Global warming is not a new phenomenon by any means. People have been raising alarms about the issue for decades. One of the most clear-sighted views of our current dystopia comes from scientist and author Carl Sagan. During his 1990 keynote speech at the 5th Emerging Issues Forum, Sagan explains climate change effects and the urgency of combatting them.
A short four-minute TikTok of the speech recently went viral on the r/Damnthatsinteresting subreddit. The video really hammers home the point that climate change is a dangerous issue worth whatever financial cost it takes to fight, drawing a comparison to military spending and national security risks.
The viral clip begins about halfway through Sagan’s keynote address. He poses a simple question to the audience: “How much money do you think the United States has spent since 1945 on the Cold War?” The answer is a massive 10 trillion dollars spent since 1945 (a number which has only increased exponentially in the last 30 years).
He then asks another series of questions. “How certain was it that the Russians were going to invade? Was it 100% certain? Guess not since they never invaded. What if it was only, let’s say, 10% certain? What would advocates of big military buildup have said? We must be prudent.”
Sagan notes that “classic military thinking” always involves preparing for the worst, most threatening contingency. Even if it’s only a remote possibility, it’s still vital to be prepared for an extreme, existential threat.
“Why doesn’t that same argument apply to Global Warming?” he then asks. “If it’s only a small probability of it happening since the consequences are so serious, don’t you have to make some serious investment to prevent it or mitigate it?”
Sagan calls out this logical flaw in our government’s spending a “double standard” and encourages treating climate change with the severity it deserves—in 1990. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. Smart and influential people have been loudly and logically arguing for climate action for decades. And yet here we are still begging and fighting for real action.
“What I am going to try to argue is that virtually every one of the things that you would do to ameliorate greenhouse warming makes sense on completely separate grounds,” he continues. “They are worth doing apart from greenhouse warming.”
The clip ends shortly after. To learn more about his suggestions, you can watch the full hour-long address here:
Climate change is at long last getting the attention it requires. Even still, it’s hard not to mourn what could have been if we had heeded warnings like Carl Sagan’s earlier. How much more progress could’ve been made if our country had spent more on combating global warming effects than it spends on war? We may never truly know the answer; the only thing we can do now is to learn from our past missteps and do better going forward.