Box 14, item 2064: Gaean Greenhouse, Nuclear Winter, and Anthropic Doomsday


Box 14, item 2064: Gaean Greenhouse, Nuclear Winter, and Anthropic Doomsday


Typescript of paper published in Australian National University. Department of Philosophy (1990) Research series in unfashionable philosophy, 4.


Title in collection finding aid: RS: Gaean Greenhouse, Nuclear Winter, Anthropic Doomsday ts.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 14, item 2064




This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.


For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.


[27] leaves. 18.58 MB.




... climate change, like no other issue, calls the whole notion of human progress
into question. The [ever promised] benefits of newer technologies, more
efficient economics, and improved political systems could be overwhelmed by
uncontrolled global warming.
... the pace of climate change will soon overwhelm natural variability in the
earth's climate. Indeed, it can be improved with nuclear war for its potential to
disrupt a wide range of human and natural systems, [severely] complicating the
back of moneying economics and coping with other problems. Irrigation
works, settlement patterns, and food production [among others] would be
tragically disrupted ... (Worldwatch 89, p.ll, p.10)
There are many approaches to the Greenhouse problematique, upon which this philosophical
investigation focuses. These approaches, range from playing the issue down entirely,

dismissing it as not a problem, not something anyone should worry about, at the one end of
the range, to playing it up at the other. Those who play it up may even foresee the demise of

the human race, the substantially new socio-economic arrangements soon eventuate.
There is certainly plenty of room for different approaches, and for some eclecticism.

For what is being relied upon, in every case, comprises shaky and contestable arguments,
from flimsy forecasting models lacking many apparently relevant details. No one of sound

judgment, aware that weather reports for twelve hours ahead can be wildly astray, would
place a very high level of confidence on climatic forests for fifty years ahead down a very
hazardous track. But there is enough information to act; and there is information rationally
requiring action.

For things in the future are not going to be the same. It is very doubtful that they are
going to be any better (though much important economic theorizing presupposes as much,

such as the monetary discounting of the future). They are not going to be similar even,
because so many parameters important to life are changing, several at exponential rates.
Significant in these changes are likely climatic changes. The Greenhouse effect is among
those, a result of the increases of “greenhouse” gases, especially carbon dioxide and
methane, in the Earth's atmosphere, which have followed exponential paths since the highenergy phase of industrial culture. The growth in gas concentration produces, what it is
lagged by, but is now apparent, a significant increase in mean global temperatures. This has
major implications for much of life on Earth.


Diagram 1. Spectrum of approaches:

Course of action

Reasons offered

Short response

No problem


No certainty


Adaptive capacity


High tech resolution

Wishful thinking

Severe dislocation




No action1

Moderate action

Considerable action

These very condensed responses will be expanded and explained as we proceed.

Breifly too the outcome is that there is no easy path; future humans should expect a hard
1. Investigative philosophy, argument and rational decision

The role of philosophy in such a complex problematique as that of Greenhouse is not
difficult to state briefly. Philosophy, Anglo-American philosophy especially, is concerned
above all with argument. Investigative philosophy is applied philosophy, investigating
arguments, their features - assumptions, reliability, etc. - and their generalisation to rational
processes, but outside normal philosophical topics. The generalisation to rational processes
comprehends a wider range of philosophical throughput than the orthodox range of argument
typically addressed in logic courses; to probabilistic and plausibilistic reasoning, to decision
processing and making.
A main objective in this piece of investigative philosophy is to consider certain

arguments for severe dislocation pprobabilities, as a result of Greenhouse effects, and the
resulting impact on rational decision formation and action. There are certain arguments of
particular interest radical decision and action: various neo-Malthusian arguments, and
doomsday arguments.


Taoist no-action would be different. It would not have undertaken excessive industrial action in
the first place.


The main run of arguments to considerable action are neo-Malthusian in character. The
general form of these arguments is simply this: growth in some parameter encounters limits,

with severe effects. A characteristic graphic representation is as follows:




exponential growth



varying unstable

The limits are often imposed just by finitude, e.g. finiteness of a resource or a sink. But

other limits can be important, for instance where new phenomena or thresholds come into
play. General Malthusian arguments loom in the background in what follows.

But a different argument, of especial concern as regard climatic changes, is the
following anthropic doomsday argument:• There is some probability that the Gaean “greenhouse effect”, generated by human
activity, will get out of control, that Gaean control mechanisms will fail, and that the Earth
will, for example, overheat (Runaway Greenhouse, or Lesser Venus Prospect, premiss).
• That result would be disastrous for human activities, and indeed for humans (Catastrophe

• Because of the unusual, and unusually precarious, position of humans, such a probability
of disaster is not in fact small but decidedly large

As a consequence then, the human species will probably sharply decline, and even become
extinct (Catastrophe Probability).
That is, by a rectified version of Murphy's law - that if something can go wrong then in

appropriate unusual conditions, it very probability will - an incrementally small probability is
inflated into a very large probability.


It would be a mistake to conclude that because the argument itself is an unlikely one,
everyone can stop worrying. The argument is but one of a substantial raft of arguments that

should have everyone worried; it is but a final intellectual string, so to say, from the

inconspicuous cosmological tail.
Such a doomsday argument no doubt puts together, in one more exact form, some of the

sorts of considerations that are troubling many people, especially concerned youth, about the
Greenhouse business: that humans (including themselves) are on a decline or extinction path.

It is no doubt not the only consideration that should be troubling them or us. For whether or
not doomsday warnings are warranted, there are other matters that should be sufficiently
worrisome, to anyone of moral integrity:• Future times are likely to be exceedingly uncomfortable for very many creatures, as
habitats are destroyed, food producing regions are eliminated, and environments seriously


(Many of these creatures are nonexistents, mere future existents, i.e.

creatures that do not yet exist or participate in market or voting rituals, but who -will exist and
may participate. But, despite their presently unfavourable ontological status, they are entitled

to fair and decent treatment.)
• Given such future prospects, present practices which do nothing or vanishingly little to
ameliorate these prospects, are decidedly irrational. Indeed a main message that will emerge
from the present exercise is the moral irrationality of critical large-scale human practices.
The irrationality, morally-weighed-down irrationality, of present large-scale human
practices is already conspicuous from the wintry downside of climatic prospects of which

Greenhouse warming is the upside.
Diagram 2. Macro-climatic setting.
Bands: all
boundaries fuzzy

(degrees C)


Venus prospect

increasing dislocation

possible adaptation
increasing dislocation


disequilibrium: Mars



The apparatus for conducting a world-wide nuclear wars is entirely in place and indeed
on alert. The probability of such a war, even if small, is not zero. Among the many awful
effects of a large nuclear war is that of nuclear winter, which would bring about the demise
of present human civilisation, and would at the very least mean enormous dislocation for
most surviving humans and other creatures. A sufficiently diabolical chemo-nuclear war,

reaching into all inhabited parts of the globe, could indeed drive the human species close to
The decidedly dubious rationality and morality of these nuclear arrangements - both
through what they are in themselves for what purposes, and through their moral opportunity
costs - are widely appreciated. The thesis that the arrangements and practices are immoral,
irrational, and ought to be dismantled - already much argued, and also contested2 - is not the
present concern. The thermonuclear downside is, by comparison, a very easy case to
examine philosophically, and argue, as compared with the greenhouse upside.3 For there is,
for instance, a case of sorts, for much increased use of greenhouse gases, such as CFCs in
refrigerators, a case that hardly extends very plausibly to nuclear weapons. It is a case
heavily pressed by some “developing” nations, for polluting devices already in widespread
use in more affluent places, as necessary for local standards of living.

