It’s become more and more clear that the conversation has a variety of camps; I don’t want to proliferate too badly because after all the number of people who (correctly I think) have climate and similar global sustainability topics front and center is small compared to the population at large. So, with an emphasis on approach to science:
I MOSTLY ACTIVISTS
We believe that there is so little evidence against the proposition of risky anthropogenic climate change that current policy inaction is clearly and grossly inappropriate
- I a –
postmodernpostnormal climate scientists, who believe that the press has failed to communicate to the public, and feel ethically obligated to step up; mostly interested in conveying understanding to the public (Schneider is the prototype; RC editors, Eli, Stoat, Bob Grumbine, myself). Believe an informed public is crucial to a sound policy. Often represented by blogs. Update: Ranks recently swelled with well-intentioned novices.
- I b – climate scientists who have been inducted into IPCC WG I and have been explicitly asked to communicate; charged with conveying the balance of evidence to the policy sector
- I c – WG II and impacts communities, especially ecological sciences; were already politicized and frustrated before climate became an issue
- I d- Committed activists who use science as a legalistic debating hook; may be aware of mitigating evidence but try not to discuss it; mostly interested in using science in debate toward supporting active policy (Romm is the prototype)
MOSTLY PASSIVISTS (“INACTIVISTS”, “ANTI-ACTIVISTS”)
Believe that climate science is extremely immature AND that, lacking evidence, the sensitivity of the system to anthropogenic perturbations implicitly MUST be small compared to natural perturbations.
- IIa – Credentialed climate scientists who suggest climate sensitivity is small enough to not be worth worrying about; a very small group which would barely exist were it not for the extrascientific momentum of the inactivists. Opinions carry little weight among scientific mainstream.
- IIb – Committed anti-activists who use science as a legalistic debating hook; may be aware of mitigating evidence but try not to discuss it; mostly interested in using science in debate toward opposing active policy (Watts)
- IIc – The really odd group; scientifically educated people from other fields who approach climate science with a hostile attitude. Various levels of sophistication and ideological commitment; generally have a pro-science attitude, but various levels of understanding in the conduct of observational science. Typically though not always very weak grasp of climate physics and a consequent overemphasis on statistics. Often saddled with a very confused idea of the history of climate science and the state of the scientific culture. Extremely difficult to address as a group. (McIntyre, Liljegren). Update: A variant affiliated group simply holds openness as such a dominant value that any hack is celebrated. The best known advocate of this position is Julius Assange, but within climate its dominant advocate is Steve Mosher.
“NEUTRAL” IN STANCE
Try to maintain a posture of balance in some way between the other positions. Effectively act as allies for inactivists.
- IIIa –
The majority ofclimate scientists (“non-postnormalists” or “normalists”) who believe that policy is somebody else’s job, who have no IPCC role, and who have not yet been attacked by the Morano wing. Believe (with Pielke Jr.) in the purity of science and the traditional model of it. Not interested in policy; sometimes grim and fatalistic about it. Update: Prior to “climategate” constituted the majority of climate scientists, but as the baseless and extreme attacks on science have become obvious, much in retreat. This turnaround pretty much dates to the fall AGU meeting in 2010.
- IIIb – The mainstream press, which have grossly misidentified IPCC-like consensus and skepticism as the two wings of the scientific debate. Believe in informing the public but accidentally misinform them. Keith and Andy Revkin are exemplary.
- IIIc – Academics, generally not from physical or biological sciences, who see career advancement opportunities in a neutral stance and
don’t fully understandseem to systematically understate the scope of the risks. Usually economists, political scientists, some academic engineers. Almost invariably represented in the press by Roger Pielke Jr.
I think the press loves the battle and doesn’t want to see it resolved. Climate science just wants to be left alone.
Even us postmodern climate scientists want to be left alone. We just see that we will never be left alone until the public gets a much better understanding of the evidence. Ideally the press should be our key ally in this matter.
It is bad enough that the press has emerged as a key obstacle instead. But it’s even worse when the press takes up the cause of the confused against the cause of the informed. Is it any wonder we get a little grumpy sometimes?
Update: Revkin links in. Will everybody I’ve painted with a broad brush here do so? Let me say that I can’t possibly do anybody justice that I’ve named here. Reality is more complex and contingent than can be summarized in two or three sentences. Still I think the taxonomy may be helpful and the naming of representatives of the groups may clarify.
Update May 23 2011: Several updates as noted in text: confusing use of “postmodern” replaced by “postnormal” which is what I meant. The idea that most climate scientists are indifferent or fatalistic is, I think, no longer true, and several changes in the text reflect this. I also created a slot for Mosher as a variant on class II-c.
Image:Civil war scene believed to be public domain. Thanks to karenswhimsy.com