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A Veneer of Certainty Stoking Climate Alarm

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A Veneer of Certainty Stoking Climate Alarm

In Private, Climate Scientists Are Much less Certain than They Tell the Public

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Foreword by Judith Curry, President of the Climate Forecast Applications Network and former Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology

While the nations of the world met in Bonn to discuss implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Trump administration was working to dismantle President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and to establish a climate “red team” to critically evaluate the scientific basis for dangerous human-caused climate change and the policy responses.

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.

This essay by Rupert Darwall explores the expressions of public certainty by climate scientists versus the private expressions of uncertainty, in context of a small Workshop on Climate organized by the American Physical Society (APS). I was privileged to participate in this workshop, which included three climate scientists who support the climate change consensus and three climate scientists who do not—all of whom were questioned by a panel of distinguished physicists.

The transcript of the workshop is a remarkable document. It provides, in my opinion, the most accurate portrayal of the scientific debates surrounding climate change. While each of the six scientists agreed on the primary scientific evidence, we each had a unique perspective on how to reason about the evidence, what conclusions could be drawn and with what level of certainty.

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.

- Judith Curry, Reno, Nevada, November 7, 2017

Introduction. How dependable is climate science? Global warming mitigation policies depend on the credibility and integrity of climate science. In turn, that depends on a deterministic model of the climate system in which it is possible to quantify the role of carbon dioxide (CO2) with a high degree of confidence. This essay explores the contrast between scientists’ expressions of public confidence and private admissions of uncertainty on critical aspects of the science that undergird the scientific consensus.

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.

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