April 05, 2005
A Taxonomy of Climate Politics
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change
Dan Whipple's UPI column today has some kind words for Prometheus and a response to a post here a few weeks back that took issue with his use of the politically-loaded phrase "climate skeptic." The UPI column today goes over well trodden ground reviewing the surface-troposphere temperature record debate and the "hockey-stick" controversy. Rather than developing a political taxonomy of the climate debate focused on science, I thought that it might be worth focusing on the actual political and policy agendas at play. Please consider the list below as food for thought, experimental, subject to change and not definitive. We'd welcome your comments, additions and subtractions.
Climate realists. The UPI column correctly places me in this camp. But Steve Rayner characterized this community best, "But, between Kyoto's supporters and those who scoff at the dangers of leaving greenhouse gas emissions unchecked, there has been a tiny minority of commentators and analysts convinced of the urgency of the problem while remaining profoundly sceptical of the proposed solution. Their voices have largely gone unheard. Climate change policy has become a victim of the sunk costs fallacy. We are told that Kyoto is "the only game in town". However, it is plausible to argue that implementing Kyoto has distracted attention and effort from real opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect society against climate impacts. While it may not be politically practical or desirable to abandon the Kyoto path altogether, it certainly seems prudent to open up other approaches to achieving global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."
Scientizers. This large and diverse group actively works to frame the climate issue as a scientific debate under the expectation that if you win the scientific debate then your political agenda will necessarily follow. This group is comprised mostly of scientists of one sort or another. I would include here the dueling science-cum-politics weblogs Realclimate.org and Climateaudit.org (we had an exchange with Reaclimate folks a while back). I would also include here CATO's Patrick Michaels and the IPCC's Rajendra Pachauri (see this post) and others who have a clear political perspective but choose frequently to debate the science as a proxy war. A great irony is that the Scientizers have different political views but share the expectation that science is the appropriate battleground for this debate, and have together thus far successfully kept the focus of attention on the climate science rather than policy and politics.
Energy Policy Free Riders. The climate debate in many ways represents the evolution of an energy policy debate that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO) characterized this perspective in the late 1980s when he said, "We've got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy" (cited here, in PDF). For this group the current debate over climate change is really all about changing energy policies.
Free Market Free Riders. Like the EP Free Riders the FM Free Riders see the climate debate as the evolution of a preexisting debate over the role of government and the individual in society. A recent column at Tech Central Station presented a strong version of this perspective, "[The Kyoto Protocol] is emblematic of the 'unorthodox' thinking in social sciences. It gave the world Marxism, Stalinism, planned economies and fascism in the past, and supports anti-trade movements, anarcho-socialism, dogmatic pacifism and multicultural relativism today."
International Relations Free Riders. The international relations free riders see the Kyoto Protocol as an extension of recent tensions between the U.S. and Europe, in particular, and have more concern with multilateralism than climate per se. In this group are those who see multilateralism as a solution to international conflicts (climate among them) and others who see it as part of them problem. The IR Free Riders includes the U.S. neoconservatives and their opponents. It also represents a cleavage of optinion between the Bush Administration's approach-to-date on climate and that generally favored by governments in Europe.
There is undoubtedly a larger set of "free riders" who have sought to hitch their own favored agendas (e.g., species preservation, Bush Administration bashing, etc. etc.) to the climate issue, but these seem to be the most significant.
Those who Suffer Climate Impacts. There is an extremely large group of people (and species, ecosystems, etc.) that actually experience the effects of climate in their everyday lives. Too often they are used as symbols (or as potential material witnesses in lawsuits) by one of the groups listed above without real concern for their plight. The hundred of millions of people who suffer the impacts of climate have a real political stake in climate policies and with a few notable exceptions (e.g., see the 2002 Dehli Declaration) have little voice in how climate policy is evolving. (See also this recent paper.)
Undoubtedly there are more camps in this complex tapestry, but further discussion will have to continue another time. I'm off to class.Posted on April 5, 2005 10:23 AM
Energy conservation pays, and can almost single-handedly bring stability to our atmospheric output. Check out, e.g., www.lutw.org .
While that is the non-profit side of WLEDs, (white light emitting diodes), their 5-10:1 energy advantage over incandescent and flourescent output, and negligible waste implact, makes them a "disruptive technology" of the best sort.
Posted by: Brian H at April 6, 2005 12:11 AM
Posted by: Brian H at April 6, 2005 12:13 AM
As you might have expected, I am going to disagree with your taxonomy, in particular with your description of the 'scientizers'.
You appear to be under the impression that no discussion of climate science can take place without having an explicit or implicit policy agenda. I simply can't agree with this. I am a scientist, not because I am pushing a political program, but because I am interested in the process of science for finding things out about the world. That my particular specialty (climate) has become more interesting to the layperson because of the issue of climate change has both positive and negative aspects. For instance it makes it easier to talk to people at parties, but now I also get hate mail.
With respect to RealClimate (where I play a significant role), we have tried to give a sense of what scientists are really thinking and how they come to their conclusions on climate and climate change. That we tend to support IPCC conclusions is therefore no surprise - however, we have not advocated any policy options at all. In fact, we have studiously tried to avoid all such discussions. Yet you lump us in with the obviously policy-driven pseudo-scientists.
