A common theme that comes up when I read right wing comments about global warming is that “the rich elites are still buying water front property.” The implication of this comment is that they don’t believe that global warming is actually a problem, and so global warming must be either be a scam, or not as dangerous as some are saying. But does this really hold true? I don’t think we should infer much from how rich people act, even if they are warning about global warming. At the very least I think there may be some reasons why rich people are still buying water front properties.
The danger may not be seen as immediate
One possible reason that people who are sounding an alarm on global warming may still be buying water front properties is that the risk may be seen as far enough away that the immediate risks aren’t a significant concern. It’s important to remember that, as a species, were not particularly good at quantifying risks, especially if those risks are seen as far away. Estimating the cost of risk is difficult even for insurance companies, who have experts who spend their entire lives trying to do the job.
Cognitive biases can lead us to undervalue risks, and overvalue benefits. Also, if there are more immediate benefits, or desires, they can be much stronger than the concern over long away risks. If you want proof of this, look at how many people continue to smoke, or even pick up the habit, despite the well known risks. Pleasure today is often more important than possible pain in the future.
They may be willing to accept the cost
While water front properties may be expensive to middle class Americans, those who are very wealthy may simply be able to absorb the cost of their land literally going underwater. To lose a million dollar property is going to be a very big deal to most people, but for a multimillionaire it may simply be a “cost of business”, especially if that cost isn’t going to come in for another 15 years, or more.
Risks can be mitigated
Countries like the Netherlands have been dealing with living on land that is underwater for ages. Through the use of dikes, and pumps, sea water has been held back and the land preserved. I don’t know how feasible such a system would be for some parts of the US, but I’m pretty sure there would be areas that could make use of such technology to mitigate some of the damage, at least for some time.
The tu quoque fallacy
Ultimately, just because somebody acts in a way that may not seem consistent with their stated position, doesn’t mean that the position is false. How people act regarding a belief is simply not a reliable method to determine whether that belief is true. Whatever the proposition it must be evaluated on its merits, and not evaluated based on how its proponents behave.
Is Christianity false because Kenneth Copeland, and Joel Osteen, are assholes? If you’re a Christian you probably don’t think your religion should be judged based on the worst proponents of your religion, do you?
I’m sorry to tell you this global warming deniers, but the overwhelming majority of climate scientists have found that the data is compelling: Humans are drastically affecting the climate, and our CO2 emissions are the primary culprit. The effects of climate change are very likely to affect billions of people, and rising water levels will likely displace many millions of people all over the world. Our failure to act will likely result in many billions of premature deaths.