What if I’m wrong?

It seems that, no matter what you write on the internet, what opinion you have, you always end up in a discussion. Which is not necessarily a bad thing – I like good discussions and they can help you to better understand a certain topic or the others’ point of view.

Many topics though are not tangible – are based on assumptions and a certain likelihood. Two recently discussed big topics and good examples are Climate Change and COVID-19 actions. No one can tell for sure how Climate Change will happen, how quickly it will happen, how it will affect our lives, and what the appropriate countermeasures would be. The same for Corona: is lockdown the right thing to do? How long and which measures do we need to have and when can we open up again? Both topics can be discussed in nearly any detail. My more general point is, that there are still Climate Change deniers, there are Corona deniers… My question to all of these, the deniers and people who follow the scientific consensus: what if I’m wrong? What would it mean for us all, if my opinion I have, was not correct?

To illustrate this, I made two graphics which show the options we have and what the results are for both.

Climate Change

There are two possibilities: Either Climate Change is a real thing, and is caused by our actions (if it would be a real thing and not caused by us, we’re immediately are in the right lower corner as we then would not be able to take actions) or Climate change is not real and is not happening.

Then we have two choices: Either we take action and use all our resources and try to stop or minimize climate change. Or we do not do anything and proceed as we did the last hundred years.

These 2×2 scenario leads into four different outcomes (from top left to bottom right):

  1. If climate change is not a thing, and we take action, we spend a lot of money on adapting. This will generate huge costs and would probably lead to a global depression.
  2. The best possible outcome would be if Climate Change is not a thing and we do not take any action. In this case, everyone is happy and we can live like we are used to.
  3. If climate change is a thing and we take actions, we can limit the effects it has on our society but of course, we have to cope with the huge cost associated with it.
  4. Lastly, if Climate Change is a thing and we do not take action on it, then we will be facing catastrophic effects on the global economy (it will be faced with the enormous cost for wars on resources, defend futile land, cope with droughts and other catastrophes). It will disrupt our political systems to a degree that many political systems might break down under the pressure of cost, and other factors. Social life won’t be what we know at the moment, people might starve or die of thirst, have to migrate to other regions, hundreds of millions of refugees. The environment will suffer as most ecosystems will collapse and many species will die – including crops, cattle, and other pillars of our society. Lastly, it will have a huge effect on public health resulting in all of the above.

Corona Pandemic

So, let’s do the same for the Corona pandemic. Again, we can decide if we consider the SARS COV-2 to be either a flu-like virus or it is worse than the flu and must be treated otherwise. In both cases we have the choice of having a lockdown and wear masks or, continue living like before.

This leads, as with the climate change, to four different outcomes:

  1. Corona is like the flu, and we do a lockdown and wear masks. In this case, we have a global depression and many people lose their jobs – all basically for nothing other than, maybe, still saved some lives, because also the flu kills people.
  2. Corona is like flu but we don’t take any out of the normal actions against it. This means, that still, the flu is also deadly to weak and old people, some get killed but it does not have an impact on our economy. Happy Everyone!
  3. If Corona is much worse than the flu and we take actions, we have the cost of the measurements but potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives AND, by reacting, are able to come around an unstoppable pandemic which can do even more harm to our society.
  4. Lastly, if Corona is worse than the flu and we do nothing, the virus will spread to every country, to every household, to every elderly person – to everyone. At a certain point, the pandemic will become unstoppable because it is too widespread. The deaths of so many people will have an even large impact on our society and on our economy. The likelihood of mutations is much higher, which would potentially do even more harm.

Bottom line

With all that we believe in, and what we THINK we are right with, you always have to draw out the consequences and ask yourselves: What would be the outcome if I am wrong. And in both shown examples, the result of not acting while the assumption that Corona is a Flu or Climate Change is not real leads to disastrous consequences, while all other routes more or less only lead to financial loss.

Now, in the examples above I obviously simplified a lot – there is not only black and white, yes and no, and there are not only two options to choose from. But, and I encourage you to do this yourself and add complexity, likelihood, and options yourself, you will always come to the same conclusion that not acting is far too dangerous and that the likelihood of a disastrous outcome is far too high.

Place your bet!

The only thing in these examples we can choose from, are the columns as for the rows, we can’t tell for sure, which one is the correct one.

So, if we look at the columns for Climate Change and Corona, which one would be the less risky one to be in? The left or the right? Column A or B? There is the chance for Cost or Global Depression on the column A and Happy Life and Disastrous Results on the column B. So, right or left? What is your bet? The Risk of the left surely is the Cost associated with measurements, the risk on the right is a Global Depression, thousands and thousands of deaths, and much worse.

So, if you had to place a bet on a roulette table, would you bet on an option where you have mild gains but mild loss, or would you bet on the option “everything or nothing” where you have possible big gains but also the possibility of huge losses? I bet, you would place your chips on the second option, because you can rule out the chance of a disastrous outcome!

So, before we make a decision for ourselves, we have to weigh our chances of what course of action creates which sort of result.

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