Leap of Faith -- Climate Change

I have a friend who is locked in a mortal dialogue with a college roommate about the existence of....global warming.

Forty years ago, when these two were inhabiting a funky House at Harvard, the argument would have been about God. But today it pits them in the 21st century amphitheater, long after the existence of God has been settled, and new questions abound. My friend is a Liberal, excuse me, Progressive, albeit a listening, inquisitive one. The roommate is a Conservative, certain as the day is long. It is a titanic encounter.

On February 5, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its first major report since 2001 in which it declared that the fact of global warming was "unequivocal" and that human activity in the form of greenhouse gas emissions from powerplants and automobile exhaust was 90-99% likely to be the cause. Certainty was just short of the margin of error. When the report was inserted into the dialogue above, the roommate exploded in a hurricane of denial, alternative papers, contradictory web links, and even more fervid assertions of hoax. As with so much that passes for dialogue in America these days, no exchange of views became possible; civility declined; no evidence could persuade; there was no "ex," and there would be no "change."

So, the evidence of climate change as evinced in sea temperature rise and the relationship of ocean conditions to the genesis of ever more powerful storms was dismissed, just as was all the rest of the distinguished science and consequent analysis in the report. The event was reduced to a concretized heavyweight bout, Improbable vs. Probable, all grunt, no finesse. It was the tenth round; my friend was exhausted in his corner.

The situation called for some last blow, some penultimate move that would put the Conservative down. As second, I reached into my tired bag of tricks, remembered from my own sophomoric arguments of times past (west coast version, more sunshine) and brought out the "What if" rebut, a tactic invented by an old French titan, Blaise "The Wager" Pascal. Regarding the existence of God, it is true that rational evidence is not complete or certain, but "what if" one is wrong? What if there is a God, then one's denial means certain, catastrophic consequence. Like, er, death, damnation and the descent to Hell.

Hell indeed. Fictional renderings of a post-industrial world devastated by the projected impacts of global warming and other ecological betrayals (see the novelist William Gibson, all titles) do not paint a pretty picture (unless your taste in art runs to Pieter Bruegel the Elder or the Japanese hell scrolls). Even the Conservative -- not imagining, but rationally extrapolating the negatives-- might quake at the envisoned circumstances bequeathed to his children. Why risk it? Why take the chance and deny God in the small things, all contrary evidence notwithstanding? Aren't the consequences of such denial just too great?

Does this logic not pertain as well to the question of climate change? How can it be responsible to accept any percentage of improbability when the stakes are so high? How many Katrina's and devastated cities will it take to change the odds? Even if science can provide no absolute certainty, how can we responsibly ignore the verity of study after study, proof after proof? As we have seen so often during the past few years, adherance to ideological positions in the face of contradictory realities has caused terrible pain and devasting consequence. Should the Conservative not pursue Pascal's leap of faith, his affirmation of the unaffirmable as calculated risk? What if he holds fast to his immutable denial and inaction prevails? Are the rest of us prepared to drown in his ideological mistake? Is he?

The ocean plays an essential role in both the problem and solution to climate change. Its sustainability relates directly to the sustainability of climate, just as it does to fresh water, energy, food production and other essential contributions to the future of human survival. We can accept no denials, nor lack of action based on stubborn ideological beliefs. The cause and effect of ocean sustainability are ours to control; we created the conditions and we must change our behavior to redress the damage. There is little time for intellectual niceties; there is too little time for action. Failure to take the leap of faith, to ignore the evidence of critical contamination of the earth's resources, is irresponsible. Failure to take the leap of faith is the best opening for a knock-out punch for us all.