We’ve posted three times on different approaches to climate change, distinguishing the views of CO2 Pragmatists from CO2 Puritans. Whereas Pragmatists are open to market-based regulatory responses such as carbon taxes and tradable emission permits, Puritans are not. CO2 Hybrids are Pragmatists who are invested in technological remedies beyond what economic efficiency would achieve with correct market prices.
Most recently we implicitly defended Al Gore from criticism on both the right and leftthat he was insufficiently Puritan in his personal “carbon footprint,” which appears to be rather large. We noted that the policy prescriptions on the web site forAn Inconvenient Truth are consistent with CO2 Pragmatism. Thus, the strongest basis for criticism would arise if Gore did not actually behave as a CO2 Pragmatist by purchasing bona fide carbon offsets for the CO2 emissions he indirectly generates. We’ve found no evidence that he doesn’t, and plenty of evidence that he can easily afford to do so.
In today’s New York Times, William J. Broad identifies a different basis for criticism. The scientific claims about climate change in AIC are the subject of increasing controversy among climate change scientists.Broad notes that many climate change scientists who are by no means “skeptics” believe that Gore overstated the case in An Inconvenient Truth. This could be attributed to unwitting error, except for the fact that Gore says the science behind AICwas subjected to scrupulous peer review. Gore’s response to Broad on that point is telling:
Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made “the most important and salient points” about climate change, if not “some nuances and distinctions” scientists might want. “The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger,” he said, adding, “I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand.”
This is incompatible with scientific peer review. Scientists understand that when they subject their work to the review of their peers they accept an ethical obligation to correct documented errors that their reviewers detect..Given the wealth of scientific peer review resources available to Gore in the production of AIC, it is difficult to believe that peer review would have failed to detect any significant scientific error.
Broad cites disturbing comments made about Gore by Roger Pielke, Jr. and Kevin Vranes. Both contribute to a popular science policy blog called Prometheus and neither would be characterized as climate change “skeptics.” Today Vranes elaborates upon his comments to Broad, saying (at least ambivalently) that climate change as an environmental issue has been eclipsed by the issue of Al Gore as a political actor. He worries that political personalization of the issue may undermine public support for his preferred policy responses, but then takes the plunge anyway:
Tits for tats and tête-à-têtes aside, my biggest problem lies here [quoting Broad]:
Mr. Gore depicted a future in which temperatures soar, ice sheets melt, seas rise, hurricanes batter the coasts and people die en masse. “Unless we act boldly,” he wrote, “our world will undergo a string of terrible catastrophes.”
Clearly this is not science, this is agenda. But it is agenda sold on science, and if/when it doesn’t come true, you have diminished the credibility of those producing the science. It’s a big gamble to take. I think perhaps what is neatly illustrated by Mr. Broad in this article is that many big-name climate scientists are willing to take this risk by hitching their wagons to a non-scientist who is doing the selling for them.
It’s a choice for individual scientists to make and I’m not faulting them or Al Gore for running down this path. In fact, I’d bolster my quote in the article praising Gore for getting the message out. I think Gore plays a very important and valuable role in public knowledge on climate change risk. (And FWIW, I’m betting with Roger [Pielke] that Gore will jump into the race, very late, will get all the money that the Clintons and Obama are raising now without having to stress himself to burn-out stage too early, and will stomp Rudy to get the WH. And yea …, by saying this I’m angling for a position in the Gore White House.) But for the scientists they need to realize that Mr. Gore has a great cover if/when the dire predictions don’t materialize: “Hey, I’m not a scientist, I’m just a concerned citizen politician.” The scientists hitching their wagons to the dire messages have no such cover (except for tenure?).
This decision puts scientists like Vranes in a difficult position. Having crossed over into the realm of political actors, they can preserve their scientific reputations only by disputing every scientific error, no matter how small, that is used to buttress public policy decisions with which they agree.
A place to start is on the science tab of the AIC web site, which contains four scientific statements and six scientific predictions based on science. They form the scientifc basis for AIC’s Pragmatist policy recommendations. Nine of the ten are footnoted, each with a single reference. Of the 9 references, three are from the popular press, two are individual peer reviewed journal articles whose purposes differ from the quoted statement, and the rest are examples of the logical fallacy called an appeal to authority.