I saw an interesting video on YouTube regarding Global Warming called, How It All Ends. The science teacher who created these videos suggests we look at GW from the angle of risk management and proceeds to break the problem up into four possibilities. He creates a chart with two rows and two columns. The two rows represent whether GW will happen or not. And the two columns represent whether we take significant action to stop GW or not.
Thus, there are four possibilities:
1) We take action but GW doesn’t happen. The risk here is that the economic hardship of fighting GW could lead to a global depression.
2) We take action and GW DOES happen. In this case we will be glad we DID take action.
3) We don’t take action and GW doesn’t happen. In which case, life goes on as normal.
4) We don’t take action and GW DOES happen. And here is the worst case, where mankind devolves into famine, war and economic hardship.
This teacher’s videos have been seen approximately ten million times and now he has a book coming out in June. I liked his logical approach, so here is my logical response.
Ten logical problems with the chart:
1) Even if GW is true and we do nothing, there is no way to know HOW BAD things will get. Hurricanes may NOT actually get worse. Who can say for sure? Yes, water may rise, but at such a slow rate that we have time to deal with it. The same can be said for forced relocations, droughts, water shortages, etc. How bad things get largely depends on how QUICKLY GW changes the climate. GW may not be near as bad — if it simply takes decades to happen.
2) Even if GW is true and we do nothing, not everything will be bad. Plants thrive on CO2. GW may actually help us to grow MORE food than ever — just not in the places we have been used to. The point is that you have to balance the GOOD with the BAD that will happen. Some of this is simply a question of how much it will cost us to ADAPT to climate changes – not how much the on-going costs will be – which may be minor when all things are considered.
3) Even if GW is true and it’s true that GW will trigger a climatic tipping point, it is quite possible that we’ve already gone TOO FAR and such a tipping point is now inevitable. In such a case, why waste precious resources trying to stop the inevitable? Better to use our resources to deal with whatever bad events happen due to GW. In other words, the box that shows us taking action and thankful that we did may well be an illusion.
4) Even if GW pushes us to a tipping point, if that tipping point takes decades to play out, then we still have far more time to deal with those consequences than an economic tipping point that could realistically be tipped in a matter of HOURS — if the global economy is stressed too greatly by the actions taken to prevent GW. Economic collapses can happen overnight. A GW tipping point provides MUCH more time to deal with by comparison.
5) We’re asked to choose a column, but how do we assess the risk of those two columns? The risk of chaos and war are very real with an economic depression. Moreover, global depression could easily HALT all attempts at stopping GW allowing it happen anyway. Why in the world would we want to pick the column that could cause BOTH column’s disasters to happen? Think about that!
6) The chart simplifies between “significant” action and “insignificant”. But what if there were actions we could do that would reduce GW significantly AND cost us relatively little? Nuclear energy is a clear alternative that would be cheap enough to employ AND would drastically cut down on our CO2 emissions. Nuclear is a “significant” action that WON’T create a disaster — making a perfect “middle” column.
7) Why not WAIT to take action? The longer we wait, the more advanced our technologies will get — in many fields. Drought may become meaningless if we can desalinize sea water cheaply enough. So why not wait and apply our best technologies as problems come up? The sooner we take action, the more COSTLY it will be — given our more primitive technologies. In the mean time, create X-prizes to spur real innovation and breakthroughs.
8 ) Some actions have benefit regardless of GW. Reducing dependence on Middle-East oil could fundamentally alter the global political landscape, changing our future in ways we cannot imagine. There are not just TWO rows (GW true or false). There are also rows of war (or not) over oil. Economic hardship (or not) depending on the price of oil. Some actions are beneficial regardless of GW, and they should be taken REGARDLESS of the column one picks.
9) What if GW is false and we take very costly action to stop a LIE? We not only risk economic hardships, but we risk losing political and scientific integrity as well. That may sound insignificant, but it could lead people to choose alternatives like fascist governments, or not listening to scientists when they announce the NEXT big scare. The point is that there is HUGE risk either way we go. Don’t pretend there isn’t.
10) The choice is NOT between taking action or not. The choice is between taking REASONABLE actions or unreasonable ones. Some actions, no matter how much they may help, are simply intolerable (killing half the world’s population for example). Taxing the world into poverty is also a clear non-starter. The solution is to find actions that are reasonable, and START with the actions that are clear “no-brainers”.
What’s the point? Well, the chart shows us that we ONLY control which column we are in. But it doesn’t really help us decide WHICH column is best to pick. Worse, it pushes for an all or nothing approach, but there is simply NO REASON for an all or nothing approach. Far better to take a REASONABLE approach and find a MIDDLE column. Yes?
What do you think?