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Stakeholder Capitalism Ch.7: A climate crisis or a crisis of epistemology?

In a series of blogpost, I'm reflecting on the book Stakeholder Capitalism, written by Klaus Schwab with Peter Vanham.

Will our planet soon reach a tipping point because of our emission of greenhouse gasses? Chapter 7 on “People and Planet” opens with two pages on Greta Thunberg, including a few quotes.

Environmental issues and political polarization

Before, in my review on chapter 2, I already expressed many doubts on such an alarmist narrative. Also I was worried that Thunberg's connections with antifa and Marxism would further reinforce the kind of polarization that is described in chapter 4.

After raising this issue in the Facebook group of the WEF book club (#wefbookclub), co-author Peter VanHam responded:
In fact, her political beliefs are not something we endorse, and frankly, are not something we are actively aware of. What we do admire about her, is that she calls for action in regards to man's relationship to the environment, and her perspective that current generations have a major impact on future generations.

I think this is a fair and honest response by Peter. However it doesn't alleviate all problems. When you invite someone as a speaker and spend multiple pages on one's message in a book, then you run the risk of having to account for that person's political affiliations. Not because it is ontopic or materially relevant – it indeed isn't and shouldn't – but because of social and political dynamics. Combined with the highly polarized debate on climate change, it results in “dangerous waters”, as I mentioned earlier:
I'm spending many paragraphs on the subject of climate, because I believe this issue to be one in dangerous waters. Support for the stakeholder capitalism concept and the WEF itself might be damaged if this issue is treated in a one-sided way.

In my online “bubble” I can see the results: Far-stretched complot theories around the WEF, even from well-educated people and even a senior journalist for a mayor Dutch newspaper.

Something that is not contested, however, is the shared care for future generations. I'll admit that Greta Thunberg makes a valid point when she raises concern over short-term politics while future generations might pay the price.

This doesn't implicate that each and every green policy is always best for our future generations. First, we might be mistaken about climate change – I already wrote about various objections and questions before. Second, the proposed solutions themselves might have disadvantages, sometimes endangering the environment. Third, it costs huge amounts of money, which would be a waste if our assessment of the problem, or our solutions to it, were off.

The authors are right about one thing. They mention the collapse of the Soviet Union as the first point in time where true global cooperation was a possibility. So in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, “climate change dominated the international agenda for the first time ever”, the authors write.

After the Soviet collapse, Mikhail Gorbachev launched an environmental organization. In fact, many more (former) communists entered into environmental organizations. In Holland, they infiltrated and sometimes changed or took over many environmental organizations and even parts of the university, writes Peter Siebelt in his book Eco Nostra (2003; written in Dutch). Worldwide, “climate justice” ideology is connected to Marxist roots and formerly Communist organizers. Unfortunately, this includes the parents of Greta Thunberg.

Conservatives, libertarians, farmer organizations, and so on are very aware of this and will not consider these organizations, or those who strongly associate with them, as trustworthy. Hence, “dangerous waters”.

This is something the authors clearly don't aim at. They explain the difficult position of the Yellow Vest movement that emerged after the French government introduced a new fuel tax to improve the environment:
In practice, it disenfranchised a rural population that already felt locked out of education, work, and wealth opportunities in the cities.

That is a valid and important observation. Polarization, including between rural areas and urban centers, is rising, which makes it difficult to implement environmental policies, especially if most policies are designed by urban planners. Later in the chapter, the authors write about this urbanization.

Your political color makes some problems not go away

Beliefs and polarization don't make some of the issues less real. Yes, new discoveries and new technologies makes it possible to exploit more natural resources than expected, but such discoveries only buy some time until finally we have to import raw materials from other planets. That will not alleviate damage to the environment, such as the plastic soup also mentioned by the authors.

Many less developed countries currently experience a fast industrialization and economic development, increasing the environmental damage, need for natural resources, and increasing emissions. The authors praise such developments from a human development perspective, but warn about the explosive increase of CO2 emissions, usage of natural resources, and environmental damage.

