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With even 1% risk of catastrophe, we buy insurance. Featured

"It’s all a game of odds. We’ve never been here before. We just know two things: one, the CO2 we put into the atmosphere stays there for many years, so it is “irreversible” in real-time (barring some feat of geo-engineering); and two, that CO2 build-up has the potential to unleash “catastrophic” warming.

When I see a problem that has even a 1 percent probability of occurring and is 'irreversible' and potentially 'catastrophic,' I buy insurance. That is what taking climate change seriously is all about." —Thomas L. Friedman

Bite Notes: From the article,  'Going Cheney on Climate',  New York Times, 8 Dec 09

Friedman uses '1%' because of its use by Dick Cheney—then Vice President—when he said, “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.”

But as Friedman also said in the article, "...the odds [on catastrophic global warming] are, in fact, a lot higher than 1 percent, if we stick to business as usual."

3 votes

Bite Details

Com (4)

September 14, 2011

2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I like this because it puts the odds and consequence in perspective for us, comparing to familiar things we use and understand, and know the reasons for (ie insurance).
byBrian Ettling

October 22, 2011

2 of 2 people found this review helpful
This bite reminded me of something I just witnessed in my very own family. An uncle of mine, did not like all the beeping of the smoke detectors. The batteries all needed to be changed, but they are expensive. He did not want to keep replacing the batteries or hear the warning beeping. Thus, he turned off all the smoke detectors in the house with the circuit breaker. I warned him that if he has a fire, the fire insurance would not pay out a claim if the insurance noticed that the smoke detectors were not functioning. The family just convinced him that he is going to have to fix the problem so he has working smoke detectors. When my uncle decided to unplug the smoke detectors reminded me of what so people are doing with the science reports about climate change. Too many people are ignoring the vast amount of scientific evidence instead of taking action because the reports sound so unpleasant. Instead, taking action to resolve climate change is like a properly functioning smoke detector or buying fire insurance, it prevents a much bigger catastrophic in the future.
Owner's reply

An excellent example, Brian.

I also often bring the point home by asking, "who amongst us has not delayed opening a bank or credit card statement because we want to delay the unpleasant news it contains!" Mea Culpa!

Best wishes,


byTom Smerling

January 5, 2012

JR -- Hey, I'm glad you reminded me of that one. It's going "in the hopper" for a bite. I sheepishly admit to doing this all the time, especially with medical bills. . . better to face the bad news later. It's a great illustration of the universality of denial, which is important to giving people some face-saving "space" to end their climate denial.

May 14, 2012

The smoke detector story works well for me because it is a preventative measure. Insurance doesn't prevent a fire, but it does help you recover afterwards.

Another example of preparedness is that New York City is raising their sewer pumps by a couple of metres to prepare for rising sea levels.

We need many types of preparedness -- preventative action to reduce emissions and adaptive measures to help cope with expected changes.

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