Beyond Global Warming Yes or No
Roger Pielke, Jr.
Environmental and Societal Impacts Group
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Boulder, Colorado
October 6, 2000
University of Minnesota
Abstract for Eighth Annual Kuehnast Lecture

Modern society attempts to predict all manner of future events, from hurricane tracks to oil price trends to asteroid impacts - in order better to prepare for them. Growing capabilities in science and technology - especially the ability of computers to rapidly process massive amounts of data - underlie these efforts to foretell the future. Thus, it is no surprise that scientists, policy makers, and issue advocates have together concluded that the primary response to human-caused global climate change - popularly called "global warming" - should be based on an assumption that scientific research can accurately predict various climate futures. Alternative emissions scenarios differentiate these various projections. A further assumption is that more research can reduce uncertainty in climate change predictions and thus drive a political consensus on needed action to prevent future climate impacts on environment and society. Based on these assumptions the U.S. Congress has appropriated in the past decade more than $20 billion to reduce uncertainty through improved predictions. This talk examines the assumptions of prediction and prevention that underlie the present response to climate change and suggests that they are flawed, and perhaps even leading to climate policies destined to fail. The talk suggests an alternative approach to responding to climate change, and the resulting implications for science, policy, and issue advocacy.


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