Our ill feeling toward high-status players has been captured in the lab. When neuroscientists had participants read about someone popular, rich and smart, they saw brain regions involved in the perception of pain become activated. When they read of this invented person suffering a demotion, their pleasure systems flared up. Psychologists see this effect cross-culturally, with one study in Japan and Australia finding participants took pleasure in the felling of a ‘tall poppy’: the higher their status, the greater the enjoyment of their de-grading. The most venomous levels of envy were reported when the poppy’s success was ‘in a domain that was important to the participant, such as academic achievement among students’ – when they were rivals in their games.
An yet, as we’ve learned, we’re also drawn to high-status people: we crave contact with the famous, the successful and the brilliant. So our relationship with elite players is thunderously ambivalent. On one hand, we gather close to them, offering them status in order to learn from them and, in the process, become statusful ourselves. On the other, we experience grinding resentments towards them. This, perhaps, is the result of the mismatch between our neural game-playing equipment and the massively outsized structure of modern games. Our brains may be specialized for small tribal groups but today – especially at work and online – we play colossal games in which poppies loom over us like redwoods. Status is relative: the higher others rise, the lower we sit in comparison. It’s a resource and their highly visible thriving steals it from us. The exceptions we make tend to be for ambassadors from our own groups: artists, thinkers, athletes and leaders with whom we strongly identify. They seem to symbolize us, somehow. They carry with them a piece of our own identity, a pound of our flesh – so their success becomes our success and we cheer it wildly. To our subconscious these idols are fantastically accomplished versions of us: our copy, flatter, conform cognition overrides our resentment.
Storr, Will. The Status Game. William Collins Books; London; 2021. p. 97-8
These linguistic evasions demonstrate both our continuing lack of seriousness about climate change and how the public policy agenda remains captured by the fossil fuel industry protecting its narrow interests:
Western premiers push back as Guilbeault calls for ‘phase-out of unabated fossil fuels’
We know that greenhouse gases are the cause and there is no solution to climate change without fossil fuel abolition, but we are stuck talking about a “phase down” instead of elimination, and using the magical idea of “abated” fossil fuels to use a technology that does not exist at scale (carbon capture and storage) to justify continued fossil fuel development.
Geoengineering is a very dangerous and ethically questionable response to climate change, but it feels increasingly inevitable.
Governments are simply not willing to do what is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change, which is unsurprising because voters refuse to elect anyone who even gestures at the scale of change required.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that worsening climatic conditions make people more willing to support fossil fuel abolition. Instead, it seems to drive people toward false solutions or just inchoate anger. Even the ‘serious’ governments are still using taxpayer money to subsidize brand-new fossil fuel production. Everyone has a story about why their industry is the one that doesn’t need to shut down.
It is hard to believe that when climate disruption continues to get worse every year (with El Nino, people are predicting next year will be the hottest in history) the worst-hit places won’t start modifying the atmosphere to try to cancel it out — side-effects, impacts on others, and long-term risks be damned. We are a species that has always preferred monthly life-long $1500 injections with a mystery drug to be thinner, rather than changing our diets.
A popular argument among those who want Canada to ignore climate change and keep exploiting fossil fuels is: “But we have so many trees that our emissions must hardly matter! Maybe the world should pay us!”
The argument is deficient on several levels, not least because a tonne of carbon in a tree doesn’t negate a tonne of emissions from fossil fuel burning. The tree only holds the carbon while it is alive, whereas CO2 in the atmosphere will partly remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years.
The argument also fails when our forests themselves become a cause of worsening climate change:
Hundreds of forest fires since early May have generated nearly 600m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 88% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in 2021, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported.
More than half of that carbon pollution went up in smoke in June alone.
If you think Canada should get extra permission to pollute because of our forests (questionable) then we also need to be responsible when those forests become net carbon sources.
Al Jazeera reports:
Canada climate battle looms as Alberta takes aim at PM Trudeau
In her victory speech in front of cheering supporters in Canada’s oil capital Calgary, Smith called on Albertans to stand up against policies including the federal government’s proposed oil and gas emissions cap and clean electricity regulations, expected to be unveiled within weeks.
“We need to come together no matter how we have voted to stand shoulder to shoulder against soon to be announced Ottawa policies that would significantly harm our provincial economy,” said Smith.
“Hopefully the prime minister and his caucus are watching tonight. As premier I cannot under any circumstances allow these contemplated federal policies to be inflicted upon Albertans.”
