Energy and emissions

An extract from Chapter 7 of the book Transcending Politics:

7. Energy and emissions

What’s the point of extending our potential lifespans (as discussed in the previous chapter), if the planet upon which we are living suffers an ecological collapse? Who cares about extra medicines that could undo the damage of cellular aging, if we’re unable to undo the damage we’re collectively inflicting on our environment, via greenhouse gas emissions and other chemical distortions? Why bother about reducing the build-up of trauma within our biological bodies, if the trauma in our atmosphere, our oceans, and our countryside grows inexorably?

The structure of the argument in this chapter mirrors that of its predecessor. That chapter started by lamenting society’s apparent inability to reduce the escalating costs of healthcare. This chapter starts by lamenting our apparent collective inability to reduce the escalating risks of runaway global warming. In both cases, the answer to the lament should be straightforward. A techno-optimist would say, don’t worry: better technology will take care of things. In both cases, my response is: It’s more complicated than that. Better technology will only work its magic if society actively steers technological development in the right direction. And that will probably be a lot harder than it sounds.

Note: to avoid undue complications, I’ll exclude from the following discussion several other potential environmental disasters that loom in our future, such as fresh water depletion, soil erosion, and the distortion of the phosphorus and nitrogen biogeochemical cycles. I’ll restrict my focus to global warming. The themes that emerge from analysing global warming will illustrate the wider point, which is the need for new politics to emerge as an active partner to new technology. It’s only the combination of new technology and new politics that will provide the means for us to avoid these environmental disasters.

The potential of green technology

From one point of view, it’s absurd that there’s any risk of greenhouse gas emissions pushing the planet into any danger territory. Instead of making such heavy use of carbon-based fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal, we should be transitioning rapidly to greener, cleaner energy sources. After all, it is frequently remarked that the earth receives from the sun enough energy in a single hour to meet all human needs for energy for a whole year…

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Recent Posts

A reliability index for politicians?

Reliability calcuator

Imagine there’s a reliability index (R) for what a politician says.

An R value of 100 would mean that a politician has an excellent track record: there is no evidence of them having said anything false.

An R value of 0 would mean that nothing they said can be trusted.

Imagine that R values are updated regularly, and are published in real-time by a process that is transparent, pulling together diverse sets of data from multiple spheres of discourse, using criteria agreed by people from all sides of politics.

Then, next time we hear a politician passing on some claim – some statistic about past spending, about economic performance, about homelessness, about their voting record, or about what they have previously said – we could use their current R value as a guide to whether to take the claim seriously.

Ideally, R values would also be calculated for political commentators too.

My view is that truth matters. A world where lies win, and where politicians are expected to bend the truth on regular occasions, is a world in which we are all worse off. Much worse off.

Far better is a world where politicians no longer manufacture or pass on claims, just because these claims cause consternation to their opponents, sow confusion, and distract attention. Far better if any time a politician did such a thing, their R value would visibly drop. Far better if politicians cared much more than at present about always telling the truth.

Some comparisons

R values would play roles broadly similar to what already happens with credit scores. If someone is known to be a bad credit risk, there should be more barriers for them to receive financial loans.

Another comparison is with the “page rank” idea at the heart of online searches. The pages that have incoming links from other pages that are already believed to be important, grow in importance in turn.

Consider also the Klout score, which is (sometimes) used as the measure of influence of social media users or brands.

Some questions

Evidently, many questions arise. Would a reliability index be possible? Is the reliability of a politician’s statements a single quantity, or should it vary from subject to subject? How should the influence of older statements decline over time? How could the index avoid being gamed? How should satire be accommodated?

Then there are questions not just over practicality but also over desirability. Will the reliability index result in better politics, or a worse politics? Would it impede honest conversation, or usher in new types of implicit censorship? Would the “cure” be worse than the “disease”?

Next steps

My view is that a good reliability index will be hard to achieve, but it’s by no means impossible. It will require clarity of thinking, an amalgamation of insights from multiple perspectives, and a great deal of focus and diligence. It will presumably need to evolve over time, from simpler beginnings into a more rounded calculation. That’s a project we should all be willing to get behind.

The reliability index will need to be created outside of any commercial framework. It deserves to be funded by public funds in a non-political way, akin to the operation of judges and juries. It will need to be resistant to howls of outrage from those politicians (and journalists) whose R values plummet on account of exposure of their untruths and distortions.

If done well, I believe the reliability index would soon have a positive impact upon political discourse. It will help ensure discussions are objective and open-minded, rather than being dominated by loud, powerful voices. It’s part of what I see as the better politics that is possible in the not-so-distant future.

There’s a lot more to say about the topic, but for now, I’ll finish with just one more question. Has such a proposal been pursued before?

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