Open Mind

Video on YouTube

August 27th, 2007 · 16 Comments

This is a little different from the usual post; it’s not about the science. I happened accross an interesting video on YouTube. It discusses an argument I’ve heard before; it’s basically the “better safe than sorry” argument, but stated in a compelling way. And it’s less than 10 minutes of your time.



The creator of the video has added some follow-ups in response to some of the many responses he’s received. You can view then conveniently here, or on the creator’s YouTube site here.

They’re nothing if not entertaining. And in my opinion, his analysis is spot on.

Categories: Global Warming · climate change

16 responses so far ↓

  • Ralf // Aug 27th 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Thanks for the link, I did not know the video. The thesis of the man in the video reminds me of “Pascal’s Wager” ( The video wasnt bad, but I think that there are more convincing arguments to choose the way with climate protection. For example this paper ( ) states that it dont have to be expansive to stabilize the carbon dioxide concentration.

    Sorry that my english is not as good as it should be.


  • Zeke // Aug 27th 2007 at 5:13 pm

    I’ve bumped into that video before, but its nice to see it getting a wider audience. Its a rather simple argument for hedging our bets against low probability high impact outcomes. In any economic analysis of climate change impacts (e.g. Stern, Nordhaus, Mendleson [well, less so than the others]), the “sting” of climate change really lies in the tails of the probability distributions of climate sensitivity. One of the reasons many economists have more than a passing interest in analyzing geoengineering options is that they have the potential to “cut off the tails” of the more severe potential outcomes.

  • Gil Pearson // Aug 27th 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Great comments 1 & 2, light years ahead of the post.

  • Gil Pearson // Aug 27th 2007 at 6:21 pm

    I meant light years ahead of the video.

  • Wolfgang Flamme // Aug 27th 2007 at 10:55 pm

    Just for comparison: I’d like to have the judgement of an indian peasant as well.

  • Gil Pearson // Aug 28th 2007 at 1:01 pm

    I think that we should consider an alternative simple decision matrix. One that considers only the rational boundaries of our action and then considers the most likely outcomes at those boundaries. This might give us guidance you have seen elsewhere.

    To start with I think that there is little alternative other than to plan to de-carbonize the energy sector. The question is how fast and it is that which controls the politics and of course the cost.

    At one end of the spectrum I would propose a comfortable program of de-carbonization in say 100 years. In the case of electricity this may consist of, 15 years to develop technology, 10 to diffuse it, 50 years to retire and rebuild existing plants and maybe a further 20 years for the same in developing countries. This is the speed at which things normally happen as it avoids the destruction of existing hard assets. So long as we take our time and do not close existing plants early, economic disruption is avoided. I think that we can expect good technology solutions and/or bio-mass offsets for other sectors of the energy sector over a similar period. Notice that for the first 15 years we are only signing up for technology development. Even a hard skeptic should accept this as reasonable minimum action as it gives more time for science to prove or disprove AGW. Also notice that this is a job for big capital and technology. The ordinary citizen can go about their lives without much disruption. Tamino you can leave your coffee pot warmer on all night.

    50 Year Decarburization At the other end of the spectrum there is really no choice other than to spend a lot of money. Everything above has to happen in half the time. We have to close plants, raise taxes on energy to drive conservation and deploy expensive interim low carb solutions. China, India and everybody else needs to agree to all this even if it makes them poorer.

    Consequences It is important not to cherry pick extreme consequences. To avoid making judgments driven by an agenda, perhaps it is safest to use an IPCC middle case, constrained with the above de-carb plans and consider only consequences that they list. It is here that I run out of solid detail, (Your specialty Tamino) but I think that if you apply the above emissions constraints to factors such as sea level rise and malarial mosquitoes, you get something like the following, (note the affects of CO2 concentrations are logarithmic)

    Sea level rise in 100 years 20 to 60 cm–IPCC
    100 year de-carb 50 cm sea level rise
    50 year de-carb 35cm sea level rise

    Malaria Increase with 700 ppm CO2—7% (from memory Richard Toll?)
    100 year de-carb 7% more cases
    50 year de-carb 5% more cases

    I have taken a lot of space to say something simple. Within the spectrum of our credible action we can only have a small effect on consequences. Also note that this effect is much smaller than natural variation. In the case of malaria we expect a 100% increase in cases in the next 50 years. Lets fix Malaria (B$20), instead of spending T$ to reduce it by 2%. Many hundreds of thousands of people died last century in Bangladesh due to tropical storms. 15cm of top of a 3 or 4 meter storm surge is not a lot. If you really care about those Bangladeshis you would help build sea walls there. Add an extra layer of bricks to adapt to CO2 while you are about it.

    Sorry for the long comment. Were is RP Snr and Jnr when you need them?

