"System change is now inevitable. Either because we do something about it, or because we will be hit by climate change. '...

"We need to develop economic models that are fit for purpose. The current economic frameworks, the ones that dominate our governments, these frameworks... the current economic frameworks, the neoclassical, the market frameworks, can deal with small changes. It can tell you the difference, if a sock company puts up the price of socks, what the demand for socks will be. It cannot tell you about the sorts of system level changes we are talking about here. We would not use an understanding of laminar flow in fluid dynamics to understand turbulent flow. So why is it we are using marginal economics, small incremental change economics, to understand system level changes?"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pielke Jr: Collapse of Climate Policy, Risk to Science

Roger Pielke's Jr.'s recent article "The Collapse of Climate Policy and the Sustainability of Climate Science" is interesting:

Climate politics is collapsing because of political realities, and not real or perceived changes in how people see the science. As I have often argued, in the ongoing battle between climate scientists and skeptics there will be disproportionate carnage, because the climate scientists have so much more to lose, and not just as individuals, but also for the broader field, which includes many people simply on the sidelines.

The collapse of the political consensus surrounding climate could well be an opportunity to recast decarbonization of the global economy and adaptation to climate impacts in a manner that is much more consistent with progress toward policy goals. If climate science can be saved from itself, that would be a bonus. However, for climate science I fully expect things to get worse before they get better, simply because the most vocal, politically active climate scientists have shown no skill at operating in the political arena. The skeptics could not wish for a more convenient set of opponents.

I don't really agree or even understand that there is a political consensus in the first place. (It's hard to undermine something which doesn't exist). Unfortunately, there is definitely a case to be made here for the last two sentences above.

As I have tried to argue, there are reasons that the deck is stacked that way. Pielke doesn't address those here.

Also, the fact that most of the vocal, politically active climate scientists are politically inept in no way implies that they are incorrect.

That said, it is reasonable to make a case that we haven't been effective in making such a case to the body politic in America, or elsewhere for that matter.

I'm not sure there ever was a "political consensus surrounding climate" to collapse, though as Roger alleges. He will have to make quite a case for that. Regardless, it's easy to agree that the political process is certainly doing climate science itself no good, and that climate science isn't affecting the policy arena skillfully. I certainly would like to understand why this would be so.

Roger has promised further exposition on this subject and I for one will be watching with interest.


Michael Tobis said...

I turned comments back on. The comments on Prometheus, though plentiful, are not very interesting to say the least.

Maybe some people will be willing to comment here who wouldn't there.

Steve Bloom said...

I have an extensive background in environmental policy development and implementation. From that perspective, the case Roger makes is simply stating the bleedin' obvious: That there is a mismatch between the stated goals and the implementing policies intended to achieve those goals. Such mismatches are the rule rather than the exception on all levels of environmental policy because it's so much easier to commit to solving a problem than to actually solve it.

That many more people are realizing that avoiding dangerous climate change is going to require some truly fundamental changes in how global society is organized is certainly indicative of a political crisis of sorts, but it's a necessary and desirable one.

I say "of sorts" because it's a slow, incremental crisis that's been building for years and will require more years to resolve itself. Roger's characterization of what are signs of progress as a crisis of the more usual sort is baseless.

There's plenty to say about the approach scientists are taking to managing the development of climate policy, but I'll comment on that separately.