One of my favourite intellectual TV programs when I was growing up was ‘Hypotheticals’ which aired on the ABC and starred Geoffrey Robertson. I loved the concept – put a hypothetical situation to a panel of experts and then explore the outcomes. The topics involved ranged from historical dilemmas to political conundrums and more. One particular ‘hypothetical’ stuck in my mind. Robertson created a story where a Minister was reading confidential notes on the train and put them in his briefcase before briefly visiting the toilet. Robertson asked a journalist on the panel what he would do in this hypothetical situation. I was horrified when the journo said he would look in the briefcase and read the information while the politician was briefly away. This would never happen today of course – what politician uses the train?

The beauty of posing any hypothetical situation – whether on the show or sitting around a coffee table – is that there are no actual consequences. The premise and the actions are all imaginary but they can be incredibly interesting.

I recently saw an episode of a Netflix show called Lucifer and there was a situation on the crime solving show that would make a perfect hypothetical situation. The criminal in one episode contacted a specialist in their field and gave them a tough choice. They could sacrifice a part of themselves that made them special or the mastermind would kill an innocent victim. For example the thoracic surgeon needed to destroy her hand; the actor needed to cut his face and the track athlete needed to amputate his leg. These body sacrifices would then save the life of an innocent University student.

What would you do given the same choice? It makes for an interesting conversation when you play with the moral dilemma with the added complication that you are being asked to trust a criminal to either follow through with the original threat or save a life if the requested action is taken.

While this type of hypothetical is one I would never like to be faced with, I want to play with another hypothetical today.

Picture a brilliant evil criminal – the likes of which you see thrown up in a variety of movies. I am thinking of someone with the combined brilliance of Lex Luthor; Professor James Moriarty; the Green Goblin and The Joker. For this hypothetical, we should call our nemesis Celtic Meaghan (obviously from Ireland with a name like that).

In typical fashion, Meaghan takes over the broadcasters of the world and sends her evil message. She has used her brilliance to create a system that will create havoc over the entire planet impacting every person across planet earth. She has been planning this for quite some time and has left no stone unturned in her quest to bring the world to its knees.

Her evil plan is designed to attack the world at a number of levels utilising no new celestial components but using what we already have in this world.

Unless Celtic Meaghan’s demands are met, she has threatened to:

  • Generate wild hurricanes;
  • Start horrific bushfires;
  • Spread infectious water-borne diseases;
  • Create heatwaves;
  • Destroy food supplies for developing nations; and
  • Create cycles of dreadful floods followed by extreme droughts.

Meaghan, as we know, is evil. The ‘evil genius’ title tends to give that away. All of these actions she is going to undertake will take human lives and Meaghan makes no apologies for that. Meaghan has a very sick sense of humour. During the broadcast, she also informs the world that for some added ‘fun’ as she puts it, she will also:

  • Destroy hundreds of animal species;
  • Destroy UN World Heritage listed sites;
  • Destroy coral reefs; and
  • Destroy half the wine regions in the world.

As much as governments across the world say that they won’t negotiate with terrorists, the threat from Celtic Meaghan is too great to ignore. The United Nations gathers to hear the demands of this crazy individual. They are ready to give Meaghan almost anything she requests to not inflict this pain on the world. Does she want all the Gold in the world? What about her own island to live on? Maybe a date with George Clooney. The world leaders would be prepared to remove their voice boxes to protect the world from this malevolent miscreant. What would you be prepared to sacrifice to stop the world from this death and destruction?

What will the sacrifice be in our hypothetical?

Celtic Meaghan has but one demand.

Stop polluting the world! Wait – what? That is it?

It turns out that, as well as being an evil genius, Meaghan is also an asthma sufferer and can’t travel the world with all this pollution. She just wants a world with cleaner air. “Stop burning everything,” she says. “All this oil and coal and gas that is being burned is destroying the beautiful fresh air that I love to breath,” she continued. Her message is quite simple – she wants a world free of pollution.

As it turns out, Meaghan is quite reasonable. Taking over broadcasting channels and threats to destroy the planet aside, what she is asking for actually seems like it would be OK for everyone.

As with any hypothetical, I have made up Celtic Meaghan and the scenario but don’t we have a similar choice to make in our real world.

Climate Change threatens to do all that Celtic Meaghan was threatening – and more. If the solution to the problem was to sacrifice three billion people or listen to Justin Bieber music on constant loops, I can understand why many people in the world would be loath to solve the problem or deny a problem exists. When the solution is to reduce pollution, which sounds like it would be good regardless of the threat of climate change, I don’t understand why many people and governments are resisting. Surely a policy to reduce pollution would be a policy universally embraced.

Please tell me what I am missing.

Mathew Dickerson

Mathew Dickerson is not a Climate Change Scientist. Mathew takes his car to a mechanic, visits his doctor when sick and uses an accountant to lodge his tax returns. He also has confidence in the scientific process. He is applying logic to a problem that is discussed in society every single day.

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