Inference

What can citizens do to help safeguard the habitability of our planet?

The page describes several anecdotes from personal experience which illustrate the deep entrenchment of the business as usual (BAU) paradigm.

An inferential analysis method was developed. This marked a new phase of creative issue-engagement, and was later used to investigate more specifically what is wrong with 'business as usual', and what citizens might do about it.



Identifying and understanding key issues TC  [Issues]

The bold title in the above top menu corresponds to a main section title in [The Case]. This can be cross referenced using the white link-box above labelled TC.



Three anecdotes


When scientific research has important relevance to government policies, it might be expected that multi-disciplinary approaches, including methodologies used in the social sciences, would inform research agendas and their implementation. No doubt this would have been the intention of the organisers of one scientific conference back in 2001.

As a delegate of that conference, two anecdotes from personal experience are described. These illustrate the deep entrenchment of the business as usual (BAU) ethos - even in the context of global warming. A third anecdote illustrates how deeply BAU is embedded in the corporate sponsorship of a university.


Business as usual at a scientific conference

In modern times it should be evident that many more people would be adversely affected by climate change than in the past, and a few basic greenhouse gas accumulation calculations might seem to dismiss any controversy about whether man is affecting the climate. However when discussing climate change during the 1990s people would often respond with comments such as, "we've always had climate change", and "how can you be sure than climate change is being caused by man?"

Keen to see what evidence there was for this at that time ffc , and taking a geological perspective on environmental risks in general bmt , a multi-disciplinary global meeting Earth System Processes was attended. The conference was co-convened in 2001 by The Geological Society of America and The Geological Society of London, in Edinburgh UK. A number of the conference papers did indeed show convincing evidence for anthropogenic forcing of climate change.

ffc   It has since been learned that meteorologist John Sawyer had published a paper in Nature back in 1972, in which he predicted that a greenhouse effect due to man-made carbon dioxide would cause global warming (Betts, 2022). It also now transpires that a great deal was known about this by the fossil fuel industry. But as with the tobacco industry, the PR machine had enabled lucrative business to continue as usual.

One of Exxon's top technical experts, James F. Black, had informed an audience of oil executives as far back as 1977 that carbon dioxide from the use of fossil-fuels would cause global warming, and could eventually endanger humanity. The following year the company had then launched its own research programme to deepen its understanding of the risk to the oil business (Banerjee, 2015). By the late 1980s Exxon then focused on a systematic climate-denialist misinformation strategy (Anon., 2015e), meanwhile making huge profits from selling their product. The whole saga of outrageous BAU behaviour is well described in a three-part television documentary series (Anon, 2022p).

bmt   Including meteoric impacts etc.; very much the territory of Bill McGuire's book A Guide to The End of the World which was published in 2002.


Road junction pre-storm

Road junction post-storm

One evening a panel discussion was held during which members representing a number of prestigious organisations po  outlined a range of proposed future Earth System Science (ESS) research programmes. It was reported that significant funds were to be directed towards projects which could help with disaster mitigation. One example was the Integrated Global Observing System, which could provide better warning of natural hazards such as the occurrence of landslides.

po   UNESCO, NASA, United States National Science Foundation, European Science Foundation, Geological Society of America, Geological Society of London, and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Despite the panel appearing to accept that anthropogenic impacts were affecting the earth system, it was observed that they reflected an essentially reactive, rather than a proactive stance. The justification of most of the research programme strategies emphasised disaster mitigation, rather than any attempt at preventative human-impact reduction based upon an understanding of the driving mechanisms. Interactive ESS models linking planetary metabolism and social systems were referred to, but these fell short of modelling the economic driving forces. So the following question was put to the panel:


If anthropogenic impacts on climate change were demonstrably significant, then shouldn't this knowledge be used to justify proactive identification of the key drivers of these changes .... and international pressure for ameliorative policies and actions?

While the panel did not disagree with this line of argument, they said that it was outside their remit.


