Yesterday ABC aired a two hour special “Earth 2100,” a “worst case scenario” of global warning disaster: The scenarios in Earth 2100 are not a prediction of what will happen but rather a warning about what might happen. They are based on the work of some of the world’s top scientists and experts. … Though there is some disagreement about the specifics, there is widespread agreement among the 50-plus experts we spoke to in the course of our 18 months working on this show that if we do not change course in the near future, the collapse of our civilization is a real possibility.
So do you have a number for the probability of C02 induced warming leading the collapse of civilisation? Can you sketch the calculation by which you would arrive at a believable estimate?
Writers hardly need plot consciously! This sort of manipulation doesn't need teaching - the worst authors know that romance is what should happen to the good guys in the interesting foreground of a story. And for people who haven't thought about it a second's affect confirms that a corporation selling water is a fine bad guy. Who thinks of nit-picking whether the policy is inefficient except the kinds of geeks who check whether the technological background to sci-fi or the historical accuracy of period dramas is realistic?
Robin, Eliezer - If this were a real event, all sorts of complications might be present. A price hike meant to produce capital for investment might be scuttled by a populist conspiracy theory. Or a venal monopoly might opportunistically extract more revenue from its captive consumer base, with events providing a pretext. But in the transcript provided we have only Lucy's voice, telling us that the water companies increased prices using Tucson "as an excuse". There's nothing there about investment, or even about increased demand, and the interpretive interpolation which supposes that Lucy is wrong and the companies were acting reasonably is introducing a whole subplot for which there is no textual evidence.
Beyond the narrow question of how to read this particular piece of fiction objectively, I see two further issues: (1) is its image of the world true to reality in this regard, and (2) when is it truly the right course of action to raise prices. And I would think the answers are (1) yes, this sort of thing happens, and (2) not always, even when you could get away with it.
To be more specific, the water companies made advance investments in anticipation of the price going up later. This advance investment benefits the nation when the disaster actually occurs; it means people get to drink, instead of being thirsty. If they can't raise prices, they have no incentive to invest in advance against the shortage, and the nation goes thirsty.
I really wonder what the fundamental bar is to seeing the obvious - what is this basic Pons Asinorum of economic literacy. I guess our hunter-gatherer intuitions say something along the lines of "You should prepare for the disaster in advance, but then freely share some of your hoard" with the benefit coming by way of status gains, everyone being impressed by your wisdom, more mating opportunities, etcetera. I'll bet that if one town had prepared well, and shared most of the extra water, but still kept enough for themselves for their residents to take luxurious baths, that would be "allowed"... A lot of economic illiteracy seems to revolve around the idea of money in particular as dirty, quantitative profit as something much more disgusting than other kinds of benefits, monetary inegalitarianism (in excess of your own level) as especially bad inegalitarianism, and in times of (hypothetical) moral stress all these effects increase.
(I've read a few dozen books about writing fiction and that advice isn't in any of them.)
It's amazing to me that these writers, presumably unconsciously, followed Robin's script so closely in terms of the real purpose of our holding political views. Many readers have been offended by and resistant to his claim that our deeply and seemingly sincerely held political beliefs are mere posturing, mechanisms to signal group loyalty and competitive fitness, ultimately aimed at success in the mating game. And here in this show we find this normally hidden effect laid out openly, manifest for all to see.
I can't help wondering if the writers really did tap unconsciously into a deep well of hidden knowledge about human emotions, or whether a more cynical and manipulative dynamic was at work. It's such a perfect combination of bad policy and good sex. I wonder if this trick of successful emotional manipulation is a widely taught element of the writer's craft: that for a character to be sympathetic, if they are involved in protests, they have to be successful at romance as a result.
It would have made sense to have a villain in the story, but that should have been an agent who violated the key moral of the story, which is that we need to prepare for and prevent global warming. The strange thing is to pick a villain who did the right thing. When the whole nation gets afraid about water supplies because Tuscon ran out of water, that is a natural increase in demand, which by supply and demand should raise prices, which is the right thing to have happen.
If the last paragraph is supposed to be glib, I guess I understand what they mean by an economist's sense of humor. If it isn't, well then I simply despair.
