August 03, 2008
Joel Achenbach on Weather Extremes
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Risk & Uncertainty | Science + Politics
In today's Washington Post Joel Achenbach has a smart and nuanced piece on weather extremes and climate change. The attribution of weather events and trends to particular causes is difficult and contested.
Equivocation isn't a sign of cognitive weakness. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process, and sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up and say, "Maybe."
For Achenbach's efforts he gets called stupid and a tool of the "deniers". Such complaints are ironic given that Achenbach explains how foolish it is to put too much weight on extreme events in arguments about climate change:
the evidence for man-made climate change is solid enough that it doesn't need to be bolstered by iffy claims. Rigorous science is the best weapon for persuading the public that this is a real problem that requires bold action. "Weather alarmism" gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. They're happy to fight on that turf, since they can say that a year with relatively few hurricanes (or a cold snap when you don't expect it) proves that global warming is a myth. As science writer John Tierney put it in the New York Times earlier this year, weather alarmism "leaves climate politics at the mercy of the weather."
And the U.S. Climate Change Science Program recently issued a report with the following conclusions:
1. Over the long-term U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.
In the climate debate, you would have to be pretty foolish to allow any argument to hinge on claims about the attribution of observed extreme events to the emissions of greenhouse gases. But as we've noted here on many occasions, for some the climate debate is a morality tale that cannot withstand nuance, even if that nuance is perfectly appropriate given the current state of understandings. But given the public relations value of extreme events in the climate debate, don't expect Achenbach's reasoned view to take hold among those calling for action. Like the Bush Administration and Iraqi WMDs, for some folks sometimes the intelligence that you wish existed trumps the facts on the ground.Posted on August 3, 2008 02:22 PM
Stifling of debate, name-calling, media overhype. It's certainly a lot like the run-up to the Iraq war in the US. Seems it was naive to assume that people might have learnt something from that recent experience. Of course it all stems from these arrogant scientists who are pushing their biased interpretations of ambiguous data as "evidence". It isn't - it's remains hypothesis and conjecture of worst-case scenarios.
There have been many other such misuses of the public trust by scientists before and in many fields but this one will ultimately damage the green movement and science itself. And it's not at all necessary because we all agree that it makes a lot of sense to pursue greener alternative fuels and we all know that currently fossil fuel use is still unavoidable. Hence we're in it together. The only issue should be one of direction.
People seem to be taking up antagonistic positions simply to alleviate their own guilt complex, despite their own behaviour not being particularly green. If people are actually using less fossil fuels now it's bilateral and purely because of the cost. Some are honest about it and others aren't but the real truth can be seen in the spike in the presidential ratings whenever the oil price dips. Thus has it ever been.
Posted by: JamesG at August 4, 2008 10:22 AM
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