Given the high level representation of the panel it was disappointing that there was such a small attendance at the session. It would be interesting to know how much this was due to delegates not being particularly interested in the broader political perspective, and how much because the session was held in an evening. The conference programme stated that 'a publication of the outcomes and a summary of critical pathways for achieving these goals will be generated from this panel discussion'. Unfortunately the scope of these goals did not extend to my concerns.

More than two decades on it is evident that while investment in disaster mitigation and adaptation to climate impacts is increasingly necessary, the emphasis continues to be more on adaptation than on the even more necessary prevention. For example, building flood defences is seen as a win:win because it aims to reduce short term flooding risk, and the construction generates more business profits. Potential flood victims would obviously support government funding for flood defences. Prudent allocation of funding for longer term, preventative, measures involving concessions on business profits through reductions in cost externalisations  [Power structure] is unlikely to be of immediate concern to potential flood victims - until a crisis occurs.

Political priorities are discussed in Criteria for urgent political action [The Case: Issues]. Economic growth would be seen as necessary to afford prudent preventative measures, but any worthy initiatives intended to tackle such problems would translate to increased regulation on business activities. Such initiatives would adversely affect profits, and so be strongly resisted by those with vested interests (TwVI). The underlying psychology of "I want, now" is discussed in [The Case: Life choices].


The expediency of business as usual

The incongruence between present business objectives and an environmentalist's concept of sustainable development was graphically illustrated at a presentation titled Mineral Resources and Earth Processes by an economic geologist (Franklin, 2001):


His concept of sustainability implied the continual discovery of new mineral resources for exploitation to meet increased demand. He welcomed climate change because of the potential for opening of the Northwest Passage to vast areas of the Arctic for exploration and the resulting inexpensive shipping between the Far East and Europe.


I regret missing an opportunity to challenge this example of the business as usual ethos. No one else challenged it either; probably not seeing any incongruity. This reinforces the deep-entrenchment point that BAU is generally accepted without question. Franklin was just 'doing his job' - if BAU requires corporate and/or political denial of climate change, then so be it. This stance is demonstrated even more blatantly by the recent revelations about Exxon-mobil, mentioned earlier.ffc 


....oOo....


By 2019 there was growing international concern about the rapid rise in Arctic temperatures. But the BAU stance of welcoming the melting of Arctic sea ice had not changed since 2001 (Anon., 2019b).


Business as usual and corporate sponsorship of a university


In 2002 a request was received from my university Alumni Relations Development Office to contribute to the Annual Giving Programme. However the university was then proposing to establish an International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility - funded by British American Tobacco! Disgusted, a letter was written to the Vice-Chancellor and Director of the 'Corporate Social Responsibility' Centre, declining the request, and explaining why. No reply was ever received.



Engaging with the core business as usual (BAU) problem



The polar melting example cited above illustrates how deeply the BAU ethos is entrenched, and therefore why it is such an intractable problem. More than four decades on from my first realisation of a lack of goal congruence [Introduction] in the workplace, and later with the status quo in general, what to do about it and its consequences still remains problematic at an individual level. My original conviction of the power of ideas, catalysed using a creative issue-engagement approach to problem-solving, has been sorely tested over the core BAU problem. Even if an analysis or idea was potentially useful, effective delivery relies on efficient dissemination to receptive recipients.


In a secular world dominated by BAU 'amorality', the type of messages to be disseminated by concerned citizens are very hard to sell. Especially to élites.

The word futile comes to mind.



Problem re-appraisal

Either directly or indirectly, the major global problems have been caused by BAU activities. There seemed to be little prospect of most of these problems being solved because those with vested interests (TwVI), particularly in the fossil fuel industry, actively block any progress towards solving them because it would mean reducing their profits.

Outwardly, progress on the personal quest effectively stalled for about six years from 2006. But this problem was not going to go away. A new form of constructive approach was going to be necessary. It was resolved to try to understand more precisely what is wrong with BAU; what might be done about it; and what more enlightened governance might look like.


