Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Global Warming: Wanna Bet?

I tend to be skeptical about what you might call environmental doom and gloom – that is, claims that we are on the road to an environmental catastrophe and that unless we TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY dire consequences will result. Part of this skepticism stems from a negative reaction to certain bits of propaganda I was told as a child about how the world was about to run out of resources (which briefly had me really freaked out), and partly from a passing knowledge of the long history of false or exaggerated claims made on behalf of environmental doom and gloom. Some of these claims were no doubt known to be false at the time, and were repeated out of the conviction (depressingly common) that it is okay to lie for the greater good. But for the most part I think the people who preach environmental doom and gloom really believe it. There’s something in human nature that tends toward apocalyptic thinking, and given the limited state of our knowledge, it’s easy to get caught up in hysterias and panics which in retrospect seem quite silly (if our time horizons were a bit shorter, many people would no doubt be freaked out by the leaves falling off of trees in Autumn).

Despite this skepticism, however, I believe that global warming is occurring and I am inclined to accept that human activity in the form of carbon emissions plays a central role in this warming. My belief in man made global warming is based on several factors. First, the view seems to be endorsed by the vast majority of scientists, and while the vast majority of scientists have been wrong in the past (and the scientific community is certainly not unanimous when it comes to climate change), still it strikes me that the vast majority of scientists is more likely to be right on this matter than not. After all, these are pretty smart people we’re talking about here, and if man made global warming as a theory was obviously flawed, I think that they would have noticed.

More important, in this regard, is the fact that unlike the global warming skeptics, believers in global warming have been willing to put their money where their mouth is. The fact that pretty much all the major global warming skeptics refuse to bet that they will turn out to be right on anything approaching reasonable odds leads me to believe that, whatever they might say about the matter, they really aren’t terribly confident that global warming isn’t happening.

To be fair, the bets involved deal only with the question of whether the earth will get warmer in the current years, not with whether carbon emissions are causing the warming. But frankly, that’s not a question that interests me much. If global warming will have negative consequences, then it will have them regardless of whether that warming is caused by man or by martians. And while the cause of global warming might in theory affect what we should do to stop it, in practice any attempt to stop global warming by limiting or reducing carbon emissions at present is only likely to hamper or harm our economy without actually stopping global warming. So any plausible steps we can take to limit the negative effects of global warming are probably going to be the same regardless of whether it is caused by man or not.

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February 11, 2008 - Posted by | Environmentalism, Global Warming

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