Danger and Uncertainty: What Prudence and Responsibility Require
The "skeptics" about climate change often declare that the science remains uncertain. It makes no sense, therefore, they claim, to undertake certain costs to protect ourselves against uncertain dangers.
Besides the fact that the uncertainty is a good deal less than such climate "skeptics" seem to believe, there's another important point that really should be given greater emphasis in the public exchange with climate-change "skeptics," both genuine and pretend.
We make decisions all the time in the face of uncertainty. Uncertainty is chronic in our lives.
Nonetheless, perfectly rational --and more to the point, RESPONSIBLE-- people pay annual premiums on their life insurance policies, even when the odds of their dying in that year are very low.
Which leads to an important point that the Bushites and other (real or pretend) "skeptics" on climate change never answer: how great does the CHANCE of their being a significant problem with climate change need to be BEFORE ONE DECIDES THAT PRUDENCE REQUIRES ONE TAKE THAT ACTION TO PROTECT AGAINST SUCH CATASTROPHE?
Certainty is surely not required regarding any danger before we understand that we need to protect against such danger. We put on seat belts, we pay extra for air bags, we buy that life insurance, we buy insurance against theft and other losses, we get physical examinations, we build huge military establishments --all costly things that most likely we will not need.
But just in case, the prudent and responsible person and society make the outlay to protect against significant harm.
If it makes sense for a 40 year-old man to lay out good money to pay the premium on a life insurance policy, even if the actuarial tables say there's only a 1 in 200 chance that he'll die during the coming year, surely it makes sense for a society to buy some "insurance" against a climate-catastrophe that is, the science indicates, a whole lot more likely than that.
Cures Are Not ALWAYS Related to Causes
In a second frequently heard -- and also largely bogus-- argument, the "skeptics" say: "OK, so the planet is warming. But it has not been proven that this global warming problem is caused by human activity." Therefore we ought not bother to change what we're doing.
Aside from the accumulating evidence that it IS caused by human activity, the proper response to this argument is, “So what? What difference does it make whether or not the main driver behind the change is human activity?”
And even if human activity is not the major engine of the change, it has been scientifically established that greenhouse gasses have the effect of trapping the earth’s heat. And therefore it’s known, too, that reducing our emission of greenhouse gasses will reduce the warming of the climate.
Whatever is driving the change, the overall impact of such sudden changes in the climate will be seriously damaging to human civilization and to the biosphere. Therefore, whatever we can do to minimize the speed and magnitude of the transformation will be importantly beneficial.
The skeptics’ argument makes as much sense as to say, just because someone's running out of water is because of drought and not because they were wasteful in their use of water, they needn’t bother to conserve what water they’ve got.
It makes as much sense as to say, because it is stormy seas that threaten to capsize someone's little sailboat, and not because they’d loaded the sailboat in an unbalanced way, they needn’t bother to shift their weight to try to keep it afloat.