Misrepresented?

Oliver Geden has suggested that I misrepresented him in my earlier post. Rather than explaining why, he tweeted one his papers and suggested I should read it, rather than base my views on short quotations. Well, I have, and still do not see where I’ve misrepresented him. However, I certainly don’t intend to misrepresent anyone, so I’m going to make some comments below and if anyone (including Oliver Geden) wants to explain what I’m getting wrong, feel free.

The key issue seems to be this

Ideally, scientific expertise for policymakers should meet two potentially conflicting standards at once: it should be scientifically sound and politically viable.

Well, if the scientific expertise is coming from active researchers, then I disagree. Natural/physical scientists aim to understand nature/physical systems. What they present should be independent of politics. How can they decide if what they present is politically viable? Whether something is politically viable, or not, should be determined – IMO – by our policy makers, not by those presenting the scientific evidence. So, that is my main issue with what Oliver Geden seems to be presenting. Either we disagree, or when he talks about scientific expertise he’s referring to a different group to those to whom I think he’s referring. If the latter, he could clarify.

However, the rest of Oliver Geden’s paper seems similarly confused. It’s as if he doesn’t understand the natural/physical sciences and thinks that this is some kind of negotiation between scientists/researchers (who are trying to “sell” something) and policy makers.

For example, he says:

For natural scientists, the situation seems to look relatively good at first glance. The basic concept of anthropogenic climate change is now generally accepted world-wide….

Why is this good for natural scientists specifically? We should all be pleased by this. Anthropogenically-driven climate change is a scientific reality, not an ideology. Scientists have not been trying to get people to accept this because it’s their preferred option; they’ve been trying to get people to accept this because there isn’t any viable scientific alternative. It’s good for all of us that this is now generally accepted.

He then says:

But how will natural scientists react to the growing political pragmatism? If it becomes more obvious that international climate policy is not derived from a global stabilization target, prominent scientists will be forced to choose between two equally inconvenient options. They could vigorously defend their original concept of planetary boundaries and global thresholds, which would be met with increasing dissatisfaction from politicians, policymakers, and public funding agencies. Or they could soften their stance on an exact threshold to ‘dangerous climate change’, perhaps by allowing for temporary temperature over-shoots or even higher stabilization targets.

What has this got to do with scientists? Scientists study systems and try to understand how they evolve and respond to change. In this context they can then present this information to policy makers who can use it to inform decision making. What policy makers might, or might not, accept has little bearing on them. They’re not trying to sell an ideology, they’re trying to provide scientific information.

If policy makers choose to ignore this, or choose to follow a pathway that scientists regard as potentially risky, it’s not scientists who have to accept this; it’s all of us. What policy makers might decide to do, or not do, does not influence physical reality. Scientists can soften their stance on an exact threshold to ‘dangerous climate change’ as much as they like; it isn’t going to influence where it actually is – if it does exist. We can, of course, settle for higher stabilisation targets if we wish. It will just change the likely impacts. I have no idea why he thinks natural scientists need to allow this. I want, however, to come back to the idea of temporary temperature over-shoots later, as I think this illustrates a lack of understanding.

He goes on with

A good example of the dilemma scientific policy advisors are facing can be seen in the concept of the emissions budget. It starts from a stabilization target — usually the 2oC limit set by the UN — that is used to calculate the maximum amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted worldwide. This construct, which is a centerpiece of IPCC AR5, is much more rigorous than targets like ‘global emissions reductions of 50 percent by 2050’, and is intended to severely limit the options available to policy-makers. The later the global emissions peak is reached, and the higher that peak is, the greater the subsequent annual reduction rates will have to be in order to stay within the remaining budget.

Well, I don’t think this is true. An emission budget or global emissions reduction target, are simply two ways of looking at the same thing. If we have a warming target, then we can either approach this by thinking in terms of some level of emission reductions, or in terms of there being some kind of total budget that we should not exceed. How the system will respond does not really depend on how we choose to describe the possible future pathways. At the end of the day, there will be a limit to how much we can emit if we want to give ourselves some chance of keeping warming below some level. It’s as simple as that.

He then says something that I regard as very odd

But what if policymakers do not comply? What if emissions continue rising with no peak in sight? Again, scientific advisors face two equally unappealing options. They can either less relevant to policymakers or more pragmatic.

Why use the word “comply”? They’re the decision makers. Scientists are simply providing information that policy makers can essentially use as they see fit. The answer to this also seems obvious to me. If policy makers choose not to stay within the suggested budget, then we will warm more than if we did stay within the suggested budget, we will probably miss the warming target, and the impacts will probably be more severe. How scientists might choose to respond to this has no bearing whatsoever on what will actually happen. In what sense can they become pragmatic? The evidence doesn’t depend on what policy makers might decide.

He then spends quite some time talking about emission pathways that would require negative emissions if we are to have a chance of staying below 2oC. He suggests that these are regarded as unrealistic, but that scientists have been reluctant to speak out. He suggests that these somehow allow for weaker climate targets, despite relying on a potentially controversial, and untested, technology.

Let’s clarify something, though. Climate models actually work with concentration/forcing pathways. Therefore you can use a climate model to estimate what sort of concentration/forcing pathways would probably keep warming below 2oC. The associated emission pathways essentially come later. At the moment, a reasonable fraction of the concentration/forcing pathways that would keep warming below 2oC seem to require negative emissions in the future. If someone thinks that negative emissions are virtually impossible, or risky, they have two options.

  1. Argue for more drastic emissions reductions now, so as to avoid having to follow a pathway that will probably require negative emissions in the future.
  2. Accept that we will probably miss the warming target.

There isn’t some kind of third option where you send scientists away and say, come back with an emission pathway that doesn’t require more drastic emissions reductions now, doesn’t require negative emissions in the future, and that still gives us the same chance of staying within the warming target. Such an emission pathway does not exist. As far as I’m concerned, these negative emission pathways are being presented because what we’ve done to date (not enough) is making it more and more likely that such a pathway will be necessary if we are to keep within the warming target, not because scientists are trying to provide some kind of pathway that allows us to relax and continue as we are.

Now I want to come back to the comment about a temporary temperature over-shoot. If negative emissions are virtually impossible, or a risky thing to rely on, then presumably the best we can possibly do is get emissions to zero. However, if we get emissions to zero, the expectation is that it will simply stablise temperatures. In the absence of negative emissions, a temporary temperature over-shoot is not regarded as an option; it will simply be a higher temperature, not a temporary over-shoot. That Oliver Geden could suggest a temporary temperature over-shoot, while criticising negative emission pathways, might suggest he doesn’t understand the scientific evidence as well as maybe he should.

Oliver Geden’s paper finishes with

Valuable scientific knowledge will remain an important factor going forward, but it will by no means be the decisive factor. To start taking effective action, politicians and policymakers already know more than enough.

