Relearning Humility in a Time of Climate Change
An Article for 1400 Sahitya
by Larry Lohmann
first published 30 July 2007
Climate change does not follow smooth, linear paths. Instead, as the climate record indicates, it is often a matter of what philosopher-trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls "Black Swans" -- unlikely but unpredictable events of extreme impact any one of which can overturn all expectations.
Economists, policymakers and journalists are finding it difficult to come to terms with this fact. They are still hoping for a predictable future in which the costs and benefits of climate policy can be calculated, and are pressuring scientists to say exactly how probable this or that climate outcome will be.
In addition, the accounting systems for the massive carbon trading programmes now being launched worldwide require that an unknowable future be treated as predictable down to the last particular. The blend of arrogance and escapism that characterizes such official efforts to tackle global warming is dangerous for the world.