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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

pascal's climate

Tim O'Reilly has some interesting thoughts connecting the issue of climate change with Pascal's wager.

In my talks I've argued that climate change provides us with a modern version of Pascal's wager: if catastrophic global warming turns out not to happen, the steps we'd take to address it are still worthwhile. Given that there's even a reasonable risk of disruptive climate change, any sensible person should decide to act. It's insurance.

Some of the benefits of taking steps now to avert potential climate change include:

  • Major new sources of renewable energy at an affordable price
  • New jobs related to renewable energy will stimulate the economy
  • Reduced dependence on oil from potentially unstable or hostile nations
  • Reduced costs related to pollution
  • Industries better prepared to compete in the future

The downside? O'Reilly can't think of one, and I can't either. If we take climate change seriously and act accordingly — even if we're wrong, we'll still end up with several benefits. If we don't take it seriously, and we're wrong, we have everything to lose.

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At 1/22/2009 10:15 AM, Blogger Quiet Paths said...

Yes, exactly. Yet there always seems to be arguments from certain factions against doing the right thing. A mystery.

At 1/24/2009 8:39 AM, Blogger Christian Beyer said...

Well, in theory I agree. But in practice I am a bit more wary. Not to sound too much like a cynic, I do do not have very much confidence in large organizations, either business or civic, to be very efficient. And the larger they are the more inefficient they usually are. A global government has proven to be the most inefficient so far (with all due respect to you UN fans out there).

"Fools rush in..." Already we are seeing some well intentioned green policies, especially those of charging people for carbon emissions, as having the opposite effect of what is intended (check out the deforestation that is taking place in New Zealand). The US mandate for ethanol production has resulted in higher food prices which have been felt around the world. The earlier US tax on 'gas guzzling' cars resulted in the SUV boom, cars that generally use even more gasoline, not to mention that their component parts (particularly tires) are that much more difficult to dispose of.

When we push to remove disposable utensils, containers and napkins from restaurants (and disposable diapers from the home, btw) then water usage and energy to heat the water goes up dramatically, not to mention the increased influx of treated water that now ends up in our rivers, accelerating the demise of wildlife in our estuaries. (I live in Maryland and the dying Chesapeake bay is a big deal here)

Nothing is that simple.

At 1/24/2009 9:15 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

Christian -

Yes, we must be wary of unintended consequences. But your list of examples just emphasizes my point: If we will just start taking climate change seriously — not by passing half-assed legislative acts intended to showcase one source or another of CO2 emissions, but really making a concentrated effort to completely replace all coal- and oil-based energy with renewable energy — then there is an enormous upside potential. Then we won't need to worry about charging people for carbon emissions, or miles per gallon, or percentage of ethanol, because those things will no longer exist.

Then we'll have more time to focus on what to do about those tires and diapers and plastic forks that are cluttering up our landfills.


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