Legal Eagle will be on SBS (Insight, Tuesday 7.30pm) in a show talking about Climate Sceptics. In the meantime she has written a long, thoughtful post about her views on the issue. There are two points that jump out at me.
Ultimately, I think that deriding people who raise doubts (1) shows a lack of understanding about scientific method and (2) serves to fuel scepticism rather than to allay it.
There is a deep elitism at the heart of the writings of some who suggest the shape of the policy responding to climate change (eg, Clive Hamilton, George Monbiot). The sly inference is that working-class people are stupid bogans who don’t know any better, and that they should let their betters guide them in what is to be done.
There is a very deep elitism that informs the heart of climate change policy.
This is because the implications of 3C, let alone 4C or 5C, are so horrible that we look to any possible scenario to head it off, including the canvassing of “emergency” responses such as the suspension of democratic processes.
This is the point that our climate change alarmists friends overlook. Reasonable people can agree on science but disagree on policy. But our environentalist friends are not reasonable – they are not even truthful.
Environmentalists have often overstated the effects of environmental decline.
The risks of nuclear power, though considerable, have been exaggerated. The dangers of urban air pollution have been inflated.
The threats posed by DDT, lead pollution and pesticides, while significant, have usually been presented as much scarier than they actually are.
And the likely effects of genetically modified crops have been blown out of proportion.
The purpose of political exaggeration is to stimulate stronger emotional responses, usually fear, and make us more likely to act in the way desired. When your opponents are busily exaggerating the other way, the pressure is almost irresistible.
To be fair this is a political strategy that everyone employs. Hamilton here, however, is using a strange logic, “Okay we lied before, but this time we’re telling the truth; by the way democracy is part of the problem”.
Climate change policy is problematic because it mixes up scientific knowledge, technological expectations, value judgements, and economics. The former Rudd government got mugged by the economics of climate change policy. At page 181 of Lenore Taylor and David Uren’s Shitstorm we see this admission from Penny Wong.
She said that in the previous months she had reached the conclusion the business executives filing through her office were not making ambt claims but were genuinely worried about the potential impact of the plan.
So we know the economics of climate change policy are problematic – we know that the ALP-Greens government knows that the economic impact will adversely effect the economy despite the Treasury modelling that fudges the costs.
Political disputes revolve around the consequences of differing actions. What action should be taken? Is it best to act now, or later, or not at all? Many prediction techniques are complex, difficult, and may require scientific training, yet predicting the future is not science. Science produces hypotheses that are tested in reproducible experiments. In other words, science itself cannot provide the information politicians most need for decision-making. Scientists can speculate, and when the political stakes are high, the return to speculation increases. Consequently, the amount of speculation increases and the certainty surrounding scientific ‘facts’ declines. Further, as more and more scientific work is conducted, so greater understanding leads to more nuanced argument and (genuine) scientific disagreement. It is unsurprising that science provides few clear policy options for politicians.
These arguments, of course, ignore the self-interest that scientists themselves may display. As Sarewitz observes, ‘Authoritative scientific advice is least likely to be available when it is most needed’.
We’ve seen how scientists behave under political pressure – the Climategate scandal has undermined public confidence in ‘the science’. It turns out the UK parliament is still not fully satisfied with the outcomes of the various investigations. The IPCC has also been fast and loose with the evidence.
On Monday an independent review found that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has downplayed uncertainties surrounding climate science. The review also found that the IPCC needs more robust safeguards against conflicts of interest, that it had committed “unnecessary errors” by failing to meet its own standards, that it had inadequately flagged its use of nonscientific sources, that it made claims with “high confidence” based on “weak evidentiary basis,” and that it gave short shrift to dissenting scientists.
This problem with the IPCC is well-known. As Alex Robson and I said in 2007.
It is not clear from the report whether the IPCC has, in fact, undertaken such an analysis. It is more likely that it has neither a testable model nor data available for external researchers to replicate such a test. In other words, the IPCC’s 90 per cent confidence level has not emerged from a scientific process; it has emerged from scientists evaluating whether they think their own work is correct. Further, in contrast to the IPCC’s own requirement, the 90 per cent confidence level is not open, not objective, and not transparent.
So the science is not definitive in the political arena.
In a policy sense, we run out of science very early in the piece. The planet is either warming up or not and humans are either making a large contribution to that warming or not. That is the end of the scientific contribution to the debate. Whether we can do anything about any AGW is a technological question. Whether we should do anything about any AGW is an economic question and an ethical question. This is something our environmental friends pretend not to understand. They have little choice. We now know the economic costs are high enough to worry Climate Change minister Penny Wong. That leaves the ethics.
For her trouble Legal Eagle got abused by the LP crowd.
I can’t speak for Legal Eagle’s friends, colleagues and students, but I for one will continue to look more than a little askance at somebody who declares that they’re both a progressive and a cilmate skeptic.
Looks like Legal Eagle has failed a purity test – she cares more about actual poor people in the present than potential harm to rich people in the future. The great irony is that the LP crowd simply reinforce the issues that most concern Legal Eagle about the whole issue. In the meantime we know that the climate change crowd are trying to impose their environmental preferences on everyone else. Not just that the environment should be an important policy consideration, but that climate change should crowd-out all other environmental policy.
As an aside Legal Eagle is concerned that she may be harrassed by her colleagues and students for her views on this issue – if so sue.