Options

Interacting with politics, economics, and power

I've finished reading through all the old discussions and the original Welcome to Azimuth post announcing the Azimuth Project and all its comments. I have also read a smattering of the comments from some of the blog posts, and all of the comments from the most recent two or three posts. So I think I have a decent handle on the prior comments that discuss politics.

John's comment in the comment section of the Welcome to Azimuth post said:

1) Politics is the mind-killer.

2) There are already many blogs devoted to explicitly political aspects of environmentalism, taking all possible sides on this issue. Whatever you believe, you can find one that agrees with you.

3) Since whatever reputation or authority I may have comes from my work in science, I think scientific rather than explicitly political issues should be my focus. I realize that this could be a dangerous limitation, but for now I think it’s the right thing.

This makes good sense. Bickering back and forth about whether or not global warming is an issue is clearly something we want to happen elsewhere.

Later in the same post comments after a mention of mathoverflow.com, John said:

  1. Any system like this that shows signs of incipient success will probably be attacked by people of ill intent. There are strong forces working to maintain ‘business as usual’. This needs to be considered right from the start.

  2. The distinction between people of ill intent and people of good intent who happen to disagree with what we think can be hard to determine. (Here “we” stands for any group of people who have come to some agreement about what’s good.) There is also the danger of groupthink.

  3. A system like MathOverflow might indeed be good, to reduce the amount of time any one person needs to spend weeding out comments from people of ill intent. Of course it needs to start with some core of self-appointed “good people”. I am willing to decide who those are, being good myself.

  4. Mathoverflow works pretty smoothly, I imagine, because math is not a highly controversial subject. Everything relating to climate change, economics and especially politics is highly controversial. So the dynamics will be different, and more difficult.

  5. In my blog I’ve decided to tackle this difficulty in part by banning discussion of politics, at least in the sense of “partisan politics”. Some discussion of political theory, decision theory, ethics and the like may be necessary! I’m worried about where to draw the line, but the line basically gets drawn when people start fighting in the idiotic childish way that politics so often engenders.

  6. Please, everyone, check out the n-Forum and compare it to MathOverflow. I think a setup like the n-Forum is better suited to conversations among people who basically agree on goals and are working on projects together. Mathoverflow seems to be optimized for people asking questions and getting answers. I bet we’ll eventually want both.

  7. I hope that ultimately my blog will be just a small part of a big machine, my way of contributing material to a kind of repository of information and ideas on how to help ‘save the planet’. I hope that lots of people will join in and I can focus on doing the few things I’m good at.

  8. Are we reinventing the wheel? How could we be the first people to think of starting an online forum for serious technical discussions on how to deal with global ecological problems? Maybe we’re just the first mathematicians and physicists to do it? Maybe there’s some pre-existing structure to latch onto.

As John noted in 1. above, as we go forward we will necessarily get involved in politics as we will be advocating a particular plan of action with many parts. That plan will be attacked by many, and supported by many, solely because they perceive that it hinders or helps their goals; and those goals may have nothing to do with the overall good of the planet or its inhabitants. It won't just be science versus corporatism, there are those in both groups who will try to hinder our progress here.

Because this issue has the potential to "kill minds," derail fruitful discussion, and cause the project to fail, as John noted in 1.: "This needs to be considered right from the start." So I thought it makes sense to discuss this further here now, and then to clearly articulate our position with respect to politics on a section of the Wiki so new people don't have to read through all the old comments and discussions to understand our position.

I also think it makes sense because in addressing the issues of 8. and differentiating what the Azimuth Project is all about as distinct from the thousands of other related "save the planet" groups out there, perhaps the key part of that differentiation will be how we address politics. It will also be important as we determine how to "fit into the big machine" as alluded to in 7. above.


So to start the discussion off:

First, are the quotes above a reasonable description of the current thinking with respect to politics?

Second, how do we keep discussions from degenerating? How do we discuss politics without becoming partisan? John notes some ways above but the guidance for newcomers needs to spell things out for those who may not be regular readers of John's blog.

Comments

  • 1.
    edited January 2011

    I guess this is probably as good a place as any to make talk about my views on Azimuth. Note that these are very much my personal views. I also tend to think that there are othervery serious environmental issues/human sustainability issues beyond AGW, so "sustainability issues" so be understood as including, but not limited to, AGW. Comments split to avoid limits.

    Firstly, staying within the technical/scientific domain we can pretty much split ecological/sustainability issues into "analysis" (eg, does CO2 lead to global climate change, and if so by how much?) and "responses" (how, with a rigorous technical modeling, can we reduce CO2 emissions and what effects will that have?). My personal opinion is that relatively few people are "skeptics" about climate change because of analysis issues, because very few people are actually expert enough to spot scientific problems (in the same way I'm not a "supporter" of climate change because I don't know enough to actually independently validate the arguments). Most people who are "skeptics" are, in my opinion, unhappy with the possible range of actions if climate change (including being unhappy about the prospect of actions being imposed on them) and attempt to avoid these responses by finding points to doubt about the scientific analysis. This is a big part of the reason why I haven't personally got involved in any of the Azimuth project programming efforts attempting to strengthen the support for the "analysis" of man-made climate change and environmental problems: even if they succeed in increasing the strength of the evidence by, say, a factor of two I don't expect that to have any significant effect on whether responses to sustainability issues are undertaken since doubt of the analysis is not the dominant "blocker" for those in positions of power. In contrast, I think the avenue most likely to lead to actual responses from politicians, economic interests and the population at large is going to be foucused on technical aspects of the range of responses, such as

    1. In the worst case, just firming up the understanding of currently proposed responses in order to show that they would acheive what is claimed, and understand their other effects.

