I received a very thoughtful comment today to an old post entitled On Zombie Alligators, Global Warming and Occam’s Razor. The comment was by T.H. Culhane.
In order that you don’t miss the comment or the response, I figured it’d be better to create a whole new post. Anyway, read the comments, but here’s my response.
The prognostications of doom were fictions. The prognostications of harm if we as a society and a global community didn’t take action were not. I hate to sound like a science fiction geek, but to quote Battlestar Galactica: All this has happened before and will happen again.
The point of my article was not to discredit legitimate environmental and societal issues or problems. My point was to warn against hysteria-induced debate. For example, one of the latest hysterias MSM has been presenting to us is the possibility that we are on the verge of a new ice-age or dramatic cooling. The source of this threat? The fact that its taken a few months longer than normal for the sun-spots to reappear at the end of this 11-year cycle. Never mind (a) that the sun is billions of years old, (b) our limited knowledge of the sunspot cycle is hundreds of years old or (c) that correlation is not causation. The sun-spots are late: Everybody panic!
The point of my article was to encourage people to assess how they think about these issues. To encourage people to ask themselves the following questions, among others.
Is climate change occurring? Is climate change man-made? Is climate change a natural phenoma?
Is it a combination of the two? If it is occurring and we’re not exactly sure of the causes, then how do we approach a solution? Is the solution preventative or ameliorative? What role does government play and what role do private commercial interests play?
I don’t know exactly what my answers are to these questions. I personally think that the correct answer is probably too complex for any of us to understand given the limitations of our knowledge and the diverse set of economic, political and scientific inputs that we would be required to understand in order to arrive at a correct answer.
But I can use Occam’s Razor to whittle down these complex issues into simpler questions that we’ve faced in the past. What does Occam’s Razor tell me about these issues? That we’ve faced similar issues in the past and we have figured out, mostly, how to overcome them. That some of the solution must come from the changing of our own personal habits. That some of the solution must come from government prodding. But mostly its that our nation and our society have never come up against a problem so big, or an issue so complex, that the ingenuity, competitiveness and desire of the American people, the American scientist, the American entrepreneur and the American businessman could not overcome.
Success will come not from scaling back. Success will come from pushing the throttle to the floor. I’ve got some contempt for Al Gore. I think he’s a hypocrite who, while the second-most powerful person in the world, did little about climate change. But, on the other hand, Al Gore is now pursuing what I think is the correct strategy. He’s working to create awareness. But more importantly, he’s working and investing in businesses and entrepreneurs around the country who are working everyday to solve the problems confronting the environment in the twenty first century.
Think about that for a moment. Al Gore believes that we are facing dramatic changes in our environment and climate over the next few decades. His solution? Engage business, not government.
You ask: “I think we need to step out of our high maintenance bubble of blind contentment and acknowledge the losses for “the other 90%” who are not so fortunate and who are experiencing the terror of the scenarios you belittle.” And continues “It doesn’t mean cutting the vast numbers of people suffering from the effects of environmental degradation out of our calculations. They do count, don’t you agree?”
I do agree that they count, but what does that mean? Whatever small problems we are facing right now, there is little denying that the American economy has, over the last 100 years, been the single greatest driving force in the amelioration of poverty throughout the world. The things we’ve invented, the wealth we’ve created and the immigrants we’ve taken in have improved the lives of billions of people. At what cost to this great poverty eliminating vehicle if we bind it with unnecessary ties? Who lives in the bigger bubble, those who deny climate change or those who deny that the poor do not care about global warming, but rather food, shelter and electricity?
The potential effects of climate change might be grave. But I don’t believe that they are imminent. They are not going to swell upon us so quickly that we do not have time to allow the great American innovation machine to come up with a solution.
Let’s take another example, that of HIV/AIDS. We’re still looking for a vaccine. For some time however there was considerable consternation and angst at the approach that the pharmaceutical companies were using to allocate research resources between cure and simple treatment. Time, achievability and money caused the pharmaceutical companies to focus on treatment rather than cure. This would only benefit those in the first world argued the critics. More resources should be focused on vaccines. Treatment is too expensive for Africa.
We’ll never know, had all those research dollars flown into vaccine research, if we’d have already had a cure for HIV. But what we do know is that because of the treatment research performed and the expenditures made here, we are implementing a program that will in short order be treating 1 million Africans with the full range of inhibitor drugs for about $90 a year.
Problems as big and complex as climate change can only be solved through a combination of measures. Some of that will involve ameliorating the effects which have already occurred. Some of that will involve changing how we live.
In the end however, Occam’s Razor suggests the following question to me: Is there enough money to be made in coming up with solutions to alter the entire energy production system in place today that the American businessman will ultimately jump with both feet into the problem of solving it? Unequivocally yes.