By JR on Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Paul Biegler below says it is their childish emotional state that motivates climate atheists. He is Australian Research Council postdoctoral fellow in bioethics at Monash University. He may know a lot about ethics but he shows no sign of knowing any climate science. He reveals his inspissated ignorance by his coat-trailing reference to "A truckload of science" in support of global warming -- but he names not one scientific fact from that "truckload". Why? Because no such facts exist. Warmism is prophecy that flies in the face of the scientific facts (See the header on this blog). It is believers in prophecy who are in a childish emotional state
Projection -- accusing others of your own faults -- is good rhetoric but is fundamentally dishonest
He does make extended reference to a concept from social science -- delay of gratification -- but as my paper on that subject showed, most of the generalizations put forward in that research field are false. So he is leaning on a broken reed there too. Deferment of gratification is only weakly generalizable so even if a skeptic were a "non-deferrer" in one way, it would be unlikely to explain his skepticism. So Biegler is ignorant of the facts there too. Perhaps he should do some real research some day, instead of just pontificating
Instant gratification is a powerful, but flawed, human motivator.
IF YOU are down a blind alley searching for that perfect Christmas gift for your climate sceptic friend, you could do worse than slinging them a book on Emotional Intelligence. Why? Research is mounting that your friend is the victim of one of the brain's many computing glitches. More particularly, he has been derailed by an emotional response that is at best unhelpful and at worst catastrophic. He has capitulated to the pleasure of the here and now.
In his recent book Brain Bugs, psychology professor Dean Buonomano summarises a wealth of evidence that when it comes to putting off rewards, many of us suck. In the most famous study, back in the 1960s, Walter Mischel sat unsuspecting toddlers at tables laid with a single marshmallow. They could eat it now or receive an extra one if they waited a short time. Some rug rats unceremoniously demolished the treat without delay, while others exercised supreme self-control and resisted temptation until the appointed moment. Follow-up of the youngsters two decades later found those who showed restraint had better college admission scores. Other studies have linked weakness of will with obesity and addiction.
From a food-gathering perspective, it is simply irrational to forgo a double treat for the sake of a few minutes' wait. But, of course, we expect most four-year-olds to act irrationally and, in so doing, they mirror adult behaviour from our own evolutionary past. In our primordial history, when futures were predator-ridden and uncertain, it made sense to grab the food now rather than wait for a bigger, but later, chow-down. This is an example of temporal discounting, where greater rewards in the future are tagged with lesser value in virtue of their temporal distance.
Adults remain prone to temporal discounting. Given the choice of $100 now or $120 in a month, most take the money and run, sacrificing what amounts to an annual return on their one-month investment of 240 per cent. How could we be so dumb? It turns out that the allure of the immediate reward is strongly reinforced by emotions at the more pleasant end of the spectrum. Put simply, it often feels better to be rewarded straight away than to wait.
Climate scepticism is a strong candidate example of temporal discounting. A truckload of science supports global warming and its attendant perils. Yet, addressing this temporally far-flung threat, while generating distant benefit for our planet's inheritors, will cost us real pleasure now. Self-imposed measures to reduce our carbon footprint do not bring universal glee, and the carbon tax will hit both our wallets and our wellbeing.
But one of the reasons for the astounding reproductive success of humans is our capacity to bring our cortical computing power, and its rationality, to bear on our insistent emotions, Plato's unruly horse.
Many emotions still help and validly guide action, such as the fright one feels when a car whizzes dangerously close as we cross the road. But others need reining in when faced with compelling evidence on future prospects. The ability to apply rational foresight to limit the sway of short-term emotional reward is a true intelligence.
The task is difficult, not least because many of our emotional decisions are backed by post hoc - but aberrant - rationalisation. Nowhere is this writ larger than in the domain of marketing and consumer behaviour. For example, a large body of evidence shows that the emotional reward of status enhancement fuels prestige-car purchases. Yet most of us either wilfully deny this, or simply lack introspective access to our true motivations. Instead we convince ourselves that it was the eight air bags or the stability control that clinched it.
In the climate realm, fabrication is also rife. Enthralled by their emotional biases, sceptics mouth desperate appeals to the corruptibility of scientists, or to the fallibility of climate prediction models.
To err is human and we should forgive many their inability to constrain the draw of the emotions. But this failure is inexcusably egregious in our politicians who are steering the ship for the long voyage, not just around the next reef. To those who still succumb to immediate gratification at the expense of our long-term good, I say welcome any Christmas gifts on brain bugs and emotional intelligence with open arms. Our grandchildren's future could depend on it.