There must be a role for scientists to point out that pseudo-scientific arguments made in support of different policy options are fallacious. If we do not do it, who will? In commenting on an argument we do not endorse the policy position it was purporting to support (nor the opposing position). A good policy could be supported by a fallacious argument, just as a bad policy could be supported by 'good' science. Obviously judging whether a policy is good or bad is a value judgement, however, judging whether a scientific argument holds water is much more objective.
We have criticised arguments and exaggerations on all sides and will continue to do so.
You have often decried the lack of honest brokers in the climate debate. Our reward for attempting to play such a role is that you class us as underhand yet unsucessful policy advocates. You are, in this case, mistaken.
Posted by: Gavin at April 6, 2005 04:17 PM
Thanks much for your thoughtful comments. Let me respond to several of your points. First, you write, “You appear to be under the impression that no discussion of climate science can take place without having an explicit or implicit policy agenda.” Of course I believe that there is plenty of discussion of climate science with no extra-scientific context. Just look at the Journal of Climate or JGR-Atmospheres or Climatic Change and so on. But at the same time, most everyone who has anything to do with climate research knows full well that a very public and very political debate is taking place in terms of science. So scientists, agency officials, political advocates, weblog hosts and reporters each make decisions about what science to pursue, what findings to report, what findings are significant, etc. while being completely aware of this political context. You also write, “There must be a role for scientists to point out that pseudo-scientific arguments made in support of different policy options are fallacious.” Yes there are such roles, and as I written these roles come in two guises, the political advocate who seeks to reduce the scope of choices available to decision makers and the honest broker who seeks to expand (or at least clarify) the scope of choice. In my view, both political advocates and honest brokers of policy options are noble causes. I just happen to believe that the science community is flush with the former and has a dearth of the latter. Like many scholars who study the role of science in society, I believe that the empirical and theoretical scholarship in this area shows definitively that you cannot seek to clarify the science in political debates without becoming part of that debate itself (see my recent book review of Bocking’s new book). If RealClimate wants to serve as an honest broker for decision makers and the public on the climate issue, then it should openly discuss policy options. In the peer-reviewed journals we already have honest brokers on science. Once you take the step of explaining the significance of science to the public or decision makers, whether you like it or not, you have moved from the systematic pursuit of knowledge (science) to the world of decisions and their impacts. Scientists should take on such roles, but they should not pretend that it is science. Thanks again and I look forward to continued discussions!
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at April 6, 2005 07:29 PM
For a time, I attempted to participate on realclimate.org. After two bouts of having my posts erased, I decided it was not worth my time. My experience there is that the realclimate.org group are definitely not honest brokers. They tilt, quite obviously at times in their moderation. Those who stray into climate skepticism advocacy are corrected quickly while those who are climate alarmists are often corrected only when the skeptic commenters cry foul.
I hope that they've learned to fly straight since they were on my daily read list. I somewhat doubt it.
Posted by: TM Lutas at April 7, 2005 12:50 PM
I too am part of RC, and I too disagree with RP, and to your response to Gavin. I think that you are trying to gain control of the debate; to affect the agenda; more by use of language and promoting certain words. Your use of the term "honest broker" is this. You use it in contraditory ways. Firstly, there is "the honest broker who seeks to expand (or at least clarify) the scope of choice". RC does this, of course, by analysing the science. But later on, your defintion of HB has shifted: now suddenly "an honest broker for decision makers and the public on the climate issue, then it should openly discuss policy options". Why? Within the science arena, one can discuss the science. How policymakers use that discussion is up to them, and perhaps to people like you.
Finally, your saying "there is plenty of discussion of climate science with no extra-scientific context. Just look at the Journal of Climate..." is misleading - you are using that to imply that RC isn't in that state, without ever presenting any arguments for why.
Posted by: William Connolley at April 8, 2005 05:12 AM
Journal of Climate is a forum for discussions amongst specialists.
Posted by: Stefan at April 8, 2005 05:37 AM
Roger: As a long time student of history and philosophy of science (as well as a scientist involved with RealClimate), I am quite sympathetic with your postmodernist view that one "cannot seek to clarify the science in political debates without becoming part of that debate itself." But it is a huge leap from there to be able to claim that you "know" the underlying values of the actors on this stage, and therefore can place them neatly under different definitions. This may be a useful excercise, but I am unconvinced you have any underlying justification for your categorizations, other than your own equally value-laden "best guesses".
With respect to RealClimate, in particular, you clearly differentiative between them and the scientific journals. On what grounds? What are the journals supposedly doing (or not doing) that makes them different from RealClimate? You can't appeal to peer review here, because peer review is imperfect, and the reviews are done by scientists, most of whom probably disagree with your viewpoint on RealClimate! So if RealClimate is "biased" then so are the journals! That puts us in the wonderful position of having no purely scientific basis for the study of climate. Is that really the intellectual position you wish to take?
Posted by: eric at April 8, 2005 07:17 AM