Erring on the side of safety

Two letters in Engineering Dimensions (July/August 2017, p. 53 and 54) argue that catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is not settled science. I agree, but that’s no reason for complacency.

The atmosphere is finite. We can’t just keep pouring pollutants into it without causing some change. It’s not just CO2 we have to worry about: there’s also sulphur, methane and hundreds of compounds, some of which we have not even identified yet. It would be naïve to hope that climate change might be beneficial; this is the atmosphere we and our ancestors have thrived in for hundreds of millions of years and any change in the composition or temperature of the atmosphere could be catastrophic. Whether we will need to deal with this threat within a few years, or a few million years, or if it is already too late to do anything about it, we don’t know. A lot of engineering is based on unsettled science and when it does we must err on the side of safety.

The science of climate change is very complicated and politicians don’t have a hope of understanding it. Many of their statements and promises are idiotic and dangerous but in many cases provide the best information the public receives. Climate science is also over the heads of most engineers, including myself, but we have to do something. And it doesn’t have to cost a trillion dollars.

Robert H. Morse, PhD, P.Eng.,
Toronto, ON