Not a definite answer

I don’t know what it is about staring out the window of a train, bus or plane that gets you thinking. The scenery becomes hypnotic and after a few minutes you start itching for a pen and something to write on because you’ve come up with worthwhile ideas – or at least that’s what it feels like.

On Thursday morning, I was on my way from Exeter to Reading. It was very early, sunrise came in between Tauton and Reading and the entire setting allowed me to pause and think. I was in reflective mood, very much like this fourth week was on the climate change MOOC.

The big themes were climate change models and geoengineering, but in contrast to previous weeks, it wasn’t just about learning about biological, chemical or physical processes in the context of climate change, it was about understanding why neither the models nor the geoengineering solutions discussed are a definite answer.

Climate change models are based on probabilities, probabilities indicate how likely it is for something to occur, meaning there is no certainty. Similarly, geoengineering solutions have known and unknown risks. These premises were acknowledged by the participants and they seem to have fuelled the strong, diverse and valuable debate across all the conversations for this week.

I wanted to highlight a few comments (there are many more) that show how this lack of a definite answer gave rise to debate:

Screenshot 2015-02-11 13.12.24

Although there is a high probability, there is no certainty.

Screenshot 2015-02-11 13.14.37

But uncertainties are not an excuse.

I found one of the points made by Peter Cox in the feedback video very interesting: he explained that geoengineering has a double effect on people. On one hand, geoengineering solutions are assimilated by some as a safety cushion: “why reduce emissions if there is fast lane to reversing climate change?”. On the other hand, the idea of scientists meddling with the climate scares a lot of people, therefore they would rather not think of geoengineering as an option.

Here are two comments that express these opposed ends of the spectrum:

Screenshot 2015-02-11 12.41.03

Geoengineering as a safety cushion.

Screenshot 2015-02-11 12.50.58

What about the unknown/unwanted consequences?

If we look for certainty in science, for a definite answer and a manual to follow, never revisit, re-evaluate or question – that just isn’t there. We have facts, evidence, questioning, tests and theories. Add to that cases and exceptions, probabilities and risks. There is no comfort, just an unsettling path deeper into the unknown. Not a definite answer in sight. This doesn’t mean that we are free from assuming responsibilities. Educated choices can be taken and almost always have worked well.

Thank you for reading! See you next week 🙂


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