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Why Take A Bad Bet?

When we talk about climate change’s effects, we’re talking about what is likely to happen, not what is guaranteed to happen. Earth’s climate is an extremely complicated system, and while climate scientists are sure about the broad outlines of climate change’s effects—rising temperatures and sea levels, changes in the weather, increasing water stresses—we still don’t know exactly how severe they will be. Climate change could be less serious than predicted, or (and this is the more likely possibility) much worse. The best case scenario is that things won’t get any worse than they are today, which is extraordinarily unlikely.

We have nothing to gain by betting on business as usual, but an awful lot to lose: drought-damaged crops will cost money; fighting wildfires and rebuilding the homes they destroy will cost money; supplying water to cities and towns in regions where the rains fall less often than they used to will cost money; fighting back the rising oceans will cost money. In some cases, these costs will be prohibitive. We simply don’t have the resources to remediate all of climate change’s effects.

Climate scientists are 95% certain that climate change is happening, is human-caused, and will have major negative effects on both humans and the natural world. Doing nothing to combat climate change is like ignoring an overloaded electrical outlet because, even though it’s a mess of frayed, sparking wires, there’s a small chance that it won’t eventually start a fire. If you do nothing and it doesn’t burn your house down, then you got lucky, but why take the risk? There’s nothing to gain by not buying a decent power strip and some new appliances. It’s a little bit of an investment, but far less expensive than the alternative. You can rebuild your house if it burns down—and we will be able to adapt, for the most part and at considerable expense, to climate change—but it’s foolish to rebuild your house when you could have prevented it from burning down in the first place.

Except for the 1.3°F of warming that we’ve already caused, major climate disruption is not a foregone conclusion. We can prevent climate change from hitting us with its worst effects, but only if we start doing something about it now. We have the means—wind, solar, and geothermal power, energy efficient building materials and techniques—all we need now is the will. Earth’s climate has been good to us. It’s been pretty stable for the past 10,000 years, and that stability has allowed our civilizations to develop and thrive. If we let our fossil fuel use alter those climatic norms, we are leaving our children and grandchildren a less predictable, more unstable world. We have a responsibility to ensure that future generations have the same or better opportunities than we had; allowing climate change to happen would be an abdication of that responsibility. Let’s not let the opportunity to stop climate change pass us by; let’s do what needs to be done, embrace alternative energy and energy conservation, and leave the world as good and as livable a place as we found it.