For those who don’t know the reference, a Red team is a team whose aim is to go past the defences of the Blue team. More generally, the terms have to do with testing more or less settled policies or positions mostly in defence, but increasingly in information technology, and the new target, cyber-security. There have been suggestions in the past that the model be used in the area of climate science, or more sensibly, climate policy. A pale equivalent in Australia is the use of ‘The Case for Yes’ and ‘The Case for No’ statements in our Constitutional referendums.
Scott Pruitt, the new Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, revived the idea a little while ago. It was a throwaway passage during an interview, but the gist of it was this:
What the American people deserve, I think, is a true legitimate, peer reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2. And, you know there was a great article that was in the Wall Street Journal, about a month or so ago called ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ by Steve Koonin, a scientist I believe at NYU. And, he talked about the importance of having a red team of scientist and a blue team of scientists and those scientists get in a room and ask what do we know, what don’t we know, and what risk does it pose to health, the United States, and the world with respect to this issue of CO2. The American people need to have that type of honest open discussion, and it’s something we hope to provide as part of our leadership.
All power to his elbow. There has been nothing since from Mr Pruitt. And indeed there are many different ways of organising such an encounter. I thought I would go to Mr Pruitt’s source, which was an essay published in April in the Wall Street Journal, to which I do not have access. But Judith Curry provided a large extract that contained the core of Koonin’s proposal.
Here’s how it might work: The focus would be a published scientific report meant to inform policy such as the U.N.’s Summary for Policymakers or the U.S. Government’s National Climate Assessment. A Red Team of scientists would write a critique of that document and a Blue Team would rebut that critique. Further exchanges of documents would ensue to the point of diminishing returns. A commission would coordinate and moderate the process and then hold hearings to highlight points of agreement and disagreement, as well as steps that might resolve the latter. The process would unfold in full public view: the initial report, the exchanged documents and the hearings.
A Red/Blue exercise would have many benefits. It would produce a traceable public record that would allow the public and decision makers a better understanding of certainties and uncertainties. It would more firmly establish points of agreement and identify urgent research needs. Most important, it would put science front and center in policy discussions, while publicly demonstrating scientific reasoning and argument. The inherent tension of a professional adversarial process would enhance public interest, offering many opportunities to show laymen how science actually works.
Koonin served for two and a half years as the civil service head of the Department of Energy in the Obama Administration, and is sceptical of much of the hype about global warming, so he may look to be having a bob each way, But what’s not to like about his approach?
I am reminded that when politicians have asked august scientific bodies like the CSIRO for a simple and accessible explanation of why greenhouse gases, global warming and climate change are so important, they have never received anything of consequence in reply. Senator Roberts quizzed Dr Finkel about the latter’s view of climate change, and received (in my view) only a set of vague statements, which ultimately relied on models. Graham Redfearn, a journalist [my error — he is not an academic] and an espouser of the orthodox view, pooh-poohed Roberts for assuming that empirical evidence finally must test theory.
There are two very obvious problems with Roberts’ argument. The “real world data” is sending a clear message that the Earth is gaining heat at a rapid rate and that this is a long-term trend. Whether you look at global air temperatures measured in the real world by thermometers or derived from satellites, or the temperature of the oceans at multiple depths, or the increasing frequency of extreme temperatures, or the rising sea levels, the melting ice sheets, the disappearing Arctic sea ice, the increasing risk of bushfires … we could go on and on with a parade of “empirical evidence”.
At the same time, humans are adding CO2 to the atmosphere and oceans at a rate that groups like the Geological Society say are unprecedented “even in comparison with the massive injections of carbon to the atmosphere at the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary, which led to a major thermal event 55m years ago”.
Roberts’ argument that science is only about “empirical evidence” might sound all sciencey to his interviewees and the lay audience. But it’s bunk. If all you rely on is “empirical evidence”, and reject modelling and analysis that uses that data, then you basically throw out large swathes of modern scientific endeavours.
‘It’s bunk?’ Without going into minute detail, I think I could show that Mr Redfearn’s claim about the ‘clear message’ is not as soundly based as he suggests. All those examples he cites have their own problems. To name just three, temperatures did not rise though CO2 accumulations did, for nearly twenty years, whether sea levels are rising at any other than the long-term rate is not at all clear, or whether the rising is accelerating at all, which was also being claimed, and the increasing risk of bushfires has more to do with the spread of human settlement into forested areas than anything to do with ‘climate change’.
Now I can say this and provide the evidence, to which I will be told that (i) I am not a climate scientist, and therefore know nothing, or (ii) some of what I put up as evidence has been ‘debunked’, even if what is meant is that the issue is somewhat complicated, or (iii) 97 per cent of climate scientists, not to mention the Australian Academy of Science, say we are all doomed (they don’t say that, but it’s the underlying message). We need some kind of circuit breaker to deal with assertions and counter-assertions, which you can see on this website endlessly.
As it happens the orthodoxy doesn’t like being questioned at all. When Dennis Jensen MP spoke a couple of years ago about the need for some sort of parliamentary inquiry into ‘climate change, twelve scientists belonging to the orthodoxy sent him a letter warning him against ‘wasting time and parliamentary resources’ on such an inquiry. They offered to brief him (and a colleague) instead!
In short there is a straightforward argument for the use of the kind of inspection that Koonin suggested, if there is the will to use it. Even if Mr Pruitt goes ahead with the Red team plan, I have doubts that Australia will do the same, much as we like to emulate the good ol’ USA. As I have said many times before, neither of the major political parties here wants to do anything decisive in this area. Talk about it, yes, but do something significant, no. The belief that humanity is endangered — well, other people, not the believers exactly — is still alive and well in our country.
A few blackouts may help to change attitudes, as will the September gas and electricity bills. To choose the Red team option is presently beyond our political leaders at the moment. It would never have occurred to Mrs Clinton had she won office. Even President Trump may have his doubts. But for me, it is the way to go.