  • Brian Schmidt // Aug 28th 2007 at 4:22 pm

    I wrote about the video here:


    My guess would be that anyone who thinks climate change has at least a 20% chance of being true should find this argument at least partially convincing, and the greater likelihood you give it above 20%, the more it should be convincing.

  • Alexander Ac // Aug 28th 2007 at 11:16 pm


    in both columns there is economic depression (with “yes” for climate change). With every next scientific paper, the picture is clearer and clearer and one could not say it is “better”. The “yes” or “no” for climate change is NOT in question. The question is “how serious it will be”.

    We will only “win”, when climate change is serious and we will act soon. The later we act, the higher the probability of higher “loss”.

    Alternatively, we can hope that technological developement is “faster” than the climate change and that reducing carbon footprint in the future will be much, much, much and much cheaper than is it now and it will outweigh the cost of acting “now” and the cost of worsening climate change due to delayed start of “action”.

    I think that one should believe in “technical miracle” in order to delay the action on climate change.

    Somebody does? ;-)

    well, maybe here:

    will 50% efficient solar panels save us? :-)

  • tamino // Aug 29th 2007 at 12:01 am

    Regarding the issue of how to bring about action: it may be that the only way to spur the U.S. government is to take this issue to the voting booth. If we make it crystal clear that this is a *big* issue for voters, and that candidates who oppose action will be voted out regardless of party affiliation, then both democrats and republicans will suddenly “see the light.”

  • Deech56 // Aug 29th 2007 at 12:45 am

    Tamino my friend, I think you are being overly optimistic. I remember the 1980 election when people were drawn to the easy path. Conservation was for gloom and doomers; it was morning in America and don’t hold us back. When an argument about a minor adjustment in only one bit of evidence turns into an excuse to bash an entire field of science, the task just become more difficult (but with your posts you are fighting the good fight). All the BAU crowd needs to do is set up roadblocks and scream bloody murder about any perceived change in our wasteful lifestyle.

    I’ll post the video anyway.

  • EliRabett // Aug 29th 2007 at 1:45 am

    Michael Tobis had a better version of this argument, when he pointed out that the costs increased non-linearly with the forcings which weights any decision matrix to taking action.

  • Marko // Aug 29th 2007 at 2:17 am

    Here are a couple of comments on the video.

    I appreciate the video dispenses with the anthropogenic aspect and goes straight to GCC. In other words, the worst-case scenario predicted in the lower-right quadrant is important even if humans were not the cause.

    Also, based on the video, it seems important to consider other worst-case scenarios. For example, replace GCC with a different global catastrophy such as a major impact event, i.e., a large object colliding with Earth which leads to mass extinctions.

    Which events do we protect against? How do we decide where funding should go? The video implies that the threshold for “action” is based on the worst case scenrio being so extreme. Using that assumption, it would be irresponsible to address only one potential catastrophy.

    It is still reasonable expect a ranking of potential catastrophies based on probability and other factors.

    There is probably a limit to what we humans can afford, but surely it is more than just GCC.

    To conclude, I think the video is too simplistic in it’s approach. For example, some may consider “global capitalism” to be a potential catastrophy. If you replace GCC with “global capitalism”, the video makes the same compelling argument: we can’t take the chance, we must get rid of global capitalism. It is a silly example, but that is the point.

  • magma // Aug 30th 2007 at 6:40 am

    It helps (or reminds) one to see the forest from the trees, which is sometimes a good thing.

    I liked it.

  • Marko // Aug 30th 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Update: the Copenhagen Consensus 2004 is a list of the major challenges of the world. I don’t necessarily agree with the ranking of the climate issues. But a ranking is the right way to go.

  • ks // Aug 31st 2007 at 2:47 am

    Specifically, the Copenhagen Consensus is generally viewed as flawed/biased approach that was designed to discredit climate issues. It would not be a good model to use for future study.

    I have found the claims of taking action to curb carbon emissions as overly economically damaging is the true alarmism. I am yet to see a serious (read: peer-reviewed or governmentally sanctioned) study of the economics that has concluded the cost exceeds the benefits. Any serious study (i.e. Stern Report, IPCC WG3) has claimed that inaction would result in cost exceeding benefit.

    [Response: Good point.]

  • george // Aug 31st 2007 at 2:01 pm

    The term “alarmism” and characterization of people as “alarmists” are essentially vacuous — and completely subjective. What one finds alarming depends completely on one’s point of view, so alarmism is in the eye of the beholder.

    In the US, some may not find it “alarming” that Tuvalu will sink beneath the waves if sea level rises. But residents of that country may feel a little differently. So the leader of Tuvalu who proposes emissions cuts may be considered a completely rational individual in Tuvalu but an “alarmist” in places that will not feel the effects of sea level rise.

Leave a Comment