and so we end up with problems. The usual way of dealing with this problem is government legislation, and this worked well enough to deal with the ozone problem.

    But the profit motive is strong, and wealthy business people reject government legislation in many cases. The wealthy in business have an iron grip on governments,  and influence how ordinary people think with media campaigns that seek to attack environmentalism, spread climate denial, and reject the need for government involvement. Its leading to the fundamental rejection of science, empirical evidence and facts particularly by one side of politics. The end result is fake news, ignorance and nonsense that denies solid evidence.

    2) Humans are mostly not great long term thinkers. We want a comfortable life right now, and we put off problems. We respond best to short term threats. People struggle to think about complex long term processes. People think their children will be able to buy their way out of climate problems, or there will be magical low cost solutions, when there won't be.

    3) Nobody will reduce their carbon footprint unless everyone does, so nobody does. Even if one cares deeply for the environment and future of humanity, it doesn't make a lot of sense to drastically reduce consumption, and be one of the few people doing this. This is not to say people shouldn't try. It simply reflects the problem we have on our hands.

    Having said all that, the best single solution to all three problems is carbon fee and dividend because it has leverage. It is the one mechanism that impels everyone to change their behaviour, if its structured correctly. It is attacked by the mega rich in many cases, but we should persist with it anyway. Of course its not the only solution required, but its a key solution.

    It may also be possible to get the mega rich and the corporate sector to think more ethically, but it will only happen if the general public think ethically and a little more longer term, and  put the pressure on, especially if they are share holders. Its good to see this appears to be happening in some cases, but theres a long way to go.

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  14. nigelj,
    I agree with you points.

    I will continue to think more about this, but I can point out that promoting a carbon fee and dividend, as helpful as that mechanism would be, is unlikely to result in the required correction to limit major negative impacts on future generations.

    The main problem is that the mechanism does not significantly deter the inconsiderate people who are wealthier or more influential. The wealthier still get to benefit from businesses related to the burning of fossil fuels, and they can afford the nominal personal extra costs. The people who need to be most significantly corrected are not corrected in any meaningful way by that measure.

    And as you note, actually less expensive truly sustainable usable energy methods are developed (the alternatives being developed have real material limits and can create accumulating harmful consequences either in initial production, transmission, use or end of use, better than fossil fuels burning but not truly sustainable ways for people to live no matter how wealthy they are relative to others).

    So a carbon fee and rebate system can stall out before achieving the required correction. And without other significant corrections of the socioeconomic-political systems that have developed (particularly the correction of the way that people are able to be tempted to allow their primitive selfish human nature overwhelm their ability to do the harder work of GHAR), the winning developed alternatives to fossil fuels are likely to not be the most sustainable of the possible options.

    And getting a carbon fee and rebate implemented will not happen without other corrections occurring. In Alberta, the war chants against the carbon tax are loud. And they will not be quelled by having the carbon levy and rebate program continue. The cries of anger in Alberta get louder when it becomes more apparent that trying to benefit from burning fossil fuels is unacceptable and being effectively impeded.

    A large number of people in Alberta are angrier as a result of the recent Federal Appeal Court ruling that the evaluation that the Federal Government had based its approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion on was seriously flawed. The court decision not only required the specifically identified corrections of the evaluation to be done, the construction was stopped until those corrections were performed because the corrected evaluation, properly performed, may change the final decision (the angry people do not like the idea that the initial decision could actually have been unjustified). And the anger is growing support for ending the carbon levy and rebate program in Alberta. And there is an election in less than a year to determine who decides if the Carbon Tax (as it will be called in the election advertising) will continue given that Alberta is declared by many to be 'the' economic engine of Canada (even though it isn't, and undeniably isn't even a significant sustainable contributor to wealth in Canada since pursuit of benefit from fossil fuels is a dead-end activity, no matter how beneficial it is to the people who benefit from it today).

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  15. OPOF @14, I  agree a carbon tax and dividend certainly isn't perfect, or some sort of panacea, but then what is? I would argue the following points:

    1)Its within the existing framework of permissable solutions to market problems.

    2) It puts a price on carbon, so avoids a situation of requiring a complex web of separate regulations.

