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Friday, September 21, 2007

Pascal's Wager and Global Warming

Now that we have got to grips with the principle of Pascal's Wager, we can apply it to the more pressing problem of Global Warming.

There is no doubt that the climate is changing: everyone appears to agree that there is an upward annual trend in average global temperature.

What is in dispute is whether it is caused by us (anthropogenic) through our burning of fossil fuels, or whether it happening because of some factor beyond our control, for example, by solar activity? And then, should we try to do anything about it by reducing our carbon emissions?

So again we can postulate the four possible situations:

Situation 1. Human induced global warming is happening, and we try to do something

Situation 2. Human induced global warming is happening, and we don't try to do something

Situation 3. Human induced global warming is NOT happening, and we try to do something

Situation 4. Human induced global warming is NOT happening, and we don't try to do something

Here, the consequences of the different options are not quite so clear cut as in the original Pascal's Wager. Let's consider them.

Situation 1. Human induced global warming is happening, and we try to do something
Consequence: we may succeed and stabilise the climate

Situation 2. Human induced global warming is happening, and we don't try to do something
Consequence: Climatologists predict that the earth may become close to uninhabitable

Situation 3. Human induced global warming is NOT happening, and we try to do something
Consequence: Unlike Pascal's wager, we would still incur a benefit. At least, our fossil fuels will last a little longer and give us time to develop alternative technologies.

Situation 4. Human induced global warming is NOT happening, and we don't try to do something
Consequence: We carry on as we are, being profligate with our resources with evident environmental deterioration.

Now, unlike Pascal's Wager, "doing something", whether human induced global warming is happening or not, brings a benefit to humanity.

On the other hand, the risk of NOT doing something, if it is actually happening, is too awful to contemplate.

Of course, in reality, the situation is more complex than this. It presupposes that any "action" is effective, and that we haven't already passed the "tipping point" (point of no return). If you can spare a few minutes, please take a look at this U-tube delivery of the argument in full (it is called "The most terrifying video you will ever see").

If you are gluttons for punishment, there is a lengthy discussion of the position on a forum here.

It's up to you.


Blogger Tina said...

I watched a very interesting documentary on global warming some months ago. Here is the Wikipedia article on it.
You can try googling The Great Global Warming Swindle (their video option), but I could only find it in parts.

6:35 pm  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Interesting angle, Maalie. I doubt that human agents are causing a catastrophic global warming. In fact, I seriously doubt that the warming trend will last. My theory is that it won't be too long before we experience a cooling trend, but I like the idea of being a good steward. I always tell my kids that a place should be better for us having been there. That goes for maintaining beauty as well as conserving resources.

7:37 pm  
Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

I'm afraid I take issue, craver vii. I'm of the opinion that the scale of our consumption in the last 2 Centuries has already led to irredeemable consequences.

Nevertherless, we can still work towards damadge limitation, and try to make informed choices for future generations - as these people are doing...

11:14 pm  
Blogger Tortoiseshell said...

PS an interesting blog maalie -where are you taking us...?

11:15 pm  
Blogger simon said...

Some Christians think Global warming is a sign that the almighty is about to return... and therefore wish to speed things up by consuming as much as they can.. ahahahah! ;o)

Has not global warming been occuring since the fall of Adam, and that ( by christian argument), it is therefore inevitable? "for we have all fallen short of the glory of god....and as such Judgement day is acomming??

SO, why not stoke the fire? drive a v8- convert as many as you can because this world is rooted BUT you can store riches in heaven.....

Now seriously- global warming of this beautiful sphere is a real issue and we do cntribute to it..

I see china and india racing to the lead in the emissions......

Also- sorry for my DREADFUL typos!

9:18 am  
Blogger Merisi said...

I feel guilty as charged. Beef waiting in the kitchen to be turned into patties and cooked over a hot stove, four kids to consume ever more energy. I may lust after a coffee after lunch. Wash the dishes with hot water. *help*
At that pace, I may not be able to stand the heat in the kitchen any longer. (Where's my old Remington??? And my pony?)

10:44 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Beef patties! Mmmm!
Pony steaks! Mmmmmmmmm!

> the almighty is about to return
He's already well on the way to returning to you mate, now we're past the equinox. It'll be the Winter Solstice before he starts to return to us. Then we'll really celebrate and roast the fattened calf, beef patties, pheasant, pony steaks and anything else you fancy...

5:27 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I work with a fundamental Christian who is 'anti-global warming' as befits his religion. (But really, he is actually a nice guy and I love working with him!) I also work with someone who is a Gore-converted proponent of global warming. We have some fairly extreme discussions in the staffroom as a result. Seeing as I am currently on holiday I will abstain from this discussion as I feel I have had enough of it already this year! But in my semi-defence... I will say I use my bicycle as much as possible. And I am glad the spring equinox is upon us here... and roll on summer!

