December 12, 2016Catherine Rolfe
1. The Virtue of Heresy – Confessions of a Dissident Astronomer (AuthorHouse, 2006). The mission of this book was to make the conflicting results in science accessible to the average enquiring reader. Written in a conversational style, employing a fictional space taxi driver named Haquar as a guide, my Heresy takes the reader on a journey from the basics of natural philosophy, through cosmology and Big Bang theory, and on to the structure of the Solar System, the wonders of chemistry and the basic elements, electric universe theory, mathematical philosophy, Einstein’s Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and String theory – all in ordinary English with no mathematics at all! It’s a must read for anyone seeking the big answers. The Virtue of Heresy was nominated for the London School of Economics’ prestigious Lakatos Award for literature of outstanding service to the understanding of science.
2. The Static Universe – Exploding the Myth of Universal Expansion (C. Roy Keys, Montreal, 2008). Following on the success of Heresy, and a glowing review by BBC’s Sky at Night, I visited Sir Patrick Moore at his home in Sussex, and as one of his nurses put it, I became “part of the family”. During one of my visits, Sir Patrick insisted that I write a book called The Static Universe, which was to expose the lack of real evidence favouring the prevailing Big Bang theory. He could see the situation more clearly than I, and I am now very glad I listened to him (not that I had much choice, mind you!). Although the style is still fairly conversational with very little mathematics, The Static Universe is written for a more qualified readership. I assumed that readers interested in universal expansion would have a fairly good grasp of astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, and even though the jargon is kept constrained, there is a glossary of terms at the back to help readers that might stick on some the terms being used. This book was very well received by both amateurs and professionals in space science, and led to my being invited to guest lecture on astrophysics at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, one of the world’s finest universities.
3. Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks – How Beliefs Contaminate Our Opinions: An Astrophysicist’s Perspective Muse Harbor Publishing (MHP), 2014). Socks, as it is affectionately referred to, is my magnum opus, quite likely the last book I’ll write. With that sobering thought in mind, and with the persistent encouragement from my good friend Ian Campbell-Gillies, I fought through debilitating illness and misfortune to put my all into this book. I realised that it had to be written in everyday language to reach as wide a readership as possible, yet I had to achieve that without dumbing it down. From the reviews I’ve received so far, I seem to have achieved that goal. This is a how-to book that is applicable to every single rational person on planet Earth, so the target of 160,000 sales is not hopelessly optimistic. Socks has had not one bad review so far, so why not give it a whirl? :)http://smile.amazon.com/l/B001JS1GJQ/ref=smi_www_rco2_go_smi_2072677762?ie=UTF8&%252AVersion%252A=1&%252Aentries%252A=0
It’s going on 6am, I’m on my third cup of tea spiced with, shall we say, analgesia naturalis, while we – the civilised world, that is – wait patiently for the cricket ODI against New Zealand to commence (the match in Hamilton is delayed by rain, as if nobody saw THAT coming, hahahaha). I had no electricity, no Telkom connectivity, and quarter-pressure water yesterday, so I’ve been channel-hopping this morning, catching up on current affairs through the thick haze of TV channe…ls’ partisan persuasions. I’m kinda getting used to to the partisanship of just about everyone who’s got anything to say, so I’m developing neural filters to get the information elephant to lean my way so that I can deal with things rationally. One of the global effects of Trumpalism is an intense exaggeration of partisan brinkmanship – let’s face it, hardly a soul on Earth is neutral about geopolitics these days.
From Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate:
“Until recently the intuitive concept of the soul served us pretty well. Living people had souls, which come into existence at the moment of conception and leave their bodies when they die. Animals, plants, and inanimate objects do not have souls at all. But science is showing that what we call the soul – the locus of sentience, reason, and will – consists of the information-processing activity of the brain, an organ governed by the laws o…f biology. In an individual person it comes into being gradually through the differentiation of tissues growing from a single cell. In species it came into existence gradually as the forces of evolution modified the brains of simpler animals. And though our concept of souls used to fit pretty well with natural phenomena – a woman was either pregnant or not, a person was either dead or alive – biomedical research is now presenting us with cases where the two are out of register. These cases are not just scientific curiosities but are intertwined with pressing issues such as contraception, abortion, infanticide, animal rights, cloning, euthanasia, and research involving human embryos, especially the harvesting of stem cells.”
