Society faces complex choices in dealing with climate change. The policies we adopt have the greatest chance to benefit society if they are grounded in the best available knowledge. Unfortunately, gaps in understanding among scientists, policy makers, journalists and the public permeate nearly all aspects of the issue and constitute a major barrier to the adoption of well-informed responses to the threats posed by climate change.
ClimatePolicy will be a source of information and will work toward a more fully informed debate. We’ll discuss a wide range of topics that span scientific understanding, impact assessment, policy analysis, and the value judgments that shape people’s policy preferences. This will improve the policy process by explicitly identifying existing knowledge and exploring the limits to it. Our goal is to inform policy, rather than to advocate for specific policy solutions.
What we know about the climate system, and the impact humans have on it, comes mostly from observations, scientific research, impact assessment, and policy analysis. Much of this knowledge is presented in periodic synthesis reports, like the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the US Assessment Reports, and the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the National Academy of Science (NAS).
Nevertheless, moving from knowledge to policy remains a major challenge. Scientists often struggle to convey information beyond the research community, and the broader implications for society are rarely obvious. Even when climate impacts are clear, different groups will be affected by them (and by climate policies) differently. Those who win and those who lose rarely agree on an appropriate course of action. Nor do members of society always share the same priorities and values. How we view risk, our preferences for focusing on the present or the future, how much importance we attach to other species, and how flexible we are in facing challenges all influence the direction we want society to take in response to climate change.
Societal decisions will have to balance what we know with the values and interests of a broad range of people. Even if we all shared the same knowledge, choosing climate policies would remain contentious.
Nevertheless, by clearly distinguishing what we know (objective understanding) from what we believe should be (subjective value judgments), the process of setting a course will become more focused and effective. Those who attempt to use ignorance to manipulate the debate will be less effective and will lose credibility, while disagreements that focus on values and beliefs will not obscure the considerable knowledge base we possess.
ClimatePolicy is a web commentary designed to encourage exchanges among experts, policy-makers, journalists, and the broader society. We welcome comments and look forward to a lively discussion (see our comment policy).
The American Meteorological Society’s Policy Program established the ClimatePolicy project. The views expressed by the contributors are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of AMS. To learn about established AMS positions on climate change or other issues, consult these AMS statements.