Lessons from Climate Science – Judith Curry Interview

The recent Troubles of climate science have led to some deep thinking (as well as a great deal of vitriol- too bad we can’t use it as a renewable fuel ;)). Here is a thoughtful quote from Judith Curry at Georgia Tech with my italics as she discusses sustainablity. There is an interesting interview with her (from which this quote is excerpted) here.

The point is this. I have gotten hundreds of emails from practicing scientists and engineers in a range of different fields and holding positions in academia, government, and the private sector. I have also had discussions with a number of climate researchers who are concerned about the politicization of the field and the overconfidence in the IPCC. They are encouraging me to continue standing up for the scientific method and against the politicization of science. I’m sure that there are some of my colleagues that don’t like it or wonder what the point is, but they are not talking to me about it. I am getting feedback from scientists that like what I’m doing.

In terms of something more productive to do, I would encourage climate scientists to reflect on how to dig out from the hole we’ve dug for ourselves. Time to listen to some new ideas and some new experts. This time, I suggest listening to a plurality of viewpoints, and for scientists to make sure their data and methods are transparent to the public. And stop trying to simplify all this into a straight climate change science drives global energy policy strategy, which was misguided and naïve, to say the least. The real problem is sustainability, which is a complex confluence of ecosystems, food, water, energy, population growth, finite natural resources, and the desire for economic development. Sustainability is a value that nearly everyone can share. The fundamental spatial unit of sustainability is the region, which makes it easier for people to identify their common concerns and secure their common interests. Yes, there are global elements to all this in terms of climate change and finite natural resources, and the realization that regional instabilities can have global consequences. It’s not a simple problem, and there is no silver bullet, but there are millions of little solutions that can all add up. Climate change needs to be considered as but a single element in the context of all these issues. And independently of the broader sustainability issues, we need rational energy policies that account not only for environmental issues, but also economic and national security issues.

Once you start thinking about sustainability and the broader issues of energy policy as the main challenges, and not climate change, then the overwhelming barrier of politics and economics becomes less monolithic. And more importantly, climate science can get back to being science rather than being about politics. My citations of Feynmann on the RC thread were to remind people of the difference. Climate science is a fascinating and important scientific problem. Lets step back and figure out how to do a better job so that our field can regain the respect of the Nobel laureates in physics, scientists and engineers from other fields, and credibility of the public. Most importantly we need to stop playing the power politics of climate science by saying “Here is what science says we must do” and start saying “Here is our best understanding, and here is where our uncertainties are . . .”

Note: when Curry refers to RC, she means a blog called Real Climate.

2 thoughts on “Lessons from Climate Science – Judith Curry Interview”

  1. I have been following the on going climate debate. I follow a few blogs, and I find the tactics of the blog posts and comments, are often interesting to observe. It seems like a common tactic is to attempt to discredit the person they disagree with rather than actually consider the content. They can get nasty, use name calling and personal attacks. This type of behavior seems to me to be political and not science. To me people who use these smear tactics discredit themselves and their viewpoint. Judith Curry seems to be above all of this and is putting science and politics into perspective in regards to climate science. I see a lot of parallels with the on going Forest management controversies, people have taken a political position, claimed it’s backed by science, and aggressively defend their viewpoint.

  2. Yes, I agree, Michael there are similarities with the climate science debate. There is an excellent opportunity for cross-fertilization- since often climate scientists talk about what will happen to forests. On the other hand, our discourse tends to me more civil 🙂 at least here on this blog.

    As an example of cross-fertilization, I had posted the AFS Oregon Chapter Ethics and Michael Tobis (I think this is his blog) agreed that climate scientists generally follow those principles. See these posts..my comment and his reply.

    The initial post that started the dialogue is here, and relates to Pielke’s book The Honest Broker, which I recommend.


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