Offbeat 07 August 2015
Climate deniers are a bit of fun, if you can find laughter in cynical moments. The most recent bit of dark humour was the apparent recovery of 33 per cent of the loss on Arctic sea ice, as proof positive that climate change is a false proposition.
A closer look at the thing showed it was something like a 33 per cent gain in ice cover over something like 50 percent of what has been lost. Go figure.
Don’t cherry pick data ranges. What the climate change deniers did was touted that statistic as an absolute, sort of like saying that because the temperature is rising, winter will never show up again, instead of looking at the graph, which is plunging like a highway down Everest and maybe, just maybe, regressing the curve, if they really are blind to the completely obvious.
Next thing that needs to be charted is the incidence of extreme heat events. The curve on rising heat is rising in general, but the curve on anomalous incidents, like the ones in the last few months, aren’t immediately apparent to me, and I don’t have time to scratch around on Google.
The current weather map for 2015 to 2016 says that summer might be a bit cooler here than the last two, but in all honesty, I am underlining the word ‘anomalous’ in my head, expecting the worst, and wondering about the possibility of working on a laptop in a cold bath, or possibly a lukewarm one, depending on the temperature of the cold water coming out of the taps.
My best guess is that the anomalous heat incidents will be increasing, but I don’t need a graph to tell me that. I remember how people went all weird and glassy eyed in mid-summer a few decades ago when it was 33 C for a week or two. Nowadays they do that if there are temperatures like that in mid-summer, only they mutter about early winter.
This riff has something to do with my dark secret: that I actually think numbers are cool. To that I will add that if I had worked a bit harder at school, and if I had understood what the recruiter was saying when he offered me a chance to study to become an actuary, I might have had a far more intimate and ongoing association with numbers. Or I might still have been studying to become an actuary.
Numbers have an attractive way of making sense of things. They can say things like more ‘now and less later’, or ‘less now and more later’. All you have to do is watch, log the numbers and chart them.
The trick to coping with numbers is to understand that they describe what has been, and also what might be, but not believe in them as absolutes.
People who think that way missed the exciting bits about irrational numbers, or never looked into the paradoxes of Mandelbrot sets.
The longer and more comprehensive the data range, the more accurate and believable it becomes, yet people who look at data ranges and charts need to be aware that they have hidden dangers, and that the behaviour of points in a range can change. Looking at the rising sales of toys over Christmas, it might be possible to speculate that there must be a Father Christmas, because surely parents can’t afford all that on their own. But drawing that conclusion would obviously be wrong. It might be more accurate to say, all that goodwill is balanced out by financial desperation on the part of parents.
My favourite mythical chart is the one which lives in the heads of investors. It’s the growth chart that continues upwards, year after year, decade after decade until well into the future. It also lives in my head, as a notion, not as a declaration of the truth.
The point of the matter is that all financial growth is based on some form of consumption, and that consumption has to have a limit, somewhere. Sooner or later, all the speculation is going to have to be readjusted to reality.
How many large consumer purchases can one individual or family make in one given period?
Numbers and charts make me happy. They shield me from reality in some ways. On the other hand, I have to mistrust them to keep myself from hallucinatory psychosis.