Lately I have been thinking about how we approach the questions surrounding climate change. I have heard about the end of world from left-wing, eco-terrorist, environmentalist types since I was in elementary school. However, the predictions of imminent world catastrophe brought about by human-caused global warming have failed to materialize. The studies that show the Earth is going through a warming trend have counters that show the Earths temperature is not out of a normal range. Furthermore, the studies and models that try to link CO2 emissions to a temperature increase appear extremely weak, because the Earths climate has too many variables to accurately model and isolate cause and effect. Therefore the fight about global warming and what to do about it largely goes nowhere. However, if we look at global warming through perspective proposed by Nassim Taleb, we might be able to come to concrete answers on what we can do. The perspective to view global warming from is called the precautionary principle.
Here is the definition of the principle :
“The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of severe harm to the public domain, the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. Under these conditions, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not opposing. ” – The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms)
I should note, that Taleb recently posted about climate change in relation to the precautionary principle, this helped me put all of this into context. Essentially, when looking at global warming or human caused climate change, we need not overly rely on bad models, or models at all. Simply, since we already know that emitting too much pollution into an area is a bad thing, we need to apply this thinking on a global basis, and look at the possible systemic dangers. When it comes to emitting harmful pollutants into the air which can effect people around the planet, we should have a near scientific certainty that these pollutants will not cause damage, because if damage does occur it could effect populations on a global scale, and we might not be able to contain the damage once it starts. This way of thinking has pushed me to examine my beliefs on what we should do about global warming.
While we may not be causing a world-wide environmental crisis, the possible effects of one occurring are high enough that we should proceed as cautiously as possible when emitting pollutants. Applying the precautionary principle to all policies that can cause public harm, I believe we should not leave the solutions up to the national government or world governments, because if the government gets it wrong, millions of people could suffer or die as a result. Instead, somehow we need to look at solving the emissions problem on a local level, so that no one policy or idea is capable of wrecking national or world economies. Currently, I don’t have any ideas as to what should actually be done in the United States, especially since we have been doing lots of work on cleaning up our pollution issues. However, one possible solution is to not allow government subsidies to go companies or countries that emit large amounts of pollution. National governments that incentive pollution are effectively pushing pollution from a local issue in a national or global one. While my understanding of this is rough and new, I am optimistic we can find actionable goals to achieve through this framework.