Pascal's Wager and Global Warming

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Since measurements began in 1958 -- and it can be assumed to have been the case since the industrial revolution -- emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has risen steadily as a result of the burning of fossil fuels (Quay, pp 2344). Although there is much argument over the implications of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, there are several points that almost all scientists would agree on: firstly, carbon dioxide acts to absorb radiated heat; if present in our atmosphere will do just that to some extent. Second, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is rising. Third, the temperature of the planet is rising - although the amount of this increase and the causes of this rise are subject to disagreement (Philander, pp 193).

When I was at school in Vermont, one of my teachers explained to me Pascal's Wager. According to this teacher, the philosopher and mathematician Pascal had tried to establish the costs and benefits of believing in God. He saw it in this way: you can either believe in God or not. If you do believe in God, and there is in fact no God, then you will perhaps have spent some extra energy unnecessarily abstaining from certain pleasures and wasting your Sunday mornings in Church, but overall you did not give up too much. And, it could be argued, you may have actually treated your fellow men more kindly then you would have otherwise. If, however, there is a God, and you believed in him, then you get eternal salvation.

On the other hand, you could choose not to believe in God. If there is no God, then you are fine. You can sin all you like, you can allow yourself transgressions and forbidden acts, and the only punishments you will face will be those of this life. If, however, you lived thusly and there is a God, then you face an eternity of torture and unbearable misery. So, Pascal reasoned, one would do best to believe in God and act accordingly. That way, if you're wrong, the worst thing that could happen is that you were more pious and caring then you may have otherwise been. If you do not believe in God and you turn out to be wrong, the risks become terrifying.

My teacher suggested that I apply this same logic to global warming. It is a matter of playing the odds.

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