Climate change: the infantile demand for certainty

18 Jul

One of the most hackneyed arguments used by climate change deniers is that we can’t have any certainty about the existence and/or effects of AGW, or the more commonly used term, climate change. Because of this lack of certainty, the argument goes, we should do nothing.

If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a serious illness, or been close to someone who has, you’ll know that it is rare for your doctor to give you a 100% certainty on your prognosis. You’ll get the statistics one way or the other. If you are able to, you’ll inform yourself as fully as is possible about your chances in as many circumstances as you can imagine, and then you’ll make an informed decision.

You might be someone who has enough faith in your medical practitioner to accept his or her recommendations without exploring further, and if that’s the case, you’ll act on their advice.

You will never, ever be 100% certain about whichever path you choose. It is an impossibility.

The planet is in a similar situation. We as its custodians must make decisions based on as much information as is available to us. We must weigh up the possibilities and probabilities and we must make an informed decision.

Certainty can be defined as either:

  1. perfect knowledge that has total security from error, or
  2. the mental state of being without doubt

Objectively defined, certainty is total continuity and validity of all foundational inquiry, to the highest degree of precision. Something is certain only if no skepticism can occur.

Climate change deniers such as broadcaster Alan Jones, patron saint of the bizarre Galileo Movement that is dedicated to opposing climate change,  and the upper class British hysteric, the wild-eyed Christopher (call me Lord) Monckton, demand certainty before we take any action to address global warming. They want “proof positive” and they don’t consider the science we already have offers sufficient proof, apparently on the grounds that there isn’t 100% agreement by its practitioners. Therefore, their justification goes, we should do nothing.

Galileo must be turning in his grave since Alan Jones took him up on the grounds that he, to quote from their website: stood up to the entrenched, dogmatic religious and state beliefs suppressing the truth, and so is the perfect symbol for climate change deniers such as Jones and his supporters, who see themselves as following in his footsteps.

There’s no certainty in science. Science makes no claims for producing perfect knowledge that has total security from error. Scientists are by their very nature skeptics, I would have thought. They look for evidence, they balance probabilities and they reach informed conclusions.

There is no certainty in life outside of death. The right to desire certainty is the privilege of childhood. The desire for that degree of security may continue well beyond childhood, and in the case of the deniers most certainly does. However, when carried into adulthood it is an indicator of emotional and psychological dysfunction. It indicates a failure to adequately mature. The adult knows there’s no certainty, and learns to live life with that knowledge, taking risks, weighing up possibilities.

Waiting for certainty in this debate is like waiting to find out if there’s life after death: the only time we’ll be certain of that is when it’s too late tell anyone about it. We have an immense body of knowledge that overwhelmingly indicates the need for us to take action on global warming. Can we afford to risk ignoring this evidence, is the question we need to ask. What are the repercussions if we do nothing and dare we risk them? Do I want to leave a ruined planet for my grandchildren just because I’m waiting like an infant for an impossible certainty? No, I don’t.

Like many other people I’m no expert on climate change and AGW. I have to weigh up the possibilities from the enormous amount of information available, and I’m never going to get my head around all of that. I have to listen to people I trust who are better informed than I will ever be. Just as I did when I was first diagnosed with cancer. Nobody could offer me certainty that the proffered treatments were going to work. Nobody could offer me certainty that the treatments wouldn’t kill me. I had to listen, and I had to make an informed choice.

This isn’t just about the people alive today. It’s about the people to come. It’s about my grandchildren’s children children children. It’s huge. It is the greatest moral challenge of our time, and we must respond to it as adults, not infants demanding the impossible.

17 Responses to “Climate change: the infantile demand for certainty”

  1. Steve at the Pub July 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    AGW is all of those things. It is also untested hypothesis, purely computer modelling.
    Not only are there strong question marks surrounding the inputs to those computer models, those who are behind it suffer from severe credibility issues.

