Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Thought on Self-Sacrifice

As most of my readers know, I sometimes like to watch nature shows. Over the years I have noticed that there is one practice that is not found in the minds or behaviors of any living organism except man, the practice of self-sacrifice. If you look at single-celled creatures you will never see say an amoeba sacrifice itself for the sake of a paramecium or even another amoeba. It just doesn't happen. Over in the plant world it's the same way. You'll never see a Rose bush sacrificing itself for a Petunia or giving up its thorns so some needy animal can eat it. Nor will you see an Oak tree sacrificing itself for an Elm or any other being.

More of the same can be seen in the animal world. A worm does not sacrifice itself to a bird or to anything else. Cats don't sacrifice themselves to dogs or vice-versa. And so it goes throughout the realms of all livings things. There is a complete absence of self-sacrificial behavior. It's rather obvious that nature did not evolve such a behavior in any of its organisms precisely because that behavior is antithetical to the organism's survival. It is so for man as well.

If you look closely at the behaviors of all of these organisms you will readily see that every action they take is a self-interested action, that is, an action determined by their natures to sustain and/or enhance the organisms' lives. It follows then, that man, being an organism too, must have a specific nature which can guide his actions in a similiar self-interested way. It was Aristotle who correctly identified man as the rational animal but it was Ayn Rand who clarified what that implied and identified a self-interested behavior (moral code) proper to a rational animal, rational self-interest, i.e. a non-sacrificial way of life.

But man is unlike the animals in that he must choose his behavior. If man can choose to adopt such a non-sacrificial code, he too will become at peace with his nature. No living organism choses to act against its nature. Only man has that ability and he has spent most of his history doing so with self-sacrifice. There is a non-sacrificial way of life proper to man's nature, rational self-interest, and man needs to explore it now.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Shark Week Special, Discovery Channel

I have been asked to post a plug about a Discovery Channel special. None of the links provided work so I'll just post this short message for the benefit of my nature loving readers.
SHARK WEEK will celebrate its 20th Anniversary on Discovery Channel this summer with top-rated shark programs from the past – including eight all-new specials - filling the network’s entire weekly schedule from 9AM to 3AM (ET/PT) between Sunday, July 29 and Saturday, August 4.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Obesity Magic Update

On Thursday 7/26/07 I posted on a study of obesity magic that proclaimed obesity was contagious from one person to another. I thought that some media probably would run with it but most wouldn't. Wrongo. I now find via Junksfoodcience.com that the majority of media are embracing and extolling it along with other intellectuals. (hat tip Junkscience.com.) I highly recommend reading the whole article. Host Sandy Szwarc reports:
Within hours of the press releases, a massive, well-orchestrated marketing campaign was off and running. By dinnertime yesterday, Google noted 300 nearly identical articles had been published about it and there were 500 by this morning. Television and radio reporters have been gushing over it, with MSNBC reporting that having a fat friend can make you fat and be downright dangerous for your health.
I do agree with Ms. Szwarc that this study is a prescription for a campaign of moral and social condemnation against people who are overweight. But why would the media rush en mass to endorse the spread of such obvious scientific voodoo?

In her essay "An Untitled Letter" in the book "Philosophy: Who Needs It" Ayn Rand was speaking of trial balloons attacking the concept justice when she wrote:

"It is a conspiracy, not of men, but of basic premises--and the power directing it is logic: if, at the desperate stage of a losing battle, some men point to a road logically necessitated by their basic premises, those who share the premises will rush to follow." (p-103)

I think this principle is at work regarding this study's popularity as well. The news media obviously shares at least some of the principles of this study like for example, the appeal to collectivism, the notion that the individual has no merit or value outside of some collective to which he can be assigned; the desire to dispense with causality by blatantly regarding associations and correlations as causal connections with no need to identify a causal mechanism. The attempt to destroy causality allows junk scientists to substitute anything they want for a causal connection and most often this is nothing more than their own biases and feelings.

