A clear and present danger: the parable of the “sceptical” cancer patient


Climate change: what would Churchill do?


A recent paper on glacier loss begins with the authors pleading for action on climate change:  

“…Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization (‘‘Climate Change,’’ 2010).”

And that:

“…Global warming is here and is already affecting our climate, so prevention is no longer an option. Three options remain for dealing with the crisis: mitigate, adapt, and suffer.”

The paper ends with:

“…Clearly mitigation is our best option, but so far most societies around the world, including the United States and the other largest emitters of greenhouse gases, have done little more than talk about the importance of mitigation. Many Americans do not even accept the reality of global warming. The fossil fuel industry has spent millions of dollars on a disinformation campaign to delude the public about the threat, and the campaign has been amazingly successful. (This effort is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s effort to convince Americans that smoking poses no serious health hazards.) As the evidence for human-caused climate change has increased, the number of Americans who believe it has decreased. The latest Pew Research Center (2010) poll in October, 2009, shows that only 57% of Americans believe global warming is real, down from 71% in April, 2008.

There are currently no technological quick fixes for global warming. Our only hope is to change our behavior in ways that significantly slow the rate of global warming, thereby giving the engineers time to devise, develop, and deploy technological solutions where possible. Unless large numbers of people take appropriate steps, including supporting governmental regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our only options will be adaptation and suffering. And the longer we delay, the more unpleasant the adaptations and the greater the suffering will be. Sooner or later, we will all deal with global warming.

The only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer.”

The parable of the sceptical cancer patient

A doctor tells you have cancer, and that if you don’t act it could kill you.

What do you decide to do with that knowledge?

Take immediate action and seek treatment?

Or perhaps you are a “cancer sceptic”. 

You believe the doctor is part of a global conspiracy to “alarm” people and force them into purchasing expensive medical treatments. You argue that cancer “isn’t real” and that there is considerable debate in the medical community about its existence (and have the blogs and web sites to back you up).

Which one is the rational response?

What is the most likely outcome?

I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 The climate “appeasers” 

During the 1930’s it was clear that the ideologies of Fascism and Communism represented a danger to world peace. The Stalinist regime in Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Italy under Mussolini and the expansionist Japanese threatened their neighbours and harboured aggressive strategies to expand. 

However many – on both sides of the political spectrum – preferred to live in denial, believing war was not possible. Had they not just fought the “War to End all Wars” less than two decades previously? 

Many on the “left”, refused to see just how monstrous the Communist regime was in Russia. Those on the “right” acknowledged Communism’s threat but consistently downplayed the threat of Fascism. Indeed, they saw it as preferable and necessary bulwark against the “socialist threat”.  

Many derided the “alarmist” Winston Churchill as a “war monger” by continually stating Hitler was a danger. Sooner or later, argued Churchill, war was inevitable. He urged his countrymen to prepare, or at least try to check the growing power of Hitler. 

We know how that turned out (hint, a little thing called WW2).  

In many ways, our societies are gripped by a similar denial 

For this reason, I’ve never equated the “deniers” with Nazi’s and those that deny the Holocaust. The proper term for the deniers is “climate appeasers“.

They would keep their heads in the sand and wish away the problem.  

This is why they spend their time trying to tear down science: a classic case of shooting the messenger.  

Climate change is a clear and present danger: to deny AGW, is to be like someone in 1939 stating Hitler didn’t exist and was a figment of the imagination.  

Climate denial is a form of appeasement. 

Climate denial is the desire to do nothing.

Faith, hope and charity 

I want the future to be a better place.  

Not just for me but for my child and the children of others.  

I enjoy the comforts of civilisation, safe and secure in the knowledge that I am free from the risk of hunger. However, I believe most governments are failing their citizens on what is the defining issue of the twenty-first century.  

The poor will suffer poor, while those of us enjoying comfortable “Western” life styles will find our standard of living compromised.  

Life is going to get tougher 

So call me an “alarmist“.

 Sticks-and-stones… I prefer to take a problem on head-on.  

Time to prepare.

Time to get ready. 

We have less time than you think.