    The IPCC and the Hadley revelations (own goals) have done more than anything else to make climate “science” seem like a scam, a fraud concocted to ensure the greatest amount of continued funding.

    For some years AGW has been accepted conventional wisdom. Only recently has the news media dared to print/publish anything which so much as slightly questions this sacred cow.

    It is only once the punters realise how much it is going to going to cost them, that there will be fair dinkum scrutiny of the subject.

    There is some sign of this grumbling already (refer to the plummeting Labor vote, as per opion polls) but that is nothing compared to the ensuing furore there will be once people’s pockets are actually hit for six.


  2. paul walter July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Galileo would be turning in his grave? Not a shadow of doubt in my mind.


  3. David Horton July 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    “AGW is all of those things. It is also untested hypothesis, purely computer modelling.” – you are talking absolute nonsense Steve, and old fashioned even by denier standards, the comment they used to make, oh, say 5 years ago (and your “scandal” stuff is so last year). For god’s sake do some proper reading away from your denialist blogs, you are embarrassing yourself.


  4. Steve at the Pub July 18, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    “Old Fashioned” & “Sooo last year” aren’t refutations David. They are rantings.


    • David Horton July 19, 2011 at 6:29 am #

      Oh you better hope I don’t start ranting – my patience with people like you and the extraordinary damage your ignorance and stupidity have caused has run very thin.

      No I just expect you to be working to the latest denier theme – I think this week it is temps aren’t rising, which replaced are rising but natural, which replaced not rising – hard to keep up I know, but if you just listen to Monckton you can’t go far wrong and will be sure you are one of the in-denier crowd. Just trying to help!


      • Steve at the Pub July 19, 2011 at 9:17 am #

        “Ignorance”, “Stupidity”, ” extraordinary damage” I have caused, etc etc etc.

        Goodbye David.


      • klem July 20, 2011 at 4:47 am #

        Being a denier is just so coooool. It’s better than being a warmer, that was soooo 2009.


  5. klem July 19, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    Dear Steve at the Pub

    There is never any point in speaking to the Church of Climatology faithful. No matter what you say they will refute it using the same hackneyed arguments which we have been hearing for years now. They cling to their faith with claims about the hockey stick graph or melting glaciers or swimming polar bears or ccomputer models or claims that there is a drought in some desert somewhere or raining in a rainforest somewhere else. The biggest one for these folks is the rising sea levels myth, they are fully aware that the oceans have been rising since the last glaciation but they claim its worse today. Forget them, they have their faith and they are truly hopeless.



    • Jennifer Wilson July 19, 2011 at 7:25 am #

      Hi Klem, I have to say your case against the climate change supporters doesn’t convince me – not very scientific!


      • klem July 20, 2011 at 4:42 am #

        Like yours you mean? Ooops, don’t break a nail.


  6. gerard oosterman July 19, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    Years ago when mankind accepted the astonishing discovery that 2 apples plus 2 apples made four, there were some sceptics as well. They were known as ‘five apples’ believers. When after thousands of years, electricity and running water (through pipes) was invented, those five applers also denied the benefits. Today we have a minority of 5 applers who reject the notion that using the world as an open sewer is damaging and not very clever. Those deniers plod on not using electricity, water and still use square wheels on their vehicles in forward motion. They deny the benefits of buses, Vegemite and cleaner energy.
    So SATP, don’t turn on your lights or the tap and keep making the world dirtier. Remain a five apple believer. Stay with the force.


    • klem July 20, 2011 at 4:45 am #

      Dear Gerard,

      What the heck does all of that mean anyway?


  7. Steve at the Pub July 19, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    Gerard, Please, if you wish me to continue thinking you have all your marbles, don’t write too much more stuff like this.


  8. paul walter July 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    I dont know, Steve. I think he explained it surprisingly effectively.


    • klem July 20, 2011 at 4:43 am #

      To you.


  9. gerard oosterman July 20, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    2+2=5 versus CSIRO


    • klem November 9, 2011 at 10:23 am #



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