What have VP Dick Cheney and activist AGWers got in common?
They all subscribe to a version of the One per Cent Doctrine, a kind of Precautionary Principle.
As reported by Jeremy Waldron on the London Review of Books commenting “Worst-Case Scenarios” by Cass Sunstein, according to Ron Suskind’s “The One Per Cent Doctrine” (2006) this is what the US Vice-president has to say on how to deal with potential nuclear threats:
If there’s a one per cent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaida build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response . . . It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It’s about our response.
It’s way too easy to read in there one of the favorite AGW lines:
If there’s a one per cent chance that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are tipping the planet towards an environmental catastrophe, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response . . . It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It’s about our response.
Readers of this blog may already know that I find all Precautionary Principles as literally abominable, a refusal of what makes us human. All proponents of Precaution as a Principle should just curl up on the floor and happily wait for life eventually to end, without fear of any danger of course.
Still, as acknowledged by Waldron, there exists the issue of how to deal with unlikely-but-catastrophic problems. On this, I do not think anybody’s got a clear answer yet. The only sure thing is, Precautionary Principles won’t help, as explained by Waldron:
The trouble with the One Per Cent Doctrine, for example, is that it does not say enough about the costs that may be involved in our response […] we rely on regulatory regimes to investigate the consequences of the introduction of the new product. But the regulatory process takes time, and time may produce its own catastrophes. Many people believe, Sunstein says, that prohibitions on genetic modification or its over-regulation ‘might well result in many deaths’, presumably from hunger in developing countries which the stronger crops might have helped alleviate. […] The point is to alert us to ‘substitute risks’: ‘hazards that materialise, or are increased, as a result of regulation’. If governments take responsibility for avoiding catastrophic outcomes, they must also take responsibility for the catastrophes that attend their efforts at avoiding these outcomes, including other catastrophes that are not addressed because of the expense of addressing this one. […]
Interestingly, Waldron ends his review lamenting Sunstein’s “failure to devote more sustained attention to issues of rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged. […] Worst-Case Scenarios […] would have been a better book had it spent more time on the issues of distributive and corrective justice that attend the prevention of catastrophic harm“.
Because as things stand at the moment, AGW policies mostly hit the poor…