    2. Attempting to understand how the various proposed responses might interact in order to see what their effects, both technical and economic/sociological on the future world.

    3. Attempting to understand how the proposals might be modified in order to keep as much of the beneficial effects whilst ameliorating the technical and economic/sociological effects that are perceived as problems.

    4. Attempting to develop and understand new proposals and technologies that might deal with environmental problems with less of the technical and economic/sociological effects that are perceived as problems than current proposals.

    EDIT: One simplification of the sharp division into "analysis" and "response" is that, on some issues, the evidence may be strong that "something is happening" but with less understanding of precisely what. In these cases a greater understanding of the "analysis" may be necessary to formulate and/or rigorously evaluate a meaningful and robust response. So in some areas it's likely to be not as clear cut.

    (Continued)

    Comment Source:I guess this is probably as good a place as any to make talk about my views on Azimuth. Note that these are very much my personal views. I also tend to think that there are othervery serious environmental issues/human sustainability issues beyond AGW, so "sustainability issues" so be understood as including, but not limited to, AGW. Comments split to avoid limits. Firstly, staying within the technical/scientific domain we can pretty much split ecological/sustainability issues into "analysis" (eg, does CO2 lead to global climate change, and if so by how much?) and "responses" (how, with a rigorous technical modeling, can we reduce CO2 emissions and what effects will that have?). My personal opinion is that relatively few people are "skeptics" about climate change because of analysis issues, because very few people are actually expert enough to spot scientific problems (in the same way I'm not a "supporter" of climate change because I don't know enough to actually independently validate the arguments). Most people who are "skeptics" are, in my opinion, unhappy with the possible range of actions if climate change (including being unhappy about the prospect of actions being imposed on them) and attempt to avoid these responses by finding points to doubt about the scientific analysis. This is a big part of the reason why I haven't personally got involved in any of the Azimuth project programming efforts attempting to strengthen the support for the "analysis" of man-made climate change and environmental problems: even if they succeed in increasing the strength of the evidence by, say, a factor of two I don't expect that to have any significant effect on whether responses to sustainability issues are undertaken since doubt of the analysis is not the dominant "blocker" for those in positions of power. In contrast, I think the avenue most likely to lead to actual responses from politicians, economic interests and the population at large is going to be foucused on technical aspects of the range of responses, such as 1. In the worst case, just firming up the understanding of currently proposed responses in order to show that they would acheive what is claimed, and understand their other effects. 2. Attempting to understand how the various proposed responses might interact in order to see what their effects, both technical and economic/sociological on the future world. 3. Attempting to understand how the proposals might be modified in order to keep as much of the beneficial effects whilst ameliorating the technical and economic/sociological effects that are perceived as problems. 4. Attempting to develop and understand new proposals and technologies that might deal with environmental problems with less of the technical and economic/sociological effects that are perceived as problems than current proposals. EDIT: One simplification of the sharp division into "analysis" and "response" is that, on some issues, the evidence may be strong that "something is happening" but with less understanding of precisely what. In these cases a greater understanding of the "analysis" may be necessary to formulate and/or rigorously evaluate a meaningful and robust response. So in some areas it's likely to be not as clear cut. (Continued)
  • 2.
    edited January 2011

    (Continuation)

    Note that these are primarily technical/scientific questions but unlike analysis issues are needing much more of an understanding of the political/environmental/sociological context and constraints in order to see how technological responses can be modified. In particular, attempting to extract and understanding what the underlying actual political/environmental/sociological issues are is likely to inevitably generate some degree of friction. As an example of a statement I'll make that's bound to be controversial:

    Many governments and think tanks say that, given the uncertainties in climate science and the number of currently suffering people in the world, the money would be better used providing aid to them. Arguably, the big attraction of promising overseas aid is that a government can promise it over a future period and if it later decides it doesn't want to do that (maybe for good reasons, maybe not), just reduce the amount it actually delivers (particularly since not delivering isn't particularly obvious to the public). [Support for this claim comes from reports this is what many governments have done many times.]

    Now I suspect that anyone who did hold that view is going to be very vociferous in denying that they do, but if it happens to be the case then it suggests that any technological response whose implementation requires some action which would definitely commit governments has to either:

    1. Be explicitly arguing about how the commited future won't be a problem/as bad as believed/is just plain unavoidable.

    2. Be modified so that the commited future element isn't as strong, even if it weakens the environmental effects.

    Now that's just an example, and the above controversial point may or may not be accurate: the point is that it's a "political" issue that has impact on technical/scientific issues.

    So I think that, if one is working primarily on the responses side, some degree of discussion of beliefs/politics/ideology is necessary to inform what technology/science to be thinking and working on, but then I suspect there's both inevitable friction and potential for such discussions to be used by hostile external agencies as evidence that Azimuth is biased/not scientific/whatever. As such, I suspect that discussions and wiki entries that attempt to deal with such issues should be separated from (but mutually-referring to) content that's purely "if you do this, this is what the science/technology aspects are" pages. I guess we should also try and enforce a standard of behaviour that only the political/economic aspects relevant to the technological/environmental issue at hand should be used in the discussion, and that there should be an acceptance that people have different "non-negotiable core values": the point of import to Azimuth is whether populations with a given value set affect decisions about technological responses.

    But maybe others disagree about this. And I'm sure there's a lot more to the issues that Azimuth'ers need to think about and write down.

