For the eco-believer it’s no-lose situation: we all survive if they’re right and we’ve acted on their belief, we survive if they’re wrong and we’ve acted on their belief. Whereas for the eco-denier we survive if they’re right and we’ve done nothing but we perish if they’re wrong and we’ve done nothing.
Some of you may be thinking this is just a reiteration of Pascal’s Wager. Better to back the existence of God, the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher argued, because if you’re wrong it wouldn’t matter, for after death there’d be oblivion, while if you were right there would be a great reward. Being atheist on the other hand risks eternal damnation. The smart money’s on taking a chance on God. You can’t lose, it’s either oblivion or paradise. For the atheist, it’s either oblivion or lakes of fire in perpetuity.
So is my suggestion, no more than a restatement of that frankly silly ‘reason’ for believing in God?
Well. Pascal’s Wager is silly because, arch rationalist as he was, he is not giving a reason for belief in God, he is giving a reason for behaving as if God exists, a motive for believing in God, if you like. Which is all very well, but if God is all that he is cracked up to be he would see through such slippery self-interest and condemn you to those lakes of fire anyway. God is not asking, or certainly wasn’t in Pascal’s day, for man to follow an ethical code, no religion I know has ever suggested such a thing (although they might argue ethical codes follow upon religious obervance – but that’s a whole other can of worms for another day) God was asking for obedience, belief praise, thanks and observance. He has never offered in Christianity, Judaism or Islam, so far as I can tell, to reward those who merely punt on the side of his existence. For that reason, aside from its greasy moral turpitude, Pascal’s Wager sucks.
Does my wager fall at the same fence? Well I don’t think so, for a motive to behave as if the global warming prognostications were true does not offend some God of Global Warming who will only make the earth safer if full and proper belief is proffered. Not does it skip round some holy motive for behaving greenly. No environmentalist will care whether someone does their best because they are a true believer or because they are hedging their bets. The wager here is fair and good.
So, I suppose I am saying this.
Those who believe, the A types, should take action on global warming. B types, who don’t believe, are free not to though they wouldn’t lose out by taking action, except in small ways which, placed in the scales against the potential losses … well, I’ve made that point. But C types. Types like Jim who sit on the fence and claim not to know enough, they surely are the ones for whom the wager makes the most sense. “I don’t know the science, but I do know that the smart money is on taking action.” That’s all they have to realize. So, far from justifying inaction, not being sure overwhelmingly justifies action.
Or so it seems to me, and so I tried to express the other night around a table. I might as well have saved my breath. It got all very unpleasant. “Are you calling me a liar?” was the response to my suggestion that claiming neutrality was a dishonest argument because it automatically sided Jim with the deniers. “I mean the argument is dishonest!” “You’re calling me a liar!” When I proffered self-deception over dishonesty it hardly helped.
Two things we must agree on. One is the feeble stupidity of searching gleefully for signs of hypocrisy in those who believe the world is getting warmer. You’d be as well to search for it in Christians, those worried about poverty or anyone else who professes to an ideal. The other, from the believers themselves, is the foolishness of building a climate of inquisition in which the purity of everyone’s environmental credentials is tested and exposed. If you create an atmosphere in which driving a car, going on holiday, leaving a light turned on or failing to recycle a bottle is accounted a crime, a failing, a weakness, something to be loudly condemned, then you will lose the earth, for no self-respecting human being is going to be recruited to a cause whose spokesmen are as self-righteous religious zealots, making impossible demands all at once on fallible human beings.