Experience is everything

We learned recently that one of the leading opponents to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Mark Lynas, decided that he had it all wrong. GMOs save the Earth by reducing the need for pesticides, getting poor farmers out of misery, freeing land for wild life and generally keeping human beings from starving. The evidence is overwhelming. Yet I have had some long winded arguments with GMO opponents. For example, many of them would require labelling on the basis that they have to right to know what they eat. My reply is always the same: if we are going to label GMOs, then let us also add to the labels statistics about pesticide use, land use, and farmer well being. At this point they almost invariably tell me that I am secretly funded for a big corporation. (I wish this were true: if you are a big company that wants to fund me, please get in touch.)

Environmentalists have strong beliefs. Part of their dogma is that industry is bad, and industrial progress is evil. That is false. The industrial revolution pulled out most of the population from abject poverty. The switch to an oil industry saved the whales from extinction. When computers and the Internet came about, its users were accused of being asocial. Today, if you aren’t on Facebook, it is because you hate other people (I barely exaggerate).

So, how did Mark Lynas pulled out of the dogma? How could you have changed his mind?

It turns out that Mark had to do a lot of hard work to write books about global warming. He wanted to write science books:

I had to learn how to read scientific papers, understand basic statistics and become literate in very different fields from oceanography to paleoclimate, none of which my degree in politics and modern history helped me with a great deal.

This work rewired his brain. He wrote science and became through this experience a scientist. Once he had done this hard work, and only then, was he finally receptive to counter-arguments regarding GMOs.

How do you change someone’s mind? You get them to experience something new and significant. Lazy people do not change their mind.

And this is essentially my approach as a teacher. I setup students with hard problems. I ask them to solve a problem that might be beyond their ability. Some hate me and my class for a time. But they are stuck with it and must work. I could try to teach them the material until I am blue in the face, but I find that getting them to struggle with a problem is far more efficient to get them to learn what matters.

So, maybe in 2013, you want to become a different person. Maybe you think that you will read some books about it. Or maybe take a class. Instead, I urge you to focus on experience. You want to become a writer? Write a book. You want to become a programmer? Write a program.

I am always amazed at these students who want to enter the software industry, but they seem to program only when absolutely necessary. You know how you become a great programmer? It starts with programming a lot.

You want to convince other people? Think about what they would need to experience to change their minds. Want to convince me that we should use state regulations to stop global warming or to achieve a fairer society? You have no chance in hell to argue your point with me. I went to what was East Berlin. I walked in the streets reflecting on what a government-run industry leads to: massive pollution and misery. I have spent more than half my life in government organizations: my experience taught me to distrust their initiatives.

Experience is what anchors beliefs. You are, more or less, what you experienced. To change people you have to get them to experience new things.

So, how do you convince a stranger who doubts you? You invite him on an adventure. You offer him a new recipe. We are very tempted to build up sophisticated arguments. It does work in the sense that our ability to put forth long winded arguments might improve our social status. Leaders tend to be people who talk well. People tend to follow people who speak their mind. But if you must change someone’s mind, if you must fight a dogma, then arguments are almost always useless. If the individual is not prepared for your arguments, they will just bounce back.

36 thoughts on “Experience is everything”

  1. Great post, but the inherent problem is that acquiring experience requires willingness and effort. Plenty of GMO opponents are happy to remain ignorant of science. Now that huge cash infusions from West Germany have rebuilt derelict East Germany, many once again prefer to believe that socialism is superior because that would be more convenient. Successfully dealing with reality allows the next generation to ignore reality. I cannot see any easy solution to that conundrum.

  2. Thought-provoking post.

    One comment on your advice to focus on experience, it helps a lot to be willing to be noticeably bad at something at first and to be willing to fail on your first (or even first few) attempts. Try to lower the perceived costs (and those costs are often just perceived, just fear of embarrassment, often very low actual costs).

  3. There is ample evidence to suggest that unregulated industry is also not the solution to global warming or a fairer society. Simply because industry has had some positive effects clearly doesn’t imply it is universally good. “Government/regulation is bad” is just as silly a dogma as “industry is bad”.

