by Judith Curry
A year ago, who would have thought that 2021 would be crazier than 2020?
A quick post to end out the year with some random reflections
The new normal (for me, anyways) is to stay home, not travel. Greater ventilation, use of HEPA air cleaners (also a big help when the air quality in the U.S. west was horrible from the wildfires), outdoor social events, masking. I’m triple vaxxed (Moderna), haven’t even gotten a cold in the past two years, also taking a cocktail of supplements. My entire company is now working from home – surprisingly, younger employees don’t like this so much, but people with kids/dogs definitely like it. I’m fine with my new normal, although I realize this isn’t feasible or desirable for most. God bless the internet. Personal precautionary principle in action, with a clear and immediate target – I really don’t want to get sick from a communicable disease.
Missed opportunities in 2021 to deal with Covid: scarcity of Covid tests in the U.S., failure to systematically investigate the re-purposing of existing drugs for Covid treatment protocols, and the failure to rapidly approve and manufacture new drugs for treatment. Failure to emphasize the need for better ventilation in buildings. Mask fatigue by insisting that masks be worn outside (schools, etc).
Death of Expertise
“Follow the science” almost seems like a joke at this point. Attempts to create and enforce various covid ‘consensus’ statements on everything from its origins, masks, transmission mode, treatments etc. have mostly backfired. The WHO and the CDC (U.S.) have much egg on their faces.
The various Covid consensus fiascoes have had an adverse impact on the trust of experts and expertise in a variety of domains.
‘Fact checks’ in the media have been shown to be (mostly) partisan/political enforcement of dogma.
Scientists playing politics and politicians misusing science for political ends has become endemic.
Further wounds to expertise are coming from within universities and the enforcement of dogma in many disciplines. Many academics have left academia, some involuntarily over such issues. The whiny woke-babies and the insane focus on victimhood, intersectionality, gender and diversity at the expense of traditional academic values has made many universities pretty dysfunctional and even scary places.
Within politics and popular culture, cancel culture has also run amok. The heroine in all this has to be J.K. Rowling in her defense of sanity related to gender and sex.
Recently there has been increasing blowback against such nonsense, which is particularly bad in the U.S. (doesn’t seem to be so bad elsewhere?)
On the good news front, the urgent rush to develop Covid vaccines produced not only some innovative research but demonstrated how quickly research to applications to deployment can proceed. This seems to have spurred a spirit of innovation, looking to science and engineering to provide better solutions to our current problems. There is much venture capital and money from billionaires floating around towards these purposes (for a variety of applications including climate change), which seems to have been invigorated by the Covid vaccines.
Covid has also spurred the development of new (and cheaper!) online workflow, meeting and conference platforms that facilitate working and meeting remotely and also conference. The IPCC AR6 managed to complete its work without hordes of scientists traveling all over the world; the colossal loss of productivity from extensive travelling is, well, colossal.
The last few years have seen a massive decline in audience for the mainstream media, for good reasons. In the U.S., there is no longer any pretense of objectivity or real investigation by the mainstream media. A plethora of partisan news outlets has emerged, and investigation occurs randomly and is published on blogs or whatever.
About a year ago a new framework for publishing was launched, called Substack. Substack wooed some serious journalists to the platform and tons of others from many different fields have joined. One key to its success is that Substack has figured out how its journalists can actually make a decent living
I follow a bunch of writers on Substack, and have paid subscriptions to about a half dozen. The posts are mostly long form (there are also podcasts), and the people that I follow are writing some fascinating essays, many on topics that aren’t trendy or overhashed.
Let me know who your favorite writers are.
The rise of anarchy and federalism
Apart from anarchy and redefinition of what is mainstream media, we are also seeing broader hints of anarchy in the U.S. In the U.S. anyways, we have seen a resurgence of federalism in terms of power of individual states. Previously I was mostly aware of different levels of prosperity and different weather among the different states. Covid, and Trumps insistence that the individual states manage their own crises, revealed different modes and styles of governance, different levels of freedom, different priorities on law and order, different energy and environmental policies, differences in rights to abortion, different tax structures and different cultures. Governors are getting more media attention than Biden. There has been massive migration out of California, Illinois and New York, and particularly into Texas and Florida.
The U.S. federal government has recently seemed impotent to do much of anything. In the Trump administration this seems to have been a feature not a bug; in the Biden administration, this is definitely a bug. The devolution of power from the federal government to the states has been characterized as anarchy; to my mind, there are elements of this that are very positive.
A few weeks ago I spotted this quote:
” “Climate change” is just a mental tattoo — a phrase we invoke with an air of scientific sophistication to give some sense of knowledgeability about the unknowable.”
That statement pretty much sums up the whole thing. Climate ‘science’ has become boring, mostly dotting i’s and crossing t’s (or worse yet, crossing i’s and dotting t’s). Even if we assume the science is ‘settled’, the policy discussion is even more boring – infeasible solutions that even if successfully implemented would very possibly leave us worse off than doing nothing (such has having inadequate electricity and fuel for heating during the winter).
How we can break out of this rut is the topic of a book that I am working on. I’m about 70% finished, hope to submit it to my publisher before June. This is being published by an academic press, so the book needs to be scholarly. The challenge is to write it in a way that passes scholarly muster while at the same time being readable/interesting to a broader audience.
Weather and climate biz
My company, Climate Forecast Applications Network, continues to take up most of my time, while providing an endless source of interesting ideas and applications.
On the weather side of the business, growing vulnerability to extreme weather events is spawning new insurance vehicles and Insurance Linked Securities funds. The insurance sector is a rapidly growing part of my company’s business.
Traditionally, energy companies have been the biggest consumers for private sector weather forecasts, for natural gas trading and load management for electric utilities. The renewable energy boom (particularly wind, to a lesser extent solar) is increasing the demand for wind and solar energy forecasts.
The whole private sector weather enterprise is becoming more competitive as there is more and more information freely available online and from apps that generates revenue from advertising or from inexpensive subscriptions. My company focuses on major businesses that desire customized forecast products, innovative forecast products, and analyses in forecast reports.
A growing part of our business is in the climate sector. Until a few years ago, the requests I received were related to interpreting climate model outputs and advising lawyers regarding litigation. After one project of bias correcting and downscaling climate model simulations, which I felt was a fairly worthless exercise, I no longer accept such projects. For a few years there was a burst of litigation cases that I was consulting for, but most of these have been mired for years in procedural and jurisdictional issues.
Over the past few years I’ve been getting some more interesting projects related to renewable energy, potential insurance losses, scenario projections to 2050, and development of worst case scenarios for specific locales. I’ve also been asked to provide reality checks on climate impact assessments provided by other groups. I suspect that this will become a growing part of the business.
Far and away the best book I’ve read this year (or in recent memory) was The Dawn of Everything – A New History of Humanity. From the blurb:
“A dramatically new understanding of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution—from the development of agriculture and cities to the origins of the state, democracy, and inequality—and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation.“
This book was an instant NYTimes Bestseller, there are tons of reviews out there. Overall, a fascinating and exhilarating read that changed the way I think about the past, present and future.
I can only aspire to accomplish something like this with my own book that is in progress.
Thanks to all who have participated at Climate Etc. over the past year, especially the guest bloggers. Between my book and running the company, blogging takes a back seat. Both in principle should provide fodder for blog posts, but it takes time.
The blog has been sluggish, I think it is too big. I will be culling some of the old inconsequential posts to lighten the load a bit. Also, the moderation queue has been out of control. I think I have fixed one of the problems, we’ll see.
My very best wishes to each of you for a happy, interesting and healthy New Year.