    (Continued)

    Comment Source:(Continuation) Note that these are primarily technical/scientific questions but unlike analysis issues are needing much more of an understanding of the political/environmental/sociological context and constraints in order to see how technological responses can be modified. In particular, attempting to extract and understanding what the underlying actual political/environmental/sociological issues are is likely to inevitably generate some degree of friction. As an example of a statement I'll make that's bound to be controversial: Many governments and think tanks say that, given the uncertainties in climate science and the number of currently suffering people in the world, the money would be better used providing aid to them. Arguably, the big attraction of promising overseas aid is that a government can promise it over a future period and if it later decides it doesn't want to do that (maybe for good reasons, maybe not), just reduce the amount it actually delivers (particularly since not delivering isn't particularly obvious to the public). [Support for this claim comes from reports this is what many governments have done many times.] Now I suspect that anyone who did hold that view is going to be very vociferous in denying that they do, but if it happens to be the case then it suggests that any technological response whose implementation requires some action which would definitely commit governments has to either: 1. Be explicitly arguing about how the commited future won't be a problem/as bad as believed/is just plain unavoidable. 2. Be modified so that the commited future element isn't as strong, even if it weakens the environmental effects. Now that's just an example, and the above controversial point may or may not be accurate: the point is that it's a "political" issue that has impact on technical/scientific issues. So I think that, if one is working primarily on the responses side, some degree of discussion of beliefs/politics/ideology is necessary to inform what technology/science to be thinking and working on, but then I suspect there's both inevitable friction and potential for such discussions to be used by hostile external agencies as evidence that Azimuth is biased/not scientific/whatever. As such, I suspect that discussions and wiki entries that attempt to deal with such issues should be separated from (but mutually-referring to) content that's purely "if you do this, this is what the science/technology aspects are" pages. I guess we should also try and enforce a standard of behaviour that _only_ the political/economic aspects relevant to the technological/environmental issue at hand should be used in the discussion, and that there should be an acceptance that people have different "non-negotiable core values": the point of import to Azimuth is whether populations with a given value set affect decisions about technological responses. But maybe others disagree about this. And I'm sure there's a lot more to the issues that Azimuth'ers need to think about and write down. (Continued)
  • 3.
    edited January 2011

    (Continuation)

    Final brief postscript: I've been thinking for several months about how to make a contribution to Azimuth using my programming skills. However, as noted above for me personally I don't think working on the "analysis" side of things would advance much (even if it would be very interesting). So I've been trying to come up with any ideas for things on the response side that could do with programming, but I'm struggling to think of things that would be useful which don't implicitly involve data collection that's way beyond the scope of one or a small number of unofficial part-timers. But if I do manage any ideas I may try and implement them as part of the Azimuth project, which may inevitably involve the above issue of politics/ideology. (Incidentally, I think it's probably good that I'm thinking of programming on the response side of things, since Tim and I have, I think, many gentlemanly disagreements about software practice as applied to scientific/high performance computing software and it would be a shame to waste much time trying to lever them into the same codebase. And maybe Tim and other programmers will convince me to change my views as a result of the software they develop.)

    Comment Source:(Continuation) Final brief postscript: I've been thinking for several months about how to make a contribution to Azimuth using my programming skills. However, as noted above _for me personally_ I don't think working on the "analysis" side of things would advance much (even if it would be very interesting). So I've been trying to come up with any ideas for things on the response side that could do with programming, but I'm struggling to think of things that would be useful which don't implicitly involve data collection that's way beyond the scope of one or a small number of unofficial part-timers. But if I do manage any ideas I may try and implement them as part of the Azimuth project, which may inevitably involve the above issue of politics/ideology. (Incidentally, I think it's probably good that I'm thinking of programming on the response side of things, since Tim and I have, I think, many gentlemanly disagreements about software practice _as applied to scientific/high performance computing software_ and it would be a shame to waste much time trying to lever them into the same codebase. And maybe Tim and other programmers will convince me to change my views as a result of the software they develop.)
  • 4.

    David said

    So I've been trying to come up with any ideas for things on the response side that could do with programming, but I'm struggling to think of things that would be useful which don't implicitly involve data collection that's way beyond the scope of one or a small number of unofficial part-timers.

    I just added these ideas to Open projects.

    • An open source version of FESA (Future Energy Scenario Assessment). FESA from Orion Innovations is proprietary software which models energy systems scenarios, including meteorological data, economic analysis and technology performance.

    • An automated species-identification system. See Time to automate identification (Nature 467, 154–155; 2010). The authors say that taxonomists should work with specialists in pattern recognition, machine learning and artificial intelligence to increase accuracy and reduce drudgery.

