Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Archive for February 13th, 2011

New Climate Commission – a reflection

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Complex problems like climate change are so contentious because of the many different ways that people view issues and apply their own brand of reasoning to them. Take the different cultural values and world views people have, combine them with very different ideas of causality, then it’s no great wonder that people come to very different conclusions.

The world of globalised communications has become a big marketplace of ideas. We’re into the territory of “there are no right answers, but there are some very wrong ones”. This is because complex problems do not have single, simple solutions; they have messy ones. After reviewing the range of arguments over climate change, I’ve been very disappointed to realise (on reflection) how little formal training in reasoning people get. Applying simple reasoning to complex issues does not lead to good decisions, except by accident. People can go through school, negotiate university and come out the other end with no particular skills in decision-making beyond their narrow training (this includes science education). Apparently in a post-modern democracy to teach decision-making is undemocratic, in an autocratic system you are told what to think and in a traditional system you think the way your forbears did. Ideas are communicated via social means where confidence, reputation and small-world trust networks can be more effective than their content. This is dangerous where the limits of a range of social-ecological systems are being reached. Narratives can amplify or dampen ideas – a powerful narrative is able to promote almost any idea – for example that somehow the vast majority of the globe’s natural scientists have deluded themselves and others into thinking the climate is changing.

A new entry into the Australian marketplace of ideas is the launch of the Climate Commission by the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet. It is headed by Professor Tim Flannery, who is named as a leading science communicator. Other commissioners are Professor Will Steffen, Professor Lesley Hughes, Dr Susannah Eliott, Mr Gerry Hueston and Mr Roger Beale. It is backed by a science advisory panel Professor Matt England, Professor David Karoly, Professor Andy Pitman, Professor Neville Smith, Professor Tony McMichael, Dr Helen Cleugh, Dr Lisa Alexander and Professor Brendan Mackey. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

February 13, 2011 at 11:28 am