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What Should You Do About Climate Change?

Earth’s climate is changing before our eyes, and at a faster rate than given by all previous scientific predictions. The melting of glaciers and permafrost, and the methane burping from tundras and the Arctic Sea; the enhanced power of hurricanes, rain and snow storms, and floods; the swelling of the oceans and the creeping inundation of shorelines worldwide; the unrelenting severity of droughts and wild fires; the acidification of the oceans, die-off of corals and reduction of marine life; and the havoc all these geophysical phenomena play on food production and on the habitability of the many environments both humans and wildlife call home, are all startling clear to see.

The present form of our climate change is global warming, which is caused by the greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic compounds), from our fossil-fueled economic activity, which is capitalist in either a “free market” or command economy format.

The only way to reduce the geophysical stimulation enhancing and accelerating global warming is to reduce and ideally halt the burning of fossil fuels. Humanity has not had the willpower to do this because it is from fossil fuels that we derive almost all of the power — and wealth — we use continually to each maintain our personal activity, and for us all to power our societies and civilization on every scale of their structures. While there are still people who live “off the grid” within the enchantment of nature as human wildlife, and who do not use fossil fuels at all, they are only a minority of Earth’s people. Humanity, 7.74B souls (25 November 2019) and growing by about 200,000 people a day (350,000 births, 150,000 deaths) burns fossil fuels to live.

The many poor and disadvantaged people around the world would like greater access to fossil fuels and electricity, which would allow them to increase their expenditure of external energy (exosomatic energy, outside their metabolism) in order to work themselves up from the drudgery and terror of surviving at a subsistence level, to safer more secure and comfortable modes of living. Many of the fortunate people experiencing relatively secure lives within the advanced highly developed economies of the First World would like greater access to, and cheaper prices for, exosomatic energy so as to extend the scope of their materialistic pleasures. Whether justified or unjustified, most people want more exosomatic power, and that demand drives the relentless expansion in the use of fossil fuels; and so global warming advances.

What should you do about climate change? There are as many answers to this question as there are commentators, critics, charlatans, careerists, environmentalists, philosophers, politicians, preachers, scientists, sages, saviors, speculators, know-it-alls and know-nothings with an axe to grind. The purpose of this essay is to whet your Occam’s Razor to slice through it all.

Consider the following Bayesian Statistics model problem, “Four Societies,” an abstraction of an extremely complex ‘what to do about climate change’ reality, to help organize our thoughts in hopes of eventually pointing to the correct actions we, individually, should take.

The purpose of Bayesian analysis is to logically select the best course of action from a set of available options, despite uncertainties about the probabilities of the outcomes that may occur, and where the decision-making process takes into account your own personal preferences regarding those outcomes. You can easily learn the mechanics of basic Bayesian analysis by looking up articles on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Also, I give a patient explanation of decision-making using Bayesian statistics, with examples, at [1].

Four options for configuring our society are presented above (Bayesian outcomes), two capitalist and two socialist. For each of the capitalist and socialist formats there are two economic modes: politically unrestricted economic growth, and highly regulated and politically programmed economic contraction. Each is labeled somewhat fancifully to suggest its characteristics.

The “Billionaire Boys & Girls Club” (BB&GC) is the unrestricted capitalism of Ayn Randian dreams, and such dreamers as Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the many millions of people enthralled by their income-generating activities. These are people who see their life’s blood as issuing from their successful dog-eat-dog competition within a growing economy under capitalism.

The “Green New Deal,” (GND) as used here, is the idea of a 21st century interpretation of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration public works programs of the 1930s, and the military Keynesianism of the 1940s, to combine economic stimulation for the uplift of the bottom two-thirds of America’s standard-of-living pyramid, with a revolutionary revamping of American energy, housing, transportation, healthcare and social services infrastructure, that in sum total aggressively acts to minimize the further stimulation of global warming. The popular idea here is that America’s existential threat from climate change had its analog 80 years ago as the existential threat from the Great Depression and World War II, and that a Rooseveltian-style socialism now would be just as effective as it was then for overcoming the threat.

“Carbon Limited Capitalism” (CLC) is my term for the regulation and carbon-emission taxing of capitalism to significantly, if not entirely, eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels. Objectively, this would mean a contraction of economic activity for quite a while (perhaps forever) since green energy technology, though growing, is still too insufficient to supply the entire quantity of power consumed by our industrialized civilization — as we presently choose to wastefully conduct it.

