Guest Essay by Kip Hansen
A week ago I wrote an essay titled “Sarewitz’s Science Smörgåsbord” which was received here with varying degrees of acceptance, resistance and dismay. It concerned what I thought was a new paper from Daniel Sarewitz “How science makes environmental controversies worse”. Marcel Crok, independent science journalist in the Netherlands, set me straight, pointing out the paper was written in 2003 — published in 2004. Crok was the only reader to catch me out. This was, of course, a truly bonehead mistake on my part — but is proof positive of the idea that one finds what one expects to find — I expected a new paper and incorrectly found it.
This error on my part has turned out to be a windfall. It means that we can now, 15 years forward in time, look to see if Sarewitz’s “hypothesis” has turned out to be true.
Those readers who took up the challenge to read the Sarewitz paper already know that it is long, written in a style familiar to academics but a bit of a tough slog to read, and makes a wide variety of points about science, politics and public policy. But let me be a bit presumptuous and posit a hypothesis that might be formed from the whole of it which we can view as a “prediction” about the future, 15 years of which has now passed.
“…science makes environmental controversies worse” [from the title of the paper]
“…“more science” often stokes, rather than quenches, environmental controversies.”
“The technical debate — and the implicit promise that “more research” will tell us what to do — vitiates the will to act. Not only does the value dispute remain unresolved, but the underlying problem remains unaddressed.”
Here we can make a simple test:
- We consider only the environmental controversy called Climate Change, after 15 additional years of research. In the first ten of those fifteen years, by 2014, additional climate research already comprised more than 25,000 new papers a year, a rate predicted to double within five to six years. A Google Scholar search, limited to results of the year 2018, shows 124,000 papers for the search string “2018 climate change”. [That’s a lot of research.]
- If we Google “climate change controversy” today, as a societal check on whether the controversy has been resolved, we get a listing of “about 56,500,000” links. [ That’s a lot of controversy. ]
- And as a third item, we can look at the inaugural year of this website, Watts Up With That, November 2006 which was pretty soon after the publication of the Sarewitz paper to give us an idea of what was the controversy at that time. Most readers are familiar enough with the current situation in climate science to realize whether or not the situation has changed since then.
Hurricanes frequency and intensity
HiTech LoTech – Hurricane Strength Nails (WUWT, November 2006) informs us that the number and intensity of hurricanes in the United States is controversial.
Compare to Truth(?) in testimony and convincing policy makers (June 2019) concerning the controversy exposed in testimony about hurricane frequency and intensity in the United States before a Congressional Committee.
Hurricanes frequency and intensity are still a controversy.
Solar Cycles, Sun Spots, Surface Temperature and Climate Change
Scientists Predict Large Solar Cycle Coming (WUWT December 2006) compares to Solar Cycle Update for November 2018 – warmth sticking around, or cooling ahead? (November 2018). Then there’s Svenmark (WUWT 2019).
After 15 more years of research, the questions surrounding solar activity and Earth surface temperature are still controversial.
Climate, Chaos and Perspectives on Prediction
Perspective (WUWT December 2006) considers views of sunspots, weather and chaos in the climate system compares to Scientific Hubris and Global Warming (WUWT May 2019) discusses the same issues “Common sense suggests that quantitative data covering multiple warming and cooling periods is necessary to give perspective about the evolution of climate.”
IPCC and Consensus Science
We have a paper in June 2019: “Hoppe, I. and Rödder, S. (2019). ‘Speaking with one voice for climate science—climate researchers’ opinion on the consensus policy of the IPCC’” — [ Journal of Science Communication ]. Discussing the problems presented by the process of developing the IPCC-style Science Consensus. The same controversy existed in 2004 — see “Consensus science, or consensus politics?” by Mark Schrope, published in Nature (2001). Was the IPCC consensus process even scientifically sound? The future kicked up Oreske’s attempts to prove that there was a consensus (later in 2004) — an effort still underway and still heavily resisted — “CEI Files Formal Complaint Regarding NASA’s Claim of 97% Climate Scientist Agreement on Global Warming.”
The “consensus” is still a controversy.
Climate Sensitivity to CO2 Emissions
Not even the very scientific question of the sensitivity of the climate to doubling to atmospheric CO2 has been resolved — in fact, by some accounts, the issue is even more uncertain today than in 2003. In 1995, IPCC SAR stated “The likely equilibrium response of global surface temperature to a doubling of equivalent carbon dioxide concentration (the “climate sensitivity”) was estimated in 1990 to be in the range 1.5 to 4.5 °C, with a “best estimate” of 2.5°C.”.