Such scientists like those who wrote this study (and their supporters in the media) are obediently following the philosophic ideas of Immanuel Kant who said that the purpose of science is to study only "appearances." So if something can be made to "appear" to be true, like a correlation or association, then viola, it is true. According to junkfood science however, the study wasn't even a valid study but a computer animated virtual reality. Why would modern scientists have such an affinity for virtual realities? They can generate "appearances" at will.

This is a good example of the wrongness of the notion that philosophic principles have no effect on the real world, and why I agree with ARI that nothing less than a philosophic revolution will alter the course the world is currently on. This does not mean everyone has to become an objectivist, only that there needs to be more of them in academia. How many? I don't know. Just more.

(A copy of Philosophy: Who Needs It can be purchased at most book stores or here.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Two Posts: Obesity Magic and Nestle Wins

Thursday's Detroit News carries a New York Times news article by Gina Kolata titled:
"Obesity spreads through social networks, study says." The first paragraph says:
Obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus, researchers reported Wednesday. When one person gained weight, their close friends tended to gain weight, too.
Exactly how obesity spreads from person to person is not explained, but a feeble attempt is made late in the article. For now it just happens like magic.

Before going any further, I want to remind my readers that studies usually report risk in terms of relative risk (rr) which is just the difference between two study groups and should not be confused with actual risk, and that rrs of less than 200% are considered statistically insignificant, caused by hidden biases, confounding factors or plain chance. The article continues:
...people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased a person's chances of becoming obese by 57 percent.
Obviously, 57% is way less than 200% so statistical significance doesn't seem to be a priority with this study. What seems to be important is the strength of the magic regarding friends but no one else.
There was no effect when a neighbor gained or lost weight, however, and family members had less influence than friends.
It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away, the influence remained. And the greatest influence of all was between close mutual friends. There, if one became obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese, too.
171% might look scary but it's still less than 200%. What's really impressive though is "It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away, the influence remained." Now that's a powerful influence! Still, what is the nature of this influence? How does it work?
Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School and a principal investigator in the new study, says one explanation is that friends affect each others' perception of fatness. When a close friend becomes obese, obesity may not look so bad.

"You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you," Christakis said.
So the Dr. is admitting that he believes--and thinks everyone else believes--in social metaphysics. Value is to be determined by what others value. (Carrie at ED Bites has a good post on the inanity of the study apparently from a Washington Post version.) Now we get to the feeble attempt at causality:
The investigators say their findings can help explain why Americans have become fatter in recent years -- each person who became obese was likely to drag some friends with them.
See what's under attack here? Choice, volition, free will and eventually freedom. So if you chose a lifestyle by which you gain weight, those choices magically "drag" others into your sinful, evil ways. Your choices then, become "influences" that compel the actions of others. Or, if you are fat and prefer the victim status, your fatness is not your fault, the anti-social choices of others made you do it. Actually though, the study says that what made you, as an individual, fat doesn't matter.
Their analysis was unique, Christakis said, because it moved beyond a simple analysis of one person and his or her social contacts, and instead examined an entire social network at once and what could have an influence on a person's weight.
Translation: since we can't prove a causal connection between individuals, we'll just dispense with that necessity and infer social "influences" to be the same as causation. What's good for you will not be determined by studying you but by studying the herd to which you belong.

One of the manifestations of Ayn Rand's identification: "Governmental encouragement does not order men to believe that the false is true, it merely makes them indifferent to the issue of truth or falsehood." is that scientific tests and experiments designed to prove (or disprove) causality are being replaced by correlations and associations and links. Why? The thing called evidence is just well, irrelevant.

What is really sad though, is that this study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, supposedly, one of the most prestigious journals on the planet.
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I really don't like to leave my readers in a pessimistic mood so I thought I'd close with this piece of good or at least hopeful news. The same edition of the News carries a story "Nestle wins fight over water." For me the key passages are:
The Michigan Supreme Court effectively upheld the right of the bottler of Ice Mountain spring water to pump from four wells in Mecosta County in a decision that may make it harder to raise environmental claims generally.

