On OurEnergyPolicy.org | Noted Scientists Changes Tune on Climate Change, some questions were raised about the nature of climate discussion: What is the trajectory of climate change discourse? Is scientific certainty enough to move the public and policy makers on climate change? How does climate change dialogue impact energy policy?
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Good discussion questions here. I particularly like the second one, because its’ answer, and how the way in which the answer is derived, is rather significant. To answer “Is scientific certainty enough to move the public and policy makers on climate change?”, I’d say no, definitely not. It may be ‘necessary but not sufficient’, and it obviously may not even be sufficient, when considering other changes that have taken place.
I don’t think we’ll have the luxury of a clear, compelling, obvious directive to follow – at least in terms of taking significant action on climate change. In part of how the argument is mentioned today, it’s basically an argument against a theoretically bad outcome, which is not exactly the most motivating thing for human beings. If something ‘could’ go wrong, but ‘maybe isn’t going to’, then why bother – why not let someone else take the fall and see where it goes, before you have to do anything about it? In many ways I see the climate change ‘debate’ as having some motivation along those lines.
The problem is that if we do collect all of the evidence necessary, and use planet earth as an actual ‘case study’ — and the case study turns out that we royally messed up our planet, we don’t get another try, or ‘restart’. There is no reset button, especially in terms of the planetary processes that have created our current atmosphere – it wasn’t always this way. (This actually reminds me, ironically, of “Pascal’s Wager”). The development of an oxygen-rich atmosphere took billions of years, and the development of lifeforms that based their energy cycles off of oxygen was dependent upon those changes. I say this not because I’m saying we are, necessarily, destroying our ability ‘to live’ on the planet (that’s another story) – the point here is that I’m not sure scientific certainty is possible in this case.
If the foundation of the scientific method is being able to duplicate an experiment and produce the same results, humans have, at this time, no way of understanding how ‘humanoid’ activity can or cannot irrevocably damage planetary processes. So scientific certainty is somewhat of a vague notion, but even giving it a tangible respect, I’m not sure it can happen, in a definitive, obvious, everyone’s on board way. Not in the way that Nazi Germany fascism is forever remembered as “the example of bad guys”, and what not to do. (But even that example isn’t always followed – I digress).
The point being, again, the scientific certainty needed to move the public and make policy makers, I would wager, is not something that can be expected to exist, or exist in a way to dictate opinion or policy in and of itself.
(Philosophy lecture over, maybe.)
As far as the trajectory of the discourses, what comes to mind most is the massive public relations attempts by the oil and gas industry, and the lack of useful journalism and reporting. In many respects, people’s opinion about ‘climate change’ and sustainability seem much more a matter of belief than of rational decision. This is, undoubtedly, aided by the lack of ‘scientific certainty’ that I mentioned above. In an overall sense, though, I do see more ‘acceptance’ of a believe in climate change, even though I think there are recent polls that show US public opinion of its significance is on decline. There is plenty of evidence to support growth, and there is plenty of political posturing to convince people climate change is a hoax, or conspiracy to cause economic collapse. As you can see, in the US, there is obviously no clear winner.
Ironically, compared to China, the US may be seen as being much less receptive to climate issues. Look at a country like the United Arab Emirates, who although wealthy in oil, is very forward thinking in terms of its energy strategy.
Jesse Parent is a researcher, analyst, and editor focusing on energy & resources, technology, and global affairs. For more of Jesse’s thoughts throughout the week and to see what news he’s following, you are invited to join the conversation via Twitter and Facebook. Visit Jesse Parent [INFLUENCE] to view Case Studies, Commentary and more.