Most environmental journalists don't actually understand the climate debate they are purporting to have analysed.
I found myself being called a ‘climate sceptic’ and ‘denier’ this week. I find this odd, because I rarely take a view on the science, which I regard as largely a massive red herring — the climate debate is mostly political. My argument is that if you want to know what ‘science says’, you have to have a good idea about what it has been asked. Some in the debate believe that ‘science’ can speak uncontaminated, objective truth to the policy-making process; you merely have to assemble all the scientific literature, summarise it, and tell the policy-makers. Job done.
But doesn’t setting up special organisations — the IPCC, for instance, or the UK’s Committee on Climate Change — to inform special policy-making process imply something of a loaded question, to which the answer is to some extent presupposed? Doesn’t there appear, therefore, to be a dialogue in which the policy-making process to some extent informs the evidence-making process? I’m not talking about the IPCC being an explicit exercise in policy-based evidence-making, but that there’s a very naive view of science as a process entirely distinct from the rest of the world. (And it’s not as if the climate change issue doesn’t come to the rescue of politicians who find themselves in crisis.) I’m fairly confident that science can answer questions such as ‘is climate change happening’. The best available evidence will suggest that it is. But all the evidence in the world won’t shed any light on what the question means. Science can not deliver value-free answers to political questions, and cannot produce statements about the world independently of the world.
A more useful question is ‘how much has the climate changed’. But even then there are the corollaries: ‘should it have changed at all’, and ‘so what’. A more useful question is, ‘what are the consequences of climate change’. But is that a question only for science? Is climate change worth stopping at all costs? To what extent should climate change be the organising principle of the entire human race’s productive activity? In the same way that special scientific and policy-making processes implies a dialogue between them, the consensus it produces (it is presupposed) precludes another kind of dialogue.
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