Burden of Proof | David Mitchell’s Soapbox


Last week, you may remember, I solved the environment. Frankly, I expected this to make more of a stir than it did, but no matter. Saving the world is its own reward. However, someone did point out that in order for my brilliant environment-saving policy to work, we will first have to convince everyone that it needs saving. This is true, but I’ve always found it rather baffling that it’s true. Surely, if the people who doubt the existence or extent of man-made climate change are reasonable and intelligent people, they would have to agree the onus is on them to prove it’s not worth doing something about, just in case. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I believe it has been proved. Every scientific body of national or international standing either agrees with or is neutral towards the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s consensus that climate change exists. I mean every one. No-one disagrees, not one single reputable bunch of scientists, and by scientists I mean people who have the expertise and have taken an interest, I don’t mean do-gooding liberal stooges. Do you know who the last group to convert were? The American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

When even those guys admit it might be happening, and it might be us doing it, it seems pretty clear. But ok, maybe they’re all wrong. Maybe everyone who’s qualified to look at it who’s looked at it is wrong. Seems an odd opinion to have, but it’s not impossible. Suppose you’re one of those people who thinks they might be wrong. Surely you still have to concede it’s a possibility that they’re not? If all these guys think there is or might be a link, and none of them think there definitely isn’t, you surely have to concede there’s a question mark. At that point, why take the risk? There doesn’t need to be proof – there IS – but there doesn’t need to be proof it’s happening for it to be worth doing something about; there needs to be proof it isn’t happening for it not to be worth doing something about.

You don’t say: ‘I know you say you smell smoke, and we’re having difficulty breathing, and it’s hot in here, and your theory is the roof is on fire, but until I have proof I’m not going to extinguish my cigar.’ If a shop thinks it has inadvertently sold a product which might in unusual circumstances, lead to a point one per cent chance of killing a child, it immediately recalls it. And if you’re a parent that bought this product, you take it back. You don’t say, well, there’s no actual proof this could kill a child. It hasn’t done yet. And even if it could, a point one per cent chance is one in ten thousand – those are very long odds. And it’s a lovely colour. I’ll keep it.

That would not, in fact, be a ridiculous thing to say, but no-one says it. And in this case, we’re talking about making the whole planet uninhabitable, and everyone who’s qualified to judge says it is, or it might be, happening. So, for God’s sake, until we find out for sure, let’s recall the product! Stop stocking it! Once we’ve proved it’s not happening, that the sceptics were right, all the scientists, including the petroleum guys, were wrong, and this was a silly fuss about nothing, then great, all aboard the cheap aeroplanes! But for now, get a grip..