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:
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.