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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 03/11/2009

Dueling Climate Meetings Aim to Steer Policy

By Andrew Freedman

* Last Taste of Spring for a While: Our Full Forecast *

Contrasting messages emerged this week from two diametrically opposed conferences on climate science. At the Heartland Institute's "International Conference on Climate Change," scientists and policy advocates asserted that the vast majority of climate scientists are woefully mistaken, and human activities are not the primary cause of recent climate change. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, climate scientists were sounding new alarm bells at a climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

At the Heartland Institute's meeting in New York, speakers cast doubt on the dominant view that man made climate change is likely to be damaging if action is not taken soon to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which most scientists (outside of the conference) agree is warming the planet's climate.

Keep reading for more on these diametrically opposite meetings...

Interestingly, the conference was not exclusively aimed at influencing the broader scientific community, which has widely accepted the theory of man made climate change, but rather was directed at policymakers in Washington and around the world, whom conference organizers (who have been financially backed by the oil industry) fear will enact emissions reduction policies that would raise energy prices and have other harmful economic impacts.

According to session summaries, presenters discussed the "potential policy disasters flowing from global warming alarmists" and declared that resisting the mainstream scientific finding that climate change is a real and potentially significant threat, is really a fight against "energy rationing."

Meanwhile, a very different scientific conference has been underway in Copenhagen, Denmark, which will play host to the next round of United Nations climate talks in December. The conference by the University of Copenhagen, entitled: "Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions," is providing an update to some of the findings of the 2007 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to incorporate more recent scientific studies.

The main message from the Copenhagen meeting that has been filtering through the press is that some climate scientists think the effects of climate change are more severe than the IPCC anticipated, and therefore the need to reduce emissions is even more urgent. For example, a BBC News story yesterday contained the alarming news that new research indicates sea levels may rise much more than the IPCC forecasted, possibly by as much as one meter by the end of the century. This would have devastating consequences for highly populated low-lying areas around the world.

Like the Heartland conference, the gathering in Copenhagen has been organized in large part to communicate a particular scientific message to policymakers. According to the conference web site, the main goal is to "provide a synthesis of existing and emerging scientific knowledge necessary in order to make intelligent societal decisions concerning application of mitigation and adaptation strategies in response to climate change." Output of the Copenhagen meetings will consist of a summary of the research that has emerged in the two years since the last IPCC report, which will be provided to participants at the climate talks in December.

The Heartland Institute and Copenhagen climate conferences help show that scientists can be policy advocates too, even if they don't always specify precisely what policies they are advocating for. For example, the Associated Press quoted IPCC Chairman Rachendra Pachauri as telling Copenhagen participants that, essentially, scientists have to prod politicians into acting on the basis of scientific evidence.

"I am afraid that it is something that involves value judgment on the part of policy makers, and I am afraid that they shied away from it," he told the conference. "It is time to take action."

Do you think scientists need to be more active in policy advocacy?

By Andrew Freedman  | March 11, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, Policy  
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Comments

"Like the Heartland conference, the gathering in Copenhagen has been organized in large part to communicate a particular scientific message to policymakers."

What "particular scientific message" is the Heartland pretend-IPCC trying to communicate? They can't even agree amongst themselves about why the mainstream climate picture is wrong.

By contrast the Climate Congress is communicating updates on vital aspects of the IPCC AR4 that have been published since its compilation.

I don't see the similarities.

"Do you think scientists need to be more active in policy advocacy?"

When the alternative is policy dictated by corporate interests and nutters like Jim Inhofe, I would have to find a compelling reason *not to* be more active.

Posted by: thingsbreak | March 11, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

"thingsbreak: The similarities are that they were both trying to catch the attention of policymakers. One was trying to dispel alarm, the other was seeking to turn up the volume of the alarm system. Both, therefore, had similar base goals even though attendees had dramatically different scientific viewpoints (as well as different levels of scientific credibility).

As for scientists needing to be advocates for their work in order to counter attempts by Senator Inhofe-types, that's a good point, and one that I think is increasingly recognized by the climate science community. For example, that is a key reason why realclimate.org was launched a few years ago. The Copenhagen conference exemplifies this approach.

