U of G prof explores politics of global warming in new book
There is an international assumption that we know what is causing climate change and how to control it, but according to University of Guelph economist Ross McKitrick, this view is false. McKitrick and Christopher Essex, a University of Western Ontario applied mathematics professor, explore the growing conflict between science and policy making in Taken By Storm: The Troubled Science, Policy and Politics of Global Warming.
"Global warming is too complicated for our institutions to deal with. The end result has been a serious breakdown in the relationship between scientists and policy makers," said McKitrick. "So part of what we're trying to do with the book is to get those two groups reconnected."
McKitrick and Essex examine how the debate over global warming is conducted under "a Doctrine of Certainty" — the premise that we understand the climate, that we know there is a problem and we can fix it. "There's a conflict in that policy makers want certainty on which to base their actions, but a big message coming out of the science side is that there is no certainty," said McKitrick. "This has given rise to a policy — Kyoto — that doesn't have a rational foundation and it's also fed back into the science process by creating a kind of malaise in the research community."
Taken by Storm elaborates on the physical meaning of temperature, the problems of constructing so-called "global temperature" statistics and the assumption that more carbon dioxide in the air means higher surface temperatures.
The book looks for new approaches to addressing environmental problems without whitewashing scientific uncertainties. Global warming is only one area in which people feel policies need to made before the basic research problems are solved, said McKitrick.
"There are a lot of issues that are coming up – everything from whether Guelph should ban lawn pesticides all the way up to Kyoto, complicated science – and what we're trying to argue is that it's good for the decision-making process when we can keep the policy makers connected to the scientists," said McKitrick.
There's no question that it's hard for people who make policy to get the information they need to make the decisions, said McKitrick. "If you're looking for a single know-it-all expert, that's a naive way of looking at the science world and it forces the scientific community to fit into a mold that it doesn't really fit into. The first step is just recognizing the nature of the research environment."
McKitrick and Essex suggest that there are mechanisms to relate science to politics that they think will lead to better outcomes while preserving the independence of science even when hot political and policy questions are at stake.
A faculty member at Guelph since 1996, McKitrick specializes in the economics of environmental policy and has been studying climate change and related policy issues for about 10 years. In addition to academic publications, he has published several newspaper and magazine articles on the Kyoto Protocol and has given presentations on climate and environmental policy to the Canadian and U.S. governments.
Taken By Storm: The Troubled Science, Policy and Politics of Global Warming is published by Key Porter Books. For more information about the book and the authors, visit www.takenbystorm.info.
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