The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Precautionary Principle

In discussing the revelations of “ClimateGate” with some of my Left-leaning friends, I’ve been surprised that so few have any idea what it’s really about.

“It’s just a few scientists who have been hacked. It doesn’t change the reality of global climate change,” they state dismissively. “And besides, even if there are questions, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

In essence, AGW proponents dismiss clear evidence of scientific tampering and invoke the “precautionary principle.” Daniel Henninger comments:
As defined by one official version: "When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically." The global-warming establishment says we know "enough" to impose new rules on the world's use of carbon fuels. The dissenters say this demotes science's traditional standards of evidence.

It is possible that the AGW proponents are correct. There is a risk that global temperatures could cause havoc over the next few centuries, but the probability of such a risk is unknown and the impact over the next few hundred years is difficult or impossible to predict. The near term costs and economic impact of risk mitigation can be estimated and if fully implemented by the political class, will be in the trillions of dollars.

Costly and economically disruptive risk mitigation should wait until objective science provides us with a way to understand the probability and impact of AGW. We are not currently in crisis, any more than we might be when we project the truly catastrophic impact of an asteroid strike on our planet.

Let’s think about the “precautionary principle” in that regard. Unlike AGW, where evidence is sketchy and difficult to interpret, there is clear and irrefutable historical evidence that an asteroid will strike our planet. We’re not sure when, but the impact just might destroy our civilization and most life forms. If we invoke the precautionary principle in the same way that AGW proponents do, we’d declare a imminent “crisis”, meet in Kyoto or Copenhagen, and spend trillions to relocate the world population to some safe place? But we don’t do that, do we?

The risk of an asteroid impact is real, but it is low probability in the short term. So rather than hysteria (and discussions of an “inconvenient truth”), competent scientists are spending modest sums quietly working on methods of asteroid detection and collision mitigation for that future eventuality.

As President Obama travels to Copenhagen, he might give just a little thought to nexus of climate change and asteroid impact. They’re both potential dangers to the planet, and the risks associated with them should be handled in much the same way.