The climate change debate has reached biblical proportions. What that means is that it’s now pursued with religious fervour,
and often teeters on the evangelical. Climate change is so divisive it means that emotions run high, so let’s call it being enviromotional. With a topic this complex it is no surprise; climate science can never be definitive, nor can sceptics claim to know any better. This was demonstrated on last Thursday’s Q&A and climate change documentary on ABC TV. Environmental campaigner Anna Rose and former Liberal science minister Nick Minchin travelled the globe – chalking up carbon emissions – to see if they could change each other’s minds on the climate. They presented each other with who they considered experts on the topic.
Minchin won the enviromotional award: some of his camp appeared both aggressive and suspicious. Perth-based sceptics Jo Nova and David Evans even employed their own cameraman to film the ABC for fear of being misrepresented.
While at least both sides agree the Earth is warming, the difference of course is whether or not it is man-made. But does it even matter? The real point is about economics. Minchin says there is no empirical evidence and that climate change policies will have enormous implications for the resource sector. He says Australia has an economic advantage because of ‘our access to cheap reliable coal’. He wants nuclear and coal-seam gas fracking too, presumably because it will meet our energy needs and will give us a job.
This argument is between those who believe economic salvation lies in free-market practices, whether they be renewable or not, and those who want our species to adapt to less-polluting energy sources.
Interestingly Rose claimed the people that Minchin introduced to her were almost all connected to the US conservative think tank, the Heartland Institute, which is funded largely by big oil and tobacco.
From Q&A’s panel discussion, the prediction was made that both the US and China believe that coal will be more expensive to produce than solar energy in only a matter of years. Another is that base-load energy (ie coal and nuclear) is now achievable from geo- thermal solar.
Questions that could have been asked include why can’t Australia develop base-load energy from geo-thermal solar right now, like other countries. It would sure go a long way in helping those who are facing a huge increase to their heating bills this winter.
Then there will be no need for dirty and dangerous coal or nuclear. One assumes it will take a while because of that great elusive rare earth commodity: leadership.
Google’s motto ‘Don’t be evil’ was held up to scrutiny this week after CEO Larry Page defended recent changes to search results that focus on personalisation.
The company is trying to merge search results with its social networking application Google+, which is a competitor to Facebook. With 845 million users, Facebook sits on the largest amount of personal information any company has ever had. And that means finely-tuned targeted advertising.
Page says it will create a ‘more intuitive experience’. But what if a user doesn’t want that? What about random? Like randomly walking into a bookshop or library and discovering something new? Changing search outcomes based on what a computer algorithm thinks you will like may not be evil, but it is manipulation.
Online ‘filter bubbles’ is the subject of Eli Pariser’s Ted Talk, available at www.ted.com. It gives insight into the shift from the original intent of the internet to what it has become: an advertising tool. He first became aware of this when he noticed that Facebook removed his conservative friend’s posts.
He says, ‘It turned out Facebook was looking at what links I was clicking on and it noticed I was clicking more on my liberal friend’s links than my conservative friend’s links. Without consulting me, they had edited them out.’
And of course Google does it too. ‘Two people searching the same thing will get very different results. One engineer told me there are 57 signals Google looks at. These include your computer, browser and location so they can personally tailor your query results.’ News websites, such as Huffington Post and the BBC, can also be personalised says Pariser. ‘The internet is giving us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.’
He makes the point that in the early 1900s, newspapers were critical to a functioning society. From that grew ethics in journalism and now the internet is at the same point of evolution.
Information gatekeepers – once human – understood civic responsibility and ethics, but invisible algorithm filters are only programmed for relevance. Things that are important, challenging, uncomfortable and are of another point of view should also be included, according to Pariser.
Should we be surrendering our innate human curiosity to robots so easily?