Decision making under (un)certainty

After reading last two posts one might think that I am not really fair here. My assertion was that climate science, being an observational science, will never ever be able to pinpoint human emissions as the cause of the increase in temperatures since the 1850s or the 1950s or the 1980s. If the cause of climate change never can be determined, isn’t that just a means of delaying policy actions?

I very much doubt that.

Uncertainty was never a road block when it comes to making policy decisions. In the real world we are used to making decisions, even when there is (considerable) uncertainty involved. It is essential for policy makers to know about the uncertainties before making decisions. Uncertainty in itself is not really the issue and can even be valued by policymakers (it gives room for their own decisions or also can be useful to avoid culpability).

In decision taking under uncertainty, the situation with the best expected value is being looked for. It becomes tricky when information is coming from only one side or when the (un)certainty is misrepresented. We like to take decisions with as much as possible information available. We probably wouldn’t like making such decisions when someone overstates or understates the (un)certainty involved.

Rightly so.

In the current situation in climate communication that certainty is hugely overstated. We are being fed only one side of the story. We get to hear that scientists are sure, yep, 97% of them, agree (of course without stating what exactly they agree on). We are told that “the science is clear, the solution is also clear and that it is now up to the politicians to decide how to deal with the problem”.

Basically ignoring uncertainty, giving the impression that natural variations/human impacts are clearly understood, risks are quantified and the solution that is going to solve the issue.

When we take uncertainty into account, that will certainly change the way how policy decisions are made. When dealing with non-linear, complex, coupled systems, adaptive policies probably should make much more sense.

If we want our policy makers making a well-informed decision, we need to give the complete picture, uncertainty and all.

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