Seeds of a new approach

Without any personal experience of the 'corridors of power', there is much about BAU processes which an outsider can only infer. For example, about the extent to which corporate lobbying, pragmatism, expediency and 'political judgement' feature in determining outcomes. This pointed towards the need for an inferential analysis approach. Previous experience and some insights suggested that the root of the problem is an absence of the necessary human values - the lack of a 'moral compass'.

This implied a need for analysis from more psychological and philosophical/ spiritual perspectives; a view reinforced by insights from the experimental music project [Notes], and from the art categorisation exercise [Insights]. In particular, the simple notion of a right way and a wrong way. A good starting point would therefore be to establish a basic working definition of the purpose of governance in relation to business, with relevant criteria against which to assess good or bad practices. The next steps would be to better understand corporate legislature, and how it came to be so. It would also be necessary to observe the level of compliance with that legislature.



Common sense, inference, and speculation

Ideas derived from philosophical, psychological, and spiritual perspectives can be difficult to substantiate, especially by someone who does not have specialist knowledge in these fields. In order to make progress it was proposed to approach the problem in a logical manner similar to that used in computer modelling. To the extent that the behaviour of a system is observable, or that the rules are known, basic principles can be identified in order to provide a working hypothesis. This can be done in a way which is analagous to the development of simple algorithms characterising system behaviour. Provided that the basis of assumptions made is defined, common sense based upon life experience can be used, supplemented by reasonable inference and/or plausible speculation.

Non-linear computer modelling can be used in conjunction with a 'black-box' approach where the functional behaviour of a system within a defined range can be inferred by investigating the system output response given a known input. The behaviour of complex real world systems is non-linear, and can no longer be reliably represented by linear macro-economic computer models; some of which, disturbingly, are still being used without an understanding of their limitations (Rickards, 2016, pp.206-211).


Making a case

Inference and speculation can be taken too far, and so a hierarchy of plausibility needs to be applied in order to maintain credibility. Any assumptions made must be clearly stated, and these form the first level of caveat.

Many 'deal-breaker' differences of view begin and end at this level - for example the materialist/ post-materialist split, which is discussed in the [The Case], [Moral compass], and [Being] pages.

Another obviously critical aspect for any successful communication is the extent of common understanding of the language used.

The inference and speculation approach was developed to better understand the core BAU problem. It was recognised that this reflects one's own mindset, as a result of years of evidence-accumulation. For complex issues a considerable amount of substantiation is necessary to make a convincing case either way. Inevitably once such a bias exists, this affects the selectivity of evidence-gathering. If the evidence regarded by either side is not present, or the mindset is too closed, then there will be no meeting of the minds. Substantiation of a case first requires a logically plausible mechanism, but this is not sufficient. Adequate supporting evidence for the mechanism from a trusted source is also necessary. Depending upon the knowledge, rigour, integrity, experience, and mindset/ prejudices/ biases of those involved in a discussion, a meeting of the minds might be precluded at the outset.

A complicating factor is that these parameters interact, which can affect trust in the source. In the case of a criminal case, the logical mechanism might start with an identified motive for the crime. The motives of criminals, victims of crime, all those involved in the gathering of evidence, and preparation of legal representation for both prosecution and defence are all relevent to the case outcome.

Pro-BAU growth advocates can be expected to completely disagree with the assumptions about a 'right' way and a 'wrong' way to conduct business activities, as defined in the [Power structure] page. In order to fairly declare personal bias, a system of colour-coding for emphasised text boxes has been adopted consistently throughout the website.


Use of emphasised text boxes

An attempt was made to devise a self-consistent colour coding scheme for emphasised text boxes. This initially evolved from a combination of insights, mentioned earlier, and the associated 'light/ dark concept'. It culminated in the idea that lightening or darkening the background colour of certain text passages could be used as a shorthand communication device to reflect my personal value judgement about whether the content depicts a (right) way - towards reducing a defined problem, or a (wrong) way - towards making it worse. My confidence in a right path increases in proportion to the extent I have been able to substantiate the content.

