The consensus among scientists is quite clear: climate change is happening. There is plenty of evidence in favor. However, many people surprisingly still deny this for dubious reasons.
These so-called climate deniers or climate skeptics usually say one of the two:
- Climate change is not happening and the climate experts are either simply wrong or participating in a conspiracy run by big business.
- Climate change is happening but it is not caused by humans and/or we cannot do anything about it.
Either way, the only thing climate deniers propose is simply maintaining the status quo when it comes to our environmental politics. And that is more farcical than the climate conspiracy theory. They are disguised traditionalists, sometimes with a facade of warriors fighting for truth, sometimes with a facade of economists – analyzing how much greener politics will cost us. In the meantime, our current policies are absurdly insufficient and misguided skepticism about global warming might have the highest cost of all: the extinction of human life as we know it.
In comparison, misguided belief in climate models is not only highly improbable, we can arguably gain by implementing carbon policies in any case. I shamefully admit that the argument bears some resemblance to the infamous Pascal’s wager. In a nutshell, Pascal argued that it makes sense to believe in God because one can only gain by having faith. If God does not exist, then nothing or very little is lost. There has naturally appeared vocal criticism of this wager. We can have no certainty that we should believe in the right God out of the many ones preached by all the religions around the world. The religion we’ve happened to be born into can impose strict limitations on our lifestyles in vain. A theologist would say that God sees through such rationalized faith (as an agnostic, I daresay this is not valid). None of this is relevant, however, when we make a Pascal’s wager on our ability to deal with climate change.
Even if our actions were ineffective in the end or we were just blinded by the hard data about global warming, we may really only gain by most of the ideas echoed by environmental activism. And unlike in Pascal’s original wager, we will actually live to see the effects of our decisions.
Population is growing and fossil fuels are diminishing. Even though it sounds as emotional blackmail, many ecosystems are dying. We do not need to admit climate change to admit these facts. The last shred of hope for our conventional lifestyles is shredded by Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. Unless we are blatantly careless and are ourselves willing to fight with worsening air conditions, never-ending traffic jams and our own melting in jungles of concrete, it simply makes sense to raise climate awareness and implement sustainable policies.
On the other hand, climate skepticism is mostly ridiculous because its motives other than those of sound scientific nature are. Its targets are whimsical. I ask what is wrong with the usual points made by climate activists? We need nevertheless to burn less oil. We need nevertheless more efficient devices. We need nevertheless to orient our traffic towards mass transit to fight smog and rid streets of stuck cars. We need nevertheless sustainable energy sources if we want to avoid potential crises in the future. We need nevertheless water conserving policies to have a working water cycle, not to mention reducing the terrible heat in the long summers. We need nevertheless better filters and production techniques for our factories to protect their surroundings from acid rains. We need more greenery in the cities, even if it was only for aesthetic and psychological reasons. We need to protect the last untouched lands such as the Arctic not only for their habitats’ sake, but also for their huge scientific significance. They serve as deep reservoirs of geological memory.
The solutions required for these changes will cost us but also potentially build huge economic incentive, in the same way as the Apollo program employed thousands of people and made breakthroughs in research. There can be disagreement over what solutions are the right ones. Electric cars, for example, may not be ready yet as an alternative – among other things for the state of battery technology. The problem is that they will never be ready if there are no pioneers. And there might be hardly any pioneers without public initiative since many of the needed technologies are not disruptive in the Christensen’s sense of the word.
It may seem as exaggerating but we are in a situation similar to the days of the Apollo program. The challenges we face now can be dealt with only having cooperation among governments, businesses and the public. Behind the rage on all sides, there are in fact two scenarios in this debate. Either we choose trying to change some of our ways and at worst risk some economic cost at the “expense” of improving our urban life and preserving the sights of the countryside, or risk our extinction. To me the choice seems rather obvious.