Bos/My Turn: Climate change options
David Kempf sums it up succinctly in his June 12 My Turn piece excoriating “environmental extremists” and “global warming alarmists everywhere.” His belief about climate change so simply stated is “We have nothing to do with it, folks. We can’t cause it. We can’t stop it.”
So there we are. All is A-OK. But what if he is wrong?
He closes his article with a quote from Nobel Prize-winning Stanford University physicist Dr. Robert B. Laughlin who admonishes us to “Please remain calm: The earth will heal itself, climate is beyond our power to control. Earth doesn’t care about governments or their legislation. You can’t find much actual global warming in present-day weather observations. Climate change is a matter of geologic time, something that the earth routinely does on its own without asking anyone’s permission or explaining itself.”
Clearly however, Laughlin’s Nobel Prize in physics is not in the earth sciences. Purdue University’s Matthew Huber, among many scientists reviewing Laughlin’s postulations, writes that “The crux of (Laughlin’s) argument is that ‘Nobody knows why these dramatic climate changes occurred in the ancient past. Ideas that commonly surface include perturbations to the earth’s orbit by other planets, disruptions of ocean currents, the rise and fall of greenhouse gases, heat reflection by snow, continental drift, comet impacts, Genesis floods, volcanoes, and slow changes in the irradiance of the sun. No scientifically solid support has been found for any of these suggestions.’”
In other words, Huber continues, Laughlin “apparently thinks we live in a world of mysterious forces which are utterly incomprehensible and climate has responded like a voodoo doll to invisible hands through time. Perhaps they are incomprehensible to him. He needs to take some courses in paleoclimatology — I suggest he start at the undergraduate level. I hear there might be something appropriate being taught on his campus. His know-nothing approach hearkens back to the pre-scientific era of the flat earth, vapors and phlogiston.”
Recently, Herbert and Catherine Schaible have been charged with third degree murder in the death of their second son for not seeking medical attention when their 7-month-old son Brandon fell ill. This was the second time the couple lost a child to illness. They were sentenced to 10 years probation after the 2009 death of their 2-year-old son Kent whose death could have been prevented with basic medical care.
Belief versus science: David Kempf’s belief is a corollary to those who believe in the power of prayer alone to heal illness without the benefit of modern medicine.
No one should dispute that faith in the universe is a worthy and powerful belief. Nor should anyone dispute the ever-increasing capacity of science to help us understand the universe and how it is evolving. To ignore the vast majority of appropriate scientific findings about the negative impacts of human activity on our environment defies common sense and responsibility to all life on earth.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume (pretend) that Kempf is correct — there is nothing we can do to diminish current anthropogenic climate change impacts. There are two choices:
1) do nothing or
2) take action.
As Greg Craven so clearly states in his now classic YouTube video How It All Ends, “You can never be 100 percent certain so every choice carries a risk.
Craven applies the principles of risk management as it applies to climate change. “If you need to make a decision when things are unclear, it is helpful,” Craven says, “to understand the different possibilities for the future.”
He then constructs a decision chart. In the left hand column is the first future possibility: that global warming could be false or true.
The “A” and “B” columns indicate the consequences of taking or not taking significant actions to combat global warming.
So we now have four different boxes in which to place the consequences of action or no action. Taking enormous efforts to combat global warming (at great societal and economic cost) in the top left “A” box would result in just that; huge societal and economic stress, all for no purpose as it would turn out.
Taking no action in the top right “B” box, as climate “skeptics” would have us do, relieves society of all the negative societal and economic impacts that would result from taking the unnecessary actions in the top left “A” box.
Now, assuming the climate “alarmists” are right, the expensive national mobilization to reduce global warming in the bottom left “A” box would certainly inflict great societal and economic cost. BUT we would be on the road to environmental recovery.
Finally, we are left with the bottom right “B” consequence box. Taking no significant action to mitigate climate change will result in environmental catastrophe if the “environmental alarmists” are right. But just think of the money we would save!
Kempf’s belief about our planetary future reminds me of the old joke about the man falling off the Empire State Building who, as he passes the 30th floor, says “so far so good.”
This is no time for joking. Which future possibility appeals to you?
John Bos writes frequently about environmental issues. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.