Greenhouse and nuclear winter are more intricately connected than being the upside
and downside of meteorological phenomena. One of the high-tech solutions suggestions for
atmospheric overheating, involves the generation of wintering effects - to cool things down -

by flinging enough dust up into the atmosphere, a trick most easily achieved no doubt on the
requisite scale by nuclear explosives. Needless to say, like backburning against out-of-

control fires, artificial winter would be a pretty desperate and, given present expertise,
irrational expedient.
2. The Greenhouse debate, main policy responses, and irrational decision.

The Greenhouse debate, as to what to do, if anything, about forecast Greenhouse
effects on Earth, is intellectually disturbing. For it has revealed, as we shall soon see, that
many of those who have spoken, worse that many who have some role in decision making

For my very small contribution to this, see the War and Peace series in Discussion Papers in
Environmental Philosophy, RSSS, Australian National UniversityGlobal warming, by no means entirely certain, is assumed to be the outcome of increasing
greenhouse gas build up. Of course though some temperatures will rise, cooling will probably
occur also in some localized regions.

(including both experts and politicians), lack a firm grasp on decision-making in conditions

of uncertainty or possible risk.4

The main canvassed policy approaches to the Greenhouse problematique lie firmly
within the dominant social paradigm, the high-tech growth and development ideology.
Diagram 2 Broad policy responses to the Greenhouse problematique.

Dominant paradigm

Alternative paradigm

Procrastination (wait-and-see)

Soft energy paths and
alternative regulation

Adaptation (sink-or-swim)


Intervention (star wars)

We will briefly outline, and find wanting, all the dominant approaches.
• Procrastination, the prevailing response. In fact the main gooon mental and conservative
response thus far has been procrastination, or “wait-and-see” as it is more benignly known.5
The approach makes much of the uncertainties, of the shortcomings in even the most
elaborate general circulation models, of the high noise-to-signal levels. On such bases, it
contends that it is too early to do anything, except staging some meetings, organising some
review committees, undertaking some monitoring, and funding a little more “research”. It
obviously does nothing to rock the growth ideology boat.
There is the pretence that we do not know enough to act6 But it is known that carbon
dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases are fast increasing. The main causes and
enough likely consequences are also known. Theoretical consideration, have already been

partially confirmed by rising temperatures in the eighties. Outlines of rising temperatures are
also known in broad outline, rising sea levels, and so forth. In addition, there are partial

Following Knight, some economists (try to) distinguish between uncertainty and risk. Risk is
said to obtain when some more or less objective numberable probabilities can be assigned to
outcomes, a situation not obtaining as regards the global greenhouse effect. Bayesians, who can
always assign subjective probabilities tend to eschew the distinction, e.g. Cyert and DeGroot,
also say that ‘decision making under uncertainty refers to situations in which the outcome of the
decision is not precisely predictable’ (p.3). Either way, Greenhouse involves uncertainty.
There is significant rhetorical art in the choice of classificatory labels, a rather philosophically
neglected art. A PR person must have been hired to produce the Greenhouse adaptation of
Part of the problem is that scientists have been caught out (e.g. crying wolf) and have become
ultra-cautious. With the advent of thermodymumies, for instance, scientists begin ‘threatening
mankind with a rather swift “bad death’” as the universe random ‘Thus m. Aber, on ‘balant
ideological use of science even by scientists themselves’ (Bernard p.9).

small-scale models of the Greenhouse effect in action. For example a city such as MexicoCity, which is situated in the bowl-like valley is placed in an environment traps heat as well
as pollution. The ecological affects, like the human affects, are pretty dramatic even at this
small level, and hardly to be sought, or amelated elsewhere.
There is a pretence, fostered also by many scientists, that Greenhouse difficulties have
only just been discovered; a date commonly set for that watershed even is the Villiers
conference and statement of 1986 (e.g. Pittoch ....). Actually there have been Greenhouse
warmings for more than a decade, and there has been a corresponding decade of inaction.
Nor is any action of much significance presently seriously contemplated.

Back in 1979 Bernard wrote at length about and reported the substantial concern of
climate logists about Greenhouse effects. Even the magazine Nature, not noted for its green
sympathies, recorded that ‘the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by the burning of

fossil fuels is, concemally, the most important environmental issue in the world today’ (May
? 1975). Bernard quotes many other concerned scientists, several asserting that ‘the
government must start dealing with this problem now’. They meant the United States

government. “The” government didn't take the hint. For more than a decade then scientists
have been emphasizing that the greenhouse threat is a major environmental problem, and that
action should be taken immediately. Over 10 years nothing of real significance to counter the
problem has happened. There has been more than a decade of inaction , during which
matters have got worse, and the time frame for evasive action disturbingly shorter. It is

already evident that requisite decision making under uncertainty is not taking place. On
straight inductive grounds, it would be reasonable to expect nothing will be done. While
there are theoretical grounds to bark up such an assessment, still it is only just beginning to
get through to a much wider public (which can exercise a marginal influence on what
politicians say) that there is - or may be, as some more reactionary modal-managering
academics would have - a problem or two.

Many scientists have joined the wait-and-see queue, with their begging bowls, hoping

for more hand-outs for research. They assume, rightly enough, that more information would
assist with rational decision-making, and also, quite wrongly, that “scientific activity” is
required for action to be taken. Physical scientists are not done in their misapprehension of

rational decision methods.
Although there is a good deal of practical experience available of statistical-type decision

making order uncertainty, for instance as regards insurance coverage and engineering
projects, decision theory, especially as regards unreputable situations, has not penetrated

very far into standard scientific methodology or much into mainstream parts of social

sciences. ‘Economists in particular have shown a talent for bringing ever problem back to a
world of certainty where all solutions are known or can be easily found.’ Natural scientists

including dematologists are, for the most part, on the same erroneous-reduction-toconlittainable-certainty trip. ‘This is not to say that economists have not worked on
uncertainty. ... however ... uncertainty is introduced and then taken out by assumption’
(Cyort and DeGroot p.l). But there are several classes of problematic situations, where

decision and action may be required, where uncertainty cannot be discarded by first,
reduction strategeness or otherwise, notably:• inheritantly probabilistic situations, such as those of indeterminacy in quantum theory;

• essentially unpredictable situations (which may be deterministic) such as those now under
investigation chaos theory;
• presently uncertain situations and outcomes, which may eventually resolve into certain

cases, or may turn into some of the above classes, where there is not time to wait for
The Greenhouse problem is regularly put into the latter class, a standard assumption being

that with enough money and research effort thrown at it, it will resolve to decent certainty.

