A Logic Question

Tom Friedman is not a favorite columnist of mine–although I often agree with him, he often seems a bit too smug, a bit too self-satisfied with his own superior analytical skills. But today, he hit one out of the ballpark. After asking “Is It Weird Enough Yet,” he eviscerates Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry for their insistence that climate change is just a hoax, perpetrated by research scientists to generate funding. Not only does Friedman explain (in language that even Rick Perry should be able to understand) how the extreme weather we are experiencing is a consequence of global climate change, he explains what is necessary if so-called “green jobs” are to generate real economic growth.

But let’s say you still aren’t convinced.

Ever hear of “Pascal’s wager”? The philosopher Blaise Pascal was dubious about the existence of God, but he reasoned that–since one could not know for certain–the logical course of action was to act as though he did.  If it turned out that God was real, great. If not, you would have lived a good life. In other words, by acting as though you believe even if you don’t, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Global climate change invites a similar logic. If we decide to act on the advice of the 98% of scientists whose research supports the finding, and climate change is real, we’ll save the planet. If it turns out that our fears are ill-founded or exaggerated, we’ll end up doing a lot of things we need to do anyway–recycle, use energy more efficiently, etc.

When we have everything to gain by a particular course of action, and nothing to lose, refusing to take that action is more than weird. It’s self-destructive.

2 thoughts on “A Logic Question

  1. Bingo. Why all the fuss over whether the science is perfectly dialed-in or not, when we’re talking about leaving some of our finite resources behind for our children? Akin to scouting’s credo of leaving the campground better than you found it.

    There are “quality of life” decisions we’re not always going to agree upon. For me, life is better taking the bus, adapting to the vagaries of it’s appearance, and using the car less. For some people, that’s outrageous, let alone voluntarily or mandatorily turning the thermostat down.

    Where I’m not onboard yet, is in letting China annex the Alberta oil development while we await the solar/wind wave of power. The case may be made and I haven’t absorbed it, but as far as I can go presently is in agreeing with Friedman on taxing petroleum more- if it funds a mass transit transition (as I charitably ignore his simplistic assessment of Tea Partiers).

    Where I think we lose some people in conservation (versus conservative), is if we practice it beyond natural resources. When we say there is only so much money (such as tax revenues) to go around, or that everyone needs to sacrifice (pay these taxes), suddenly the logic can be up there with being a member of the flat earth society.

  2. Professor,

    I could not agree more. I was involved in a raging debate over this subject just last week. The reason I like this post so much is because you bring a whole new side to the argument with the “Pascal’s Wager” point of view. You are undoubtedly correct in saying that even if we are not heating are planet by burning tons and tons of fossil fuels that omit carbon that trap heat (which is a proven scientific fact) the things we are trying to do so to stop it anyway have great benefits to our planet and our future generations. Great post!

    P.S. I am still sick, this has got my sleep schedule all turned around. Love the blog.

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