Little in life is assured

Posted 12.28.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | An excellent and objective magazine, Scientific American, last month reminded its readers of the decades-long battle to link cigarette-smoking with lung cancer. No matter the experimental results, or the statistics coming out of the morgues linking death and smoking, lobbyists for the tobacco industry kept insisting the connection was not "proven", and, therefore, no restrictions should be imposed on smoking.

Many ordinary citizens took up this call against restrictions, based on an emotional commitment to personal freedom and against "big, paternalistic government." This campaign -- we later discovered it was a well-funded campaign by tobacco firms -- was able to keep legislation off the books for years, and the tobacco companies rolled up lovely profits on each of those years.

What Scientific America wanted to know was how long will we take to overcome the same scenario with climate change?

"Unquestionable proof" is the grail of those who lobby for no change to our life styles. These people may or may not be supporters of the world's coal and oil industries; it doesn't matter. Nor does their commitment to personal freedom and against paternalistic government matter. What matters is that the evidence, in bits and pieces from all over the world, is pointing not only to a growing radical change in climate but to acceptance that much of this climate change is due to human activities, mostly burning fossil fuels in one form or another.

Every one of us commits our own personal lives to courses of action which are even less "proven" than climate change: we marry, have children, choose careers, pick universities, go on vacations, buy cars and homes, and so on, all of which carry very little assurance that they will lead to the goals we expect. Marriage may lead to happiness in general and vacations may be stress-reducing, in general, but in our individual cases, we have no proof that our own marriages, vacations, or careers will be fulfilling and rewarding. Yet we do these things; we change our lives based on the skimpiest information and shakiest assumptions.

Climate change deniers (or "skeptics") may fear the cost of moving from carbon-based fuels, but imagine the cost in our individual lives of raising children.

How many people argue we should not have kids because they cost about a million dollars each to raise, and we're not millionaires?

We object that public transit is uncomfortable, yet marry someone we hardly know, in many cases subjecting ourselves to a level of relationship discomfort that can lead to mayhem, divorce battles, even suicide.

Most things in life are ambiguous. Most decisions we make are based on incomplete information. Science exists because of incomplete information. If we knew everything, why experiment? So to object that the science of climate change is incomplete is merely to state the obvious.

People still argue that tobacco is not a proven carcinogen. Why would we listen to such self-serving sophistry, whether smoking or climate change?

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/11.10