The Big Picture and its implications

In the opening statement of the NARUC Panel Discussion on Climate Change, Joe Casola made a list with some conclusions he made based on his view. Just to repeat his conclusions for regulators and the electricity sector (his emphasis):

What does this mean for regulators and the electricity sector?

  • The BIG PICTURE is not a subject of debate within the scientific community
  • There ARE many aspects of climate that are not completely understood, but do not undermine the BIG PICTURE understanding
  • Best translation into a policy context = RISK MANAGEMENT approach
  • Compared to other business and environmental risks, we actually have lots of information about climate change!

As said before, I also think the big picture is not subject of debate, but it depends of course what one means with the “big picture”. Also said before, he overstates the certainty by saying that “there are many aspects that are not completely understood, but nevertheless don’t undermine the big picture” and “we have actually lots of information about climate change”. In a complex, chaotic system as our Earth I don’t think there is no basis for such certainty.

But that is not the subject of this post. What drew my attention was the third point:

  • Best translation into a policy context = RISK MANAGEMENT approach

Well, if he agrees that the big picture is clear and, hey, we have lots of information about climate change, then this statement is no big surprise. Judith Curry called it the “Wicked vs tame problem”. A “tame” problem means that the problem and its solution are oversimplified. It is assumed that we clearly understand the problem and also have identified the appropriate solutions. But in reality it is a “wicked mess”:

A wicked problem is complex with dimensions that are difficult to define and changing with time. A mess is characterized by the complexity of interrelated issues, with suboptimal solutions that create additional problems.

Treating a “wicked mess” as a “tame problem” is a bad basis for adequate decision making.

Judith Curry made her own implications list that go straight to the point:

Implications. Some implications for utility regulators

  • There is a great deal of uncertainty in our understanding of what has caused the 20th century warming and how the 21st century climate might evolve.
  • We need to prepare for surprises – including ‘cold’ ones
  • We need to stop treating climate change as a ‘tame problem’, and need to adopt a decision making framework, suitable for conditions of deep uncertainty, that seeks flexible, robust and anti-fragile policies

That seems in line with reality. It is a more pragmatic approach. It acknowledges the uncertainties that undoubtedly will be there in a complex, chaotic system. It acknowledges that there are still things that are not know and surprises could be expected. At this moment our politicians are fed with only one part of the story. That is not a good starting point for an informed decision. Only when they get information on both sides, including the current uncertainties, then they can make decisions to cope with reality.


4 thoughts on “The Big Picture and its implications

  1. manicbeancounter

    The “BIG PICTURE understanding” confirms something I have been alluding to for some time. It includes both “climate science” and policy. There is no break between them. The BIG PICTURE is a perfect understanding of the world. It is the real world that is in denial of this picture, so it is ignored. For instance:-
    1. Evidence shows that there was similar warm periods to today. The most recent was 1,000 years ago, called the medieval warm period. Attempts to delete this have failed.
    2. Evidence shows that there was an early twentieth century warming. In the Arctic the peak was comparable in magnitude to that of today. This has been adjusted downwards.
    3. Evidence shows that there are micro climates that contradict the global trends. These records are either deleted or homogenised to the global trends.
    4. This did not work, so we now only look at data from 1950, ignoring past fluctuations.
    5. There is no evidence of worsening trends in weather, and little evidence of acceleration in polar ice melt or sea level rise. This is ignored, or short periods picked.
    6. There are no technological solutions to the policy problem. This is ignored.
    7. Costs of policy are ignored or massively downplayed.

    NB – these are just a few quick examples.
    8. Global warming is a global problem. To cut global emissions needs nearly every country to at least restrain emissions growth. This is ignored.

    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Bringing back some overview over the last two posts. The Big Picture according to Joe Casola is:

      1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases make the planet warmer
      2. CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere
      3. The planet is warming
      4. Warming is best explained by humans’ emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases
      5. Future warming should be expected

      To me the first two can be agreed on by skeptics and alarmists alike.
      The third point depends on the time frame one chooses. If it is for example from 1950 (or even 1850) until now, then both skeptics as alarmists can agree on that one too.
      The fourth is disputable in the view of the uncertainty that must be there in a chaotic, complex system (which Casola seems to ignore completely).
      The fifth point is something I could see as entirely possible. I wouldn’t be surprised when temperatures continue to rise in some months, years or decades from now. To me that is not controversial. It is not necessarily a bad or a good thing. Personally, I would agree here with Casola, but not for the same reasons.

      Your comment seems to be expanding on the fourth point and I agree that there are many other examples possible.

      1. hunter

        “Future warming” is a meaningless term. The only thing that requires the level of policy and financial attentionh this is getting is if the “future warming” is dangerous.
        Since the “warming” so far is not producing any of the adverse impacts predicted in the past, it is reasonable to question the predictions of future impacts.
        Since prrof of the “warming” itself is based on questionable data it is reasonable to question the scale of the warming being asserted.
        If the warming is not a crisis, then perhaps it is time for those who have made fortunes and careers promoting it to move on to something else.
        The opportunity costs of the climate obsession are literally astronomical in terms of things that have not been done to help the environment: solving carbon black; lack of new nuclear power plants; cleaner coal; etc, etc, etc. All these have been neglected to feed the demands of the CO2 obsessed.
        We do not have better climate models. We do not have practical ways to reduce CO2. We do not se any weather manifestations in cliamte of disaster, storm, drought, flood that can be rationally blamed on CO2. Yet we pour billions and billions into CO2 cenetric studies and propaganda.

      2. trustyetverify Post author

        I agree that “future warming” is a meaningless term. We don’t know what the future will bring. It could get warmer, but it could get cooler too. The only thing we know is that this temperature standstill will end some time and temperatures will go down or up again. My guess would be that it go up again. As far as the instrumental record is to be trusted, temperatures went up from the 1850s until now. Not in a straight line, but advancing in periods of roughly 30 year of up and down/standstill. So I guess it is not unreasonable to think it go up again within some years or decades. It is not necessarily a bad thing.

        This is obviously not how activists/environmentalists/mainstream media see it. They see the increasing trend from the 1850s, see that it more or less coincides with our emissions, therefor come to the conclusion that it is us who are interfering with nature. In a way, I don’t think this line of thought is unreasonable either, but it ignores the limited information we gathered until now. If there are cycles longer than the current instrumental record (about 160 years), then the upward trend until now could well be a (largely) natural one. If there is for example a 400-500 year cycle, then we wouldn’t be able to detect it with the current gathered data. If we came out of the Little Ice Age, as history seems to show, then 160 years of warming after a cold period would not be something unusual.

        But people hear from the media that the science is advanced enough to know that we caused the temperature increase with our emissions, that it is dangerous, that there is a, ahem, “scientific consensus” and therefor we should trust it to be true.

        But this (unwarranted) certainty with which the media brings us the story, makes that most believe the crisis is real and the cost unavoidable and necessary. To refer to the post: the media paint it to be a “tame problem” (we understand the problem and its solution, we just need to wait until the politicians fix it), while it is in fact a “wicked mess” (the system is complex and chaotic in nature, the solution could well create other problems or may even be not a solution after all).

        It is a human thing to believe frequently repeated, simplified, one-sided stories brought with certainty.

        Been there, done that.


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