But it may well not; there are grounds for supposing that critical parts of climatology will fall

into the essentially unpredictable class. The standard approach of too many research
scientists is a pathetic begging-bowl posture: Supply more funding so we can go on
researching until we obtain certainty.7

There are some severe problems with this standard response. Firstly, it is irrational.
Certainty if achieved may be achieved too late. What was required for rationality was
decision making in advance of certainty. Secondly, certainty may be unobtainable. The
meteorological equations may be non additive (non additive) and so incapable of delivering
stable results over slightly fluctuating in strict data. The standard response is
methodologically unsound.
• Adaptation, learning to live with and love the Greenhouse. The policy ‘that tends to be

favoured by most economists’ is an adaptive strategy: “Let society adjust to environmental
changes without attempting to mitigate or prevent the changes in advance” We could adapt to
climate change for example, by planting alternative crop strain [themselves] ... more widely
adopted... ’ (Schneider p.8). Observe, however, that it is a decidedly restricted “adaptation”
that is being proposed, that humans adjust to the results of present economic and industrial
practices, rather than adjusting them. It is assumed that economic growth comes first, that

we do not change (e.g. through decent regulation) high energy industrial practices. A fuller

and smarter adaptation would adapt these practices. The policy is like a pernicious
agriculture policy that says, “Let farmers adjust to the results of soil erosion, salination and


It does not seem to have occurred to most research scientists demanding more money (even more
per article) that an important reason why they are not obtaining the funding they expect is
because their research results could, if unfavorable, act a serious drag on the industrial
establishment. They are not going to be funded to delegitimize modem industrial society.

so on, without attempting to mitigate or prevent these deleterious changes in advance.” Such

“adaptative agriculture”, the present predominant practice in advanced agriculture, is antienvironmental, but is given a spurious air of evolutionary inevitability and evolutionary
redistributive justice; you can't back natural evolution, which is entirely natural, can you.
Let us condense such far-from-inevitable and highly artificial mal-adaptation in the neologism
badaptation. Greenhouse adaptation, like nuclear adaptation, is badaptation (some, less
kind, would say medaptation).
There is a pragmatic, if cynical, political argument for badaptation, namely, that

unilateral action to prevent a warning is unfeasible and requisite international cooperation
unattainble. Both contentions open to doubt. Unilateral action by the USA, by far the
World's heaviest resource and energy consumer (per capita and on several other relevant

domains) backed up by pressure (familiar from other settings, such as the narcotics war) on
other nations and through the United Nations could make a major difference. Unfortunately
the USA is also the world's largest supplier of influential grown economists. In any case,
international agreements such as those in whaling and Antarctica, are attainable, and

sometimes effective. The ozone protocols, limiting production of CFCs show that results

can be achieved to limit trace gas emissions.
The adaptation proposal is presently compatible with wait-and-see; both mean no
hauling back on trace gas production. Indeed procrastination will force societies towards

badaptation. Typical of adaptation, like procrastination, is an (over-)emphasis on the

uncertainties of Greenhouse forecasts, and on the decision-theoretic paralysis such
uncertainties are alleged to produce. Characteristic of adaptation too is a minimisation of the

extent of Greenhouse modification. No doubt the impression that things won't be so very
different, or far removed from what has already been experienced, is important in getting
adaptationism more readily accepted, as a rational course of action (instead of the seemingly
irrational course it is). Thus badaptation tends to play with figures at the law end of
projected ranges of temperature increase, such as 1.5°C for 2050, when in fact present data

indicates something rather in the vicinity of 4°C - in a setting, furthermore, where fractions
of a degree centigrade may well be linked ot macro-physical and macro-biological change.
Recent modellings deliver, an average, on increase in 2°C attributable to carbon dioxide, and
it is widely thought that other trace gases will double the CO2 effect, yielding a 4°C
temperature increase.8


Sources. Note that methane is beginning to rival carbon dioxide as a gas where atmospheric
propostems really matter and whose present increase is excessive.

The colossal extent of future human dislocation has correspondingly been deliberately
underemphasized. The adaptive capacities of human arrangements, when humans are living
at the margin, to massive natural shifts, has been grossly exaggerated.
Consider agriculture alone - set aside flooded cities, sunken atoll islands, and all the

rest. Some of the Earth's major grain producing regions - upon which famine relief projects

depend - could be pushed substantially out of business. The conditions which prevailed
during the American dust-bowl experience of the nineteen-thirties were benign indeed
compared with those which threaten with mid twenty-first century Greenhouse conditions.
The mid continental summer temperatures were only 1-2° C warmer than the present
average, under greenhouse conditions they could be more than 3-4° C warmer. In the dustbowl rainfall only slipped at critical growing times (e.g. July for northern com) to 80% of
the contemporary norm; but under Greenhouse conditions it could be significantly less again.
A super dust-bowl is not improbable (for much more detail, see Bernard). Similarly for

other similar latitude Northern grain producing regions. But the high-energy industrial
superstructure is crucially based upon sufficient cheap food (bread) for the urban masses.
• Intervention, high-tech Gaean engineering. Interventionist proposals so far floated include
• New oceans in parts of the Earth's land surface lying below, at, or near sea level. These
projects would make the mega-dams of recent times look like childrens' play.
• Wintering effects. Production of sufficient dust in the atmosphere, achieved for instance
by nuclear detonations, to mitigate heating effects. Such enterprise would make modification
of the weather by cloud seeding look like childs' play.
Fortunately these and other expensive and grandiose proposals, which would call for
considerable international cooperation, are far down the planning track; with these schemes
procrastination is rational.

• Regulation, controlling free(-wheeling) enterprise.

Regulation itself, not so bureaucratically popular under that presentation in these latter days
of economic irrationalism, is of course transparadigmatic, where it belongs depend on what

measures (what sorts of constraints, rights, etc.) are proposed and how they are imposed or
enforced. If it is, for example, some industrial law-and-order, smokestack scrubbing

regulations or Greenhouse polluting rights, within the status quo, that is one thing, but if a
minimally-constrained growth paradigm is questioned and alternative socio-economic
arrangements advocated, that is quite another, and falls outside the dominant paradigm.