10:53 pm  
Blogger simon said...

Merisi-send some over to meeee! also the coffee PLeeeeaseee! and the strudles...pant pant pant....

kiwi- it does get hot with the debate raging.

Even IF it is natural, I think our footprint should be less anyway


Have a greta weekend everyone... I am off to ride my bike

Merisi- have you bought one yet??

12:20 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Actually, it has been a bit scary this past week or two, hearing about how a 'passage' might be opening up in Arctic waters. People seemed to be beside themselves with glee over the economic opportunities this might provide. But, ummm hello. In the past, I have read things that talk about how some simple changes in world sea currents may have led to major changes in world climate... ie ice ages, in the past. Perhaps we need a few people who have studied the effects of changes in currents to insert some realism into the 'sea passage' euphoria.

6:17 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Kiwi, you are right to be concerned, in my (and many other scientists') opinion, about glacial melt at the poles. Ice (being reflective) contributes hugely to the earth's albedo (reflectivity). The less ice, the less reflectivity, the more of the sun's energy is absorbed. This leads to a positive feed-back loop increasing the rate of warming unpredictably until we reach a "tipping point" (point of no return) after which reversal is impossible. Many consider we are there already.

7:52 am  
Blogger Merisi said...

Oh, you carcajou! Can you please leave my pony out on the meadow? I need it to transport my e-mails!!!

Do you think Dr. Maalie would agree that parapsychological phenomena are being put to the test here, with his blog being the medium? (And no, of course, I still don't have a bike: Need to spend my money on beeswax candles to hammer away at my old Remington through the night.)

8:41 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I don't think it was just the change in reflectivity that was the issue with currents, but the fact that changes could alter the way water is cycled around the world... eg deeper cold water might not be taken away from polar regions, and hence wouldn't be replaced by warmer surface waters. Some theories I have read would have it that interference with these kind of systems to spread cold and warm waters over a wide area have triggered some past ice ages.

9:19 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Kiwi, yes agree that it is an extremely complex situation which even the most sophisticated models struggle to resolve. There are many factors that govern our climate.

9:23 am  
Blogger Thesaurus Rex said...

G.W. is a classic subject upon which there is always going to be discussion, though whatever one thinks or concludes, and whatever is actually happening, arguing about it will be the most likely use of most of our energies. That seems to be a human characteristic. I would fall into the catagory that believes we should try to do something to reduce emissions in the perhaps vain attempt to arrest the slide towards an uninhabitable planet. What we can do, how much we should personally change our lifestyles, how draconian our governments will be, which countries devlopment we should attempt to halt, which resouces we should divert, etc etc. If everybody on the planet now decided that situation 1 was apparent, humans would still be arguing incessantly about how we could all save eachothers asses and who was to blame and all the minute details of how disaster could be averted. NASA would be hijacked by the U.S.Govt so rich powerful Americans could bugger off to another planet or just float around inbreeding through space until they found another planet which they could then systematically screw up like they have taken a leading role with this one. Depressing? Maybe, but the subject is so all encompassing, there have to be depressing elements.

11:41 am  
Blogger Raelha said...

Gosh Maalie, I wasn't expecting to see this here. Does this mean you'll be doing less jetting around the globe now?

I'm with Tortoiseshell on this one and would rather take action than bury my head in the sand.

Anyone who's interested in an alternative, and cheap, method of transport has to visit

The first models should be on the market by next summer, and you can order a car on the site, as well as watching documentary clips about the car. This all makes me very excited, although slightly aprehensive about how different governments (and one in particular) will react.

Merisi, four kids! Where do you find the energy?!

4:39 pm  
Blogger Merisi said...

@ Raelha:
It was either all the way or boredom. I hate boredom. ;-)

5:09 pm  
Blogger Raelha said...

Merisi, I think you're very brave. I have enough trouble with just three cats.

10:33 am  
Anonymous Robert said...

I'm glad someone else has seen the link between Climate Change policy and Pascal's Wager. But, just like the other instances of the wager, I really only think it is a convincing argument if you are already a believer of the premise in question (be it God, or Global Warming). It is not a convincing logic to non-believers, and I think those who are worried about the issue need to take their argument to the deniers.

The difference between Climate Change and Christianity is that belief in the latter is based on science, and no 'faith' is demanded. It makes conversion and convincing much easier, I think.

11:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jimmy,

You didn't respond to Raelha's comment about jetting around the globe, I was going to ask the same question!

There have been two recent additions and will very soon be a third addition to your family, who'll hopefully still be around in eighty years if we don't spoil things too much. With a bit of luck, they'll have descendents too and have the same anxieties as me about the world that they'll face.

I've read your words on action, but for their sake, are you going to give up your habit of jumping on a plane simply because a budget airline happens to be offering a cheap flight there?


1:39 pm  

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