Headline and opening lede in today’s StarPhoenix editorial:
Oilsands need more science
There seems to be a lot more mud than either oil or sand when it comes to the debate over developing Alberta’s legacy resource.
Hot on the release of a Privy Council report suggesting the collateral environmental and economic damage from the oilsands pose significant risks to Alberta, comes a scientific study by a respected climate scientist suggesting the resource isn’t the climate changing villain it has been made out to be.
A lot of “yadda yadda trade war with Europe yadda yadda”, and then the whole “both sides are acting crazy” meme pops up its inevitable head:
But it’s not just with the oilsands where the rhetoric has thrown logical debate off the rails. The climate change deniers were angered this month when Peter Gleick, a water scientist and president of the Pacific Institute, tricked a Chicago-based think tank with a core mission of dismissing climate change into revealing its fundraising strategy.
Mr. Gleick said he was driven to deception because the deniers kept attacking climate science.
Attacking science, however, has become the strategy of most groups involved in the debate – whether it’s attacking the role uranium can play in reducing emissions to complaining about the deleterious effects of noise from windmills to overstating the possibilities of solar to questioning the need to change the way we produce energy.
We would all be better served if scientists could speak freely while governments, lobbyists and activists relied on facts more than intrigue and subversion to make their points.
My main beef however is with the term “science”, as in “we need more science”, just as if “science” was some sort of magical elixir that will make all the bad ideas go away. This is what I call science-as-a-black-box theory, and it is insufficient to think of it in that light.
Science is to the physical world what law is to society. It’s the practice of making sense of the universe, just like law is the practice of mitigating chaos among Man. There’s good law and there’s bad law, and when there is disorder, people say, “We need a law to clarify this problem” or, “We need to make this particular law better.” No one seriously says, “We need more law”. Nobody “attacks” law.
In this sense, there is good science and bad science, and often they clash. That’s because science moves along with the intent of solving individual problems as they arise. It’s a process of unveiling the unknown, and it’s messy and fraught with wrong turns and tangents and dead ends. It’s far from perfect, but that’s why we keep trying to do better.
Therefore, when describing something as complex as the earth’s climate, we need to be damn sure as to what is actually going on before we move toward defining our collective priorities.
Which brings me back to these ridiculous accusations that AGW skeptics are somehow “against” science. No, they — we — just want better science. As in, you’d better get it right before blowing my money and subjugating the world in your orgiastic socialistic frenzy.
For that matter, we all want cheaper, cleaner, reliable energy to fuel our future (which is more than you can say about hypocritical anti-humanist kiddie-frightener Luddites posing as environmentalists). We just want these energy solutions to be reasonable, cost-effective, and, you know, realistic.
Which means the whole debate on energy and climate is not a purely scientific exercise; it’s an economic one.
But that’s another post coming.