The 4-3 ruling held that two families and an environmental group, Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, cannot challenge Nestle's pumping operations on waterways the groups don't own or use.
Yes!!! Now if we can just get this logic applied to all the green NGOs.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Grandpa's Thoughts on Perceptual Development

As a grampa who has been babysitting for what is now a 2 yr old granddaughter and a 1 yr old grandson, I have had time to observe behavior and ponder the why of it. One behavior seems to take place when the baby can crawl but not yet walk. It involves crawling over to a box or basket of toys and taking them out one at a time and dropping them on the floor.

Back when I was raising my own sons, I noticed this behavior and observed it was always one-way. The baby never felt a desire to pick them up and put them back. At that time, I just dismissed it as a nonsensical behavior that babies--who cannot think--just do, without rhyme, reason or logic. I now think this evaluation was in error.

What made me challenge this notion was the fact that I knew babies often jabbered a lot making incoherent sounds for no apparent reason. I know for example, that they are not trying to communicate anything to me, nor are they intentionally trying to exercise their vocal cords and tongue and lip movements in order to develop their speaking skills. But is there an unapparent reason? I think so and I think it is the same for emptying out a toy box as for jabbering. They do it simply because they can, then because they can, they want to, and further, it is this desire that motivates the action. The process is reciprocal. The act of doing reinforces his implicit knowledge that "he can" which triggers the desire "to do" and so on. It's all about cognitive efficacy, about gaining some modicum of control over his world, though only on the perceptual level.

So the little guy is in fact performing a goal directed action. It is not however an existential but a cognitive one: mental efficacy. This then would explain why he has no desire to put the toys back: that would be a practical, existential goal directed action which he is not yet ready for.

So now when I see him empty out his toy box, I know he is not trying to create an empty one, nor does he desire to create a mess in the middle of the floor. Such concepts as mess and order and disorder have no meaning for him and won't until he learns to speak. No, he is just trying to gain some mastery of this world and himself.

Admittedly, this evaluation of mine will undergo some refinement in the future. There are implications I have not yet fully thought about. For example, does the baby perceive relationships such as the difference between 'in' the toy box and 'out' of it? I think so. Once, before he could crawl, my grandson was sitting on a blanket with a few toys. One of them was slightly out of reach. He grabbed the blanket and pulled it towards him bringing the toy within reach. I marvelled at this bit of awareness on his part. But was he perceiving relationships or the consequences of an action which, later in life, he will reclassify as cause and effect? I'm not sure.

Lately, in concert with mommy and daddy, I've been trying to redirect his attention somewhat. Once when he was emptying out his toy box, I laid on the floor next to him and spoke the word "out" every time he took a toy out. When he was done, I began putting the toys back in saying the word "in" every time. Nothing came of it then. He just looked at me with a blank stare as if to say "toys don't go in toy boxes, are you crazy?" Later we tried this again. This time he took one of his stuffed animals out of the toy box then put it back, then out again. This pleased me because he now knows that there is an opposite direction he can do and this to me, is progress.

In conclusion, I have determined that in babydom, the operative cognitive process is "I can, therefore I will." It is then of course, up to adults to redirect this force towards productive endeavors and away from harm. So if you have a little tyke indulging in this behavior, try to remember that he or she is really not seeking to trash your living room and is not being bad, rather, is being good, very good.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

UAW's Gettelfinger Praised for Hypocrisy

Monday's 7/16/07, Detroit Free Press has a front page article titled "Square Dealer Drives UAW." The subtitle is "Talks shape up as stiff test of flexibility." I know editors like to show off their ability to formulate a play on words but what is a stiff test of flexibility? Can there be a flexible test of flexibility? Oh well, rather than stress my brain on that one I went into the story. The first three paragraphs say:
United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger had tarred private-equity firms as "strip and flip" artists, more interested in dismantling companies than in helping them grow.

But when parts supplier Dana Corp. struggled in bankruptcy this year and threatened to cancel its UAW contracts, Gettelfinger didn't hesitate. He recruited Centerbridge Partners, a private-equity fund based in New York, to rescue Dana in a deal that would preserve workers' jobs and health care coverage.

Dana announced the deal earlier this month.

