October 31, 2016 | Graham

Pascal’s wager called into defence of climate change

Professor Martin Weissman Weitzman postulates “that if there is a finite possibility, however small, of an infinitely bad outcome (human extinction) then virtually any cost is worth incurring to prevent it,” according to Peter Lilley, writing in this review of the Stern Report.

But that is essentially the trick that Pascal used to justify religious observance, called “Pascal’s wager” and defined thus by Google “the argument that it is in one’s own best interest to behave as if God exists, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage in believing otherwise.”

All of which confirms, as many have been suggesting, that global warming catastrophism is a species of religion. It can’t be confirmed by the facts, so it has to be confirmed by sophistic sleight of hand.

Except Pascal’s wager doesn’t really work. Certainly not in a world where there is a plethora of possible ways, from global warming, to nuclear war, to world-eating asteroids, to arrive at an infinitely bad outcome.

But in a world of finite resources, you can’t throw virtually everything at virtually anything that can be conjured up in someone’s fetid imagination or computer model.

There aren’t enough resources to go around.

So, you have to make intelligent guesses and discount the infinitely small probabilities of infinitely bad possible outcomes and concentrate on those things that are highly probable, and with a higher chance of being solved.

To do otherwise is to be dictated to by the neuroses of the various Chicken Lickens who populate the environmental NGOs, universities, and most western left of centre political parties, squandering resources that could be used to improve someone’s lot sacrificing to the idols of idle thought.

And in the process pathologising government and society.

The pyramids are an inspiring monument to civic mobilisation of national resources in the service of religion.

But while we may find them enriching, they must have impoverished the civilisations that were forced to build them. Diverting resources and imagination to sterile and futile monuments to protect against the gods.

These days we build windmills, but they have exactly the same propensity to impoverish at the same time they fail to ward off disaster.

In this world Bjorn Lomborg is the necessary heretic. Asking what can be tackled, at what price, and then providing a list in order of priority.

He’s not a climate change atheist, but he’s not taken in by Pascal’s wager either.

Neither should we.

Particularly as the resort to Pascal’s wager tends to the conclusion that there is absolutely nothing to worry about.

Posted by Graham at 9:00 pm | Comments (12) |


  1. Pascal’s wager was reborn as the Precautionary Principle in 1992, and this version is subject to several serious weaknesses, which one can read at

    Comment by Don Aitkin — November 1, 2016 @ 7:24 am

  2. That “Google definition” (and I don’t know what THAT means) of Pascal’s wager is seriously deficient.

    The original wager is framed in terms of unequal risks: the risks associated with there being no God and living as if there were not, are negligible, but the risks associated with there being a God and living as if there were not, are incalculable.

    That is the reason it has any force of argument, and therefore it does not constitute a sleight of hand by Pascal as this article asserts.

    The deficient form of the wager has been turned into the “precautionary principle” as Don Aitken posted above, and rebutted most excellently at his link.

    Because of the deficient form of the precautionary principle (no caps, thanks), this article makes a valid point about the non-scientific and pseudo-religious nature of the case for catastrophic global warming, and the “green movement” generally.

    However, I disagree with the conclusion. I do not subscribe to a “do nothing” argument based on this principle at all. I argue that rising temperatures are not sufficiently dangerous to humanity that we have to abandon fossil fuels. If we look at the population distribution across the planet, the toughest environments (and the least populous) are the cold polar regions. That indicates that humanity is more comfortable with higher temperatures: more heat rather than less heat.

    Comment by John Angelico — November 1, 2016 @ 10:24 am

  3. I’m not persuaded by the article or those of the following posts.

    Even so, in view of some of the warmest years on record, even as we’re theoretically entering a new ice age? [The sun has been in a waning phase since the mid seventies.] (NASA)

    Therefore, phenomena like a melting of formerly permanently frozen tundra, replete with new summer lakes, from which copious methane bubbles forth frequently, and for the first time in living memory, there’s no summer sea ice off the coast of Alaska!

    Even were that not so, along with voluminous evidence supporting man made global warming? Why this mindless preoccupation with fossil fuel energy? Maybe because it’s cheaper than all else?

    But no, it’s not! I could step outside my door and fill a cubic metre box with dirt. And from that cubic metre of dirt, extract 7-9 grams of easily recovered thorium. And for around a dollar per 10 grams? And with that 3 MM’s worth of thorium, power my house, car and all my material wants for a year!

