COLM O'REGAN: It’s logically better to do something about climate change than not

OK sh*t’s getting real now. The Arctic ice is knackered. As in, you could have gone there on holiday this autumn without your Big Coat. Something is seriously wrong with the climate.

If you’re not willing to entertain the notion that climate change is real, fair enough. (Actually not fair enough, that’s just something I say to avoid saying FFS.)

But let me introduce you to 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal.

Pascal posited a two-by-two matrix for whether or not to believe in God. His matrix was along the lines of: “If I believe and He exists, whoopdedoo, if He doesn’t then I’ve just wasted some thinking time, some shekels and maybe people might laugh at me. If I don’t believe, either nothing will happen or I’ll end up with demons prodding me with tridents for eternity.”

I’m making the huge philosophical leap and saying it’s logically better to do something about climate change than not.

If climate change is not man-made, the worst that will happen is the replacement of one set of ten-gallon hat-wearing vested interests with slicker more right-on ones and some things become a bit more expensive.

If it is man-made and we do something to reverse it, the world won’t end.

On the other hand if we do nothing, we’ll either have the status quo or CLIMAGEDDON.

Finite pain on one side, infinite pain on the other. When it comes to pain, I always go for finite.

One of the problems is that climate change is an example of the bystander effect.

The bystander effect says that if you’re being robbed in the street, the likelihood that someone will help you is inversely proportional to the number of people around.

Also it helps if the action to be taken is specific.

If you are a victim you are advised to point at someone specifically and shout: “HEY YOU — HELP ME. CALL THE POLICE.”

So we as a planet need to do something about climate change but unless someone points at me specifically and shouts something like: “COLM STOP LETTING THE HOT TAP RUN JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE THE SOUND OF IT.”

I’m unlikely to change my behaviour.

Also we need to show that change is possible.

We have changed things before.

We got the lead out of petrol 20 years ago for public health reasons.

Lead is so much a thing of the past that it’s a wonder that hipster gas stations don’t sell it ironically as artisan petrol.

Remember the hole in the ozone layer?

Even allowing for typical United Nations over-optimism, it looks like the hole in the ozone layer might be getting smaller and possibly reversing, due to the removal of CFCs from the backs of fridges and safe disposal of the fridges instead of dumping them near a No Dumping sign in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In this country, production of plastic bags declined by 90% when shops just stopped handing them out for free.

People realised that they had so many plastic bags at home they were going to IKEA to buy storages units to hold them.

Now instead we have no plastic bags, just sturdy bags for life.

Bags for life have become so much a part of the house now, they should be mentioned in our wills.

Climate change is more complex than those issues, and the world’s civil society is more fractured than the CFC-era, but still, maybe our general understanding of climate change is too vague — and it needs to be broken down into specific actions that don’t mention climate change but they are just the right thing to do for their own sake. Actions that shout to bystanders: “HEY YOU, YA YOU YA GOBSHITE, STOP DOING THAT. DO THIS INSTEAD”.

So there you have it — Pascal’s wager, the bystander effect and leaded petrol can teach us something. Simplistic? Of course!

If I’m right, climate change could be fixed. Infinite gain!

If I’m wrong, you’ve only wasted a couple of minutes. I’m just a finite pain. And if I am, I’ll get my coat. (The Big one.)


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