If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you’ll know that some of the most active threads have concerned the scientific consensus about climate change and, more specifically, the issue of consensus messaging. Recently, a new book has been released that covers Contemporary Climate Change Debates and includes this as one of the topics. It has a chapter that asks [i]s emphasising consensus in climate science helpful for policymaking? and involves a debate between John Cook – who thinks it is – and Warren Pearce – who thinks it isn’t.
I’ve published a couple of consensus papers with John Cook, so will acknowledge a bias. However, I did like his chapter and though his point that [c]limate communication is not a zero sum game was well made. Clearly, how we communicate and what we focus on should depend on the circumstances and the audience. Consensus messaging shouldn’t always be the focus of communication strategies, but neither should it simply be dismissed.
Warren Pearce’s response suggests that there shouldn’t be a focus on the consensus because it’s narrow and human values are important. I agree that human values are important, but I think he’s wrong to suggest that it’s narrow. The scientific consensus is simply that humans are causing climate change and it essentially underpins this entire topic.
Warren argues that the consensus tells us nothing about the future of climate change, such as human and non-human impacts, policy options or the range of human values and cultures which interact with local climates. It may not tell us anything directly, but how can we possibly discuss these issues if those involved don’t accept that humans are causing climate change?
As examples of important topics that are unrelated to the scientific consensus, Warren highlights the disagreement about carbon budgets and debates about discount rates. Well, carbon budgets are entirely based on limiting human caused climate change and the debate about discount rates is associated with estimates of the future cost of human caused climate change discounted to today. How can one possibly engage in discussions about these topics if there isn’t an acceptance that humans are causing climate change?
So, I think Warren’s argument doesn’t make any sense. I agree that human values are important, and that there are many other aspects of this issue that are very important. However, I really don’t see how it’s possible to address these other issues if there isn’t a general acceptance of the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change.
Of course, it’s always possible that I’m missing some subtlety in Warren’s argument. If so, maybe someone who understands it can try and explain it in the comments. My impression is that those who oppose consensus messaging either don’t understand the consensus, or don’t accept it. I would, however, be more than willing to be convinced otherwise if someone were willing to put some effort into explaining the argument in more detail.
Is Emphasising Consensus In Climate Science Helpful For Policymaking? – Chapter with John Cook’s and Warren Pearce’s articles about consensus messaging. I should have added that it’s worth reading John’s article to see some of the other arguments against what is presented in Warren’s article.