Monday, June 9, 2014

Penn cops out on global warming

I just listened to Penn Jillette's podcast (Penn's Sunday School, May 31, 2014). He briefly discussed his change of heart on global warming, which I would paraphrase as "whether or not global warming is a problem, this is all stuff we want to do." This is a cop-out.
Sure, some things that have been discussed as reducing carbon emissions or ameliorating the effects of global warming would be beneficial. They might save lives. But are they more beneficial or more life-saving than other things we could do instead? What is the goal here, and what assumptions are we making?
Don't forget, trying to save lives by reversing global warming prevents us from trying to save lives in other ways, some of which could be more effective.
My point is, there are many things we want to do, but we can't do them all. If the politics of global warming did not impose unwelcome costs on anyone, no one would complain, and the controversy would never have exploded.
Global warming is both a scientific and a political challenge. What do we know, and how certain are we? What can we do about it? Can we get the entire planet to agree? How will the agreement be enforced? We will not solve these problems easily, and no one would embrace them without strong motivation. Certainly we would prefer to avoid catastrophe, but do we actually know how? And finally, in response to Penn, if global warming is not that big a problem, no, we don't want to do all those things anyway.

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