One thing human beings do to make sense of a complex world is adopt the beliefs and perspectives of like-minded people they trust. We can only learn a limited amount of stuff through direct study; outside those areas, we inevitably rely on cues from others. Sometimes it’s scientists, sometimes religious leaders, pop stars, professional peers, whatever. It’s a necessary heuristic, without which none of us could operate.
A less benign propensity is known as “motivated reasoning,” which refers to what we do when we seek out evidence (and disregard counter-evidence) to support our preexisting beliefs. One sees this in pronounced form among cultists, conspiracy theorists, and Fox News viewers, but everyone is guilty at various times.
It can be very difficult, especially for people called upon to opine and analyze every day, to know when the line between trust and tribalism has been crossed. Such things are easy to see in others, but difficult to see in ourselves.
All of which is a long-winded way of admitting that I was guilty of some pretty egregious motivated reasoning on the blog the other day, and in the process slighted someone who didn’t deserve it. I want to cop to that and apologize for my douchery.
In a post on energy efficiency (well, an addendum to the post), I touched on the “rebound effect,” whereby increased energy efficiency lowers prices and increases consumption of energy services, thereby wiping out some or all of the energy savings. Among other things, I dismissed a report on the subject from The Breakthrough Institute as “crap.” In truth, I had barely skimmed the report. I was merely repeating what I’d been told by others who share my general outlook (which is pro-efficiency and thus suspicious of rebound talk). It was was a crude bit of tribalism and both unfair and unkind to the author of the report, Jesse Jenkins, who I know to be a dedicated and intelligent guy. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
This is not to say Jesse’s take on the rebound effect is right or that its critics are wrong, just that I’m not familiar enough with the academic research on the subject (reviewed in the BTI report and this report commissioned by the E.U.) to make that judgment, certainly not in such a sweeping and casual way.
Anyway, enough about that. Read Jesse’s report, or at least the FAQ about it. Then read the CO2 Scorecard responses here and here. Then if you’re a glutton for punishment, read Harry Saunders’ rebuttal here. You will find much to mull over and very few simple answers. I’ll have some broad thoughts and questions on the rebound effect in a subsequent post.