Bret Stephens wrote a ridiculous editorial about probability and climate change in the New York Times last Friday.
In an assessment of probability that an undergraduate would scoff at, Stephens wrote, “We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris.”
Stephens goes on to suggest that we should not “deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences.” But, on the other hand, “claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong.”
This is a classic case of having your cake, and eating it too.
Anthropogenic climate change is happening with certainty. And, the consequences of climate change will be felt in the future. This isn’t mere hubris; it’s reality.
We can take aggressive steps to address climate change today, as many—including myself—are suggesting we should. However, in doing so, we must be honest with ourselves: Some of these measures will work, while others will not.
Likewise, the timing of these measures won’t be perfect. Some measureswill be implemented too early, meaning we forego certain comforts, or refrain from certain habits before we need to. Other measures will come too late, meaning we realize risk at a magnitude we might otherwise have been able to dampen.
But to suggest that being certain about climate change will somehow make the scientific community into hacks if we don’t correctly predict (1) the timing of consequences, or (2) the magnitude of risk management action needed, is foolhardy and dangerous.
Here’s a challenge for you, Bret Stephens: Take your editorial, and swap the words “preventable cancer” for “climate change”. Now, ask yourself if your doctor places her credibility on the line for suggesting that her patients take prudent action to reduce their level of risk?
No? I didn’t think so.
It’s Monday, the 1st of May, 2017. It’s not a normal day.
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