Do you see any problems, however, with scientists taking more of an advocacy role in the science/policy process? There are downsides as well, including the potential loss of credibility if alarms are sounded simply to meet policy ends rather than because of scientific evidence. I am not saying that is going on now necessarily, just that it is something to look out for.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | March 11, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

"Do you see any problems, however, with scientists taking more of an advocacy role in the science/policy process?"

I'm not sure I see the "more" part of it. Concerns over nuclear weapons, the non-viability of Star Wars, acid rain, ozone depletion, etc.

"There are downsides as well, including the potential loss of credibility if alarms are sounded simply to meet policy ends rather than because of scientific evidence."

All scientists make mistakes. It comes with the territory. Carl Sagan is no less credible a scientist because he was wrong about the oil fires in Kuwait- the key is honesty about when one has been in error. The easy way to sidestep that issue is to be upfront about what your data say and then to give your opinions based on that data subsequently- which is how things more or less are working now. "If we continue practice X, consequences Y and Z are likely to happen" is not overstepping one's role in a paper. Including "This necessitates only pursuing strategy A involving resources from organization B to ameliorate the situation" is a different story.

Posted by: thingsbreak | March 11, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Put another way, Jim Hansen's visionary status in climate science isn't contingent upon statements like this being correct policy or not: http://tinyurl.com/d4k6mh. His work holds up or falls on its own merits. His opinions on policy are based on data, but they are not the only options available.

If we were to implement a massive cap and trade program that ended up meeting its goals, Hansen wouldn't lose scientific credibility because he backed the wrong policy horse (cap and dividend).

Posted by: thingsbreak | March 11, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

scientists are terrible at talking to the public about their findings - consider the evolution "debate." something like 40% of americans believe humans were created in our present form 6-10,000 years ago. and the science on evolution is much more settled than that for global warming.

scientists always talk with modifiers and qualifiers, reflecting the proper level of certainty so as to be strictly accurate, but we laymen hear "could" and "might" and "possibly" and think they don't what they're talking about.

also, people hear whatever they want to hear through the filter of their desires. i know this because when you guys say "slight possibility of some mixed precip," i hear "it will snow"...

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 11, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

andrew,
i heard back from gavin re: "list of jims". he recalled that coby beck had suggested it once, and called it interesting, but did not offer to start the list. dag nabbit!

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 11, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

thingsbreak:
that link you gave didn't work for me.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 11, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

You point out that Heartland has received funding from oil companies in the past. Should we also note that the Copenhagen conference receives funding from wind power firms?

Posted by: weatherreader | March 11, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

The Heartland conference is correct in its assertion that human activities are not necessarily responsible for the world's climate.

And, walter-in-fallschurch, you are incorrect. Evolutionary "science" is NOT "more settled" than global warming.....like global warming, evolution it is a theory and not necessarily fact. That's why the 40% of Americans you refer to are level-headed enough not to succumb to it AS fact.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | March 11, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

thingsbreak: the reason "ozone depletion" did not become a national catastrophe was because the government, to my best knowledge, pushed for chemical replacements and industry changes, thus decreasing the amount of ozone-harming aerosols. If anything, the ozone hole was a sign that humans actually can impact--and help to restore--the well-being of the globe.

Posted by: KBurchfiel | March 11, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

mmcarhelp:
oh my gosh...

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 11, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

@walter-in-fallschurch:

Should be: http://tinyurl.com/d4k6mh The period at the end is screwing it up.

@KBurchfiel

We're not disagreeing. I was pointing to instances wherein scientists advocated certain policy actions due to the potential consequences of inaction, illustrating that this is not a new or growing phenomenon.

@MMCarhelp

You're equivocating between the scientific vs. lay meanings of "theory". Evolution and anthropogenic warming are both realities. That they are described by mainstream scientific theory does nothing to lessen that, but rather indicates they enjoy *stronger* theoretical and evidential support than mere hypotheses.

Posted by: thingsbreak | March 11, 2009 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Incorrect, thingsbreak. At this point, they are theories, not (necessarily)realities.

