"I don't believe in Climate Change."
"I can't believe I live in a country where so many people don't believe in Climate Change."
What is this, a new religion? Since when did scientific theories take on the status of gods?
By turning scientific theories and investigations into a matter of faith—all sides are guilty of this—we usually miss the point, which in the case of climate change could be a fatal mistake.
Bear with me here.
It is unlikely in the extreme that an asteroid of disastrous size will hit the earth in any time frame mankind should worry about. But NASA is watching, and working on possible ways to deflect any space object of significant size that threatens our planet. They're not panicking, but they're observing and preparing.
On the climate change issue, we're doing the opposite. That particular "asteroid" might not be the disaster that is panicking so many people—or it might just smack right into us while we're busy squabbling and calling each other names.
"You pitiful, moronic, flat-earthers! You stick your heads in the sand and care more about making money than about the health of our planet, not to mention all those people who are having their homes and their livelihoods washed away."
"You elitist idiots! You censor opposing viewpoints, know nothing about the lives of the working class, and would put our culture and our families at risk for the sake of some unproven computer models."
And somewhere, in a place where glaciers and icebergs don't stand a chance, Satan is laughing.
We argue, sometimes with good reason, over questions about the changing climate: It this something new, or a recurring phenomenon? How much of the change is due to manmade causes, and how much is natural? Which measurements and which computer models are most accurate? How much can we trust computer models?
If you believe the questions are all settled, you don't know science. In science, questions are only settled until contradictory data comes along. Close your mind, and you close the doors to knowledge, growth, improvement, and all that is good about scientific inquiry.
Whatever the truth is behind all these questions, what should be do about it? Should we let nature take its course (man is, after all, part of nature) and simply adjust to the changes, as we have since the beginning of time? Or should we, as responsible, rational human beings, observe, prepare, and (without panic) take reasonable measures to deflect this incoming asteroid?
We don't need all the answers to take action, but we do need to start pulling together on this. Right now we're too busy throwing insults at each other and letting our own beliefs blind us to what other people are saying.
If I were the president of the United States—and I know many of you are convinced that I could do a better job than our current president, so pay attention—here's what I'd do. I would assemble a group of leaders (I hesitate to say "committee," but I guess that's what it would be) representing a wide variety of perspectives on the loosely-defined subject of climate change. Much care would be taken creating this group, because they would need to be able to work together without acrimony. I would begin by polling a large variety of leaders, asking, "Make a list of people who challenge your position on climate change, but for whom you still have respect, and with whom you think you could work together for the common good." If a person responded that there is no one in the opposition whom he or she respects, that person, no matter how renowned, would be excluded from my committee. As much as possible, I would balance opposing viewpoints, because the committee as a whole must have credibility with all the American people: we all need to believe our position is being heard—and so do the hare-brained idiots who oppose us.
The purpose of this committee would not be to rule on the unanswerable questions, but to consider what can, and what should, be done to mitigate the changes we are observing. If the changes are due to human actions, of course it is our responsibility to see that we minimize the harm ("we" being everyone from individuals to corporations to governments). But even if they are 100% due to natural causes (excluding man), isn't it the nature of rational man to attempt to make beneficial changes to natural phenomena? We build fires, domesticate animals, invent air conditioning, develop vaccines, improve agriculture, use umbrellas. The question is, how to get the most benefit with the fewest negative consequences.
This is a sample what I would want the committee to consider:
- What undeniable climate-related changes have happened? Stay away from speculation, such as "Global warming is causing more (or fewer) hurricanes," no matter how tempting; stick with clearly documentable facts, such "Glacier X has retreated by Y meters in the last 40 years." Consider everything from sea levels to weather patterns to geographical and biological changes, and come up with a list that everyone on the committee can agree on.
- Do these changes point in a specific direction? How do they compare with previous trends? Are they accelerating or decelerating? Again, pare the answer down to something all can agree on.
- What is the reliability of the various computer models used to make predictions from these trends? This will be tough to agree on, given our experience with hurricane path prediction models, but no one said being on this committee was going to be easy ... just important.
- What are the probable impacts of these predicted changes? Consider everything.
- What changes can be made that will slow the progress of harmful trends? This is to be a dream list, from the accumulated efforts of individuals to corporate actions to governmental edicts, of what could theoretically make a difference, and how much of a difference each might make.
- What is the probability that each of the above changes could actually be implemented?
- How effective would the resulting partial compliance be?
- What would be the risks and costs associated with those changes? Consider job loss, price increases, economic and governmental instability, national security, anything that would negatively impact compliant individuals and nations.
- What can be done to help those who will be impacted by present and future climate changes?
- What can be done to help those who will be impacted by efforts to mitigate climate changes?
The most important job of the committee would be to speak with a single voice to all the people, with their diverse views on the issue of climate change. The members must hammer out something that they agree on, if there is to be any hope that the rest of us will pull together.
What's the best climate policy? One that people will get on board with. Most people are willing, even proud, to make sacrifices, if they believe (1) the cause is important, (2) their actions will make a difference, and (3) the sacrifices are not unevenly distributed.
NASA's efforts to prevent a catastrophic asteroid crash are based on the idea that a small push, given in the right way at the right time, can deflect even a massive body. If they were to push at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or when a push was unnecessary, they could set up a worse disaster still. If they were to spend their time squabbling over how to do the job, the asteroid could easily get too close for even a massive push to make any difference.
Let's find a way to do this, and do it right.