Green Oversite



The Onus of Proof

By Bruce Barbour - August 2020

For too long the onus of proof has been on the scientific community and governments to prove that climate change is due to anthropogenic pollution of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other chemicals. While in my opinion the scientists have absolutely met this requirement to a very high level of certainty, they should not really have to. The onus of proof should fall onto the polluter to prove that what they are doing is not causing harm.

Perhaps a hypothetical will highlight this reverse onus of proof in climate change.
Imagine that fossil fuels and the the means of transforming it into energy - and releasing carbon dioxide - had not been discovered - until now. Then a company, Big Fossil Ltd, comes along and says "I can sell you all this cheap energy. We will dig up these fossil fuels we have discovered and burn them to produce electricity and other mechanical energy. Oh - and by the way - to get this energy we will also be releasing about 40 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year from now on - forever. And we will probably increase this over time. Oh - and also by the way - we have this scientific study from around 1890 that carbon dioxide is a green house gas and would contribute to some warming of the earth. But don't worry about that."

If this was the situation I think the world governments would say to Big Fossil Ltd - "You want to release 40 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually? There is an early report saying that it would cause global warming. If you, Big Fossil, want to do this you go away and prove to us that this is not going to do any harm to the Earth into the future. Or else it won't be approved. This is only fair and it is the way we treat any other person or company that wants to release pollution into the environment - they have to prove that they will not do harm." And because the world governments recognised that Big Fossil had a significant self interest in finding no harm the world governments would also undertake the assessment of the impacts of dumping 40 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. However the onus of proof would still be on Big Fossil to prove that their pollution was not going to cause any harm to the world.
However this is not how it works in our present day world. The onus of proof has been reversed. It is up to governments to prove that carbon dioxide emissions cause harm to the world and to work out ways to minimise the emissions and pay the substantial costs of remediation. In reality the onus should be on the big polluters, the Big Fossils of this world, to prove that their product does not harm the world. And when they can't they need to stop the pollution and pay for any harm that it has caused.

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