    The rest of what you said will take longer to digest. ;-)

    Comment Source:David said > So I've been trying to come up with any ideas for things on the response side that could do with programming, but I'm struggling to think of things that would be useful which don't implicitly involve data collection that's way beyond the scope of one or a small number of unofficial part-timers. I just added these ideas to [[Open projects]]. * An open source version of FESA (Future Energy Scenario Assessment). [FESA](http://www.orioninnovations.co.uk/Fesa/downloads/FESAflyerAug2010.pdf) from [Orion Innovations](http://www.orioninnovations.co.uk) is proprietary software which models energy systems scenarios, including meteorological data, economic analysis and technology performance. * An automated species-identification system. See [Time to automate identification](http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v467/n7312/full/467154a.html) (Nature 467, 154–155; 2010). The authors say that taxonomists should work with specialists in pattern recognition, machine learning and artificial intelligence to increase accuracy and reduce drudgery. The rest of what you said will take longer to digest. ;-)
  • 5.
    edited January 2011

    These are very interesting ideas: however I think, depending on whether there are actually already freely available annotated datasets for evaluation, they might be examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about with respect to high-workload (and possibly credential-requiring) data collection. There are other interesting ideas, eg, it'd be interesting to look at some advanced strategies for an electrical SmartGrid, model things like "smartphone based car-sharing schemes", automated supply systems for supermarkets that attempt to reduce ecological footprint, etc. Again to make interesting conclusions from these projects I think you really need some real-world input data which isn't freely available. (The EU has some basic statistics on cities that, if I can figure out how to automatically extract from their database, might enable some interesting modeling, even if only to support/disprove power laws.)

    Incidentally, I'm not sure if this is exactly the same task as your species-id task, but here's a fun paper on identifying the species of a pictured butterfly from a set of natural language species classifications along with classified exemplar images of some species. (Ie, the clever bit is using the common features of the pcitures for exemplars from those species that contain the phrase "spotted wings" to figure out what "spotted wings" looks like.)

    Comment Source:These are very interesting ideas: however I think, depending on whether there are actually already freely available annotated datasets for evaluation, they might be examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about with respect to high-workload (and possibly credential-requiring) data collection. There are other interesting ideas, eg, it'd be interesting to look at some advanced strategies for an electrical SmartGrid, model things like "smartphone based car-sharing schemes", automated supply systems for supermarkets that attempt to reduce ecological footprint, etc. Again to make interesting conclusions from these projects I think you really need some real-world input data which isn't freely available. (The EU has some basic statistics on cities that, if I can figure out how to automatically extract from their database, might enable some interesting modeling, even if only to support/disprove power laws.) Incidentally, I'm not sure if this is exactly the same task as your species-id task, but [here's a fun paper](http://www.comp.leeds.ac.uk/me/Publications/bmvc09.pdf) on identifying the species of a pictured butterfly from a set of natural language species classifications along with classified exemplar images of _some_ species. (Ie, the clever bit is using the common features of the pcitures for exemplars from those species that contain the phrase "spotted wings" to figure out what "spotted wings" looks like.)
  • 6.
    edited January 2011

    Curtis wrote:

    As John noted in 1. above, as we go forward we will necessarily get involved in politics as we will be advocating a particular plan of action with many parts...

    Actually the bulk of the Azimuth Project is very carefully designed to not advocate any particular plan of action. Advocacy is not part of its mission so far.

    My idea of formulating some sort of plan of action, Plan C, was not thought out very carefully in this regard. If we do go ahead with this we will have to be very careful. As soon as anyone becomes attached to a plan and starts trying to convince people that "this is what we should do", their frame of mind subtly changes. They start cutting corners with the truth, ignoring facts that seem to work against their goals. I have noticed this in myself — the last person I'd expect.

    So, it will take a long time to sort out this issue. I don't even want to start sorting it out now in any serious way. I have lots of urgent things to do that are less tricky.

    For now, some instant emotional responses:

    The main reason I want to formulate Plan C is that I'm getting tired of reading plans of action that don't work with actual humans. I would like to see plans that are more realistic. But I really don't want the Azimuth Project to get into the business of "advocacy". I'd prefer it to be seen as an "trustworthy resource".

    How can do we accomplish that and still formulate plans?

    One possible way is to formulate more than one plan. Another is to include criticisms of our plans just as we do of other people's plans!

    Comment Source:Curtis wrote: >As John noted in 1. above, as we go forward we will necessarily get involved in politics as we will be advocating a particular plan of action with many parts... Actually the bulk of the Azimuth Project is very carefully designed to _not_ advocate any particular plan of action. Advocacy is _not_ part of its mission so far. My idea of formulating some sort of plan of action, [[Plan C]], was not thought out very carefully in this regard. If we do go ahead with this we will have to be _**very careful**_. As soon as anyone becomes attached to a plan and starts trying to convince people that "this is what we should do", their frame of mind subtly changes. They start cutting corners with the truth, ignoring facts that seem to work against their goals. I have noticed this in myself &mdash; the last person I'd expect. <img src = "http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/emoticons/rolleyes.gif" alt = ""/> So, it will take a long time to sort out this issue. I don't even want to _start_ sorting it out now in any serious way. I have lots of urgent things to do that are less tricky. For now, some instant emotional responses: The main reason I want to formulate [[Plan C]] is that I'm getting tired of reading [[plans of action]] that don't work with actual humans. I would like to see plans that are more realistic. But I really _don't_ want the Azimuth Project to get into the business of "advocacy". I'd prefer it to be seen as an "trustworthy resource". How can do we accomplish that and still formulate plans? One possible way is to formulate more than one plan. Another is to include criticisms of our plans just as we do of other people's plans!
  • 7.
    edited January 2011

    By the way, when it comes to talking about politics, I'm not completely averse to talking about political theory. But when people start talking about the merits of particular parties, or even particular ideologies, the discussion seems to inevitably degenerate into a kind of 'war': what matters is not finding the truth, but winning the battle. In this kind of conversation, people become rigid and stupid. So I'm dedicated to avoiding that kind of discussion in any forum where I have some say.

    (Even if I were king, I would not ban this sort of discussion. But there are lots of forums where people discuss politics, and I don't think the world needs one more. At least, not as much as it needs some other kinds of forum!)

