Jun 302010

Can both climate alarmists and climate deniers be right (or wrong) at the same time? Perhaps so. At least that’s my understanding after reading about a new study that was designed to evaluate the judgment of climate experts.

The way I see it, yes, there is consensus that the planet is warming. Yes, there is consensus that human activity contributes to the warming. Yes, there is consensus that the warming can have disastrous consequences.

However, there is no consensus regarding the magnitude of future warming. There is no consensus regarding the extent to which human activity vs. natural causes are responsible for the warming. And I don’t think a consensus exist that the consequences of the warming are uniformly bad for humanity, or even that the bad consequences outweigh the potentially good ones.

In any case, consensus is irrelevant. Science is not supposed to be a democracy of scientists, but a tyranny of facts.What makes a scientific theory right is not consensus but logical consistency and good agreement with observation.

Scientists are, however, responsible to communicate not only what they know but also what they don’t understand (this is what defines the line between a climate change advocate and a climate change alarmist, I guess.) Conversely, scientists are supposed to be able to express their doubts without questioning or withholding facts (this, perhaps, is what distinguishes a climate change skeptic from a climate change denier.)

Unfortunately when the debate becomes political, such nuances are often lost or ignored. Politics, especially populist politics, abhors uncertainties and prefers to paint everything in black and white. If uncertainties are mentioned at all, they are merely used as “proof” that the other side is wrong, therefore our side must be right, with no room in the middle. You either believe Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth like the gospel, or you accuse Al Gore of being a fraud artist out to get rich on phony carbon credits.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm