What are your recommendations: how to re-start the climate change debate?

Summary:  Today’s post gives a challenge and two useful presentations about climate change. How can climate scientists restart the debate — and gain majority support for large-scale public policy measures for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change? Plus a presentation overflowing with insights about climate science (not what you might expect from a Professor of Statistics), and a presentation by Roger Pielke Sr. about the state of the art in climate science.

“The climate is what you expect; the weather is what you get.”
— From Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love.

Your ideas

A challenge for you

Last week I posted What climate scientists did wrong and while the massive climate change campaign has failed. After 26 years, one of the largest longest campaigns to influence public policy has failed to gain the support of Americans, with climate change ranking near the bottom of people’s concerns. It described the obvious reason: they failed to meet the public’s expectations for behavior of scientists warning about a global threat (i.e., a basic public relations mistake).

The next few posts explain how climate scientists can re-start the public policy debate about climate change and win — gaining approval of large-scale public policy measures for mitigation and adaptation). It’s taken longer than I planned to research; the first goes up tomorrow. So for today I pass the ball to you. Post your recommendations for climate scientists in the comments!

Recommendation #1, a brilliant presentation overflowing with ideas

Here are the slide decks to two interesting presentations. The first is by Leonard A Smith (Prof of Statistics, London School of Economics): “Distinguishing Uncertainty, Diversity and Insight“.  It’s long, dense, and difficult to follow without the speech — but brilliant and over-flowing with insights. I especially recommend slides 76-86 describing the constraints limiting climate models. He does it unusually clearly using simple graphs of model complexity (run time) vs. forecast lead time (how far in the future it can see).

Presentation by Leonard Smith

Also see this paper by Smith and Nicholas Stern “Uncertainty in science and its role in climate policy” in Phil Trans A, 31 October 2011.

Recommendation #2, the state of the art in climate science

“Climate lasts all the time and weather only a few days.”
— From Mark Twain’s English As She Is Taught.

Second, I recommend this presentation by Roger Pielke Sr. (see his Wikipedia entry): “Climate Threats: A More Inclusive Assessment Is Needed“, 11 September 2015. It’s an excellent summary of the state of the play in climate science.

Presentation by Roger Pielke Sr.

Other posts in this series

These posts sum up my 330 posts about climate change.

  1. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. How climate change can help the GOP win in 2016.
  3. Next: How climate scientists can re-start the public policy debate about climate change.

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and post your comments — because we value your participation. For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Especially see these…

  1. Watch the Left burn away more of its credibility, then wonder why the Right wins.
  2. Scientists speak to us about the warming pause, while activists deny their work.
  3. Climate denial by Left & Right dominates the public debate.
  4. Climate activists’ last play: attempting to start an “availability cascade.”
  5. Appeals to fear gain little support for the Left on climate change. What next?
  6. An example of the mad climate change debate, showing America’s dysfunctionality.
  7. What happened to NASA’s missing weather satellites & their vital data about global warming?

To help you better understand today’s extreme weather

To learn more about the state of climate change see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder, and Director of their Center for Science and Technology Policy Research).

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

29 thoughts on “What are your recommendations: how to re-start the climate change debate?”

  1. Stop beating about the bush. Call it by its real name: Anthropogenic Global Warming. There is no need for a debate about “Climate Change” – there is a real, repeat REAL consensus that the climate IS changing – always has, always will. The only debate is about the real human contribution to warming. And about what should be done other than adapting to warming/cooling.

    1. vuurklip,

      “Call it by its real name: Anthropogenic Global Warming”

      I understand why you say that. Confusion is rife (often deliberate) between warming from 1800 to WWII (almost entirely natural) and the warming since 1950 (over half caused by anthropogenic factors) — as we saw with Obama pointing to the melting Alaska glaciers. And the Left’s public policy recommendations have focused almost entirely on limiting CO2 emissions.

      But that framing is both wrong and ineffective. It is one reason they failed. First, climate change is a threat — both natural and anthropogenic. That’s the key point to my recommendations in How climate change can help the GOP win in 2016.

