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Opinions of Peter Belmont
Speaking Truth to Power

Acting to avert climate change on the basis of imperfect knowledge

by Peter A. Belmont / 2013-01-22
© 2013 Peter Belmont


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President Obama said in his second inaugural speech that he intends to combat Climate Change. Scientists must help him, not stand in his way.

The role of scientists as scientists is not the same as the role of scientists as citizens.

Scientists who prepare data for sharing and publication within the scientific community, as part of the broadly-based scientific undertaking, must be cautious in ways that political actors—citizens among them—are not constrained.

When acting AS scientists, scientists should be duly cautious. But when acting as citizens, they must enter the political arena like anyone else and make decisions and take action—like anyone else—on the basis of the best information available, and not wait until they have scientifically unassailable information.

Waiting for scientific certainty has brought civilization to the edge of an abyss which earlier warnings might have averted.

Scientists have been very cautious over the last 20-30-40 years not to claim greater dangers from man-made climate change than they could be fairly sure of (or perhaps really, really sure of). In short they have been so cautious not to say more than they knew (for sure) that they failed to warn us, the world’s citizens, the world’s non-scientists, of an impending doom which we might have met earlier had we had more warning.

Decisions of War are often made on the basis of the flimsiest information
Decisions on Climate Change based on rather more certain information might have saved the world a great deal

But nations have gone to war (expensive, dangerous, damaging to our opponents and to our soldiers and via blowback to us all) on almost NO sound information, and the “war” against (further) increments to causation of climate change will be fought—if at all—on the basis of imperfect information, imperfect judgments of causation, imperfect predictions.

A Plea to the Scientific Community

I do not have a solution to the problem, but, please, scientists, YOU are the folks more than anyone else to do the best that can be done in the matter of providing current information, judging causation, and predicting outcomes. PLEASE DON’T HOLD BACK in compliance with a passion for informational perfection which defeats the need for the society to ACT now, today, with the information, ideas of likely causation, and predictions that can best be made today—in a situation of necessarily imperfect knowledge.


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