Climate Change and Risk

A simple definition of ‘risk’ is “the avoiding of harm or danger” but it is much more complicated than that. One implication is that the risk of many of the threats we face occurring are of minor or no importance. The question of the probability of any threat occurring is also involved. To assess risk clearly, as the insurance industry does all the time, requires clear and reliable information.

As individuals, we assess risk continually. For example, when we are crossing a busy road we look to see whether there is any oncoming traffic and whether it is safe to cross, we are analysing the risk of being hit by a car. To analyse the risk we need accurate and reliable information – whether the road is busy or there are no vehicles heading towards me. We then make a decision based on that risk assessment whether to cross the road or wait. If we make a mistake in this, the decision to cross can be catastrophic.

The matrix above enables a clear analysis of specific threats, with the probability of the threat occurring on the vertical axis and the result of that risk occurring on the horizontal axis. In a recent U3A class it was pointed out that climate change is ‘almost certain’ and the consequences of this are leaning towards the extreme and catastrophic. The climate risk can also be assessed in a variety of ways – in terms of numbers, geographically and its immediacy.

Further, the risk assessment of various aspects of climate change may different. For example, sea level rise is certain, as it is being measured now, but the rise is small and in terms of human lifespan the threat is seen as distant and negligible. On the other hand, a number of the more immediate consequences of climate change – drought, heatwaves and bushfires – are with us now. Gippslanders have experienced all of these extreme weather events this century and whilst bushfire threat may be geographically restricted to south-east Australia and California, the heatwaves occur anywhere.

Climate activists often pose the question of risks involved with climate change in terms of ‘russian roulette’ and whether the ‘possible’ outcome ‘catastrophic’ (ie death) is acceptable. Some have posed a similar question as to whether you would fly in a plane that had a 10% chance of crashing. The answer to these questions is obvious. Yet the near criminal activities of those in politics and the media that mislead, deny, or obscure the evidence on which we can base a reliable risk assessment, continue. They are playing ‘russian roulette’ with you, your children and grandchildren, and unless there is grand scale urgent action, the consequences will be ‘catastrophic’.