      Second, anthropogenic factors influencing the climate include things other than CO2. That’s the message of the presentation included in this post by Prof Pielke Sr.

      climate change

      1. Alberto,

        First, of what relevance is this to the question at hand? Your railing against “deniers” is how activists have lost. Do you believe doubling down on failed tactics will win?

        Second, there is nothing in this biased bit of advocacy showing that Exxon knew anything that was not in the newspapers. That one guy at Exxon had theories that were outside the consensus of that time is meaningless. In fact climate scientists had no consensus on the timing and magnitude of warming until the late 1980s. The first IPCC report in 1995 (FAR) expressed large uncertainties about these matters.

        Third, Exxon has contributed large sums to green scientists and advocacy group. More broadly, just look around. The climate alarmists are far better funded than the skeptics. The alarmists have professionally designed websites by the dozen, with professional writers. They do videos and movies, with Hollywood-level professionalism. The skeptics rely almost entirely on standard blog templates, written by volunteers — with none of the multi-media productions arrayed against them.

        It’s taken astonishing incompetence by alarmists — plus uncooperative weather — to have failed on this scale. Hence the question here: how to get things on track.

  2. I think the question is wrong to start with because you are underestimating the extent to which science has been delegitimized among the population. Be it vaccines, animal research or a number of others issues people care less and less about scientists opinion when it contradicts their own.

    Take the typical leftie/green who campaigns for anti GW action quoting scientific studies and put him with a scientist who says that GMO might not be complete evil and watch the accusation of being a stooge for Monsanto flying around. This dynamic is only going to gain increasing traction.

    Scientists telling people to do something that would inconvenience them is going to be met by a chorus of la la la I can’t hear you; your best bet is probably finding some other way to sell the same measures and using science/scientists just as a dressing rather than the main dish.

    1. Marcello,

      “people care less and less about scientists opinion when it contradicts their own.”

      I would like to see evidence for that theory. Science — more broadly, anti-intellectualism — is an enduring part of the American character. My guess is that it is now (the post-WWII era) a smaller factor than in the past. But stronger or weaker, it’s always been a factor — one that has been successfully overcome before. And can be overcome again.

  3. There is a real issue here in as much as the posturing and manipulation of data has disguised or concealed what is really happening with the climate. It is conceivable that the climate may well surprise everyone by moving to extreme cold, something we are not remotely prepared for and which could be devastating to the the world.
    It’s long past time for open and honest reassessment of climate change and planning for action to mitigate whichever way it goes.
    The truth is that nobody knows how the climate works in sufficient detail. Claiming that they do, the consensus scientists and their supporters may be placing us in extreme danger.

  4. Here is what I’d like to see:
    1) A discussion about the contribution due to fluctuations in the earth’s orbit and tilt. Are there any satellites measuring and tracking the sun’s energy?
    2) A discussion about negative feedback. Example(More CO2 promotes plant growth which consumes CO2.)
    3)More intelligent conversations about cause and effect rather than alarming claims about the effects and statistical correlations (correlation does not prove cause and effect).

    This is a bit off topic but the global warming debate reminds me of the CFC Ozone layer depletion debate. How many times were we warned about the Ozone holes at the poles. But no published media report every explained that Ozone is created when UV light is absorbed by O2 breaking the molecule into unstable O ions which cling to nearby O2 molecules to form O3 (Ozone) . O3 is also unstable and will combine with an other O3 molecules to form 3 stable O2 molecules. The North and South pole have no sunlight for 6 months of the year during which this process is interrupted and Ozone cannot be created. The bottom line is the ozone holes should be expected, yet they are portrayed as an environmental man made disaster in the making. The science was always missing from the debate.

  5. Yacht Frei has gone to the extreme position that we know nothing about climate and presumably can never know).
    I thought that most people here would agree on increasing the research budget and broadening the group of people involved (eg the CATS group). Another worthy project was working to mitigate “normal” 100 yr events. (“Sandy” should have never happened.

    1. Social Bill,

      I agree on all points. But those are policy recommendations — results of breaking the public policy gridlock. The subject here is how climate scientists can restart the campaign — and so help that happen.

      This goes to one of the most interesting tropes I see in comments: people focus on what they would like to happen. I find it difficult to get people to discuss how to make it happen. My guess is that this reflects our transition from citizens (responsible participants) to subjects (bystanders, cheerleaders, passive watchers).