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. — Lord Acton
Thus is born the idea of the “philosopher-king”, the wise person who accepts the power thrust upon him by people who are wise enough to choose a good master. This is the main thesis of Socrates in the Republic, that the most wisdom the masses can muster is the wise choice of a ruler. — Wikipedia, Plato.
Let’s start at the beginning. What are the first principles? We are trying to put together a template of democratic governance for which we pinched a 17th century title: Political economy. The successful economic system must best meet the population’s realistic expectations and aspirations. It’s all about people.
The essential principle of democracy is this: It is a systematic reflection of the will of an identifiable group of people in a particular territory. Democracy comes in a variety of flavours, but they all start from there. Ideally, the ballot should inform rulers, and their style of government should reflect the aggregate opinion of citizens.
If a leader imposes on his people that which they desire, it is not tyranny; it is the opposite. If a system provides infrastructure for the electorate to sell their labour so that they can in return improve their lot in life, it is not slavery; it is the opposite. If an enterprise employs people for two dollars a day who prior to that employment had only one dollar a day, it is not a pittance; it is a 100% improvement in their material circumstances.
All good so far. Then we factor in human nature and it starts to go haywire.
If we were to devolve power down to grass roots, the corruption unfortunately passes with it. When human nature has the muscle to unilaterally impose its will, the result is seldom pretty. We are in that age right now; disproportionately effective power vests in the hands of mere individuals, commoners in the herd. It’s just a short hop from zealous activism to über-violent terrorism, where deadly forces that formerly belonged exclusively to the leaders of nations now empower ordinary citizens. The anonymous, skulking ideological foot soldier is now master of all he surveys, and he makes mockery of our dearest democratic principles.
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If this all holds, the oil business is going to be well represented in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Exxon’s Rex Tillerson at State. Texas’ Rick Perry at Energy. Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt at the EPA.
Each of these candidates has deep, long-lasting ties to the industry. Each can rattle off the benefits of the U.S. production boom without a moments delay. And each is going to bring that bone-deep understanding to their job. What exactly that will mean for policy, will not always be straightforward. We discuss one aspect below in a section about the always entertaining Social Cost of Carbon.
But here’s one other thing to think about:
Much is being made in the initial news stories about Tillerson’s ties to Russia. But, Tillerson is also an evangelist for fracking, horizontal drilling and U.S. production. And the U.S. fracking boom is not something beloved in Russia; Russian media has invested a lot of time investigating problems blamed on fracking. Low prices brought about by the U.S. shale gale is bad news for Moscow — and this talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2012 shows that Tillerson has a nuanced view of the foreign policy impacts of the U.S. production boom.
For more on how success in Russia helped make Tillerson’s career, see Joe Carroll’s story.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is Trump’s top choice to head the Energy Department, Jennifer Jacobs and Jennifer Dlouhy reported. Two Democratic senators from energy-producing states — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — are also in the mix, along with Ray Washburne, a Dallas investor and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, according to people familiar with his decision making. (Heitkamp also in the mix for Agriculture. Ahem.)
Jay Martin Cohen, a retired Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy, is said to be Trump’s choice for under secretary for nuclear security, a position within the Energy Department.
As one of the top Republicans in the House, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and supported efforts to expand offshore drilling. Now, as Trump’s likely choice to head the Interior Department, McMorris Rodgers would be in charge of those issues which are crucial to the oil and gas industry.
Under the Obama administration, the Interior Department has sought to further block the prospect of oil and gas drilling in ANWR, by making all of ANWR a wilderness area, a move that automatically classifies the land as a wildness study area and thereby off limits to oil and gas exploration. By some estimates ANWR contains nearly 15 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil.