    (And yes, I realize that your main point is about the effectiveness of experience over argument, rather than the specific anti-environmentalist / anti-gov’t examples you’ve chosen.)

  4. This is consistently the best blog that I read, in that it challenges my pre-conceptions much more often that it just confirms my thinking. Keep up the great work!

    Also, I’m too lazy to have looked, but if there is a way to directly donate to this blog’s continuation / expansion, I’ve missed it.

    Best,
    M

  5. @molten_tofu

    Thanks.

    If you read the “terms of use” (http://lemire.me/blog/terms-of-use/), you will see that this blog is non-commercial.

    The best way to reward me is to keep reading me, write comments and share my posts. It is the fact that people respond to my blog that keeps me going… because it tells me that I am creating a tiny bit of value.

  6. I agree with the notion of experience leading to a change in thinking. But the opening leads me to post, as it seemed to be a borderline strawman about GMOs [which may be irrelevant as it was a relevant example about experience and change that led into that topic — still, my passion rose]:

    1 – I don’t like being a guinea pig for other humans’ designs. But: I am Mother Nature’s guinea pig by default.

    2 – I’m all for crops dying out due to not evolving to combat new threats. Otherwise, I’m all for not trying to make crops genetically resilient to adapting pests. It seems like a poor substitute for something that occurs naturally.

    3 – I’m all for full labeling of whatever goes into the production of produce. Which is why I prefer local farms and farmers, where/whom I can observe/ask questions of. Those unable to do as I do are not my concern, which leads to:

    4 – I’m all for farmers starving or leaving the business if they can’t sell enough or can’t harvest enough. I’m all for humans starving if they can’t find food if the farmers leave the business or aren’t available in the area.

  7. I agree that most (though not all) anti-GMO arguments are weak. And I value Lynas for his honest and clear thinking, regardless of what positions he takes, because he does the research required to be informed.

    That said, I think your post betrays significant ideology in other respects that you might consider doing some reading about. (That it’s widely accepted ideology doesn’t change the fact that it’s ideology.)

    “Environmentalists have strong beliefs. Part of their dogma is that industry is bad, and industrial progress is evil.”

    Some environmentalists believe that. Others believe that what’s needed is appropriate accountability for industry—but that industry itself is a neutral force that can be used by humans for good or ill. (Suggested reading: Limits to Growth: The 30 year update by Meadows—especially the last couple of chapters. Also see Steady-State Economics, 2nd edition by Daly. Both clearly explain how industry and the environment are not inherently in opposition.)

    Corrected: “The industrial revolution pulled out most of the population *of a small number of countries* from abject poverty.”

    There’s a wide spectrum here, and yours is a very un-nuanced view. There are a number of countries who have only suffered from industrial expansion, others that have profited, and still others where part of the population suffered while others profited. A number of history books can set you straight here.

  8. Honestly, I’m more interested in the other point — about industry vs. environmentalism, and do hope you read those books.

    To answer your question, the industrial revolution gave Britain and then other nations the means and motive to expand their colonial ambitions far faster than was possible before industrialism. Many African countries were conquered during this early-to-mid industrial period, and a driving force was the desire to extract wealth (of various forms) to pump into the industrial economy of the imperial power.

  9. I really appreciated your blog. You are so right about fighting a dogma “arguments are almost always useless. If the individual is not prepared for your arguments, they will just bounce back.” Thanks for all your great blogs.

  10. Hi,
    I know it’s not the main point of your post but just to bounce back on your GMOs analogy, I really do think that regardless of the benefits they maybe are able to bring to the whole agriculture, the sad fact of having GMOs is simply that it allows some companies to patent new seeds of tomatoes, news seeds of potatoes. Therefore making most of the world simply unable to afford reaching alimentary self-sufficienness (sorry for the bad translation of “autosuffisance alimentaire”).
    Have a look to “The World According to Monsanto” documentary, it’s maybe biased but really interesting.

  11. If I understand your post’s point, it’s that learning/experiencing anything will improve your thinking. I think the example you write about proves otherwise.

