Climate Change: A Game of Chance

Taking decisions without knowing the outcome is just a part of life. Uncertainty is all around us. It’s a familiar part of almost everything we do.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is in games. When you watch a football match or a game of tennis, you don’t know who’s going to win. You may have no idea at all or you may feel you know the likely, or even almost certain, outcome. But you never absolutely know for sure.

If the number one seed at Wimbledon is plaything the number two, you might expect it to be very uncertain. If the number two seed is playing an unknown teenager from a Huddersfield secondary school, you might be more confident that you can predict the result. But you don’t know for sure.

Just like with games, in the rest of life you can never absolutely know what is going to happen. Making decisions about how to tackle climate change it is no different. Because of uncertainty, we can’t be sure exactly what scale of challenge we face. Nor what all the consequences of our actions will be. None the less some things are clear – uncertainty doesn’t mean ignorance.

This pathway explores how we use models; particulary computer models of the climate which are a major source of information in climate science. But before trying to understand something really complicated, like a climate model or the whole of the climate system, it helps to play with something simpler first. Some of the most important issues in uncertainty and probability can be illustrated with a Galton board.