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How Leonardo DiCaprio Can Persuade Me on Climate Change

    Note: If you came here from Twitter, I use “kittens” as my code for climate science to thwart Twitter’s shadowban on my tweets.

    You probably know that actor Leonardo DiCaprio is a climate activist, and he is trying to persuade the world that climate change is both real and serious. Someone asked me on Twitter what it would take for DiCaprio (for example) to persuade a person like me.

    I’ll take a swing at that.

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    For starters, you must separate the questions of real and serious. The real part refers to the climate models. The serious part refers to economic models. Those are different topics.

    If you want to convince me that climate change is real, the best approach is to abandon the current method that packages climate models in a fashion that is identical to well-known scams. (Or hoaxes, if you prefer.)

    Let me say this doubly-clear. When I say climate models are packaged in a fashion that is identical to known scams, I am not saying they are scams. I’m saying they are packaged to look exactly like scams. There is no hope for credibility with that communication plan.

    To make my point visual, imagine walking into your kitchen and finding an intruder wearing a ski mask and holding a gun. You assume this person is not your friendly neighbor because he is packaged exactly like an armed burglar. If you shoot that intruder, and it turns out to be your neighbor playing a prank, you probably won’t go to jail because it isn’t your fault. The problem was that your neighbor packaged himself to look exactly like an armed burglar.

    Climate scientists tell us that there are hundreds of climate models, all somewhat different. I assume that most of them do a good job predicting the past (hindcasting) because otherwise they would not be models at all. Hindcasting is one minimum requirement for being a model in this field, I would assume.

    Then science ignores the models that are too far off from observed temperatures as we proceed into the future and check the predictions against reality. Sometimes scientists also “tune” the models to hindcast better, meaning tweaking assumptions. As a non-scientists, I can’t judge whether or not the tuning and tweaking are valid from a scientific perspective. But I can judge that this pattern is identical to known scams. I described the known scams in this post.

    And to my skeptical mind, it sounds fishy that there are dozens or more different climate models that are getting tuned to match observations. That doesn’t sound credible, even if it is logically and scientifically sound. I am not qualified to judge the logic or science. But I am left wondering why it has to sound exactly like a hoax if it isn’t one. Was there not a credible-sounding way to make the case?

    Personally, I would find it compelling if science settled on one climate model (not dozens) and reported that it was accurate (enough), based on temperature observations, for the next five years. If they pull that off, they have my attention. But they will never convince me with multiple models. That just isn’t possible.

    If climate scientists want their climate predictions to be believed, they need to vote on the best model, and stick with it for a few years. If they can’t do that, all I will see is lots of blind squirrels in a field of nuts. Some squirrels will accidentally find some nuts. But it won’t look like science to me because of the way it is packaged.

    I do realize that picking one model as the “best” is not something science can do with comfort. It would feel dishonest, I assume, since they don’t know which one will perform best. But if science wants to be persuasive, they need to pick one model. And it needs to be accurate(ish) for the next five years. Nothing else would be persuasive to me.

    On the second point, about how serious the alleged problem of climate change is, we have to rely not on scientists but on economists. And economists have zero credibility for long-term forecasts of that type. So the serious part is beyond the reach of persuasion. You can’t get there from here because economic models are no more credible than astrology.

    By the way, my educational background is in economics and business. And for years, my corporate jobs involved making complex financial projections about budgets. In other words, I was perpetuating financial fraud within the company, by order of my boss. He told me to pretend my financial projections were real, and I did. But they were not real. My predictions were in line with whatever my boss told me they would be. I “tuned” my assumptions until I got my boss’s answer. 

    When I tell you it would be hard to convince me that a stranger’s economic model is credible, keep my experience in mind. I’ve seen lots of economic models. I’ve built economic models. In my experience, they are nothing but guesses, bias, and outright fraud.

    The only way to convince me that climate change is bad for the economy is to wait until it starts breaking things. If I see it, and scientists agree I am seeing it, I might believe it. But long-term economic predictions can’t get me there.

    I remind you that my topic is about persuasion, not the underlying truth of climate change. I don’t have access to the underlying truth because I am not a scientist working in the field. My information comes from strangers that tell me their interpretation of what the scientists are saying. I am as far from science as you can get.

    The people who are hallucinating the hardest on this topic are the non-scientists who believe they have done a deep dive into the scientific papers and the climate models and arrived at a rational conclusion. The illusion here is that getting information from other humans is the same as “science.” 

    Another group of hallucinators believe that they can determine the scientific truth of climate change by counting the number of scientists on each side. But that ignores the fact that science often has the majority on the wrong side. That happens every time a new idea is starting to replace an old one. Darwin did not agree with the consensus when he introduced evolution. Einstein’s ideas were slow to catch on, etc.

    When the majority of scientists are on one side, what matters most is the flow rate from one side to the other, not the raw numbers. I need to know which direction the scientists are moving. Are more climate scientists moving toward climate skepticism or away from it? Give me that data and I’ll have something useful. But counting the number on each side during one slice of time is meaningless for persuasion.

