Posted by: jimhaddock | November 3, 2009

Action on climate change a consideration of insurance, rather than belief?

I have a confession to make. Despite dedicating my career to the cause of promoting the low carbon economy, I still occasionally wonder if climate change is really being caused by mankind’s actions. Have the scientists got it right? Can we truly measure how much impact we are having on global climate patterns? Is the current emphasis on creating a low carbon economy & sustainable way of life a waste of time?

But then, is this relevant?

Regardless of our belief in the causes of climate change, or even its actual existence, there are other known factors to take into account. Humanity’s constant growth, industrialisation and urbanisation of the planet are causing irrevocable loss in bio-diversity1. Oil production is approaching its zenith, with the UK Energy Research Centre recently stating: ‘a peak in conventional oil production before 2030 appears likely and there is a significant risk of a peak before 2020’2.

These two facts alone should make a very convincing case for the need for a sustainable and low carbon approach to life. But now let’s factor back in the possibility of anthropomorphic climate change by way of a simple risk assessment.3

Action taken

No action taken


Climate Change is real

Worldwide climate change possibly averted, new sustainable economic approach, renewable energy solutions developed to replace oil, a slow-down (cessation?) in the depletion of biodiversity

Continued (accelerated) loss in biodiversity, massive economic & political upheaval as consequence of oil depletion and effects of climate change.


Climate Change is not real

New sustainable economic approach, renewable energy solutions developed to replace oil, a slow-down (cessation?) in the depletion of biodiversity

No replacement for oil with consequent economic upheaval making the current crisis seem insignificant, & continued (accelerated) loss in biodiversity

Looking at the options presented above, taking no action to counter the potential effects of climate change is madness. And if presented in this way, even the most stringent opponent of man-made climate change should surely acquiesce to need for action. The stakes are too high to procrastinate and argue over whether the vast majority of scientists have got their predictions wrong or right, action is needed now.

So, perhaps this is how we should present the facts to the population. Not as a matter of belief, but as a matter of insurance. We know from research (our own included) that whilst awareness of climate change is now widespread, attitudes towards climate change – its causes, whether we should act, how we should act, and whether our actions can make a difference – is still quite polarised4. Indeed our Environmental Choices™ research shows that the subject matter of climate change & issues related to it can provoke strong negative reactions dependant on an individual’s beliefs and occupational situation.5

But then consider insurance. We take out voluntary insurance against our pets’ health, our own health, the possibility of redundancy, a whole raft of issues. Not because we believe that these problems will occur, but because we wish to counter the potential impact of the problems if they were to occur. And insurance is adopted by people from all walks of life, with very differing outlooks. Surely the impacts of climate change are worth insuring against?

1 DIVERSITAS Open Science Forum, Cape Town 10th Oct 2009

2 The Global Oil Depletion Report, 8th Oct 2009:

3 Apologies to Greg Craven for my paraphrasing of his incisive risk assessment model, but I happen to completely agree with it. For a more expansive explanation I urge you to view his highly successful video on youtube: or read his book: “What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate”


5 ,, &


  1. Hello James,

    I think discussing risk/insurance is a practical way of thinking about this issue. A few years ago I remember discussing all kinds of issues with a climate sceptic and the end question I asked him was along the lines of – “How certain are you that the greenhouses gases human activity is releasing into the atmosphere will not negatively affect the climate?”

    BTW, interesting article about risk appeared today at –

  2. James, this YouTuve video follows your argument …

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