Warmist Master Of Game Theory 'Most Optimistic For the Future' (Despite Copenhagen)

A pleasant surprise in BBC Radio4’s “Start the Week” of Oct 19, 2009, with “Master of Game Theory” Prof. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, displaying that rare combination of AGW belief and optimism for the future.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

Shortly, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (BBdM in the following) thinks the upcoming Copenhagen treaty won’t work and won’t matter (“will be forgotten in the twinkling of an eye“), and yet, we should be “most optimistic” about the future because “global warming […] induces a self-solving dominant strategy” and “new wind, rain, and solar technologies will be solving the problem for us“.

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Start the Week” is a Monday morning broadcast (available in podcast) with Andrew Marr, one of the most experience BBC hands in politics.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (BBdM in the following) can be heard in the Oct 19, 2009 programme (mp3) from around the 34th minute. The climate-change bit starts around the 37th minute and this is my transcript:

Marr: Let’s look at the other other to me fascinating prediction here, which is the Copenhagen Climate Change talk, about (which) the Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) has been talking about in this country yesterday and everyone is focusing about. You say (A) it ain’t going to work and (B) oddly, that doesn’t matter very much

BBdM: Both correct. I would add a (C) that I am very cynical about politicians. We should be very disheartened by the way in which our political leaders are trying to deflect responsibility for dealing with global warming. So your Prime Minister and my President (Barack Obama) are calling for a universal global treaty at Copenhagen. Let’s take a very quick look at Kyoto. So Kyoto had 175 signatories not including the United States.

What do global treaties do? Well, if you think about self-interest, and these are self-interest (acts to co-ordinate among) nations, what you get is one of two consequences: either people sign an agreement which they will fully comply because it doesn’t ask them to change their behavior, or they will sign an agreement that does ask them to change their behavior, and the agreement will contain no mechanisms to punish them for failing.

So let’s look at Kyoto: 175 signatories, 137 were asked not to do anything…(laughter in the studio)…and they have complied (more laughter); 38 were asked to change their behavior and pretty much a lot of them, not all but a lot of them, came forward within a matter of weeks from Kyoto, the British Government did, the Japanese Government did, and so forth (saying) “We just can’t meet the standards. It’s such a pity. We would really have liked to but we just can’t do it.”. Now let’s ask ourselves: why don’t the politicians in the United States, Britain and so forth unilaterally cut back on greenhouse gas emissions if it is such a good idea? (short overlap of voices with Marr)

Marr: Very briefly, the reason (for being optimistic) is because there are market and technological solutions

BBdM: Technology will solve the problem

The last statement is understood with a short internet search. From the BBC programme’s synopsis:

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita uses game theory to foretell political, financial and even personal events in his new book Predictioneer: One Who Uses Maths, Science and the Logic of Brazen Self-interest to See and Shape the Future. Regularly consulted by the CIA and the US Department of Defence, Bruce is Professor of Politics at New York University. Predictioneer is published by The Bodley Head. Bruce is also giving a talk at the ICA on Monday 19 October at 7.00pm.

The ICA is the “Institute of Contemporary Arts” and their page about Bueno de Mesquita says:

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is one of the world’s most respected futurologists. He is here to lecture on the perilous business of futurology and how game theory can help understand everyday dilemmas.

This is the ICA introduction to the book “Predictioneer“:

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita can predict the future. He is a master of game theory. This book explores the origins of game theory as formulated by John Nash and develops these ideas to create a rigorous and pragmatic system of calculation that enables us to think strategically about what our opponents want, how much they want it, and how they might react to our every move. […]

The book “Predictioneer – One Who Uses Maths, Science and the Logic of Brazen Self-interest to See and Shape the Future” is available on Amazon.co.uk (published: 3 Sep 2009). On Amazon.com, where Bruce Bueno de Mesquita has its own Author’s Page, there is a Predictioneer” book by the same author but with a different cover and slightly modified title, and publishing date 29 Sep 2009: “The Predictioneer’s Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future“. Presumably it’s the usual story of an American and a UK edition, based on whatever the publishers think will attract the local readership (are Americans turned off by Maths and Science??).

The American edition of “Predictioneer” has Look Inside!” enabled. There are several pages dedicated to Copenhagen and they by themselves already make “Predictioneer” a worthwhile book to read. The “optimism” bit starts at page 223:

If I sound downbeat, I am sorry. Actually, I am most optimistic for the future. My optimism, however, is despite – yup, despite – agreements like the ones struck in Bali or Kyoto or Copenhagen. These will be forgotten in the twinkling of an eye. They will hardly make a dent in global warming: they could even hurt by dealying serious changes. Roadmaps like the one set out at Bali make us feel good about ourselves becuase we did something. We looked out for future generations, we promised to do good – or did we? […] universal schemes do not put big change into motion. Their all-inclusiveness ensures that they reflect the converns of the lowest, not the highest, common denominator.

