An Inconvenient Analogy

Update Thursday, April 5, 2007 at 4:51 PM. Dalam topik Population
On April 26-27, the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace organized a seminar on global warming, to better undertsnad the different points of view involved in the debate over climate policies. For nearly the first time in my life, I could attend a truly balanced discussion, where all positions were given a voice. I am not surprised, thus, that many proponents of the Kyoto Protocol expressed disappointment for such a decision - in fact, many of them got simply crazy because they didn't expect they would face a real debate.

Among the speeches I found particularly challenging the one by the Rt Rev James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, who set forth a compelling case to adopt binding targets of emissions reductions. However good it was, I think he missed a few basic points. The failure to take into account all of the factors is evident from the parable by which he concluded the speech. The parable was the following:

Imagine that somebody invites you for an-all-expenses paid cruise of a lifetime. You come to the Pier Head in Liverpool and your host says to you "Just a couple of conditions; this is all on me but you are never to ask where we are going or when we are going to get there". "Sounds fine by me" you say. You board this ship and it's luxurious; you are shown to your suite on A deck and you cannot believe it.
Within a few hours you are sailing the sun and you think "If there's a heaven, it must be like this!". After six weeks of sailing around on the ship you think to yourself "I wonder where we're going" but, after all, you've made a promise and being a British - stiff upper lip! - you keep the question to yourself and you carry on enjoying yourself. After six months you cannoy hold the question any longer.
You grab your host one day and say "Listen, I don't want to appear ungrateful but please, could you just tell me where are we going and when are we going to get there?". He says "Is there a problem? Is the suite not comfortable? Is the food not your liking?". "No, no" you say "It's all wonderful. I'm having the time of my life but I just wondered where and when". He says dismissively "Eat, drink, be merry". So you do your best. After ten years around on this wretched ocean liner the dream has become a nightmare. You scream at him "Please, please tell me where and when". Ridiculous? No. We are on this planet like a ship cruising through space and every now and again the question pops into the mind of every single traveller at some stage - where and when? - These are questions of purpose and meaning.
Imagine you recover your composure and you say to your host "Well tell me, how many on this ship?". He says to you "Guess", Well, you're not in the mood for guessing games and you say "Two hundred?". "Wrong - a thousand!". You say "A thousand people? You're kidding me; it feels like only two hundred". "Yes" he says "That is what it feels like to you because here on A deck there are only 200 people. But for the last ten years in the hold of this ship there have been 800 people and they are all on bread and water".

I think this is a powerful picture and well-taken one, but it is just a picture. The human condition, instead, can be better understood if you look at it like a movie. If you do so, the analogy is the following: While there are 200 people on the A deck and 800 in the hold, more and more people have moved from the hold to the A deck. At a certain point, somebody on the A deck begins a litanty: "Too many people are coming here on A deck. There is evidence that the more will come, and the more we will be loosing equilibrium, and our ship will eventually sink".

So they started to campaign against people moving upwards, even though they had no proof that the loss of equilibrium was due to the people coming up; indeed there was little evidence even of a loss of equilibrium being in the process, in the first place. Yet they succeeded to convince many of those on A deck that things were going that way, and started to set barriers to prevent people from leaving the hold; and they also started to argue that the loss of equilibrium is not a future problem, but it is here and now, and so stopping the movement is not enough, people who have come on A deck should be sent back into the hold if we want to save the ship.

And the most extremistic fring went even further and claimed that "You see, it's not just that we are too many on the A deck - it's that we are too many, so we should throw some people in the sea if we want to save the ship and our community". Now, once you have looked at things in such a more realistic and dynamic way, you know enough to answer the question: What should be done? While science and economics can provide useful insights, the answer eventually is about your most fundamental values. So, which is your answer? Will you take the responsibility of preventing people to come from the hold to A deck?


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