    Mark Lynas was a historian and political scientist. He’s probably quite an expert in these subjects. But opining about GM foods requires knowledge of science and economics which, being ignorant of, he wrote nonsense about. Once he educated himself in the relevant fields he stopped.

    Work/knowledge/experience is not a magical font of wisdom. You have to know the subject of which you speak. To put it in vulgar terms – you’ve got to know what you’re talking about.

    @Jeff Bowen. I have to agree with Daniel Lemire here. The ability of industrialized nations to inflict suffering on others was because those other nations were not industrialized. As they industrialized the relationships became more equal. This process continues to this day – China and India cannot be pushed around as in the past because they have caught up industrially.

    As the effects of industrialization are spread through society the lower sections benefit too. While inequality may be great, few people in the west are as poor as before the Industrial Revolution. Historically this happened as more sections of the economy were modernized.

  12. Interesting point. Reminds me of the “fireplace delusion” (http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-fireplace-delusion).

    As a scientist I understand your point: if other researchers say that GMOs are not that bad, then it’s likely to be true. I also do not have the time nor the resources to go and test their hypotheses.

    However, I often see the arguments about GMO overlooking two important points: patents, and reproduction. I haven’t found this argument in any of the comments above, so I take the liberty of raising it. When a large corporation has the financial advantage to go sue every farmer in a certain area on the suspicion that they are “stealing” their seeds (which the wind has brought into their fields) on the basis that they don’t have the license to grow their crop, then I see a problem. Or, when GMO crops come with the advantage of being resistent to parasites, but at the expense of all other crops – while not reproducing and thus forcing farmers into having to buy new crop every year, well, I see another problem.

    My issues are not with GMO, but rather with the system that makes this problems economically sustainable. Same goes for “software patents”, or DRMs. In this case, where more than code is at stake, I just do not feel very comfortable. But I still recognize their potential, and hope we as a species can get out of this conundrum pretty soon 🙂

  13. Experience is important, but it’s worth being careful with concluding to much from limited experiences. East Berlin might have been a strong argument against socialism, but I’ve walked down Skid Row in Los Angeles and it was a strong argument against capitalism with out much regulation.

  14. @lorenzo

    Patents are granted by the government. It is not a product of industry, rather it is a way to regulate industry. So it is a case where regulations have bad effects.

    We absolutely do not have to grant Mosento patents. It is a public policy choice that we make.

    If it is wrong to have patents on seeds, then we can simply forbid these patents.

  15. Shouldn’t the public be concerned about the creation of monocultures by GMOs? Recalling that a monoculture was one of the reasons for the Irish Potato Famine, with more than one million dead.

    The Wikipedia entry for the Irish Potato Famine says that potato production fell from 14,862 (thousands of tons) in 1844 to 4,321 (thousands of tons) in 1859. For round numbers, let’s say a 70% reduction.

    The US Department of Agriculture lists US corn production at 272432 (1000 MT) for 2012. So if GMOs create a monoculture that puts 70% of that at risk, isn’t that a public concern?

    Could happen without a GMO monoculture but monoclutures, of whatever source, make it more likely.

    GMO or not isn’t a question of science but of policy choices that don’t admit to a calculated solution. How risky? Can’t say. Fungi and pests are constantly evolving too. But we do know the risk is present. And we know what can increase the risk. (by some unknown factor)

    That is a risk that should be a matter of informed public debate and decision. Labeling would be one way for the public to be aware of how pervasive GMO corn for example, is in the food supply. An important consideration when evaluating risk. Yes?

  16. @Patrick Durusau

    I’m all for “informed decisions”. In fact, that’s what I dedicate this blog to: people should figure out the truth for themselves.

    But merely labelling GMOs is FUD, not information. Partial information is worse than no information at all.

    A few facts:

    1. We no longer use “traditional” seeds. All seeds use have been massively transformed.

    Why is radiation breeding not labelled, but GMO must be labelled? Why would I think that exposing seeds to massive radiations is safer than GMOs?

    So, let us label where the seeds came from, all the time.

