Global Warming Orthodoxy (3/3)

Surya,

Thank you for the intellectually honest response. I think most Thinking people would have to admit, like you have, that my questions are good ones and that they call into question much of the current orthodoxy.

Speaking of religion, your main counter-point reminds me of “Pascal’s Wager.” Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas they stand to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).

The AGW version — aka your argument — is that we ought to live as though the climate apocalypse is real because it’s worth the finite loss of greenhouse gas-emitting pleasures and luxuries to avoid the infinite loss of our one and only planet.

(I know I tortured that a bit to fit. The loss of earth would not be “infinite” in the proper sense of that word, and if Elon Musk has his way we’ll just move on to Mars or some other planet, anyway.)

I could go in many directions to show why the Pascal argument is wrong, but I’ll use a quote from one of my favorite philosophers to make the point:

Some people deal with the uncertainty around the climate prediction models by saying that even if there is only a tiny risk of global catastrophe, we still need to do all we can to avoid it. But that isn’t as wise as it first sounds.
Your life is full of worst-case scenarios that you ignore because you have to. You can’t live a life that manages to the worst-case scenario or else you would never have sex, apply for a job, or drive your car. The worst-case scenario for you EVERY SINGLE DAY involves you getting zika, AIDS, and bird flu right before the brakes on your car fail and you plunge into a ravine.
— Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Okay, so living as if GW orthodoxy is true would not involve celibacy, unemployment or walking everywhere. But it’s worth asking: What would it involve? Or more to the point: What are the tradeoffs?

I’ve already mentioned the man who has dedicated his life to answering this question: Bjorn Lomborg. In a nutshell, his answer is that the tradeoffs aren’t actually worth it. That is, there are several global-scale problems we should be solving ahead of the climate problem, and when we do tackle that problem we will need much better solutions than currently proposed to have any real impact. (Unsurprisingly, the politically driven Paris Accord didn’t even come close.) He could be wrong, of course, but I am not aware of anyone else who has studied the matter and come up with a different cost/benefit analysis. And that’s the critical point.

Pascal’s Wager is ultimately an individual decision. AGW is different because individual action, no matter how dramatic, won’t impact the globe one bit. In other words, your conclusion that the risk of catastrophe is high enough to warrant “better safe than sorry” action is meaningless unless tens of millions of people agree with you and accept the wager as well. Thus, the tradeoffs question is the only real question true believers should be addressing.

Jordan

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