Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Planet of the probabilities

Holman Jenkins on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, today, coming up with a new critique of Al Gore's global warming film -- that it's an insignificant risk relative to the eternity, most of which we won't be around for:

That said, a valid service is performed in satisfying the eternal human appetite for gloom and doom (and no virgins were sacrificed), distracting people from the reality of life, which is that we all are doomed, while the universe, the Earth and all that environmentalists hold dear will go remorselessly on and on without us.

In a million years, the time it takes the earth to sneeze, the planet will likely be shorn of any conspicuous sign we were ever here, let alone careless with our CO2, dioxins, etc. Talk about an inconvenient truth.

Holman Jenkins, in late 2004, justifying Dubya's manned mission to Mars (remember that?) on the grounds that we need to get a head start now in dealing with the risk that an asteroid might hit Earth:

Up to now, though, our eggs remain in one basket, the earth, within a bigger basket, the solar system. Nature creates probabilities that, given enough time, are certainties: Someday something will bump into the earth, perhaps fatally...Nobody knows when a rock too big for humanity to survive might come along...Whether we get started this century or next might not matter against such a time frame, but every job has to have a starting point...[Dubya's] blueprint implicitly recognizes that the best reason for going anywhere is to begin creating the possibility of self-sustaining human settlements on other worlds.

So in the first case, global warming is a mere "hypothesis" that merits no immediate action because the risk it's true is so tiny, but in the other, a tiny sci-fi risk justifies immediate action in building a Mars colony. What, other than the differing policy views of George W. Bush about them, distinguishes these scenarios?