I agree that more than enough is known. What I dispute is that politicians and policy makers know more than enough; from what I’ve seen this is not self-evidently the case. I can accept the idea that it would be good if scientists could find effective ways to discuss the scientific evidence with policy makers, but the evidence is essentially fixed; no amount of pragmatism is going to change how our climate will respond to increasing anthropogenic forcings. Of course, the scientific evidence alone does not tell us what we should do; there are many other factors to consider.

However, if the decisions that are made turn out to be poor, it’s not going to be the fault of natural scientists. It will be the fault of those who were expected to consider all the evidence when making their decisions. In a sense this is one reason I find Geden’s framing frustrating, as it seems to be placing a great burden onto scientists, rather than placing the burden on politicians and policy makers, who should – IMO – be aiming to consider all the evidence. Natural scientists shouldn’t really need to work out how to get politicians to take notice; that is not their responsibility.

Anyway, I’ve written much more than I intended. If someone thinks I’m misrepresenting what Oliver Geden is suggesting, then feel free to explain why. I certainly don’t intend to do so, but having read his paper, I can’t see in what way I’m misrepresenting what he’s presenting.

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78 Responses to Misrepresented?

  1. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Ideally, scientific expertise for policymakers should meet two potentially conflicting standards at once: it should be scientifically sound and politically viable. ”

    isn’t the second bit the job of the politicians? Really the problem is at the other end, we need politicians that are either capable of understanding the science or capable of trusting the expertise of those who do, and then acting rationally in the long term interests of the electorate.

    “But how will natural scientists react to the growing political pragmatism?”

    “pragmatism” LOL. What the politicians decide to do is the responsibility of the politicians, not the scientists, the scientists need not react at all (except perhaps a face-palm or two).

    David Hulmes book on why we disagree on climate is well worth a read (even if some of his other contributions have been odd/unhelpful). The science is only part of the problem of deciding what to do, and the scientists are generally only responsible for that one part on which they are the experts. If the policymakers don’t like the science that is tough, it won’t change just because they don’t like it, and ignoring that is simply irrational. It is a matter of truth, not pragmatism.

  2. Dikran,

    If the policymakers don’t like the science that is tough, it won’t change just because they don’t like it, and ignoring that is simply irrational. It is a matter of truth, not pragmatism.

    Yes, exactly. Our values and desires will have virtually no bearing on how our climate will respond to changes in anthropogenic forcings. I presume you mean Mike Hulme? I agree that science is only one part of the problem and that there are many other factors to consider. Appearing to make it the responsibilty of scientists to somehow take these other factors into account seems to miss the role of scientists; they provide experise in one area, expertise elsewhere should come from others and – at the end of the day – the decisions should be made by the policy makers, who are – ideally – representing all of us.

  3. Phil says:

    I find Geden’s framing frustrating, as it seems to be placing a great burden onto scientists, rather than placing the burden on politicians and policy makers, who should – IMO – be aiming to consider all the evidence. Natural scientists shouldn’t really need to work out how to get politicians to take notice; that is not their responsibility.

    Yes, it appears to be an attempt to shift blame for inaction onto the scientific community for presenting evidence objectively, which is a curious argument at best. In contrast we have the GWPF and various bloggers like Morano describing climate scientists as “activists” implying that their political beliefs have somehow influenced their research findings.

  4. Phil,
    That’s essentially the irony I see. If scientists get too political and say what they regard as politically feasible, or not, they’ve been labelled as activists. If they remain impassive, then they get criticised for presenting pathways that some regard as unrealistic. There seems to be nothing they can do that won’t be criticised by someone.

  5. dikranmarsupial says:

    LOL, yes I did mean Mike Hulme, I was trying very hard not to write Hume, which is the error I usually make! ;o)

  6. John Mashey says:

    The UK smoking rate seems seems ~18-19%.

    Is it medical researchers’ fault that people started smoking after the US Surgeon General 1964 report, or in UK, the work of Richard Doll and his colleagues? The “British doctors studies” were pretty powerful evidence, starting in 1956. Given usual ages, almost every adults smoker younger than 70 started *after* that.

  7. dikranmarsupial says:

    Perhaps they should have been “pragmatic” and only advised people to cut down by perhaps a cigarette a day?

  8. jsam says:

    Is Geden a pessimist? His final paragraph in Nature seems to imply that no spoonful of sugar should accompany the medicine.

    Scientific advisers should resist the temptation to be political entrepreneurs, peddling their advice by exaggerating how easy it is to transform the economy or deploy renewable technologies, for instance. Their task is to analyse critically the risks and benefits of political efforts and contribute empirically sound — and sometimes unwelcome — perspectives to the global climate-policy discourse.

  9. jsam,
    In a sense, Geden’s position seems inconsistent. As you show above, he says scientific advisors should resist the temptation to be political entrepreneurs, while also saying that their advice should be politically feasible.

    In his paper he says

    The scientific community must defend its independence from outside interference from progressive government ad-ministrations and NGOs attempting to win scientists over to their ‘just’ causes as much as from climate change deniers.

    Has he considered that they are doing this, but that he just doesn’t like what they’re saying?

    He also says

    Scientific advisors should stick to their original findings and recommendations even as politicians fail to heed them.

    Well, if the original recommendations involved starting emission reductions in 2010, then we can’t stick with them if it is now 2015 and we haven’t started emission reductions. This is obvious, isn’t it?

  10. Willard says:

    Think tank analysts should resist the temptation to be scientific patronizers, peddling their advice by exaggerating how easy it is to put researchers to their place or deploy public relation efforts without their consent, for instance. Their task is to promote empty words and contribute rhetorically popular — and oftentimes welcome by the economic establishments — perspectives to the global climate-policy discourse.

  11. Ethan Allen says:

    I think the whole negative emissions stuff is a long con.

    I know next to nothing about BECCS, that’s a new one on me …
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bio-energy_with_carbon_capture_and_storage

    It’s almost as if they are trying to back scientists and engineers into a corner. Policymakers and politicians go “Oops we missed the temperature target, and you did promise us unknown future technologies to get us out of this mess, now you all better put up or heads will roll” or some such.

    Makes one wonder what’s in IPCC AR4/AR5 WGII and WGIII? (Oops, TL;DR)

    It’s beginning to look like the 2C target will be missed because we can’t drawdown FF’s fast enough. Then the moving target becomes 3C, kick that can down the road with further FF usage, miss the 3C target, new 4C target, so on and so forth.

    This is all starting to get rather depressing. 😦

    Procrastination, its a feature not a bug.

  12. Willard says:

    > They can either less relevant to policymakers or more pragmatic.

    Philippe Pétain was a very pragmatic man.

  13. Willard,

    Their task is to promote empty words and contribute rhetorically popular — and oftentimes welcome by the economic establishments — perspectives to the global climate-policy discourse.

    Judging by who agrees with his claim that I misrepresented him, this would seem to be a fair interpretation.

    I think the whole negative emissions stuff is a long con.

    I don’t know enough about it to be that certain. My understanding is that there are indications that it might be possible. On the other hand, if we think there is a risk, or that it won’t be technically feasible, the obvious solution seems to be to aim to do more now.