    3) It appears preferable economically to cap and trade.

    4) It has some chance of being passed into law in America, if Democrats gain control of the house. 

    Carbon tax has a couple of main weaknesses. Firstly the tax will increase to a point of saturation where it stops working. This will mean other approaches are required, but I would say "cross that bridge when you come to it" and we both know there's a range of other tools available if required.

    Secondly as you say it won't have huge impact on the rich, or at least those rich people dismissive of the climate problem. However carbon tax has the probability of changing the behaviour of the masses of people, so more renewable energy penetration would become self reinforcing, and help isolate the influence of the rich to some extent.

    You could at least target the dividend at lower income people, although this only partly solves the problem of the rich.

    The question is what other alternatives are there in terms of changing the attitudes of rich people? I dont know of a government mechanism targeted at climate alone that would send a strong signal to rich people. Normally progressive taxation has helped remind the rich that they have responsibilities beyond exploiting the system, but progressive taxes are under attack in America. I'm old fashioned liberal leaning, so I dont mind progressive taxes within reason, but they are under attack in some countries and soaking the rich too much wont solve every problem of society.

    A moderate wealth or inheritance tax possibly makes more sense economically, and is not incompatible with capitalism, but is stepping outside of the immediate climate concern, and if linked to the climate problem might confuse the issue and further alienate conservatives. However a wealth tax of some sort is a good way of reducing inequality and funding infrastructure, and should be policy anyway, just treated as a separate issue to the cimate problem.

    We all know there's a problem of "money in politics" and if only people would understand how deep it goes. But we can't count on some instant solution.

    I think it comes back to what I said. The issue may be in all our hands. People need to better understand how a small group of sometimes narcisstic rich people manipulate society, and stand up to them. Don't vote for billionaire property developers who have probably made their money in ways that are not entirely of a high standard (choosing my words carefully, dont want to have comments crossed out). Many ordinary people own shares, so get to shareholders meetings, and start demanding that those companies act more sustainably and pay people only for good long term results.

    There are a lot of things that should happen. Imho executives should only get pay rises when they add genuine value, ( thats how I have been paid as a consultant, and I wouldnt expect more) and they should be required to meet environmental goals etc. However I can't wave my arms and make that happen, because it will only happen if everyone gets smarter and demands accountability from people in positions of power and wealth. People are probably scared "they will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs" but I dont think this will happen, because corporations will still want to sell their goods.

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  16. nigelj,
    I share your concern about needing to change the behaviour of the masses. But the masses (the people) need to see examples to aspire to in the behaviour of 'all of the wealthier and more powerful' - the winners need to be deserving examples to aspire to. The developed socioeconomic-political environment significantly influences how people develop. The way they see people win is a significant factor.

    The leaders/winners need to set Good Examples (and directly and openly correct people like John McCain often did). Many wanna-be-leaders/winners claim they only do what the masses want, while what they actually do is try to deceive people into supporting understandably unacceptable and ultimately unsustainable things that the wanna-be-leaders/winners actually want to benefit from.

    Improved awareness and understanding of climate science and the emergent truth about the corrections of what humans have developed is an essential part of the bigger picture of what is going on. It is an important part of the larger worldview that more people need to embrace for humanity to actually have a sustainable and improving future.

    Improved awareness and understanding of that larger worldview already has a good start in many collectives (tribes/organizations/institutions/nations). All that needs to be overcome is the ease with which people can be tempted to believe made-up stories that appeal to more primitive human nature. Good Helpful Altruistic Reasoning (GHAR) needs to overpower the temptations of more primitive human nature.

    I have just finished reading Jonah Goldberg's “Suicide of the West - How the rebirth of tribalism, populism, nationalism, and identity politics is destroying American Democracy”. Jonah is a self-declared conservative who presents many incorrect stories in his book (correcting his story about families and economies come later in this comment). But he does present a fundamental understanding that could be a useful way to connect with people like him: “Human beings are hardwired to want to belong, to be part of a cause larger than themselves, and to be valued for their contribution to that cause”. That fits what I have presented above (also, refer to my previous comment @12).

    The diversity of causes people choose to be part of need to all be governed by the same universal objective(s). For a universal objective to be helpful it needs to be developed by people dedicated to Good Helpful Altruistic Reasoning (GHAR). Any other motivations would weaken the helpfulness of a Universal Objective (because its objective would be biased). The emergent truth is that global collaboration of people who embrace GHAR has developed a very robust set of Universal Objectives. They are the Sustainable Development Goals and the many other developed UN documents, especially declarations like the Declaration of Human Rights. And those objectives all need to be achieved for humanity to have a viable lasting future.

    Having GHAR globally govern over primitive human nature is required to achieve the Universal Objectives. Getting everyone aspiring to have their diversity of interests and actions governed by GHAR and those universal objectives is the required correction of the masses and the winners/leaders (and the Constitution of the USA can easily be honoured and defended in ways that are governed by, and consistent with, those Universal Objectives).

    A diversity of innovations governed by GHAR that are sustainable aspects of a robust diversity of humanity fitting into the robust diversity of life on this or any other amazing planet can be, and need to be, developed.

    Back to Jonah and an incorrect story he (and many others like him), tells about families that relates to concerns regarding the required corrections of developed human activity that climate science has exposed. He claims that the correlation of family stability with perceptions of prosperity, and family instability correlating with economic troubles, is proof that stable families (with his narrow worldview of a family being a manly man married for life to a womanly woman and raising their 'properly identified as' male and female off-spring) produce economic prosperity. An extension of the claim is that anything developing other than that 'type of family' will result in economic failure. The rather self-evident emergent truth among those studying what is going on is that declines of perceptions of prosperity resulting from instability and unsustainability of developed economic activity lead to future family/social problems and worse (like the tragic 2008 result of fiscal freedom fighters successfully excusing and allowing unsustainable and harmful economic activity to compete for popularity and profitability, and like the excuses being made by wealthier and more powerful people for their lack of effort to correct the unsustainable and harmful burning of fossil fuels).

    Undeserved developed perceptions of prosperity due to benefiting from the burning of fossil fuels will fail at some point in the future. The experience of current day USA coal miners will be experienced by many others who choose to gamble on getting away with benefiting from the burning of fossil fuels. The longer the correction is delayed the more rapid and significant the correction will be, and the more damage will have been done before the correction is achieved. It will be a double-hit on the families and institutions of future generations. The ones benefiting most today, those undeserving wealthy powerful people, are quite certain that it will be Others in the future (near future or more distant future, but others nonetheless) who will suffer the negative effects of the required economic correction, and others in the future (immediate future as well as far into the future) will suffer the climate change effects and other environmental effects (including the reduced access to easy to get buried ancient hydrocarbons).

    Being able to benefit by getting away with harming others needs to be weeded out of the ranks of the winners among humanity. That will require 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people' to intervene to correct incorrect developments (economic and social).

    Many conservatives seem to be unable to see that emergent truth. Their smaller worldview constrained by faith in made-up stories about how great their dogma would be if it only could be freely imposed on the entire population is a serious problem.

    Holding winners accountable and responsible for setting Good examples is the solution. Having the masses demand better behaviour from all of the bigger winners, fewer members of the masses so easily impressed by the made-up stories that excuse thoughts and actions that are detrimental to achieving the universal objective of a sustainable better future for all of humanity, is the change of the masses that is required to get responsible climate action, rapid reduction of harm creation and rapid increase of assistance for those needing help correcting the unacceptable things that have been developed.

    Without that correction of the wealthier and more powerful, driven by correcting the expectations of the masses, it is unlikely that the future of humanity will be protected from a damaging major future correction of the economy. And without that correction of the economy, human impacts will go well beyond the 2.0C warming which will be very harmful to the future of humanity.

    Without the less deserving among the wealthy and powerful being effectively corrected, the future of humanity will corrupt into barbarism, meaning that the future of humanity will be brief, with only primitive barbaric human-nature driven humans remaining. And there may be no correct history of how it happened. The correct history that could help avoid a future disaster for humanity would require non-barbaric humans to survive and have the stories they tell be believed.

    (p.s. money in politics is only a problem if undeserving people are winning because of it)

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