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Lord Deben: "Would You Get On A Plane That Had a 97% Chance of Crashing?"

05/01/2015 11:28 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

If 97% of aeronautical experts warned that plane A was going to crash, would you get on it? The answer, in all likelihood, would have to be no.

"None of us would accept that level of risk for our families," argues the Honorable John Gummer, The Lord of Deben: "So why should we accept this level of risk from those who deny, or dismiss climate science?"

Speaking before students at London's Imperial College on Wednesday, Gummer argues that one need not believe in the science behind global warming. But, one ought to believe in the risk of ignoring it:

"It is unlikely that all climate scientists bar two should be wrong; that all learned societies bar none should be wrong. Quite simply, it isn't a risk worth taking."

Yet, in spite of this fact, there are many people on both sides of the Atlantic who continue to deny and reject climate science.

The current chairman of the UK's Climate Change Committee, Gummer believes that this is because the issue poses such a radical challenge to our fundamentally imperialistic view of the world:

"Ever since the first village was ransacked for grazing rights, humans have had an imperialistic view of the world, from Rome to Britain to the United States. Even in this post imperial society which we are supposed to live in, most people still look at the world through this lens of empire."

A member of British Parliament since 1970, Gummer believes that this world view is not compatible with the global perspective required to solve climate change.

After all, if the US Republican party were to actually accept the reality behind global warming, then their whole imperialistic "view of the world collapses, and then becomes unacceptable. So, there is some very fundamental politics involved in this. And, it's the politics of people who want to hold on to the way that things were."

According to Gummer however, it is the prospect of radical change that is so exciting: "Not since the renaissance over 500 years ago, are we being asked to look at the world in such a different way."

Gummer believes that inaction on climate change stems from a myriad of reasons, the first of which is man's innate inclination towards procrastination:

"Margaret Thatcher once said that we all 11 hour and 55 minute people. Right from the time when Saint Paul talked about "I don't do the good I want to do, but instead do the evil that I don't want to do", people know very well to never do today what i can put off until tomorrow."

Yet, although climate change seems like some distant problem, it is the actions that we take today which will shape the very contours of this crisis.

After all, carbon pollution remains trapped in the atmosphere for centuries, meaning that even if all emissions were to stop tomorrow, our planet would still warm for several decades to come.

According to Gummer, the next problem with climate change is that it has a terrible image problem:

"Bob Dylan had a phrase: "There is no left wing or right wing, just up wing and down wing." And, the up wing part is the crucial part of how we should be looking at this. What you have to do is excite people about the real opportunities involved in living in a sustainable world."

Gummer also believes that the way that global warming is communicated needs a serious revamp. Instead of citing complicated scientific jargon and facts, he says that it needs to be presented in clear and easy terms which people understand:

"Most of us remember from school geography that the world was once too hot. And, gradually the carbon was pulled out of the atmosphere, making it possible for life on earth to flourish. And, that carbon was laid down in oil, gas and coal."

"And, what we're been doing over the last 200 years by burning it, is putting it back into the atmosphere again. So, it shouldn't be too surprising to discover that the world is warming up again."

According to Gummer, there is no point in getting into a detailed argument about climate science with a denialist as this is rather like getting involved in a dispute with a Jehovah witness:

"You don't win. They're wrong, you know that they're wrong, and every single theological faculty in the world knows that their interpretation of the bible couldn't possibly be true. But, you won't change them if you argue about this line of scripture."

"The only way that you can change them is by making people understand that it is unlikely than a man who could not read greek, hebrew nor latin could translate the bible in a way that was better than all people who could read greek, hebrew and latin. The risk of following the Jehovah in regards to truth is thus considerable."

In other words, the whole argument needs to be reframed in terms of risk.

Quoting British politician Lord Gerel Jones, Gummer highlights the grave risks involved in siding with the climate denialists:

"If we go along with 97% of scientists and they're wrong, what have we done? We've cleaned up the atmosphere and we've moved to a more sensible way of power generation that doesn't overexploit our resources, so the downside isn't very big, if they're wrong. But If we went with the denialists, and they turn out to be wrong, then we're buggered up the world."

Gummer believes that the whole argument against climate scientists needs to be turned on its head. Instead of scientists having to convince the fossil fuel lobby, it should be the other round: "They have to prove to us that it is safe."

After all, before a new drug is peddled out before the public, its manufacturers have to conduct countless clinical drugs to prove that it is safe.

Gummer argues that as people all have different priorities in life, from religion to hunting to football, the only way that climate change can be solved is by making it simple for everyone:

"We have to make the things that we have to do, easy for people. And, the things that they shouldn't do, hard for people, sometimes by taxation or regulations and together we can make this work. So, we can change the world. But, ultimately, it's about making people understand risk."