Pascal’s Wager Applied to Global Warming

Blaise Pascal was a French Christian philosopher, 19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662. His most well known contribution to philosophy is the wager, outlined below (paraphrased by me):

If there is no God…

If I act as though there is a God I lose my Sunday mornings, some tithes, and maybe some liberties I would otherwise take without the threat of eternal damnation hanging over me

If I act as though there is no God I lose nothing

If there IS a God…

If I act as though there is a God I could win a place in heaven in my afterlife

If I act as though there is no God I get condemned to eternal damnation after I die

Therefore, it is better to act as though there is a God, as the losses are low, and the possible win is high, whereas if I act as though there is no God I could lose big time, and win nothing important.

There are various problems with this argument, not least of which that you could be acting as though you believe in the wrong god, or believing the wrong prophet, in which case you won’t win anyway. Most people feel queasy at the idea that God can be so easily convinced that you truly have taken Him into your heart when you’re really just acting the part for the rewards. God resembles the ultimate besotted sugar daddy in this scenario.

But I realised that this argument works quite well when applied to the issue of human made Earth threatening global warming:

If there is no global warming…

If I act as though there is, I will change my diet, use less fossil fuels, reduce / reuse / recycle, and these could easily cost me a bit of money or convenience, and I’d be active, where I can, to convince others to do the same, especially at commercial and governmental levels.

If I act as though there isn’t it costs me nothing

If there IS human made Earth threatening global warming…

If I act as though there is, I would be part of the movement trying to save the planet from catastrophic changes that threaten the existence of all major life forms, including humanity.

If I act as though there isn’t I am a part of the problem.

Therefore, it is better to act as though there is human made Earth threatening global warming, and try to reverse the damage we have done, as the cost if one is wrong is nothing compared to the cost of being wrong on the other side. One could even argue that, in acting as though you care, you might find yourself becoming a better human being, but that is of course not guaranteed.

The people who argue that there is nothing to worry about are effectively neutralised. Don’t get me wrong; I believe absolutely that there IS human made Earth threatening global warming, and the people  (I will not refer to them as “scientists”) backed by large industry and fossil fuels who say otherwise are akin to those who denied the adverse affects of smoking and lead in petrol in the 1950 – 70’s. Only now it’s the planet, and not just human health we have to get informed about.

It is true that the Earth goes through periods of natural warming and cooling (putting aside that there’s nothing natural about the rapidity of these changes). Even then, it is in humanity’s best interest to not speed the process, as it will destroy first our current way of life, and possibly (probably) even our species. Periods of climate change caused by extreme events in the past have resulted in global mass extinctions, and it would take a lot for us over-adrenalised apes to adjust to the life of burrowing that got mammals through the last one.

What can an individual do? My list above may not be sufficient, or could be misinformed. There is a lot of misinformation out there, but these things seem to be the currently scientifically backed options. The thing is, phrasing the issue in terms of the wager, I have convinced at least the Ruski that we should act as though there is a problem. It does make a sound and convincing argument for behavioural change.

One could say they don’t care, because they will die before the Bad Things happen, at least to them (as it’s fairly easy to show that Bad Things are already happening to more vulnerable communities and species). They won’t take the wager… Not much we can do about that except make (effective and enforced) laws that limit their impact while they’re alive.

I personally think we all most need to get over ourselves as being the centre of the universe. It’s not all about us: we don’t need to be so high maintenance, such perfect consumers. We are consuming our unique host, distracting ourselves from our weaknesses with tacky thrills and trinkets, revelling in conspicuous excess, wasting resources and our own human potential, to be better than that.

Some people say we are a virus, or a parasite on this planet. They go so far as to have the fatalistic perspective that we have brought this on ourselves so we deserve to be wiped out. Even if that were true, the rest of the planets’ species don’t deserve it. I am a Humanist; I believe we can clean up our messes, and become a productive part of the global ecology, analogous to the nervous system. We have instant global communications and the ability to catalyse change, if we talk and work together. It’s maybe a long shot, but I am willing to bet on us


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