National Public Radio’s All Things Considered ran a multipart series looking at sides of the climate change debate. One of the issues in the debate all along was that skeptics of climate change seemed to be almost unanimously non-scientists, particularly politicians and other demagogues. NPR found a scientist who’s skeptical about at least some of the platform of the climate change scientists, and interviewed her — the online version is ‘Uncertain’ Science: Judith Curry’s Take On Climate Change.
Dr. Curry is clearly an expert in the field, and she doesn’t dispute the basic facts that climate change science is based on. She differs, though, in expressing uncertainty: We don’t really know enough about how this planet’s climate works to know whether we’re going through typical up-and-down cycles with temperatures and precipitation and all. It may still be debatable how much human influence causes climate variations. Where most scientists speak with certainty of the likelihood of global disasters related to climate change, Dr. Curry says we don’t know enough, that perhaps things won’t turn out the way we think, and there is more to the issue than pure science.
The unfortunate side-effect of her well-thought-out opinions is that the knee-jerk climate change deniers in Congress are latching onto her words to try to support doing nothing and buttress their claims that climate change is all a “liberal” hoax. That probably doesn’t help her popularity much. But that doesn’t make her wrong.
I pay attention to science, but I can’t claim any expertise. I have had the thought that we’ve only been doing serious climate study for two centuries or so, and we know of some of the extremes of weather in the past but not so much of what happened when it wasn’t extremely cold or hot. I’m also wary of the pervasive view that we humans have so much impact on everything. Sure, we affect changes that impact other beings on the planet, but other beings have their own effects. We could cut out emissions of pollutants to nothing, and then Tambora erupts again, and we’re back in a Little Ice Age, or worse.
What I don’t say, though, is that we should do nothing. Dr. Curry doesn’t, either, I’d venture to say. Even if it wouldn’t matter that the pollutants in the atmosphere warm the planet — they still are unhealthy to breathe. If we continue to consume the planet’s resources at the ever-increasing rate we do, that will be unsustainable, regardless of what the temperature is. We need to be good stewards of the planet. We don’t need to be rigidly dogmatic about why, though.