Transparent rigor

A surprisingly sane take on climate science from a guy who was politically connected enough to serve as Energy Undersecretary in Pres. Obama's first term:
We can and should take steps to make climate projections more useful over time. An international commitment to a sustained global climate observation system would generate an ever-lengthening record of more precise observations. And increasingly powerful computers can allow a better understanding of the uncertainties in our models, finer model grids and more sophisticated descriptions of the processes that occur within them. The science is urgent, since we could be caught flat-footed if our understanding does not improve more rapidly than the climate itself changes.
A transparent rigor would also be a welcome development, especially given the momentous political and policy decisions at stake. That could be supported by regular, independent, "red team" reviews to stress-test and challenge the projections by focusing on their deficiencies and uncertainties; that would certainly be the best practice of the scientific method. But because the natural climate changes over decades, it will take many years to get the data needed to confidently isolate and quantify the effects of human influences.
Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is "settled" (or is a "hoax") demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.
Society's choices in the years ahead will necessarily be based on uncertain knowledge of future climates. That uncertainty need not be an excuse for inaction. There is well-justified prudence in accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies and in cost-effective energy-efficiency measures.
But climate strategies beyond such "no regrets" efforts carry costs, risks and questions of effectiveness, so nonscientific factors inevitably enter the decision. These include our tolerance for risk and the priorities that we assign to economic development, poverty reduction, environmental quality, and intergenerational and geographical equity.
Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about "believing" or "denying" the science. Despite the statements of numerous scientific societies, the scientific community cannot claim any special expertise in addressing issues related to humanity's deepest goals and values. The political and diplomatic spheres are best suited to debating and resolving such questions, and misrepresenting the current state of climate science does nothing to advance that effort.
Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself.


Ymar Sakar said...

Has anyone looked at how much money the Global Warming cult is pulling in?

Grim said...

It's a reasonable piece, though he accepts (or 'admits,' if you're from the left) human-caused climate change and warming. Still, how nice to see a balanced approach to thinking about what to do.

Ymar Sakar said...

It will be the height of irony when the Gaia cult uses global warming technology and ends up destroying the planet.

Then afterwards, everyone can say I told you so. Assuming they still exist on a barren planet.

Texan99 said...

I think it's possible to make a good-faith case for a certain amount of human-caused warming. The harder questions always have been whether it's a trivial amount that's overwhelmed by natural cycles, whether it's naturally self-limiting or on a runaway train, whether a small amount of warming is a bad thing overall, and whether it's worth what it would cost to reverse it, considering that there are other benign purposes to which we could put those same resources.

Eric Blair said...

The planet has been here longer than any of us, and will be here much longer than humanity will be, I'm sure.

All it is going to take to kill the whole global warming meme is one really big volcanic eruption. Another Krakatoa or Yellowstone or Thera.

Texan99 said...

I was reading about volcanoes yesterday, to firm up my notions of when Thera happened, so I could fit it into a timeline about the great collapse of the Bronze Age around the Mediterranean in the early 12th century B.C. (Thera was centuries earlier, it turns out.) I was surprised to find that Tambora, Indonesia, in 1815, was lots bigger than Krakatoa, in 1883. Why don't we hear more about Tambora, I wonder? Less dust in the air, less climate impact, maybe?

There was also a really big one in New Zealand in A.D.186, when no one was there, and one perhaps as big (size disputed) on the Chinese/N. Korean border in 969. One level down includes Vanuatu, 1452; Peru, 1600, Krakatoa, Indonesia; Guatemala, 1902; Alaska, 1912; and Pinatubo, 1991. One level down from that is Mt. Vesuvius, 79 A.D.; and Mt. St. Helens, 1980.

The Thera explosion was somewhere in the intensity neighborhood of Tambora or perhaps the lesser Krakatoa event. I thought Thera wiped out the Minoans, but apparently it's controversial how badly it hit Crete, and anyway what we usually think of as high Minoan civilization occurred in the centuries after Thera, which probably was in the middle of the 17th century B.C.