Given that I’ve now been outed (largely thanks to Anthony Watts and Richard Tol, I believe) Rachel had suggested I write a post about myself. I might, at some stage, but thought I would first write about something that was motivated by this article in The Conversation. It’s partly a response to an article by Mark Maslin, that I wrote about here.
The basic premise of the article seems to be that we should be developing what is generally called pragmatic climate policies. This is an idea that has – I think – been promoted by organisations like The Breakthrough Institute who have a recent report discussing this. The basic idea seems to be that policy should be based on
- Energy technology innovation.
- Resilience to extreme weather.
- No regrets pollution reduction
As far as I can tell, these are all perfectly sensible suggestions. Clearly technology development, improving our ability to cope with climate change and extreme weather, and reducing pollution are all going to be important parts of any sensible policy. The problem, though, is that this climate pragmatism seems to also be accompanied by a view, as suggested by the article I highlighted above, that
The only rational solution would be to drop the “science says” arguments altogether and foster pragmatic climate policies that do not hinge on scientific truth.
Hmm, really? This doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. I have, however, seen a number of arguments for this. One is that science doesn’t do much to convince politicians and the public. Possibly, but climate science has faced a massive dis-information campaign, so it might be better if those who recognised the strength of the evidence put some effort into convincing politicians and the public to accept the evidence, rather than suggesting that they ignore it. Another is that science can’t tell us what to do. Well, this is clearly true, but it can tell us something of the consequences of different policy options.
As far as I can tell, though, the Conversation article isn’t making either of those arguments. It appears to be suggesting that maybe the science is wrong, because there is still disagreement in the scientific literature. If so, then I think this is an extremely poor justification, as it is almost an argument against evidence-based policy making. It seems clear that whenever the scientific evidence suggests something inconvenient, there will be some scientists who disagree with the mainstream view. If we then use this disagreement as a motivation for discounting the science, then we may as will give up on evidence-based policy which I think – as you can probably imagine – would be a huge step in the wrong direction.
I was going to write more, but this is probably getting long enough and I think my wife would like me to get up and actually start doing something useful (like shopping). Maybe I misunderstand the premise of this article, and there may well be subtleties to this climate pragmatism that I don’t understand. If so, feel free to point them out in the comments. I certainly don’t have a particular problem with the basic suggestions. My issue is purely with the sense that those promoting this want to develop policy without really taking the science into account. What is unfortunate about this suggestion is that I don’t think those who would like to see science included in policy discussion, would argue against the basics of climate pragmatism; they would just like the scientific evidence to inform policy, not determine policy.