There follows an analysis similar to the one mentioned during Start the Week, until the conclusions at page 225:

So how might we solve global warming and make the world in five hundred years look attractive to our future selves? […] New wind, rain, and solar technologies will be solving the problem for us. Climate change due to global warming will add to our supply of rain, wind and fire, and if it raises the oceans […] then it also adds to our urge to exploit these ancirnet forcess just as their increades power makes us worry more […]

There is an equilibrium at which enough global warming – a very modest amount more than we may already have, probably enought to be here in fifty to a hundred year […] – will create enough additional sunshine in cold places, enough additional rain in dry places, enough additional wrind in still places, and , most important, enough additional incentives for humankind that windmills, solar panels, hudroelectriciity, asn as yet undiscovere technologies will be the good, cheap, evenly distribute, and clean meachasnisms to replace th efossil fuels we use today. Global warming, ijn other words, induces a self-solving dominant strategy […]

“Technology will solve the problem” has traditionally been dismissed as an argument for the last 100 years or so (despite overwhelming evidence in its support). Anyway…time will tell. And Bruce Bueno de Mesquita claims a 90% success rate.

The (Un-)wisdom of Bill McKibben

If the Gods of Olympus subscribed to the New York Review of Books, they would surely be laughing hard after reading the unwitting ironies peppering Bill McKibben’s “Green Fantasia” review of Thomas L Friedman’s “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America”.

One wonders if Mr. McKibben will find a way to display less hubris, and more wisdom next time around.

I will focus here on what I see as the two most glaring examples: first of all, about Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and, in the words of Mr McKibben, “woke Friedman from his nap”.

At that point, Mr McKibben (who should have known better) implicity concedes Mr Friedman’s point: making a direct connection between Katrina, and human-induced Climate Change.

[Friedman:] “Have we introduced so much CO2 into nature’s operating system that we no longer know where nature stops and we start in shaping today’s weather”. [McKibben:] Well, indeed we have.

But no serious scientist will confirm that Katrina was caused by (anthropogenic) Climate Change. Within the IPCC itself, the question of “attribution” (how to identify the “signature” of Climate Change in the weather of today, rather than the climate in 15 or 20 years’ time) is still open, and no doubt we will hear more about it in the months leading to the December 2009 Copenhagen Conference.

After all, Katrina was a relatively average Category-3 hurricane when it struck the New Orleans area. And even if 2005 saw a record hurricane season, neither that nor the “duds” of 2006 and 2007 can be used as evidence for or against Climate Change.

In truth, Mr McKibben should have forcefully corrected Mr Friedman on Katrina, as it is extremely unwise to try to solve Climate Change, that he defines as the “most severe of our challenges”, starting from incorrect premises. In fact, by propagating the idea that New Orleans was destroyed by Climate Change, Mr McKibben and Mr Friedman help the real culprits “off the hook”, including the extreme lack of organization in the rescue efforts, of which FEMA’s now-legendary incompetence will forever be indicated as the most damning example.

Another point where Mr McKibben will surely regret his words, concerns “the largest story of the year, and indeed the dominant new trendline of our time”. Dire financial straits for the majority of the world’s economies, perhaps? No: “the sharply rising cost of oil”.

Evidently, Mr McKibben submitted the article long before Lehman Brothers went bust alongside the country of Iceland, before it became normal to hear of hundreds of billions of dollars being handled out to avoid a Depression-Mark II; and before the “cost of oil” sharply stumbled back to below $60 a barrel. No fault there.

The real irony is that Mr McKibben comments that Mr Friedman’s book is “out of date even before it’s published”: that is, exactly what McKibben’s article is. Images of motes and beams spring to mind…also, is it true that “we’re [possibly] starting to run out [of oil]”? Well, yes, it is possible. But as the precipituous fall in oil prices has shown, that was not the reason for barrels to be traded at more than $140 just a few weeks ago.

A final consideration on Mr McKibben’s polemic against Mr Friedman’s “optimism”, “the great imperative of the conventional wisdom”: the alternative to which is alas left unexplored.

Is Bill McKibben advocating “pessimism” by any chance? And what kind of pessimism, one asks? Obviously (or not?) McKibben is not the type to elicit apathy and desperation by advocating a frame of mind where everything we do is useless, because too little, and too late. Therefore: if “Global Warming, above all, should give one pause” (emphasis in the original), what is the next action (if there is any) after that pause has finished?

And by the way…the reason for Mr Friedman’s optimism can be found with a simple search in The New York Times archives, in the May 11, 2008 “Mother’s Day” column:

“But every time life knocked [my mother] down, she got up, dusted herself off and kept on marching forward, motivated by the saying that pessimists are usually right, optimists are usually wrong, but most great changes were made by optimists”

And so to you Bill McKibben…what would you rather be? “Usually right”, or able to “[make] great changes”?