I’m finishing teaching on one course, and starting on another, so it’s been a pretty hectic week, and I haven’t really had a chance to write anything. Before I do the (hopefully) final part of my drawing down atmospheric CO2 post, I thought I might comment briefly on MT’s extreme weather posts.
I think that MT’s attempts to find an acceptable/reasonable way to discuss these extreme events is very interesting, and it is a pity that the discussion in the most recent post got somewhat disrupted – partly my own fault. I think finding a sensible way to describe these events is interesting, and finding ways to discuss them is also worthwhile. I, however, find it hard to not be somewhat cynical. I wish I wasn’t, but it’s difficult not to be. Essentially, it seems that these discussions always degenerate into debates about who has misused an extreme event to promote some kind of policy/position, rather than a discussion about the events themselves.
There also seems to be a continual conflation of what are probably genuine mistakes, with explicit attempts to misuse these events. We can’t expect journalists, politicians, and even scientists, to never make mistakes. We also can’t expect the same from journalists and politicians, as we would from professional scientists, and we can’t expect scientists to be responsible for what others might say about these events. If we really want to discuss these events, then we should actually do so, rather than simply focusing on those occasions when we think others have got it wrong. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t aim to correct errors, simply that there will always be those who get it wrong, and if we continually focus on this, then we’ll never move forwards.
My rather cynical view, though, is that some of this is intentional. The criticism of some of the coverage of extreme events is not to try and improve dialogue, but to try and delegitimise it altogether. To essentially discourage discussing it at all, rather than simply trying to find an acceptable way to do so. If people really were interested in discussing these events, they could simply do so, irrespective of what kind of mistakes have been made by others. I also think it’s worth trying to distinguish between discussing the physical characteristics of such events, and their societal relevance. Of course they’re related, but they’re not equivalent, and recognising this would seem to be pretty crucial.
Anyway, this short, quick post has got longer than I had intended. Despite my cynicism, I hope MT keeps trying to improve the dialogue about extreme events. It’s a worthwhile endeavour, even if I’m unconvinced of its ultimate success. No harm trying, though, and it almost reminds me of what I was intending when I started this blog. I haven’t succeeded, but that’s no reason for others not to try themselves.