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Taboos and illusions in the environmental question: The viewpoint of a physician

Taboos and illusions in the environmental question: The viewpoint of a physician

Physicians have a view of the world that makes them especially able to understand the concept I called the “Seneca Cliff.” Here, Lukas Fierz, Swiss physician, provides some basic principles that apply to collapses of complex systems, it doesn’t matter if we deal with human bodies or entire civilizations. The basic behavior is the same: collapses start slow and often unnoticed, and then strike hard by a combination of mutually reinforcing factors. The final result may be that someone dies, or that an entire civilization goes down to the dustbin of history, or even that an entire ecosystem is destroyed. It happened, and it will happen again.

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I am not a climatologist, but as a physician, you only master certain areas and otherwise you listen to various other specialists. We are also used to deal with uncertainties: e.g. If you are considering an operation, you estimate the chance of success based on the patient’s age, nutritional and physical condition, morale, heart health and previous illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes etc. Every risk factor reduces the chances of success. Inability to calculate anything precisely does not release you from making an estimate.

Similarly, the uncertainties in the climate discussion do not release one from making an assessment. There we are unfortunately hindered by some taboos and illusions, but let’s try:

I grew up in Basel where in the museum hangs a picture of the dead Christ, painted by Holbein 500 years ago.

This made a deep impression on me and I had it above my desk for years: A mercilessly realistic view of our God, his passion and the end of us all. We have to measure our actions against this end.

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