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The Key to (Really) Grasping Climate Change

By Keith Kloor
Jun 2, 2011 10:40 PMNov 20, 2019 5:10 AM


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Your humble host is attending the World Science Festival today (it's running all week). I'll be a bystander to some of the events, hoping that all the brilliant minds gathered together will stimulate my feeble brain. Probably not. But it should be fun. I noticed at their blog that boingboing's Maggie Koerth-Baker has a real interesting essay, called "A Twist on Climate Change, Risk, and Uncertainty." Here's an excerpt that I think captures her argument (my emphasis):

The trouble with looking at disasters this way is that tornadoes do not fit neatly into little, politically polarized ticky boxes. Science, in general, seldom works like that. In a May 23rd editorial for the Washington Post, environmentalist Bill McKibben took Americans to task for refusing to make a connection between environmental disasters"”including the 2011 tornadoes"”and climate change. His basic message: All these disasters must be connected and only willful ignorance allows us to ignore that. I have a slightly different perspective. What we have here is not a failure to communicate and accept the obvious effects of climate change. Instead, it's a failure to communicate and accept a critical point of how science works, without which scientific literacy is reduced to mere talking points. This is about nuance and uncertainty, and if the American public doesn't get those things, then we'll never get climate change.

This is quite relevant to some of the recent discussions (here and here) at this site last week. Is Maggie right? Is intelligent debate on climate change hopeless until more people gain an understanding of "nuance and uncertainty"? Some regular readers of Collide-a-Scape are often critical of Judith Curry, but isn't much of what she's doing over at Climate Etc geared to making just these elements--nuance and uncertainty--a more integral (and better understood) part of the climate debate?

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