Environmental scientists are our early warning system of impending, possibly lethal, ecodisasters. Yet the number of false alarms has triggered scepticism in some quarters. Is it justified?
In this article, Stephen W. Pacala and others in the United States and Netherlands argue that far from being alarmist, environmental scientists are too conservative in issuing their warnings. The marginal benefits increase as responses to the alarms increase, and the benefits to human health dwarf the costs of cleaning up the mess.
The authors predict that unevenly distributed benefits and costs of cleaning up will mean a steady supply of special interests — and sceptics. But given that millions more lives can be saved by environmental warnings, science needs to stay alert to potential catastrophes.
Reference: Science, 301, 1187 (2003)