“Enviro Co-op Simplification” (ECS) designates an intentional simplification of every aspect of American life so as to eliminate any reliance on fossil fuels. This format of American life would be centered on environmentalism, rather than gargantuan consumerism, and of necessity be a tightly interwoven network of cooperative associations and groupings — lots of socialism. It would be the “Certified Organic” model of American life and work, instead of our current ‘Fast Junk Glitz-o-tainment’ isolation-in-parallel format.

Each one of us will have preferences for or against residing in each of these four possible societies, and those preferences can be quantified on a purely subjective basis, as desirabilities D1, D2, D3 and D4, and assigned as follows.

A person primarily concerned with wealth accumulation might choose desirabilities as D1=100, D2=20, D3=10, D4=0.

A person primarily concerned with minimizing climate change and revitalizing Earth’s environments might choose desirabilities D1=0, D2=10, D3=20, D4=100.

There are as many possible sets of choices (D1, D2, D3, D4) as there are choosers. I will lead this presentation toward some general results, eventually.

What I (and you) — as the person in this model problem asking “what should I do about climate change?” — have to do is to decide: what am I going to commit myself to, both in my personal life and in any social and political activism I may engage in?

The two choices given here are for either economic growth or economic contraction.

What is unknown is whether our society will remain in its current capitalist format or transition into socialism because of the force of geophysical and sociological pressures. Let the quantity p designate the probability that socialism will arise in the historical near future in time to organize American society’s response to climate change. The quantity p is a number between 0 and 1. Thus, the probability that capitalism will remain the societal paradigm is the quantity (1-p).

Given “my” desirabilities (D1, D2, D3, D4) for the four potential outcomes (BB&GC, GND, CLC, ECS), and the probability, p, of uncertain magnitude (between 0 and 1) for a socialist transformation, how would I nevertheless quantify my expectations — or utility values — regarding my two possible courses of action: committing to economic growth or committing to economic contraction? As follows.

Here, the symbol * designates multiplication.

Given my subjectively quantified desirabilities (D1, D2, D3, D4) for the four potential societal outcomes, along with the as yet unknown probability p for a near-term socialist transformation, the utility value or expectation (a quantification of my potential satisfaction or dissatisfaction) for committing to economic growth is

Eg = D1*(1-p) + D2*p.

Similarly, the utility value or expectation for committing to economic contraction is

Er = D3*(1-p) + D4*p.

While “I” can pick desirabilities out of my own subjective preferences, feelings and biases, I can only guess — or ‘guesstimate’ — at what p might be. So, making such a guesstimate, I can then actually calculate a numerical value for each of Eg and Er. Comparing these, I would then choose to act according to whichever expectation quantity had the higher value. This is Bayesian decision-making, you choose the action that is subjectively of higher value to you, given your estimate of the probabilities of the uncertainties.

For example, the wealth seeker whose desirabilities are D1=100, D2=20, D3=10, D4=0, and who estimates the likelihood of a socialist transformation at p=0.5 (50%), would have utility values of

Eg = 50 + 10 = 60.

Er = 5 + 0 = 5.

Obviously, this capitalist bull would choose to devote himself to economic growth.

Similarly, the “Earth First” environmentalist whose desirabilities were listed earlier as D1=0, D2=10, D3=20, D4=100, and who estimated the probability of a socialist transformation at p=0.5 would have utility values of

Eg = 0 + 5 = 5.

Er = 10 + 50 = 60.

Obviously this environmentalist would choose to devote herself to economic contraction.

But not everybody is so lopsided in their preferences. An individual pulled in different directions by the need to make a living and enjoy a bit of consumerism, a yearning for greater social solidarity, a concern about global warming, and who has few ideological rigidities might select desirabilities D1=3, D2=8, D3=2, D4=10.

For this mild liberal

Eg = 3*(1-p) + 8*p,

Er = 2*(1-p) + 10*p.

It turns out that for this individual Eg=Er when p=1/3 (33%).

So, for the probability of socialism, p, estimated at greater than 1/3, Er is greater that Eg; committing to economic contraction will have more personal value that committing to economic expansion.

Obversely, for the probability of socialism, p, estimated at less than 1/3, Eg is greater than Er; and committing to economic expansion will have more personal value than committing to economic contraction.

For this mild liberal individual, if they believe that socialism has a better than 33% chance of happening, they should commit to economic contraction, environmentalism and consequently socialism. If they believe that socialism has less than a 33% chance of occurring then they should commit to being an economic growth capitalist. All this is based on personal subjectivities that arise from the confrontation with the objective realities of this American’s life in a world of climate change, and an assumed probability of future political change.

