December 26, 2006

"And now we're wondering if we didn't create a monster..."

An interesting piece about climatologists having some second thoughts, So what happened at AGU last week?

....I wasn't so much interested in the details of climate science at this year's AGU. What I was (and am) interested in is seeing the conference as a whole. My interest in AGU has strayed from the hardrock science, moving into something more to do with feelings and hunches. That's right, feelings. Hunches. Intuition. The squishy, soft underbelly of the human mind; the part we want to ignore in pursuing geophysical data analysis. What I want to know is attitude. More than the state of the science, I now want to know about the state of the scientists....

...What I see is something that I am having a hard time labeling, but that I might call either a "hangover" or a "sophomore slump" or "buyers remorse." None fit perfectly, but perhaps the combination does. I speak for (my interpretation) of the collective: {We tried for years – decades – to get them to listen to us about climate change. To do that we had to ramp up our rhetoric. We had to figure out ways to tone down our natural skepticism (we are scientists, after all) in order to put on a united face. We knew it would mean pushing the science harder than it should be. We knew it would mean allowing the boundary-pushers on the "it's happening" side free reign while stifling the boundary-pushers on the other side. But knowing the science, we knew the stakes to humanity were high and that the opposition to the truth would be fierce, so we knew we had to dig in. But now they are listening. Now they do believe us. Now they say they're ready to take action. And now we're wondering if we didn't create a monster. We're wondering if they realize how uncertain our projections of future climate are. We wonder if we've oversold the science. We're wondering what happened to our community, that individuals caveat even the most minor questionings of barely-proven climate change evidence, lest they be tagged as "skeptics." We're wondering if we've let our alarm at the problem trickle to the public sphere, missing all the caveats in translation that we have internalized. And we're wondering if we’ve let some of our scientists take the science too far, promise too much knowledge, and promote more certainty in ourselves than is warranted.....

...I realize that many of you will disagree with the notion that we are overplaying our hand, or are not giving full voice to our uncertainties. I'm not sure the answer to this question myself. But I write all this because I sense a sea change in attitudes amongst climsci people that I know as good scientists without agendas. These are solid scientists, and some told me in no uncertain terms that we are not giving full voice to uncertainties; others implied as much. Therein lies the tension. Where we go from here is anybody's guess, but I tend to agree with the Oracle in the second Matrix movie: we already know the answer to that question, our task is to understand why we are going to do what we are going to do....(Thanks to Rand)
Posted by John Weidner at December 26, 2006 10:27 PM
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