Such policies involving regulations controlling fossil fuel emissions especially, are

negatively labelled prevention in the predominantly American policy literature, though there

is now no preventing some Greenhouse effects; but the worse to follow could still be
prevented. What is usually covered under the label is however some regulation within

prevailing political arrangements. So energy efficiencies and savings for investment in

growth elsewhere is comprehensible, straight growth-curtailing non-consumption is not

contemplated. But the latter is just what alternatives do contemplate.
Democratic political arrangements do not exclude such alternatives both the power
bases of political leaders and economic prescriptions do. Adequate regulation within

prevailing socio-economic arrangements is going to prove impossible, without adjustment of
power structures and economic imperatives, in effect without far-reaching systems and a
devological adjustment. While such adjustment may be rational, it is unlikely. Power

structures have too much to lose.9
This is an opposite point to record the chauvinism and environmental shallowness of

the Greenhouse debate. Like heart disease and cancer, the Greenhouse effect is gaining
much discussion and some funding because it just may severely effect the affluent, affluent
people and affluent nations, that have a good deal to lose, in North America especially. The

impact will, however, be at least as severe in some third world nations, whose lands or much

of them will be flooded, countries which cannot afford extensive expensive dyking (or where

such effort would be in the longer term, as seas rise, pointless), countries such as Pacific

coral atoll nations and delta states like Bangladesh. But the really serious losers will no
doubt be, not humans , rich or poor, but nonhumans.

Biological diversity, already being reduced by various human activities, may be
one of the chief casualties of global worming. Massive destruction of forests,
wetlands, and even the polar tundra could irrevocably destroy complex ecosystems that have existed for millennia. Indeed, various biological reserves
created in the past decade to protect species diversity could become virtual death
traps as wildlife attempt to survive in conditions for which they are poorly
suited. Accelerated species extinction is an inevitable consequence of a rapid
warming (Worldwatch p.10).

3. Arguments to dislocation and for a Lesser Venus Prospect.

There is at least a small probability that predicted increase in mean atmospheric
temperatures will seriously interfere with most remaining natural environments and result in
the degeneration or destruction of many of them, especially forests wetlands, maritime
environments. Nor will adaptationism help here; for natural evolution is much too slow for
adaptationism to succeed (cf. Keeton pp.763-4).
Natural ecosystems will not adapt effectively to rapid climatic change,... With
regard to forests, habitats for plants and animals cannot be re-created or
transplanted rapidly. Continuing climatic changes would strain the capabilities

Holistic problems are too extensive for individuals, or even small collectives, to make much
difference acting or their own. Some are too beg even for large collectives or states, but would
require whole regions of the Earth acting in concerte. But of course some state players, such as
the superpowers, as regards nuclear winter, can make a substantial difference, or even all the

of management practices even in commercial tree plantations (Beijer Institute
Report pp.21-3).
The decline or demise of these systems, vast reservoirs for greenhouse gases will accelerate
the warming, and accordingly make matters substantially worse:
Trees are adapted to a narrow range of temperature and moisture levels, and
cannot cope with rapid climate change. A temperature increase of 1 degree
Celsius per decade in mid- to upper latitudes translates into a shift in vegetation
zones of 60-100 miles northward. Terrestrial ecosystems cannot migrate that
fast. Vast numbers of trees are likely to die, and new trees adapted to warmer
temperatures are unlikely to be able to replace them rapidly. During such a
disruption, huge areas of forest could die and, as they decay or bum, send large
quantities of additional CO2 into the atmosphere, accelerating the warming
(Brown p.10).

Of course the immediate climate patterns would be somewhat more complex. If enough soot
and ash from fires were flung into the atmosphere there would be a cooling effect, like that of
a small nuclear winter, before heating accelerated. The present pattern of ecosystemic loss

would also be sharply accelerated. When natural ecosystems get reduced to about 30% of
their initial size, they tend to collapse of themselves.
Moreover, there would be other significant positive feedback from ecosystems other

than the terrestrial forests, from the oceans especially. As the oceans warm, they lose their

capacity to serve as carbon dioxide reservoirs. So they too release additional gases,

including previously absorbed CO2, back into the atmosphere, further accelerating the
warming. A critical question arises as to how much danger such positive feedback poses?
As so often, informed opinions, and so probability estimates differ. However ‘several
scientists working in the area consider that positive feedback effects will force a very bleak
picture to be drawn’ (p.19 ref?)10
Unlike the interim effect of a small nuclear winter, where after a few years at most,
climatic behavior (as distinct from radioactivity levels) would presumably return towards the
previous norm, there will be no similar recovery under greenhouse impact. Technically
then, stability would be lost under the impact,11 disequilibrium induced. An eventual longterm return to some different equilibrium could well be excluded. Under new climatic

regimes plants themselves may be able to do little more than hang on for part of their own

lives. In many places conditions would be too severe for much of the “year” to permit
normal plant functioning, including what is crucial for greenhouse amelioration,
photosynthesis. In most plants, photosynthesis only occurs across a narrow band of

Second order probabilities, probabilities and uncertainties in the light of first order subjective
probabilities, enter importantly.
Stability is defined in physics in terms of return to an initial (inertial) position after small

temperatures (e.g. 6 - 34°C); outside that range the plants shut down operations.12 Even

more important, many plants would leave few or no successful successors. Even where
plants set seed, seedlings would not survive under the severe conditions expected; for
instance, they would be killed by hot dry summer conditions, or in other places by frosts to
which they are not adapted, both phenomena already familiar after clearfelling of forests.
The situation at... in southern Sahara, where there is but one ancient tree hanging on in

thousands of square kilometers of desert, a tree with viable seeds which sets no seedlings,
could be more or less replicated in many other places where forests or woody plants once

In fact we are already witnessing the demise of the trees in much of Australia. Already
dead and dying trees form a predominant feature of the Australian rural landscape. Virtually
whichever way ecologists travel in Australia where trees remain, they are confronted with

dead and dying trees 13 The reasons for the present decline of trees in rural Australia is, for
the most part, not to be attributed to early greenhouse or even pollution effects.14 It is

thought to be due to a complex of factors, including a range of insect predators whose effects
are enhanced on isolated trees left after an excessive zeal for clearing (i.e. holistic effects
enter as regards healthy persistence of trees). The relevant point is that these features are
likely to be accelerated given the additional impact of greenhouse warming on plant
functioning and reproduction.
There are several major ways through which the maintenance structures of the Earth
can be not merely awkwardly disturbed, but thrown right out of kilter - perhaps, given the

delicacy of several critical matters, never to return present norms. Most obvious and
immediately threatening is

• nuclear warfare, and therewith nuclear Winter.

But there are of course other severe shocks the planet could suffer than those chemo-nuclear
warfare, some human induced, some a “chance” matter of the planets' position in space,
• a mini Big Bang, or an undermining of metastability, brought about through very high
energy experimentation (see Leslie)
• a collision with a large meteorite or asteroid.

