Saturday, September 20, 2014

What is skillfull and appropriate action in the face of climate change ?

This is a week when many people are reflecting on climate change. As not-knowing is our life of practice, the following interesting article seems to combine a thorough exploration of the scientific, political and economic issues involved without falling into the extremes of ideological biases which often mar other reflections and proposal I have read. Below is an extended excerpt of some of the issues and a link to the full article.

As noted the article seems to me to broadly explore many specifics of scientific issues, and political, social and economic ramifications. The author is Dr. Steven E. Koonin, who was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama's first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University.

"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."

The full article is here: