Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:32 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 22:32 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Climate and risk


Sam Roggeveen


26 August 2009 10:50

Fergus Green asks:

If Nassim Nicholas Taleb doesn't think climate change is anthropogenic, why is he concerned about 'releasing pollutants in the atmosphere'? In other words, why advocate that we 'leave the planet the way we got it' if you don't think the things we're doing to it are the cause of the changes we're seeing? Reducing emissions only makes sense if those emissions are causing harmful effects (ie. climate change), which the science says is almost certainly the case.

Second, Taleb appears — at least from his remarks as quoted in the excerpt — to have confused two separate questions. It is one thing to acknowledge the imprecision of long-term projections about climate impacts (no climate modeller would profess to have invented a perfect model), but this does not invalidate the science and modelling on which conclusions about the causes of climate change (ie. that it is primarily anthropogenic) are based.

Nonentheless, Taleb's broader argument is compelling: climate change should be seen from a 'risk management' perspective, and we should err on the side of extreme caution rather than assuming that all the projection numbers are perfectly accurate. For all the misguided sceptical attention focused on proving with 100% certainty that climate change is human-induced (as if good policy-making were based on pure mathematics), if our esteemed politicians considered the risks we are taking by increasing global greenhouse gas emissions unabated (ie. a very high probability of catastrophic, irreversible consequences), they might see the virtue in a more rational posture.

Then again, perhaps Taleb's wisdom is more instructively applied to federal politics: who knows what unintended consequences might flow from introducing an extraneous concept like 'rationality' into such a complex system as the Coalition party-room?

In the interests of balance, I would note that the Government's emissions trading proposal is hardly a model of rationality either, given that the generous compensation offered to polluters directly undermines the incentive to reduce CO2 output, which is the purpose of the scheme.