    And I could take that 8 grams of unrefined non-enriched thorium and VERY SAFELY, power my electric car for the next 100 years without refueling? (See U tube and Google tech talks)

    And without producing as much as a grain of a gram of carbon, Ever!

    Moreover, using SAFE CLEAN CHEAP molten salt thorium based nuclear energy, extract Co2 from seawater and thanks to nuclear technology, combine it with hydrogen collected from that same seawater, to produce ready to use hydrocarbon based conventional liquid fuel! So as to keep the economy turning using current infrastructure until obsolete?

    Interestingly, as Co2 is extracted from seawater, it seems it’s quite quickly replaced by atmospheric carbon? Thus allowing us to draw down atmospheric carbon at will; and store it as billions of tons, should we want, of man made synthetic fuel?

    And given cheap thorium energy is involved as the primary energy source, at prices no fossil fuel baron can ever hope to ever compete with!

    I believe, if any of our verbose Pollies, were actually serving the nation? This wouldn’t be a theoretical possibility, just our nation’s current reality!?

    Me? Well given money was no object, I’d opt for a completely autonomous flying four seat car and powered with just a few grams of thorium. Meaning, the tyranny of distance and the inevitable price gouging refueling stations, would be a thing of the past!

    The mind focusing worry for the fossil fuel devotees, is the very real possibility that their captive market may finally crawl out from under the rapacious, price gouging, fossil fuel industry?

    Leaving them entirely bereft of a virtual slave market? Where you can have anything you like, as long as it is their product!

    Moreover, it would appear, various government energy policies and practice, have assisted them, without rhyme or reason and against the best interests of, I believe, sovereign nations? WHY?

    As for the precautionary principle, why bother? When a case for positive nation building change, only needs irrefutable, incontrovertible economic argument to stand unchallenged!

    Try beating the eonomic rationale of SAFE, CLEAN, CHEAP energy, that could conceivably cost the average household just a dollar a year, then apply it to a new high tech manufacturing future, if you dare!?

    So what if it’s a largely carbon free one? Who loses, not the nation nor the people!

    Just a few problematic energy barons and their spit lickle servants. Some of who just have to be politicians surely?

    And almost as inherently honest, as he who must be Obeid? We should be so worried!?

    For corroboration or verification of any of the above, see U tube, google tech talks and thorium! Or just don’t bother? After all, it does seem the truth really does set us free, and we couldn’t have that could we?

    But particularly, when the name of the game is to win an entirely obsolete argument? i.e., The Titanic is sinking! No it’s not, and you played a bit of a bum note just then Charley Trombone!?

    Well, we must get the really important priorities right? Right?
    Go figure!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — November 1, 2016 @ 2:09 pm

  4. Don, that’s a great summary of the problems with the precautionary principle. And I wish I’d written it too. But I only had time to trot this one out. And even with more time probably wouldn’t have come up with the statement in your article.

    Comment by Graham — November 1, 2016 @ 9:35 pm

  5. Whether or not global warming is happening, man made or just cyclical? Or just what you’d expect at the start of a new ice age, is immaterial!?

    Nothing real is harmed by a transition to carbon free energy.

    Incidentally, if the polar caps melt? And the likely consequence of an average rise in ambient temperatures of just 5C!

    The occasional cyclone or tree uprooting tornadoes, would be our every day reality! As would the torrential flooding rains that they’d bring! And plant life would have no chance, given they alternate from moths of inundation to heat wave, bitumen melting dust bowl, 24/7 dust storm conditions, which have no modern comparison?

    The ice caps would be windswept salt laden deserts where nothing would survive, courtesy of quite massively increased, global convection!

    So no, there’s no upside to increased average ambient temperatures!

    Listen fools, without plant life, there’d be no we!

    That said, let me add, we’ve everything to gain and nothing of any moment or real consequence to lose and almost everything to gain, transitioning to an alternative and vastly cheaper, inherently safe energy.

    And that energy source has to be cheaper than coal thorium!

    Thorium is the most energy dense material on the planet and as abundant as lead. 5,000 tons of thorium is equal to 5,000 tons of uranium, plus 5 billion tons of coal, plus 31 billion barrels of oil, plus 5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas. (See google tech talks and the thorium in four minutes, U tube video.)

    The average American uses the energy equivalent of 54 barrels of oil every year!

