One Guy With A Marker [And A Whiteboard] Just Made The Global Warming Debate Completely Obsolete

- that's the line I caught on a tweet yesterday. How can you not want to know more?

The tweet had a link to a nice little video with a different view on the climate change ‘debate’. It’s about ten minutes long, and you should view it now to understand better what I’m writing about. (Just don’t forget to come back!)

Essentially the “one guy” drew up a 2x2 matrix, as in game theory, with two options for climate change (True or False) and two options for taking action (Yes or No).

The argument goes: “If you take action and it wasn’t necessary, it costs money and you might well get a global economic depression. If you don’t take action and it was necessary, you get global catastrophe - not only economic depression, but political, social and environmental breakdown. So what you should do, logically, is avoid catastrophe and take action.”

It’s a simplistic but very powerful argument, as WREN technical director Jerry Clark said. You can refine the model by giving probabilities to the climate change options, though that just enmires you back in the argument about whether climate change is true, just changing it to how much is it true (95%, per the IPCC; not much at all, per Nigel Lawson, well-known scientist - not). You can also model different outcomes: the catastrophe might not be quite so bad; the cost of taking action might not be so much.

We actually know what a global depression feels like. We’ve just had five years of it, courtesy of the banks (as Jerry almost put it). It wasn’t very nice for a lot of people in the west – incomes not going up, cuts to public services, falls in standard of living and so on - but it wasn’t complete disaster. We can work through that - we almost have done. I would bet, as well, that large numbers of people in the developing world didn’t ntoice a depression; they were poor and hungry before and during, and will be so afterwards.

There is an argument that the cost of taking action isn’t that much of a cost. It’s more of an investment, that will actually stimulate the economy (welcome back Mr Keynes, we haven’t seen much of you lately).

We are also beginning to understand what climate change feels like. People in Somerset flooded for weeks perhaps get an inkling of what the inhabitants of Kiribati feel about losing their entire island nation under rising sea levels, or those of Senegal whose coastal towns are flooded for 10 months out of 12. (Hadn’t heard about them? Nor had I - try this link  )

The floods in Somerset are well short of catastrophe, but they are also well short of what could happen. Which feels worse, not getting a pay rise, or losing your home to floods and coastal collapse?

The argument, to me, is clear. Some have called it the precautionary principle. You take the action needed to avoid disaster, because all it costs is money. It seems strange to be saying it, but thanks, banks, for the practical demonstration.

But some still don’t, or won’t, see it. Perhaps they cannot imagine the scale of the disaster - economic depression is the worst they can conceive, environmental collapse is beyond their powers. Perhaps they flatly do not believe it possible. To a creationist who believes the world was made 6,000 years ago, scientific evidence based on longer time spans wouldn’t be credible; it might even seem a good idea to have a modern Noah’s Flood to sweep away the ungodly.

Me, I’m going with the science, and the precautionary principle, and the need for action now.


These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of WREN.