Climate change

Let's wager on the fate of the planet

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2012, 12:00am

Global warming and other dangerous climate changes are facts, not theories, say most mainstream scientists. No, they are not scientifically established at all, counter climate sceptics. This decades-long controversy has been further fuelled by a new UN environment report, which warns that human pressures are pushing the earth to dangerous tipping points, risking irreversible and destructive change. The authoritative study is based on an exhaustive review of prior work by more than 300 researchers.

Its warnings are grim. The reports says the world is experiencing alarming rises in sea levels, increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts, the collapse of fisheries, desertification in Africa and deforestation of tropical jungles. One in five vertebrate species faces extinction, coral reefs have declined by 38 per cent in three decades, greenhouse gas emissions will double in 50 years, and 90 per cent of water and fish samples from natural aquatic environments are contaminated by pesticides.

This long list of threats is enough to turn people into green activists. But in reality, only a minority of people qualify as genuine environmentalists. Some may voice support for green causes but have done little or nothing to back words with actions. Most people simply don't care. So, though active climate sceptics represent only a minority worldwide, many if not most people behave like a sceptic would - business as usual. There are also many ordinary people who are interested in the debate but are confused by it. They lack the knowledge to evaluate climate science independently yet are sceptical enough not to trust either side. What is education for one side is, after all, propaganda for the other.

Perhaps a bit of pop philosophy will help them decide. Pascal's Wager is a famous argument for justifying faith in God. It says faith is better than unbelief because you lose nothing if there is no God but you gain eternal life if there is one. The Climate Wager would argue: it's better to act to counter climate change because if the scientists are wrong, we will have only wasted our efforts but if they are right, we will have saved the planet and humanity itself.