Cloudy with a chance of ‘ignorance’
Gone are the wise weather sayings of yore. Remember “March winds” and “April showers bring May flowers”?
It’s all topsy-turvy now. The weather patterns that once seemed predictable enough to spawn these sayings have devolved to meteorological anarchy.
Or quite possibly, there’s an order to it all that scientists haven’t quite figured out yet. If you listen to the ideology of climate change, global warming is settled science, with 97 percent of scientists agreeing on manmade carbon emissions as the cause of 100 percent of warming.
From a scientific point of view, those proclamations are too simple. Too tidy. There is, in fact, a great deal of what scientists term “ignorance” — a discipline-specific concept of the uncertainty that invites further modeling and formation of hypotheses. Scientists are not as keen to wrap up the issue as popular proclamations would lead one to believe.
The disconnect is apparent in the minutiae attending the juncture where science and policy meet. Last March, climate scientists from universities across the U.S. testified to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Of the four scientists speaking on the causes of a changing climate, one upheld the mainstream consensus that human activity is the biggest cause, while the other three gave weight to natural forces, including interactions among oceanic cycles and oscillations, as well as solar activity that is warming the entire solar system. All four recommended putting the brakes on policy formulation built on assumptions of “proven science” that bypass the realities of scientific rigor. As Professor Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology said, “Science works just fine when there is more than one hypothesis to explain something.” What is missing from public policy is the patient doggedness that fuels the work of scientists themselves.
To lay people, the scientific process should be complex beyond our understanding. The scientific panel spoke of temperature models that fail to predict real-world outcomes, of unreliable forecasting of greenhouse gas trends, and most troubling, of the public’s demand for a tidy explanation while scientists are still working through varied and reasonable hypotheses, with new evidence spawning new models and retesting — a continuous diligence to unveil the truths behind the curtain of scientific “ignorance.”
It’s like a sloppy murder investigation that sends an innocent person to jail because an uneasy public wants a quick resolution. There’s a way to conduct sound policy without compromising the necessarily painstaking methods of scientific inquiry. Can’t we reach a reasonable consensus that has more to do with how we should behave as human beings than with who’s to blame for obvious climate changes?
Public discourse needs an infusion of respect for uncertainty and “ignorance.” Accusations of which scientists received money from which organizations, think tanks, and corporations do no real good in the crucial process of policy formation. Yet that is what drives the debate through the halls of Congress and the airwaves of public discourse.
Proactive policy-making should be healthier, saner, more productive. When representatives from the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) told a Congressional panel in 2016 that it no longer needed to “influence the ionosphere,” the only sensible question would have been, “Why in God’s name are we allowing this in the first place?” Sophisticated programs of weather modification have been used for decades for both benign activities like cloud seeding and more warlike purposes as well.
The European Union is skeptical about HAARP, questioning the effects of its activities on health. Our own governing bodies could use a healthy dose of skepticism about any and all climate-modifying activities that aren’t verifiably clean. Isn’t it time we buried the climate hatchets while we wait for science to uncover the entire complex reality of planet earth’s climate? In the meantime, we can and should make clean energy-wind, solar, and geothermal-the energy priority. The real issue isn’t how many and which scientists are right; it’s how a good society lives in consonance with natural resources.
While scientists conquer ignorance, we can reinvent the world of folk sayings to mirror climate changes. Try this: February thaws give snow a pause.
Wait, that won’t work. Next winter might be totally different.
Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org