You might complain the story is unrealistic, but I only said that Lucy was wrong given the story as written.
If this makes sense, then you should have held the trajectory of the whole program as accurate, which you don't. If you think the premise to the story is stupid, which it is, don't hold to it and pretend like you're offering a real analysis of investment in desalinization.
Unless you like spending your time explaining to children that Santa Claus doesn't exist because he lacks incentives.
Robin: "The story complains the world did too little to prepare, but for the one example shown of firms preparing in hope of profits, the story celebrates stealing those profits... The obvious explanation, I think, is that viewers know deep down that what really matters to youthful protesters is not policy consequences but mating opportunities..."
Um, I think the obvious explanation is that the water companies of San Diego 2030 are portrayed as thugs! - jacking up the water price because the nearby situation in Tucson gives them a chance to do so.
To have a fictional narrative adopt an approving and celebratory tone regarding the defeat of its villains is a dog-bites-man sort of story. It does not require special explanation.
As for "what really matters to youthful protesters"... given that mental and physical vigor are generally considered attractive attributes, it would seem that if young people do anything requiring unusual effort, and happen to form romantic attachments along the way, a mating-mind theorist will be able to say "aha! it was really about the pursuit of mating opportunities".
A median of the 50 experts’ probability estimates (of a scenario this bad or worse) would have been fine. Many of us are willing to chance a one in a billion possibility, but not a one in ten possibility; so what exactly is a “real” or “very real” possibility?
Is there any epidemiology to show that a median of expert opinions accurately predicts scientific truths? That's probably not clear. A median of expert opinions will predict the outcome of basketball games pretty well. But what about questions at the highly uncertain end of science? "When will the next Earthquake occur?" "How long until an asteroid of X size impacts the Earth?" "What will be the long term relationship between temperature, humidity and precipitation if X tons of carbon are emitted?"
I can't see a reason to care what the experts say about the last question unless there's some epidemiology from similar issues to show that the median opinion is somehow predictive.
I think that is one of the biases underlying the whole movement. It doesn't really matter what the odds are, or specifically what the dangers are of global warming. The fact that we don't have a plan is downright terrifying. Lacking a plan, to focus on worst case scenarios just makes sense.
Tomasz, it's interesting that your discussion of the oil "oligopoly" doesn't include the 20 years of sub-par returns they experienced before the shock. If you take a volatile industry & ignore all the down-times, you're bound to come up with a conspiratorial view.
As far as the show goes, I think it is telling that the narrator says,"In San Diego, they were ahead of the game. In 2009 they had starting building huge desalination plants..."I don't think the authors or target audience of this script have any notion of markets addressing long term needs. I think the implication is that "San Diego" put together a plan, and in this non-market worldview, corporations are simply parasites on the plan, buying their way into lucrative contracts which they use to rob the populace.I just don't think the believers watching this show have a single neuron devoted to decentralized market processes that might lead to this sort of development. It's not so much that they would disagree with the idea of how a market would work here, they just have a worldview that allows them to avoid thinking about it.
Do you really doubt that instituting price controls on desalinated water ultimately leads to fewer people entering the desalination market?
It's worse than that. The possibility of price controls leads to fewer people entering the desalination market. From the point of view of somebody living in 2030, it makes perfect sense to steal the plants, since after all they are already built. From the point of view of somebody living in 2015, it makes no sense to invest in building the plants. If the demand for water never materializes, you will lose out. If demand for water becomes extreme, you will still only be allowed to make "ordinary" profits.
The obvious explanation, I think, is that viewers know deep down that what really matters to youthful protesters is not policy consequences but mating opportunities, which Lucy realized in full.
And churches are great places to find reliable mates.
@Tomasz: Do you really doubt that instituting price controls on desalinated water ultimately leads to fewer people entering the desalination market?
If so, here is Paul Krugman on rent control:
Why so oblivious? The obvious explanation, I think, is that viewers know deep down that what really matters to youthful protesters is not policy consequences but mating opportunities, which Lucy realized in full. And I suspect a similar reason is behind why no probability was offered. The show isn’t about helping people make a reasoned calculation, but about getting a repented-at-church-and-feeling-much-better moral purity experience.Makes me glad I'm not interested in mating opportunities or being moral.