Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Climate Change Challenges and Problems - Introductory statement of Hans von Storch

At the EMS2014 conference in Prague, a public discussion event "Climate Change:
reality without myths
" was organized, with Daniela Jacob, Rasmus Benestad and Hans von Storch. The discussant were asked to address different issues, and I was asked to deal with "Climate Change Challenges and Problems". The audience was made up of participants of the conference and by interested citizens of Prague. The evolving discussion was not too lively, and I perceived the question as either of a more traditional skeptic type (by a geologists, who demanded a greater say of his discipline), and of a activist type by younger (presumably) scientists - thus a discussion which could have taken place in much the same way 15 years ago.



My brief introductory statement was this:

Climate change is a problem related to geophysical dynamics, namely that a change of the chemical composition of the atmosphere causes a change of the weather statistics, which represents a major political challenge, namely the need to decide of how we deal with the perspective of in this way induced man-made climate change.

But climate change is more in the political arena – it is Climate Change with capital C’s. CC has become the major battle-cry in a conflict about how “we” should live, oriented along the paradigms of “sustainability” or of “freedom of individual”. In one extreme, social actors claim the impending catastrophe, which will make the world inhabitable as we know it, if we do not implement a stringent top-down transformation of the society, whereas the other extreme considers the science fundamentally flawed, that nothing of significance will happen, and that all efforts for purportedly “saving climate” are merely done for achieving a socialist-like world-government.

Maybe, this aspect of climate change is the most challenging, because it has two side effects, namely that the issue of climate change itself fades into the background, is no longer taken seriously as such, and the political decision process is framed as if all decisions would immediately follow from scientific facts.

What can “we” do? Who are “we”? When “we” are climate scientists, I suggest doing the following:
a) Do not claim that we know what “must” be done politically.
b) Recognize that our knowledge is deep and narrow, even if we operate in an interdisciplinary set-up.
c) Participate in the public debate as citizen, without claiming a privileged role derived from superior knowledge of “truth”.

Such a self-limitation of scientists serves two purposes, namely to maintain the social role of science in allowing “sense-making” for society, and to allow the democratic process to evolve as a negotiating process between groups with different values and preferences.

But what are the scientific challenges, we as a scientific community face? Let us begin with natural sciences. The list is long, and I want to list just a few:
a) Recognize that the “science” is not settled, but that certain issues are nowadays no longer really contested, such as that elevated greenhouse gas concentrations go along with changes in the thermal regime. We are able to describe this link rather well, we believe, and the construction of scenarios of changing weather statistics, at the global and regional level, is no longer a challenge but a routine task.
b) Identify those issues which have not been addressed properly, and those, which are contested. Among these are the failure of contemporary scenarios to describe the “hiatus” of an extended period of little warming, the contributions to ongoing and future change of sea level, the change of tropical cyclones, the role of aerosols.
c) Apart of these issues there are some long-standing open questions, namely how the sensitivity of the climate system will change when the modelled oceans are no longer filled by mustard but with water; and how accurate the complex of radiation and clouds is described in our models.
d) A key approach in climate change science is “detection and attribution”, which is designed to first determine if an ongoing change is beyond the range of natural variations, and second identify the mix of drivers which this change may most plausibly be attributed to. This concept is well established in global analysis, but rarely seen in regional studies. One reason is that other drivers are present in regional set-ups, in particular regional aerosol presence and land-use change (including urbanization). Europe has seen both a massive increase in global greenhouse gas concentrations, and a strong built-up and later reduction of regional aerosols. We need to disentangle these effects.

There are also many tasks for social and cultural sciences, dealing with both the functioning of natural sciences, societal constructions of the problem, the political framing.
 a) The concepts of mitigation and adaptation, with the more recent and rather belated insight that the dominant managerial issue on regional and local scales is adaptation.
b) The role of the catastrophe rhetoric, and the function of the 2o goal in gaining and loosing public attention.
c) The logic of skeptics and alarmists that science is decisive in defining policies; that policymaking is merely implementing scientific insight.

In summary:
- Send scientists back from the public market squares into their laboratories and let them construct knowledge and options of how to deal with problems
- Have them participating in the public decision process by presenting this knowledge and options, but otherwise as everybody else.
- Frame climate change as a political problem.
- Deal with climate change, not with Climate Change

9 comments:

Dennis Bray said...

