My Comment And Alan Betts’s Reply To His June 14 2011 EOS Forum Article “Communicating Climate Science”

Alan Betts wrote  an interesting EOS article on June 14 2011 

Betts, Alan, 2011: Communicating Climate Science EOS, Volume 92, Number 24. 14 June 2011

The article starts with the text [I recommend reading the full article]

“I have worked as a researcher in weather and climate for 40 years. There is a long held view that science will lose its integrity, and scientists will lose their impartial reputation, if scientists stray into the domain of public policy. This doctrine can be quite comfortable for scientists because it limits their personal responsibility to their technical field of expertise. It can also be comfortable for those in the policy arena because science often presents evidence that can be perceived as a threat to vested interests. Global climate change presents a clear challenge to this paradigm. Human civilization is strongly dependent on both natural and managed ecosystems, which in turn are directly dependent on the Earth’s climate. Now greenhouse gases from global industrial society are increasing global mean temperatures [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2008], with dramatic longterm ecosystem impacts. This challenges many traditional human- centered political and economic ideologies and their implicit authority because managing the Earth system now requires limiting our greenhouse gas emissions.”

and ends with

“I suggest it is time to reconsider our responsibilities to society and to the Earth. Humanity will be unable to deal with climate change, in terms of both mitigation and adaptation, until a broad spectrum of society is fluent in discussing the issues and the choices we face. Changing the direction of our global society from its present unsustainable path is a moral and ethical challenge as well as a scientific one. However, broad understanding of the limits imposed by the Earth system is essential. Clear, open communication and discussion are needed at all levels of society, along with research directed at clarifying the limits for decision makers in local communities. The contribution of science, honest communication of the state of knowledge, is needed to inform and counter the simplistic ideologies that are common in politics. I conclude that scientists need to become more deeply embedded in society. We all face the essential task of reducing human impacts on the Earth system.”

In order to encourage a discussion on the diversity of viewpoints on this subject, I wrote Alan the following with respect to his Forum article

Hi  Alan

I read your June 14 2011 EOS article, and would like your  view on our somewhat alternate view of the science as we discussed  in

Pielke Sr., R., K. Beven, G. Brasseur, J. Calvert, M. Chahine, R. Dickerson, D. Entekhabi, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, H. Gupta, V. Gupta, W. Krajewski, E. Philip Krider, W. K.M. Lau, J. McDonnell,  W.  Rossow,  J. Schaake, J. Smith, S. Sorooshian,  and E. Wood,  2009: Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides  greenhouse gases. Eos, Vol. 90, No. 45, 10 November 2009, 413. Copyright  (2009) American Geophysical  Union

and  in

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J.  Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2011: Dealing with  complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based  vulnerability
perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and Extreme Events  in Geosciences, in  press.

Best  Regards


Alan graciously replied and permitted me to post his response which is below.

Hi Roger

I broadly agree that there are many human impacts on the earth system that have passed dangerous thresholds. My view is that we need to take all steps to  minimize human waste streams, and maximize the efficiency with which we use  energy, fresh water, resources etc – and build resilience (regulating floodplain  and coastal development is a good example). We can’t manage or predict in detail  the response of the earth system – we can only change our behavior – through  regulation, proper costing of externalities etc.

If we don’t, the earth will change our behavior and it wont be pretty.

Reducing fossil fuel consumption remains the critical test case for industrial civilization, because the water vapor and ice feedbacks in the  climate system are so large and the timescales so long.


Dr. Alan K.  Betts
Atmospheric Research

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