Science vs politics
Today I submit the correspondence I had with the new and actually first ever EU Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr Anne Glover. She has now been on the job for six months.
I am not convinced the advisor fully understands what she ought to understand, nor that she has the personal, mental integrity on scientific questions that she confessed to in the interview, in order to give decisive recommendations on climate policies. Though I am thankful she responded at all to my questions and that she did it in just in a few days. There is a lesson to be had for a lot of politicians, officials and civil servants.
Dear Dr Glover,
I was very pleased to read the interview Euractive made with you six months ago. That goes especially for your determination of sticking to science and what is known by science.
There are a lot of issues swinging by any political office. Some requested by the politician and others hurled at him. Science can sometimes, but not every time, be a good companion for the politician in making his mind up. On that note, I have a few questions I wonder about, especially how you advice our politicians in the EU (Commission, Council and Parliament).
The question of Anthropogenic Global Warming has been on the public agenda for two decades now. In this time there has been a rising flow of scientific evidence that:
a) We don’t know enough about how the climate works (ie. what is cause and what is effect).
b) Our tools for modelling are all flawed, or at the least that we have none reliable.
c) In the last 16 years there has not been any statistically significant rise in global mean temperature. That is a period longer than more than half of the running average (30 years) which is the agreed period a change has to sustain in order to be considered a change in climate.
d) We are not in any way able to discern the anthropological component of what ever is going on with the climate.
e) Nature seems to be better buffered against acidification by CO2 than previously anticipated. Such studies are presented in great numbers each year.
f) This all adds up to us having very little scientific knowledge about climate on which to base our political decisions. Climate may not be possible for humans to alter. Even if it does, we still have no answers as to how, why or with what aim we should.
How do you make this scientific basis for political decissions clear to the politicians?
How is it received?
How do you, in your communications with politicians, sort out and point out claims (from politicians, NGO:s, industry, or scientists even) that are not science or scientifically based?
The conversion to ”sustainable” practices has now been at play for quite some time in various industries and businesses. They seek dividends from their investments. How do you separate their economic arguments, for subsidies or laws mandating their technology, from scientific arguments?
I am a former local politician and journalist with a political blog www.frihetsportalen.se. I intend to use what ever answer I receive on my blog.
Mats Jangdal [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, January 09, 2013 2:59 PM
MUELLER Jan Marco (BEPA)
Scientific recommendations on climate policy
Dear Mr Jangdal
Thanks you for your email on the subject of climate change science and for taking such an interest in the use of evidence for policymaking. Climate change is an extremely important topic as the consequences for human life on our planet, if we get it wrong, are severe.
I do not agree (as the evidence does not support) many of your statements but I think there is something that we can both agree on and that is – there is significant uncertainty in many areas of climate change research (as we aim to understand a complete Earth system) and current research is striving to reduce uncertainty so that we may address key issues with greater clarity. So, we are continuing to support research in this area.
However, there are some things that we are certain about:
The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere is rising (measured at 394.39 ppm in DEC 2012) – see http://co2now.org/
for historical measurements. The laws of physics are constant in our Universe. This means that if more CO2 ends up in our atmosphere it has a warming impact. In effect, it is like wrapping the Earth in a fleece blanket. As a result, the Earth will warm and that will mean ice melting and average sea level rise. The uncertainty comes regarding how quickly impacts are felt, for example CO2 can also be absorbed into our ocean are therefore not end up immediately in the atmosphere (although ocean acidification is an undesired consequence of this and we know has other impacts). The struggle that our scientists have is to make the observations, to examine historical information where possible e.g. using ice cores which allow us to look at CO2 atmospheric concentrations over > 100,000 y (throughout natural cycles between ice-ages and warm periods this varies between ~180 (ice-age) – ~280 (warm period) ppm CO2) and also to use models which are seldom completely perfect but do allow us to test some ideas and then validate them using measurement. Where there are discrepancies, this signals that we need to both examine the basis of the models as well as the measurements.
The thing all of us must acknowledge and try and guard against is ”confirmation bias” where we are only receptive to the evidence which supports out current thinking. This applies equally to those who accept the evidence supporting man-made climate change and those who don’t.
The scientific consensus regarding the evidence that we are experiencing anthropogenic global warming is enormous and there is great value in the challenge and interrogation that IPCC (the combined efforts of thousands of scientists) brings to the analysis. It is also possible to find scientists who argue against the evidence. They are very few indeed but they are always worth listening to as it helps refine the interpretation (I disagree with a post on your blog which suggests that ”skeptics are a nuisance” – good science relies on healthy skepticism).
I can understand that there are those who would prefer to think that man-made climate change is not happening, but in the light of the evidence we have currently, denial is not a realistic position. This puts us in a position that understanding the current evidence, we must act to try and prevent unwanted consequences.
With best wishes
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