The colour coding hierarchical scheme is defined in the source code. Two examples:

    Necessary citizen actions, in conclusion, are marked in dark blue text on a pink background 

    Significant uncontroversial points in the narrative are marked with pale yellow text on a medium grey background.

It was later decided that such descriptions might be considered pedantic, and so were commented out so as not to normally appear. But for those interested they can be displayed by clicking on the 'view source file' option in your browser. The definitions are located in the source code below this paragraph.


Limits to inference and speculation

As noted above, one function of the colour coding is to highlight speculative material using emphasised text in grey on a sky-blue background. This convention denotes that the material has not yet been substantiated in the website narrative. Where it is considered that adequate substantiation has been provided, another colour-coding for emphasised text is used to reflect my considered subjective view.

Referring to the earlier section on making a case, an important factor in interpreting the substantiation of an argument is to understand the motives of the author.


Corporations take their brand reputations very seriously, but we all know that their primary motivation is to make money. This strongly affects the nature of corporate communications. Similarly politicians have to build and protect their reputations, but we all know that they first have to get elected, and then to stay in power. This strongly affects the nature of political communications.



Corporate misinformation

As citizens have become more aware about environmental sustainability, corporations have had to adapt. We are used to corporations hijacking hard-won concepts from environmental campaigners for marketing purposes ('greenwash'). But corporate marketing has become increasingly aggressive and manipulative over the years, even weaponising research, theories, information and data to ensure continued economic growth. This trend is addressed in [Issues].

Corporate resistance to activism [Issues]

Conspiracy 'theories'

This term has historically been used in a derogatory way to imply an inadequately substantiated story without any foundation, and therefore assumed to be fiction. Some of these 'theories' have been interpreted as spoof documentaries, as they have apparently been meticulously researched and provide apparently convincing evidence to cleverly support their case.

One such case was that the moon landings never happened, and another that 9/11 was an 'inside job'. While most people will remain unconvinced, others might be left with a niggling sense that there is no smoke without fire. It may be years after an event before enough information comes to light to clarify the matter.


But compared to these 'old-style' conspiracy theories, the fake-news-era versions are not worthy of the term. They are certainly not 'theories', and yet are routinely presented as facts. They have been deliberately used in ways which damage democracy, for example even by ex-President Trump (Anon., 2020e).


Many of these newer style unsubstantiated assertions are linked to the phenomenon of hate-speech. (Wells, 2020) refers to the notion of conspiracy theories as invariably concerning unproven ideas about dark forces. He suggested that, in a sense, religious belief could be viewed as a sort of conspiracy theory, but with the fundamental difference that it was about goodness. When interpreting a conspiracy theory, the listener needs to decide whether to believe in goodness, or in evil.

Good versus evil [Being]



....oOo....




Notes



Link to section Engaging with the core business as usual problem referencing the note below.


Insights from the experimental music project

The 'creative approach' started with an experimental music project [Purposeful art]. The motivation was a sense that music was somehow meaningful, and that it might be possible to discover what was 'meaningful structural content' in music, and why. The idea that music might reflect something deeply significant in nature, such as the boundary between order and chaoschaos , was philosophically very interesting.

chaos   The 1/f concept has illuminated important milestones throughout this quest. For example it casts into sharp relief the difference in perspective between the ecologist's world view, and that of the disruptive/ greedy/ risky/ pushing-one's-luck approach of global capitalism [Power structure].

In the course of producing algorithmic 'organised sound', the work of Abraham Maslow [Life choices] was explored in more detail.

Maslow and B-sadness (B=Being) [Moral compass]

Reflecting on his 'Theory Z', it may be that my original environmental concerns stemmed in part from fear, but a fear linked to a deeply felt sense of the wrongness and stupidity of the desecration of our planet for greed and profit. Perhaps a similar sentiment could also have given rise to my early, strongly pacifist, inclination.


With hindsight, the two themes of environmental unsustainability and spirituality are clearly apparent in the exhibited artworks on this website.




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