Friday, October 30, 2009

Cause global warming? Yes we do.

Beyond a reasonable doubt.

The global warming problem brings to light several issues which may represent the Achilles heel of Science. Who says we need absolute, conclusive, evidence-based proof of cause and effect before taking action? Science. And policymakers who believe that if they base their decisions on science, their derrières are covered.

However, climate change may be the thing that blows their cover. Firstly, while the ups and downs of global temperature have been cyclical over the ages, the recent sharp increase has been unprecedented. Second, the steep rise in greenhouse gas emissions by humans has also been unprecedented. Quite enough of a link — or evidence-based proof — to make governments act prudently if they valued their Earth more than their tax revenue. It seems they don't.

The problem is that for self-preserving policymakers, the strict scientific method is preferred. If you can neither independently verify results, isolate the phenomenon from all other factors nor repeat the test, the hypothesis falls apart. The perfect rationalization for doing nothing.

But we the people need action. What if we viewed damage to the environment, often knowing, willful and premeditated, as a crime rather than collateral damage in the quest for riches? Then, as in the courts, we could hold our rulers to the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. It may may not have been proven in a laboratory that humans contribute to accelerated global warming and climate change but it is true, beyond a reasonable doubt.

I may be judging science too harshly. There are branches that weigh a multitude of factors and make decisions that are not guaranteed to be successful. In medicine for example, it is routine for doctors to evaluate a patient's array of complex conditions against any number of possible treatments and gamble on a procedure that may save a life.

And wouldn't you know, that kind of science is good enough for policymakers. It gave Ted Kennedy an extra year of enviable life. Countless others benefit every day from scientific decisions based on judgement rather than mere data. So why not base decisions about saving the planet on legal or medical experience rather than the petri dish alone?