How do we fight for a future without fossil fuel arson when our fellow citizens are keen to sustain and enlarge the fires, even when the secondary effects bring hell-like conditions home?
Zeke Hausfather has a useful update on how real-world GHG emissions compare with estimates in IPCC models, and the implications for future warming:
So what should our takeaway from all of this be? First, there is some good news here. The world is no longer heading toward the worst-case outcome of 4C to 6C warming by 2100. Current policies put us on a best-estimate of around 2.6C warming.
At the same time, a world of 2.6C by 2100 is still a giant mess to leave to the future, including today’s young people, who will live through that, and warming continues after 2100 in these current policy scenarios. Climate system uncertainties mean that we could still end up with close to 4C warming if we get unlucky with climate sensitivity and carbon cycle feedbacks.
A lot of this optimism depends on governments keeping their promises when all the costs come due. We are all still fighting to keep a world stable enough to sustain something like our current global civilization.
We are using a lot of problematic and imprecise language where it comes to AI that writes, which is worsening our deep psychological tendency to assume that anything that shows glimmers of human-like traits ought to be imagined with a complex internal life and human-like thoughts, intentions, and behaviours.
We talk about ChatGPT and other large language models (LLMs) “being right” and “making mistakes” and “hallucinating things”.
The point I would raise is — if you have a system that sometimes gives correct answers, is it ever actually correct? Or does it just happen to give correct information in some cases, even though it has no ability to tell truth from falsehood, and even though it will just be random where it happens to be correct?
If you use a random number generator to pick a number from 1–10, and then ask that program over and over “What is 2+2?” you will eventually get a “4”. Is the 4 correct?
What is you have a program that always outputs “4” no matter what you ask it. Is it “correct” when you ask “What is 2+2?” and incorrect when you ask “What is 1+2?”?
Perhaps one way to lessen our collective confusion is to stick to AI-specific language. AI doesn’t write, get things correct, or make mistakes. It is a stochastic parrot with a huge reservoir of mostly garbage information from the internet, and it mindlessly uses known statistical associations between different language fragments to predict what ought to come next when parroting out some new text at random.
If you don’t like the idea that what you get from LLMs will be a mishmash of the internet’s collective wisdom and delusion, presided over by an utterly unintelligent word statistic expert, then you ought to be cautious about letting LLMs do your thinking for you, either as a writer or a reader.
In humanity’s efforts to fight climate change, we’re not just playing for all the marbles — we are playing for every marble factory and shop that ever was or will be, every piece of art and writing which has ever concerned or alluded to marbles, every historical record about marbles which has ever been generated or read, and every mind with an understanding of what marbles are and mean.
Political parties with a planet-wrecking policy on the issue (allowing any new fossil fuel development) are unelectable regardless of the rest of their platforms, economic conditions, or the limitations of their opponents. Being OK with destroying the future for today’s young people makes them morally unworthy to govern. It would be the greatest betrayal that has taken place from one group of generations to their successors, to destroy the uncomprehended and irreplaceable richness of the living Earth humanity inherited all because some dirty industries and the governments and banks they control want to hold us back from abolishing and abandoning fossil fuel energy.
Worrying about debt more than climate change is like being upset that someone is cutting your heart out because it is staining your clothes.
Prompt to ChatGPT:
Have people written about how life is like a river delta or the path of a particle through the detector in a particle accelerator lab – it spreads out in a triangle or cone as decisions are made and outcomes are determined
“The metaphor of a river delta or a particle’s path through a detector in a particle accelerator lab as a representation of the spread of possibilities and outcomes is a common concept in several fields, including philosophy, physics, and psychology.
In philosophy, this concept is often explored in discussions of determinism and free will, where the metaphor of a branching tree or river delta is used to describe the way in which the potential outcomes of a decision or event spread out in a tree-like structure, with each branch representing a possible future.
In physics, the concept of a particle’s path through a detector in a particle accelerator lab is often used to describe the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, where particles exist in a superposition of states until they are observed or measured, at which point they “collapse” into a specific state.
In psychology, the concept of a branching path is often used to describe the way in which life choices and experiences lead to different outcomes and potential paths, with each decision or experience leading to a different branching point in the individual’s life trajectory.
While there may not be a specific work that focuses solely on the metaphor of a river delta or particle path as a representation of the spread of possibilities and outcomes, these concepts are frequently explored and discussed in various fields and contexts.”