    And replaced entirely with just 8 grams of thorium that costs around $100 dollars to mine, process and burn in safe, molten salt reactors. Simply put, melt downs don’t occur in a molten salt reactor! The material is already molten! And the reactor design, safely incorporates that feature

    So if any problem occurs and there is a major rupture, the material cools and solidifies back to crystalline salt in seconds, containing any potential leak problem almost as soon as it occurs.

    Moreover, given thorium is less radioactive than a banana. The only real risk may be scolding, and then only if you breach normal security and stand too close and in harm’s way? Molten salt hot enough to melt steel! So, don’t forget the oven mitts! Which should have written safety warnings plastered all over them!

    Given thorium reaction takes place inside a graphite core and at normal sea level atmospheric air pressure, less risk than that inherent in a coal fired boiler.

    Water? Thorium only needs hot air to turn a turbine. So energy can be produced as and where needed, without the quite massive expense of highly vulnerable transmission lines!

    Comparatively small reactors can be mass produced for not very much and shipped in standard shipping containers. and left in them even as they’re commissioned! If 30-40 MW’s prove insufficient, then more mass produced modules can be trucked out and bolted on until there is sufficient local power supply.

    The other compelling case for molten salt thorium reactors is, they can be used as slow breeder reactors and burn nuclear waste again and again until the plutonium is used up and the remnant waste has a half life of just 300 years!

    Moreover, practical pragmatists around the world, will pay us billions for doing that; then safely storing the remaining material! We just cannot go on endlessly racking up the credit card!

    Further, I can only surmise what belief beggaring economic advantages this ultra cheap energy would confer, but so dramatic, that only blind wanton fools would allow others to get there first! Ignore this warning at the entire nation’s economic peril!

    And if climate change is real and caused by us? We can actually do something practical and to our massive economic advantage by transitioning to carbon free SAFE, CLEAN, CHEAP NUCLEAR ENERGY!

    NOW TODAY, while all the quite massive economic advantages are still ours!

    If we are to be harmed economically? It will be down to recalcitrant prevaricating pollies, with skin in the fossil fuel game; and just protecting a personal patch by the simplicity of sitting on their (Sergeant Schultz syndrome) hands!?

    What is it about fools who never learn? Ah yes, they’re attracted to politics as moths to the flame, where they can do the most dithering decision-less harm?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — November 1, 2016 @ 11:26 pm

  6. Is climate change real? I believe the available evidence confirms it is, and that part of it is man made!?

    Even so, reacting to it logically could be a huge economic blessing in disguise.

    New deionization based desalination, is four times cheaper than current conventional membrane reliant, reverse osmosis desalination.

    The new technology delivers an electronic shock to the unimpeded water flow, as in dialysis. This then enables huge flows to be treated on the fly and results in around 95% POTABLE water.

    And available at (at thorium energy reliant) prices that make good a cost benefit analysis/ business case arguments for irrigating our desert wastelands, to in effect, turn them into highly productive gardens of Eden, and true literal food bowls to the world.

    Yes the outlays would be huge and in modern terms as large as a modern snowy mountains project, with only upsides? But even as costly as that may be bought and paid for by the extra production that would, all but guarantee! But only if CHEAP CLEAN SAFE THORIUM WAS THE “GOVERNMENT DELIVERED” ENERGY SOURCE!

    My only fear, and it is real, is that some other (dubious) nation will do this for us as our virtual sovereign masters!

    And possible if foreign entities, rather than we Australians. Roll out, as owner operators, this energy provision and own the financial returns and consequent truly massive economic growth!
    We could, if intelligently led by folks with entirely unimpeachable integrity, claim for ourselves and this nation.

    Can we afford to do this ourselves? Well we do have a super fund of around two trillion and growing! So, with the right investment vehicle, i.e., self terminating thirty year bonds, which could be taken up within hours of release, if the modest returns were given a tax free status! We could, and leverage an additional two trillion in lazy corporate funds into the bargain?

    Look, we earn little enough tax from these funds now given most of the current investments are offshore? And we’d gain all the available economic flow on factors inherent in getting most of this money invested/reinvested right here, working for us and our exponentially expanding eonomic sovereignty!

    So, in a nutshell, everything to gain and nothing to lose of any real consequence!

    And all but guarantee, we’d be able to sell much more to the world than we buy from it and position the nation at the head of the new boom, the inevitable food boom! And at last, begin to make substantial inroads into our massive record foreign debt burden! [Beats the hell out of just letting it grow, while trying to sound confident!?]

