In my last post I accused global warming deniers of reckless endangerment if they use the argument that we should do nothing until we have "proof" of the harms that are caused by human emissions of greenhouse gasses and our ability to prevent those harms. I compared them to a ship's captain who demands that the ship proceed at full speed unless and until he has absolute proof of an iceberg dead ahead. Even is no iceberg shows up, that captain is guilty of reckless endangerment. If an iceberg does show up, the moral crime of reckless endangerment becomes the moral crime of negligent homicide.
If sea level rise does show up, the moral crime or reckless endangerment assigned to those who use the "Must Have Proof" argument will also (or, actually, has already) turned into the moral crime of negligent homicide.
However, this particular coin has a flip side. On the other side of the debate, some people have started to advocate that the One Percent Doctrine should be applied to climate change.
The One Percent Doctrine says that if a particular threat has a 1% chance of causing significant harm, then we should treat it as if it is certain and act accordingly.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney itterated the One Percent Doctrine with respect to America's war on terror.
If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.
(See: Wikipedia, The One Percent Doctrine.
So, on this doctrine:
If there's a 1% chance that human greenhouse gas emissions will destroy cities and cause whole populations to suffer, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.
However, this is an absolutely absurd and irrational doctrine that will all but guarantee that we do far more harm than we prevent. Those who follow the One Percent Doctrine become a far worse threat than the "harms" they claim to be preventing us from.
Let us assume that we apply the One Percent Doctrine 100 times. In each case, we face a 1% chance of suffering $25 trillion worth of destruction. In each case, we treat the 1% chance of destruction as equal to 100% chance of destruction (as 'certainty'). Now, if we are facing a 100% chance of $25 trillion in destruction, it is rational for us to spend, say, $20 trillion avoiding that destruction. Let us now do that 100 times against each of these threats. We have now spent $2,000 trillion to avoid what would have been on average $25 trillion in losses.
In other words, by following the One Percent Doctrine, we have made things 80 times worse than they would have been if we had done nothing at all. We have, in effect, made ourselves eighty times more dangerous than any of the threats we faced - making ourselves, as I said, our own worse enemy.
The One Percent Doctrine is moral and rational rubbish.
It is just as stupid to treat a 1% chance that something is happening as if it were 100% certain to happen as it is to treat a 99% chance that something is happening as if it were 0% certain. Whereas it is reasonable in the latter case to conclude that the agent is guilty of gross negligence and, where people die as a result, negligent homicide. The same is true in the first case as well. People who follow the One Percent Doctrine are equally guilty of gross negligence (in my example above, making themselves a threat eighty times worse than any they claim to be protecting us against). And, where death results, they, too, are guilty of negligent homicide.
And death can result.
For one thing, the $2,000 trillion wasted in my example above is money that could have gone into medical research and other programs where it could have been used to save lives. If, in this example, we had done nothing, we would have likely suffered $25 trillion in harm from one of the threats, but had $1,975 trillion to spend on medical research, hunger relief, disease prevention, education, and countless other programs each of which would have saved lives. As a matter of fact, the follower of the One Percent Doctrine has said, "All of you we could have saved with this wealth will have to suffer and die so that we can waste the resources over here instead."
Let us not forget the fact that the One Percent Doctrine has already been used to justify a war that has, in fact, resulted in the destruction of trillions of dollars worth of property, the diversion of trillions of dollars more, the deaths of over a hundred thousand people, the suffering of tens of millions, and, so far, six years of horror in the lives of children who did not acquire the education resources they will need to be successful adults. This is just one case where the One Percent Doctrine slipped from reckless endangerment to negligent homicide.
Next, we need to ask why certain people in the Climate Change Debate find this morally and rationally absurd principle attractive. Are they motivated by a sincere desire to prevent harm?
Hardly. Somebody motivated by a sincere desire to prevent harm would easily notice that this doctrine leads to far more harm than it prevents. The only principle that actually prevents harm is one that says we should live in the real world and use real world facts. We treat a 1% chance that something will happen as a 1% chance - we do not argue that 1% = 100%. We treat a 50% chance that something will happen as being as likely as not. And we treat a 99% chance that something will happen as a 99% chance - we do not argue that 99% = 0%.
What has happened is that these agents have fallen in love with a policy to the point that they are driven to pursue the policy regardless of whether or not it makes sense. Their love for the policy means that they will seek out any excuse - no matter how stupid or irrational - that gives that policy a cloak of legitimacy.
They need to remind themselves that the morally responsible goal is not to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The morally responsible goal is to prevent harm - and we cannot prevent harm with the One Percent Rule. We cause harm that could otherwise be prevented with that rule. So it is not a rule that a morally responsible person would adopt.