Such uncertainties, not germane to the main climatic arguments, are listed, not to achieve a

bogus completeness, but to emphasize that complete certainty is not to expected, not

rationally.. Should we obtain it, should we obtain easy relatively unproblematic lives, then
we have, by world standards, been rather lucky. Moreover, these latter uncertainties do

The upper bound may be difficult to appreciate in most of Aotearoa. But in much of Australia,
during the summer, many plants close down their operations for much of the day.
Reported by Recher on Earthworm.
Thus coastline vegetational destruction through detergents in sewerage waters.


appear negligible compared with those bound up with climate, ascribable to:
• excess economic development. The practices involve a complex and sustained assault on
most of the Earth's major ecosystems, forests, seas, etc, along with the alteration of
atmospheric composition by greenhouse gases. For example, the forests are cut down,

burnt, poisoned by herbicides and acid rain, or otherwise removed or destroyed. (Therewith
too a great deal more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere and major sinks of

carbon dioxide are removed.) As a result of these concerted growth-and-development
activities such systems are driven to limits, and breakdown occurs. Once it occurs at some
weak point it can escalate elsewhere, like a conflagration.; thus again ecosystemic collapse
for example.
Quite apart from breakdown at or approaching limits, for instance because of systemic

overload, remarkable changes can occur in desiccative systems under stress or strain.
• excess energy or chemical loading. Though such striking examples as the chemical clock,
it has been demonstrated that dissipative systems can suddenly, and often rather
unpredictably, undergo extraordinary changes, as for instance energy flux is increased
(Prigogine and others), [describe briefly]
Such non-additive, or nonlinear, effects, characteristic of more holistic dissipative

systems, are bound to occur within the Earth's atmosphere and oceans as they undergo

compositional changes. Carbon dioxide itself provides a good example.
With small quantities its effect on the temperature of the air is proportional to the
amount added; there is a linear effect. However once the carbon dioxide
concentration in the air approaches 1%, new nonlinear effects come into play
and heating greatly increases. In the absence of a biosphere to fix carbon
dioxide, its concentration in the atmosphere would probably exceed the critical
figure of 1%. The Earth would then heat up rapidly to a temperature near to that
of boiling water. Increasing temperatures would speed up chemical reactions
and accelerate their progress towards chemical equilibrium. ... eventually ...
the Earth would become permanently cocooned in a brilliant white cloud - a
second Venus, although not quite as hot (Lovelock pp.45-6).

Fortunately for Gaean prospects, the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now
nowhere near 1% nor likely to be pushed near 1% by projected doubting of carbon dioxide
levels under economic activity over the next 50 years15. However eventual exponential
growth will lead towards levels, and the side effect of such growth, the release of carbon
dioxide from forests and oceans and the considerable reduction in fixation of carbon dioxide

with the decline of forests, will lead in that disastrous direction rather more rapidly. The 1%


In the atmosphere of the very early Earth, CO2 exceeded the critical 1% figure; but solar
luminority was about 25% less than now. With increasing solar flux the Earth would have
overheated had the proposition of CO2 not been much reduced (e.g. see Lovelock 88 p.56).

bound constitutes just one of the many serious limits to continuation of present

developmental practices.
Now there can be no rational confidence with respect to complex dissipative systems -

about the behavior of which we presently know comparatively little - that no other
nonadditive effects will no be encountered at a much earlier stage. After all, the Gaean
system, its atmosphere, oceans and ecosystems, will be pushed into essentially
unexperienced and substantially unknown reaches. There is, for example, no experience
from past times of such elevated temperatures as Green house effects will lead to, to draw
upon. ‘There is no evidence that the land-bound glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica have
ever completely melted in the last two million years’. There is experience of much colder

periods. ‘During ice ages, the earth's average temperature has been about 5°C colder than at
present, with glaciers covering major portions of continents’ (Barth p.7). But there is no
similar experience of temperatures 4-5° C warmer than at present (in a warm interglacial

period), ‘a global increase of more than 2°C above present is unprecedented in the era of
human civilization’ (Schneider p.6)
It would accordingly be decidedly rash, rash decision makings, to assign a zero or
negligible probability to the emergence of new or unknown effects of relevance, to assume

all will go smoothly and well. That would presuppose, in any event, a completeness in
present scientific knowledge, contrary to the information we have that present investigation
of holistic systems, among much else, is still in its infancy. The probability of something
critical (e.g. perhaps radicals like hydroxyl) having been left out of estimations, of room
accordingly for something unexpected or for something to go wrong, may be small, though

experience implies it is not always so but it certainly appears to be non-zero.

For the overconfident, with excess faith in the flimsy scientific edifice, there is a
salutary lesson to be drawn from the erratic and stumbling path of the main proponent of
Gaia hypotheses, Lovelock. Lovelock, coming from a working life as an industrial chemist,
part of that time for a giant chemical transnational, had, and retained for a considerable time
after he began his holistic hypothesizing a strong antipathy for environmentalists.16 Even
Gaia was for industry and against the environmentalists; she was going to laughingly soak
up all the pollution, courtesy of the chemical companies especially, that we humans could

throw at her. In particular, we did not really need to worry much about ozone depletion or
greenhouse gas escalation.17 ‘Contrary to the forebodings of many environmentalists,

Coupled with this, there is a certain schizophrenia in Lovelock's attitude to the natural
environment. There is also a matching schizophrenia as to the fragility of life on Earth. On the
one side, it required very delicate settings and fine barring to arise; this is part of the argument for
a Gaia hypothesis. On the other side, life is ‘tough, robust, and [highly] adaptable’, virtually
indestructable (p.90). But though a flawed hero, Lovelock is a hero nonetheless.
See Lovelock 79, p.40ff; and also 88? [detail]

finding a suitable’ destructive agent to bring about a ‘doom scenario’ ‘turns out to be an
almost insoluble problem’ (p.40). Lovelock makes it easier for himself by helping himself to
the assumption that a doomsday scenario involves the destruction of all “life”, ‘down to the
last spore of some deep-buried anaerobic bacteria’ (p.40). But even for the least chauvinistic
of environmentalists, destruction of all humans but the select elect would be quite enough for
a decent doomsday. Lovelock's high redefinition of a environmental ‘doomsday scenario’ is
unacceptable. Lovelock does not however stay within the bound of his redefinition. He
proceeds to pooh-pooh the idea that anything much that we humans could accomplish would
make any difference to Gaia (p.41) or even to most humans, including use of nuclear
Unfortunately for Lovelock's credibility, he was writing three years before the

seemingly obvious wintering effects of a major nuclear war were realised by the accredited

scientific community. Appealing in a common scientific fashion to scientific authority, he
proceeds to minimalize the human and ecological effects of a major war. The report he relies
upon as authoritative was a 1975 (unreferenced) one of ‘the US National Academy of
Sciences ... prepared by an eight-man committee of their own distinguished members,

assisted by forty-eight other scientists chosen from those expert in the effects of nuclear

explosions and all things subsequent to them’ (p.41, italics added). Lovelock draws from
the distinguished expert report the findings that

... if half of all the nuclear weapons in the world's arsenals, about 10,000
megatons, were used in a nuclear war the effects on most of the human and
man-made ecosystems of the world would be small at first and would become
negligible within thirty years. Both aggressor and victim nations would of
course suffer catastrophic local devastation, but areas remote from the battle
and, especially important in the biosphere, marine and coastal ecosystems
would be minimally disturbed (p.41).
Three years later Turco and others proceeded to detail a very different scenario that of
widespread and ecologically damaging nuclear winter.. Not for the first time, Lovelock had

been caught out badly.