The Free Press has learned that Gettelfinger and the UAW, not the company, invited the private-equity investors to the table. Dana confirmed the details.
So how did Freep business writer John Gallagher interpret this obvious two-faced positioning by the union leader?
That Gettelfinger could pivot from bashing private-equity firms to initiating a major deal with one illustrates the shrewd, tough, practical approach to saving automotive jobs and benefits that has marked Gettelfinger's five-year tenure as president of the union.
So bashing someone as evil and destructive of jobs then relying on them to save jobs is "shrewd", "practical" and the sign of a "square dealer." Ayn Rand was right, the American public has no intellectual leadership whatsoever.

To me this lengthy article is a puff piece designed to sell Mr. Gettelfinger as a heroic figure to the workers, especially since negotiations with the big 3 start on the 20th. This is done to help the UAW deliver the labor vote to the Democratic party, and to do that, it is absolutely essential the anti-capitalist, anti-business hatred be maintained. As long as the intellectuals team up to convince workers that businessmen are their enemy, they will be able to persuade workers it is in their interest to pay protection money to the unions of the world.

I'm not saying unions can't be of value. They can but that would be a topic for another post. The bottom line is that fostering a hatred of capitalism is not in the interest of any worker, and a true "square dealer" would know and admit this.

(For an example of the kind of intellectual leadership the masses are getting, Andrew Dalton at Witch Doctor Repellent has a good fisking of a British witch doctor wannabe.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Child Obesity=Parental Neglect

Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science has a horror story about an 8yr old British girl who was taken from her parents because she is 1 foot taller and fatter than her peers and was made a ward of the state. Evidently, obesity is now going to be classified as a form of parental child abuse according to the linked Times Online article which says in part:
There are no guidelines for social service about the issue. Anne Ridgway, chairman of the Cumbria Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: “Parental behaviour that leads to childhood obesity can be a form of neglect. But a child’s weight becomes a safeguarding issue only in extreme cases ? and thankfully they are very rare.”
I suppose deliberately overfeeding a child could be a form of abuse or neglect but there is no mention in the articles that Ms. Ridgway has any evidence of this. I get the impression that she is just assuming that because the child is fat, it is automatically the parents' fault.

Now I'm all in favor of laws against child abuse provided there exists objective evidence of same. No parent has the right to violate his child's right to life. But as any parent can testify, a child with cuts and bruises is not prima facie evidence of child beatings. Nor is a fat child proof of overfeeding. You'd think that the fact that this child was 1 foot taller than her peers just might be a red flag that something other than obesity was at work. But no. Obesity is the problem and the parents are the villains. As Ms. Szwarc shows, no study has ever demonstrated that obesity causes tallness. As my masthead says, government encouragement makes facts irrelevant.

Even more sinister is the fact that removing an 8yr old child from his or her family can be a very traumatic experience, especially if the family atmosphere was a loving one, and there was no evidence in the article to show it wasn't. Obviously then, mental health must be sacrificed to purely physical concerns. Let the child be a mental basket case as long as she's a thin one.

Admittedly, this is happening in Britain which doesn't have any allegiance to individual rights which means, they rely on a benevolent ruler. They're getting what they asked for when they agreed that their children belong to the state. What is scary though, is that what is happening in Europe now will be tried here in America next. The social engineering dictator wannabes can't wait to get that kind of power. Like global warming, obesity is just another tool to get that power.

Great Pictures

Gus Van Horn has some beautiful pictures of Ouray Colorado which is said to be the inspiration for Galt's Gulch in Ayn Rand's famous novel Atlas Shrugged. Click on the pictures for a larger more beautiful sight.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Slow Blogging for a little while.

I've been busy lately and blogging may be sporadic during August. But for now I recommend the following:

Carrie, (a recovering anorexic), at ED Bites has a good post on how the media is in lock step with the government science establishment position on the so-called obesity crises. And for more on that subject, Junkscience.com.