    2. I’m a lot more concerned with pesticide use. All modern agriculture uses pesticide (yes, including the so-called “organic” agriculture). GMOs often allow you to use a lot less of pesticide, and pesticides that are a lot less toxic. Shouldn’t labelling tell us which pesticide was used and how much of it was used?

    3. Land use is important. Shouldn’t label tell us how much land was used to grow the food?

  17. @Daniel

    Seeds have been transformed by natural and human selection, of that there is no doubt.

    My point was that GMOs unlike pesticide use or land use, are developing into monocultures.

    I even gave an example of where a pre-GMO monoculture was responsible for severe consequences.

    What part of the danger of monocultures in an agricultural setting was unclear?

    I suggested GMO labeling (could just as easily be monoculture labeling) as a way to make the public aware of the percentage of their food supply that may be more fragile than they expect.

    Most modern societies require all manner of labeling on packages, most of which I suspect goes unread.

    So why not the reverse question: Why avoid labeling food as containing GMOs? What benefit is there is avoiding one more label out of dozens that are on packages now?

    What puzzles me is the vehemence of your opposition. Why would you care if GMO foods are labeled? It isn’t like taking someone’s guns away. 😉 (An always hot issue in the States.)

  18. @Domenica Settle

    The USA is country increasingly dominated by large corporate interests. One consequence of this is that corporate lobbyists often use the government against its people. For example, money is more readily use for corporate bailouts than for hiring teachers… even though most people would rather have better schools than corporate bailouts.

  19. @Patrick Durusau

    Why avoid labeling food as containing GMOs?

    I’ll explain one last time.

    So you tell people that you have this package here that contains “genetically modified” food. Oh! Scary!

    Wait… why don’t you tell them also that this other package, next to it… the one that they are about to pickup… is based on seeds that have been subjected to radiation breeding… that is, they are mutations of the original plant. And why don’t you label its pesticide use, which is often much higher than the GMO produce?

    You can’t just give people whatever half of the information fits your agenda.

  20. C’mon now, no one here is arguing that you should ONLY label the food as GMO or not. Your argument seems to be: if we can’t have absolutely exhaustive information, then we should have NO information. We’re all in agreement that more information (land use, pesticide use, crop diversity, GMO, calorie count, radiation exposure, color of farmer’s hat) is better. You have conjectured a straw man who thinks the only information we should have is GMO. Technological advances can certainly benefit the world, but the broad public has an occasionally legitimate fear of things being rushed to market (or into the wild) that could do irreparable damage. Think thalidomide, lobotomies, invasive species in New Zealand or Australia and so on. Certain things one doesn’t want to experience to find out their devastating effects.

  21. @Christopher Batty

    if we can’t have absolutely exhaustive information, then we should have NO information.

    I have nothing against food labels of any kind per se, as long as they are truthful. It is fine if vendors put a label such as “GMO-free”. In fact, we have this very thing with organic foods. I have nothing against a consumer boycott against products that do not carry such a label. That is fine. State regulations are another matter however.

    You have conjectured a straw man who thinks the only information we should have is GMO.

    No. GMO-label advocates never advocate compulsory labelling for radiation breeding, pesticide use, and so on. They only advocate GMO labelling. They are very specific because the important point is that these labels can considered health warnings.

    The goal is clearly not to inform but to effectively ban GMOs by scaring people.

  22. “Want to convince me that we should use state regulations to stop global warming or to achieve a fairer society? You have no chance in hell to argue your point with me. I went to what was East Berlin. ”

    Not only does this weaken your otherwise finely constructed essay, it also tends to refute it.

    Look, we have a global problem. It needs a global solution. It was, after all, the governments of the world that agreed to outlaw slavery. No individual could solve the problem by not owning a slave – that only put him at a competitive disadvantage against someone who was happy to own other human beings.

    But you say there is no way on earth you can accept this (entirely valid) argument. So you defeat both of us: you defeat me in trying to convince you that this problem has no solution without participation of all or nearly all governments; and you defeat yourself because you demonstrate that you are not nearly so open-minded as you think.

