Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Practice

By Doughty, Howard A. | The Innovation Journal, May 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Practice


Doughty, Howard A., The Innovation Journal


Sarah L. Burch and Sara E. Harris Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Practice Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2014

Scientists trade in probabilities, not proofs. The book is never finally closed. Perhaps the next time I toss a ball in the air, it will not fall back to Earth. Chances are it will, of course, and that's why they call it the "law" of gravity. Still, we can never be absolutely sure. Some previously unobserved peculiarity may disrupt a well-known pattern and what may have been considered settled science may have to take a new anomaly into account-sometimes with tremendous consequences. It's happened before, as students of Galileo and Einstein can attest.

We recognize that "paradigm shifts" have taken place. We acknowledge that almost infinitely unlikely, but still theoretically possible events, could one day upend our understanding of anything from astronomy to zoology. This necessary modesty is embraced by scientists, as it is rarely gripped by theologians, geometers or moralists. Indeed, at the external and internal peripheries of our understanding-cosmology and particle physics-astounding new discoveries have almost come to be expected, if not exactly routine. Each new answer seemingly poses further previously imponderable questions. Our uncertainty about the esoteric aspects of material existence, however, need not unduly distract us from having confidence in scientific observations that have been so often and so uniformly confirmed that it would be perverse not to grant them at least provisional assent.

Objects fall to Earth. The Earth travels around the Sun. Bacteria cause infections. Biological evolution is a fact of life. Death comes to us all. And climate change is happening, largely because of the activities of human beings and the cumulative effects of human invention, innovation, pollution and the degradation of the natural environment at least since the advent of the mainly nineteenthcentury Industrial Revolution-if not the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution that began the establishment of sedentary farming and animal husbandry as prime human economic activities some 10,000 years ago.

There are, of course, plenty of people who, because of partisan political ideology, greed for corporate economic gain, or ... worse, defiantly deny the obvious and make claims that the issue of global warming in particular and climate change is general is nothing but a (usually) Chinese and (often) "socialist" hoax (CBC, 2007; Foran, 2016). For those who are prepared to rely on evidencebased public policy, however, the controversy has essentially been put to rest. There is ample research available for experts in the field to construct satisfactory environmental protection policies, energy policies and multiple sets of industrial and commercial regulations to achieve whatever global climate objectives may make it through the political process domestically and internationally. That remarkably little has been done apart from adding mainly vacuous hot air to an already overheated atmosphere is therefore not the fault of the scientific community, but of the political decision makers and the enormously powerful resource and related industries whose influence on governments runs from the very significant to almost totally dominant.

Between well-trained, thoughtful scientists and obstinate climate-change deniers in high office and the "alt-right" media, there rest a sizable number of public servants and a substantially responsible citizenry. They remain concerned with the issue and unintimidated by corporate powers and their political allies. Yet too many lack the competence and the confidence to address environmental problems directly and in depth. They "know" as well as anyone that the environmental threat to the biosphere is as great, or greater than climate change activists contend. They are aware that plant and animal species are undergoing the greatest devastation since the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction took out 75% of all species, including the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. …

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