Sunday, November 18, 2007

Appendicitis and Policy

In a post dated Nov. 16th, Joseph Romm uses an interesting metaphor for the current state of the climate change debate. The post in general discusses the problem with the debate as it stands now, essentially, that rather than make meaningful changes, skeptics are running the government and touting technology investments as the answer at some distant date without making any meaningful policy changes that would make an impact now.

The Fatal Appendicitis
Here is my metaphor for the history of the climate debate: You check into a hospital with a fever, nausea, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain, and every scientist doctor diagnoses you as having appendicitis. The hospital administrator says you aren't really sick, surgery will be costly and painful and unnecessary, and the best strategy is to just keep doing tests, some of which may take years.

As the infection and inflammation spread throughout your abdomen and your symptoms worsen, the administrator concedes you might possibly be sick, but says the problem is natural and will go away by itself. He rejects the surgery all the doctors insist is urgently needed -- and, by the way, he has secretly been lobbying all the other hospitals to make sure that you can't get surgery anywhere else.

Finally, with your fever way up and your appendix ready to burst, the hospital administrator holds a press conference to say, yes, you probably do have an appendicitis and that the hospital, while still ruling out surgery as too costly and painful, is seriously thinking about doing some research into developing a pill that will cure you, hopefully in time to avoid serious and irreversible consequences. The New York Times writes an article praising the administrator for moving to the pragmatic center. A few weeks later, you're dead. I'll stick with the people who have been right all along. Something about being right makes them seem more credible to me.

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