Show me the receipts

A consequence of the last decade-plus of mindless, saturation media is an endless parade of “experts” and “pundits” who have little at stake and pay no price for mistakes.

The very loud people who oppose action on climate change, for instance. Even business lobbies are often add odds with businesses, many of which are already planning for a changed climate.

There’s a brilliant article on VoxEu about the people who do have money on the line:

In our recent paper (Schlenker and Taylor 2019), we look at weather derivatives in financial markets to assess beliefs about climate. We find that traders have been pricing in a warming trend that is closely aligned with the projections of scientific climate models, as well as the observed weather outcomes during that time…

…Futures prices closely follow the predictions of climate scientists, which, on average, appear to have materialised, thus validating the climate models. This close agreement between markets and models implies that traders are taking into consideration the scientific consensus on climate change when making trades. Overall, we find that the market has been accurately pricing in climate change, largely in line with global climate models, and that this began occurring at least since the early 2000s when the weather futures markets were formed.

There are plenty of liquid markets where someone with a contrarian take on climate change or the housing market (etc.) could make a lot of money.

It isn’t enough that you were “right last time”. That could have been a fluke. That might have been one correct prediction after many wrong ones.

In the real world that batting average doesn’t work. So, journalists should ask for receipts.

If an expert or pundit makes a bold claim they need to put their money where their mouth is. Otherwise it’s just hot air.

Climate change is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed

The title is from a tweet by Kate Mackenzie, although I’m unsure if she was referencing someone else.

It highlights a central problem in tackling climate change.

By now most educated people around the world are at least aware of anthropogenic climate change. Even if they refuse to accept it.

So the problem is not really one of education, but salience. Even if most are aware of, and intellectually accept, the phenomena, it’s just not present in their day to day lives.

Climate change is already devastating farmers with increased variability and hammering certain exposed communities. But for most it only really exists in the periodic news report. It’s like a far away war or natural disaster – easy to miss in an increasingly comfortable and abstracted day to day.

Given both the looming catastrophe and what we know of the health impact of pollution, it’s insufficient to simply “inform people” and sit back – the most comfortable mode for the news media.

Accurate reporting and discussion of climate change is more than highlighting the results. We have to engage with the process. The currently invisible must be made unmissable.

The question is – how do you turn something that takes place subtly and slowly, often only visible in the varied probability and intensity of “normal” events, into something that can’t be missed? That affects their day to day?

How do you increase salience?

The slow creep of climate alarmism

For the last several years, Whitham said, he and his colleagues had used a series of experimental gardens to study how plants are being affected by warming temperatures—in near real-time—and how their populations might evolve due to climate change…

…In these gardens, located in various ecosystems and elevations around the Southwest—from deserts to alpine forests—Whitham planted different genotypes of the same species… Preliminary results from his experimental gardens, 10 in total, suggest that species have already shifted their range in response to changing temperatures.

This is from an article that is almost three years old.

I recently wrote a script to surface old articles from the bottom of my Pocket queue. For years I have added more articles than I’ve read, creating a time capsule of sorts.

This is one of the first articles it spat out. But there’s been a pretty clear oeuvre – the variation, unpredictability and changing extremes associated with climate change have been presented to us consistently, over a long period.

We’ve now known about anthropogenic climate change for an entire generation. And yet there is somehow still a debate about the suitability of alarmism.

There will of course be winners and losers to whatever action is taken, making resistance and motivated scepticism completely rational. But the clear lack of panic among those not already directly affected is not.

There is something broken among both our informational environments and our public discourse that we can continue to treat all of these instances as discrete events, rather than as of a whole. We should all be alarmed.

As always my emphasis.

Apple news and the curation problem

What is your platonic ideal of the news?

For me a perfect outfit, on a perfect day, would post one sentence: “nothing happened today.”

Go read a book. Grab a beer with friends.

Unfortunately, modern media is not predicated on informing us only about what is important. Or respecting our time. Rather, they seek to monopolise it.

On a day when nothing happened they would still find something to shove in your face. Apple’s subscription news model will only make this worse.

The plan is to charge users a flat rate per month for access to “hundreds” of newspapers and magazines. Publishers will apparently receive a share “according to the amount of time users spend engaged with their articles”.

In other words, publishers will have little incentive but to be as loud as possible. And to cover everything under the sun. They will be paraded and rewarded for catching our eye.

There is no incentive to engage in curation – publishers will have no direct relationship with customers. Apple will be curating further down the stack, but while it may be looking for “quality”, it has used total content consumed as a positive metric.

I won’t be signing up.

We don’t live in a world where nothing will happen. But there is a next best – subscribe directly to people who value their own time enough not to waste yours.

Create a limited stream of content, populated only with those who value similar things.

I do this through RSS feeds and newsletters.