Sunday, December 10, 2006

Last word on James Inhofe

From the Washington Post, falling or at least lightly pressing against its (the media's) own sword:

"The last hearing on global climate change chaired by Sen. James M. Inhofe provided an excellent and public tutorial on why Americans should be grateful that it was, in fact, his last. The departing chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has occupied a unique perch from which to take action on climate change. Instead, he has used his time at the committee's helm to cast spurious doubts on the problem even as the scientific consensus about its reality and severity has gelled. Last week, the Oklahoma Republican held a hearing to denounce the real villain in the debate: the media.

The press, it was claimed, has hyped climate change hysterically. It has ignored dissenting scientific voices. And it has sought to advocate for climate-change policy, instead of just reporting on the science. And this is the grave national problem -- not rising sea levels, melting ice caps, loss of habitats or shifts in oceanic currents -- that warrants the attention of the senator's committee.

Mr. Inhofe's complaints are meritless. If anything, media coverage of global warming has tended toward excessive caution. Scientific alarm at the concentration of greenhouse gases predates the current media attention to the subject. Many media organizations, in a quest for balance, have given climate-change skeptics far more ink and air time than justified by the support their position carries among reputable climatologists. But even debating the merits of Mr. Inhofe's charge acquiesces to changing the subject -- which all along should have been how to craft reasonable policy to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Democratic leadership on this issue should bring a welcome change. While some Republicans support strong action on climate change, they have been stymied by the White House and by congressional leadership that has insisted on debating basic science that is no longer the subject of serious dispute. It's a little like debating the future of the space program by holding hearings on whether the earth is actually round. It's long past time to move on to something useful."

Here, here.


tim said...

This is not an issue for me. It is not a science it is politics. If you would like to educate yourself on the political underlaying of CC. Here is interesting report I came across, not a light reading. You probably should skip to page 103:

Simon Donner said...

No doubt, this post is an issue of politics: a politician was using a prominent position to misrepresent science.

His final statement claimed the media was being alarmist. In the past couple years, there has been a sea change in media coverage of climate change, from giving equal coverage to a small minority of industry-funded people claiming there is no evidence for climate change, to reporting actual climate science on the front page. No doubt, some outlets can be accused of being alarmist, as they are on other issues. In general, had the coverage been representative to begin with, perhaps we wouldn't have had the headlines blaring "the debate is over" that appear stark and alarmist?

The report makes the important point that we need to evaluate whether mitigation is "worth it". That's a much-needed discussion.

Unfortunately, it uses a naive clouding of the definition of agreement or consensus to cast doubt on strong scientific evidence. Of course climate scientists don't exactly agree on "How much of an effect on the climate does atmospheric carbon dioxide have?", but they do agree on a range and recognize the reasons for the uncertainty (ie. a mean with error bars). That type of information, albeit on a much smaller scale, is used all the time to apply science to decisions about health care, water treatment, building design, etc. Do we agree on exactly what amount of a carcinogen is required to cause liver cancer? No, but recognizing that there is a relationship, and we need to set some sort of standard, so we use (hopefully!) the best available knowledge to do so. Is it appropriate to do so with climate science? That's a fair question. Whatever the decision, it important to recognize that we live with scientific uncertainty all the time.