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Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See

I recently saw a video about climate change being posted on facebook. Its a modern example of a logic argument known as Pascal’s Wager, which goes something like;

  • God may or may not exist
  • You can choose to believe in god or not
  • If you choose to believe in God
    • and god exists you will go to heaven
    • and god does not exist, you will have wasted effort believing in him but nothing bad will happen
  • If you choose to not believe in God
    • and god exists you will go to hell forever
    • and does not exist nothing bad will happen
  • Since you cannot know if god exists, you should believe in him anyway as the only sure way of avoiding the possibility of going to hell forever

There are many things wrong with this type of argument:

God doesn’t exist
This is the most obvious problem. There is clear evidence that God in the Christian “go to hell” formulation does not exist. This problem is also present in the video. There is a compelling body of evidence that there is global warming caused by human activity.

God may not reward belief
If you ignore the first problem, for the sake of argument, then a second problem appears. It is possible that God will send you to hell even if you believe in him; for instance if you do something especially “bad”. And he may send you to heaven even if you don’t believe in him, for instance if you do something especially “good”.

The video also has this problem. Just because we try to fix global warming doesn’t mean we will be able to. If we don’t understand what is causing it and how it works, our attempted fix could actually make the situation work. Carbon offsetting is a good example of a an attempt at a solution that is actually making the problem worse.

Here is the video:

Or watch Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See on you-tube.

Other problems
There are some other problems in the video which are not as apparent in Pascal’s wager.

The degree of action
There are a wide range of possible actions that could be taken to combat global warming. They have different costs, carry different risk and will give different benefits. Should we try and stop all global warming or just half of it? If we can risk a small global depression to fix part of the problem is that a better bet than risking a massive global depression to fix all of it? The video ignores this point completely.

Understanding this is essential, so we can choose the most effect measures to combat climate change without causing excessive harm to people, probably the very poor, in the process.

miss-valued outcome
The diagram in the video is drawn incorrectly. The bottom left hand corner should have global economic depression in it, not smile. This is because, in his argument, the effect of fixing global warming will be global economic depression no matter if global warming exists or not. So the only square which is not a bad outcome is really the top right square.

the effect of economic depression
The argument that we should do something about global warming depends on our ability to do something about it. It could be that during a global economic depression we would be so busy fighting hunger and poverty, and generally trying to stay alive that we would not be capable of doing anything else. This problem can already be seen in poor parts of the world, where it is very difficult to tell someone not to burn coal when they believe that burning coal is a way out of poverty.

the amount of risk
The amount of risk on each axis is very important. It could be that the risk of a total economic melt-down is low, and the risk from climate change is very high (this is what the evidence seems to indicate). However, if the evidence were the other way around then it would have an important impact on our choice. We choose to take risks every day. Crossing the road could have terminal consequences, but the risk of being run down is low, and the rewards are high (getting to the kebab shop).

It is a pity that such an invalid argument in favour of doing something about global warming has been given such prominence. We need to make correct and honest arguments supported by evidence if we are really going to tackle this problem in an effective way without causing excessive harm.

An analysis of the underlying sociological, economic, historic and political processes that have lead to the the current situation seems essential to devising a strategy for change. And a sound understanding of the science of climate change seems to be the only way we have available to help us choose effective strategies for averting the potentially massively damaging consequences of our over consumption.

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