Decision making without certainty
I'll admit it. I've been a global warming skeptic. I was probably conditioned by a any number of news stories back in the '50s that we were on the verge of entering another ice age.
And right now with the temperatures well below the seasonal averages, it's easy to mock the idea of global warming. But of course that mockery would be based on confusing weather with climate.
One other thing that has kept me skeptical is that the shrillest proponents of global warming have been using the issue to advance an anti-globalization, anti-corporation, anti-progress agenda. Of course, on the other hand, the fiercest deniers of global warming are also motivated by an agenda - protecting their jobs, and protecting outdated industries.
Over the past few years however, more and more are becoming convinced global warming is real, and unless something is done, the future of humanity is at risk. And my subjective probability of the truth of climate change has moved from about 10% to about 75%
Still, the science has not reached the point where global warming can be accepted with 100% certainty. It is not established to the degree that evolution is - nor even to the degree that the Big Bang or string theory are. There is still a lot of room for doubt.
But the doubt does not really matter. The lack of certainty does not mean we should wait until we are absolutely sure - then it will will be too late if we are wrong.
Look at it this way: We can be wrong in one of two ways -
- If we do nothing and global warming occurs, then irreversable changes will have occured and the future of humanity will be exceedingly dim.
- If we act, and those who deny global warming turn out to be right, then we will have incurred some costs to get somewhere we were going to end up eventually anyway, that is a greatly reduced use of hydrocarbons for our energy needs.
Rather than argue the issue of who is absolutely right and who is absolutely wrong, it is time to recognize that there is a significant possibilty that global warming may occur. That is sufficient to act now rather than wait for gas, oil and coal to run out before we wean ourselves from hydorcarbons.
The risks we incur by being wrong and doing nothing are far more serious than the risks of being wrong which consists of accelerating inevitable change.