"It is the unhappy fate of the scientist today that he must play the role of Cassandra in the body politic, sending his fellow men to bed with nightmares in the hope to be heard in time."

- Arthur von Hippel, in "The Molecular Designing of Materials" (h/t @upbeatprof)

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Runaway Train

Note to those visiting from Rabett Run: I believe Eli's posting is more closely related to Reply to Revkin than to this present article, which probably makes more sense read second.

On the thread Reply to Revkin, John Fleck asks
It would be useful if you, as one of the scientists in the room, would be specific about what you see as "the cliff" we're all marching toward. One of the interesting strengths of Lomborg's book is that he gets quite specific in discussing the various hypothesized cliffs, and the costs and benefits of various approaches to not going off of them.
I'm still thinking about that, but fortunately I can at least point to the freshest hot from the oven scientific consensus fretting from the IPCC. Here is the IPCC's Fourth Synthesis Report Summary.

Fellow Texan Andrew Dessler has an excellent summary of the summary on Grist.

An alternative answer to John came up when, after weeks of nagging, friend Howie finally convinced me to watch the documentary What A Way To Go. (The link takes you to the film trailers. Watch them for a taste of the what the film has to offer.)

Using the metaphor of a runaway train which Dennis at Samadhisoft is also fond of, the film is a poetic and a morose compendium of what we're up against that spares little time for techno-optimism, and what time it spares is scornful.

I don't ultimately agree with the film at all.

I am not holding up the film as a summary of what I believe we should do. It pretty much suggests we try as individuals to act with a certain futile dignity and hope a few of us survive. I do not appreciate that answer.

I understand the suspicion toward quantitative and technical thinking that many people who appreciate the depths of our quandary hold, and I'm not immune to it myself, but I also understand that only a careful and vigorous technocratic society can steer us through the coming turbulence to anything like a soft landing. I feel we have to try, and that the best we can do must be done collectively. It's our future vs. the detritus of our past.

Yet I think no thinking person should miss seeing it.

What a Way to Go is a deeply moving and deeply thought out description of how we have stacked the deck against ourselves. In no part of the film where I consider myself well-informed did I encounter any errors of substance. Which is pretty daunting, as the film is terrifying from beginning to end.

If you look at the big picture, at the whole earth as a system, well, it's not hard to see it as an unholy mess. The film's impresario Tim Bennett manages to say so in the most poignant, convincing and moving way. Unlike Tim, I believe there are answers. However, Tim has done a very fine job of asking the right questions.

Let it serve, for now, as an alternative answer to John's challenge.


Anna said...

> "It pretty much suggests we try as individuals to act with a certain futile dignity and hope a few of us survive."

Thank you for putting this into words.

Michael Tobis said...

Sure, Anna, but I hope you don't take his advice to heart. As Piet Hein once said, "let us only hope, but not only only hope".

luminous beauty said...

Who is it who said, "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst"?

EliRabett said...

Nope, thought about what you suggested, but decided this was important too, and it linked to the other stuff. Good posts

Anna Haynes said...

> > Thank you for putting this into words.

> ...I hope you don't take his advice to heart.

no sorry I wasn't clear, I meant thank you for articulating what I too found extremely irritating about the film.
The anti-science&tech orientation - and the audience's enthusiastic agreement - drove me from my seat before the end.