It must have at least two decades since British environmentalist Norman Myers articulated this memorable advice:
“If we live as if it matters and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
If we live as if it doesn’t matter and it matters, then it matters…”
Myers was referring to climate change. He was making the rather obvious point that the potential consequences of inaction over reducing greenhouse gas emissions are much more severe than the consequences of action.
Greg Craven: bringing sanity to the debate about our global climate destabilisation experiment
So this is not a new idea in the climate change debate.It was part of the original tool-kit of arguments used from the late 1980s to argue for action to reduce emissions.
It has always seemed to me the most powerful argument available to those of us who believe in the need for a precautionary approach to emission levels. It’s the argument hardest to refute. It makes much of what does pass for ‘argument’ over climate change policy besides the point. Who cares whether polar bears float on ice-drift? Who knows if the latest wildfires are ’caused’ by climate change? So what if it’s icy-cold in London this Christmas?
Unfortunately, I think the risk management proposition is one of the most under-used arguments in the environmentalists’ armory. There have even been occasions when it has been used – only to attract carping from environmentalists themselves!
I’ll use an example from Australia. In February this year, the once (and future?) Australian Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull voted against his own party in Parliament in support of an emissions trading scheme. He said:
“Climate change policy has to recognise these real risks, these real threats to the safety of our planet. It is an exercise in risk management and no reasonable person could regard the risk as being so low that no action was warranted.”
I recall that Turnbull copped a smattering of criticism at the time even from the pro-conservation side of the debate, some of whom took offense because they considered he was in some way giving comfort to ‘climate change deniers’ by using the term ‘risk’. They wanted to hear him speak with ‘certainty’. I think they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Turnbull was right in this case (the ETS he supported at the time was lousy policy – but that’s another topic).
Risk analysis IS the key to winning the climate change debate; scolding opponents for holding the ‘wrong’ opinions is a counter-productive waste of time.
I’ve written material myself along those lines before, such as the optimistically-titled Not Far from Climate Change Consensus for Action blogged here a couple of years ago. A serious review of the general literature, I’m sure, would reveal the risk management argument has been used capably many times.
In any event, I recently came across a resource on the web that has clearly been very popular – although I managed to miss it for more than three years.
It’s The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See by Oregonian, teacher and activist Greg Craven. He makes the case for precautionary action to reduce emissions better than I’ve ever seen it done before. This guy has a first-class intellect and he’s a superb communicator! Funny too!
Apparently some 7.5 million people have seen The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See by now. Mr Craven used it to generate intense debate about the issues he discussed on his website – GregCraven.org – and he’s used that feedback as the basis for a book entitled What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response.
Watch Greg Craven’s more recent video (2009) in which he introduces this inexpensive, action-packed dead-trees treat…
Why not buy a copy or ten and hand them around? You can order the book with a DVD here.
It’s time to build consensus around sanity. Each of us who understands this can help by spreading the word.