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SCIENCE review of climate books

by on June 11, 2010

Here is a great review in SCIENCE  of a number of books that fit into MAHB mission.

 

ESSAY REVIEW:

The Climate Change Debates

Philip Kitcher

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/328/5983/1230-a

 

After summarizing the American  books (you can read the whole review by clicking above)

 

Other climate scientists, like Mike Hulme (Universityof East Anglia), who live in societies where the level of discussion has usually been more informed, are inclined to see matters differently. They hold that continued debate reflects the genuine difficulties of the underlying issues and sometimes explicitly chide their colleagues (as Hulme does in Why We Disagree About Climate Change) for a tendency to "apocalyptic" pronouncements.

 

This is a very common view of the critics. The key for MAHB is to take on the "genuine difficulties" and help others to do so too.

 

. So, in reflections on the debates of the past decades, there opens up a genuine dispute about the role of scientists in influencing public policy, with some urging a stronger voice for expert testimony and others recommending reticence and even quietism. Hulme emphasizes the complexity of the third set of issues. He notes how they are intertwined with difficulties about understanding economic trends and changes, about global justice, about the values assigned to things that are hard to assess in economic terms (ecosystems, the continuation of particular forms of human social life), about practical geopolitics, and even about religious perspectives. Focusing on this intricate web of problems, he elaborates an extensive case for the naturalness of continued disagreement.

 

The naturalness of disagreement.

 

Hansen and Schneider might share Milton’s confidence that truth would ultimately emerge as victor. Yet the stories they tell in their gripping narratives reveal all too many points at which messages have been distorted and suppressed because of the short-term interests of economic and political agents.

 

And that has to be seen as part of the naturalness. Sure bad faith, but not only.  On the bad faith side

 

Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway offer convincing evidence for a surprising and disturbing thesis. Opposition to scientifically well-supported claims about the dangers of cigarette smoking, the difficulties of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"), the effects of acid rain, the existence of the ozone hole, the problems caused by secondhand smoke, and—ultimately—the existence of anthropogenic climate change was used in "the service of political goals and commercial interests" to obstruct the transmission to the American public of important information. Amazingly, the same small cadre of obfuscators figured in all these episodes.

 

But, on the naturalness,

 

For half a century, since the pioneering work of Thomas Kuhn (3), scholars who study the resolution of major scientific debates have understood how complex and difficult judgments about the probative value of data or the significance of unresolved problems can be. The major transitions in the history of the sciences, from the 16th and 17th centuries to the present, have involved intricate debates among competing research programs, among well-informed scientists who gave different weight to particular sorts of evidence.

 

It is important for MAHB to take into account the varieties of the ways and reasons people think and come to opinions. Kuhn is an excellent resource for MAHB.

 

Democratic ideals have their place in the conduct of inquiry, for it is arguable that there should be more communication between scientists and outsiders in the construction of research agendas, in the discussion of standards of acceptable risk, and in the articulation of policies based on scientific consensus.

 

The use of the phrase "outsiders" can lead to a simplification: that there are scientists and citizens. In fact intermediate organizations, also with strong interests, dominate the landscape, from "administrations" to corporations, corporate organizations like the Chambers of Commerce or the national Industrial Conference Board, and the press as a business.

 

Genuine democracy, however, requires a division of labor, in which particular groups are charged with the responsibility of resolving questions that bear on the interests of individuals and societies.

 

As above the interests are not just individuals and societies, but intermediate organizations of dominant power.

 

Other groups, those covering such questions in the media, have the duty to convey the results so that citizens can cast their votes as an enlightened expression of freedom, justifiably aimed at the outcomes for which they hope. Staging a brief disagreement between speakers with supposedly equal credentials, especially when it is not disclosed that one of them is answering to the economic aspirations of a very small segment of the society, is a cynical abnegation of that duty.

 

Scientists who believe that there are grave consequences for Earth and its future inhabitants face a difficult dilemma. They can talk in probabilistic terms—typically very imprecise probabilistic terms—about possible scenarios. If those potential futures are to be made vivid in ways that might engage citizens and inspire them to action, then the scenarios need to be given in some detail. Yet, as they become more specific, the precision about probabilities goes down, even to the extent that it is only responsible to declare that some outcome lies within the range of possibilities.

 

Graphics, from cartoons to video, that show causes, complexities and effects, have not been sufficiently explored. I am quite sure that for each of us, the sense of the climate reality is based in large part in pictures and graphs of all kinds that we have somewhat randomly come upon.

 

The review suggests that some think

 

if avoiding them really requires a serious modification of civilized life, then it seems better to adapt: relocate some polar bears to artificially cooled preserves; transport the unfortunate flood victims to higher ground.

 

A stereotype easily follows. The movement toward action derives from an ideology, one centered in a dislike of competitive market capitalism, a fondness for regulation, a tendency to give priority to the needs of the poor, and an overemphasis on environmental conservation. Global warming is a device used by Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging, business-hating liberal intellectuals for advancing their political aims.

 

So the motives for this stereotype are a defense of existing life against abstract possibilities. We need to deeply understand the balance in the minds of all participants.

 

The organization of Climate Change Science and Policy is particularly valuable, because of the volume’s focus on specific types of changes that would affect the lives of future people. It breaks free of the stereotypical concerns about marooned polar bears and dispossessed islanders to emphasize facts about rising sea levels and melting glaciers that are not sufficiently appreciated.

 

serious scholars from a variety of crucial disciplines have written valuable books on which future deliberations can build. Those deliberations will require a new synthesis that involves scientists, social scientists, historians—and others, too.

 

The MAHB mission, but how to do it? Who gets invited to what?

 

Giddens’s approach in The Politics of Climate Change has the advantage of increasing the chances for consensus. Like Hulme, he is much concerned to recognize the connections among global problems, insisting, from the beginning, that the challenges of responding to climate change and of meeting the energy needs of the human population must be faced in tandem. He differs from Hulme in not attempting any wide survey of sources of disagreement, and, as readers of his previous works might expect, he is lucid and precise in outlining potential courses of social action. If his book, conceived as a guide for the perplexed citizen, has a flaw, that lies in the breadth and number of the ideas he explores. Those ideas are offered in response to threats he views as profoundly serious:

 

More for MAHB

 

The review concludes,

 

 

It is an embarrassment (at least for me) that philosophers have not contributed more to this necessary conversation. We might clarify some of the methodological issues—for instance, those concerning the variety of risks involved in model-building. Perhaps more important, we could use recent ethical work on responsibilities to future generations and to distant people to articulate a detailed ethical framework that might help a planet’s worth of policy-makers find their way to consensus. With luck, a broader group of dedicated scholars may be galvanized by the books discussed here, so that the potential disasters Hansen and Schneider have been warning us about for 30 years will be averted. Perhaps, in the end, truth—and wisdom—will prevail.

 

Yet more guidance for MAHB

Douglass Carmichael doug@dougcarmichael.com MAHB Millennium  Assessment of Human Behavior http://mahb.stanford.edu  Stanford Media X , Stanford Stratgey Studios and  Palo Alto StrategyStudios Book draft  at http://gardenworldpolitics.com  Palo Alto tues-thurs cell 206-388-7712 Russian River 707-865-0433

Posted via email from Doug Carmichael reflections

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