on unknown unknowns: wot’s killing us

paralyzed by uncertainty

Hey, wanna be way kewl in cocktail chats now? Spout the uncertainty stats from the climate models. And pontificate on the uncertainty of the uncertainty.

Yup, that's the newest wrinkle in the global warming spin game.

Damn handy for former deniers, too, 'cause it allows them to go, "yeah, human's are doin' it, but you don't really know for sure that all those bad things are gonna happen".

Without wheeling through all quibbling about the modeling assumptions and parameter estimation routines, let's concede a point and make another.

Let's concede that climate models, ecological footprint calculations, and sustainability indicators of all sorts provide only partial proof of the overwhelming global challenge now sensed by most humans.

The very complexity of the thing we study augurs ill for the 'accuracy' of our (albeit highly evolved) capacity to model it.

Yet, let's also note that each successive refinement in these metrics and models paints a picture more dark than the one before.

Indeed, the real story on climate models these days is not the sniffling about this or that niggling little scientific detail, but that climate science is marching inexorably toward a darker and darker outlook.

Every time the assessment of polar ice gets updated, it looks worse for us. Same with assessments of carbon sinks, extreme rain events and hurricanes.

Indeed, the most worrisome update comes from tracking the major polluting nations' annual emissions versus the worst case scenario from the Stern Review.

Guess wot? We're climbing out at the high end of the worst case already. Yikes!

So, yes there is too much certainty attached to the popularized version of impending catastrophe in the consensus view of global warming.

And, yes you're a fool if you're waiting for greater certainty before you act.

Or, like skeptics used to say in the early days of the sustainability debate, 'scarcity is only a problem if you run out of something".

My own diehard optimistic attitude is to say, 'mebbe something we don't know we don't know will come to light and show our worries to be unfounded'...say, show that some heretofore undefined parameter is already at work to save our asses.

Guess wot? That ain't gonna happen.

Of this, you can be certain.

Published by Ken on July 24th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Systems Thinking

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