Re: [asa] The Climate Science Isn't Settled

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Wed Dec 02 2009 - 00:09:25 EST

Heya Christine,

Some comments below.

I've been following the CRU email controversy with great interest. From my
> perspective, I concur with Randy's earlier sentiments. Many of the emails
> seem to demonstrate a lack of professionalism which I find disturbing, and I
> believe a full investigation is needed (both of the hackers and of the
> scientists) but I think the whole story needs to come out before we jump to
> any hasty conclusions.

See, I don't think "lack of professionalism" really sums up those emails.
Wearing a t-shirt with an obscene picture on it to the office is arguably a
lack of professionalism. When references are being made to getting rid of
data, trying to keep data away from skeptics, "tribalism", attempting to
control the peer review process, talking about redefining peer review to
keep certain papers out, etc, that's closer to "corruption".

I think there are two problems with this approach. The first problem is that
> the "wait until the science is more certain" idea doesn't work for climate
> change. By the time the science is "more certain" (and how "certain" is
> "certain enough" for that matter?), the damage is already done. As Randy
> already noted, there is a time delay between the effect and the cause
> (analogous in some sense to the fact that smoking doesn't cause lung cancer
> right away - damage that is caused in the lung today may not actually
> generate cancerous cells until 15 years from now). Greenhouse gas build-up
> in the atmosphere even at present-day concentrations has locked us into
> climate impacts that will last for decades if not centuries. If we wait
> another 10, 20, or 30 years before we decide to act, we will have loaded the
> atmosphere with that much more greenhouse gases the impacts of which will be
> even more severe and long-lasting. To use John's analogy, it's like telling
> society to buckle their seatbelts after the accident has already occurred.

The way this reads to me is, "alright, we may be uncertain about whether
this will be bad, or to what extent it will be bad - but damnit, whatever's
going to happen will happen so we better do something about it now!" And
yes, I know someone can come up with a vivid description of potential
horrible climate change patterns, etc. History is filled with people who
spoke of terrifying scenarios if their superficially reasonable suspicions
bore fruit. And it should be clear that once we're starting to talk about
these judgments, were really have left science behind in large part.

> The second problem I see with John's statement is that there is an
> underlying assumption that the societal changes needed to combat climate
> change will necessarily bring great hardship and a significant reduction in
> our standard of living. I don't see that this assumption is justified. I
> will grant that to certain sectors of the population (i.e. those involved in
> coal mining or oil production), hardships would be quite likely. But other
> sectors would almost certainly benefit (i.e. renewable energy, energy
> efficiency), while some might remain neutral (i.e. health care). The
> question then becomes, from an overall society point of view, what is the
> best course of action? From my perspective, the same strategies needed to
> reduce greenhouse gases often overlap with other beneficial policies, such
> as reducing our dependence on foreign oil, reducing waste/improving
> efficiency, reducing air/water/soil pollution, eating healthier (less meat,
> more locally
> grown/sustainable crops), reducing traffic congestion/increasing exercise
> (more bicyclists, pedestrians), etc. Although the cultural transition to
> such habits and means of production may be difficult in the short-term, I
> have a hard time seeing how such policies (whether advocated on behalf of
> climate change or on their own) would be negative for us in the long-term.
> In fact, they may even be beneficial for our quality of life in the
> long-term. In many ways, I see the challenge of climate change as akin to
> that of traveling to the Moon. It required a huge upfront expense and
> commitment of resources, but where would we be today without having gone to
> the Moon, and all of the technologies that came about in part because of
> space travel? Would anyone now suggest that we not have gone to the Moon
> because of the cost to society? Taking the leadership in climate change
> forces us to at the forefront of a whole host of other society issues and
> their attending
> technologies - if we do not seize leadership on this, I fear we risk
> losing our competitiveness globally as others seize this role and reap the
> benefits of their long-term investments.

I'm more than comfortable leaving "competitiveness" almost entirely to the
marketplace as opposed to the government.

And really, I think that's one of the biggest problems I have with the AGW
policy debate. Conveniently, so many of the policies that people want
imposed by force of government just so happen to be policies that they'd be
pushing for regardless of AGW anyway. People should be eating this instead
of that, they should be walking instead of driving, they should value one
thing over another, they should be giving up money so other people who have
been judged to "need it more" should have it, the government should be
helping people make the "right" choices, etc. Just as conveniently,
scientific uncertainty doesn't matter a whit, and we now know all we need to
know to justify all of the changes we were in favor of to begin with.

Funny how that works.

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Received on Wed Dec 2 00:10:13 2009

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