    One thing that I think a lot of the emission reduction discussions fail to acknowledge is that probably the most effective thing we could do now is a carbon tax. If so, we’re not specifically designing an emission pathway, we’re simply properly pricing carbon and allowing alternatives to compete on a roughly level playing field. The hope, of course, would be that the carbon tax would be priced so as to ultimately lead to an emission pathway that minimises the risks (all of them) but we wouldn’t be specifically trying to control what that pathway actually is.

  14. Eli Rabett says:

    So Gedden opens with a Pielke Jr. but of course, like Roger what he wrote is nonsense

    Oh yes, what Willard said,

  15. Eli,
    The “honest brokers who say what I want them to say” strategy? 🙂

  16. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    But how will natural scientists react to the growing political pragmatism? If it becomes more obvious that international climate policy is not derived from a global stabilization target, prominent scientists will be forced to choose between two equally inconvenient options. They could vigorously defend their original concept of planetary boundaries and global thresholds, which would be met with increasing dissatisfaction from politicians, policymakers, and public funding agencies. Or they could soften their stance on an exact threshold to ‘dangerous climate change’, perhaps by allowing for temporary temperature over-shoots or even higher stabilization targets.

    I don’t often react to growing political pragmatism, but when I do, I soften my stance with scare quotes and allowances..

  17. Ethan Allen says:

    “I don’t know enough about it to be that certain.”

    Neither do I. But don’t promise something that you can’t deliver on (which is basically what every politician I’ve ever known has done). You do need to see future energy paths. You do need to fund those paths with R&D monies and you do need to build prototype scalable demonstrations.

    That’s how it works on the military side of the fence, 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 monies (basic, applied and demonstration) in the USA. After 6.3 you look at that playing field and then build stuff, a lot of stuff, quickly (baring no funding limitations, which given our current budget deficit is not possible). Tax at 17% GDP and spend at 21% GDP, four decades later and now China owns the USA (well not really).

    Deficit spending is the long con. There’s a parallel in there somewhere.

  18. Sam taylor says:

    Deficit spending in a currency that you issue is pretty much indefinitely sustainable. If I could only get people to accept “sam dollars” in exchange for goods then I’d never run out of money.

  19. Ethan Allen says:

    Hey, I found a new ‘temperature’ graph …
    http://www.gao.gov/fiscal_outlook/federal_fiscal_outlook/overview
    and the old temperature graph …
    http://www.gao.gov/fiscal_outlook/understanding_federal_debt/interactive_graphic/historical_overview

    1C above historic high sometime between 2044-2058. About that time the Renminbi becomes the official world currency. The USD becomes rather well known as the ‘Papiermark’ of the 21th century …

    Don’t worry, be happy. Future people will clean up our mess, or not. BAU.

    There’s a parallel in there somewhere.

  20. ATTP – I do wonder how clean this separation between the science and policy can be. Yes, the former should precede, and as you say, be independent of the latter, but then the fun begins. If the scientists step away entirely, what do (mostly humanities) policy makers do? If they need a sound bite do they say “we are now with the INDCs in a better place than before – between 2.7 and 3.5C warming – but this is not enough” (COP21 opening press conference)? If you are a diplomat, who do you ask? In the UK, the Tyndall Centre might well give a more pessimistic response than the Met Office, for reasons that are not purely scientific (e.g. approach to risk). Surely, the scientists cannot leave it to journalists and policy bodies to ‘interpret’ the science and provide the ‘messaging’? They are then inevitably caught in the messy business of ‘summarising for policy makers’.

  21. Willard says:

    The beauty of Oliver’s argument is that pragmatism leads to the idea that divisions of labour like scientists/policy analysts are mostly false dichotomies.

    Pragmatically speaking, nobody’s an authority in politics.

  22. Richard,

    Surely, the scientists cannot leave it to journalists and policy bodies to ‘interpret’ the science and provide the ‘messaging’?

    I agree that reality is going to be different to some kind of simplistic ideal. But I still think that one can distinguish between how scientists should behave when directly informing policy, and what they can say as individuals when engaging the public. So, yes, I agree with what I think you’re saying; even though scientists should aim to be objective when providing information for policy makers, we can’t – and shouldn’t – expect them to be silent when the implications of the policy are being discussed publicly.

  23. Willard says:

    The conclusion of the IEP entry on pragmatism may be fitting (no, not Melvin):

    For the most part, pragmatists have thought of themselves as reforming the tradition of empiricism—though some have gone further and recommended that tradition’s abolition. As this difference of opinion suggests, pragmatists do not vote en bloc. There is no such thing as the pragmatist party-line: not only have pragmatists taken different views on major issues (for example, truth, realism, skepticism, perception, justification, fallibilism, realism, conceptual schemes, the function of philosophy, etc.), they have also disagreed about what the major issues are. While such diversity may seem commendably in keeping with pragmatism’s professed commitment to pluralism, detractors have urged it only goes to show that pragmatism stands for little or nothing in particular. This gives rise to a question as awkward as it is unavoidable—namely, how useful is the term “pragmatism”? That question is wide open.

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/pragmati

  24. pete,best says:

    Who knows how a politician will frame what they need but considering the remaining carbon budget is not being carved up as most of us would expect, in fact its a free for all with most of it taken up by the rich nations. Smaller and poorer nations want their slice to meaning greater than 2c.

  25. izen says:

    There are serious problems with the division into two groups – ‘scientists’ and policy-makers – that runs through this. Firstly the groups are ill-defined. It is not scientists as individuals that provide the imformation about how the climate will most likely change with cumulative emissions. It is perhaps the accumulated body of knowledge that the IPCC tries to encompass. Scientists can only act individually as representatives for that knowledge. That may be in relation to their specific research, or as advocates of the importance, or uncertainty, of the body of knowledge.

    The policy-maker group is even less definable. Who are the policy-makers in a democracy, or Republic, or dictatorship? There are limits on what policy is possible, most systems are constructed to deliver more of the same, not radical change. Economic power influences and constrains the options. Again policy-makers seems to refer to a group rather than individuals, and as with climate science, a historically evolved human enterprise.

    One indication of the limits policy change faces is the difficulty in even imposing a carbon tax or cap and trade. Tactics that exploit presumed processes within the present economic system, however limited they be may given the in-elasticity of our pattern of energy use.

    There is another false dichotomy in the scientist – policy-maker distinction. It raises the status of the scientific knowledge to an absolute truth, while dismissing objections as being merely politicaal. Or just a policy issue. But as the paucity of credible plans for significant reduction indicates, it is a logistical and cultural problem no less complex than the greenhouse effect.

    For some in the ill-defined group of policy-makers,their understanding of the climate science is undoubtedly coloured by ideological dispositions. Rep Lamar Smith would be one example.

