Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beyond Climate Science: State of the Union

It is interesting to note what President Obama has to say about climate change, especially when he addresses the skeptical Republicans:

'I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -- because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.'

Of course, good science is important. But climate policies, be it mitigation or adaptation, do not exclusively depend on 100 % scientific evidence. There are other arguments for both mitigation and adaptation, and there are other powerful mechanisms at work - such as nationalist interests. Climate policies don't stand or fall with IPCC reports or other scientific evidence; there are many cultural, economic and political reasons for adaptation and mitigation.  Of course, the conflicts about manipulated data and conflicts of interest have to be solved; but the future of the world does not depend on these mostly inner-scientific conflicts, nor do climate policies.

10 comments:

Leigh Jackson said...

Absolutely correct. A great deal of the animus directed towards AGW derives from the fact that the Green movement's fundamental thesis is unimpeachable. Those who always were ideologicaslly opposed to being told that humans have to protect their planet because they are totally dependendent upon it were right.

Those who see "Mother Earth" as a whore to be pimped to the highest bidder, don't like to be told that they are not good people.

Leigh Jackson said...

Sorry, I meant were wrong.

eduardo said...

'I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change'

Sometimes it is better to watch than to read...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q20cnn8vOfg

Werner Krauss said...

Absolutely, you have to see it. But the clip is too short. After the Republicans laugh about the 'scientific evidence', Obama laughs / smiles back. They know each other well. I can't help but think there is always room for maneuver, even with those hardboiled Republicans. You just have to follow the rules, which are eminently cultural and political. Many climate activists try to make Republicans 'confess' that humans cause climate change; this will never work. But many of those skeptics are interested in alternative technologies, in adaptation measures, in weatherizing, in smart grids, in more effective infrastructures, in making America #1 in clean energies, in creating jobs for the middle class etc - isn't that exactly what we should do in times of climate change? Maybe I project too much hope on Obama, but I guess he has a certain realistic and pragmatic attitude. Why not work together with those you cannot convince?

Reiner Grundmann said...

Werner, I tend to agree. Progress on climate change policies has to be on the political front, not on the science front. Coalition building is needed and therefore one needs policy options that can make a difference to society's vulnerability and are supported by a broad enough electorate.

eduardo said...

I would see here four camps. Instead of the usual classification in skeptics, lukewarmers and warmistast, I see skeptics, technofreaks, triangulators and alarmist

The triangulators are those that want to bundle climate mitigation with other societal needs like energy conservation, city design, etc, like Werner and maybe Obama (Werner, I hope you like that company..?)

Techno-freaks are those that think that new technology will bail us out- perhaps because they see politics as hopeless. In this group are Roger Pielke Jr. and Bill Gates

Reiner Grundmann said...

Eduardo - there is no shortage of typologies, see this page and the links and comments.

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/12/stewart-brands-four-camps.html

I am not convinced by any of these. A good typology should have categories that are exhaustive and mutually exclusive.

Werner Krauss said...

Whatever typologies, with categories being exclusive or not, the main opposition is:

on the one side, there are those who want to reduce climate to its very scientific nature (the climate of climate science and as basis of the IPCC etc; also the climate mostly at discussion here in the klimazwiebel);

on the other side, there are those who want to add other factors and to allow attachments to climate. That is, climate is seen as not only 'natural', but also economic, political, cultural, social, relative, relational, perspectival etc.

Instead of purification, multiplication of factors.

From this perspective, climate science is one important (and indispensable) source of knowledge among many others, but it is not the Leitwissenschaft (with all other kinds of climate knowledge subordinated).

The main problem with the first (and currently dominant) approach is that this 'purified' climate does not match with the climate we live in - that is, with the real climate; the average temperature (and its rise) is not identical with any real place - it is an abstract climate.

The second approach sees the warming climate in the context or realm of a real place with political fractions, a declining or rising economy, an infrastructure, ethnic or whatever groups of people, with weather events, catastrophes, droughts or rich harvests and so on. Here the climate is changing too,of course, but not necessarily according to the average temperature.

The advantage of the 'pure' and scientific approach was and still is to raise awareness that climate matters, that it has to become part of the political agenda, worldwide. Its limits are obvious, too: real politics have to deal with real climates in real places, and not with average climates.

According to my approach here, the role of climate science now is to localize climate, to downscale from the global models in order to deliver information for those who administer, shape and inhabit real places and spaces in a real world. This role is less sexy than raising alarm and saving the world; but I guess, the climate sciences indeed have already a long tradition in form of close cooperation with regional and and national administrations. This is where climate scientists are urgently needed, from my perspective as a cultural scientist.

Hans von Storch said...

Werner, I consider this a fine analysis. Would it not be worth to write it down as a regular article, to be published in a scholarly journal, say Environmental Science and Policy and/or a regular newspaper, say WELT? I think it would absolutely be worth it.

TCO said...

Stork: It's just a rehash of what Peilke has said. Maybe if the points were somehow taken further in sophistication...