Apply anti-skeptic and save the ice caps

CLIMATE change sceptics are getting really bloody annoying. It’s not because they have the audacity to question over-the-top environmental doomsday scenarios in which the earth is engulfed by a tsunami of bovine flatulence and only bunker-dwelling survivalists, cockroaches and maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger survive.

Questioning is good. Questioning is Socratic. Everyone should question everything all the time, don’t you think?

No, the thing that’s so irksome about hardline climate change sceptics is that the planet will need to be twitching and coughing up blood before they’ll agree to do anything. And while it’s always enormously gratifying to be proved right, even the narkiest greenie is unlikely to gain much pleasure from screeching “I told you so” as the last of the polar ice caps fizzes sadly into the sea like a stale Berocca.

The real inconvenient truth about truly apocalyptic environmental devastation (as opposed to the mildly inconvenient environmental devastation occurring now) is that we won’t know with 100 per cent certainty it’s going to happen until it does.

But maintaining a healthy scepticism about dire planetary predictions doesn’t mean we should kick back on our sprawling McArses doing nothing. Especially when you consider the over-the-top precautions we take in preparation for other risks.

Terrorism is the obvious example. Do we know for sure that a virgin-loving extremist packing explosive Nikes will bomb the holy living jihads out of one of our jets any time soon? No, we do not. Yet our response to this possibility has been extreme. Legislation. War. Weird “survive a terrorist attack” courses in which vigilante commuters learn how to poke the eyes out of suspicious fellow passengers with biros.

We may be more likely to die from a lightning strike or (if we live in the US of A) a legal execution. But when it comes to terrorism, we’re not taking any chances. It’s fridge magnets all around.

Once you look at environmental issues through this lens, setting a 2020 greenhouse emissions target of a paltry 5 to 15 per cent becomes the equivalent of only conducting airport security checks on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Contrary to the smug rhetoric of the deniers, taking out expensive or inconvenient insurance policies against tiny risks is not irrational or even that uncommon.

Consider pregnant ladies. In Australia, only about six up-the-duffsters get listeriosis every year. Yet women who are even thinking about conceiving are ordered to take pre-emptive strikes against this potentially fatal illness by only eating foods that have been laundered at home, hermetically sealed or heated to incineration levels.

In addition to a zillion other exclusions, this means no sushi, no pate, no feta cheese, no soft-serve ice-cream, no googy-eggs and no restaurant dishes outrageous enough to come with a parsley or gourmet sprout garnish.

Not all pregnant women abide by these incommodious and antisocial instructions but — given the tragic impact listeriosis can have on unborn infants — many do. For months and sometimes even years, if it takes them yonks to conceive.

Like terrorism, the main motivation here is an awareness of the enormity of the potential damage. “The worse-case scenario is highly unlikely,” these women tell themselves as they hack resolutely through yet another charcoaled steak, “but why risk it?”

Environmental devastation, in comparison, isn’t highly unlikely at all. Sure there’s disagreement about the small details: who started it and whether or not it’s better to take temperature readings up the earth’s bum or under its armpit and so on.

But you don’t need a degree in ozone-ology to realise that — like a house party crashed by Facebookers — the planet is straining to cope with the influx of ragers and the keg won’t last forever. Why, then, do we insist on treating the global warming debate like a murder trial and demanding proof beyond reasonable doubt that X will happen to our habitat on Y date? Shouldn’t the presence of a reasonable risk be motivator enough?

We take out insurance to protect our cars, our mobile phones and (if we live in the US of A) our celebrity boobs. Let’s not leave ourselves hideously underinsured when it comes to our primary residence.

- originally published in The Australian on 11-12-2008.

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One Comment on "Apply anti-skeptic and save the ice caps"

  1. Emma
    31/03/2009 at 11:03 pm Permalink

    Oh and just when did energy star compliance come about? could it have been after the holes in the ozone were going to cause a global freeze? Hmmmm I wonder because if I remember correctly it was about the same time we started enforcing all kinds of regulations on cars that cost us money and industries that couldnt afford the regulations and had to leave for countries that don’t do that sort of thing. I think we should just use what god gave us ie coal firewood etc and leave the creationism to him. We all know man made is what put us in this position in the first place.

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