An aide walks into a Republican Senator’s office. She has just finished a report on climate change and is giving the Senator a brief summary of her findings:
Aide: If we continue to burn fossil fuels, there’s a good chance we’ll cause significant ecological, political, and economic disruption. It could get very bad.
Senator: But it’s not 100%?
A: No. But–
S: Okay. Let’s keep burning fossil fuels. Otherwise, some people won’t make as much money on their investments and others might need to find new jobs.
A: Well, if we keep burning them the changes in our climate could be extremely difficult to cope with. Entire species could go extinct. Storms and droughts and wildfires will worsen and become more frequent. Millions of people could be displaced, in which case tens of thousands will surely die. Likely more. Sea levels could rise and inundate hundreds of billions of dollars in property and infrastructure. Maybe trillions. Conditions will be ripe for civil unrest, even war.
S: But it’s not 100%?
A: Maybe we should tread carefully?
S: Look. Clearly I’m not getting through to you. People could lose money. Some might have to find a new line of work. Is that what you want?
A: No. In a perfect world we could have both. In this one, we have to make trade-offs. Retraining a workforce and dealing with economic shocks from shifts in energy investment are probably easier to address than droughts and famines and mass migrations.