    My point is that Leonardo DiCaprio would have a tough time persuading me that climate science is both real and serious. But it isn’t his fault, because science has packaged climate science to look like a hoax, and sent him out to sell it. I respect and admire DiCaprio for his heart on this matter, and his effort on behalf of the planet. But science has failed him by giving him hoax-looking sales collateral.

    You might love my book because of reasons and other good things.

What if Climate Change Causes more CO2?

    Let me start this post by restating that I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change. I’m not a scientist and I have no tools to evaluate the credibility of those who are. As far as I can tell, the arguments on both sides are totally credible. I can’t tell them apart. So I default to agreeing with the experts, not so much because I believe experts are likely to be right in this case, but because there are extreme social and economic penalties for being a climate “denier.” So I’m not one. I’m just a non-scientist who would like to understand this situation better.

    And one of my ignorant questions is whether we have the causation right. On one hand, basic science tells us that more CO2 in the atmosphere should cause warming. And according to the consensus view of climate scientists, it is. The graphs of CO2 seem to match the graphs of warming. Therefore, logically, CO2 causes warming.

    A separate debate is whether the CO2 warming is enough to be a problem or it simply exists. Forget that for now. I’m just talking about the direction of causation.

    As a non-scientist, I assume human beings have some sort of temperature range that is optimal for energy and economics. I also assume that there are natural cycles of warming or cooling independent from CO2, at least historically. So we’re probably always warming or cooling. We’re never staying the same. And that means sometimes we are heading toward optimal human temperatures and sometimes away.

    Now suppose the Earth’s temperature was already in the good range for humans, but it was getting even better according to a natural cycle. That better temperature would – I assume – increase human activity in ways that (wait for it) contribute to CO2. If the economy is good, we build more industry and create more CO2. If the causation works in that direction, the heat of the world and the CO2 levels would be correlated. But the cause in this scenario is the warmth, not the CO2.

    None of this means we shouldn’t be worried about rising CO2. The science says more CO2 means more warming. That’s just physics. And at some point we have to assume the planet gets TOO warm, and economic activity will suffer.

    And when the economy suffers, CO2 could drop, assuming the economy goes into decline. At the very least I think you have to agree that the causation is two-way.

    When people tell me to “do my own research” on climate change and reach my own conclusions, I think those people have no understanding of how the human mind works. No matter how much research I do on my own, a real climate scientist will still know things that I don’t know I don’t know. If I do my own research on climate science, all I will know in the end is what I do know. And that’s not enough for any kind of credible evaluation. The stuff I don’t know could easily be more important than the things I do know. One would need to live in a particular industry, the way a climate scientist does, to have any confidence that all the important variables are being considered.

    Consider how basic my question is today. As a non-scientist, I can’t even tell if scientists have the causation right. My layperson’s brain says correlation is not causation, and humans have a long history of confusing the two. And while climate scientists might have perfectly good explanations for why the causation is primarily one-directional, it isn’t obvious to me. (You can explain it to me in the comments.)

    I realize that people want to know which “side” I’m on. But apparently I’m on my own side. My view is that climate scientists are more likely right than not, but the quality of their persuasion is worse than that of the skeptics on this topic. I don’t know the underlying facts. But persuasion-wise, the skeptics have a big advantage.

    Remember how I taught you that Trump’s linguistic kill shots had a special quality that allowed them to strengthen over time thanks to confirmation bias? Every time Ted Cruz said something that didn’t pass the fact-checking you remembered his Lyin’ Ted nickname. And every time someone accused Clinton of crooked dealings you were reminded of her Crooked Hillary nickname. Climate change has the same dynamic. Every time it snows the non-scientists of the world look out the window and experience confirmation bias that global “warming” isn’t happening. Sure, it’s usually called climate “change” now, and most people know that. But to the under-informed that change in preferred wording just looks suspicious.

    Climate scientists might be right that CO2 will cause catastrophic warming. And fear is a great persuader. But this particular fear is a bit abstract. It isn’t like a nuclear bomb that can kill us all instantly. Climate worries are in the unpredictable future and won’t affect everyone the same way. Persuasion-wise, the climate scientists only have facts and prediction models to make their case. And what are the weakest forms of persuasion known to humankind?

    Facts and prediction models.

    And how are climate scientists trying to solve this problem? Mostly by providing more facts and more prediction models. And by demonizing the critics. The net effect of all that is to systematically reduce their own credibility over time, even if they are right about everything.

    I think you see the problem.

    California passed a new law that says you can’t use your mobile phone in your hand while driving. It was already illegal to text, but now it is also illegal to use other apps with your phone in hand. I recommend getting a dashboard mount, as shown, and using my startup’s free app, WhenHub, to reduce the need to text on the way to meeting people.

    In the picture below you can see me about to leave the garage. Several friends already “joined the approach” as we say, so we can watch each other approach our meeting spot on a common map. All approaches time-out after the trip so you aren’t accidentally tracking anyone. No need to text on the way to the meeting because you already know where everyone is at.

    By the way, I told you in other blogs that one of my motivation tricks involves working on projects that have huge potential. This one will literally save lives by reducing texting-and-driving. That’s the sort of thing that makes it a joy for me to wake up every day. Look for something like that in your life. It will have a huge impact on your thoughts and energy.