Corlett Novis argues that scientising the climate change debate is only delaying action
We rely on science to solve problems. We use it everywhere, from big problems like earthquakes to small problems like what the weather will be. But when it comes to issues like climate change, could it be that our quest for more and more data is actually making things worse?
When former US President Barack Obama stated that climate change “will define the contours of this century”, he seemed to be making a statement about the importance of the problem at hand. In hindsight, however, it has a second meaning. Climate change has “defined the contours” in another of this century’s most troubling problems: scientific uncertainty.
In the past science has allowed us to diminish uncertainty with rigorous observation, data collection and analysis until certainty was reached. Unfortunately, this isn’t always true today. Much of modern science involves unavoidable amounts of uncertainty due to unpredictable and unseen variables, and as a result we are still uncertain about the consequences and effects of climate change.
Worse still, increasing amounts of research are indicating that science involving uncertainty, like climate science, only enforces, rather than solves, political disputes. This happens because scientists end up arming opposing sides with their own valid facts and statistics, due to the uncertainty surrounding them.
The result? Gridlock.
The only thing which is clear and obvious about climate change is this: it’s less about science and more about politics. What needs to be addressed are the underlying value disputes underpinning the climate change debate, rather than the uncertain scientific technicalities. We must hold politicians accountable, and not allow them convenient excuses which put the onus on scientists, such as “we’re waiting for the results to come in”, or “we want the science to be certain”. It never will be. If we want transparency from our politicians then we need to address climate change, not as a scientific dispute, but as a political one.
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