    1. Editor,

      The trend is down, but maybe that is not significant. It is quite possible that sea ice extent is couple to the proposed global “stadium wave” oscillation, in which case you need close to a full cycle (60-70 years) to properly judge the long term trend.

  6. John mentioned the ozone hole/ etc problem. This looks like a scale model compared to the AGW problem, but the comparison may tell us something.
    First, identification of the problem and it’s cause. In 1974 the ozone depletion at the poles was noted and by 1979 Chlorine producing CFCs were identified as the cause. (Each Cl atom can break up 500 Or molecules. A relatively simple cause.

    With AGW the problem is much more complex with many feedback loops, problems with hidden heat, vastly more data required. Second, the science was clear and almost universally accepted for the Ozone problem. Third, there was no really big money to distort things. Third, a solution, the Montreal Protocol was adopted internationally. Fourth, the solution basically worked. The Ozone hole has gone down since 2006. (We need confidence we CAN solve the AGW problem). Obviously, the AGW problem is far worse on.the last points. The second and third points have gone much more slowly. (20 years of meetings!)

    1. socialbill,

      The CFC’s were economically insignificant compared to fossil fuels and were rather easy to replace. To replace fossil fuels, we need an energy source that is economic (not wind or solar), reliable (not wind or solar), and politically acceptable (not nuclear). That leaves nothing. Maybe nuclear can be made acceptable by convincing those who are alarmed about global warming that its either fossil fuels or nuclear. That probably won’t have a chance of happening until the beautiful theory of renewables gets smashed between the ugly rocks of economics and engineering.

      1. Mike,

        That’s a useful framing of the problem. It’s a little binary, however. The developed nations have already began reducing emissions, and can continue to do so with existing sources plus improved efficiency.

        As for the long term, as you explain, we need alternatives. Hence my recommendation that we pursue both adaptation (prepare for extreme weather) and mitigation (energy research & development).

        But for today, baby steps. Tomorrow’s post goes to the heart of the matter: how scientists can build support for bolder action than baby steps.

  7. “how climate scientists can re-start the public policy debate about climate change and win”

    That would be flogging a dead horse. Start a new debate about what needs to be done to build a flexible, resilient society that would have the best possible chance to deal successfully with whatever challenges might appear in the future. Such challenges would include climate change, both natural and anthropogenic as well as a wide variety of weather/climate related disasters.

    Note that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can not be a primary objective since doing so would only protect against a very specific, rather questionable, possible disaster. But infrastructure improvements of the type previously advocated by Fabius Maximus could fit into such a program. Making our energy system more diverse and adaptable would also fit it. That would have a side effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, though not as much as the environmentalists want.

  8. I would like to see the true believers of AGW/climate change start acting like its a crisis they say it is instead of paying lip service.

    You know,lead by example?

    1. Believers in AGW could commence self funding of corrective AGW measures not using taxpayer dollars.Start paying carbon taxes on their own and by themselves.

    2. Celebrity believers could give up luxury homes,air conditioning and anything other than one prius and some bicycles per household for the believers.They could pay to have their own houses made solar or wind reliant and pay for others to have the same done to their homes.

    3. The Pope could sell some of the vast Vatican holdings to help the poor AGW believers.

    4. Scientists could research practical alternate forms of energy paid for by believers of AGW instead of doing consensus debates.

    All examples could be easily done by believers to demonstrate their faith in AGW and lead by personal example.

    Is this asking too much?

    1. Perhaps TL;DR. This is, more or less, a list of what turned me into a ‘denier’…

      Stop shouting. It’s been unproductive at best.
      Stop putting climate change at the top of the list for reasons why X is declining/changing when any fool can see that habitat loss and pollution are considerably more important factors.
      Stop treating members of the public as experts when they make anecdotal claims about the seasons changing.
      Be honest about uncertainty. Particularly in paleo-climate and climate modelling.
      Be honest about the difficulty of making accurate measurements of temperature or sea level rise.
      Be honest about the known unknowns.
      Stop torturing the data. Ideally, any statistical analysis should be performed by statisticians not self taught climate scientists. Even better, climate scientists should obtain the data and hand it to independent teams to analyse.
      Publish *all* the data.
      Stop mucking about with ETS schemes. They’re doomed to failure.
      Establish a carbon tax.
      Accept that we *cannot* avoid some of the effects of climate change and that adaptation will be required. Given that most of the adaptation strategies would save lives and property without climate change they’re a good thing.
      Start a serious program of research into nuclear power plant that’s fail-safe and relatively cheap to deploy. Make tested designs available license free.