    Comment Source:By the way, when it comes to talking about politics, I'm not completely averse to talking about political theory. But when people start talking about the merits of particular parties, or even particular ideologies, the discussion seems to inevitably degenerate into a kind of 'war': what matters is not finding the truth, but winning the battle. In this kind of conversation, people become rigid and stupid. So I'm dedicated to avoiding that kind of discussion in any forum where I have some say. (Even if I were king, I would not ban this sort of discussion. But there are lots of forums where people discuss politics, and I don't think the world needs one more. At least, not as much as it needs some _other_ kinds of forum!)
  • 8.
    edited January 2011

    David wrote:

    This is a big part of the reason why I haven't personally got involved in any of the Azimuth project programming efforts attempting to strengthen the support for the "analysis" of man-made climate change and environmental problems: even if they succeed in increasing the strength of the evidence by, say, a factor of two I don't expect that to have any significant effect on whether responses to sustainability issues are undertaken since doubt of the analysis is not the dominant "blocker" for those in positions of power.

    I agree with you here. As you know, I've been floundering around trying to look for a new career. At some point I decided that climate modelling would not be that career. It's extremely complicated, you have to do lots of work to do a good job, I'm too much of a dilettante — and as you note, there's not enough bang for the buck if your goal is to save the planet.

    However, I think that it makes sense for me to learn a bit about climate physics and climate modelling. If I were completely ignorant of these subjects I'd look like an idiot running around trying to "create a focal point for scientists and engineers interested in saving the planet". Besides, it's fun. If I can get a few dozen students out there to realize that the math and physics involved in this subject is just as fun as, say, superstrings or quantum computers, I think that'll be a good thing.

    So, I'm very glad that Nathan Urban and Tim Palmer and others are willing to explain climate physics and climate modelling, and I think it's a good use of my time to popularize their explanations. I'm very glad that Tim van Beek is willing to write some software to illustrate some of the underlying math, and help climate scientists get better at programming.

    But I'm still not quite sure what I should be doing with myself, so I sympathize with this:

    So I've been trying to come up with any ideas for things on the response side that could do with programming, but I'm struggling to think of things that would be useful which don't implicitly involve data collection that's way beyond the scope of one or a small number of unofficial part-timers.

    On the other hand:

    I think you (David) have been doing a great job tackling economic and decision-theoretic issues like peak oil, EROEI, energy cannibalism, Jevons paradox, Pareto front and the like. And I think this 'big picture' stuff that requires judgement and nuance could be even more important than writing programs or analyzing huge wads of data!

    Similarly, it's possible that the best way for me to spend my time now is serving as a popularizer, organizer and cheerleader.

    Comment Source:David wrote: > This is a big part of the reason why I haven't personally got involved in any of the Azimuth project programming efforts attempting to strengthen the support for the "analysis" of man-made climate change and environmental problems: even if they succeed in increasing the strength of the evidence by, say, a factor of two I don't expect that to have any significant effect on whether responses to sustainability issues are undertaken since doubt of the analysis is not the dominant "blocker" for those in positions of power. I agree with you here. As you know, I've been floundering around trying to look for a new career. At some point I decided that climate modelling would not be that career. It's extremely complicated, you have to do lots of work to do a good job, I'm too much of a dilettante &mdash; and as you note, **there's not enough bang for the buck** if your goal is to save the planet. However, I think that it makes sense for me to learn a bit about climate physics and climate modelling. If I were completely ignorant of these subjects I'd look like an idiot running around trying to "create a focal point for scientists and engineers interested in saving the planet". Besides, it's fun. If I can get a few dozen students out there to realize that the math and physics involved in this subject is just as fun as, say, superstrings or quantum computers, I think that'll be a good thing. So, I'm very glad that Nathan Urban and Tim Palmer and others are willing to explain climate physics and climate modelling, and I think it's a good use of my time to popularize their explanations. I'm very glad that Tim van Beek is willing to write some software to illustrate some of the underlying math, and help climate scientists get better at programming. But I'm still not quite sure what I should be doing with myself, so I sympathize with this: > So I've been trying to come up with any ideas for things on the response side that could do with programming, but I'm struggling to think of things that would be useful which don't implicitly involve data collection that's way beyond the scope of one or a small number of unofficial part-timers. On the other hand: I think you (David) have been doing a great job tackling economic and decision-theoretic issues like [[peak oil]], [[EROEI]], [[energy cannibalism]], [[Jevons paradox]], [[Pareto front]] and the like. And I think this 'big picture' stuff that requires judgement and nuance could be even more important than writing programs or analyzing huge wads of data! Similarly, it's possible that the best way for me to spend my time now is serving as a popularizer, organizer and cheerleader.
  • 9.
    edited January 2011

    Actually the bulk of the Azimuth Project is very carefully designed to not advocate any particular plan of action. Advocacy is not part of its mission so far.

    Okay, that does fit with my sense of what I've read so far. So I probably used too strong a word. By advocacy, I meant more proposing. That we're going to say that we think that a particular set of ideas are the ones that represent the best ideas based on some set of criteria.

    My idea of formulating some sort of plan of action, Plan C, was not thought out very carefully in this regard. If we do go ahead with this we will have to be very careful. As soon as anyone becomes attached to a plan and starts trying to convince people that "this is what we should do", their frame of mind subtly changes. They start cutting corners with the truth, ignoring facts that seem to work against their goals. I have noticed this in myself — the last person I'd expect.

    But I really don't want the Azimuth Project to get into the business of "advocacy". I'd prefer it to be seen as an "trustworthy resource".

