Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Climate change for skeptical environmentalists

Climate change for skeptical environmentalists: A science teacher in Independence, Oregon lays out the scenarios Bishop Berkeley style, with stunning simplicity. He points out that even if we don't know whether global climate disruption is real, we can decide whether or not to act. And when we weigh the risks of acting against the the risks of not acting, even if climate change might not be happening, our course is clear.This video has had over 2.9 million views already. Nice.

Now that you've seen it (Go ahead, watch it) imagine the same argument laid out in a written essay. As compelling? No way. As easily accessible by millions of people? Not. The medium is the message. Barriers to videos that would raise the threshold for little gems like this would be socially irresponsible. (Via isen.blog.)

The argument in the video seems to rely implicitly on the naive assumption that uncertainty has to be maximum, that is, the two outcomes have equal probability. But a skeptic exploiting that is forced to assign those probabilities to make the expected loses from action greater than the expected losses from inaction, or to assert that the worst case scenario is much less bad than suggested. Either move requires the skeptic to deny a lot of evidence. Which is what skeptics are doing. I like the effort in the movie, but without hard numbers, it is always possible for the skeptics to flip the movie's qualitative calculus towards inaction.


steve said...

Agreed - this is an annoying analysis, even though I'm a strong believer that things need to be done immediately. It is just sad to see poor logic.

Then again, every now and again worst cases come true. We're living through one in the executive branch.

Andre Vellino said...

I believe the original argument was by Blaise Pascal and known as Pascal's Wager. It was originally designed to argue for why it is prudent to believe in God's existence.