10 thoughts on “A clear and present danger: the parable of the “sceptical” cancer patient

  1. I’ve tried to use the cancer analogy on numerous occasions. It seems to go over their heads. What they don’t realise is that they blindly accept that the medical establishment’s conclusion that clusters of abnormal cells can eventually kill them. In many cases, there really isn’t significant sighs either – they just except the doctors word, based on their training.
    Likewise that the Earth is round. Other than astronauts, we all more or less blindly accept the science. For all we know, the whole thing could be fabricated. Very few of us, if anyone really, can truly be as certain about the round-world theory as we are that 2 + 2 = 4. But to believe that the Earth might be flat is laughable still – not because we’ve seen it, but because we believe in the science.
    I could go on and on… what it boils down to is confidence in scientific methodology, nothing else.
    What we see with the bunch that deny the scientific evidences, or the scientists themselves, behind climate studies is an irrational selectivity of confidence in scientific methodology – basically picking and choosing what science you’ll believe as certain and what is too large / scary / complicated to possibly to true… It’s fair enough to bulk when something is beyond us or too disturbing, but to inflate one’s confidence, asserting that we are therefore critical sceptics of the science, is simply ludicrous (I can already hear the replies).
    The science behind anthropogenic climate change is compelling and the vast amount of relevant experts and respected scientific establishments concur. We should assume the science is as certain that behind cancer, evolution, a round world, Newtonian physics, photosynthesis etc, instead, we have journalists referring to cloud uncertainty and bloggers that just can’t accept that “ClimateGate” was based on nothing.

  2. Same Ordinary Fool says:

    Enough about the warnings from the science and the scientists.
    And the 35 years of increasing temperatures.

    Americans couldn’t relate to the far away Russian heat wave and Pakistani flood. Just how many global warming CONSEQUENCES must befall them before they’ll pay attention?

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Far too many, and far too late I’m afraid. As it’s often been said, it will take a climate change “Pearl Harbor” to shake them. Let us hope such an event does not happen… or that if it does, it is not too late.

      Presently I’m working on a project that examines mitigation and adaptation strategies with some other bloggers. At the very least, some of us are turning our minds to the inevitable.

  3. Sundance says:

    The Arctic temps dropped 25F degrees over the last week and the AMSU near surface layer global temperature plummeted by 1.01F degrees in 4 days! Where I live it has been 10+F degrees colder than average for December and even though it’s one of the coldest Decembers in our 160 year data set and people are freezing and dying, I remind them (not the frozen dead ones) that it’s really warmer than normal.

  4. adelady says:

    That’s strange.

    The ice went into retreat on the 18th on Hudson’s Bay. Narsarsuaq, Greenland, started a string of these temperature records on the 11th with 53F.

    12th – 51F – New record
    13th – 50F – New record
    14th – 39F – New record
    15th – 39F 11F above avg.
    16th – 43F 15F above avg.

    Temperature predicted for 31/12 ………. 59F Perhaps it’s just as well the Arctic temperature has dropped as much as you say.

    For those of short memories 50F = 10C in new money.

  5. TomG says:

    …and you live where Sundance?

  6. Sundance says:

    Is atmospheric CO2 enrichment the cure for cancer? Trees seem to think so.

    A large research program in the Australian monsoon tropics has concluded that monsoon rainforests have expanded within the savanna matrix, a trend that has been emulated throughout the tropics worldwide. The driver of the northern Australian trend was not resolved, but it was suggested to be linked to a long-term trend towards wetter climates, atmospheric CO2 enrichment, and changed fire regimes.

    In the Northeast USA forestry research has shown similar findings.

  7. Sundance says:

    Life flourished in a warmer climate than today according to some new research. I’m noticing more positive articles about warming. It seems that since “Climategate”, scientists aren’t as fearful about trying to publish studies that don’t always support the seemingly lock-step view that warming is a bad thing. Maybe it’s just me but there is nothing scary in this Discovery piece and there is alot of “we don’t know” thrown in, which is wording that promotes doubt rather than fear.


    • I have to disagree with you Sundance.
      Sure, there’s no question that the nonsense we refer to as “climategate” allowed greater access to data, I don’t think there has ever been pressure to paint a certain light on climate change.
      Certainly from a biological view point, climate change doesn’t seem to correlate well extinction rates (climate events tied to meteorite strikes excluded obviously). Biology is generally wonderfully adaptive.
      The real problem with the current climate change is the other pressures that we humans already have on ecosystems – most noticeably landscape use change, restriction to resources and pollution. These extra pressures will cause greater stresses to ecosystems, further reducing their resilience to climate change.
      Climate could change and have only a mild impact on many ecosystems (ocean acidification needs to be ignored in this case however) but we would need to do things very differently than we currently are. Of course we won’t, hence the concern.
      The Stockholm Resilience Centre have done some excellent work on these pressures here.

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