To Err or Not to Err on Caution’s Side

By Cyberquill 02/24/20142 Comments

Danger Thin Ice

Climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction. (John Kerry)

Speaking of weapons of mass destruction, remember those stockpiles allegedly harbored by Saddam as per intelligence reports widely deemed credible save by a handful of dissenting skeptics?

In 2002, referring to France’s reluctance to join the then-coalition of the willing, David Letterman famously quipped that “the last time the French asked for more proof, it came marching into Paris under a German flag.”

If these stockpiles existed, it stood to reason that the Iraqi regime could have plied terrorist organizations with chemical and biological warfare agents to be wielded against the U.S. and its allies.

Unsurprisingly, conservatives fell over themselves in propounding a policy of erring on the side of caution and toppling with military might the powers that be in Baghdad lest some day a cruet of sarin fell into the wrong hands and became unstopped on the A-train pulling into Times Square during rush hour.

Better safe than sorry.

Somehow I don’t recall Bill O’Reilly using the views of a few intransigent skeptics as the basis for declaring that “no one knows for certain” whether there were WMDs in Iraq and asking for more proof while urging temperance rather than a rushing into war. Instead, he readily subscribed to what the majority of experts had asserted, based on which he reasoned that the U.S. couldn’t invade fast enough and that the skeptics were crazy.

Yet with like alacrity, Mr O’Reilly now belittles the notion that man may have a hand in climate change as a “fervent liberal cause,” thus effectively privileging the credibility of a handful of skeptics over the 97% of scientists that have concluded—with no less conviction than had all those intelligence mavens who assured us that “Saddam had them”—that climate change and global warming are, at least in part, man-made phenomena; hence we oughtn’t rush into too drastic action in curbing whatever emissions those fervent liberals want to see curbed.

Although the lines are blurry to some extent, it does seem that, in general, those most eager to dismiss the skeptics when it came to WMDs in Iraq are now the ones more likely to embrace the skeptics when it comes to climate change, and vice versa.

Once bitten twice shy?

More likely, people tend to adopt whatever point of view happens to square with their core beliefs, and so they simply throw in with whomever happens to concur with their druthers, be it the majority of experts or a few dissenting voices in the wilderness.

Conservatives, by and large, liked the idea of shock-and-awing Baghdad, deposing Saddam, and establishing a U.S.-friendly beachhead in the Middle East. To that end, echoing the views of whomever put forth the existence of WMD stockpiles seemed most conducive to presenting a compelling case in favor of invasion—and since those views were conveniently espoused by the majority of experts, so much the better.

Whereas liberals, generally averse to aggressive military intervention, thought it more beneficial to their cause to latch on to the dissenting point of view on Iraq’s alleged WMDs (although, granted, a slew of them, including the aforequoted John Kerry, ultimately came around to joining conservatives in erring on the side of caution—after all, Saddam might have had them—and favoring preemptive action).

On the climate front, the prevailing conservative stance is to frown upon the prospect of imposing stricter environmental standards that may negatively impact upon business in the short term. Therefore, most conservatives see fit to echo the views of a dissenting minority of scientists that see the warming of the planet as part of a natural climate fluctuation unrelated to human activity, in which case emission control standards would constitute but an ineffective impediment to economic growth.

Liberals, generally more concerned about the welfare of caribous and polar bears than of big business, and hence more open to accepting reckless human behavior as the catalyst for global warming, obviously have less incentive to cast about for and trot out a few scattered skeptics than they had in the WMD matter, and are therefore eminently comfortable in erring on the side of caution and signing on to what most experts say.

Overall, it appears that conservatives will enthusiastically err on the side of caution with respect to any potential threat that may be assuaged or eliminated by way of brute force, but they’ll evince rather muted enthusiasm in the caution department with respect to any hazard the remedy for which may be construed as unfriendly to the economy or contains the terms “green” or “alternative.”

Besides, no matter one’s ideological persuasion, the Popperian principle of making an effort to disprove one’s pet theories instead of merely looking for confirming evidence squares poorly with human nature.

In related news, during a recent episode of Meet the Press, Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn offered this curious observation on atmospheric concentration of CO2:

Well, I think that what you have to do is look at what that warming is, and when you look at the fact that we have gone from 320 parts per million [to] 400 parts per million, what you do is realize that it’s very slight.

This leaves one to wonder if the good Congresswoman would brush off as equally “slight” a near 30% (!) increase in, say, the global abortion rate. Probably not.

So the basic question is this:

In your heart of hearts, are you rooting in favor of climate change being man-made—and hence potentially reversible by way of man’s concerted efforts—or would you prefer that climate change resided beyond human control?

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  • Richard

    Let us identify the focus of this discussion. Is it the acceptance of the premiss that climate change is man-made or is it the wisdom of adopting the measures promoted?

    I doubt you wish to force acceptance of the premiss upon your readers. If, therefore, you advocate caution, it is necessary to find independent reasons, otherwise any conduct or action can be justified, even the rejection of caution.

    • Cyberquill

      My point is that our personal preferences regarding a controversial issue will dictate our views on it, regardless of whether those views align with the majority of experts on the subject or a minority of expert skeptics.

      Thus, if we wanted Saddam Hussein to possess WMDs, we simply threw in with those who said he had them, and to hell with the skeptics.

      And if we want climate change to be a bogus issue cooked up by environmental extremists, we’ll simply throw in with the skeptics, and to hell with what most scientists say.

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