    But astute observes of policy may also think that the possible actions and outcomes in the field of policy are JUST as absolute and unalterable as the consequences of increased CO2. That understanding of how human governance and policy works has also developed over time from the communal efforts of people to construct stable societies and effective economies. The knowledge about the limits of possible change may be as legitimate, or pragmatic, for the ‘group’ policy-makers as the pragmatic, and legitimate understanding of the climate impacts of accumulative CO2 is for the ‘group’ scientists.

  26. Willard says:

    > There is another false dichotomy in the scientist – policy-maker distinction. It raises the status of the scientific knowledge to an absolute truth, while dismissing objections as being merely political.

    Indeed, yet the whole business of honest brokerage is supposed to rest on the rejection of the fact/value dichotomy. Declaring one’s interests means very little, and there’s a feedback loop between what you sell and what is bought. To repeat myself:

    And so an honest broker is an advisor, an advisor able to propose and argue for and against every possible alternative. His role does not rely on the fact-value dichotomy, but sure relies on a completely disinterested posture. On the face of it, insisting on the continuum of facts and values is only useful in this discussion to obfuscate the fact that the honest broker is not very different from an idealized Dutch (i.e. intuitionist) mathematician. The dichotomy between interest and disinterest is still apparent.

    The best one can do about this honest broker idea is to learn to market multiple choices:

    […]

    The best an Honest Broker could do is to do exactly that: examine the market “climatic tastebuds” and come up with a limited offer of products, each of them targetted to a market segment.

    And only then we see that the main merit in the broker is not that he’s honest. Why insist on being honest, anyway: does that mean that other models of conselling are dishonest? The main merit is that he’s a broker.

    Portraying him as an advisor is just marketing fluff for a scientific audience, still hooked on the disinterested image of scientists.

    http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/08/honestly-broken.html?showComment=1280755842084#c4452539306064394486

    (That was 3 months before Judy’s cameo in Scientific American, BTW.)

    Following the link may lead to the cheapest and tastiest tomato sauce one can’t buy but can make. No cooking involved.

  27. Willard says:

    Vladimir enters his doctor’s office. The doctor, whom we shall name Estragon, announces to Vladimig that he has a terrible illness. Vladimir must do something, but what?

    [Vladimir] So doc, can we do something about my illness?

    [Estragon] Yes, of course. There are good chances to treat it.

    [Vladimir] So, what do you suggest?

    [Estragon] Well, you have this treatment A, which have these consequences. (Inaudible.)

    [Vladimir] …

    [Estragon] And you have this other treatment B, which have these consequences. (Inaudible again.)

    [Vladimir] So, doc, what do you think we should do?

    [Estragon] Well, you have two choices, A and B. Both have their benefits and problems.

    And he goes on to repeat them.

    [Vladimir] Ok, I know, I know, but what should I do?

    [Estragon] Well, you have two choices, A and B. Both have their benefits and problems.

    And he goes on to repeat them.

    [Vladimir] Ok, I get it! I have to choose. So, if you were Me, what would you do?

    [Estragon] Look, I am not you. And I abide by the Honest Broker pledge. Haven’t you read the book?

    [Vladimir] Should I buy it, you think?

    [Estragon] Well, there are pros and contras.

    ***

    Inspiration: http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html

    Source: http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/08/and-in-end_01.html?showComment=1280752913538#c8316028886179744702

  28. guthrie says:

    Willard – wow, I forget sometimes how long we’ve all been going around the houses on this. I’m in that OIFTG comment thread too!

  29. Sou says:

    This nasty episode is probably a taste of the future. When more and more weather disasters strike, there will be certain unsavoury individuals who will want to blame the scientists, rather than placing the blame fairly and squarely where it belongs – with all of us. We are each individually and collectively responsible. We need to do our bit as individuals to reduce emissions, we need to elect policy makers who will heed the warnings from scientists and take the necessary action, and we need to support and encourage and push business and industry to take the necessary action.

  30. Arthur Smith says:

    Not that I think you are really misrepresenting anything, but it would probably be fair to point out three are several different kinds of scientists involved here. First there are the ones who do climate modeling and observations, and obviously their work should not really have any reflection of politics – this is the WG-1 science, the physical basis for our understanding of climate. Physics doesn’t care what’s politically feasible or not as you point out very well.

    Second we have the “impacts” people, looking for signs of the effects caused by climate change, and trying to predict what future effects will be. That’s the WG-2 group essentially. The value judgments associated with assessing and comparing impacts are necessarily related to what people care about – impacts on food production, wildlife, city infrastructure, etc depend on more than just physical considerations, so there is necessarily some closer relation to political concerns. And impacts depend on pathways; figuring out reasonable pathways to assess again requires judgments about what actions will actually be taken – I think this is where Geden’s criticism starts.

    But perhaps the most significant issue here is the WG-3 science: research into what we can actually do to solve the problem. There are some real legitimate criticisms I feel about what’s gone into WG-3; a fundamental (and hard) question which I’ve felt has never been adequately addressed is how to assess the economic impact of mitigation strategies – in any case, all that is very closely tied to political considerations. And papers on this, even though it’s not exactly physical science, get published in major journals all the time. There was the Pacalaw paper on “wedges” for instance. Was that realistic, presenting things that were in some sense politically feasible? It attempted to but I think failed in several ways (expected growth is not linear, there are issues of distribution between different countries, why treat all technologies the same without describing the cost/economic issues?)

    So – Geden’s criticism makes no sense when talking about WG-1 science, and probably isn’t relevant to most WG-2 science, but I think it actually was directed at WG-3 science where it probably has some legitimFe points to think about,

  31. Willard says:

    Indeed, guthrie. Around that time I was a rookie. How things change.

    Let’s quote Eli’s comment, for I think it’s a real KO argument of the whole honest brokering biz:

    Eli has been making the point about what brokers really do for years. Another thin[g] you might consider is that brokers in regulated markets have to qualify their buyers, e.g. find out how much risk they can stand, what their financial status is, etc. and vet their sellers

    To repeat, Roger’s naive and incorrect injection (let’s be nice) of the “honest broker” into science policy has pushed discussion into a fruitless direction as you now admit. As with many such things, reality shows how hollow this is. IEHO looking at what brokers do in the real world better illuminates the issue.

    Brokers do not expand the scope of choices available to clients, they narrow them. Brokers make markets. Brokers make a living by matching buyers to sellers and taking a commission (You thought they do it for free? What carrot wagon you fall off of bunny?). Ethical brokers will go out on the market seeking product suited to clients and will seek clients suited to products available to them. Ethical brokers have mutual obligations to sellers and buyers, to qualify the buyers and vet the sellers, not to sell every piece of nuclear waste to every rube with a cell phone.

    Good brokers know what is available for purchase and what their buyer’s needs are. They select the best matches (with allowance for the front and back end fees they are going to collect). The broker you want often tells the client NO, don’t do that. Where the client insists on committing financial suicide the ethical broker is obligated to tell the buyer to take the business elsewhere.

    http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/08/honestly-broken.html?showComment=1280712893003#c5322780123474817537

    Fits Oliver like a glove too.

    Just like Junior before him (who is the most misrepresented person of all the Internet at least according to his own testimony), he even claims to be misrepresented.

  32. anoilman says:

    Sou… David Suzuki rightly said, “Deniers are all over the map.” At this point its a mess. The different actors in denial are incredibly inconsistent. I’m not sure I need to point this out, but it makes them very weak right now. There’s no unifying message, like, private NOAA emails discussing Mike’s Nature Trick 2.0. No derpy sound bytes to hold them together.

    The current turmoil in Alberta over carbon emissions is amazing. Curbing Carbon emissions is a process initiated by oil companies, but so many people have had so many years of being told to hate things like a Carbon Tax, they can’t quite get it. And who exactly got the crowds all riled up in the first place? Oil companies. *face palm* (Free market zealots, and religious nuts are significantly fewer in Alberta than the US.)

    I strongly suspect that deniers will continue to haul out their Blame Thrower;
    http://www.oocities.org/pentagon/quarters/6813/humor/Blame.bmp

  33. Arthur,
    Indeed, that’s kind of why I said

    Either we disagree, or when he talks about scientific expertise he’s referring to a different group to those to whom I think he’s referring. If the latter, he could clarify.

    It’s possible that we are talking about different researchers. On the other hand, his paper does distinguish between natural scientists and economists, and I focussed here on what he said with regards to natural scientists who – I think – would normally be those associated with WGI.

    izen,
    I agree that in reality it is more complex than a simple division into two groups. However, I can’t actually tell if you’re critiquing my post, or Geden’s article.

    This is an interesting point

    There is another false dichotomy in the scientist – policy-maker distinction. It raises the status of the scientific knowledge to an absolute truth, while dismissing objections as being merely politicaal. Or just a policy issue. But as the paucity of credible plans for significant reduction indicates, it is a logistical and cultural problem no less complex than the greenhouse effect.

    Policy making is clearly very complex and difficult. However, I would argue that what is politically unfeasible today, may not be tomorrow, whereas certain scientific truths will remain truths whether we like it or not. So, something else I was going to comment on was the idea that one should argue for advice being both scientifically sound and politically feasible. The former seems more rigid than the latter, even if the latter may seem fixed at the moment.

  34. Willard,

    he even claims to be misrepresented.

    And that I must read his published work before writing a critique.

    Sou,
    I agree. I think we’ll see more and more attempts to shift the blame, often with attempts to try and put it at the feet of climate scientists.

  35. dikranmarsupial says:

    “If the scientists step away entirely, what do (mostly humanities) policy makers do? ”

    Take a sufficient interest in the science to at least understand the basics of a topic that is an important political issue so that they can make the right decision based on expert advice. Communication requires effort in both directions.

  36. @wotts
    Indeed, you completely miss Geden’s point: The 2K target is a political target but often presented as a scientific fact. This has already led to politically motivated attacks on science, and it may further undermine the credibility of climate science if and when we pass 2K warming and catastrophe does not unfold.

  37. Richard,

    The 2K target is a political target but often presented as a scientific fact.

    Typically be people like yourself who are criticising it, rather than by those who understand this.

    This has already led to politically motivated attacks on science

    Sure, by people like yourself. You should be justifiably proud.

    and it may further undermine the credibility of climate science if and when we pass 2K warming and catastrophe does not unfold.

    This is certainly nowhere to be found in Geden’s paper. Have you read it? Also, if it is his point, then it’s even more bizarre than I first thought. If we have a politically-motivated target and scientists start to present pathways for this target that may no longer be politically feasible because we have done little so far to try and achieve this target, then it’s hardly their fault that the pathways are becoming more and more unrealistic. This is obvious, right?

    I’m also amazed that you seem so confused about the 2C target. If you spoke to more scientists (or actually listened when they said things) you may discover that the 2C target is not some boundary between “everything is fine” and “catastrophe”. It is regarded as some kind of limit that – in some sense – minimises the risks. Some argue that it is still too high, but that doesn’t suddenly make it the boundary between “fine” and “catastrophe”.

    I will add that I find your concern for the credibility of climate science somewhat amusing. Maybe you should spend a bit more time worrying about your own, rather than worrying about that of others? You’ve just been quoted by Matt Ridley as saying “the impact from climate change does not deviate from zero till 3.5C” which I assume is from your own updated meta-analysis. What was clearly not pointed out, was that this analysis does not rule out quite substantial negative impacts for this level of warming, and that this result is quite strongly dependent on reasonably old studies, one of which is yours. Do you actually understand statistics? It’s not obvious that you do.

  38. Geden: “Everybody is sort of underwriting the 2-degree cheque, but scientists have to think about the credibility of climate science.”

    Wotts “How has this got anything to do with the credibility of climate science? Climate scientists are simply presenting possible future pathways.”

    If scientists were “simply presenting possible future[s]”, Geden would not use the word “underwriting”.

    And indeed, listening to Hansen, Schellnhuber, Stocker, Schneider, Field, Pachauri, Watson etc etc etc, I never got the feeling that they were “simply presenting possible future[s]”.

  39. dikranmarsupial says:

    ““Everybody is sort of underwriting the 2-degree cheque, but scientists have to think about the credibility of climate science.”

    I don’t think everyone is underwriting it as a purely scientific cheque, but as a socio-politico-economic compromise. As ATTP suggest anyone who thinks it is the dividing line between “fine” and “catastrophe” is probably getting their information from skeptic blogs, rather than the IPCC reports.

  40. Everybody is sort of underwriting the 2-degree cheque, but scientists have to think about the credibility of climate science.

    Just because he says “everybody” doesn’t make it true. This is obvious right? Secondly, the point there (as I understand it) is people promoting pathways that may no longer be feasible, not so much people arguing that we should stick with that limit. My point – which I also thought was obvious – is he could argue for a different limit, or more drastic emission reductions, rather than making veiled (or not so veiled) accusations against a field, the content of which he clearly understands very poorly.

    If scientists were “simply presenting possible future[s]”, Geden would not use the word “underwriting”.

    Again, just because he uses that word, does not make it true. This is, again, obvious, right?

    And indeed, listening to Hansen, Schellnhuber, Stocker, Schneider, Field, Pachauri, Watson etc etc etc, I never got the feeling that they were “simply presenting possible future[s]”.

    Then maybe you should listen harder. Basic comprehension appears not to be one of your strong points. There are a large range of different emission pathways that are presented. It is clear, now, that those that likely keep us below 2C are getting increasingly difficult. The very obvious reason for this is that we have yet to start reducing our emissions.

    I thought I might also make a point about this

    it may further undermine the credibility of climate science if and when we pass 2K warming and catastrophe does not unfold.

    Firstly, climate science does not claim – as I’ve already pointed out – that 2K is some boundary between “fine” and “catastrophic”. In fact, climate science – by itself – says little about where such a boundary may actually be. However, even if the scientific evidence does suggest that there is a boundary beyond which the impacts are likely to be described as catastrophic, then if we cross that boundary and they don’t materialise, it doesn’t somehow undermine the scientific field. We cannot know the future, we can simply present evidence for likely outcomes. This evidence does not rule out the possibility that we may not experience impacts that could be described as catastrophic. It could be that something unlikely, but possible, materialises. You do get this basic point, don’t you?

