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Can Cheney's "One Percent Doctrine" Apply to Climate Change?

By       Message Richard Wise     Permalink
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In his 2006 book, The One-Percent Doctrine," author Ron Suskind describes Vice President Dick Cheney's approach to fighting terrorism: Quoting from Suskind:

"If there's a one-percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response," Cheney said. He paused to assess his declaration. "It's not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence," he added. "It's about our response." (p. 62)

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The right cheered Cheney's approach. He was keeping us safe, they said, and cost is no object in the quest to keep ussafe. And he was going after bad guys -- "fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here." That he was perhaps going after the wrong bad guys was immaterial.

The left was more cautious. Going after bad guys was good, but they had to be the right bad guys. Efforts to keep us safe could not result in a police state that trampled basic liberties and the constitutional protections every citizen deserves. And cost is an issue: you can't realistically wage two foreign wars while cutting taxes and not expect the deficit to spiral out of control.

In other words, the solutions cannot be more draconian than the problems they purport to solve.

When the topic turns to the climate change, the teams change sides. The left says the science is compelling and we must therefore take positive action now to minimize and eventually reverse the effects that industrial man has had on the environment.

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The right looks for weaknesses in the science and interprets each one as evidence that taking any action at all is not only a waste of time, effort, and money, but also an encroachment on the prerogatives of businesses to make a profit and the rights of individuals to be left alone.

This makes for a stimulating but not fully informed debate. It is not fully informed because it debates only two cells -- one dimension -- of a four-cell logic grid. Inclusion of the other two cells may lead us to different insights and decisions.

Here's what I mean:

Draw a 2 x 2 grid on a piece of paper. Label the two columns as "Science is RIGHT" and "Science is WRONG." This dimension reflects our assessment of the validity of the evidence that now exists regarding climate change and man's effects thereon.

Now label the two rows as "Do SOMETHING" and "Do NOTHING." This dimension reflects the actions we think we should take based on our understanding of what we think we know about anthropogenic global warming and climate change.

Cell A, in the upper left, says the science is right and we should do something now. What we do may be debatable and there are pros and cons to each proposed action, but this cell concludes something must be done.

Cell B, in the upper right, thinks the science is questionable, unsupportable, misguided, or wrong. Therefore, whatever we do (if anything) must be based on some rationale other than climate science. We may say that the science is wrong but cleaner air and water are good in their own right, even if we are not saving the planet.

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Cell C, in the lower right, holds that the science is wrong or misguided and therefore we should do nothing. We should maintain the status quo and move on to other topics. Climate change is dead; we have other, better things to spend our time and money on.

Cell D, in the lower left, believes that even though the science is right, we should still do nothing. It will cost too much; climate change would happen anyway -- man is not responsible for it and is powerless to stop it; and we should just live in the present and let future generations play whatever hands they are dealt. If doom is in their future, so be it.

To this point, the climate change debate has pitted Cell A -- from the left, arguing that the science is right and we must act now -- vs. Cell C -- from the right, holding that the science is bogus and we should do nothing. The result is a vigorous but fairly one-dimensional debate of a multi-dimensional issue.

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Rick Wise is an industrial psychologist and retired management consultant. For 15 years, he was managing director of ValueNet International, Inc. Before starting ValueNet, Rick was director, corporate training and, later, director, corporate (more...)

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