Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Cheap shots at marginal figures

This George Monbiot article points me to Melanie Philips latest screed about global warming.

The politics of both these articles is an attack on decisions made under scientific uncertainty. If the results published in Nature are accurate, then planting trees is not a carbon sink. That does not mean that decisions taken while we thought that planting trees was a carbon sink are evil - it certainly does not expose any kind of ideological conspiracy. It just means we made a mistake.

Melanie Phillips' belief that global warming is not real is not based on an appraisal of the scientific evidence - something her claim that "most of the atmosphere consists of water vapour" demonstrates she is manifestly unqualified to do. It is based on a belief that people who claim to care for the environment are in fact motivated by anti-Americanism. Even if the current scientific consensus on global warming turns out to be wrong, this belief will remain throughly bogus.

Similarly, Monbiot's opposition to allowing carbon sinks under Kyoto was not based on science - he makes it clear in his article that his real problem with them is that it "allows us to carry on polluting" and "buy absolution". The political case for allowing other types of sink (offsetting carbon emissions by investing in energy-saving technology in the third world, for example) is no weaker than it was before, despite Monbiot's loud claims of vindication.

Politicians making decisions under scientific uncertainty should make the best possible decision on the basis of the best available scientific evidence. They shouldn't be expected to try and outguess the scientists on future scientific developments. Blaming the politicians when the scientific consensus changes encourages them to do just that.

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