Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Climate Change and Hubris
Dr. James Schlesinger is someone I've always respected. He has the sort of stern, towering intellect that says little but means much. The prospect of having to debate someone of this caliber in person would doubtless turn my nerves to jelly. However, yesterday's Wall Street Journal included a commentary by Dr. Schlesinger entitled, "The Theology of Global Warming" (subscription required; summary here) and I feel obliged to comment about one aspect of this document. While the op-ed seems largely aimed as a warning about the risk of hubris in the projections of the scientific establishment concerning dramatic climate change, I find warnings of hubris just as appropriate for those who cannot accept that man's activities have become a major driver of the global environment, even at the scale of the climate.

I also question Dr. Schlesinger's characterization of the strong conviction of many scientists dealing with this issue as "theology". It does not require faith to see the available data as supporting the hypothesis that dangerous warming is occurring and that man-made sources play a role in the process. At the same time, I recognize that some, including scientists, politicians and bureaucrats, have attempted to apply these views with quasi-religious fervor. All parties should note that with the powers available to us in areas ranging from the atom to the gene, the old dictum about mixing religion and politics may be just as apt with regard to combinations of science and politics. Dissent serves a purpose, as long as it does not stand in the way of necessary action.

None of this changes my view that climate change remains one of largest risks facing both government and business. A risk is just that: something that might happen, with significant consequences if it did. Prudent people manage risks; fools ignore them. Dr. Schlesinger--no fool--is on record in previous statements agreeing that, despite his skepticism about anthropogenic causes of climate change, action should still be taken. I would add that new knowledge can always be incorporated later, but we cannot afford to wait for perfect information.

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