The Trump administration could likely undo that, but undoing a ban on drilling there would take an act of Congress. Congress is gearing up to do just that, Alaska Rep. Don Young said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s a number one priority,” he said.
Fake news – a new buzz term in a cowardly new world.
Aka acting on headlines.
Fake news – designed to deceive.
Real news is factual reporting; opinions are checked.
Facts do not depend on authority or consensus.
Fake news is not limited to social media. Both the current US President and the President-elect have spread fake news. In my experience, so have CNN, Sky News, and BBC World News. The President saying, “97% of scientists agree…” is fake news (they do not); CNN or someone on FB reporting that “The President said that 97% of scientists agree…” is technically not fake news (he did say that) but the spreaders share culpability for propagating the fake news meme.
I’ve had this book in my to-read stack for about a year now, and I’m reading it seriously only now. I was put off by the title—“the moral case for fossil fuels” sounds as absurd as “the benefits of cutting” or “the virtue of selfishness.” Despite the entire hoo-ha surrounding climate, surely there couldn’t be a moral case for fossil fuels? It turns out there can be; a very strong one. But first I had to get off the pulpit.
I’ve selected the following piece as a representative sample of the stream of thought behind Epstein’s thesis. As ever, there is an inherent trip wire in doing this: You don’t get the wider context of his arguments. Please read the book if you want to find out more about the world we live in; if you’re happy to stick where you are, then don’t. No skin off my back.
I have inserted in square brackets […] my own comments on Epstein’s text.
Alex Epstein: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels
Chapter 4: The Greenhouse Effect and the Fertiliser Effect
A huge source of confusion in our public discussion is the separation of people (including scientists) into “climate change believers” and “climate change deniers”—the latter a not-so-subtle comparison to Holocaust deniers. “Deniers” are ridiculed for denying the existence of the greenhouse effect, an effect by which certain molecules, including CO2, take infrared light waves that the Earth reflects back towards space and then reflect them back toward the Earth, creating a warming effect. But this is a straw man. Every “climate change denier” I know of recognizes the existence of the greenhouse effect, and many if not most think that man has had some noticeable impact on climate. What they deny is that there is evidence of a catastrophic impact from CO2’s warming effect. That is, they are expressing a different opinion about how fossil fuels affect climate—particularly about the nature and magnitude of their impact.
[Note: Certain questions need to be asked, including whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and more importantly, how an open gaseous system like the Earth’s atmosphere can act as a greenhouse, analogous to artificial glass greenhouses. I believe that heat can be trapped, and that our atmosphere can do this, but not in the way that is being postulated by the standard climate model. When we stop asking questions, and say “the science is settled”, we depart from science and enter politics.]
Once I was clear on how unclear the questions we were asking were, I could ask better questions and get better answers. And once I got clearer on how to use experts as advisors, not authorities, and how to always keep in mind the big picture, I had a much better chance of getting the right answers to the right questions.
Here’s how I put the right questions now, from a human standard of value.
The first is: How does fossil fuel use affect climate livability? When we burn fossil fuels, what are all the climate-related risks and all the benefits that result?
Given that our standard is human life—we want the climate we live in to be as liveable as possible—there are two types of impacts we need to study and weigh. The first is the impact of CO2 on climate itself. CO2 affects climate in at least two ways: as a greenhouse gas with warming impact, but also as plant food with a fertilizing impact (plants are a major part of the climate system as well as a benefit of a liveable climate)…The second impact of CO2, which is rarely mentioned, is the tendency of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy from fossil fuels to amplify our ability to adapt to climate—to maximize the benefits we get from good weather and ample rainfall and minimize the risks from heat waves, cold snaps, and droughts…
[Note: (i) The selected excerpts are necessarily brief; environmental impacts and sustainability are dealt with elsewhere in this book and the other books I have referred to. (ii) That alternative energy sources may become economically viable and practicable in the future cannot be a morally justified as a reason to deprive the needy of the cheapest source of energy now. This is especially true if we, the arbiters of who gets what, use fossil fuels and their associated benefits for ourselves. It is a shameful hypocrisy if we do.]
