Posted by: Steven M. Taber | December 3, 2009

Emerging “Middle Stance” In The Climate Change Debate

Two articles appeared yesterday regarding how “Climategate” has given voice to an emerging middle road in the debate of what to do about climate change. The first an op-ed piece by Mike Hulme, a climate professor at East Anglia University in which he argues that cl…imate science has been overtaken by politics. Politics, however, demands certainty, but climate scientists do not know what the risks or the outcomes will be: “Yes, science has clearly revealed that humans are influencing global climate and will continue to do so, but we don’t know the full scale of the risks involved, nor how rapidly they will evolve, nor indeed—with clear insight—the relative roles of all the forcing agents involved at different scales.”

This leads to his conclusion that “the central battlegrounds on which we need to fight out the policy implications of climate change concern matters of risk management, of valuation, and political ideology. We must move the locus of public argumentation here not because the science has somehow been ‘done’ or ‘is settled;’ science will never be either of these things, although it can offer powerful forms of knowledge not available in other ways.” These are the issues we need to focus on as we proceed toward regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the consequences of climate change.

The second article is an article by Andrew Revkin, the New York Times global environment reporter. In that article Mr. Revkin posits that a middle ground is emerging from the smoke created by “Climategate.” As Mr. Revkin states: “Many in this camp seek a …policy of reducing vulnerability to all climate extremes while building public support for a sustained shift to nonpolluting energy sources.” “Reducing vulnerabilities to all climate extremes” does not mean taking drastic actions What it does mean, however, is that it is best not to gloss over the uncertainties – climate change could be much better or much worse than predicted.

These scientists advocate taking action, just not panicked action. The key, they believe, is to change people’s behavior, not to scare them into action or plug their ears into complacency. As one scientist mentioned in the article states: “Because of the scale and time lag, a better strategy, Dr. Mahlman and others say, is to treat human-caused warming more as a risk to be reduced than a problem to be solved.”

This is an issue that has been raised before on this blog, in my comments about Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel’s video. and on my Facebook page in a Note “Climategate and Environmental Policy Options.” It also hearkens back to my support, even though I consider myself a “climate believer,” of the proposal that EPA hold a hearing on climate change. See also, the Update I did on the blog post.  The upshot is this:  thoughtful deliberation and action are necessary.  We cannot do nothing – we owe it to our descendants not to burden them with a compromised environment.  But neither should we take action that is not based on solid science and a clear understanding of what the risks and the goals are.

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