The authors give a very nice example of human and economic development. They describing a person thriving in the city of Awasa in Ethiopia. I won't spoil it for you – read the book – but the increase in GDP, job security, and yes CO2 emission and pollution are all having their effects.

Can we he hopeful?

The authors identify four “megatrends”, which they describe in some detail. I'll summarize it shortly:

  1. Urbanization. Now, most people live in cities, and the trend is not slowing down. Some megacities count over 20 million inhabitants.

  2. Changing demographics – ageing. This brings challenges, but helps so slow down or even reverse population growth (a main factor for our ecological footprint).

  3. Technological progress. This can increase our footprint, but new technologies may also be more efficient and clean, and make use of sustainable sources of energy.

  4. Societal preferences. For most people, when they have enough material wealth, the focus changes to health. There is less need to increase productivity. Also they now begin to prefer products friendly to the environment.

A few solutions are mentioned in this chapter:

  • Altering the sources of energy production.

  • Carbon pricing.

  • Voluntary actions by companies.

Tippping over

The authors tip over to the climate alarmism camp:
The same is true for climate change. The world is in fact very close to the tipping point where even drastic efforts won't stop the situation from spinning out of control.

In my view, that is overly dramatic. I already gave an overview of counter arguments in my review on chapter 2. For fun, let's add a few links to blogpost by Zoe Phin, a data analyst.

  • Accurate Global Greening; global greening in this century is 5%. So we actually get a greener planet.

  • Coastal Sealevel Rise; “1.69 mm/year. As you can see the coastal trend is half the total ocean trend. Funny how greenhouse gases do that 😉”

  • What Global Warming?; “From 1850 to 2019, we've been warming up by 0.0013 °C/year. We've warmed up by 0.22 °C since 1850.”

  • Trend in Global Fires; “Global fires have been decreasing” (based on data from 2000 till 2020).

A crisis of epistemology

What is true? Can we trust science when it is subject to financial pressures? Dedoimedo, a well-known blogger on (information) technology, writes that “Global warming is bollocks!” (2011; updated 2015). He states:
This seems to be the main reason why theories can be proven one moment, refuted the next. There's a battle between the pro- and anti- global warming camps, each trying to champion their cause. Some will claim this, some will claim that. One thing is sure though, with human ego taking precedence over everything else, you can't really trust the numbers. Or rather, you can't trust them after they have been mangled, molested, rounded, truncated, shifted, offset, abused, and changed. […] Now, throw in sun flares, magnetic pole reversals, other fancy cosmic activities, none of which we understand well, and you can pretty much show and prove anything you want, as long as you keep extrapolating. It's just that our subset of data is so tiny and unreliable. Our fifty or sixty years of accurate measurement of environmental factors is a speck on the timescale of Earth's history. There's no way we can predict anything with any reasonable accuracy.

How can we know things? There is a wide awareness about an epistemic crisis. News media, institutions, science; a growing part of the population doesn't trust these, either because of polarization and/or due to the institution's decline in quality. There are “increased economic incentives for journalists to produce clickbait”. I urgently advise everyone to read this article by Michael Miller and James Kirwan from 2019 for the Social Science Research Council: The Modern Origins of Our Epistemic Crisis.

I don't know the solution for such an epistemic crisis. Fighting “misinformation” in #CancelCulture style or using Big Tech dictatorship is going nowhere. All we can do is applying old-school principles such as agreeing to disagree, giving the opponent or subject a chance to tell his/her side of the story, and admitting errors when we make them. Probably, it won't be enough; but the story of Icarus is outside the scope of this review series.

The next chapter will be on stakeholder capitalism concepts.

If you want to follow my adventure with this book, just follow this weblog or check my twitterfeed or Facebook timeline with the hashtag #wefbookclub or the mention @WEFBookClub for the next few weeks. You might also order the book, and maybe even join the WEF Book Club on Facebook, so you can make this a participatory experience for yourself.

Also check the index page of my review series that I will update as I add blogposts on this subject.
Excerpt: Human development and preserving our planet may be at odds with each other; how to find balance in a divided world.
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