Climate change: Speaking truth to power

April 13, 2011 - 0:0

The distinguished climate scientist and 'Republican' Kerry Emanuel addressed the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on March 31st. You can find his enlightened and lucid 'advanced written testimony' in the internet and there is a webcast of the proceedings.

Dr. Emanuel was especially astute at explaining how science works to the House Committee members. He quoted Dept. of Defense documents on the national security implications of climate change as well as citing Fukushima as an example of how we underestimate risk. Hopefully, his learned common sense will make an impression on the members of the Science, Space and Technology committee.
Like David Orr and Brendan Smith , who both ignored the prevailing Big ENGO conventional wisdom and spoke out recently about climate change, Dr. Emanuel wasn't afraid to support the IPCC and the present scientific consensus. He told the committee:
""In facing this highly difficult problem, reasonable people will differ in what approaches to take. But citizens have a right to insist that their representatives confront this complex problem in an open and honest way. In soliciting advice, we should be highly skeptical of any expert who claims to be certain of the outcome. I include especially those scientists who express great confidence that the outcome will be benign; the evidence before us simple doesn't warrant such confidence. Likewise, beware those who deride predictive science in it's entirety, for they are also making a prediction: that we have nothing to worry about. And above all, don't shoot the messenger, for this is the coward's way out of openly and honestly confronting the problem.""
But, IMHO, Dr. Emanuel got one thing about climate change policy ass backward and it's important to note because it illustrates how we are still trying to shoehorn climate change into political and economic BAU instead of a proper due diligence to future generations framework:
Dr. Emanuel gave three reasons why climate change is particularly difficult to deal with, the third of which is:
While the costs of confronting these risks will fall largely to our generation, the primary beneficiaries of our actions will be our children and grandchildren, not us.
Uh, no - this wrongfoots and helps limit action. We greatly benefit from burning fossil fuels today and the dire consequences will (with increasing probability) rain down on future generations.
Future generations, in some hopeful futures, may greatly benefit from the wealth generated from our use of fossil fuels today, but the main reason we burn them is for energy for our purposes today. Future generations will be the beneficiaries of rising sea-levels, more powerful storms, desertification, ocean acidification, climate chaos, species extinction, famine, failing states and war, and maybe mass dieoff and extinction as a result.
If I shot an arrow into the sky and it fell back to earth injuring someone I'd be culpable. Responsible people wouldn't shoot an arrow into the sky if there was a chance that it could come down and injure.
But we are in denial and won't quantify the risks of our use of fossil fuels in a due diligence to future generations framework because of fear of the inconvenient costs to us today. We could and should have a top level inquiry, open and transparent , to investigate and quantify our culpability and build a robust consensus on action, but instead we are in denial and merely hold political theatre hearings to witch hunt the scientific messengers: ""the coward's way out of openly and honestly confronting the problem.""
Bill (at)