"Better Act Now" Than Being Sorry Later? or The Economist vs. The Titanic

Insuring against catastrophe“, proclaims The Economist after publishing an article that just a few weeks ago would have been at the receiving end of sorts of insults by climate talibans:

Plenty of uncertainty remains; but that argues for, not against, action. If it were known that global warming would be limited to 2°C, the world might decide to live with that. But the range of possible outcomes is huge, with catastrophe one possibility, and the costs of averting climate change are comparatively small. Just as a householder pays a small premium to protect himself against disaster, the world should do the same.

The Economist is wrong.

If you want to insure yourself against catastrophe, surely the very first thing you want to do is to make sure that the end result won’t be worse than the catastrophe you’re trying to avoid.

Take for example what happened with the unsinkable Titanic. It is very likely that, had the crew just slowed down the ship without trying to turn it to avoid the iceberg, four or fewer compartments would have been flooded, and the whole sinking avoided with everybody on board surviving the accident. First Officer Murdoch simply didn’t think about the consequences of some of his actions. The cost of trying to avert the iceberg was as high as losing more the fifteen hundred lives.

And so just like with the famous liner, even if we believe he environment is soon going to crush against some disaster of an iceberg, still we can’t simply decide to do something for the sake of doing something. Uncertainty doesn’t necessarily argue for action.

Now, if only we could get the climate debate to a reasonable level, things would be a tad simpler than they are.