In my latest reading of Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (copyright 1992, 1993), Al Gore talks about climate change skeptics.
Gore acknowledges that there are scientists who are skeptical about climate change—-he mentions Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT. Moreover, on pages 36-37, Gore refers to certain arguments that are advanced by a few scientists that climate change is no cause for alarm: that greenhouse gasses trapping heat in the atmosphere results in the production of more clouds, which help to regulate “the earth’s temperature”; and that “we don’t have to worry about climate change causing widespread droughts in the middle of continental landmasses because the faster evaporation of moisture from the soil in a warmer atmosphere will be offset by changes in rainfall patterns.”
Gore is all for seeking answers to questions to alleviate uncertainty, as well as debate. But he expresses what his problem is on pages 38-39: “In this case, when 98 percent of the scientists in a given field share one view and 2 percent disagree, both viewpoints are sometimes presented in a format in which each appears equally credible.” As a result, according to Gore, there is a reluctance to take the difficult yet necessary steps to address the problem of climate change. Meanwhile, there are special interests that are quite satisfied with the status quo.
Not long after Gore makes this statement about scientific consensus, Gore refers to times in which widespread scientific agreement has been wrong: on continental shift not having occurred, for example. I was not entirely clear on what his point was there. But I can see his larger point about climate change skepticism. There are plenty of debates that may not make that much of a difference—-even if we get something wrong, we can come back later and get things right. In the case of climate change, however, suppose that those who believe that it exists and is caused by humans are right. If we do nothing to address the problem, there may come a point when it can no longer be addressed, with disastrous results for nature and human beings.
But skeptics about climate change can come back and say that we can’t impose regulations that will damage the economy over a speculative doomsday scenario. I think that’s why Gore’s arguments that you don’t have to choose between the environment and the economy are so important.