I was wanting to touch on something that I’ve tried to discuss before. I didn’t do a great job last time, and a I may not do a great job this time, but I’ll give it a go. A regular criticism of the coverage of climate change is that there is too much focus on the bad aspects, and not enough – if any – on potentially good aspects. Personally, I think this criticism is wrong, and I will try to explain why.
Imagine we were actively trying to change our climate; that we felt that we could change it to something better than we have now. Before doing so, we would want to know how our climate would change in ways that we would regard as good, ways we would regard as bad, how – overall – this compared to our current climate, and the costs associated with making the change. We could then decide if changing our climate were worth doing.
However, this isn’t what we’re doing. Climate change is inadvertant; it’s a side effect of energy generation. In a simple sense, the correct comparison is between the benefits of the energy we generate and the risks associated with doing it as we do. Consequently, we really need to consider the possibility of severe outcomes due to climate change, the benefits of the energy that we generate, and the costs associated with generating it in a way that minimises these risks. That some of the impacts of climate change might be good, doesn’t trump that some might be very bad.
We might decide that the benefits outweight the risks and that we should leave things as they are. We might decide that the risks could be severe and that it would be worth generating energy differently, or that it’s worth changing our lifestyles so that we use energy more efficiently (or both). We may even find that it would be quite straightforward to generate energy in a way that would minimise the risks without severely impacting our lifestyles. However, whatever we decide, I don’t think that the possibility that there might be some good aspects to climate change is all that relevant.
Therefore, until such time as we actually want to change our climate, that there could be some positives doesn’t – I think – really come into the analysis. Of course, if we had perfect knowledge, it might, but we don’t, and that’s the key point. We’re dealing with possibilities, and so the possibility of really severe outcomes, trumps the possibility of some good outcomes. To be clear, though, this is just my current thinking on this, and I don’t think I’ve explained this as clearly as I would have liked. I’m quite interested in what others might think, so if anyone thinks differently, or would like to expand on this, feel free to do so through the comments.