As with pollution, Lovelock has more recently shifted ground18 considerably in the
vulnerability of the Earth to human-induced disturbance. When a system such as Gaia in

is stressed to near the limits of regulation even a small disturbance may cause it
to jump to a new stable state or even fail entirely....

Shifting ground may be fine, especially when it is to an improved position. But it should be
done honestly and openly, not stealthily or shiftily. Lovelock proceeds to attribute a caricuture of
his own previous position to critics of the Gaia hypothesis (as a clever ‘fabrication’ which it was
not); that it is ‘an argument developed to allow industry to pollute at will, since mother Gaia will
clean up the mess (85 p.53).

It could be that the regulation of the Earth's climate is not far from one of these
limits. Thus if some part of climate regulation is connected with the natural
level of CO2 then clearly we are close to the limits of its regulation. This is
because CO2 cannot be reduced much below the level observed for the last
glaciation, about 180 ppm, without seriously limiting the rate of growth of the
more abundant C3 type plants. If we perturb the Earth's radiation balance by
adding more CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere or reduce its
capacity to regulate by decreasing the area of forests or both of these together
then we could be surprised by a sudden jump of both CO2 and temperature to a
new and much warmer steady state; or by the initiation of periodic fluctuations
between that state and our present climate.
The anomalously low abundance of CO2 on Earth when compared with the
other terrestrial planets and especially the fact that the mean temperature of the
Earth is on the cool side of the optimum for regulation, suggests strongly that
the biota is regulating the climate by pumping CO2 from the air. The common
feature of most of our pollutions and of our exploitation of the land surface
seems to be unintentionally to thwart this natural process (Lovelock 85 pp5354).

The argument to the lesser Venus path, to significant disequilibrium with the Earth's
ecological support system destabilized, takes the following lines. The Earth appears to be a

discipative (far-from-equilibrium) system held at its present balance by a combination of an
(increasing) solar flux - a main energy input into the system - and its major ecological

arrangements, especially vegetation complanes and live oceans. The sheer extent to which
the resulting system differs from the stable dead system it could otherwise be is shown by
the following table for atmospheric and oceanic composition.

Carbon dioxide


Planetary comparisons

(principal components per cent).

























temperatures (°C)



Total pressure








The table is based upon tables 1 and 2 of Lovelock 79, pp37 and p.39.

The whole Earth system is accordingly far from equilibrium. Unpredictable behavior
as locals increase is therefore almost to be expected. A likely moral is presumably: stress
they system, or destabilize ecosystem controls sufficiently, and the system may be in deep
trouble. It is relevant to inquire into what evidence we have on this case.

To do so let us reconsider some of the array of arguments there are from some sort of
holistic organisation of the Earth (for a modest Gaia hypothesis). But for the participation of
the Earth's ecological support systems, plant complexes especially the Earth would not be
blessed with its present life-benign physical characteristics. The oceans would be much
saltios and too salty for most life, the air would not contain the present rich mixture of
oxygen and carbon dioxide so important for terrestrial life, and so on, perhaps most
important the Earth would be significantly hotter and too hot for most life, for what of what
does the regulating and stabilizing of present conditions. For the solar flux has increased in
intensity about 30% since life appeared on Earth, but the mean global temperatures have
exhibited no corresponding increase, but have remained relatively constant. Such an
expected consistency in the face of disturbing inputs is ascribed, under holistic approaches
that do something to explain it, to the concerted activity of plants, [detail] Lovelock and
collaberaters have devised an elementary daisy world model which reveals how a feedback
system with two types of daisies can, within limits, stabilize temperatures despite increasing
energy input. The limits are important, for as these limits are approached the maintenance
systems break down.

diagram Q
Similarly several of the well-known chemical cycles, such as those for nitrogen,

sulphur, sodium and so forth depends for their maintenance on the adequate operation of

active ecological structures. Plainly if a cycle loops through a component, such as forests,

which is severely disturbed then the cycle itself could be disrupted.
There is some probability furthermore that the foregoing changes will disturb crucial
equilibrium systems and chemical cycles. Some of these feedback systems are in fact
maintained in equilibrium by natural ecosystems (an example is Lovelock's daisy world
model, which becomes unstable when temperature rises too high). Instability could ensue
under disturbance [explain, include Greenhouse holism].

Without doubt these matters are bad enough. Demise of most of the Earth's richness19
is not a minor matter. Worse could follow.

Natural richness is the main richness, much exceeding human artifice.

The general tenor of the argument is so far this:- By arguments from physical models,
and because of uncertainties, the probability that something could go badly wrong is
nonzero,20 and indeed far from negligible. Part of the argument can be put as follows: there
is a decent probability that a modest Gaia hypothesis holds. But then, there is a considerable
probability that excessive Greenhouse build up will lead to damaging system destabilization.
So containing probabilities, there at least a nonneglizible probability of such destabilization.

An analogy should now emphasize both the dubiousness of what is being proposed
under adaptationism and the precariousness of the human predicament. The proposal is to

take this ancient craft, now overloaded with human passengers and their heavy baggage, a
cargo it was never organised to carry, out on new routes and run it fast and higher than it has
ever travelled before. Even for an experimental prototype, a now very fast (air-)bus say,

with a select text crew, such a procedure, of running over new uncharted routes at speeds
and heights never attained before, would be risky enterprise. With an ancient craft, with a
heavy nonelite cargo of baggage and passengers (some whom try to interfere with the
controls), the proposal is extremely rash. For the chances that the craft will breakdown and
perhaps crash, with serious consequences to passengers and for the baggage, are greatly
elevated over the risks of proceeding as usual much more slowly. With the costs of crashing
so severe, rational operators and sensible pilots would not take them.21
Unfortunately the analogy is not at all far-fetched, but resembles what is in store for
spaceship Earth, already under significant stress with its excessive human passenger load
and their heavy ecological practices. Not only is the future itself pretty new territory, but it is
a future at terrestrial temperatures, important processes will proceed faster than ever before,

in particular all chemical processes. Simply to take the craft up there, as do-nothing and
adaptation approaches would have is to emulate the risks and hubris of Daedelus; such
approaches are aptly rarely Daedelian

4. The Sting in the Cosmic Tail: the mini-Furphy theorem and the likely
demise of homo sapiens, spp. economicus..

The trouble with the initial formulation of Murphy's law:
if anything can go wrong, it will,

From logical theories of probability such as Carnap's non-zero probabilities are rather easily
reached (perhaps too easily, with the converse feature that natural laws never obtain high
probabilities. The difficulty can be characteristed, to some extent, by restruction to physical
The analogy is an old one, which we exploited before in the nuclear case; for the “bus analogy”,
see Routley and Routley. The analogy admits of much graphic variation. Instead of running the
craft at excess speed, an alternative or additional image is that of destroying the controls of the
craft. Lovelock deploys this opposite image (88 p.63), which corresponds to the demolition of
Gaians control systems.

was that it was insufficiently qualified, much too absolutist, and apparently self-refuting..22

Certain crucial qualifications are required:• Replacement of the certain (certainlistic) conclusion by a somewhat weaker probabilistic
one: namely, it probably will.
• Correlative to weakening the conclusion, strengthening the premiss, by rendering it more
specific; namely, in place of ‘anything’ or ‘something’ put ‘some thing ... given a chancy

The modified formulation is accordingly the following Mini-Furphy result:23
if some thing can genuinely go wrong, given a relatively chancy situation,
it probably will.
Here ‘chancy’ means more or less what it means according to the dictionaries: doubtful,

decidedly risky, or as we shall construe it, having a comparatively low probability vis-a-vis

its alternatives. The precise extent of relative chanciness will be explained as we go.

