Saturday, February 10, 2007

The pernicious influence of climate change

Why am I still skeptical about climate change? Mostly because I see the science as being still very nascent and any public policy that is based on it as premature. I have colleagues who are convicted that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are dangerous but who can't say how those levels influence climate accurately: the assumption is that rising levels of carbon dioxide lead to rising temperatures, that those levels exceed both natural changes and changes from other variables, and that the rise in carbon dioxide levels drives temperature: whereas the historical record has an equally good fit for rising temperatures being causative in increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, there are several equally plausible explanations for climatic variability and neither the rate of change nor level of change are empirically significant.

These questions aside, my main problem with climate change is that most physical scientists are either oblivious to, in denial about , or feel justified in how the science is being utilised in framing current public policy issues. Here is the main problem. Environmentalism as an ideology rests on the certitude of its science for its credibility: because the science requires us to act, the following measures are justified. In large part, the measures that are advocated are those involving increased state control, less individual empowerment and a large proportion of moral judgement.

A good example of this is examined in an excellently written article on the reframing of underdevelopment and poverty in Africa as climate change "vulnerability".

The commentary is one of a series of excellent articles in response to the release of the IPCC summary on climate. One looks at climate change as a contemporary morality tale. A second asks why faith teaching is viewed as zealous propaganda but environmentalism in the curriculum is considered to be "raising awareness". And the third tackles perhaps the worst case of mis-appropriation in the name of environmental correctness, the reframing of African poverty as climatic vulnerability.

Taken in conjunction, the articles exemplify my concern regarding the real danger posed by the present tone surrounding climate change. Yes we have moved from global warming to talking about climate change. But now the rhetoric is characterized by catastrophe, vulnerability and the morality of being for the environment or being a denier.

Language reveals much. The scientific method I learnt from the works of Popper and Kuhn relies upon a healthy dose of skepticism: science progresses by questioning authority, not by pandering to political nor moral concensus. Reframing all issues into a paradigm of catastrophic climate change does get research money and media attention but I for one do not prescribe to its defining tenets nor the personal submission to dogmatic ideology it requires.