    How can do we accomplish that and still formulate plans?

    One possible way is to formulate more than one plan. Another is to include criticisms of our plans just as we do of other people's plans!

    Another potential way we could handle this is to have Plan C not be a fixed target. Perhaps it ought to be a series of running experiments with ongoing evaluation among competing strategies for those domains where it is not obvious which ideas are superior. Perhaps Plan C becomes more of an ongoing process than a fixed product; a way of solving the problems rather than a fixed solution itself.

    Perhaps Plan C is different in some way that is radical and that becomes obviously superior only in retrospect. For example, it seems to me that a big part of Plan C will end up being actions that are to mitigate problems that already exist. If there are no other plans for what to do when X disaster happens, then clearly the Plan C sub-plan that covers disaster X will be the first plan people consider.

    The main reason I want to formulate Plan C is that I'm getting tired of reading plans of action that don't work with actual humans. I would like to see plans that are more realistic.

    Yes, that really is the important distinguishing characteristic and the very reason that I like Plan C so much. Any plans or ideas that are not going to get past existing politics and everyday human psychological reactions are essentially useless. The plans I've seen all seem to start with: "If pigs could fly and the moon was made of cheese then..." or they shoot so low that they won't begin to solve the problem anyway. So we either see ridiculous optimism or denial. Plan C needs to balance a pragmatic acknowledgement of the difficulties getting any sort of action on the part of people and governments, with an acknowledgement of the implication of extrapolation of current trends.

    Similarly, it's possible that the best way for me to spend my time now is serving as a popularizer, organizer and cheerleader.

    You highlighted a major hole in current ideas when you mentioned that you wanted to create a "synoptic view." No one is working on the grand strategy for this problem as far as I can see. They are either completely tactical or concerned with strategy for pieces of the puzzle. Building this synoptic view and a high-level grand strategy for saving the planet is a worthy task.

    Comment Source:>Actually the bulk of the Azimuth Project is very carefully designed to _not_ advocate any particular plan of action. Advocacy is _not_ part of its mission so far. Okay, that does fit with my sense of what I've read so far. So I probably used too strong a word. By advocacy, I meant more proposing. That we're going to say that we think that a particular set of ideas are the ones that represent the best ideas based on some set of criteria. >My idea of formulating some sort of plan of action, [[Plan C]], was not thought out very carefully in this regard. If we do go ahead with this we will have to be _**very careful**_. As soon as anyone becomes attached to a plan and starts trying to convince people that "this is what we should do", their frame of mind subtly changes. They start cutting corners with the truth, ignoring facts that seem to work against their goals. I have noticed this in myself &mdash; the last person I'd expect. >But I really _don't_ want the Azimuth Project to get into the business of "advocacy". I'd prefer it to be seen as an "trustworthy resource". >How can do we accomplish that and still formulate plans? >One possible way is to formulate more than one plan. Another is to include criticisms of our plans just as we do of other people's plans! Another potential way we could handle this is to have [[Plan C]] not be a fixed target. Perhaps it ought to be a series of running experiments with ongoing evaluation among competing strategies for those domains where it is not obvious which ideas are superior. Perhaps [[Plan C]] becomes more of an ongoing process than a fixed product; a way of solving the problems rather than a fixed solution itself. Perhaps [[Plan C]] is different in some way that is radical and that becomes obviously superior only in retrospect. For example, it seems to me that a big part of [[Plan C]] will end up being actions that are to mitigate problems that already exist. If there are no other plans for what to do when X disaster happens, then clearly the [[Plan C]] sub-plan that covers disaster X will be the first plan people consider. >The main reason I want to formulate [[Plan C]] is that I'm getting tired of reading [[plans of action]] that don't work with actual humans. I would like to see plans that are more realistic. Yes, that really is the important distinguishing characteristic and the very reason that I like [[Plan C]] so much. Any plans or ideas that are not going to get past existing politics and everyday human psychological reactions are essentially useless. The plans I've seen all seem to start with: "If pigs could fly and the moon was made of cheese then..." or they shoot so low that they won't begin to solve the problem anyway. So we either see ridiculous optimism or denial. [[Plan C]] needs to balance a pragmatic acknowledgement of the difficulties getting any sort of action on the part of people and governments, with an acknowledgement of the implication of extrapolation of current trends. >Similarly, it's possible that the best way for me to spend my time now is serving as a popularizer, organizer and cheerleader. You highlighted a major hole in current ideas when you mentioned that you wanted to create a "synoptic view." No one is working on the grand strategy for this problem as far as I can see. They are either completely tactical or concerned with strategy for pieces of the puzzle. Building this synoptic view and a high-level grand strategy for saving the planet is a worthy task.
  • 10.

    Curtis wrote:

    Another potential way we could handle this is to have Plan C not be a fixed target. Perhaps it ought to be a series of running experiments with ongoing evaluation among competing strategies for those domains where it is not obvious which ideas are superior. Perhaps Plan C becomes more of an ongoing process than a fixed product; a way of solving the problems rather than a fixed solution itself.

    I like all these ideas very much. Probably someday within a year or two we should write a specific plan, and it's almost irresistible to call this Plan C, but the task of realistic planning is so great that it's inevitable that this plan will undergo multiple revisions and even fragment into distinct sub-plans based on different scenarios or goals.

    So, we might as well call the whole kettle of fish 'Plan C', instead of reserving that name for the first minnow we catch...

