One of the great debates in recent times has been over whether human-caused climate change is real or not. Sceptics and supporters have lined up against each other in impassioned debates each convinced that they are right and denouncing the view of the other side. What both do agree is that it is an incredibly important issue.

So who is right or wrong? I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m not a scientist and even if I read all the research I’ll still only ever be speculating with my view. I realised a while ago that I’m neither a sceptic nor a supporter. I’m a realist. What I care about is the type of future my kids will have. So, not surprisingly, I am most interested in risk mitigation and the avoidance of a doomsday scenario.

In the end with issues of this magnitude the question of who is right or wrong is immaterial. What matters most is the answer to two simple questions. What if you’re wrong? And if you are wrong can you live with the consequences? These questions force deliberations to focus not on political agendas or ingrained prejudices but the risk management of each possible scenario.

With respect to climate change there are four main scenarios:

It’s a myth and no-one does anything about it

It’s a myth but there is collective action to mitigate it anyway.

It’s real but no-one does anything about it

It’s real and there is collective action taken to mitigate it.

Which scenarios represent reasonable risk-management options for such an important issue? While the sceptics might be overjoyed with (1) it’s a “cross your fingers and hope” strategy. Not good. (3) represents apathy and could be catastrophic. Only (2) and (4) are sensible. The heart of both of these options is a realisation that no matter what we might think we could be wrong and that could be cataclysmic.

Whether the issue is climate change or something else important in your business it’s usually better to take action to manage the potential risks than to do nothing at all. Doing nothing, in my view, is usually the riskiest decision you can take. The skill is in making sensible, informed timely decisions based on all the available information but also making sure that enough safeguards are in place to ensure that a doomsday event does not occur. Implicit in this is an honest assessment of what would happen if you are wrong and whether you (and, in the case of climate change, your kids) could live with the consequences…

Image from Greenpeace