On climate change, why take the chance deniers are right?

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
May 2, 2017 - 5:00am Updated: May 2, 2017 - 6:35am

KAMLOOPS — Not too long ago, I got into a discussion with someone who was still unable to accept the concept of climate change.  

He was willing, although somewhat reluctantly, to agree that our climate has been “a bit different lately,” but unwilling to agree those changes were the result of human activity.

He explained this by referring to an article he had once read that used historical records to prove earth’s climate had been going through cycles for centuries. After reading this one counter climate change article, he was convinced that humans were not responsible and Mother Nature would, with time, correct everything.

At first I argued against his theory, mentioning how the majority of scientific evidence demonstrated human activity is indeed responsible. We talked of the Paris Accord, the CO2 tipping point, our children’s future and of course, Donald Trump and the gutting of America’s Environmental Protection Agency.

As we chatted and even as others joined this impromptu coffee shop conversation, I began to see the problem. In fact more so as I watched his eyes glaze over whenever facts were introduced that he disagreed with. It was neither passion nor science for that matter that was driving his belief, but it was still a belief and a strongly held one at that.

Not only was it a firmly held position, but also one I could see was unlikely to change. Of course, I had to admit that my understanding and acceptance of climate change being real and a result of human activity was as firm a belief as was his denial. 

Obviously, one of us had to be wrong. So I asked what would happen if my argument in support of manmade climate change was wrong? If in the next 10 to 20 years, everything I believed about climate change were proven to be wrong, what would happen?

My friend smiled that gotcha kind of smile and explained that I’d look pretty foolish. Some might even consider me — although he didn’t use the word — an idiot for being taken in by all that ‘fake science’.  

I agreed, I’d look pretty stupid and in the years ahead my grandchildren would roll their eyes in disbelief when they heard stories of their gullible grandfather.  

The intensity of storms we experienced a decade or two prior were things of the past. The melting glaciers, the rise in ocean levels, the smog alerts and the disappearance of species and ecosystems were but a temporary aberration and life was as it used to be.

In the end, the result of my being wrong was nothing more than a bit of personal embarrassment. I had fallen for the con of scientific evidence and had learned my lesson.

Then I asked my friend what would happen if he was wrong and man made climate change really did exist. Would the consequences of his being wrong differ from mine?

I got that sideways glance — you know the one I mean — as he considered my question. Obviously there would be a big difference and personal embarrassment at getting it wrong would be the very least of our problems, which begs the question: right or wrong, why take the chance?  

Given the consequences of being right or wrong, the safe bet is to put the argument to the side and accept for now the idea of climate change being real and happening. You don’t have to believe but neither do you have to stand in the way of those working on the planet’s insurance policy.

If the concept of climate change is proven wrong, someone gets to say I told you so. If it is proven right and intervention through harm reduction works, then that same someone gets to live in a world that will be returning from the brink of environmental and economic disaster. It’s a win, win and in the end, will it matter who is right?