09 March 2010

Overcoming mistrust of science: Climate Stability Bonds

As a means of averting disaster, we might be better to formulate policy by targeting basic goals, such as human survival, rather than wait for evidence that will persuade enough people to ensure that action is taken, eventually, by our current political process. Too many influential organizations have vested interests in opposing policies that would benefit society as a whole. George Monbiot suggests that no amount of evidence will convince some people:
[I]n some cases debunking a false story can increase the number of people who believe it. In one study, 34% of conservatives who were told about the Bush government’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were inclined to believe them. But among those who were shown that the government’s claims were later comprehensively refuted ... 64% ended up believing that Iraq had WMD. The Unpersuadables, George Monbiot, 8 March
One of the huge advantages of the Social Policy Bond approach is that the evaluation of evidence about such potential problems as climate change is done by private interests. If Climate Stability Bonds were issued, it would be potential purchasers of the bonds who would have to evaluate the evidence about climate change, its causes and consequences, and the best ways of dealing with it. They would have to do continuously from the time the bonds are first floated until they are redeemed. They would have every incentive to do so, and to do so impartially; that is, regardless of their opinion of the science, or the influence of powerful corporations or environmental bodies.

Mr Monbiot is gloomy about the prospects of doing things the conventional way:
The battle over climate change suggests that the more clearly you spell the problem out, the more you turn people away. If they don’t want to know, nothing and no one will reach them.
But even people with a visceral distrust of science; even those who genuinely believe that climate change isn't happening, could not rationally oppose a Climate Stability Bond regime, under which the costs of failing to assess the risks accurately would be borne not by taxpayers, but by those who are willing and able to accept that risk by investing in the bonds. By targeting the desired outcome - a climate with tolerable impacts - governments or whoever issues Climate Stability Bonds could avoid the divisive, arduous and protracted process of evaluating the mass of evidence about climate change. It would be much easier to generate buy-in to the goal of climate stability, than to massive and shifting scientific evidence that will underpin any activities taken to bring it about.

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