10 December 2009

Guest Post by Jean Goodwin: What Firm Foundation?

Jean Goodwin is an Associate Professor of English/Speech Communication at Iowa State University, and has provided this interesting guest post:
When Sarah Palin avowed yesterday that she'd "always believed that policy should be based on sound science," she was only echoing the hope of many of those involved in the IPCC process itself--for example, WGI Chair John Houghton, in his preface to the First Assessment Report (1990):

I am confident that the Assessment and its Summary will provide the necessary firm scientific foundation for the forthcoming discussions and negotiations on the appropriate strategy for response and action regarding the issue of climate change.

After twenty years of research and reports, have scientists yet produced the "basis" or "firm scientific foundation" (one way or the other) on which the rest of us can work together to construct a policy response? Check the post counts on the New York Time's Copenhagen-related discussion boards, "Climate Change Conversations":

Clean Energy Technology (123)...

Putting a Price on Carbon (145)

Prospects for a Treaty (121)

Rich and Poor Nations (123)

Science of Global Warming (1153)..

What Individuals Can Do (201)

Science "conversation" is outnumbering solution "conversation" by about 2:1, and values "conversation" by close to 10:1--and that's among readers of the NYT.

So when we look for a "basis" or "foundation"--something that will stop argument--we end up instead with more "conversation"--i.e., more debate. Why? Here's one possibility: To promise to provide a "basis" or "foundation" for policy is to undertake a very, very large commitment to defend your view in the public sphere. But promising to take on all comers only invites your adversaries to come out to play. Maybe those of us who favor doing something about climate change should admit that our policies aren't going to have a "firm foundation" in this, as indeed in most cases--and start arguing about values and solutions instead?