  9. The problem here goes very deep in human circumstances. The consequences of gobal warming are far in the future, whereas the advantages of burning fossil fuels are very immediate. Mankind likes luxury, free time for the better things in life, and novel experiences. The problem here I think is not that people don’t perhaps think there may be problems in the future. It is that they don’t really care. There is also the individual vs. society or government. Proposed solutions often involve curtailing freedom and choices and in some ways reducing consumption of energy. They often involve making the commoner make sacrifices that perhaps the elite don’t have to make. If you are rich, you can buy your way out of any sacrifices under a carbon tax for example.

    My own personal feeling is that one way to start is for the most activist to set a good example. Don’t have a huge carbon footprint. Use teleconferencing and don’t attend in person. If you are a wealthy activist, use some of your money for research on new energy solutions. Start arguing for nuclear power with equal vigor to your advocacy for a carbon tax or green energy subsidies. And it is clear that moralistic arguments are often counterproductive. It’s a little like the problem of arguing for celibacy or reduced sexual activity (for the less virtuous). Hypocracy will be met with a complete disregard for your message since the message is a hard sell and goes against fundamental desires and inclinations.

  10. my suggestion is this,
    make it more entertaining,
    mix it with other issues
    tangentially or not
    at any angle
    put it in an entertaining context.
    my 2 ether

  11. Stop treating the public on both sides of the issue like morons. Convey the nuance and assume the public are intelligent enough to discern the risk / cost balance nature of the debate. In other words jettison the advice of the late Stephen Schneider.

    “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”

    Discover, pp. 45–48, October 1989.

    1. DMC,

      Thanks for reminding us of that quote. To avoid confusion, I edited your comment to give the full quote and its citation.

      IMO alarmists have chosen to be “effective” at the expense of being honest. The result is that they have failed anyway. Sometimes people get their just deserts.

  12. There is another dimension I have always argued….fossil fuel are finite.

    Now you could be a died in the wool anti-climate change arguer, BUT saving valuable fossil fuels for things like chemcial, plastics and all the rest makes perfect sense. Rather than wasting it for generating electricty, where there are a range of options.

    Then there is the other pollution issues. SO2, particluates,mercury, unregulated radation releases (yep) and all the rest.

    So burning fossil fuels for electrcity is a mugs came …and totally uneconomic too. Without all the direct and indirect subsidies burning coal (or gas) to generate electricity makes no economic sense at all.

    But being ‘old money’ in the US the coal companies are the ‘establishment’….They were too in the UK..until it all ran out of course. Then they got smart ..,then they got stupid when they found and wasted their oil and gas.

    The US was and is cursed by having large easily tapped coal reserves….though the environmental damage was and is horrible; Add in a toxic financial system and …well….sometimes ‘mal-investement; is too gentle a term.

    Bit sad, if the US had little coal reserves (and sod all oil and gas) then we would have perfect fission reactors and almost certainly working prototype fusion ones…. plus lots of solar and wind…Nearly all US made…..

    1. Lisa.

      My recommendations for public policy have always included more R&D and regulations to “decarbonize” to reduce pollution (e.g., coal is astonishingly dirty) and prepare for peak oil (it will take many decades to do so). In that sense we agree.

      But the question here is how do break the logjam on the climate change public policy debate. Introducing peak oil — already a controversial subject seems unlikely to help, imo.

      Side note: peak oil is contraversial for many of the same reasons that CAGW has become so, especialy the poor research and numerous false predictions by advocates. Structurally the similarities are even great. Advocates in both became locked in epistemic closure, convinced they had the truth — and tolerant of bad research and debate methods that advanced the cause. This has backfired on both movements, big-time.

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