“Do Something” isn’t the same as “Do Everything”

I enjoy Gristmill very much in a they’re-almost-always-saying-stuff-that-makes-me-mad sort of way. My favorite writer is David Roberts and instead of subscribing to the torrent of posts found at the site, I subscribe just to his posts ((BTW, this is a feature every multi-author site needs to have… Crooked Timber? anybody, anybody?)).

He has two posts today that caught my fancy. In the first, he thinks its “funny and kind of awesome” that a new speech restriction in Norway disallows using words like “green” to describe cars. I write in a comment:

Is this funny (and awesome) because it says everything about what’s wrong with the absolutest green movement?

If a car is whisking Al Gore around in order for him to convert people to environmentalism, is it not doing any good for the environment?

The optimal level of pollution is not zero and the perfect is the enemy of the good. These may be cliches, but that doesn’t make them untrue.

Its so easy to glide from advocating changes in the extensive margins to suggesting changes in the intesive margin. That “something” needs to be done, doesn’t mean the extreme must be done.

The next article suffers a similar problem:

What always amazes me is that the very same crowd that spent years denying that climate change existed, and then denying that human beings cause it, and then denying that it would be a bad thing … these very same people bring every new argument to the table with a harumphing air of solemnity, because they are, by their own estimation, the Serious People.

But how stupid and mendacious do you have to be, for how long, to finally lose credibility? How many times do we have to hear these clowns out, and furrow our brows, and stroke our chins, only to conclude yet again, “nope, sorry, you’re still a tool”? How long do proven, documented fabulists and dimwits get to define what’s “reasonable”? Enough already.

Because one side has convinced the other side that something must be done about global warming doesn’t mean the other side is convinced that a whole lot needs to be done. As a commentator on the thread, carboncat, says:

“We should leave a much larger safety margin than not caring at all.”
this is a very common argument about climate change: we should act, because the consequences are so severe if it turns out to be true.

This logic is identical to Pascal’s wager. He said that you’re better off believing in the Christian God, because if you’re a Christian and you’re wrong, you meet the same fate as everyone else (nothing is lost), but if you’re an atheist and you’re wrong, you burn in hell. Therefore, you’re better off being a Christian.

Global warming is Pascal’s wager all over again. however, if your primary concern is the truth, the wager is unimportant. Keep in mind, too, there is jeopardy on both sides.
If the imminent catastrophe hypothesis is true, then we have to basically dismantle modern industrialised economies. That’s a pretty big price to pay for a hypothesis. For this reason it deserves more scrutiny than most other scientific claims. Yet people are saying “shut up! don’t question it! the science is in!”

There’s negative consequences if we do nothing, there’s negative consequences if we do too much. We need to find a happy medium.