You may have heard that humans are destroying the planet by using energy sources that release a gas called carbon dioxide (CO2). Many scientists agree that CO2 traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, which leads to global warming. And worse: It is happening very fast. If we double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the temperature will increase from 2.7 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit.
But there is a problem with this claim. While many suggest the “science is settled” on climate change, the field is surrounded by uncertainty. Imagine that you are about to fly from Chicago to Orlando, to visit Disney World in Florida. You’re super excited, but when you get on the airplane, the captain announces: “Most pilots agree that the trip will take 2.7 to 8.1 hours. Hope we will survive. Have a nice flight.”
Would you feel safe in an airplane where the flight time is so uncertain? When the pilot is hoping that you get to your destination alive? In that case, would you agree that aviation is “settled science”? Most people would be scared and uncomfortable if the pilot didn’t have a better understanding of flying than this.
What Makes Sense
It makes sense that plants and animals don’t like massive, rapid changes; most humans don’t like them, either. When water is heated, it expands. This means that an ocean getting warmer, melting glaciers along the way, will cause sea levels to rise. About this, there is no room for disagreement. So if climate change is real, it could truly be a big problem.
A lot of scientists agree that the data on climate change is uncertain, however. The public is told that the science is settled by people who accept the worst-case scenarios on temperature changes. Many politicians express these fears about our future, like the world ending in 12 years, because they want to “scare” people into taking the risks seriously. A global temperature increase of only 2.7°F will not be dangerous or harmful to anyone, but if it rises by 8.1°F, we might have trouble.
The Risk of Action
But there is a problem with this way of thinking. Fossil fuels release pollution and CO2, but they also improve lives all over the world. Cars, airplanes, ships, machines, and factories all run on oil, gas, and coal energy. If the world stops using these types of fuel, billions of people will suffer, and our modern society has not yet found an efficient alternative.
Nobody likes pollution, and environmental damage can be a real problem for our planet. On the other hand, is it correct to take away the basis of modern, industrialized civilization today to maybe prevent a potential problem 100 years from now? Once we consider the costs of trying to avoid the risks of climate change, the answer is no longer so clear.
We Can Wait
There is another solution. We can focus on developing a backup plan just in case we will need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Amazingly, such a solution already exists. Some smart people, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, have invested in a technology that can suck CO2 out of the air and store it. It’s expensive but much cheaper than getting rid of fossil fuels. Best of all: We don’t need to use it unless the worst-case climate scenario begins to unfold.
We have other backup plans as well, such as nuclear power. Looking at a whole range of possible solutions could mean that we don’t have to cut our carbon emissions right now. We can wait and see.