    And given that is doable, lock up all future agricultural sales, in only Australian hands! Which is where our energy supply needs to also remain and for more than very obvious reasons, not the least of which is national security!

    Making the deserts bloom is the answer to almost everything, including long overdue and quite massive decentralization!

    Which will bring with it truly affordable housing! And magnificent permenant job and growth opportunities!

    It’s not that we can’t do any of this stuff, we can and have or can import the technical expertise and debt free financing!? The latter via self terminating thirty year (“infrastructure”) bonds!?

    But that we could be prevented at official levels, (ours) by dirty deals done in the dead of night behind closed doors, that effectively “ROB” us of our economic sovereignty and our heritage?

    No, nothing implied or inferred, ever! Just know that some folks play the long game far better than we! More tea anyone?

    I believe there’s no place in the commercial world of our competitors, ever, for former ministers of the crown. Even in consultancy only roles? It’s just not a good look!

    We pay extremely generous pensions and entitlements to eliminate that, as any sort of financial imperative?

    Let them buy (tax free?) self terminating thirty year bonds!?

    Favored by numerous other nations, but completely untried here!

    The question, why? Good question!

    The answer? La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. to the tune of the can can; or more appropriately, we won’t we won’t, we mustn’t.
    Plus, Ah, de-unions, de-unions, de-banks, de-banks, so on and so forth, etc/etc! to the tune of the Mexican hat dance, or the Potomac two step? PRIORITES!
    Alan B. Goulding

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — November 2, 2016 @ 10:14 am

  7. MR Goulding,

    I agree that a power source that is safe, all-but free and ubiquitous is a wonderful thing. But there are one or two problems with your oft-repeated thorium claims, the most compelling of which is that commercial thorium power plants don’t exist!

    Its true that a thorium plant, once ran in the USA but it never delivered a single watt of commercial power, only the potential of power. There is an enormous gulf between a theoretic demonstration of an idea and its commercial application. It can be shown that we can derive electricity from a lemon and some electrodes but I’m not holding out for a citrus future.

    The Chinese have been throwing significant sums at thorium plant research but their estimated start dates have been continually pushed back. They currently say they won’t have a demonstration plant before 2024 IF they can resolve the multitudinous problems they encountered to date. Equally the Indians have been gung-ho for thorium, but have so far generated nothing but subsidies and research grants.

    By all means we should continue to investigate thorium but a solution to the current ‘problems’ it ain’t.

    Comment by Mark Hayes — November 3, 2016 @ 4:49 pm

  8. Mark, we have always had folk, mostly with vested interest or just downright dumb who opposed change! And had we but listened to them and their annul retentive arguments, we’d still be living in caves running our food down with a stone tied to a stick!

    Stevenson’s rocket would never have huffed ore the English midlands and the Wright brothers would have only ever peddled their bicycles to and from the farm? Look, steam driven trains, telephones, television, planes, rockets and moon landing were once just theoretical!

    I find some of the reasoning by reputable and highly credential scientists, much more credible and persuasive than the musing of some hidebound naysayer!?

    We have a nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, for the purpose of creating medical isotopes, the most of important of which could be bismuth 213!?

    Bismuth 213 is arguably the most important and promising antibody assisted isotope for targeted acute myeliod leukemia!

    Which as anybody with any knowledge of nuclear reactors can confirm? To get it from conventional oxide reactors, requires the shut down of the plant and not without time consuming difficulty!

    Meaning, we are running out of this easily created isotope! Which can be collected from a walk away safe molten salt thorium reactor, ideally, without ever needing to shut it down; except for routine maintenance!

    Yes you are right the Oak Ridge thorium reactor never produced power, it was never meant to!

    But rather, was run without incident for five years, as proof of concept! And other prototypes have produced up to 40 MW’s?

    And as proof of concept establish that a walk away safe, molten salt thorium reactor, does not need to be shut down in order to collect medical isotopes.

    And critical when virtual miracle cancer cures like bismuth 213, have a useful half life of just 66 hours!

    Meaning, withholding this incredibility promising technology on some of the most vacuous and spurious, manifestly incorrect reasons I’ve ever heard, is tantamount to withholding the only possible cure for hundreds of terminally ill cancer patients!

    And I’d rather that be your legacy, nay your epitaph, than mine Sir!