I'll save evolution for another forum, as that is probably not suitable issue for us to be discussing on a weather/climate forum like this. But the whole issue of climate "change", and land/sea/atmosphere heat/cold interaction, is SO complex that even supercomputers cannot figure it out....it's that difficult. Any scientist, (much less Al Gore), that does claim to understand it is either lying or totally naive.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | March 11, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

thingsbreak:
thanks for fixing the link. articles like that are so depressing. couple that with the amount of (lay) people who won't even face up to the problem, and it seems insurmountable. rather than dealing with it, we're still talking about whether it's real. aaaarrrgghhh...

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 11, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

theories are explanations of observations and data. hypotheses are used to test theories. mmcarhelp is correct to say "they are both theories". what he implies is that they are "just" theories - like it's an insult, or like a theory is a wild-@#$-guess. gravity is a theory, so is plate tectonics, and germ theory of disease.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 11, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

weatherreader: I was not aware of the wind energy funding of the Copenhagen conference (not surprising though, given its location), and yes, that should be reported as long as the oil industry funding of Heartland is mentioned. However, the comparison between the two industries in terms of financial clout and their interest in climate science breaks down in some respects.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | March 11, 2009 11:30 PM | Report abuse

Where is the good Dr. Tracton and his usual comment about "highjacking" the thread?

Oh, you say that is only used when he disagrees with the commenter and not when he agrees. How very hypocritical. He fits in nicely at CWG.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | March 12, 2009 3:49 AM | Report abuse

mr.q.
you can ignore me if you like, and it's too bad the other (MIT) thread is "closed". i was hoping to hear about what you learned in those papers you read. i believe you were to get back to capitalclimate and marcucmarcus.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 12, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

@MMcarhelp:

"the whole issue of climate "change", and land/sea/atmosphere heat/cold interaction, is SO complex that even supercomputers cannot figure it out....it's that difficult. Any scientist, (much less Al Gore), that does claim to understand it is either lying or totally naive."

This is a non sequitur. Being able to precisely describe every minuscule facet of a changing climate is not a prerequisite for determining the reality and attribution of the broader aspects of anthropogenic warming like stratospheric cooling, increased surface temperatures, sea level rise, increasing hydrological cycle intensity, etc.

Posted by: thingsbreak | March 12, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

@MMCarhelp: "But the whole issue of climate "change", and land/sea/atmosphere heat/cold interaction, is SO complex that even supercomputers cannot figure it out....it's that difficult. Any scientist, (much less Al Gore), that does claim to understand it is either lying or totally naive."

This is a non sequitur. Being able to describe every minuscule facet of a changing climate is not a necessary prerequisite for determining the reality and attribution of the broader aspect of anthropogenic warming like increased surface temperatures, stratospheric cooling, sea level rise, increased hydrological cycle intensity, etc. The scientific community has moved on from the issues of whether or not warming is occurring and its attribution to largely human influence.

Don't take my word for it, look at relevant papers published in refereed, respected journals.

Posted by: thingsbreak | March 12, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

It is difficult to imagine the scientific community becoming more involved in advocacy in favour of climate policy across a range of geopolitical scales than it already is. The Copenhagen meeting, for example, is explicitly an attempt by the scientific community to influence the post-2012 political landscape. As such, it is indeed analogous to the Heartland Institute's efforts, which have the same intent but seek a different outcome. The IPCC process provides a mechanism for regular review of the scientific literature on climate change. There have been few fundamental shifts in understanding about climate science since the Fourth Assessment Report, and given AR45 is just a few years away, one wonders what the utility is in these declarations that the scientific landscape has changed dramatically within 24 months. Given persistent uncertainty, there is little substantive purpose to an argument about whether e.g., sea level will rise by 80 cm in 2100 or 100 cm. The only point of such arguments is to tell a compelling story to advocate for policy action. But ultimately, regardless of what the science "says", it will not compel a particular policy response - any response must be socially, not scientifically, constructed (where's Roger Pielke Jr. when you need him). As such, scientists should resist the urge to compel and convince the public and focus on informing the public (a job that, frankly, they have yet to perform adequately). The squeaky wheel tends to get the attention, but without all the other wheels working in unison, the bandwagon doesn’t go anywhere.

Posted by: BLP1 | March 12, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

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