Global Catastophe Hysterical

I had a very interesting chat with Greg Tabron yesterday. I have known Greg for years and have always thought him to be a smart marketing thinker and capable of seeing the wheat in rather a lot of chaff. As we sat looking over his drop dead gorgeous view of Auckland's upper harbour (which offers the possibility of being simply drop dead if you were to fall over the balcony), enjoying the sunshine, the conversation, not surprisingly turned to motorcyles (we both have owned Ducatis and Vespas) and cars, via some chat about the genius of Top Gear on television. Greg raised the views of Jeremy Clarkson on green issues. Clarkson has pointed out that motor vehicles account for a very small percentage of the CO2 emissions that global warming is attributed to. I think the figure is about 5%. Clarkson's passion is for cars, so he points out that of that 5% the majority is actually produced by trucks and heavy vehicles. Therefore the obsession with cars as environmentally mental is, in itself deranged. If the evidence is correct then we have something else to worry about, something less obvious and more insidious(and I have no doubt whatsoever that, if one were to turn over any stone on the rocky shore of environmentalism, one would find a bearded, cardigan wearing crab willing to profer an alternative and more damning statistic).

Here's the thing. The level of interest in Global Warming (charmingly reframed as Climate Change by the American Government in a classic case of UnSpeak) is heating up. The icecaps of indifference by a substantial percentage of the voting public - as opposed to open minded school children and teenagers - are melting. We are beginning to accept the 'fact' that things are changing more rapidly than we had been led to believe. I place the word fact in quotes not to be dismissive but because I am not sure there ever are really any facts, only data, which can them be interpreted depending on our preconceptions (a priori).

The weather, we are informed by the news and entertainment media, is changing rapidly. The weather itself is becoming more extreme. Or so we are to believe. Of course, the problem with belief is that is either a choice or a programmed response. When it is a choice we simply 'believe' something to be true, often regardless of the data. Many people believe what is written in the Christian bible is 'true' or worse, THE truth. The 'facts' presented in the bible are to them 'gospel', to be taken as written; 'the earth is about 10,000 years old' etc. The data indicates rather compellingly that this figure is somewhat short of the mark. I can accept that, in absence of data to the contrary it is understandable that an ignorant population can remain in the dark. - in the 'middle/dark ages' there were no sources of contrary thought (or if there were they were silenced in whatever gruesome way they could imagine by the owners of the thought monopoly - the church).

So, when the media latch onto the subject of Global Warming it is time to be worried. Not because melting icecaps are going to cause havoc with real estate prices in Auckland, where I live (a big melt will probably submerge London, New York and Sydney - or so I heard on an extreme weather enter-edu-mentary the other day),the cause for concern about media interest in the subject is that is now going to be subject to media inflation. Each media outlet competes for the attention of the potential audience. To capture attention it must a) deliver more sensational stories than rival media and b) deliver a more sensational story than their own reportage and invention yesterday.

The threat of escalation of violence toward data is extreme. Expect more hysterical reports every day. Camera crews will be dispatched to the most extreme places on the planet. Footage of great chunks of ice breaking off the arctic shelf will be shot in awesome high definition, camera crews will chase hurricanes and report not from the eye of storm, but from within the maelstrom itself. Dorothy will be interview as she spirals toward Oz.

This phenomena will occur not only because they can, but also because the appetite for more (and more dramatic) footage is insatiable. The line between entertainment and information becomes like imagining Van Gogh's paintings are an accurate record of village life in Holland. Impressionism has become 'news'."Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth"is the Scary Movie of documentaries, the edges become less distinct (and that's the uncomfortable truth).

The news media are unreliable, if you are relying on them to interpret the world, that is. I am not only referring to partisan reporting by the likes of Fox News (whose world view is far to the right of the political spectrum) but also to organs such as the New Zealand Herald. Both have space to fill and fill it they will with 'all care and no responsibility'. Sometimes even without care or responsibility. For example, this morning's NZ Herald reported

'Cancer risk for long-time mobile users.
People who use mobile phones over more than a decade are far more likely to grow brain tumours on the side of their head, new research shows."

I heard a conversation on the radio between Kim Hill and Professor Paul Callahan of the McDiarmond Institute about the topic (listen to the audio here), framed within a discussion of 'radiation' which was generally interesting. But more importantly Prof Callahan says that he went to the original study reported by the Herald and found the abstract said this:

"For more than 10 years of mobile phone use reported on the side of the head where the tumor was located an increased odds ratio of borderline statistical significance was found....although our results overall do not indicate an increased incidence of glyoma in relation to mobile phone use, the possible risk in the most heavily exposed part of the brain with long term use needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn."

Hold the phone caller…

You cannot take anything you are told at face value. Or, rather, you can. But it doesn't make it true.

So far as global warming and the pleasure and utility I get from cars (not to mention the pain) has shifted in the past few years. Attitudes have shifted in part because of behavioral changes I have made. Trading a 735i BMW for a 150cc Vespa scooter to commute gave me a completely different view about commuting. The speed with which I could make it from home on the North Shore to Newmarket, where I worked, was mind-boggling. Faster than a 500+ horsepower Ferrari or Aston Martin, both of which would have been choked to a snail's pace on the sclerotic arterial system that are Auckland's roads at peak traveling times. I traded ideas of comfort & luxury and 'performance' for simple pleasures…cheap, easy and satisfying (I was smarter and, therefore, superior to all of the fools in their 'gas guzzlers'). Do I advocate leaving the car behind and bussing, scootering or motorcycling…yes, but only because it is pragmatic. Few cars on the road would make the daily experience of traveling better. I can't say I have an ideological view though. There is nothing wrong with the private motorcar. Some are wonderful things. And then there are Porsche Cayennes…but don't get me started on that.


  1. Anonymous7:17 pm

    Oi! What's wrong with a Porsche Cayenne?


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