An analysis of the "climate problem" by a theoretical sociologist, a theoretical physicist and a climate researcher:
von Storch, H., A. Bunde and N. Stehr, 2011: The Physical Sciences and Climate Politics In J.S. Dyzek, D. Schlosberg, and R. B. Norgaard (eds): The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Oxford University Press. Oxford UK, 113-128
Two major conclusions about the science of climate, and the knowledge about climate may be drawn:
The scientific construct is mostly based on a physical analysis of climate and developed by natural scientists. It describes the left two blocks in the Figure. In the “linear model” the middle blocks, representing social and cultural dynamics, are not taken into account. Instead, once society has given a metric of determining “good” and “less good”, it is simply a matter of understanding the “physical” (incl. economic) system.
However, the climate scientists are also part of society and not immune to dominant societal conceptions of the nature and the impact of climate and climate change on human conduct, they tend to embed their analysis, especially in efforts to communicate their knowledge to policy makers and society at large in ways which are attentive to the socio-cultural construct of climate and climate change. It is not surprising that in this postnormal situation scientists concerned about the impact of the greenhouse gases, in their desire to save the world, may develop some bias towards an over dramatization. The discussion itself often resembles more a religious than a physics discussion where the non-believers (of the role of the greenhouse gases and their impact) are called “deniers”.
One therefore is able to surmise that the transfer of the scientific construct into the societal realm goes along with a subtle transformation of the climate knowledge, by blending the scientific construct with the socio-cultural construct (the middle blocks in the Figure). Obviously, in the model described by the Figure, the basic assumption of physics, that there are given quantifiable laws (linear or non-linear), is not longer valid. Understanding the interaction of climate and society is not only an issue of physical analysis (with laws) but of society/culture analysis (without laws) as well.
Obviously, the situation is not quite that straightforward, it is not easily deconstructed and the interrelations of scientific and everyday construct are difficult to dissemble. To comprehend and disentangle the multiple interactions of science and society in the case of our understanding of climate and climate change is nonetheless a real and worthy scientific and practical challenge. It needs a transdisciplinary approach, bringing together scientists with a solid background in the physics, and scholars who understand societal and knowledge dynamics.
If this helps to implement a better climate policy, with an efficient constraining of climate change and socio-culturally acceptable measures of mitigation and adaptation, it needs to be developed. Summing up, climate science is and should be much more than just the physical analysis.