Friday, February 24, 2012

Climate science and Climate politics. Not the same.

First a disclaimer. I am not a climate scientist. But what the hey, apparently one doesn't have to possess a degree, advanced or otherwise to jump into this debate. Heck, the fat old dude who I sat next to on the flight home to Detroit this afternoon had no idea what he was talking about when it came to climate science but that sure didn't stop him from dousing his anti-science Fox News talking points regarding "Gorebull Warming" on anyone within earshot.

For what it is worth, I wanted to offer some suggestions / rules for this ongoing discussion. To that end, I think it is helpful to segregate the three distinct parts of the climate discussion: 1) Raw data 2) Data analysis, and 3) Path-forward.

Raw data  is about measurements. How warm is the ocean. How much precipitation fell. How large are the polar ice caps. What is the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere. This is the part where the science rules and disbelief is a litmus test for cognitive dissonance.  If the thermometer reads X degrees Celsius, or if satellite images show that polar ice caps comprise X square miles, that is quantitative, measurable data.   Attacking scientific data is a waste of time and effort.    

Data analysis is about interpreting the data. What does the data tell us?   What are the long and short term trends? What are the significant variables driving the trends? How might one trend affect another? Is a particular variable a cause or it is an effect? What inherent physical self-correction factors are at play? Might a situation be feeding on itself in a vicious circle? These subjects are debatable and the scientific peer-review process is the arbiter. Anyone can propose an explanation or theory, and a collaborative peer review process involving scientists from around the world will shake out the crappola.  Eventually concurrence about what the data means or doesn't mean will form.  Good ideas percolate to the top.  Bad ones are tossed out and discredited.  To disparage peer- reviewed analysis without bringing facts and reason just makes a person look like an ideologue with an axe to grind.

Finally the path forward is about the political solutions for addressing the issues of AGW and climate change. Everyone can feel free to debate this topic seeing as there is no scientific training required to have an opinion on politics, economics and strategic thinking. Would the Kyoto treaty actually lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions? Should we subsidize renewable energy to reduce dependency on fossil fuels? How high should the CAFE requirements be? Should we promote more fracking for natural gas? Should we invest in a hydrogen economy? Should we adopt Cut, Cap, and Trade. These are all political solutions and it is acceptable to either support or challenge them. People who question or oppose political solutions or propose alternative strategies should not be labeled deniers simply for having dissenting political views. This is where some of the climate scientists and politicians tend to become arrogant asses.

It seems that most of the people opposed to various political remedies set out to attack the data and offer up their own crock-pot analysis instead of explaining their political disagreement.   My opinion is that we can't just tax our way to a greener world. We will need a robust economy to provide the long-term cash flow needed to invest in modern energy efficient infrastructure, factories, homes and vehicles. Simply increasing energy taxes will set all those efforts back more than help. I may be opposed to political strategies for climate change that simply drag the economy down, but that doesn't mean I deny the science.

In a nutshell, the anti-science crowd should stop attacking and obfuscating the data and those who do accept climate science should stop labelling all of their political opponents as deniers. The challenge is to correctly analyze data and use it to devise effective feasible strategies to protect the environment and conserve the earth's limited resources for future generations.  And we better do it quick.   

As a mission statement for the climate science movement, I would propose the saying from back in my day when I was a Cub Scout.  "Lets leave the camp site cleaner than we found it."  That should go for the whole planet too.



update:   I agree with the comment from Chris_Winter about data and measurements 

You write, "Attacking scientific data is a waste of time and effort."

It's true unless you can show the data come from instruments in which systematic errors are present, or from experiments with flawed protocols.
But the only systematic errors in climate-science data I am aware of are certain errors in satellite-based thermal measurements. When these errors were corrected, the case for global warming was made stronger.

2 comments:

  1. You're doing great work in this blog, and this post is right on — with one exception.

    You write, "Attacking scientific data is a waste of time and effort."

    It's true unless you can show the data come from instruments in which systematic errors are present, or from experiments with flawed protocols.

    But the only systematic errors in climate-science data I am aware of are certain errors in satellite-based thermal measurements. When these errors were corrected, the case for global warming was made stronger.

    ReplyDelete
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