    Comment Source:Curtis wrote: >Another potential way we could handle this is to have [[Plan C]] not be a fixed target. Perhaps it ought to be a series of running experiments with ongoing evaluation among competing strategies for those domains where it is not obvious which ideas are superior. Perhaps [[Plan C]] becomes more of an ongoing process than a fixed product; a way of solving the problems rather than a fixed solution itself. I like all these ideas very much. Probably someday within a year or two we should write a specific plan, and it's almost irresistible to call this [[Plan C]], but the task of realistic planning is so great that it's _inevitable_ that this plan will undergo multiple revisions and even fragment into distinct sub-plans based on different scenarios or goals. So, we might as well call the whole kettle of fish 'Plan C', instead of reserving that name for the first minnow we catch...
  • 11.

    David wrote:

    Most people who are "skeptics" are, in my opinion, unhappy with the possible range of actions if climate change (including being unhappy about the prospect of actions being imposed on them) and attempt to avoid these responses by finding points to doubt about the scientific analysis. This is a big part of the reason why I haven't personally got involved in any of the Azimuth project programming efforts attempting to strengthen the support for the "analysis" of man-made climate change and environmental problems: even if they succeed in increasing the strength of the evidence by, say, a factor of two I don't expect that to have any significant effect on whether responses to sustainability issues are undertaken since doubt of the analysis is not the dominant "blocker" for those in positions of power.

    Writing some code for climate simulations is only one aspect of the Azimuth project and of course everybody can feel free to join the work on some climate model in order to disprove the model. I haven't made up my mind yet about AGW, and I haven't made up my mind about climate models, but it seems clear that there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about them. Last but not least because they consist of "millions of lines of code" and we all know that millions of lines of code will contain hundreds of thousands of bugs. I don't expect that this kind of work will have a significant impact on politics either.

    As Azimuth is primarily about information (unbiased if that is possible), the Azimuth project is primarily about developing and publishing code that has been used on Azimuth in some sense or the other, in the spririt of this post on the Climate Code Foundation: some code published.

    Incidentally, I think it's probably good that I'm thinking of programming on the response side of things, since Tim and I have, I think, many gentlemanly disagreements about software practice as applied to scientific/high performance computing software and it would be a shame to waste much time trying to lever them into the same codebase. And maybe Tim and other programmers will convince me to change my views as a result of the software they develop.

    I'd like to start a GCM in a way that it would be set up in the business application software industry, when you expect to invest something between 5 and 30 man years. This is very different from what the people working on GCMs do, and I'd like to know how far one can get with it. It is common knowledge that you don't use e.g. a programming language where you have to micromanage computer memory like C++. If you don't have to do that, developing speed increases significantly, but maybe you'll find out later that you run into massive performance problems. This is what I would like find out. So, it's more of an experiment which paradigms of software engineering from the last 20 years could be of use in scientific high performance programming, it's not that I disagree with the whole community about how things should be done :-)

    Comment Source:David wrote: <blockquote> <p> Most people who are "skeptics" are, in my opinion, unhappy with the possible range of actions if climate change (including being unhappy about the prospect of actions being imposed on them) and attempt to avoid these responses by finding points to doubt about the scientific analysis. This is a big part of the reason why I haven't personally got involved in any of the Azimuth project programming efforts attempting to strengthen the support for the "analysis" of man-made climate change and environmental problems: even if they succeed in increasing the strength of the evidence by, say, a factor of two I don't expect that to have any significant effect on whether responses to sustainability issues are undertaken since doubt of the analysis is not the dominant "blocker" for those in positions of power. </p> </blockquote> Writing some code for climate simulations is only one aspect of the Azimuth project and of course everybody can feel free to join the work on some climate model in order to disprove the model. I haven't made up my mind yet about AGW, and I haven't made up my mind about climate models, but it seems clear that there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about them. Last but not least because they consist of "millions of lines of code" and we all know that millions of lines of code will contain hundreds of thousands of bugs. I don't expect that this kind of work will have a significant impact on politics either. As Azimuth is primarily about information (unbiased if that is possible), the Azimuth project is primarily about developing and publishing code that has been used on Azimuth in some sense or the other, in the spririt of this post on the Climate Code Foundation: <a href="http://climatecode.org/">some code published</a>. <blockquote> <p> Incidentally, I think it's probably good that I'm thinking of programming on the response side of things, since Tim and I have, I think, many gentlemanly disagreements about software practice as applied to scientific/high performance computing software and it would be a shame to waste much time trying to lever them into the same codebase. And maybe Tim and other programmers will convince me to change my views as a result of the software they develop. </p> </blockquote> I'd like to start a GCM in a way that it would be set up in the business application software industry, when you expect to invest something between 5 and 30 man years. This is very different from what the people working on GCMs do, and I'd like to know how far one can get with it. It is common knowledge that you don't use e.g. a programming language where you have to micromanage computer memory like C++. If you don't have to do that, developing speed increases significantly, but maybe you'll find out later that you run into massive performance problems. This is what I would like find out. So, it's more of an experiment which paradigms of software engineering from the last 20 years could be of use in scientific high performance programming, it's not that I disagree with the whole community about how things should be done :-)
  • 12.
    edited January 2011

    John wrote:

    could be even more important than writing programs or analyzing huge wads of data!

