Proponents of efforts to mitigate climate change often appeal to the “Precautionary Principle”—Principle #15 of the Rio Declaration in 1992:
“In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities … [W]here there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”
In light of that, we are urged to take draconian action to avert climate change even if scientific proof that a problem exists is lacking or the efficacy of recommended remedies is unproven.
But we don’t live by the Precautionary Principle. Instead, we live by its antithesis. Let me explain.
In a congressional hearing in 2014, a congressperson asked, “Do you look both ways when crossing the street?” The scientist testifying responded, “Yes, Sir, I do.” The congressperson then explained that our response to climate change must, like looking both ways when we cross the street, follow the Precautionary Principle.
However, looking both ways before crossing a street does not really exemplify the Precautionary Principle. Rather, it exemplifies the Antithesis of the Precautionary Principle—that no action should be taken to remedy a problem until and unless it can be demonstrated that it will (1) effect a positive remedy and (2) not have adverse impacts that will create new problems or exacerbate existing ones.
Looking both ways costs next to nothing but significantly reduces our potential for being hit by a motor vehicle (it effects a positive remedy and has no adverse effects), so it follows the Antithesis to the Precautionary Principle. In contrast, a solution that follows the Precautionary Principle might be to take $50 from your wallet and deposit it on the pavement every time you wanted to cross the street. The threat of serious and irreversible damage from being hit by a car is definitely real, and dropping $50 on the pavement lacks full scientific certainty of ameliorating the threat. But no one in their right mind would take such action, because it does not conform to the Antithesis of the Precautionary Principle: it doesn’t effect a positive remedy, and it does have adverse impacts; namely, it would leave us bankrupt in a very short time.
More formally, the Antithesis of the Precautionary Principle can be defined with respect to climate change:
Action to abate climate change, either natural or human-induced, shall not be taken until it can be demonstrated that it will (1) effect a positive remedy, and (2) not have adverse impacts that will create new problems or exacerbate existing ones.
As I demonstrated in chapter 1 of A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor 2014: The Case against Harmful Climate Policy Gets Stronger, an examination of hard scientific data about global temperature shows, contrary to widespread assumptions, that the sensitivity of our planet to greenhouse gases is much less than that of climate models, on which those who warn of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming rely, indicate. It follows that the cooling effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be much less than the same people assert. (I recognize that you have often heard that an overwhelming consensus of scientists disagrees with this. But Science is about data and logic, not counting votes. Further, claims of overwhelming consensus are false, as shown by a number of peer reviewed papers (like this one). Additional hard scientific data show that higher levels of carbon dioxide may be beneficial to life on Earth, since plants grow better in response to more carbon dioxide.
Massive, uninterrupted, reliable quantities of highly stable electricity are necessary to lift and sustain whole societies out of poverty. Alternative energy sources (primarily wind and solar), on average, generate electricity that is two to eight times more expensive than fossil fuels. For that reason, attempts to reduce climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels (reductions that will have little impact on future temperature) will increase the cost of providing an adequate supply of electricity necessary to lift from poverty the over 1 billion people who now lack it. That means prolonging their dependence on wood, dried dung, and other biomass as principal heating and cooking fuels, which in turn causes hundreds of millions of upper respiratory diseases and over 4 million premature deaths annually in the developing world, primarily among women and young children.
In light of this, the Antithesis of the Precautionary Principle implies that we should reject calls to mitigate climate change by turning from fossil fuels. We must not forget the world’s poorest citizens, who will be hit hard by the severe energy restrictions imposed by climate “stabilization” efforts.
As Christians, we are exhorted both to “Test all things, hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and to be good stewards of our environment (Genesis 1:26–28; 2:15)—especially when millions on the planet are without clean water, adequate sanitation, and affordable energy. We certainly do not want to squander precious resources or harm our environment, but neither do we want to waste time, effort, and money to “solve” non-problems when they could be directed to solving very real and large ones.
That’s why I endorsed An Open Letter on Climate Change to the People, their Local Representatives, the State Legislatures and Governors, the Congress, and the President of the United States of America, expressing my concern to protect the poor from harmful climate policies, and I hope you’ll join me.