Pascal and climate change

By Steve Outing

I like this video argument about climate change/global warming and whether or not we should accept the costs of doing something about it:

This is basically Pascal’s wager as applied to climate change/global warming. (Pascal suggested that it’s a better “bet” to believe that God exists than to not believe, because even if you believe and are wrong, there’s no penalty at the end, whereas if you don’t believe and are wrong, there is a penalty at the end.) Frankly, I don’t buy it when it comes to belief in “God,” but I’m not willing to bet that climate change isn’t real and risk a very bad future by not acting.

What strikes me as curious is that some (many?) skeptics of humans’ role in climate change are conservative and religious — apparently adherents to Pascal’s logic. Pascal’s wager as applied to religion puts the penalty on an individual; applied to climate change, the penalty is on humanity as a whole. Global warming skeptics’ logic escapes me.

(And just so I don’t go completely off topic — since my blog is normally about new media — I’ll note that this is an interesting way to get a message out. The video’s narrator asks that if you like the message, share the video with your friends, post it on your social networks, put it on your blog, etc. I’ll be interested to see if this goes viral in a big way.)

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

4 Responses to "Pascal and climate change"

  1. Eric Dobbs
    Eric Dobbs 9 years ago .Reply

    Stephen Fry (BBC journalist) recently offered a nice dissection of Pascal’s wager and the equivalent argument for global warming.

    http://stephenfry.com/blog/?p=27

    To paraphrase his argument, Pascal was making a bet with God and “if God is all that he is cracked up to be he would see through such slippery self-interest and condemn [Pascal] to those lakes of fire anyway.” Moreover, it’s one person risking their own immortal soul. By contrast, climate change threatens our entire planet if it proves to be true.

    Fry is making the same argument as the video’s narrator: the risks of inaction on climate change are radically higher than the risks of taking action.

    So for your new media analysis, let’s see if the video travels faster than the long-winded blog entry.

  2. Eric Dobbs
    Eric Dobbs 9 years ago .Reply

    Stephen Fry (BBC journalist) recently offered a nice dissection of Pascal's wager and the equivalent argument for global warming. http://stephenfry.com/blog/?p=27 To paraphrase his argument, Pascal was making a bet with God and "if God is all that he is cracked up to be he would see through such slippery self-interest and condemn [Pascal] to those lakes of fire anyway." Moreover, it's one person risking their own immortal soul. By contrast, climate change threatens our entire planet if it proves to be true. Fry is making the same argument as the video's narrator: the risks of inaction on climate change are radically higher than the risks of taking action. So for your new media analysis, let's see if the video travels faster than the long-winded blog entry.

  3. Howard Owens
    Howard Owens 9 years ago .Reply

    I’ve never been able to remember the names of all those logical fallacies … but I think there’s one lurking here:

    “that some (many?) skeptics of humans’ role in climate change are conservative and religious — apparently adherents to Pascal’s logic.”

    Just because people believe A, doesn’t mean they believe B, even if be runs along a parallel track.

    I doubt you’ll find any church that teaches Pascal’s Wager (though I had a professor who loved Pascal talk about it at my very religious college), and most people sitting in the pews have probably never heard of it. There are all kinds of logical reason to believe in God that you can grok without knowing a damn thing about Pascal.

    From a conservative prospective, global warming has many challenges to overcome — some of the solutions involve government intervention in private enterprise; good conservativism is opposed to radical innovation, preferring slow, steady evolutionary change, which is obviously not the best approach to global warming; and then you can spiral into conflicting strains of conservative thinking about isolationism, or manifest destiny (sort of a neocon way of thinking) … and so on … religious objections are harder to understand, since the Bible makes pretty clear that we are supposed to be good stewards of God’s creation.

    All that said, you’re probably right about global warming and Pascal Wager.

  4. Howard Owens
    Howard Owens 9 years ago .Reply

    I've never been able to remember the names of all those logical fallacies … but I think there's one lurking here: "that some (many?) skeptics of humans’ role in climate change are conservative and religious — apparently adherents to Pascal’s logic." Just because people believe A, doesn't mean they believe B, even if be runs along a parallel track. I doubt you'll find any church that teaches Pascal's Wager (though I had a professor who loved Pascal talk about it at my very religious college), and most people sitting in the pews have probably never heard of it. There are all kinds of logical reason to believe in God that you can grok without knowing a damn thing about Pascal. From a conservative prospective, global warming has many challenges to overcome — some of the solutions involve government intervention in private enterprise; good conservativism is opposed to radical innovation, preferring slow, steady evolutionary change, which is obviously not the best approach to global warming; and then you can spiral into conflicting strains of conservative thinking about isolationism, or manifest destiny (sort of a neocon way of thinking) … and so on … religious objections are harder to understand, since the Bible makes pretty clear that we are supposed to be good stewards of God's creation. All that said, you're probably right about global warming and Pascal Wager.

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