Hans, re: "The evolving discussion was not too lively ..."
Is it possible that 'climate people' simply over estimate the public interest in climate change? Those who work near to the issue are of course sensitized or even over-sensitized to the issue, and seem to forget that for them climate change has become a 'private problem', at least in terms of how to educate the masses or understand the science (not to mention in-house politics) but climate change is not necessarily perceived of as a public issue by the public.

Hans von Storch said...

Someone pointed me to this article:
http://online.wsj.com/articles/climate-science-is-not-settled-1411143565
The author was a member of the first Obama administration.

Anonymous said...

And somebody (Ray Pierrehumbert) gave an answer:
http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/10/the_wall_street_journal_and_steve_koonin_the_new_face_of_climate_change.single.html

Andreas

Jason Thompson said...

http://www.slideshare.net/jasonthompson2014/why-climate-models-fail-38663252 APS framing document of climate change, Roger Revelle, Edward Teller, thousands of scientists morst Emeritus professors and every scientis, engineer, physicist over 60 years is skeptical. ICCC9 more scientists government ones too than NCES started by a skeptic. Jason Thompson UNLV

Bam said...

I would like to thank Jason Thompson for posting a slideshow that contains several blatant errors - misconceptions that have been explained so many times already, you can only assume that those who still make these claims are simply not interested in facts.

To name two examples:
1. No, Virginia, the models (GCMs at least) do *not* assume a flat, non-rotating earth
2. That GISP2 icecore? It doesn't have its latest time point 'today', but in 1855.

If this indeed came from Oliver Hemmers at UNLV, I hope his students see this presentation, check the veracity of the information, and then run away. Apparently their project leader cannot distinguish facts from fiction.

MikeR said...

@2 - the author was more than just an member of the administration. He was the head of the American Physical Society subcommittee to reconsider their statement on climate change. (http://judithcurry.com/2014/02/19/aps-reviews-its-climate-change-statement/) I don't think his op-ed can be considered to represent the APS, but it is quite remarkable nonetheless. (The APS has not finished deciding on a new statement)

MikeR said...

I'd add that he is a very well-respected physicist in the US; I knew him when I was a student at Caltech and he was a brilliant new professor, later provost.

Anonymous said...

2011 hatten Gary Yohe und Michael Oppenheimer ein Vorwort zu einem CC Sonderband Unsicherheit beim IPCC geschrieben, das ist heute noch sehr erfrischend.

Hat das denn nicht gewirkt? Klingt ja fast
Grüße Serten

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-011-0176-8/fulltext.html#Sec7
Climatic Change (2011) 108:629–
639 DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0176-8

Evaluation, characterization, and communication of uncertainty by the intergovernmental panel on climate change—an introductory essay 13 August 2011

The volume puts together major changes in the IPCC process, e.g. since 2010 management of uncertainities and risk management have been added.

Besides the known uncertainities as climate sensitivity and long-term ice-sheet stability, the evolvement of socio-political-economic systems is deemed as nearly unpredictable but deemed as at least similar significant.

They assume as well that the central assessment role allows for "communication in a monolithic message" but risks "ossification and eventual irrelevance" of the IPCC as an institution. Tol and Curry are main contributors, highly praised by Michael Oppenheimer.

That said, main IPCC players are aware about ist own problems, tries to refresh its own role, results and conclusions and is willing to undergo major changes.


Leonard Weinstein said...

The statements: "a) Recognize that the “science” is not settled, but that certain issues are nowadays no longer really contested, such as that elevated greenhouse gas concentrations go along with changes in the thermal regime. We are able to describe this link rather well, we believe, and the construction of scenarios of changing weather statistics, at the global and regional level, is no longer a challenge but a routine task.
b) Identify those issues which have not been addressed properly, and those, which are contested. Among these are the failure of contemporary scenarios to describe the “hiatus” of an extended period of little warming, the contributions to ongoing and future change of sea level, the change of tropical cyclones, the role of aerosols."
Are not supported by facts. For example, while the addition of CO2 clearly would cause some temperature increase IF ALL ELSE REMAINED THE SAME is true, but all else does not stay the same. Changes in clouds and other responses as feedbacks may increase or greatly decrease the net response, and the data seems to support a decrease. The construction of scenarios seems to have little to no skill. The change of weather statistics is not improve from 50 years ago except for added information from satellites giving more initial coverage. Also, there is not a clear hiatus,the recent lrvel of the last 15 or so years may in fact be a plateau before a drop, and there is considerable evidence that is the fact. Your assumptions all seem to be a repeat of the IPPC position, but with admission of the lack of certainty.