How would you quantify your preferences and inclinations into a set of numbers D1, D2, D3, D4 and p, and then what would your utility values be for the two actions of: working for economic growth, or working for economic contraction? How much are you willing to give up in order to forestall climate change? It might take more than you imagine. [2]

Now, I’ll state some general results for this model problem, and spare you the mathematical details.

For the probability, p, of socialist transformation to be a positive number between 0 and 1 (where any real probability must be within), the desirabilities must satisfy the following conditions.

Both (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) are greater than 0, or both (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) are less than zero.

Given these conditions, the value of probability at which Eg is equal to Er is designated as q, and has the value

q = (D1-D3)/[(D1-D3)+(D4-D2)].

For p less than q, one of either Eg or Er will dominate; and for p greater than q that dominance will switch. The “mild liberal” example shown earlier exhibited all this.

Another general result is that individuals with positive (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) — or D1 greater than D3, and D4 greater than D2 — can be ideologically capitalist and not really concerned about climate change; wanting economic growth under capitalism to strengthen it, and economic contraction under socialism to weaken it.

Similarly, individuals with negative (D1-D3) and (D4-D2) — or D3 greater than D1, and D2 greater than D4 — can be ideologically socialist and not primarily concerned about climate change; wanting economic contraction under capitalism to weaken it, and economic expansion under socialism to strengthen it.

Individuals who only care about economic expansion without regard to either capitalist or socialist ideology, and obviously don’t care about climate change, will have D1 greater than D3, and D2 greater than D4. Their utility value for economic growth, Eg, is always dominant regardless of any numerical value of probability p (which is in fact irrelevant to them).

Similarly, individuals who only care about economic contraction — our deeply committed climate change-confronting environmentalists — will have D3 greater than D1, and D4 greater than D2. Their utility value for economic contraction, Er, is always dominant regardless of any numerical value of probability p (which is only of interest as a political indicator of a national shift to economic contraction).

Finally, for both totally committed economic expansionists and economic contractionists, those who are inclined to favor capitalist ideology will see a decrease in the happiness of their unwavering efforts as the probability, p, of the transformation to socialism increases; and conversely, those inclined to favor socialist ideology will see an increase in the happiness of their unwavering efforts as the probability, p, of the transformation to socialism increases.

Those of you who are charter members or committed aspirants of the Billionaire Boys & Girls Club, or the Enviro Co-op Simplification Movement have no need for this Bayesian analytical method of making the emotional decision of how to conduct your life in the presence of climate change. But for us “regular people” this kind of theoretical exercise can help clarify the mind on what one’s priorities and concerns really are, and how best to focus your limited energies in the face of uncertain political shifts in a world of advancing climate change. What are you and I willing to accept — and sacrifice — in order to forestall climate change? Bayesian analysis is one way to personally come to grips with that question.

My wish would be for a socialist Green New Deal that miraculously disappeared fossil fuel usage without a loss of the exosomatic energy we now enjoy — achieved by some combination of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy (solar, wind and gravity derived) — and that such a transformation of the energy technologies powering our society and civilization were accomplished without further greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, that the required rapid contraction of fossil fueled economies, to forestall climate change, was also simultaneously a societal transformation to a new highly equitable economic paradigm operating harmoniously within the limits of nature. But I know that is impossible. Even the best effort in that direction will necessarily be an approximation to the ideal that is deficient to some degree, perhaps significantly. Climate change may now be beyond the ability — and the willingness — of humanity to avert; the best we can likely do is to minimize our further exacerbation of it. [3], [4]

Personally, I think that Enviro Co-op Simplification Socialism could be alright if we all made an effort for it.

Notes

[1] Bayesian Bargains: Jail, Shopping, Debt, And Voting

MG,Jr., (30 January 2012)

http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci39.html

[2] That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant

Stan Cox, (13 January 2019)

http://greensocialthought.org/content/green-growth-heart-green-new-deal-it%E2%80%99s-malignant

[3] End-of-life anxiety and finding meaning in a collapsing climate

Leonie Joubert (20 November 2019)

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-11-20-end-of-life-anxiety-and-finding-meaning-in-a-collapsing-climate/

[4] Choosing Dignity During Climapocalypse

MG,Jr., (26 May 2018)

https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/05/26/choosing-dignity-during-climapocalypse/

 

More articles by:

Manuel Garcia, Jr, once a physicist, is now a lazy househusband who writes out his analyses of physical or societal problems or interactions. He can be reached at mangogarcia@att.net

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