    The reason I thought I’d point this out is that there is a fascinating exchange (that I can no longer find) between James Annan and Roger Pielke Jr in which Roger appears to suggest that if you claim that a single roll of a dice would likely result in a number from 1 to 5, and you roll a 6, your initial claim was wrong. Richard’s suggestion appears to show a similar level of understanding of basic probability.

  41. dikranmarsupial says:

    Perhaps the Annan/Pielke discussion was based on Pielke’s article about not all of the IPCCs probabilistic predictions are likely to be true (duh!) based on the assumption of independence (which isn’t true) IIRC only about 60-70% would be expected to happen. The initial article suggested that RPJr doesn’t have the strongest grasp of probabilistic reasoning.

  42. Yes, that’s the one, thanks. Quite remarkable really.

  43. It’s a bit disappointing that Roger appears to have deleted the comments on his post, as I would have been quite interested to read them.

  44. dikranmarsupial says:

    ISTR trying to discuss this with Roger on his blog, but while the article is there, the comments are not.

  45. @Wotts
    Geden clearly thinks that there are many climate scientists (cf. his “everybody”) who go beyond their usual what-if scenarios to “underwrite” particular political choices.

    You are, of course, free to disagree with Geden, but I would think that the empirical evidence is stacked against you. Jim Hansen, for instance, has a habit of getting arrested at political rallies. Steve Schneider’s most famous remarks are about the choice between being honest and being effective. Kevin Anderson has explicitly told his Tyndall colleagues to be more activist.

  46. Richard,

    Geden clearly thinks that there are many climate scientists (cf. his “everybody”) who go beyond their usual what-if scenarios to “underwrite” particular political choices.

    Given that all your examples are people speaking in a non-formal-advisor capacity, they seem utterly irrelevant. His paper is about people giving scientific advice in a formal setting (I assume) not people who happen to be climate scientists speaking publicly. Given that both you and he seem quite comfortable expressing your views publicly, it would seem rather hypocritical to argue that some other group should not. Bear in mind that I try very hard to not judge climate economics on the basis of what you choose to say publicly. Also, if this is really what Geden is getting at then it rather confirms my general view that this is an attempt to silence a group who are likely to express public views that go against his preferred ideology.

    This is also not true.

    Steve Schneider’s most famous remarks are about the choice between being honest and being effective.

    You’ve done what most misinformers do, which is leave out the ending. The ending was I hope that means being both.

  47. dikranmarsupial says:

    Richard, as I pointed out “I don’t think everyone is underwriting it as a purely scientific cheque, but as a socio-politico-economic compromise. ” so it is a non-squitur.

    Scientists are members of society just like everybody else, and ought to be able to express political or economic opinions just like everybody else. That doesn’t mean that their scientific advice necessarily has a political aspect/basis. Also you are cherry picking, how many climatologists are there, do Hansen, Schneider’ and Anderson represent the mainstream (obviously not or they wouldn’t feel the need to make such requests).

  48. @dikran
    That’s not the issue. If I am walking down the street and a journalist sticks a mike under my nose, I respond as “Richard from Barcombe”. If I am invited into a studio for an interview, I respond as “Professor Tol”, protected by tenure and academic freedom, and bound by academic duty.

    See AAUP, AF(3)
    http://www.aaup.org/report/1940-statement-principles-academic-freedom-and-tenure

  49. If I am invited into a studio for an interview, I respond as “Professor Tol”, protected by tenure and academic freedom, and bound by academic duty.

    Again, this is still not the same as presenting evidence to policy makers. When talking as “Professor Tol” you can still justifiably express your own views. You’re not representing a community, you are talking as an expert in your own right. So, there are multiple levels here. There’s the formal policy advisor, the qualified expert, and the member of the public. It appears as though you (and, by your argument, Geden) would like to see climate scientists speaking out less. Why is that? (oh, you can treat that as rhetorical, if you wish).

    Oh, and UK-based academics do not have formal tenure.

  50. Leto says:

    “The 2K target is a political target but often presented as a scientific fact. This has already led to politically motivated attacks on science, and it may further undermine the credibility of climate science if and when we pass 2K warming and catastrophe does not unfold.” (Richard Tol, upthread)

    You imply that people who actually matter have suggested a threshold effect at 2 degrees, with everything fine before then and catastrophe suddenly unfolding beyond 2 degrees. This sounds like a straw man argument, although you present it indirectly enough that you could disown it. Can you point to one reputable scientist who has said any such thing? Can you even point to a journalist who has misinterpreted the science in this way? Could you at least concede that such a claim would be a misinterpretation?

    There are many people for whom the current warming has already been a catastrophe, and there are many who will be fine after 2 degrees has passed, so the notion that climate science will be undermined if the world fails to end at 2 degrees is just silly.

  51. dikranmarsupial says:

    Richard, AGAIN you have ducked the point that “Geden: “Everybody is sort of underwriting the 2-degree cheque, but scientists have to think about the credibility of climate science.”

    is a non-sequitur and hence so was your comment.

    One of your examples was “Jim Hansen, for instance, has a habit of getting arrested at political rallies. ” It was pretty clear to me that Hansen was not doing this in his capacity as an academic, but as a private citizen, in which case the guidelines were being followed. Likewise the Schneider comment doesn’t support your case when given in full. So what is your evidence that the third example you gave didn’t follow the US guidelines?

  52. dikranmarsupial says:

    Richard BTW, in your comments here and on twitter etc. are you “Richard from Barcombe” or “Professor Tol”?

  53. Mal Adapted says:

    ATTP:

    It’s a bit disappointing that Roger appears to have deleted the comments on his post, as I would have been quite interested to read them.

    Nothing is ever really deleted from the ‘toobz, you know:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20120718173840/http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2011/08/how-many-findings-of-ipcc-ar4-wg-i-are.html

  54. Willard says:

    > it may further undermine the credibility

    What tries to undermine the credibility of climate science is not an “it,’ RichardT. It’s a bunch of people. For instance, I don’t think you can deny that you have been trying to undermine the credibility of climate science for years.

    INTEGRITY ™ – “It” Not “I”

  55. Willard says:

    As MT observed long time ago, undermining credibility is not the sole purpose of the honest brokering biz:

    Trying to bottle the conversation, to constrain people to specific roles, is an extra constraint in a problem that is already, apparently, overconstrained. It just makes achieving good policy all the harder.

    http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/08/and-in-end_01.html

    Unless of course the honest broker’s preferred policy is to do very little.

    How pragmatic this ClimateBall ™ episode is.

  56. anoilman says:

    Richard Tol (@RichardTol) says:
    November 30, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Geden: “Everybody is sort of underwriting the 2-degree cheque, but scientists have to think about the credibility of climate science.”

    Uh… no. Is that a simple answer enough for you?

