Friday, December 21, 2007

Climate Consensus Busted? - Dot Earth - Climate Change and Sustainability - New York Times Blog

Climate Consensus Busted? - Dot Earth - Climate Change and Sustainability - New York Times Blog

This is an interesting blog article from the NYTimes, dated yesterday. The interesting thing about the article is that it questions whether studies that "debunk" whether humans cause global warming may not, in fact, be anything more than normal dialog among scientists. Basically, such studies, such as those compiled on Senator James Inhofe's website on climate change, is nothing more than the usual dialog that takes place in the academic community on a subject that may not be fully vetted. By definition forecasts on climate change 30, 40, 50 years down the road cannot be fully vetted because by the time we discover the "truth" it may well be too late to do anything to "undo" whatever past mistakes might have been made. Basically, scientific fields propose new ideas (new ideas are good, by the way), test them as best they can, and if the methodology and conclusions are basically valid, it gets published. Then, others in the field (some of whom may even agree with the basic conclusions) pick at the edges of the theories, methodologies, and conclusions for the slightest inconsistencies, carving their own niche in the bigger picture. Still, the basic theory will remain in place until a better theory topples it. Furthermore, most of the picking fails to mount a replacement theory that unifies the known, valid empirical findings with an alternative explanation- the preponderence of the conflict is at the fringe of the debate: humans might not be a conclusive cause of the problem (empirical findings are seldom 100% conclusive), but no one has forged an alternative explanation that amounts to much more than conjecture.

Global warming is a problem. Left unchanged it will present huge costs on sustaining human life. The earth will continue to exist without us if circumstances become catastrophic. Curbing global warming is also costly. We can probably live with the consequences of spending resources on curbing climate change, even if they turn out to be unnecessary (making a "Type I" error). Can our children and grandchildren live with falsely assuming that we can continue on as we have been (makin a Type II error)?

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