Monday, June 29, 2009

Science vs. Politics

Back in February, two climate scientists debated the issue of climate change. You can watch the hour long debate at here.

Dr. William Schlesinger, President of the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies and former dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, and Dr. John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama and current Alabama State Climatologist, present their opposing views of the potential danger associated with global warming.The debate was sponsored by the John Locke Foundation and the Reese Institute for Conservation of Natural Resources at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

Dr. Christy reviews the science which counters the need for alarm and immediate action. Dr. Schlesinger assumes the catastrophe is coming and presents his recommendations for political action. Knowing the scientific arguments against the need for alarm is important, but the current very real catatrophe we face is political. Regardless of whether or not an anthropogenic increase in atmospheric CO2 is resulting in elevated temperatures and creating a warmer climate, what needs to be directly challenged are the assumptions of government's role in responding to the science.

The question which needs to be addressed is "What are the economic and political consequences of using the relatively slow, rigid and blunt hammer of government coercion to address a complex, ever-evolving understanding of climate change and the best allocation of scarce resources?" Supporters of government-mandated limitations on CO2 push the environmental form of the Precautionary Principle without thinking to apply that same principle to the dangers of central planning and of increasing government power at the expense of individual liberty.

Human beings may or may not be effecting the Earth's climate in a significant way. The conclusions science draws on this is irrelevant to how we as individuals and as a community or nation should respond to that information. The current tact within government hampers the acquisition and distribution of accurate information. It prevents rapid and fluid responses to new information and challenges. In violation of the principle of individual rights, we are in the process of imposing by force the conclusions and priorities of a few upon us all.

Dr. Christy's scientific work is essential to forming a better understanding of the workings of our climate. But a debate where one discusses the science and the other discusses political action, there is no debate. It is just talking past each each other.

There are two debates which need to occur--the science and the politics--and it is a critical error not to keep them distinct and separate.

Update 6-30-09: Similar points are made in comments #3 and 7 as well as Bill Brown's parenthetical remark in the body of his post Climate Change Truth at The New Clarion.



Doug Reich said...


This is an excellent point. It is so easy to get lost in the "environmental science is bogus" debate that we lose sight of the fact that even if it were true that global warming was real for whatever reason, the solution is economic freedom not statism.

Dr. Reisman had posted an excellent article on just this point where he discussed how economic freedom would result in the best outcome assuming it was real.

As always, the moral is the practical.

Thanks again for pointing this out as I rarely if ever hear this argument made.

Beth said...

Thank your for your comment.
Do you remember the title of Dr. Reisman's article?
I love to learn about the science of climate change. It piques my intellectual curiosity--and it is tempting to get caught up in thinking that science automatically implies a particular political response (as opposed to informing our private individual judgments.)
This point needs to be much better understood by all participants in the "climate change" debate.