Friday, September 08, 2006

Cooling the Hot Topic of Climate Change.

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Western Europe, it’s been unusually cool in August and it is now unusually hot in September. As a result, a lot of people have blamed climate change. But that’s probably a bit over the top - there is very little one can conclude from their own personally experience with the weather. People say “the weather is weird” because it is a “hot” topic [no pun intended] these days. In reality, like most other serious scientific topic, this one also seems too complex for you or I to have an intelligent discussion on the subject. That's why I'd have to trust those who know something about it - the scientists.

Most serious scientists in any field will admit that there is usually a lot more they don’t know than they know about the topic they’ve been studying anyway. That’s why they do research, I guess. That's also why they get paid for it.

The first problem is that scientists have to simplify their conclusions so that Average Joe (you or I, I guess) can begin to understand some of the stakes and by doing that, they need to cut corners.

The second problem is that the debate has now been framed by economists, journalists, or politicians who all have their own agendas and their own ideological interpretation. Then the debate gets passionate and divided along ideological lines: one side promises you Armageddon, while the other side tells you it is all a conspiracy by scientists with a socialist agenda to promote more government spending.

So what is the wisest thing to. The first thing may be to admit that there is indeed a lot we don’t know (most scientists will admit that modeling the weather and making projection to 100 Years give uncertain tricky results), but that there is enough we know to consider taking measures. In fact it all comes down to something rather simple: weighing the cost with the potential risk and the little hard data we know.

This week’s Economist, which has a special on climate change asks the right question:

Is it really worth using public resources now to avert an uncertain, distant risk, especially when the cash could be spent instead on goods and services that would have a measurable near-term benefit?

Their answer is pretty clear – yes because the risks may be too great to be ignored. They compare it to spending money for insurance:

[people] spend a little of their incomes on household insurance not because they think their homes are likely to be torched next week but because, if it happened, the results would be disastrous.

Similarly, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the risk of a climatic catastrophe is high enough for the world to spend a small proportion of its income trying to prevent one from happening.

Here are some of interesting conclusions following their survey:

This survey will argue that although the science remains uncertain, the chances of serious consequences are high enough to make it worth spending the (not exorbitant) sums needed to try to mitigate climate change. It will suggest that, even though America, the world's biggest CO2 emitter, turned its back on the Kyoto protocol on global warming, the chances are that it will eventually take steps to control its emissions. And if America does, there is a reasonable prospect that the other big producers of CO2 will do the same.


At 00:54, Anonymous Abie said...

making projection to 100 ears ?

How rude...

At 07:25, Blogger Joker & Thief said...

Thanks for pointing that out. The typo's been fixed. ;-)


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