I have been complaining for several years that no orthodox climate scientist seems to want to engage publicly in any serious, extended debate about AGW and ‘climate change’. There are encounters, and I’ve had a couple, but no public, moderated, respectful engagement between the orthodox and the dissenters. One reason is plain: the orthodox hold the power, and entering a debate can only weaken that power.
So what they do is to issue more ‘official’ statements from scientific organisations, like the one issued only a little time ago from the American Geophysical Union, an umbrella body for many thousands of geoscientists. It is a political manifesto that in pushing the orthodox line ignores a great deal of contrary scientific evidence.
But every now and then a climate scientist sticks his or head above the parapet and says something that is contrary to the party line. Judith Curry, whose website I keep on mentioning, is one such. She herself explains that she is past worrying about promotion or grants, and is much more concerned about the current state of science. She fears that the dodgy science, and the refusal to accept that observations don’t support the party line, cannot be other than bad for the scientific profession in the long run. I wholeheartedly agree.
Dr Curry has been joined by a young British climate scientist, Tamsin Edwards, whose website I visited when it was established only months ago, and whose infrequent essays I always find worth reading. She was recently asked to write an op. ed. piece for The Guardian, and did so. Now The Guardian is an AGW pulpit, and what Tamsin Edwards wrote was not from the AGW bible at all.
‘As a climate scientist, I’m under pressure to be a political advocate. This comes mainly from environmentalists. Dan Cass, wind-farm director and solar advocate, preferred me not to waste my time debating “denialist morons” but to use political advocacy to “prevent climate catastrophe”. Jeremy Grantham, environmental philanthropist, urged climate scientists to sound a “more desperate note … Be arrested if necessary.” A concerned member of the public judged my efforts at public engagement successful only if they showed “evidence of persuasion”.’
She would not buy this at all, and explained her position this way: ‘I believe advocacy by climate scientists has damaged trust in the science. We risk our credibility, our reputation for objectivity, if we are not absolutely neutral. At the very least, it leaves us open to criticism. I find much climate scepticism is driven by a belief that environmental activism has influenced how scientists gather and interpret evidence. So I’ve found my hardline approach successful in taking the politics and therefore – pun intended – the heat out of climate science discussions…. even though my scientific views are absolutely mainstream. But it’s not just about improving trust. In this highly politicised arena, climate scientists have a moral obligation to strive for impartiality. We have a platform we must not abuse. For a start, we rarely have the necessary expertise.’
And that’s not all. ‘Even scientists who are experts – such as those studying the interactions between climate, economy and politics, with “integrated assessment models” – cannot speak for us because political decisions necessarily depend on values. There are many ways to try to minimise climate change (with mitigation or geoengineering) or its impacts (adaptation) and, given a pot of money, we must decide what we most want to protect. How do we weigh up economic growth against ecosystem change? Should we prioritise the lives and lifestyles of people today or in the future? Try to limit changes in temperature or rainfall? These questions cannot be answered with scientific evidence alone. To me, then, it is simple: scientists misuse their authority if they publicise their preferred policy options.’
I think she has nailed it. As others have remarked (Roger Pielke Jr is one) ‘science’ can provide data and argument to support every position in the ‘climate change’. The ‘debate’ on it is not, and never has been, a scientific one. And if we had such a debate — the one I lament we don’t have — eventually the scientists would be forced to put their own values on the table, not just the science. And why are scientists’ values any more valuable or valid than your or mine?
I greatly prefer the adaptation approach to the mitigation one — dealing with climate hazards as they arise, rather than trying to prevent them through global decarbonisation or geo-engineering — because my historical knowledge and training tell me that humanity has survived apparent crisis after apparent crisis in the past. I’m a glass-half-full person, too, an optimist not a pessimist. And the argument that this crisis is different from all the others seems to me based on speculation and models rather than on observation. So my values and training account for my position, not the science. I don’t think there is anyone who is free of values and reliant only on the science.
Dr Edwards came in for some stick from the devoted AGW adherents who read The Guardian, and you can read more about flak on her blog, and on WUWT and Climate etc as well. But she got some plaudits as well. And when The Guardian is prepared to ask a young scientists to stick her neck out, and publish her views, it tells me that maybe the debate is moving into a more positive phase.
I hope so, anyway.