  23. @Daniel

    Curious that you keep ducking the monoculture issue as a public policy concern. As I pointed out, there are non-GMO examples in history but GMOs are a prevalent cause now. Should fragility of the food supply not be a public concern? One that can be made evident by the addition of GMO labeling? (to show its prevalence)

    For “fact based” blog, it’s curious that you “know” how other people will react to GMO labeling.

    Moreover, your “no information” if not “complete information” has been uniformly rejected in all major industrialized countries. The only question now is what information is important enough to include.

    Creating a fragile food supply, given the prevalence of GMO corn and its widespread use in food products, is a likely candidate.

  24. @Christopher Batty

    If we can’t have absolutely exhaustive information, then we should have NO information.

    That’s a cop-out. You don’t want exhaustive information – that’s impossible. You don’t want no information. But you don’t suggest what criteria should be used to decide what should be labeled and what not (other than that GMOs should somehow be included).

    To truly solve the “we can’t label everything” problem you have to admit that information can be disseminated in other ways than labeling. We don’t label cars as contributors to global warming, for example. Labeling is not even always the best way to do this. Labeling lobotomy prescriptions would hardly have been much use when doctors when recommending them.

    If you are worried about GMOs promoting biological monocultures surely the best way to combat that is to gather lots of data on the subject – more than you’d fit on a label – and disseminate it to farmers. They’re most at risk from monocultures and best placed to fight that risk. Shoppers studying obscure labels in the supermarket seem utterly beside the point.

    Why are anti-GMO campaigners hung up on labeling? I’m inclined to be charitable. I think most in the anti-GMO camp are ignorant and confused (see my previous comment) and simply haven’t thought much past labeling. Others (including, I think, Daniel Lemire) see labeling as deliberately targeting the wrong group with the wrong information. Whatever the motives, the idea can be safely dismissed.

  25. @Michael Tobis

    Not only does this weaken your otherwise finely constructed essay, it also tends to refute it.

    An important component of my blog post is that it is very hard to change people’s mind with arguments. I am no different.

    It was, after all, the governments of the world that agreed to outlaw slavery.

    You can outlaw slavery, but you can’t outlaw global warming.

    But you say there is no way on earth you can accept this (entirely valid) argument. (…) you defeat yourself because you demonstrate that you are not nearly so open-minded as you think.

    1. I do not think that global warming can be solved by analogy with slavery.

    We need to out-innovate global warming. It is a technology, not a legal problem.

    2. Half assed regulations typically make things worse… not better. It is very hard to “regulate” complex problems. Look at what was done… For example, EPA regulations for cars regarding fuel economy… That has given rise to the SUV trend because that’s how auto makers decided to get around the regulations… It has made things worse!

    3. I do see, however, trends that are helping… such as rising oil prices (Google: oil peak)… increase use of natural gaz instead of coal… amazing solar technologies (from China!)… very intriguing nuclear technology (in India!).

    Industry has already significant incentives to replace oil… so it is coming up. I think governments can only get in the way at this point.

    4. Governments are responsible for making the problem worse. Thus, there are governmental actions that could help… but people never consider them because a big part of the environmentalist dogma is that it is “industry’s fault”. The dogma also says that the more the government does, the better. That’s just not true.

    A. For example, the government could stop effectively insuring people who build near water lines. Let private companies insure them. Right now, the wealthiest people are busy investing in “beach houses”. They know that the government will cover them in case of flood. This needs to stop. Now.

    B. Governments, especially in North America, have been busy building roads… tons of roads, streets… We need to stop subsidizing road construction. Without these subsidies, people would naturally increase urban density and spend less time in cars. Let the private industry build new roads and pay for it if there is need.

    C. Governments have been massively investing in airports. This needs to stop. We must stop subsidizing the air travel industry. Let private industry build and maintain airports if they need to.

  26. @Patrick Durusau

    For “fact based” blog, it’s curious that you “know” how other people will react to GMO labeling.

