Richard Grossman MD. Photo: Durango Herald

By Richard Grossman
2 March 2018

(Population Matters) – Back in January 2008 the Durango Herald published a unique challenge: “I offer a public wager of $5,000 that the Earth will be cooler in 10 years.” Dr. Roger Cohen, a physicist, proposed this wager.

I responded, and our bet started the next month. Cohen’s rules were reasonable, however, I am a Quaker. Members of the Religious Society of Friends are admonished to not bet, so I countered with a different structure. Each of us would donate $5000 to Durango Nature Studies, and the money would be held in escrow until the bet was over. We also agreed that the decision would be made by averaging the data for three years rather than by comparing 2007 with 2017.

After agreeing on the rules we each pulled out our checkbooks and wrote checks. We realized that neither of us would profit from the bet; we would just get “bragging rights”. The Herald ran an article that February: “I think part of Roger’s goal was to keep the issue of global warming in the public mind…”

I was curious to know just what Dr. Cohen was thinking. I knew that he had been Manager of Strategic Planning at Exxon—which led me to believe that he must be quite intelligent. When we got together for an amiable lunch I asked him what he really felt about climate change. His answer surprised me: the true reason that he wrote the challenge was that he wanted people to really think about climate change and to question the media. I asked if he thought any of the climate change could be anthropogenic. His reply, as I remember, was that yes, maybe about a third was human caused. In private Cohen did not seem so sanguine about denying climate change.

The Herald printed an update in 2015. “We’ve all lost” ran the headline, accurately quoting me. It stated that Dr. Cohen had conceded that he had lost the bet because the climate was, indeed, warmer than in 2007. This implied that I had won the wager. My response: ‘Grossman, learning of the news, was not the least bit pleased or boastful. “I don’t think I’ve won,” he said. “I think I lost. I think we’ve all lost.”’ Indeed, climate change is probably the worst challenge that all life will face this century. […]

Here we are at the beginning of 2018. A decade has passed since Cohen wrote his challenge, and sadly he is no longer with us. He died of a brain tumor in September 2016. I would have loved to have asked him questions about the wager, but there are some things that we will never know.

Perhaps my biggest question is a seeming inconsistency between a document that Dr. Cohen wrote in 1981 and his wager that the climate was not heating up. Back then he was a scientist at Exxon and was asked to criticize a report another person had written. Cohen felt that the other person was too optimistic about climate change: “…it is distinctly possible that the CPD scenario will later produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).” CPD probably meant “Continued Product Development”. [more]

We Have ALL Lost


  1. Anonymous said...

    Media attention (in years gone by) to bets and wagers on this issue failed to bring about anything more then division on this topic.

    Both positions were ridiculed, along with the science and the scientists who were involved or supported either position.

    Fast forward ten years and we're still no closer whatsoever to meaningful support or real change in the human impact upon the planetary environment. It's actually worse now, on all fronts.

    The next bet we should wager is whether or not humans will survive to the year 2100, but like the former bets, this won't achieve anything either.

    If you were however, to assume or even "bet" that humans will do almost nothing to save themselves, other then meaningless lip-service and ineffective "actions", then you would most likely be right. We are so enamored with our civilization that we're 100% willing to allow it to destroy the rest of the world's remaining habitat. We naively think that even this won't destroy us, but we could not be more wrong.  


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