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Stephen Fry backs the wrong horse

Stephen Fry » Blog Archive » Getting Overheated
...the one overwhelming fact about the great climate debate is what’s at stake. Not scientific reputation, not the fortunes and comforts of capitalists and their populations, not pride or reputation but our very civilization.

So let’s break it broadly down to three responses to such a cataclysmic prophecy of doom.

There is Response A. Type A believes the preponderance of established scientific evidence. ...

Then there is Type B. Type Bs do not believe this. They think the evidence is wrong, misinterpreted, flawed, misrepresented, unconvincing, not to be acted upon.....

Type C says: “I cannot possibly know. I hear this from one side and that from another. Both seem convinced, both seem to be marshalling impressive technical figures to their side. I cannot make a judgment.”

Obviously there are views that shade between the three categories but in essence you either believe, deny or sit on the fence.

The consequence of these responses runs something like this: A, the believer, will, or at least should, attempt to do something about the threat they believe in: I mean, look what’s at stake, how can they not?....

B meanwhile will carry on as if nothing is different, for as far as he is concerned, nothing is. Bs only wish they could survive long enough to see the smug self-righteous sorrowful smile wiped from A’s face when in a hundred years it is made plain that there never was any great threat to the climate, to the environment or the ecosystem and that at worst it was a conspiracy of anti-capitalists and at best a muddled, credulous screw up.

And C? .. Well they, of course, are functionally exactly the same as B. They do not know. Case isn’t proven, so why should they vote for massive changes to the way the world does business, massive alterations to the convenience and pleasures of our way of life, just on a 50/50 hunch?

Ah, but that’s the point. It’s what’s at stake that matters in a bet like this.

If B is wrong and there really is a threat of the kind A claims, then not doing anything about it will destroy human habitations, make extinct many species, and fundamentally alter our habitats around the planet.

But if A is wrong and actually there is no threat, then acting as if there was will have what consequences? It will have saved fuel bills all over the world, reduced noxious emissions which, even if one doesn’t believe in global warming, are unpleasant pollutants in anyone’s reckoning, and slowed down the day when we find that the fossil fuels have run out. Action would have given us more time to find alternatives. To be fair, it will also have slowed down world growth and inconvenienced all of us in our personal lives and if A Types do turn to have been wrong they may well owe the world an apology and it’ll be red faces (and a brake in the inexorable rise in world economic growth and fuel mineral use) all round.

But surely that’s a small price to pay for backing a losing horse when the stakes are the planet itself?

Doing nothing risks everything and gains comparatively little, doing something risks comparatively little and gains the whole world. Surely you’d have to be an idiot not to back the believers in this instance.

Calling Tim Worstall! He is the man who can explain far better than me the true "costs" of backing the "believers" and the true gains of "doing nothing". They are not "little", they are not just about slipping on a warmer Cardigan in rather nice house as you turn down the thermostat a notch, they are about life and death and a decent life for millions of people. If you really care for humanity and its future, you need to be damn sure before condemning the poor to misery that it is the best and only option.

Comments

I'd always imagined Stephen Fry was a bit of an intellectual, he does have a degree from Cambrdge after all, but if he believes carbon dioxide is a noxious emission, that cutting greenhouse gases by 60% will have little effect on the global economy and particularly the poor, and that changing a few light bulbs and turning the tv off at the wall will make a blind bit of difference, then he clearly is not.

Type Bs of the world, unite!

This is the fallacy we see from many people who should know better. Doing something will not risk "comparatively little". It will cost trillions and potentially wipe out Western economies and our way of life. The money we will spend on a futile exercise will be money that is not available for any number of more pressing causes eg eliminating world poverty, adapting to the coming ice age...

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