    To quote wikipedia:

    “A 2007 study on the effect of labeling laws found that once labeling went into effect, few products contained genetically modified ingredients. Businesses stopped carrying products with GM food”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_controversies#Labeling


    Moreover, your “no information” if not “complete information” has been uniformly rejected in all major industrialized countries.

    That’s not my argument, but compulsory GMO labelling has been rejected by my government. And yes, Canada is a major industrialized country.

    Creating a fragile food supply, given the prevalence of GMO corn and its widespread use in food products, is a likely candidate.

    See JF’s answer: there is no evidence that government-required labels are the solution here. The same way you don’t label cars with “might cause global warming”.

  27. @Daniel Perhaps I was reading too much into your comment (above): “Partial information is worse than no information at all.”

    All labeling, to be “practical” is a choice of what should be included. Do you agree that Canada does require some labeling of products? If so, the debate isn’t partial vs. complete information but what partial information to include.
    Yes?

    The US has also failed to pass GMO labeling legislation. But as your wikipedia citation points out, food exporters don’t want complusory labeling and food importers do. That suggests, to me anyway, there are economic motives behind industry opposition to labeling, not concern for the average citizen.

    You may be right that labeling is a very indirect way to address ownership of the government by agricultural interests. But more direct action to correct that situation is usually frowned upon.

  28. @Patrick Durusau

    If so, the debate isn’t partial vs. complete information but what partial information to include. Yes?

    Sure, so let us agree to report pesticide use (quantity per production) and GMOs. Then this will be a balanced information. Fair is fair.

    That suggests, to me anyway, there are economic motives behind industry opposition to labeling, not concern for the average citizen.

    Obviously there are economic motives. That is the whole point!

    How do you plan to feed 9 billion people using traditional farming?

  29. re #26

    “You can outlaw slavery, but you can’t outlaw global warming.”

    You can outlaw net carbon emissions, or discourage them in various ways.

    “Half assed regulations typically make things worse… not better. It is very hard to “regulate” complex problems.”

    Indeed this is true. This is why some people advocate a simple carbon tax, to advance the date of the switchover to the point in time where the climate damage is relatively small (alas we already missed the boat for negligible).

    “I do see, however, trends that are helping”

    Indeed, this is all true, and is excellent news.

    But as with slavery, it is not the good actions of some but the absence of bad actions by all which will tell the tale. In the libertarian worldview, carbon emissions are an externality – hence a Pigouvian tax is required to balance this. This is the minimum government action but it is a government action.

    Note that at present much of our carbon footprint is hidden, especially in purchases of manufactured goods from China. We do not even know when we are doing damage. It is possible to add a marketplace signal. But it requires collective action.

    There is no guarantee that net-carbon-free substitutions will be used. Rather, there is a strong likelihood, essentially a certainty that fossil sources will continue to be overused, because the failure to allocate a cost to the damages amounts to a hidden subsidy.

    “Thus, there are governmental actions that could help… but people never consider them because a big part of the environmentalist dogma is that it is “industry’s fault”.”

    I am uninterested in your dogmatic impression of somebody else’s dogmatic impressions. Such models tend to be of little utility.

    I fully agree that we are collectively doing stupid things, but among the greatest of those is the failure to remove the systematic encouragement of net carbon emissions!

    But most of all regarding

    “An important component of my blog post is that it is very hard to change people’s mind with arguments. I am no different.”

    I appreciate this insight into yourself, but this undermines your argument that as a scientific thinker you are at least relatively less stubborn than others, which I thought was the main point of the essay.

    Since climate change is my main hobby horse (and since I am favorably disposed to you as an ex-Montrealer) I would have liked your article a great deal if this bit of stubbornness were not in it.

    mt

    @mtobis

  30. @Michael Tobis

    (…) as a scientific thinker you are at least relatively less stubborn than others

    I think that humanity solves problems like global warming through technology… not politics.

    Why on Earth would I be a scientist if I thought that we solve hard problems through politics?

  31. #31

    That makes no sense to me. Scientists solve hard problems using whatever is handy, in my opinion. I have demonstrated that there is no economic solution which will be sufficiently economically advantageous without at least a modest government intervention and you have agreed with me that the technical problems are surmountable.

