Sunday, November 18, 2007

Global Warming - In Pursuit of Ignorance

Here are two different situations. How are they linked?

Someone asked the Colorado state department that administers schools whether the schools of Colorado needed to be made safe for earthquakes. Quite a few of the schools were built when a lot less was known about earthquake safety. The answer was that they did not know. It turns out that the agency in question does not have a list of the schools and when they were built or what condition they are in. Or rather, they do not have a list of the schools in Colorado. To be more precise, they are forbidden by law from having a list of the schools in Colorado. Think about this for a minute. Why would an agency that is supposed to oversee the schools in Colorado be forbidden from having a list of the schools?

I think that part of the answer is that most elected officials in Colorado disagree about everything except that the government is evil. They do not want to be regulated or taxed and they would just rather the state government wither away and leave them alone. Sounds like Marx to me, but who knows.

Second situation. There is quite a bit of uncertainty about some of the details of the global climate destabilization that is going on and that humans are causing. There is no scientific uncertainly about whether the climate is being destabilized. We know it is. There is no scientific uncertainty about whether there changes are being caused by humans. We know that they are. Only politicians "know" otherwise, and they can close their eyes and hold the hands over the ears and yell "Nya, Nya, I don't hear you!" for as long as the voters let them. We have a satellite called "DSCOVR" that can sit at a certain point between the Earth and the Sun and tell us rather a lot about whether the amount of energy that the Earth absorbs or reflects is changing. But the satellite is sitting in a warehouse, waiting for ... what? Nothing. Except that if we have better information about the damage we are doing to the planet's climate, we may actually have to be serious about responding to the problem.

What do these situations have in common? They both show that ignorance is bliss. If a politician does not know something, then there is no way they could have made the right decision? And, if they can guarantee that nobody is able to give them that information, then they can escape responsibility for their ignorance for that much longer.

I know that in twenty or thirty years, when there are massive disruptions to our way of life from what we are doing now, I am going to feel a lot better when dottering old George W Bush explains that nobody could have known, that it is a tragedy, that "mistakes were made", and that it is a shame nothing could have been done to prevent the problems. Won't this make you feel better too?

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