People send me things. Like Twitter drew my attention to this yesterday:
For those whose browser refuses to tolerate embedded tweets, Tim Urban had asked
What’s something you’ve changed your mind about?
and a number of people I follow on Twitter, and many others, had answered. This post is about the answers I found most interesting, under the headings Carbon, Covid, Collateral and Carbon Again. In fact the last section is about someone else changing their mind, who sent me an email a week or two back, that I found particularly encouraging, about it.
I use Carbon in its modern sense of any molecule that causes the greenhouse effect and the political decisions that many feel must be taken as a result (!) I use Collateral in its dictionary sense, from Oxford Languages, albeit as an adjective:
additional but subordinate; secondary
Subordinate and secondary in that the changes concerned are not to do with Carbon. Because this is Climate Scepticism. And yet we used to talk at length about Covid. (And about Brexit. And about Trump. But I’m not going there here.)
Glad that’s cleared all that up.
Now this isn’t everything that some of us might mean by ‘climate scepticism’ but, for me, it isn’t nothing either. It’s real progress in a much more sensible direction than extremist outfits like XR, the Guardian and the UK government seem to want us to go.
Meanwhile someone else I follow, the often impressive venture capitalist Paul Graham, seems to have been going in a slightly different direction:
10 years ago I was still unconvinced about anthropogenic climate change. I knew climate scientists were always going on about it, but when I checked what the APS said (in 2010), it was merely that it was “increasingly difficult to rule out.”
What was it that made you change your mind about it?
When Bill Gates started talking about it.
Someone else then responded
When Alex Epstein began to talk about Human Flourishing I changed my mind and became more pro-reliable energy.
Sam Harris (my first mentioned respondent and considered an influential guy) used to be thought part of the Intellectual Dark Web. The lighthearted term was coined by Eric Weinstein, whose interview with Roger Penrose I highlighted in a Cliscep thread last year, just before Penrose was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics (by chance). Another venture capitalist with a strong suit in fundamental physics and brother of evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein. Exactly a month ago Eric tweeted this in defence of Bret and his wife after an erstwhile friend and ally, Claire Lehman, founder of Quillette, called them frauds:
No. No they are not. Just untrue. I may not understand their position here. And I have gone down a VERY different path myself. But that is simply untrue.
Honestly do not get what has come over so many of us. These odd internet dramas provide nothing I want for our world…
I only learned that from someone late last night, again as a result of the simple-sounding Tim Urban question.
I’m very sympathetic to Eric Weinstein’s point here. But I don’t think I’m going to say more. This is Climate Scepticism. But we also have suffered from people choosing to disagree with us – and sometimes our apparent enemies – in very unproductive ways.
Bari Weiss said Human nature, leading to stuff like
Just for example. Kendall Cameron, who calls himself a Christian and a Conservative (but in the USA, please note) said Gay marriage. Liv Boeree said That overpopulation is a problem. (That’s not too far from Carbon in my taxonomy, heavily inspired as it is by Cook et al.) Elon Musk said Brain transplants. Perhaps that could also help with Carbon. Others had changed their minds on Veganism. And I liked the techie slant of this guy:
DHH sent me this on 1st December (as an email)
It’s a disorientating time in America. So many societal seams are unraveling simultaneously. So few ideas for how to stitch those seams back together find common cause. No wonder despair and anger comes so easy to so many right now.
These dark emotions are then propelled by the particle accelerator that is Twitter into super-charged takes. All that energy has definitively nuked any previous utopian hope that “connecting the world” would lead to peace, love, and understanding.
That, ironically, is perhaps the one thing everyone does seem to agree on at the moment: social media is making everything political worse. But of course such a conclusion is only shared until the question of who to blame emerges or what to do about it is brought up, and then it’s back to the tribal drums.
The best shelter I’ve found from this bombardment has been books. Especially books that bring insights from “the other side” of my natural political stance. After spending years reading Piketty, Hickel, Graeber, and other left-leaning writers carrying left-leaning messages – who all affirmed and expanded my understanding of taxation, international trade, ecologies, and social systems – I’ve gained tremendously from some divergent perspectives.
What’s great about reading books instead of Twitter threads is how they allow the counter arguments room to complete. Over the course of a couple of hundred pages, you’ll usually found enough common ground that your mind opens to fairly consider the turf where you might disagree.
Take climate change, for example. If you read The Uninhabitable Earth by Wallace-Wells or Hickel’s Less Is More in isolation (two books I’ve highly recommended!), you’ll almost certainly come away in both a state of panic and with a passion of #degrowth. They both build very persuasive narratives.
But your understanding will deepen immensely if you compliment such books with the likes of Apocalypse Never by Shellenberger. Not because you’ll be convinced that climate change isn’t a serious, urgent problem (it so very much is!), but because you’ll be better prepared for a discussion of what to do about it. Like the critical examination of, say, whether closing all the nuclear plants in Germany in favor of almost exclusively focusing investments in wind and sun was a good idea (Shellenberger makes a very convincing argument that it was not).
And hearing out the arguments in long form is so much more satisfying and illuminating than what I could imagine a Shellenberger v Hickel screaming match on Twitter would be like. Because Twitter turns even the best minds into bile when pitted against each other inside the thunderdome.
This – reading two books on the same topic from opposing sides – is perhaps the best dialectic we can hope for at this moment.
It goes on after that. It’s about more than Carbon but it was a very positive surprise for me from the 42-year-old. Who is David Heinemeier Hansson anyway? Like the others I’ve cited I’ll let you decide how much he matters. But he is influential among coders I respect and follow.
Twitter can be very good and very bad.
If the point of Climate Scepticism, the blog, is changing minds, including young minds, we should focus more on the arguments being put forward by the likes of Michael Shellenberger and Zion Lights than on what Climategate revealed about temperature records, say.