    I actually enjoy writing programs that analyze huge wads of data (and it can produce useful results). However, because of that I've also spent much more time than I care to remember collecting, entering and annotating those huge wads of bloomin' data, and I know that it's something that is probably sufficiently difficult and tiring to do that I doubt I'd get to the end doing it as a volunteer project (plus some of the interesting stuff at least regarding people's behaviour might fall under confidentiality/comercially sensitive classification). So it may be wiser not to start, although I'm still scouting around for any useful pre-existing datasets that just need to be "harvested" (eg, by writing simple conversion scripts) before being used.

    Tim wrote:

    So, it's more of an experiment which paradigms of software engineering from the last 20 years could be of use in scientific high performance programming, it's not that I disagree with the whole community about how things should be done :-)

    I'll write a little about this on the dedicated thread, and I'm really trying not to be obnoxious (or at least not more obnoxious than normal :-) ): I do think it's possible you're right.

    Comment Source:John wrote: > could be even more important than writing programs or analyzing huge wads of data! I actually enjoy writing programs that analyze huge wads of data (and it can produce useful results). However, because of that I've also spent much more time than I care to remember _collecting, entering and annotating those huge wads of bloomin' data_, and I know that it's something that is probably sufficiently difficult and tiring to do that I doubt I'd get to the end doing it as a volunteer project (plus some of the interesting stuff at least regarding people's behaviour might fall under confidentiality/comercially sensitive classification). So it may be wiser not to start, although I'm still scouting around for any useful pre-existing datasets that just need to be "harvested" (eg, by writing simple conversion scripts) before being used. Tim wrote: > So, it's more of an experiment which paradigms of software engineering from the last 20 years could be of use in scientific high performance programming, it's not that I disagree with the whole community about how things should be done :-) I'll write a little about this on the dedicated thread, and I'm really trying not to be obnoxious (or at least not more obnoxious than normal :-) ): I do think it's possible you're right.
  • 13.

    David Tweed wrote:

    Final brief postscript: I've been thinking for several months about how to make a contribution to Azimuth using my programming skills. However, as noted above for me personally I don't think working on the "analysis" side of things would advance much (even if it would be very interesting). So I've been trying to come up with any ideas for things on the response side that could do with programming, [SNIP]

    I had a somewhat length reply to just this section of David's comments above and thought it would be good to split out the discussion of potential software for the response to sustainability issues into this new thread.

    Comment Source:David Tweed wrote: >Final brief postscript: I've been thinking for several months about how to make a contribution to Azimuth using my programming skills. However, as noted above _for me personally_ I don't think working on the "analysis" side of things would advance much (even if it would be very interesting). So I've been trying to come up with any ideas for things on the response side that could do with programming, [SNIP] I had a somewhat length reply to just this section of David's comments above and thought it would be good to split out the discussion of potential software for the response to sustainability issues into [this new thread](http://www.math.ntnu.no/~stacey/Mathforge/Azimuth/comments.php?DiscussionID=370).
  • 14.

    John Baez wrote:

    Probably someday within a year or two we should write a specific plan, and it's almost irresistible to call this Plan C, but the task of realistic planning is so great that it's inevitable that this plan will undergo multiple revisions and even fragment into distinct sub-plans based on different scenarios or goals.

    So, we might as well call the whole kettle of fish 'Plan C', instead of reserving that name for the first minnow we catch...

    That makes good sense to me.

    We don't know what the future will bring, so 'Plan C' needs to account for large variability in the potential scenarios. That's one of the ways it can stay outside of the fray, if 'Plan C' doesn't predict that any given specific future scenario will definitely occur, but instead only gives ranges of probabilities, then we will need to have plans for responding to even low-probability scenarios if their consequences are bad enough. The occurrence of one of these unlikely scenarios will mean that new groups of people will want to help do something and will want to join the project. Further, if 'Plan C' lays out what to do then we will already know how to deploy this new help and assistance.

    A sudden and unpredicted die-off of some common species might wake people up and change their priorities, or perhaps another series of floods of even greater impact than the flood in Pakistan and Queensland. 'Plan C' ought to account for these likely types of events.

    Likewise, there may be different goals in 'Plan C' that different groups of people will get excited about. Some might be more concerned with preserving ecosystems under stress, while others might be more concerned with other sustainability issues like energy, yet others with ensuring access to clean water as it becomes more and more scarce, etc.

    Comment Source:John Baez wrote: >Probably someday within a year or two we should write a specific plan, and it's almost irresistible to call this [[Plan C]], but the task of realistic planning is so great that it's _inevitable_ that this plan will undergo multiple revisions and even fragment into distinct sub-plans based on different scenarios or goals. >So, we might as well call the whole kettle of fish 'Plan C', instead of reserving that name for the first minnow we catch... That makes good sense to me. We don't know what the future will bring, so 'Plan C' needs to account for large variability in the potential scenarios. That's one of the ways it can stay outside of the fray, if 'Plan C' doesn't predict that any given specific future scenario will definitely occur, but instead only gives ranges of probabilities, then we will need to have plans for responding to even low-probability scenarios if their consequences are bad enough. The occurrence of one of these unlikely scenarios will mean that new groups of people will want to help do something and will want to join the project. Further, if 'Plan C' lays out what to do then we will already know how to deploy this new help and assistance. A sudden and unpredicted die-off of some common species might wake people up and change their priorities, or perhaps another series of floods of even greater impact than the flood in Pakistan and Queensland. 'Plan C' ought to account for these likely types of events. Likewise, there may be different goals in 'Plan C' that different groups of people will get excited about. Some might be more concerned with preserving ecosystems under stress, while others might be more concerned with other sustainability issues like energy, yet others with ensuring access to clean water as it becomes more and more scarce, etc.
Sign In or Register to comment.