To prove this proposition, let us first recast it in appropriate symbolic form. Let D be
some arbitrary bad situation, a suitable disaster. Let the possibility of D's happening something's going wrong - be represented by a non-zero probability, and genuineness by
non-negligible probability. It can be assumed that that probability, P(D), is small, otherwise
the requisite conclusion would follow in any case. Let C represent the features that render
the situation chancy. Then what we aim to show is that where P(D) is small positive, P(D <

C) is probable.
The proof applies a special case of Bayes' theorem, which take the following form

where there are n alternative hypotheses hi,...,hn including h:
Pv(h) x P(i < h)
P(h < i)
X P(hr) X P(i < hr)
r = 1
Here h is the hypothesis, which in our application is D, i is the additional information (or, is
in Carnap, a new observation), which in our case is C.24 P(h < i) is the probability of h




For this and other formulations of Murphy's law, and many loosely associated humorous maxims
with grains of truth encapsulated, see Block. As to the history of the “law”, which originated
with J.M. Chase, editor of Aviation Mechanics, see the Encyclopaedia Americana', Chase's initial
formulation in a 1955 issue read ‘If an aircraft part can be installed in correctly, someone will
install it the way”.
This little theorem was originally more accurately entitled the Murphy-Leslie theorem. It is an
adaptation, suggested by Leslie's work, of Murphy's Law. This section is overwhelmingly
indebted to Leslie; for Leslie's debts, and so the transitive debts of this section, see Leslie
himself, who deserves to be read in defence his legitimate doomsday apprehensions. The next not
indicates the limited extent to which Leslie's arguments are endorsed.
The formulation is a special case of that proved in Carnap, p.331; namely that (absolute) case
where the evidence e is elided, or e set = 1. A similar result follows, subject to slightly more
rigorous conditions, in relevant probability theory; see Routley 79 p.954.

given i, or of h on condition i (the backward arrow notation, <, symbolises the condition
involved and shows its direction). For simplicity we shall suppose that all the alternatives to
D are concentrated (as far as symbolic exposure goes) in one, namely D*. Then the form we
seek to apply is simply:
p(D < C)

__________ P(D) x P(C < D)__________
P(D) x P(C < D) + P(D*) x P(C < D*)'


The arithmetic details needed can be tabulated in a revealing form as follows:




Initial (or prior) probability



m, say Vd

m/l, say 1/dl

of outcome
relative chance that C

As it is the relative chance of C that matters, we can rescale to set m = 1/d. To make C
relatively chancy, I has some modest size; specifically let I exceed 1-d/d.
Then the probability to be estimated, P(D < C), is
d x 1/d
d x 1/d + (l-d)/dl






That is»

and P(D < C) | y when k < 1, i.e. when I [



C) =






Thud D is probable, at least in being more probable than not, given C, when I is of at least

modest size, i.e. given C is relatively chancy. In a merely apparently more general form of
the estimation, where we do not align m to d,

In effect we shall look at the form
P(h < i) =
--------------- < h)------------------------------P(h) X P(i < h) + XP(hr) X P(i < hr)’
with the sum excluding the product for h.
Though demonstrable given satisfiable exclusion and exhaustion conditions, Bayes' theorem is
not lacking critics, in part because of the surprises this bit of logic can deliver. Carnap meets the
objection that Bayes' theorem has sometimes ‘been applied to cases where it led to strange or
even absurd results’ thus: ‘This was mostly due to an uncritical use of the principle of
indifference :... [The] theorem is provable ... on the basis of those weak assumptions which
practically all theories of probability seem to have in common’ (p.331, sub 1 elided). Of course
the present applications could (just) be objected to on the grounds that the logical conditions for
the theorem to apply are not fully satisfied.

P(D [ C)

d x m
d x m + (1-d) x m/l

1 + k’


as before. That is m drops out, only the relative chanciness really matters. The little Furphy

theorem follows as before.
Now to put some relevant flesh on these abstract statements and figures. Let D be
some future disaster such as the catastrophic decline, for instance, through summer or winter

phenomena of the human species, from which the enormous present population never

recovers. At worst (from a chauvinistic angle) the population, like many catastrophically
effected by human activities, goes extinct. Suppose, for a bifurcating outcome, there is a

catastrophe stage, before halfway through next century, 2050. If humans do not get their act
together before then, they go into catastrophic decline, as already indicated. If however they
do get their ecopolitical act together then humans, while they hardly live happily ever after
(poverty, inequality, domination, and other evils not being removed), they continue to persist
or even grow in numbers, perhaps fanning out through the solar system ( in the way
envisaged by too many physicists). Suppose further we are optimists, imagining that the
prior probability of D ecodisaster and human decline, is small, say 1%. That is d = .01, and
the initial probability of D*, human “success”, is .99. The figures are pretty notional.
Supreme optimists would want to set d much smaller, pessimists rather at a higher
Application Table 1.

D human decline

D* human success

Initial probabilities

1%, i.e. .01

99%, i.e. .99

Relative chanciness,

VlOO, i.e. .01

1/100 x l/l

Then the probability of human decline given
.01 x ,01
P(D < C)
.01 x .01 + .99 x .01/1



, when I > 99.

It remains to fill out C, thereby showing that I is likely much much larger, and

correspondingly human decline so much the more probable in the light of additional

information, i.e. a posteriori probable in the usual jargon.

There are several high risk factors, acting in a certain concert, factors emphasized more

than a decade ago in world systems modellings (such as, most famously that, of the Club of
Rome) Malthusian factors such as human population, economic product, pollution, energy

consumption,.... It is appropriate for estimate posterier probability relative to anyone of
these, any of which can serve as C, in order to expose the riskiness of present gross human
practices. In brief, because there are several high risk factors, so there are several
appropriate relative or reference classes. Thus the posterier probability is assessed relative to
such matters as our being alive, humans being thus and so (Leslie's reference class), this
being present energy use, present wast output, present forest destruction and so forth.25
The anthropic argument considers the environmentally invidious situation of present
humans on the Earth. The argument can be carried through either in terms of sheer
population, gross numbers, or in terms of human resource grabbing, as estimated for
instance through energy consumption.
Let us consider the prospects given additional information as to the present phase of
gross human population. C will be some such proposition as: the proportional

preponderance of humans who have ever lived alive now, or to personalize it: the chance that
you or your family, is alive now.