    Everything I’ve heard about 2C is that its a wild guestimate, and I only hang out at pro environment sources. They say that will be very bad. Where are you getting your info?

    There was an interesting talk on the radio this morning about how much more expensive it is to try and hit 2C. So, with all our new wealth and technology how come its not an easy done deal?

  57. I am surprised that scientists are criticised for ‘underwriting’ a 2C target. At least according to this little history of the 2C target …

    http://www.carbonbrief.org/two-degrees-the-history-of-climate-changes-speed-limit

    … it was an economist, William Nordhaus, in 1975 who first muted 2C as a justifiable goal.

    The UNFCCC did not formerly adopt 2C as a target until very recently (2010).

    I quite like Richard Betts’ characterisation of 2C as a speed limit (i.e. not a target), quoted in the above:


    “The level of danger at any particular speed depends on many factors… It would be too complicated and unworkable to set individual speed limits for individual circumstances taking into account all these factors, so clear and simple general speed limits are set using judgement and experience to try to get an overall balance between advantages and disadvantages of higher speeds for the community of road users as a whole.”

    Any speed limit will fail in some cases – a kid killed by a car at 15mph in a 20mph limited road – or a driver who insists we should be accept the inevitable and drive at 30, 40 or even 50mph down that same road? They may justify this, in part, because they claim that no harm will be done, or can be patched up at limited cost?

    No. We keep the 20 mph limit and strive harder to get people, to stick to it.

  58. izen says:

    @-ATTP
    “I agree that in reality it is more complex than a simple division into two groups. However, I can’t actually tell if you’re critiquing my post, or Geden’s article.”

    Both. (grin)
    By disputing the roles of the two groups you are tacitly accepting that the categorisation into two ‘groups’ is possible, meaningfully or utile.

    @-“However, I would argue that what is politically unfeasible today, may not be tomorrow, whereas certain scientific truths will remain truths whether we like it or not.”

    Agreed. There is much less chance of evading the 2LoT than altering the deep structure of modern human society. However if preventing climate change happened to require the radical change in the class structure of British society, then a thousand years of history shows it has a snowball’s chance in hell.

  59. izen,

    By disputing the roles of the two groups you are tacitly accepting that the categorisation into two ‘groups’ is possible, meaningfully or utile.

    Yes, I guess that’s true. I think there are distinctions, but I agree with your point that what policy makers should be presented is the best assessment of the evidence, not simply a few individuals’ personal views.

    However if preventing climate change happened to require the radical change in the class structure of British society, then a thousand years of history shows it has a snowball’s chance in hell.

    Fair point 🙂

  60. izen/ATTP – I think you’ll find the upper classes took quite a hit if not a revolution following 2 world wars. We often have amusing programmes showing some fading Baronet trying to retain their dignity while cooped up in some small flat, while the ermin slowly decays in the wardrobe. Yes, we still have (significantly reduced number of) hereditary peers in the second chamber, and still a lot of wealth in land, but to suggest that there has not been a radical change – following Reform bills, universal suffrage, the Labour movement, etc. – is a massive overstatement. The upper classes are in long-term decline.

  61. Richard,
    Yes, you’re indeed correct. I assumed izen was exaggerating for effect 🙂

  62. Willard says:

    Here are two arguments against the underlying assumption of Juniorian boxology and Gedenian pragmatism:

    First and most important, scholarship in the field of science and technology studies has shown that the dividing line between forms of political engagement is not fixed in advance but continually shifts in the process of knowledge making. Many choices that were once regarded as matters of lifestyle or values alone (“abortion politics”) have been converted into choices that are now constrained by things we know (“tornado politics”). Thus it is no longer appropriate to discriminate against people simply because their skin color is different; today, mainstream biology tells us that such surface appearances do not correlate with significant differences in ability or behavior and hence do not justify racial discrimination in matters of public policy. Similarly, because of new knowledge concerning climate change, carbon-consuming behaviors that were once tolerated are increasingly perceived as undesirable, or even punishable, conduct. Technology, too, may shift political categories. Recent developments in cell reprogramming may defuse the controversy around stem cells by substituting a morally neutral technique for one that was previously contested.

    A second, and related, point is that science does not always serve the public interest best by widening the scope of policy choice. Particularly in cases of sharp and intransigent value conflicts—such as those over abortion, stemcell research and the teaching of evolutionary biology in public schools—scientific advances may better serve society by narrowing the range of options. In Britain, for example, the 1984 Warnock Commission report on embryo research is thought to have served both science and the public by creating a politically acceptable bioethical boundary around the 14-day-old embryo: Before the embryo reaches that cut-off age, researchers may conduct state-regulated experiments; afterward, research is impermissible. Put differently, efforts by experts to produce a negotiated, knowledge-based consensus that compels particular policy choices can depoliticize paralyzing value conflicts—and this can be altogether a good thing for science and society.

    http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/speaking-honestly-to-power

  63. Eli Rabett says:

    The point everybunny except Eli is missing is that the 2C limit is agreed. Try to renegotiate and there is nothing left.

    It may not be possible to reach as a policy matter. It may be devilish to reach on any basis, but it is what the world has, and has to live with because the hour is upon us. Geden, Pielke, Lomborg and to an extent Anderson need to recognize this

  64. anoilman says:

    Eli… I think you’re right about any attempts to renegotiate targets. I can only imagine what kinds of people will show up for that table. Aim for 2, and start marking the laggarts as such.

  65. Willard says:

    Let T the new target is agreed upon.
    Recite the honest broker playbook.
    Ask for T = T+1.
    Repeat.

    Profit.

  66. Eli,

    It may be devilish to reach on any basis, but it is what the world has, and has to live with because the hour is upon us.

    I think Anderson does recognise that and I think that is essentially the message that he’s trying to get across. If anything, his main point may be that it is others who are presenting overly optimistic pathways that allow us to pretend that the hour is not yet upon us.

  67. izen says:

    @-Richard Erskine
    izen/ATTP – I think you’ll find the upper classes took quite a hit if not a revolution following 2 world wars.

    True, before 1900 the top 10% had over 80% of the wealth and the top 1% owned about 25% of the wealth.
    After two world wars that shifted dramatically, those numbers droped to ~60% and 12% by the 1950.

    @-“The upper classes are in long-term decline.”

    That would not be supported by economic data. Their decline had largely been halted by the 1980s.
    Since then economic policy, boom-bust cycles and ‘austerity’ have shifted most of that wealth back from the middle and lower classes and the 1% are again in control of around 25% of the wealth.

  68. That 1% are surely new money, not old. Scandalous, for sure, but hedge fund managers and bankers are not the upper classes. P.S. I am not a Lord, but I am a peasant 🙂 [ok, so there are a few examples of (ex)bankers who also call themselves Lord ,,, let’s think Lord Ridley of Denialsville]

  69. anoilman says:

    Anders: The after party starts shortly.

