The wait-and-see approach to climate change
I would like to avoid the term denier however.
It should be reserved for people who do not believe that the Earth has warmed since 1900 – which does not describe me.
I actually agree that the Earth has warmed since 1900 and even agree that it will warm an additional 1.3 degrees C by 2100 – assuming the current temperature trend continues.
So I do not think I am a denialist.
I merely question the additional feedback driven warming.
Unlike you, I do not agree with “experts” simply because they are experts.
The appeal to authority is a commonly used argument technique – but just moves the argument to a higher plane – namely argument among the experts.
The problem is that in advocating change – the experts are now trying to convince the public to spend trillions of dollars changing our energy production over to a carbon free form – and some of their arguments devolve to “trust me – I am an expert”.
Because of the amount of money and potential harm to others (caused by more expensive energy, food, fuel, taxes, etc.) I would like to wait for 25 to 30 years to gather better, more accurate, widespread data.
The world has now begun the process of rebuilding the temperature data from source records – with an open process so every adjustment to the data can be viewed, understood and critized.
This is a good thing – and will give us a lot more confidence in the data, which has been tweaked in a number of ways which are questionable.
With better data going back to 1900 and better data gathered in the future – we will be in a much better postiion in 25 or 30 years to answer the question of how much warming we will experience by 2100.
In addition to insisting that he is not a denier, Rick raises two issues with respect to expertise. First, he doubts scientists’ judgments on the effects of additional feedback-driven warming. Second, he disagrees with their proposed solution (change energy production) because of potential costs and disruptions. These two doubts taken together lead Rick to argue for a wait-and-see approach. That is, let’s collect better data for the next few decades and then decide what actions to take.
As far the word denier goes, I define it to be someone who doesn’t believe that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are largely responsible for the post-industrial revolution temperature rise. In that sense, I’m still not sure of Rick’s position. It’s possible to agree with the warming while denying human agency.
It’s important to note that Rick’s beef with the experts is qualitatively different on the two issues he raised. In the first, Rick questions what is (or should be) a purely scientific question. Given our understanding of the basic physical mechanisms, what will the amplifying feedback be? As I’ve said before, I don’t think I’m qualified to answer. People like James Hansen and Steve Schneider should be answering this. I’ll simply accept Rick’s skepticism on the matter.
In the second case, determining that we should change our energy supply necessarily involves value judgments. Someone decided that it’s worth spending money today to prevent warming tomorrow. This calculation inevitably assumes a certain relative and subjective worth for present and future lives, mathematically expressed in terms of the social discount rate. The overtly normative dimensions of this analysis makes it easier for me to understand Rick’s opposition when it’s presented as objective and obvious.
I believe this raises an important point. Is it possible to accept the basic thesis of ACC while still denying that any action is needed? Why isn’t wait-and-see more widely discussed? Paul Higgins of the American Meteorological Society does offer it as one of four basic approaches to ACC, but I haven’t heard of it anywhere else.
I can’t help but wonder if ACC denialism has increased precisely because wait-and-see isn’t viewed as a legitimate perspective. Those instinctively opposed to regulation and taxation, e.g., then have no choice but to reject the basic science. Perhaps including wait-and-see at least would offer them a way out without forcing them to distort the next IPCC report.
This approach almost certainly will not end debate. We will still have to contend with those who do not want to risk broad changes. Cap-and-trade is politically difficult for the same reasons all major legislation is difficult: it runs against deeply vested interests. No amount of science can fix that problem and those who think otherwise are denying the evidence.
*I’ll also point out that these same experts identify benefits to decarbonization, which Rick doesn’t account for.