The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."
Showing posts with label professors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label professors. Show all posts

Friday, April 7, 2023

Why we Can't Change Anything Before it is Too Late.


Yours truly, Ugo Bardi, in a recent interview on a local TV station. note the "Limits to Growth" t-shirt and, as a lapel pin, the ASPO-Italy logo. 

A few days ago, I was invited to an interview on a local TV about the energy transition. I prepared myself by collecting data. I was planning to bring to the attention of viewers a few recent studies that showed how urgent and necessary it is to move away from conventional engines, including a recent paper by Roberto Cazzolla-Gatti(*) that shows how the combustion of fossil fuels is one of the main causes of tumors in Italy. 

And then I had a minor epiphany in my mind. 

I saw myself from the other side of the camera, appearing on the screen in someone's living room. I saw myself as one more of those white-haired professors who tell viewers, "look, there is a grave danger ahead. You must do as I say, or disaster will ensue."

No way. 

I could see myself appearing to people as more or less the same as one of the many TV virologists who had terrorized people with the Covid story during the past three years. "There is a grave danger caused by a mysterious virus. If you don't do as I say, disaster will ensue." 

It scared people a lot, but only for a while. And now the poor performance of TV virologists, Tony Fauci and the others, cast a shade over the general validity of science. As a result, we now see a wave of anti-science sweeping the discussion while carrying along the flotsam of decades of legends. Fake lunar landings, earthquakes as weapons, how Greenland was green at the time of Erik the Red, and don't you know that climate has always been changing? Besides, Greta Thumberg is a bitch.

But it is not so much a fault of the TV virologists, although they have done their part in creating the damage. It is the human decisional system that works in a perverse way. More or less, it works like this:

  1. Scientists identify a grave problem and try to warn people about it. 
  2. The scientists are first demonized, then ignored.
  3. Nothing is done about the problem.
  4. When it is discovered that the warning was correct, it is too late. 

Do you remember the story of the boy who cried "wolf"? Yes, it works exactly like that in the real world. One of the first modern cases in real history was that of "The Limits to Growth" in 1972. 

  1. A group of scientists sponsored by the Club of Rome discovered that unrestrained growth of the global economic system would lead to its collapse.
  2. The scientists and the Club of Rome were demonized, then ignored.
  3. Nothing was done about the problem.
  4. Now that we are discovering that the scientists were right, collapse is already starting.
More recently, we saw how, 
  1. Scientists tried to alert people about the dangers of climate change.
  2. Scientists were demonized and then ignored.
  3. Nothing was done about climate change.
  4. When it was discovered that the warning was correct, it was too late. (it is).
There are many more examples, but it almost always works like this. Conversely, when, for some reason, people take heed of the warning, the results may be even worse, as we saw with the Covid epidemic. In that case, you can add a 1b line to the list that says, "people become scared and do things that worsen the problem." After a while, line 2 (scientists are demonized) takes over, and the cycle goes on.  

So, what are the conclusions? The main one, I'd say, is: 

Avoid being a white-haired scientist issuing warnings about grave dangers from a TV screen

Then, what should you say when you appear on TV (and you happen to be a white-haired scientist)? Good question. My idea for that TV interview was to present change as an opportunity rather than an obligation. I was prepared to explain how there are many possible ways to improve the quality of our life by moving away from fossil fuels. 

How did it go? It was one of the best examples that I experienced in my life of the general validity of the principle that says, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." The interview turned out to be a typical TV ambush in which the host accused me of wanting to beggar people by taking away their cars and their gas stoves, of trying to poison the planet with lithium batteries, and of promoting the exploitation of the 3rd world poor with coltan mines. I didn't take that meekly, as you may imagine. 

The interview became confrontational, and it quickly degenerated into a verbal brawl. I am not linking to the interview; it is not so interesting. Besides, it was all in Italian. But you can get some idea of how these things go from a similar ambush against Matt Taibbi on MSNBC. What did the viewers think? Hopefully, they switched channels. 

In the end. I am only sure that if something has to happen, it will. 

(*) The paper by Roberto Cazzolla-Gatti on the carcinogenic effects of combustion is truly impressive. Do read it, even if you are not a catastrophist. You'll learn a lot. 

(**) CJ Hopkins offers some suggestions on how to behave when you are subjected to this kind of attack. He says that you should refuse to answer some questions, answer with more questions, avoid taking the interviewer seriously, and things like that. It is surely better than trying to just defend oneself, but it is extremely difficult. It was not the first time that I faced this kind of ambush, and when you are in the crossfire you have little or no chances to avoid a memetic defeat.