What if You’re Wrong?


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 

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  1. The Cynic


  2. 'Raffe

    Nice angle on Climate Change. You don’t fail to take out home insurance because “it probably won’t happen” …

  3. Earlville

    You raise a significant issue here.
    You may be aware that I have devoted a lot of study to climate crisis.
    It’s not climate change, as the climate has been oscillating at times wildly for the last 4 billion years.
    We have been lucky enough to be living in one of the rare quiet times, as far as climate is concerned.
    This is, pure and simple, crisis.

    With great respect, there has not been any disagreement for ages (years) about whether or not the climate is changing.

    The big issue is the cause of the change. The fight is between ‘naturally occurring’ and ‘human caused’.
    Personally this polarisation is a stupid way to look at things, as we know perfectly well about great cyclical change.
    The recently extracted central Greenland ice cores tell the story of the last 240,000 years: up and down, with crises.

    It used to be a fight, now it’s a muted argument.
    In the left corner, in the green shorts, is the ‘total human agency’ argument. We did it, ergo we can fix it, just like that, stop.
    This is the environmental hubris movement at work who, like religious groups, prefer simple answers to oversimplified questions.
    But you and I know that climate systems are not restricted to natural forces on earth, but, like the tides, are also driven by external forces.
    The conjunction of these forces is tremendously complex, which simply does not suit the sloganeering throng who want simple something to stand for.

    In the right corner, in the red shorts, is the ‘we didn’t do it, so we don’t need to do anything about it’ argument.
    Tis is the business mob who are so focused on getting rich that any interruption is cause for anger and/or derision. Enter Mr Bolt.
    It’s all natural, it’s just cyclical, it won’t hurt us, it’s too far away to worry us, is it really happening, the government will take care of it.
    You’ve heard it all before.

    What’s really happening, in this polarity charade, is that the house is on fire and the hunt is on for who lit the match.

    What I realised long ago is it simply doesn’t matter who lit the match, left the fridge door open, forgot to turn off the sprinkler.
    As my friend, Professor David Karoly of Uni Melb (2007 Nobel Laureate and author of the IPCC fourth report) told me:
    If we switched off all carbon emissions right this minute (2007), it would take 400,000 years for the current carbon to dissipate.
    In other words, nothing can stop what’s headed our way. The climate is irreversibly altering, man-made or naturally, and we just have to adapt.
    While we’re still in Andrew Bolt-Land, where dwells the hack hired to stir up the blue rinse set in Malvern, then denial is not just a river in Egypt.

    The plain fact is that we humans are immensely stupid and gutless when it comes to accepting big change.
    However, when the change does inevitable hit us, we are hugely courageous and we adapt in an instant.

    The smart guys are well prepared for when the water rises and storm surges rip away millions of acres of arable land.
    The ensuing water wars will not affect them, as they will have natural springs close by.
    We already know where the water will fall in the future. And it will be very scarce below a line drawn EW across the centre of Oz.
    The northern rain belt will move south to near the centre, while the north will be too wet to farm commercially.
    New Zealand South Island is your best bet.

    Back to your article, the real argument as you suggest is no argument at all.
    All that matters, and what frames the real question, is that huge change will overwhelm us.

    So what will you be doing about it? No need to rush, these changes take time.
    Are you aware that 125,000 years ago the sea was 6m higher than today?
    And that 18,000 years ago it was 120m lower than today?
    Mankind managed quite OK with these changes.

    Best wishes in all this. Better pump up those lilos soon.