The Science is Settled

Blog, Climate, Les Routledge

A report was posted today that outlines a skeptic’s perspective about some of the more extreme doomsday scenarios that have been made about global warming and/or climate change.  (Watts Up With That?)

While I neither endorse nor dsimiss the views presented in the report, a quick examination of its contents leaves me with the impression that there appears to be considerable debate and discussion in science journals.  Perhaps the science is not settled after all.

The organization that has published this report has been criticized in the past for being connected to or receiving funding from coal or oil companies.  While that assertion does suggest reading the report with a critical mind, the same critical mindset should be applied applied to research that is conducted by organizations linked to agenda-driven organizations like PETA or financial companies backing carbon trading systems.  The underlying science is complicated and one has to be careful about how it is interpreted and represented to general audiences.

Forming public policy dealing with complex subjects like climate science is complicated because there is uncertainty is some of the underlying science.  Admittedly Europe, the USA and Australia is experiencing some unusual and extreme weather events this winter.  Earlier in the year, Russia experienced an extended heat wave while western Canada experienced a quite wet summer.  While these conditions could be related to a changing environment, they can also be explained as being within the bounds of weather patterns that have been experienced in those regions in the past.

What has changed is that more people and more investment are concentrated in regions that are vulnerable to extreme weather.  More people and investment is located in coastal regions that are subject to hurricanes or floodplains that are subject to flooding.  More people and more investment is located in areas that are subject to seismic events like earthquakes and volcanoes.  Insurance claims for weather related damage are generally increasing, but is that because the frequency or severity of adverse weather is increasing or is it because there is a larger population of people and a greater amount of invested capital located in harm’s way?

I believe that public policy should be concerned about the impacts of changes in weather patterns and extreme weather events.  Are our communities, regions, and businesses able to react to a multi-year drought?  Are they prepared to deal with heat waves or cold snaps?  Are they able to cope with extreme levels of precipitation whether it comes as snow, rain, hail or sleet?  What level of preparedness and risk mitigation is appropriate compared to resources devoted to disaster response and relief?

Public policy is about determining priorities and making choices.  Perhaps if appropriate choices are made and acted on, fewer extreme weather events will become disasters.

While some claim that reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in the solution for limiting global warming, one has to ask does that action prepare us for dealing with extreme weather events that will occur with or without global warming?  Has the public’s confusion and policy paralysis related to the climate change debate diverted attention from pragmatic action that can and should occur?

While focusing public policy on prevention may be an appropriate course of action, is it possible that the appropriate type of preventative action is related to keeping people, investment, and infrastructure out of harm’s way instead of attempting to control the weather and the environment?