Jonathan Lowe at Gusts of Hot Air posts a study showing Greenland's Ice Sheet to be more resilient than previously thought. For more on global cooling see Ice Age Now.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Problem Solved

Ok. I now know what a widget is. Seems I've been using them all along just not knowing they were called widgets.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lost In Cyber Space

As you may have noticed, my blog is not quite its old self. That's because I've been trying to make it a tad better, moving things around and adding a few things. As is sometimes the case, I do make it better--after I've made it worse. sigh

When I tried to publish my new look, my template came out the wrong color. So, I re-brought up my original template and when I did, my blog roll and a few other things, disappeared. So now I'm slowly putting my blog roll back together. The nice people (who know what they're doing) at blogger help told me I forgot to save my widgets. (Whatever they are)

I make this notice mainly so my regular readers won't think I booted them off the blog roll. So, when I'm done with the roll, and you see your blog is not there, which it was before, send me an email or even a note in the comments. Now I'm off to find out what is a widget and how to save them.

In the meantime, and for your reading pleasure, Myrhaf has a good post of the real psychological meaning of 'recycling'.

And Grant Jones at the Dougout has an essay on the disgrace that is the Just War Theory that Bush is wedded to. Grant also has a review of a book which purports to show a group of Vietnam era journalists, including David Halberstam, were not heros.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Positive Round Up

This round up will not discuss or link to any bad news or anything disgusting or negative. In the spirit of the Fourth of July week, only heroic and positive things count.

First, The Pittsburgh Tribune reports that Exxon Mobil CEO Mr. Rex Tillerson stood up to green activists at a recent shareholders meeting essentially telling them to get lost. (hat tip Junkscience.com) Reporter Bill Steigerwald relates:
Exxon Mobil, Tillerson reminded everyone, was in the business of finding, drilling, refining and selling oil and natural gas -- not in the business of risking money to save the planet from bogeymen. Anyway, he said wisely, what's wrong with a little debate on climate change?
One can only wish that other CEOs would follow his moral leadership.
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Grant Jones at The Dougout has a 2 minute video of people restoring old airplanes in a giant hanger/museum.
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Dennis Chamberland and crew have a few nice things to say about America's birthday. In fact, just go to his blog and scroll down for updates of various human productive endeavors.
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Dennis at Dennis blog recommends the book "The Great Bridge" about the Brooklyn Bridge. Dennis tells us:
Like the bridge's web of suspension cables, rich human stories are woven into it as well, deeper than the cables' roots in the bedrock under the twin gothic towers. To really see the bridge, read this book. Look at the spirit of man in action.
I like the painting of the bridge Dennis used also.
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If your eyes need a rest from all the fireworks, then soothe and revitalize them by going to:

Dianne Durante has some new photos of structure and architecture taken on a casual stroll through part of Manhattan. In fact, I recommend just visiting her home page, scrolling down and enjoying even more interesting photos, even checking out her archives.
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There are more good photos of art at Lee Sanstead's blog.
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The Gallery of Quent Cordair has a collection of fine artists which I recommend.
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More art can be had at Schuylkill Academy here.
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And if you're looking for a philosophy of life, that is, an overall guide to living a happy, productive life on this Earth, I highly recommend visiting ARI.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Children In Charge

In a recent post I wrote about the evils of the smoking ban and how it sidetracks science from looking for the causes that prevent millions of smokers from getting lung cancer. As a adjunct to that post, I present an excellent post by John Brignell at Number Watch. In my post I did not mention any alleged benefits of smoking. I only decried the utter falsehood of the "premature deadly" claims made by the alarmists. But Mr. Brignell quotes Mr. Woodrow Wyatt as saying:
It is well known that smoking , particularly at work, relieves stress, and to outlaw it increases demands on hospital beds. Even the US Surgeon General, in 1964, recognised that Parkinson’s disease (a degenerative disorder of the nervous system) occurred at around half the rate among smokers. In the International Journal of Epidemiology , in 1991, a review of 11 studies showed that non-smokers suffered 50 per cent more Alzheimer’s disease than smokers. And researchers at Erasmus University Medical School , Rotterdam , found that more non-smokers had early-onset dementia than smokers.
He also quotes Dr. James LeFanu:
In the Daily Telegraph, Dr. James Le Fanu wrote: “Smokers have a 50 per cent reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and the more smoked, the greater the protection.” The New England Journal of Medicine. in 1985, reported that endometrial cancer of the womb occurs at around 50 per cent the rate among smokers as non-smokers. Colon cancer and ulcerative colitis also seem to be about 30 and 50 per cent respectively less frequent among smokers according to articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and in the New England Journal of Medicine, in 1981 and 1983. The American government’s first Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has found that osteo-arthritis is five times less likely to occur among heavy smokers than non-smokers.
Now I've not checked any of these studies myself so I can't vouch for their accuracy. Nor am I saying that if you fear any of these maladies you should take up smoking. Not at all. This is just another example of the many things anti-tobacco alarmists refuse to consider.