Discussion of climate change often assumes that any man-made climate change is large if not catastrophic and that our ability to adapt is not all that important. This is unacceptable. It is prejudicial to assume that anything is big or small, positive or negative, before we see the evidence. We have to actually investigate the facts. It might be that the greenhouse effect leads to a tiny, beneficial amount of warming or that having or not having fossil fuels to build sturdy infrastructure is the difference between two hundred and two hundred thousand people dying in a hurricane.
[Note: There are currently seven billion people sharing the terrestrial biosphere. In the wink of an eye there will be twenty billion people. That’s what all social models have to deal with. It is a well established and demonstrable fact that the higher people are on the socio-economic ladder, the fewer children they tend to have. It is part of the moral case for fossil fuels that the basis of raising the standard of living of any people is cheap energy. I do not discuss genocide, although I think about it a lot.]
Granted, acquiring evidence is often hard because of so many conflicting reports, which is why it’s so important to get experts to explain what they know and what they don’t know clearly and precisely.
The bottom line: For the three major climate impacts of fossil fuels—the greenhouse, fertilizer, and energy effects—we want to know how they work and how they affect us, all the while asking, “How do we know?”
My exposure on Facebook these days is restrained; just a few minutes when I get to work each morning, during which I must publish whatever I’ve put onto a flash drive the night before, and also answer the serious comments and questions from my friends on previous threads.
This morning, a statement from an old mate on climate change challenged me. This friend seldom uses FB, and had clearly not been following the development of ideas from the earliest stages of the debate. The post was so basic, so go-directly-to-jail that I was stymied. What to do? I wasn’t having difficulty because I had no facts readily at hand, but rather because there were so many!
Regurgitating the whole story from the beginning was out of the question. Ignoring the post would have been rude to a dear friend. This dilemma has ridden on my back the entire day, and now it’s time for me to sleep. But I am compelled to say something first because it such an important principle.
I don’t have to retell the story or trot out all the evidence for the umpteenth time. Both pro- and anti-AGW stances are moral defences of a belief paradigm, shaped by which of one’s moral receptors is being pinged by the overall “feel” or “taste” or ‘smell” of the climate change issue. All the evidence is out there, just a Google click away. But remember, we are beholden to the Google Effect, all of us.
It occurs to me that in an expression of Left-Right conflict, which is what climate change really is, the net result of arguing the case in abbreviated snaps of online chat will just lose me friends, and convince not one person whose elephant leans the other way.
The AGW model is a political construct, managed and shaped by the IPCC and its sponsors and provosts; the IPCC is an agency of the United Nations; the United Nations is a left wing phenomenon, part of the globalisation tide which tries by all means fair and foul to erase the territorial imperative and national identities, and establish itself as a kind of consensual world government.
If we listen to the intelligentsia, the universities and their academics, the poets, the painters, politicians desperately seeking votes, and Hollywood celebrities on their glittering podia, we are all too easily seduced by the strident moral flavour they bring to their arguments. They are people gifted with expression after all. And what’s more, they are going to save the world. DiCaprio and Affleck are going to redesign society for our benefit.
These artless, clueless showbiz heroes think that their time has come, but the news broadcasts are piddling on their batteries, I’m afraid. Cloaked in progressively-cut moral suits, they have held sway for decades. What they refuse to countenance is that nature works in cycles, and we are part of nature. It is a primary polarity in our societies, a pendulum that balances the vocal moral Left with the restless moral Right.
What is happening now in the world is straight out of the Socks dream – people are moving back into line with their instincts and realising, at last, that one man’s moral is another man’s poison. The shackle of liberal idealism is breaking, falling away, and we, the ones who lived this history, are rubbing our eyes and wondering what comes next.
All this gives me hope and grim satisfaction; for many of my friends it’s a nightmare. What is clear now is that the world doesn’t need me on a soap box trying to convince anyone that reverting to our deeper selves is a good thing. Nature will have her way no matter what I do, and I think many of us will be left bleeding in the Great Google War.
Amen. So be it.