04 November 2010

Reports from Purdue

The event last night at Purdue University (with Judy Curry and Andy Revkin pictured above) had a remarkable turnout of 350 plus people, including students, faculty and members of the local community.  Revkin and Curry both said some very interesting things, with some snippets reported in the local media here and here.  Curry's opening remarks can be found on her blog.

The discussion and questions were pretty high level and focused much more on the issues of climate science in policy and politics than any of the specific details of the East Anglia emails.  The event had a decidedly US focus, with no discussion of the various UK inquiries, FOI, Phil Jones, etc.  We discussed to varying degrees the IPCC, NAS, AAAS, James Hansen, Steve Schneider, Michael Mann, Rajendra Pachauri among other examples of scientists active in the politics of climate change.

In one interesting exchange, Revkin brought up as an example of the messy interface of science and politics Michael Mann's Washington Post op-ed last month that sought to associate the climate science community with the fortunes of Democrats in the mid-term elections.  I followed Revkin's criticism of Mann's op-ed by arguing that in the face of Republican-led attacks Mann made a decision (and it was a decision) to characterize this issue in politically partisan terms. He could have instead chosen to characterize the issue of his personal fortunes as one of academic freedom and integrity, which matters irrespective of one's political stance.

The fairly obvious implication of Mann's acceptance and amplification of the stark partisan terms of the debate offered by those Republicans is to make not only himself, but the broader climate science community, poster children for the Tea Party movement. (I did not say the following last night but perhaps should have -- It doesn't matter who started the politicization, what matters more is who seeks to move beyond it.  Of course, I have supported Mann consistently since Cuccinelli began his various fishing trips.)  Not surprisingly, Curry had the most scathing comments of the night, as can be gleaned from her blog comments. She said several times that most (but not all) climate scientists are clueless about policy and politics, yet dive into the deep end anyway with little understanding of the possible consequences.  Mann's op-ed provides a good example.

In my comments, I tried to emphasize that there is a difference between issues of "science policy" and those of "climate policy" and it is important to focus on the former as well as the latter.  In fact, the importance of the latter should not lead to sacrifices in the former.  I did cite the case of the yet-to-be-addressed breakdowns in the IPCC process as related to disasters and climate change, which continues to be ignored by the climate science community.  I praised the climate science community for its work bringing the issue of climate change to public attention, but at the same time, I argued that at this point on the issue more science, more consensus, more advocacy from scientists is unlikely to improve climate policy outcomes, and could instead have negative outcomes for climate science policy. I critiqued the "linear model" that says we need to resolve debates over science as a precondition to resolving debates over politics.

It was a really rewarding event.  My compliments to the organizers, and especially Professor Elizabeth McNie from Purdue, event organizer, and whose opening comments summarizing the so-called "climategate" issue were the best concise summary that I've heard.  After the talk I spoke with many students and faculty who had read my book, The Honest Broker.  With the focus on science policy over climate policy (refreshingly so) I didn't get to talk much about The Climate Fix. But I'll have a chance to do that in Madison this afternoon where my talk will be streamed live, so I'd better get rolling on I-65 . . .

UPDATE:  Here is another photo from the event, with me and Curry snoozing, and Revkin doing his nails ;-)