Friday, June 17, 2011

Caution... only as valuable as our knowledge of what to be cautious of.

Imagine you are standing in the middle of a trapped room; blades are spinning everywhere, crossbow bolts are flying across the room, pieces of the floor are randomly falling into oblivion.

What do you do?

Do you stand where you are, because for the last five seconds it has been safe?  Do you step forward, because clearly a safe spot just hasn't been hit -yet-?  Do you head for the area with the most trap activity on the presumption that it has already used up all of its traps?

All decisions are equally good, or bad, in the absence of any additional information.

This is something of how life is.  Human life is surprisingly fragile; we live in a universe of whirling blades, falling floors, and crossbow bolts.

We've gained a lot of information about how to survive; some in the process of evolution, about how to survive in current conditions, some in the form of knowledge and technology.

In much of our daily life, we are no longer standing blind in a trap-filled room; we already know many of the hazards, and a step away from our routine is, in fact, a step into danger.

Some people preach caution in terms of climate; that we should avoid disturbing the daily routine of the climate, in case we fall into a trap we haven't seen before.  This is rather like buying shares in a coal mine, not because you have reason to believe coal will grow in importance, or because you believe the mine has many years of life ahead of it, but because it has always done well in the past.

They ignore first and foremost that the dance we are doing into the routines of climate is a dance we have done to avoid traps now behind us, and that returning to those traps has certain hazards, whereas the hazards of climate are uncertain.

They ignore further that the hazards of climate are completely unknown to us; in climate, we are standing in a fresh room of traps.  Standing still might be the right move; moving forward, or left, might be the right move.  We have no substantive way of knowing which the right move is, however.

To be charitable to those wishing to lower CO2, climate random-walks; we could as easily be averting a cooling disaster as creating a warming disaster.  To be less charitable, climate -doesn't- random-walk, and has followed a relatively consistent pattern over the past few hundred thousand years - and that pattern is calling for a cooling trend in the (geologically) near future, and a big one; a warming trend now to offset the coming cooling one is exactly what we should want, for stability's sake.

That's without even getting into the question of whether stability is itself desirable, which is a presumption that all such individuals start with.

Caution and hesitation are only virtues when you're standing on safe ground.  We don't know what we're standing on.

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