Odds and sods – part 4

An historic take on fusion

The enthusiasm about the latest news on nuclear fusion prompted the Weekend FT (17/18 December) to dig out a famous quote about the prospects of the technology.

“Many sceptics have questioned whether fusion can ever make business sense given the complexities and costs. As Sir Walter Marshall, the former chair of UL’s Atomic Energy Authority, used to say in the 1980s: ‘there will come a time when we get more energy from a fusion reactor as we put it. Then there will come a time when we get more energy out than we put in. However, there will never come a time when we get as much money out as we have put in’,” it said.

Climate anxiety in children and young people

 It is axiomatic that the collection of predominantly old white males making significant decisions about climate change won’t be around to see the results of their decisions and, more importantly, their non-decisions.

But that’s not the case with children and young people.

A cross section of psychiatrists, psychologists, policy, health and environmental academics have combined to undertake the largest international survey (The Lancet December 2022) of climate anxiety in children and young people to date. The state: “It shows that the psychological (emotional, cognitive, social and functional) burdens of climate change are being felt by large proportions of young people around the world.”

The researchers surveyed 10,000 children (aged 16-25) in 10 countries (Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, the UK and the USA (1,000 in each country).

Respondents across all countries were worried about climate change (59% extremely worried and 84% at least moderately worried). More than half were sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty.

Thoughts about climate change negatively affected their daily lives and 75% think the future is frightening while 83% think people have failed the planet.

They rated government responses negatively and, significantly, they felt a greater sense of betrayal than re-assurance.

As the researchers conclude:” Nations must respond to protect the mental health of children and young people by engaging in ethical, collective, policy-based action against climate change.”

Stormier Southern Hemisphere

Nothing illustrates how climate change can turn the world upside down than the risk of the reversal of the Gulf Stream.

Now something else is reversing the normal state of affairs in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres.

A PNAS (5 December) paper by Tiffany Shaw, Osamu Miyawaki and Aaron Donohoe looks at what has been a defining feature of Earth’s present- day climate – the fact that the Southern Hemisphere is stormier than the Northern Hemisphere – resulting in a stronger jet stream and more extreme weather events in the Southern.

Current climate change model projections are consistent with what the researchers find – an even stormier Southern Hemisphere while Northern Hemisphere storminess has not changed significantly because any ocean changes there are opposed by the absorption of sunlight due to the loss of sea ice and snow.

 Another cringe-making non apology

The Long Island Republican, George Santos, won a House of Representatives seat at the mid-terms. Only problem is that he made a series of significant false resume claims he circulated to voters.

This was not just the usual prettied up resumes some politicians and job applicants use. These featured outright lies – lies which were easily disproved. He has now, for instance, acknowledged publicly that he did not graduate from college nor work at certain companies that had been listed in his biography.

He is not heeding calls to resign and, after all, US politicians get elected on a farrago of lies and part-truths all the time.

What’s interesting is that Santos has apologised with a formula which even Scott Morrison would be embarrassed using. Well actually that’s wrong – nothing would embarrass Morrison but nevertheless.

Santos apologised by saying: “if I disappointed anyone by résumé embellishment”. A quick moments reflection can come up with variations on this line in a variety of situations from a variety of politicians. But “disappointing” people because you lied and cheated is probably a new one.

Pluralistic ignorance

 Pluralistic ignorance is a form of false social reality where there is a near universal perception of public opinion which is the opposite of true public sentiment. You can see examples in almost all media on almost any day.

Gregg Sparkman, Nathan Geiger and Elke I. Weber (Nature 23 August) examined whether Americans accurately perceive national concern about climate change and support for mitigating policies.

They found that 80-90% of Americans under-estimate the prevalence of support for major climate change mitigation policies. Actual support is between 66% and 80% while Americans estimate the prevalence to only be between 47-43% on average. In other words, they believe the exact opposite of reality.

The authors also cite international research which shows that in many countries (including Australia) most people believe in human-caused climate change but under-estimate their peers’ level of concern.

It’s not only voters, of course, because they cite similar research of a sample of US Congressional staffers who underestimate the popularity of carbon pollution restrictions. This may be, of course, because many US Congressional staffers confuse public opinion with the opinions of donors and lobbyists.

The authors suggest three reasons for the public beliefs: first, a false consensus where people pay selective attention to other’s beliefs similar to their own and over-estimate the number who agree with them; second, they may reflect an availability heuristic; and/or third the contribution of media consumption if media (eg Murdoch outlets) misrepresent public opinion.

There’s no such thing as bad publicity?

 It is often suggested that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

That’s debateable. But there is a new variation espoused by Zac Martin of the advertising agency TBWA, in Mumbrella,  which suggests that a brand’s controversial conduct may not necessarily impact on its reputation and consumer behaviour – citing VW and Pepsi – and drawing a distinction between ‘doing bad things’ which risk safety and ‘being a dick’. This overlooks, of course, the impact on profits and shareholders but that’s a different argument and study topic.

He concludes … “we must be careful in overstating the extent to which a brand acting a like a dick adversely influences buying behaviour. Unless it breaches the ‘safety’ requirement with something truly heinous, some bad PR and a few negative tweets likely help a brand in the long term. Not harm it.”

Up to a point Lord Copper is a reaction which immediately springs to mind from much of this.

On the other hand, if we didn’t know that Elon Musk takes advice from no one, you might wonder if Zac is in the bunker with him as trusted advisor.

The blog is deeply grateful to John Spitzer, Tony Jaques and others who need to remain unknown for their research and suggestions over 2022. The blog will be back in 2023.