Judith Curry has written about her recent (but not new) presentation about ‘climate science and the uncertainty monster’. My sense is the analogy is pushed to the limit. No one knows what the monster is, and there are too many heads, tails and monster body parts flying around.
Curry says the monster concept is for examining the ‘response of the scientific community to uncertainties at the climate science-policy interface’.
The skeptic asks: what is this ‘climate science-policy interface’? Why should there be such an interface at all?
If you go back in time to Stephen Schneider, child of Malthus, you will encounter among his (many) books, ‘The Genesis Strategy’. In the preface Schneider tells us he warns the world about ‘the dangers ahead’, and he is compelled to point out ‘the uncertain state of scientific knowledge’ … ‘does not imply there are no problems’. The ‘iceberg in the distance’ for the world-as-Titanic was ‘climate change and related misfortunes’.
The world was a different place as were circumstances. But the ‘terrible problems’ confronting it were the same as today: famine, climate change, global pollution—arranged in different configurations—along with yesteryear’s favorite bogeyman – population growth.
A significant chapter is devoted to the effect of human energy sources on the climate.
However, if global energy consumption expands greatly in the next few decades and this proves to be climatically dangerous, a great dilemma will befall the world
Sounds bad. It is. In fact, Schneider tells us, it’s so bad
… widespread climatic disruption from increased energy production could also occur as soon as the year 2000;
Sounds terrifying, but how would this happen?
Schneider lays down the case for the disruption occurring due to … heat released by power plants and urban heat islands. That’s right — not CO2 but the direct heat from coal plants and nuclear stations.
Over a span of several pages, with ‘uncertainty’ in tow, Schneider allows this industrial heat to be amplified by climate ‘feedback mechanisms’ just as with CO2 and ‘force changes in atmospheric motions that might be global’. At one point he has ‘large quantities of head added to the Gulf Stream from power parks’ finding ‘their way into the climatic system…in the subpolar part of the North Atlantic’ ready to melt Greenland ice,The Day After Tomorrow -style. In the next page, he wonders if thermal pollution from power parks could unleash tornadoes.
With climate, Schneider has no clue what will happen next. Ozone, CO2, aerosols, natural variability, supersonic transport, ‘thermal pollution’ all make their appearance in the book and they could all wreak havoc on the “steady-state”. But it doesn’t matter, there is ‘change’. ‘Change’ would cause famines in the populous third world whose citizens would consume the world’s food. There is a whole chapter on ‘The North American Grain Drain’.
Through it all Schneider wrings his hands: there has to be ‘decision-making with uncertain inputs’, but ‘the degree of uncertainty …should not delay consideration of actions to prevent..plausible catastrophes.’ He feels compelled to warn ‘some wolves will attack long before we are certain enough of their existence’. He even advocates ‘no-fault climate disaster insurance’, just like Curry.
Looks like he’s grappling with a monster, doesn’t it?
This monster is clearly unaffected by ‘the science’ — change of unknown kind, cooling and warming all have the same causes, produce the same effect and require the same people to be christened ‘experts’ and handed the keys to the kingdom. The monster, it now appears, is a reflection of individual activists and scientists who promote their discipline by positioning it as close to policy as possible, and insisting there is an interface. It is a reflection of pious science’s impulse and success in exploiting authority to stoke fears.
In close to 40 years since the book was published many of the problems scientists like Schneider threatened the world about have disappeared or dissipated. But climate science employs the same paradigm about ‘uncertainty’, the same bogeyman of ‘global change’ to imply the same catastrophe and demands a seat at the power table.
In the 1970s, when famine-struck India would request food supplies from other countries, donors ‘inquired about the progress of the family-planning program that India instituted’. Today, the World Bank system refuses aid to African countries for building coal plants. The Malthusian-ism and ‘lifeboat ethics’ which held sway and spawned the ‘monster’ — the will-to-power disguised as scientific probability — still reigns.