I thought I would post this video of Andrew Dessler discussing decision making. I think it’s very good, but others have – of course – disagreed. He uses an analogy in which 97% of mechanics say a plane is fine, while 3% say there’s a problem. I ended up in a Twitter debate with some who thought that it was a poor analogy for climate change. Well, it’s not meant to be an analogy for climate change. It’s meant to illustrate how one might make a decision, given the evidence and the risks associated with the possible decisions. In the case of the plane analogy, deciding not to fly, and double checking the plane, will simply mean that everyone is delayed. Not all that unusual an outcome, when flying. Deciding to fly could be fine but, if not, the plane could crash and everyone could die. Most would probably agree that, given these risks, delaying the flight and checking would be the most sensible decision.
When it comes to global warming and climate change, there is extensive evidence that global warming continues and that, by the mid 21st century, we will have locked in at least 2 degrees of warming (probably more). Although there is less certainty about precisely how our climate will change, adding so much energy to the climate system will almost certainly produces changes, many of which will likely be detrimental. So, we have extensive evidence that global warming and climate change are happening, what are the risks? We could decide to do nothing and then discover, sometime in the future, that climate change is serious and that we need to spend immense amounts of money adapting. This strategy can also risk the lives and livelihoods of many people on the planet. The alternative is that we mitigate against climate change now and then discover that, in fact, the scientists were wrong and there was nothing to worry about.
So, as Andrew Dessler points out, the latter strategy has a number of positives. If it turns out that global warming isn’t a problem, you can start using fossil fuels again. It can lead to political stability if countries no longer need to rely on fossil fuels from regions that are politically unstable. It can provide energy security as more of your energy can be supplied locally (this can also create jobs and boost the local economy). The real risk is that it costs much more to switch to a carbon-free economy than to do nothing. I often hear people suggesting that it will cost billions or trillions to change from fossil fuels to renewables. Well, as far as I an tell, at least 10% of the world economy is associated with providing energy, so whatever energy source we choose to use, we’re going to be spending trillions every year on energy. So, the issue is not that it will cost trillions, it’s how much more it will cost to change to a carbon-free (or low-carbon) economy than doing nothing. In my opinion, the difference would have to be quite substantial for the risks associated with acting to be greater than the risks associated with doing nothing.
Anyway, I wasn’t quite meaning to write this much. I think Andrew Dessler’s video is very good and well worth watching. It’s also surprised me that people don’t simply agree that acting to mitigate against climate change is the obvious decision. Of course, what seems obvious to me isn’t necessarily obvious to others.