Skeptics, Delayers (and millions of other deniers)

My current read is HOT AIR – Jeffrey Simpson, Mark Jaccard and Nic Rivers (2007). Like many other books on the crises currently facing the Earth, the Human and all other species, this book has a section about our individual and collective failure to understand and/or face reality.

Below is an excerpt from this section of the book:


“Beyond the skeptics and delayers are millions of citizens for whom climate change has been an abstract problem divorced from their daily preoccupations. Part of the problem in attracting their attention concerns timing. Acting seriously against climate change would impose short- to medium-term costs on companies, governments, and individuals; not taking action will result in costs and risks over a much longer term. The immediate costs tend to be traceable and measurable; the long-term gains tend to be diffuse, and the long-term costs, by definition, remote and uncertain.”

“Even if people feel that doing something about climate change is important, their attention is easily and understandably diverted to more immediate concerns about health care, taxes, jobs, personal security, education. Most people are likely to display only a passing interest in problems lacking a direct link between action today and results tomorrow. Traditionally, cynical politicians count on this.”

“There are also uncertainties about climate change — fewer and fewer with each new study, but nonetheless estimating risks is a challenge. Critics therefore have argued that we should not act until we are certain about the precise dimension of the risk. More study before action has been a constant refrain of climate change skeptics and delayers for two decades in Canada.”

“Curiously, that is not how we address other risks. We follow rather a standard procedure with other hazards in our daily lives and businesses. If many independent experts tell us that a risk is significant, we do not usually pretend that we know more than the experts and act as if the risk were zero. We put on seat belts in case our car crashes, or the police detect us without one — two kinds of risk. We spend money on fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire insurance, heat-activated sprinklers. We take these precautions even though we are far from certain that our house will catch fire.”


In the past insurance underwriters have charged reduced premiums for those who have done their best to mitigate (the underwriters) risk. Good drivers get a preferential rate on car insurance, those who protect their homes with fire resistant materials and systems that reduce fire risk reduce the premiums they pay for house insurance. Perhaps its time to start lobbying for reduced premiums for policy holders who can show that they are acting in a range of ways to reduce their overall carbon footprint. Since the same companies underwrite all classes of insurance, anyone who reduces carbon emissions will save such companies money – so why should they pay the same premiums as those who do not? This would get the public’s attention!

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