In reading Mr. Brignell's post, I couldn't help but notice, when he pointed out how other British problems seem to take a back seat to the smoking ban, the obvious performance of the altruistic ritual 'it's not for me but for others I do this' on the part of the anti-smoking alarmists. And as I considered how critical it is for our culture to perform that ritual regardless of results, a frightening image came to mind.

Did you ever see a toddler trying to be good to a second toddler? The first toddler tries to give a toy or piece of candy to a second toddler who doesn't want it. Not willing to accept rejection, the first toddler tries to force the gift onto the second toddler. But the second toddler resists and now animosity springs forth. It is usually at this point that a mature adult steps in and stops this process knowing that both toddlers have yet to learn a more rational way of dealing with each other.

What is scary is that when I look at the first toddler I see our current intellectual and political leadership trying to force their idea of the good. When I look at the second toddler I see the American public bewildered, frustrated and anxiously waiting for the mature adult to step in and stop the madness. Sadly, (Objectivism aside) no such adult is coming. The intellectual toddlers are at the helm.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

IPCC Betrays Science

Tony Gillard at Spiked magazine has a lengthy but insightful article on the history of the global warming issue. Although he doesn't write from a philosophical perspective, his time line of who, what and when, I found to be very informative. His main theme seems to be twofold, that the scientific debate on global warming is anything but over and the IPCC is a political organization more than scientific.

He states three issues he wants to explore and adds a caveat:
How much of the global warming issue is shaped by new scientific discoveries, and how much by broader cultural and political trends?

How has the interaction between scientists, international institutions, governments, media and activists influenced the development of climate change policy?

Was the establishment of the IPCC a visionary act or an expression of political implosion in the West?

This essay does not attempt to provide a comprehensive history of the global warming issue; rather its aim is to contribute to the start of a critique. For whatever the facts about climate change can tell us, they do not tell us that the debate is over.
While he does explore these mostly from a practical viewpoint, he does brush up against the issue of loss of sovereignty when he says:
This trend towards ‘international’ policy making, where the authority of national governments is diminished in relation to institutions such as the United Nations or the European Union, is evident today whenever a controversial issue arises, from the legitimacy of the Iraq war to the development of genetically modified (GM) crops or any number of issues related to the human rights agenda.
One could probably do an entire essay on how "the authority of national governments is diminished" is the goal of the UN, and so far, mission accomplished. But if one were ever in doubt about the fact that this GW movement is all about forced sacrifices as a way of life there is this quote from Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC:
‘It is of great satisfaction that this report for the first time has dealt with lifestyle and consumption patterns as an important means by which we can bring about mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. So of course you can look at technologies, you can look at policies, but what is an extremely powerful message in this report is the need for human society as a whole to start looking at changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns.’
Of course, "changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns" are to be achieved by force. We know that this is the goal because, in a quote a few paragraphs earlier, Mr. Pachauri says:
‘It is essentially the scientists and the experts who are the ones who assess and provide the knowledge but this is something that is discussed and debated by the governments and since we accept everything by consensus this has the implication that whatever is accepted here has the stamp of acceptance of all the governments of the world.’
So science now seeks its seal of approval, its raison d'etre, its source of truth, not from reality but from an approval by institutions which have a legal monopoly of the use of force (governments). I cannot think of a greater betrayal of science than to put it (the mind) to serve at the pleasure of force.