Class Warfare Blog

September 18, 2016

Pascal’s Wager and Climate Change

Filed under: Politics,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:38 am
Tags: , , , ,

A common tool of religious apologists is Pascal’s Wager, which is basically the claim that believing in God is the safest approach to reality because if you are wrong, there is no penalty and if you are right, then the rewards are tremendous. None of this applies, of course, if you “bet” that God does not exist.

This, obviously, has nothing to do with God and everything to do with human beings and risk management. I have commented before that the “risk” has been created by said god and hence Pascal’s Wager is merely part of the scam. It is not an argument in favor of god, it is an argument in favor of belief in a god whether He exists or not.

Having said all of that, Pascal was using his reasoning faculty when he proposed the idea of the “wager,” and, if this applies to something as profound as to whether to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful supernatural being, should it also not apply to belief in, say, climate change? It is an obvious correlation that “strong religious faith” and disbelief in climate change are linked in this country. Did not the Christian/Jewish god provide the Earth for us to dominate? Would God allow His Creation (man) the power to destroy His Creation (the biosphere) that supports human and other life? Doubt about their religion is unacceptable but doubt about science, which often challenges their religion, well, that is actively cultivated from the pulpits of U.S. churches. So, if the religious are going to doubt anything, it is science.

So, let us apply Pascal’s Wager to the idea of climate change. If we believe in climate change as being man-made and, hence, capable of being rectified by the actions of men, and we are right, then we may survive to live on. If we are wrong, and there is no such thing as climate change, then we have lost little. If on the other hand, we disbelieve in climate change and we are wrong, we doom the future of humanity. If we are right, then there is nothing lost. Clearly the wager favors belief.

There is another dimension of this argument, if we believe climate change is man-made and we act upon it, but none of the man-made “causes” we suspected seem to have any effect when we rectify them, then there is a consequence, we have wasted time and effort on a non-solution. But this is not a net negative. By doing that experiment, we may discover what the real causes are and then have a leg up in solving them. If we do not even attempt the experiment, then we not only won’t find out if we are right, but we will not find the underlying causes of the effect. Basically, if climate change is real and not a “hoax” as so many claim, we are better off pretending that it is real and acting upon it.

The reason this is so important is we cannot afford the experiment we are now running, the experiment of changing our climate from one that supports human life to something else, something which is likely, very likely, to be less beneficial. It is not as if it is the case that if our experiment in climate change challenges our ability to survive, there isn’t a back-up Earth we can retreat to lick our wounds and learn from our mistakes. If we are wrong about climate change being “unreal” we may pay a penalty that is beyond our worst nightmares.

To solve this problem, just requires a little belief, but time is running out as the experiment is running and has been running for decades.

 

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9 Comments »

  1. If we are wrong, and there is no such thing as climate change, then we have lost little.

    It’s better than that. If we’re wrong, we still gain, because we have millions of people not dying from air pollution.

    Comment by realthog — September 18, 2016 @ 10:32 am | Reply

    • I didn’t expand upon that because there are much larger benefits, which would make a whole post on its own. If we expand alternative energy supplies and discourage burning hydrocarbons and coal, well petroleum is almost magical stuff. we can turn it into all kinds of useful things. Coal left in the ground is ground not utterly destroyed for any other purpose. There are many, many other benefits. As a chemist in training, it was taught that burning petroleum was a terrible, terrible waste of a feedstock that could be put to way better use, which is still true.

      On Sun, Sep 18, 2016 at 10:32 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 18, 2016 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  2. To play devil’s advocate for a minute, the cost to believe in climate change is not “little” – we would have to switch to non-fossil energy as soon as possible, and the faster we want to do this, the more expensive it would be. And, of course, the faster we act, the bigger chance we will have of slowing (if not reversing) the climate change. And there is still a risk that for all our efforts, we end up with a climate we could not survive.
    It’s basically the same problem as with the original Pascal’s wager – accepting a god does not actually cost nothing, since you have to change your behavior to follow the religious norms, donate time to going to church and other church-related business, and possibly tithe a portion of your income to the church. And for all that, there’s no guarantee that you actually going to go to heaven.

    Comment by List of X — September 18, 2016 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

    • Of course all of the Wager’s argument’s weaknesses are still there. But look at “And there is still a risk that for all our efforts, we end up with a climate we could not survive.” This is basically saying … what? That we shouldn’t even try?

      The assumption that converting to “alternative” sources of energy will be costly isn’t playing out that way. Sure there are costs. There are costs in replacing worn-out coal-fired power plants, cleaning up the messes created by nuclear plants, repairing an archaic electric power distribution grid. I don’t see that the expenses of going flat-out for wind and solar power is a problem. We have needed to re-build out electric power grid for decades and that will be expensive, but we need to do that anyway; the need is not generated by alternative sources, but if we are going to re-build that infrastructure it should be in such a way that allows for greater use of them. The existing power industries do not want their sources of energy to be replaced by the sun and wind, because those are free resources; you can’t charge for them by the ton. These same companies have dragged their feet regarding re-building the electric grid because they feel that Uncle Sugar Daddy will be forced to jump in and pay for it, so it is not exactly as if those companies behavior warrants our protection.

      Several countries are already getting a very large fraction of their electrical energy from wind and solar and we could, too. Right now our dilapidated grid wastes almost half of the energy we put into it. A more efficient grid would be the equivalent of many power plants not needing to be built, and needs to be done anyway, so why not start there? We do not have to start with the most expensive options, we could actually be smart about it.

      On Sun, Sep 18, 2016 at 1:02 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 19, 2016 @ 10:14 am | Reply

      • I’m putting solar panels on my roof this year (or at least trying to), so you can’t blame me for doing nothing 🙂
        And replacing worn-out power plants with solar and wind does cost money, but probably comparable with replacing old coal power plants with new ones. That’s just the cost of doing business.
        However, if we replace a new power plant that hasn’t nearly paid off the investment with a new solar farm, most of that investment is loss and has to be covered from somewhere, either by customers or taxpayers – either way, by us. If we let all power plants and gasoline cars age out of service and get replaced at their end of life, the cost is indeed small, but the faster we try to do it, the more expensive it is. It’s still going to be much cheaper than dealing with the consequences of the global warming. And my point was that it costs not “little” to accept the climate change, not that we shouldn’t accept it.

        Comment by List of X — September 19, 2016 @ 11:16 am | Reply

        • Yeah, but what you say is “cheaper” doesn’t include the externalities that we “the people” have to pay for: the asthma and emphysema, the coal ash pits, the exaggeration of the effects of climate change before they are rolled back, etc. Oh, and there are those federal subsidies that Big Coal and Big Oil get every year to the tune of at least $8 billion. Just taking that money and using it to back alt. energy schemes would be a very low cost way of making change.

          And I would never blame you personally! You are one of the “good guys,” at least in our mutual fantasy world! ;o)

          On Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 11:16 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Comment by Steve Ruis — September 19, 2016 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

  3. Your post reminds me of one of my favorite climate denial cartoons found here

    Comment by lbwoodgate — September 19, 2016 @ 6:44 am | Reply

    • Forgot to insert the link

      Comment by lbwoodgate — September 19, 2016 @ 6:44 am | Reply

      • I remember seeing that cartoon, maybe it was the germ of the idea behind my post.

        On Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 6:44 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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        Comment by Steve Ruis — September 19, 2016 @ 8:00 am | Reply


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