    Rather than refuting my point you resort to a sort of dogma that presumes what scientists believe. But I am a scientist and I do not believe your point of dogma.

    In fact, most practicing scientists are in the employ of government, which further complicates your position.

    It is sadly ironic that following your claim that a scientific perspective opens your mind to uncomfortable conclusions, you proceed to close your mind and justify it by calling it “scientist”-thinking.

    I would rather you argued how the market might conceivably avoid using up all the fossil carbon if we do not collectively discourage that outcome. Failing that you are just avoiding inconvenient truths, just like you complain that nonscientists do.

  32. I have demonstrated that there is no economic solution which will be sufficiently economically advantageous without at least a modest government intervention.

    You mean that without new regulations, CO2 emissions cannot come down?

    You have demonstrated no such thing. For example, the U.S. CO2 emissions are the lowest since 1992…

    http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=7350

    They have come down, massively.

    This is in part because, due to new technology, natural gaz prices are at an historical low… and it is a relatively clean energy.

    Also, there is declining declining gasoline consumption. People are driving around less than they used to. Some believe that it is a long term trend. For example, young people are less tempted to buy cars. Cars are no longer viewed as the path to freedom.

    (Meanwhile, keep in mind that the very governments you want to put in charge of global warming are subsidizing and bailing out car companies… cars that are, as you know, a big part of the problem.)

    I would rather you argued how the market might conceivably avoid using up all the fossil carbon if we do not collectively discourage that outcome.

    We already have to drill at impossible depths, in the middle of the ocean… or find ways to pull petrol out of dirty sand… to get oil. Cheap oil is coming to an end.

    If you have not done research recently on peak oil, please do so. Lots of people say we are way beyond peak oil.

    After accounting for inflation, we are paying oil about 3 times what we paid for it in 2000. If you have a car, you might have noticed the effect.

    Meanwhile, it looks like new solar technology (e.g., see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_dot_solar_cell) could make solar cheaper than oil.

    Well, most experimental technologies don’t pan out… but that’s just one example… lots of people are working on alternative energy sources. The incentives are there.

    It just takes one entrepreneur on Earth to find a viable substitute for oil and we are in business… If nobody finds it, then no amount of politics will save us. We need cheap energy. Period. Our civilization simply cannot go on without cheap energy.

    It is sadly ironic that following your claim that a scientific perspective opens your mind to uncomfortable conclusions, you proceed to close your mind and justify it by calling it “scientist”-thinking.

    You are a scientist too. Yet you take for granted that global warming is a political problem, like most people… You refuse to consider the minority view that it might be a technology problem. Should I accuse you of being closed minded? I won’t make this assumption, but I’d like you not to assume I am a particularly closed minded individual. Fair is fair?

    Rather, I am under the impression that I am simply more of a techno-optimist than you are, and I am quite pessimistic regarding politicians.

  33. Regarding labeling:

    Here in the US in most states (or perhaps all of them), if a dairy product makes the claim that the milk came from cows who were not given rBGH, then they are required by law to carry the statement that no test has shown a difference between milk from a cow given rBGH and one that wasn’t.

    In that context I can understand people demanding labeling of GMOs. Either don’t require this kind of labeling or require it – but don’t demand it only when one side wants to note the absence of an ingredient.

    Not sure if that statement is required in Canada…

  34. @Beetle B.

    I did not know about this regulation but it appears abusive to me, if it is as you stated it. It seems similar to the requirement that you be prevented from saying that unleaded gas is safer than leaded gas.

    I am somewhat in disagreement with the conclusion people draw though. Fixing bad regulations by more bad regulations is like adding pieces of code to fix buggy pieces of code… this does not lead to something better… it just leads to a giant mess of regulations.

    I would rather we remove abusive regulations protecting the established industries. I suggest that this is often difficult politically because these regulations benefit to people who are willing to spend money to keep the regulations in place.

    That is why, I believe, we need to think about entirely new systems of managing laws and regulations that are not so easily entrenched.

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