Hello. This is my first blog for climatepolicy.org. First, I want to thank the organizers and the AMS for asking me. Second, as introduction, what I will write about here follows from a class that I have been teaching the last two years at U of Michigan. This class throws all of the pieces out there, science, policy, business, ethics, public health, geo-engineering, energy, current law, beliefs, etc., and tries to look as these pieces as a system. We have projects where we try to develop solutions, or at least strategies to develop solutions. More thanks – I want to thank my excellent students, the guest lecturers in the course, and many seminar speakers who come through the university.
For my first entry I will write about the intersection between climate science and policy. If we look at the development of climate knowledge from scientific investigation, then there are two types of knowledge. The first type of knowledge is a quantitative representation of climate parameters and their correlated behavior. An example of this type of knowledge is a prediction of the temperature, and it is the prediction of rapidly warming temperature that motivates the possibility of climate policy. The other type of knowledge is an estimate of uncertainty. Good scientific method is always accompanied by an analysis of error sources and some measure of the uncertainty. Uncertainty can always be used to prevent the development of policy. Therefore, the idea of climate science as a constant march to reduce uncertainty in our statements of predicted climate change is not very well posed. There is always uncertainty, and in complex systems, we discover new sources of uncertainty. Hence, there is always a reservoir of uncertainty to keep policy from converging around the gravity of scientific evidence.
The development of successful policy, therefore, requires other communities with interests in policy to participate in the process. A major constituency in the process is the business community. Policy influences the environment in which businesses function, and the business community does not function well when important policy changes might reduce the profitability of projects with the stroke of a pen. Currently many businesses are looking at infrastructure investments, for example power plants, which are sure to operate in a period of changing climate and changing climate policy. Municipalities, states, regions, and countries are, individually, developing climate policies. This makes for a difficult environment for some businesses; therefore, it is of interest to at least part of the business community to promote climate policy. An example is the recent Climate Action Partnership .
A recent study by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change , led by Professor Andrew Hoffman at UMICH, highlights the need for climate policy and the business-related risks of continuing in the current policy environment. ( PDF of Hoffman’s Pew Report (2.27 MB)) Another place to look — the CERES Reports on Corporate Governance and Climate Change show major changes between 2003 and 2006.
In this example science information both motivates the prospect of policy and provides the grist that inhibits the formation of policy. A community, which needs stable policy, recognizes the inevitability and need for policy, amplifies the motivation for policy, and hence, accelerates the development of policy. There are numerous communities which need stable policy in order to set out their strategies. The expected time scales for policy development, investments, and now, realized climate change overlap. The details of the scientifically derived information about the climate may be of secondary relevance to these communities. It, thus, becomes the role of the scientist to provide the knowledge-based information that will yield robust policy. This will require the use of the culture and practices of these different communities, because ultimately, climate change impacts every aspect of society and their participation is required. rbr ( Ricky Rood’s Wunderground Blog )