Campaigning for information literacy

Close this search box.

The Danger of Impossible Expectations: How Demanding Unrealistic Certainty Delays Action on Climate Change

As the threat of climate change becomes increasingly urgent, one of the biggest roadblocks to taking meaningful action is the demand for impossible levels of certainty. Critics often dismiss climate science by asking how scientists can predict the climate in 100 years when they can’t even predict the weather next week. This manipulation technique is not only misleading, but it can also delay action and put our planet at risk.


Impossible Expectations” refers to the demand for unrealistic levels of certainty before taking action based on scientific evidence. This can take many forms, such as insisting on a 100% consensus among experts, demanding that predictions be accurate down to the decimal point, or using past inaccuracies to dismiss current scientific findings. This phenomenon is often used to manipulate public opinion, delay action, or justify inaction in the face of urgent scientific warnings. It is a dangerous tactic that can have dire consequences for public health, safety, and the environment. In the following sections,  we will provide examples of how this tactic has been used in different sectors and offer strategies for dealing with it.  


Impossible Expectations can be found in various sectors, from politics to business.

  1. Political Debates: In political debates, impossible expectations can arise when politicians demand absolute certainty about complex issues, such as climate change. Some politicians may argue that the evidence for climate change is not strong enough and that more research is needed before committing to action. However, this demand for absolute certainty is unrealistic, as climate change is a complex and multifaceted issue that is influenced by a range of factors, including natural processes, human activities, and feedback loops.

Furthermore, the pressure to provide concrete answers in a limited amount of time can lead to the oversimplification of complex issues or the making of unrealistic promises. Politicians may also be swayed by public opinion or interest groups, which can lead to the prioritization of short-term gains over long-term sustainability.

  1. Business: In the business world, impossible expectations can arise when companies demand a level of certainty that is impossible to achieve before making investments in clean energy or sustainable practices. They may argue that the costs of transitioning to a more sustainable business model outweigh the benefits, citing the lack of certainty as a reason not to act.

However, the reality is that there is always a level of uncertainty involved in any business decision, and waiting for absolute certainty may lead to missed opportunities or lost competitive advantage. Additionally, the pressure to maintain profitability can lead companies to prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability, which can have negative consequences for the environment, society, and the economy.

  1. Climate Change: In the context of climate change, impossible expectations can arise when people demand a level of certainty that is not possible given the complexity and unpredictability of the climate system. Climate change is a multifaceted issue that involves interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, land, and living organisms, and is influenced by a range of factors, including greenhouse gas emissions, natural processes, and feedback loops.

The science of climate change is based on probability and risk assessment, not crystal ball predictions. While scientists have a good understanding of the basic mechanisms of climate change, there is always some level of uncertainty involved in predicting future climate trends, such as the exact magnitude and timing of future warming or the impacts on specific regions or ecosystems. However, this should not be an excuse for inaction, as the risks of climate change are already evident and the costs of inaction are likely to far outweigh the costs of taking action.


One way is to acknowledge the limitations of science while emphasizing the urgency of the situation. We can point to the overwhelming evidence that human activities are causing climate change and the potential consequences if we do not act.Another approach is to shift the focus from certainty to risk management. We cannot know with absolute certainty what the future holds, but we can assess the risks and take action to mitigate them. This is the approach taken by many businesses that have embraced sustainability and clean energy, recognizing the potential risks of inaction.In conclusion, demanding impossible levels of certainty before acting on climate change is a dangerous and misleading manipulation technique. We must acknowledge the limitations of science while also recognizing the urgency of the situation and the potential risks of inaction. By shifting our focus to risk management and taking action based on the available evidence, we can work together to create a more sustainable future for our planet.Recommended White Papers related to the topic of impossible expectations:

  1. “The Problem with Perfect: How Small Biases in Hiring Undermine Diversity and What to Do About It” by Joelle Emerson and Kieran Snyder. This white paper discusses how the expectation for “perfect” candidates in hiring can lead to bias and lack of diversity in the workplace.
  2. “Meeting Impossible Expectations: The Role of Strategic Foresight in Business Planning” by Riel Miller. This white paper discusses how strategic foresight can help businesses navigate uncertainty and meet seemingly impossible expectations.
  3. “Managing Climate Change Risks: An Executive Primer” by Robert S. Kaplan and Michael E. Porter. This white paper discusses how businesses can address the risks and opportunities of climate change, despite the uncertainty and complexity of the issue.

You can find these white papers and many more on websites such as the Harvard Business Review, the World Economic Forum, and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Safeguarding against disinformation:

Combatting disinformation, scams, and manipulation requires prioritizing Information and Media Literacy. Educate yourself and others about disinformation strategies, cultivate discernment, and question motivations to make informed choices. In addition, supporting independent journalism, fact-checking organizations, and reliable sources of information plays a crucial role in combating the spread of misinformation.

To stay informed and empowered: Sign up to receive the ReclaimTheFacts Newsletter and our latest Media and Information Literacy materials and tools straight to your inbox. You can also follow us on social media for regular updates.

We are diligently working to provide top-notch educational content on Media Literacy. Your donation will contribute to advertising efforts, expanding the reach of these materials on social media platforms. Support our cause and help empower more individuals through education.