  70. ATTP, you concede too much to Richard Tol when you make a distinction between scientist-as-advisor and scientist-speaking-as-a-citizen. Where objectives and cause and effect both are clear, plain scientific advice has clear political implications. So, to reduce the incidence of certain diseases, clean water must be provided. The provision of clean water will be politically inconvenient for some – somebody will have to pay tax to provide the infrastructure; corruption in public contracting will have to be contained, which means breaking some rice bowls. Nobody expects epidemiologists and other public health experts to be silent on the urgency of the problem, in face of the need to overcome specious and self-serving objections to action. Similarly, Hansen getting himself arrested protesting the Keystone pipeline is simply forceful technical advice – assertive and praiseworthy scientific communication.

  71. Frederick,
    That’s one of the first times anyone’s accused me of conceding too much to Tol 🙂

    I agree with you, though. Ideally, we want experts to be free to speak out. It’s not good having this expertise if we discourage such people from informing policy makers and the public of risks that their research suggests may exist. My view – as may be obvious – is that all these attempts to constrain what people should, or should not, say is simply an attempt to muzzle those who may say things that are inconvenient. That it is done under the guise of protecting scientific integrity is simply disingenuous.

  72. On Gedden: aside from the unfortunate business about “temporary temperature overshoots” while doubting the efficacy of CCS, it seems to me his intended message on climate science is hard to distinguish from that of Kevin Anderson or others of the hardnosed carbon budget persuasion: negative emissions have become a collosal asterisk, a disclosed but poorly understood item, in climate accounting, a black box in the schematic for the deus ex machina. You say this isn’t about the science, but it is certainly about the way the science is communicated – to put it a different way, he’s saying that honest scientists now need to be alarmists. Fair enough.

    What I don’t like about Gedden’s argument are the slippery bits about top down vs. bottom up, and goal driven vs. pragmatic. For a problem of this scale and complexity, can there be sufficient bottom-up action without at least a target for coordination purposes? If great nations make deals about emissions paths the numbers will be cranked through the same models and projected temperatures will be produced – that will become the new target, for better or worse. This would not be a great paradigm shift from top down to bottom up, but simply a confession that the old target would be missed; it would still be dependent on central coordination – the deals that help resolve the free rider problems.

    As for the term “pragmatic”, it is Gedden’s talisman but he never says what he means by it. It is notoriously a word with many meanings. It can, in the context of a complex problem, mean muddling through to a solution rather than working out a planned course of action at the start. The obvious limitation of that reading in the present case is that muddling through does little or nothing in the face of big collective action problems, and the collective action problems here are deal killers, civilization killers, our-grandchildren-meet-the-four-horsemen kinds of things. There might be a bottom-up, pragmatic solution growing out of a broad transformation of human consciousness and values; my training as an economist forbids me to take this possibility seriously, but even if we live in such hope Gedden’s pragmatism seems more … top down, located in deals made by politicians. So we must hope that our politicians do find some coordination mechanism, which would presumably include some kind of targets against which cooperation can be measured. But Gedden seems to think things will happen from bottom up without targets, which in the present context I can only conclude reduces pragmatism to the politician’s sense of “this is the best deal you’re going to get, sucker, live (or perhaps, die) with it.”

    If he were such a profound pessimist, however, I don’t think Gedden would bother offering advice to scientists about how to communicate their findings. My guess is that this business about top down vs. bottom up and goals vs. pragmatism is just something he hasn’t quite got worked out.

  73. On Gedden: aside from the unfortunate business about “temporary temperature overshoots” while at the same time doubting the efficacy of CCS, it seems to me his intended message on climate science is hard to distinguish from that of Kevin Anderson or others of the hardnosed carbon budget persuasion: negative emissions have become a colossal asterisk, a disclosed but poorly understood item, in climate accounting, a black box in the schematic for the deus ex machina. You (ATTP) say this isn’t about the science, but it is certainly about the way scientists communicate their findings – to put it a different way, he’s saying that honest scientists now need to be alarmists. He doesn’t put it quite that way because he’s playing sober policy wonk and so can’t advocate alarmism. Fair enough.
    What I don’t like about Gedden’s arguments are the slippery bits about top down vs. bottom up, and goal driven vs. pragmatic. For a problem of this scale and complexity, can there be sufficient bottom-up action without at least a target for coordination purposes? If great nations make deals about emissions paths the numbers will be cranked through the same models and projected temperatures will be produced – that will become the new target, for better or worse. This would not be a great paradigm shift from top down to bottom up, but simply a confession that the old target will be missed; it would still be dependent on central coordination – the deals that help resolve the free rider problems.
    As for the term “pragmatic”, it is Gedden’s talisman but he never says what he means by it. It is notoriously a word with many meanings. It can, in the context of a complex problem, mean muddling through to a solution rather than working out a planned course of action at the start. The obvious limitation of that reading in the present case is that muddling through does little or nothing in the face of big collective action problems, and the collective action problems here are deal killers, civilization killers, our-grandchildren-meet-the-four-horsemen kinds of things. There might be a bottom-up, pragmatic solution growing out of a broad transformation of human consciousness and values, moving up through community-level initiatives; my training as an economist forbids me to take this possibility seriously, but even if we live in such hope Gedden’s pragmatism seems more … top down, located in deals made by politicians. So we must hope that our politicians do find some coordination mechanism, which would presumably include some kind of targets against which cooperation can be measured. But Gedden seems to think things will happen from bottom up without targets, which in the present context I can only conclude reduces pragmatism to the politician’s sense of “this is the best deal you’re going to get, sucker, live (or perhaps, die) with it.”
    If he were such a profound pessimist, however, I don’t think Gedden would bother offering advice to scientists about how to communicate their findings. My guess is that this business about top down vs. bottom up and goals vs. pragmatism is just something he hasn’t quite got worked out.

  74. it seems to me his intended message on climate science is hard to distinguish from that of Kevin Anderson or others of the hardnosed carbon budget persuasion:

    I’d like to actually see him make an argument for stronger emission reductions. I’ve seen him criticise the negative emission pathways, but he seems to be suggesting that somehow these are responsible for the weaker policy decisions, but he never quite seems to argue that policy makers should do more. It’s almost as if he’s finding a scapegoat and then letting the policy makers off the hook.

    he’s saying that honest scientists now need to be alarmists.

    I wonder. Certainly my interpretation is the other way around. I get the sense that he wants scientists to speak out less, but maybe I’ve misinterpreted him here.

    What you say in the rest of your comment is probably about right. He seems to be talking about some kind of political reality that he never quite defines and doesn’t really describe. To me it seems as though he doesn’t get that time progresses. If we define a carbon budget in 2010, then if we don’t make any emission reductions, it can’t still be the same in 2015 because it’s the overall total that matters, not the final emission level.

  75. Eli Rabett says:

    A practicing political scientist (e.g. somebunny working in policy delivery) once told Eli, that he knew Roger Jr. way back when. From observation, he said, whatever Roger was he had not a clue about how the sausage got made. Geden strikes Eli as another out of the same box of tricks.

    Anderson is a completely other case.

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