    I’ve outlined how it can be done! You, why you won’t and probably never ever would! Given can’t has been effectively taken off the table; and for over fifty years!

    Moreover, discontinued at the behest of, I believe, one of this planet’s most corrupt politicians, Nixon of Watergate fame!

    You and folk like you, probably with countervailing vested interest? The reason this potentially great nation is little more than a debt laden quarry and pony paddock?

    If you can’t or won’t help, then just get out of the way!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — November 4, 2016 @ 10:50 am

  9. Alan,

    I get that you really really want there to be a thorium future. Who knows, it might turn out to be so.

    But if was as certain or easy as you suggest, only held back by naysayers and special interests, then the Chinese and Indians who aren’t held back by those special interests and who have significant funding, would have already done it. They haven’t because there remain significant technical issues that have not and may never be resolved.

    Basing energy policy on hope and starry-eyed optimism isn’t a great idea. At best, commercially viable thorium won’t be available for at least 15 to 20 years. In the meantime…

    Comment by Mark Hayes — November 4, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

  10. Wrong, The Indians seem to be claiming, they’ll have a 300 MW prototype up an running 2016! And thanks to a guided tour, seem to be progressing well?

    And I get you don’t want it to be so?

    We have a conventional oxide reactor at Lucas Heights, that has yet to light a single light bulb?

    So, does that mean its another doomed technology, or just as in thorium, all that missing is government licencing and R+D funds.

    All that has prevented a thorium powered world is government suppression, as in the US?

    Yes the Chinese are throwing billions at this project and why would’t they? Recent changes to the law by downright dumb lawmakers in the US have made those presenting patents first, able to gazump the inventors and make a nonsense out of years of American research! Control the world’s energy supply and you control the world!?

    The technical difficulties you refer to are funding and implacable opposition by both the current nuclear industry and fossil fuel interests? Both of who are fighting for their survival and current market dominance, and would be decimated by a successful thorium based energy roll out!

    The fact that the Chinese and the Indians are throwing billions into research and we aren’t just tell us, they’re smart and in comparison, we are just dumb local yokels who know all the reasons it can’t be done?!

    Other than that, there are no real technical difficulties!?

    I’d prefer to believe highly credential scientists, rather than a know nothing naysayer, just trying to steer the conversation and inquiry, somewhere else or anywhere else?

    Least a few decision makers decide to take an independent butchers? And timely given the impending shut down of Latrobe! What have we got to lose? Our economy?

    Hardly, given its already going to hell in a hand-basket due to the follies of recent rubbish administrations, since the light on the hill went out! This lot might not look too out of place in some council chamber?

    But hardly in our most important central parliament, and in charge of the national interest?

    Leaders lead, sheep follow, and allow themselves to be fleeced year in year out!

    Safe, given that avoids making nation building momentous decisions ever!?

    Australia, what the bloody hell are we waiting for? Permission? Poor beggar my country!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — November 4, 2016 @ 5:01 pm

  11. Alan,

    I’m uncomfortable hijacking Graham’s post with peripheral issues so I think this should be continued over at the forum. Next time you raise thorium there I’ll respond having previously letting it slide.

    But for the time being you might ponder this as reported in the South China Morning Post:

    “We are still in the dark about the physical and chemical nature of thorium in many ways,” said Li. “There are so many problems to deal with but so little time.”

    Professor Li is the director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Shanghai research centre on thorium. He doesn’t sound like someone who thinks the only issue is government obfuscation.

    Comment by Mark Hayes — November 6, 2016 @ 9:05 am

  12. If I had a jet engine on a test bed and ran it for around five years 24/7, without incident! I think most reasonable men would think that the technology had been fairly thoroughly and comprehensively road tested!

    Moreover, I’m not sure that the Chinese claims on anything including maritime boundaries can be relied on!

    The forum eh? What don’t you want the public to know?

    I think I’ll just give that a miss and simply invite folk to get to U tube and google tech talks, which include a blow by blow description of the assembly of the Oak Ridge thorium reactor, with every relevant technical detail included.

    Of similar interest and technically complete is a detailed description of how to make ready to use, conventional fuel from seawater!

    Apparently, a 100 MW reactor (five nuclear powered ships) is capable of catalytically synthesizing around 41,000 barrels of diesel or jet fuel, daily? And while at sea and on station! Imagine that! And why waste perfectly good surplus energy?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — November 6, 2016 @ 10:00 pm

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