For today’s perspective I recommend reading Dr. Judith Curry [Climate Etc.] who has covered the climate sensitivity issue extensively and with great attention to detail. Curry and Lewis recently wrote “The Impact of Recent Forcing and Ocean Heat Uptake Data on Estimates of Climate Sensitivity”. Dr. Roy Spencer discusses their paper at his blog in “New Lewis & Curry Study Concludes Climate Sensitivity is Low”.
Climate sensitivity is still a controversy — with a wider degree of uncertainty.
Roger Pielke Jr. [in 2001 associated with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO — now with the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research there – this update 19 July 2019 – kh] — whose story involves the excesses of Extreme Politics, covered fully in The Financial Times in “Ross McKitrick: This scientist proved climate change isn’t causing extreme weather — so politicians attacked” — long-ago showed that weather/climate related disasters had not been more frequent, more powerful, or more economically damaging (when accounting for economics and land-use issues).
In June 2001, he presented remarks to “Climate Change Science: A Forum of the National Academies and the U.S. Senate” titled: “Societal Vulnerability and Climate” [ link is a .pdf ], in which he concluded “[This work] does suggest that if a policy goal is to reduce the future impacts of climate on society, then energy policies are insufficient, and perhaps largely irrelevant, to achieving that goal. Of course, this does not preclude other sensible reasons for energy policy action related to climate (such as ecological impacts) and energy policy action independent of climate change (such as air pollution reduction and energy efficiency).13 It only suggests that reduction of human impacts related to weather and climate are not among those reasons, and arguments and advocacy to the contrary are not in concert with research in this area.”
Pielke was attacked in so many ways, he actually announced at one time he would not write anymore about climate – ever. Read his story above to see why he testifies about climate and science still today before Congress.
With others, Pielke Jr. published “Normalized hurricane damage in the continental United States 1900–2017“ in November 2018 stating: “This analysis provides a major update to the leading dataset on normalized US hurricane losses in the continental United States from 1900 to 2017. Over this period, 197 hurricanes resulted in 206 landfalls with about US$2 trillion in normalized (2018) damage, or just under US$17 billion annually. Consistent with observed trends in the frequency and intensity of hurricane landfalls along the continental United States since 1900, the updated normalized loss estimates also show no trend.”
Extreme weather and its relationship to climate, changing or not, is still a controversy.
It is a simple truth that the climate controversy has become arguably more contentious since 2003 — certainly it is obvious that on the policy side there has been no societal resolution — the world’s governments have not banded together to co-operate to carry out the IPCC prescription designed, by them, to solve the climate problem as they see it. While annual COPs have been held, all at great expense and fanfare, there has been no binding international treaty — there has only been vague promises. The biggest sources of CO2 emissions have not even agreed to reduce their emissions by any climatically significant amount over a reasonable future.
Is Climate Science stagnating, standing still?
I thought so at one time — there is a lot of what Curry refers to as climate science “taxonomy” — “‘taxonomy’, i.e. research that is neither useful nor contributes to fundamental understanding. Climate model taxonomy is characterized by endless analysis of IPCC climate model runs and projection of ‘dangerous impacts’”.
Last year, in rejecting a proposed essay of mine written for her blog, Dr. Curry simply pointed me to her weekly feature: Week in review – science edition — in which she highlights new work in the field that she considers significant — work that is moving the field forward to a better understanding.
A lot of good work is being done — incrementally moving the field along, one understanding or insight at a time.
So why doesn’t that good science solve the climate question and climate policy gridlock? Because, maybe, Sarewitz was right (at least so far):
“If scientists are doing their job, then “more science” often stokes, rather than quenches, environmental controversies.”
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Author’s Comment Policy:
I know, I know, if we only used a falsifiable hypothesis….if only Popper! If only, if only….
It won’t do, I’m afraid. Science is not going to solve society’s values-laden climate change question. Science is not going to scatter the logjam that is national, or international, climate change action policies.
More science, good, carefully designed and carried out research, may answer some of our still outstanding questions about how the climate works and what atmospheric CO2 means for the climate long-term. More science will, I believe, eventually reveal a solution to our current energy problem — how to shift from burning things for our energy needs to something more economical and more ecologically benign.
It is my view that most of our questions will be answered by the passing of time assuming continued efforts by the honorable men and women of science.
The science answers will not resolve our differences, those that are based on values — worldviews, religious views, moral standards, political value systems. We’ll have to find ways to talk to one another and find areas of agreement — socially and politically pragmatic solutions to our differences, so we can move ahead to a better future.
Please feel free to disagree in Comments. If speaking to me, begin with “Kip…”
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