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March 14, 2007

Mick Hulme

Nearly there. Mick Hulme of the Tyndall Centre has an interesting piece in The Guardian, looking at what science can and cannot tell us about climate change. He's missing one part of the argument though:

Climate change is happening, but it appears that science is split on what to do about it. One of the central reasons why there is disagreement about how to tackle climate change is because we have different conceptions of what science is, and with what authority it speaks - in other words, how scientific "knowledge" interacts with those other realms of understanding brought to us by politics, ethics and spirituality.

Let's say that the IPCC reading of it is largely correct (roughly my opinion, with a few minor reservations). What we should do is not in fact the province of climate change scientists at all.  It is rather the province of another group of scientists. Those who study trade offs, incentives, discount rates and the like. That is, economists. Let us for the sake of argument accept that people's incentives do indeed need to change. OK, who are you going to listen to as you try and work out how to do that? People who study how people react to incentives? Or people who study physical processes? Quite.

And as an added extra bonus for those who insist that Governments must do something big right now. There's a whole sub-field of the subject that shows that such big things almost always get side tracked into being what's good for politicians and their acolytes, not what's good for solving whatever the problem is. The US ethanol program for example, helps Iowa corn farmers more than any other group and it's certainly not a viable solution to climate change or oil dependency. It is not a coincidence that American Presidential campaigns kick off in Iowa.

Asking the government to "do something" will simply create more of this. Yes, it really is known as the dismal science.

March 14, 2007 in Climate Change | Permalink


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For many, the answer to any problem is - the Government must do something! The trouble is that the Government also thinks it must do something and then does something. Whether that thing is appropriate is another matter. How I long for the day when the cry is - the Government must do nothing!

Posted by: Peter Turner | Mar 14, 2007 11:40:27 AM

You are right but I wouldn't go as far as call economics a science rather philosophy with dash of statistical proofs.

Posted by: Kit | Mar 14, 2007 11:45:16 AM

"Let's say that the IPCC reading of it is largely correct (roughly my opinion, with a few minor reservations)." Ill-judged, Tim. The IPCC reading turns on a ridiculous faith, real or affected, in mathematical models which are quite incapable of demonstrating the hypothesis to be right, or indeed wrong. They are just not up to the job - the problem is far too difficult, the parameters have far too little known about them, the omissions may well be more important than the inclusions... et bloody cetera. It's a strang mixture of scientific hubris, ruthless searching for power, fame and research grants and, for all I know, a dash of crookedness.

Posted by: dearieme | Mar 14, 2007 11:04:16 PM

>>and that wearing seat belts saves lives.<<<

I was under the impression that Prf.John Adams had falsified this. or have we all dumped Popper and gone with Thomas Kuhn,
which would explain a lot about the state of so called "climate" scinece

Posted by: sean | Mar 15, 2007 4:43:51 AM

Don't forget that the US ethanol program is causing a tortilla shortage in Mexico....
I'm not joking.

Posted by: TBinSTL | Mar 15, 2007 10:47:49 AM

I think it wold be more accurate to say Mick Hulme of the LM group rather than Mick Hume of the Tyndall Centre. It does rather put all this into context.

Posted by: Gus Abraham | Mar 17, 2007 6:53:36 AM