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New Study Highlights Climate Science Uncertainty

This morning the Competitive Enterprise Institute released the new OnPoint issue brief “A Veneer of Certainty Stoking Climate Alarm: In Private, Climate Scientists Are Much Less Certain than They Tell the Public” by policy analyst Rupert Darwall. Long a critic of what he believes to be alarmist predictions of climate catastrophe, Darwall uses the proceedings of a 2014 scientific conference as a case study in how the global warming rhetoric of op-eds and press conferences doesn’t match the more circumspect way in which physical scientists approach climate-related issues when engaged in professional discourse. Darwall goes on to suggest that U.S. policymakers should subject current assumptions about climate science to a “red team/blue team” review process adapted from the realm of defense and security policy.

“Open debate is as crucial in science as it is in a democracy. Things are different when climate scientists are on the stand alongside their peers who know the science as well as they do, but disagree with the conclusions they draw from the same body of knowledge,” explains Darwall. “The biggest winner from a red/blue team assessment will be the public. If people are to buy into policies that will drastically alter their way of life, they should be fully informed of the consequences and justifications.”

A strategic review is especially timely given the diverging path the United States is on in respect to the United Nations climate treaty process. With President Trump’s Rose Garden announcement in June that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, many observers were left wondering how the administration would engage with climate-related issues in the absence of the programs advanced by the Obama White House. Commissioning an official red team/blue team review could be that constructive next step.     

In the new paper, Darwall describes the process by which theories and conditional findings come to be presented as inarguable certainties to the public:

Instead of debating, highlighting and, where possible, resolving disagreement, many mainstream climate scientists work in a symbiotic relationship with environmental activists and the news media to stoke fear about allegedly catastrophic climate change, providing a scientific imprimatur for an aggressive policy response while declining to air private doubts and the systematic uncertainties.

Former Georgia Institute of Technology climatologist Judith Curry writes, in a forward to “A Veneer of Certainty Stoking Climate Alarm,” that this process does a disserve to the scientific process, seconding Darwall’s call for a large-scale review:

The mantra of “settled science” is belied by the inherent complexity of climate change as a scientific problem, the plethora of agents and processes that influence the global climate, and disagreements among scientists. Manufacture and enforcement of a “consensus” on the topic of human-caused climate change acts to the detriment of the scientific process, our understanding of climate change, and the policy responses. Indeed, it becomes a fundamentally anti-scientific process when debate, disagreement, and uncertainty are suppressed.


Rupert Darwall’s essay provides a timely and cogent argument for a red/blue team assessment of climate change that provides both sides with an impartial forum to ask questions and probe the other side’s case. Such an assessment would both advance the science and open up the policy deliberations to a much broader range of options.

The full analysis is available here in PDF. Rupert Darwall is also the author of Green Tyranny: Exposing the Totalitarian Roots of the Climate Industrial Complex (2017) and The Age of Global Warming: A History (2014).