Chart: Our present population predictment on the two scenerios.

Demise scenerio

“Success” scenerio -



human numbers

human numbers

On of the weaknesses in the argument may appear to be its dependence on an appropriate choice
of relative class. For, the relative probabilities can fall away if different reference classes, not
exhibiting such growth patterns are taken, e.g. present wattle distribution, birds being thus and
so. On the other hand, probabilities can be elevated even more by selection of more unusual
reference classes cuh as our being scientists, or being computer programmers, etc..

Humans have got themselves - to some extent put themselves, though much may be the

result of muddling through - into an extremely dubious, environmentally insidious and
unsustainable position, on a range of critical parameters. Their numbers are excessive, their

high energy use is excessive, their waste and their pollution are both excessive - and all
chose and other excesses are at the steep end of upward exponential curves.

Several relevant graphs are distressingly exponential, with the present in the near
vertical growth phase:


Many other similarly shaped graphs26 could be added, for instance for growth of
pollution, of waste products, of weapons (in terms of tonnes of explosive power), of other

greenhouse gases such as methane, and so on. The display typifies the accelerating human
roller coaster.

Those curves are tightly interconnected, in criss-crossing fashion. For example, the
productivity of contemporary agriculture which enables the feeding of hugh urbanised human

populations depends on a very high energy use (in term of energy efficiency, contemporary

high-tech agriculture falls below that of much traditional agriculture). The maintenance of

high populations with supplies of cheap food depends in turn on fossil fuel agriculture.
Because of the intertwining of these phenomena, there is no easy way of getting off the
accelerating roller-coaster.


All the graphs exhibited are drawn from Boyden.

Nor, as observed, is there much effort devoted to slowing the coaster. For politicians
it would be politically risky and inexpedient to try (for them the rhetoric about an ecologically
sustainable future must remain just that, more rhetoric). For many other power holders and

brokers such ideas are ideologically excluded: growth remains the gospel. So a precarious
position becomes ever more precarious. Humans are in a decidedly chancy position, because
of their population situation and other Malthusian factors; they are becoming very disasterprone.
If humans want an acceptable future for themselves - they have virtually ruled out an
acceptable future for many other creatures, through their predominantly selfish thoughtless

greedy practices - then they will probably have to mend their ways, very considerably and

very soon. But, given the nature of the beast, that itself seems improbable.
Humans, if they seek a more assured future, should make a concerted effort to put

themselves into a less precarious position. That could be achieved by proceeding to reduce
relative risks. These relative risks, sharply reducing prospects for a reliable future, fall into
two classes:• manufactured risk factors, including weaponry such as mega-nuclear devices and elements
of biochemical warfard, and experimental equipment such as very high energy particle
accelerators (which could perhaps tunnel under a metastable state or induce a min-Big-Bang;
see Leslie).
• Accumulated risk factors, such as the hugh relative size of human population, energy
consumption, greenhouse gas production, etc..27
Despite the ideological obstacles, enormous political, religious and economic obstacles
blocking the way of requisite change, major efforts should be put into reducing both these

types of risks. Philosophers could have a significant role in breaking down the ideological
barriers and in clarifying and developing the arguments involved.

5. What ought to be done about Greenhouse?

The general result already reached, that humans collectively should reduce their risk
taking, and in particular reduce their gross numbers, extends to rational Greenhouse decision

and action theory. But that large and difficult challenge is not all that there is to try, that
should rationally be attempted.
While some increase in mean global temperatures, and all that implies, can no longer be
averted, the potentially most damaging effects can be: namely, by curtailing human-induced


As before, there are various different reasons why these induce risk, neo-Malthusian and
probabilistic in particular.

output of Greenhouse gases. Moreover, there is an approximate upper bound upon
temperature of importance, which can serve to supply a significant limit as output. That

bound - which reduces risk taking by confining encountered situations to those where there

is some past experiential basis - is given by estimated temperatures during Altithermal and
Eemian eras. Those temperatures are estimated to have been between about 1/2 a degree and
1 degree Centigrade above contemporary (pre-1980) temperatures; so the upper bound is
about 1°C.
Not only will a continuation of current emission trends take global temperatures clean
through and way beyond that bound, so also will an alternative set-up where emission rates
are fixed more or less at current rates. The only apparent way to remain rationally within an
experiential domain is to curtail sharply trace gas emissions beginning easily in the 1990s.
That means shifting from the dominant growth paradigm; it means expensive re- and deindustrialisation. It is unlikely.
Final corollary: Humans collectively are not (particularly) rational. But we had already

guessed as much from the latest...... in the long history of human wars.

H.W. Bernard, The Greenhouse Effect, Ballinger, Cambridge Mass., 1980.
A. Block, Murphy's Law. Book Two, Magnum, Methuen, ...
S. Boyden, Western Civilization in Biological Perspective, Clarendon, Oxford, 1987.

L.R. Brown and others, State of the World 1989, Norton/Worldwatch, New York, 1989;
referred to as Worldwatch.
R. Carnap, Logical Foundations of Probability, Second edition, University of Chicago
Press, 1962.

R.M. Cyert and M.H. DeGroot, Bayesian Analysis and Uncertainty in Economic Theory,
Rowman & Littfield, New Jersey, 1987.

‘Developing policies for responding to climatic change’, Report of the Beijer Institute,
February 1988.

J. Leslie, ‘Risking and World's End’, Bulletin of the Curiadian Nuclear Society 10(3)
(1989) 1-6; all references to Leslie are to this article unless otherwise indicated.
J. Leslie, ‘Is the end of the world nigh?’, The Philosophical Quarterly, to appear; referred to
as PQ.

J.E. Lovelock, Gaia. A new look at life on Earth, Oxford University Press, 1979.
J. Lovelock, ‘Are we destabilising world climate?’, The Ecologist 15(1985) 52-55.

J.Lovelock, ‘Man and Gaia’, The Earth Report Monitoring the Battle for Our Environment,
(ed. E. Goldsmith and N. Hilgard) Mitchell Benzley, London, 1988, 51-64.

R. and V. Routley, ‘Nuclear energy and obligations to the future’, Inquirey 21(1978) 133R. Routley, ‘Ultralogic as universal?’ reprinted as an Appendix in Exploring Meinong's
Jungle, RSSS, Australian National University, 1979.

S. Schneider ‘Not to decide is to decide’, in Greenhouse 1988: Planning for Climate Change
(ed. T. Dendy), Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide, 1989, 5-10.
R.P. Turco and others, ‘Nuclear winter: Global consequences of multiple nuclear
explosions’, Science 222 (1983) 1283-1292.



Richard Routley, “Box 14, item 2064: Gaean Greenhouse, Nuclear Winter, and Anthropic Doomsday,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed July 23, 2024,

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