22 March 2008

An Argument for Acting on Climate Change (Even if you don't believe in it).

I've thought for some time that even if "global warming" (though I believe a better title to be "Accelerated Climate Change Due to Human Interactions") isn't true, we should still act on it - even if pollution isn't going to change global weather patterns, it still poses massive health risks and destroys the beauty of Nature (I miss being able to see stars!). Not to mention the ever-present need for renewable energy.

As for the argument - I think it's pretty strong - however, it's not true in all cases, such as when applied to God - or Zeus for that matter - which is why it shouldn't be used in apologetics, but never mind that. The major problem it is pushing epistemological boundaries. For the sake of argument, the host assumes a complete lack of knowledge - a "veil of ignorance" if you will, and from their makes it a matter of choosing between the four possible outcomes. From there, he states that two outcomes are good, one is bad, and the other is worse.

It would look something like this:
Let "A" represent the two "happy" outcomes - the bottom left and upper right corners.
Let "B" represent the one bad outcome - the upper left corner.
Let "C" represent the worst outcome - the lower right corner.
Let "D" represent the economic downfall of the world.
Let "E" represent the environmental and health hazards.
Now B = D, while C = D+E.
Therefore, A is preferable to both B and C. And B is preferable to C, because C includes more bad stuff.
And of course, if we face the choice of facing D alone or facing both D and E, E is preferable.

Simple enough.

The problem is that he suggests we are playing by luck. I often get mad about economics because it makes broad assumptions - perfect knowledge chief among them. But when you assume no knowledge, you fall into just as much of a trap. Knowledge allows us to reconsider the probabilities. Before, we were operating under an assumption that for a given action (in this case, applying "green" practices or maintaining the status quo), we had a 50% chance of getting it right and a 50% chance of getting it wrong (in statistical terms, 1:1). With an informed decision, though, we see it differently. With current evidence (I'm not getting into what the evidence suggests, as too many people read it differently), we can go greatly increase our odds (9:1, or 90% to 10%). Because why would we run the risk of scenario B if scenario C had a ten percent chance of occurring? Or why would we risk C if scenario B had a five percent chance of occurring? There is also a point at which we must ask ourselves, "Is the risk worth it?" How likely does C have to be before B becomes preferable? No matter what a political scientist tells you, this point will vary from person to person.

Now, all of this is to say this: I have had no fewer than four classes that have devoted several lectures to climate change - International Affairs, Political Science, Geology, Biology - and I've had many more in which the topic has been addressed. And I would imagine that I'll have a few more before my Bachelor's is complete. Out of all of the classes, they all urged for some type of action. And I have become quite convinced that something is occurring, though I'm still skeptical about how drastic it will be (It's bad, but how bad? I don't think anyone truly knows, but a lot of people claim to...). But this short video still presents the argument better.

Rock on.

1 comment:

DJ Ninjitsu Master J said...


My only comment.