How Certain Can We Be About Climate Change?
Of course the science isn’t “settled.” But that doesn’t mean what climate deniers say it means.
The question that headlines this post has caused great confusion and strife ever since climate change first entered the public consciousness.
From the very beginning, climate deniers set about to exaggerate the degree of uncertainty. As GOP messaging maestro Frank Luntz said in his infamous memo, “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.” Luntz sensed, accurately, that the lay public has a pretty naive, linear view of decisionmaking; they tend to think that understanding and quantifying the risks is the first step, to be completed before moving to action.
This has led climate hawks to emphasize, and sometimes overstate, the degree of certainty around climate change. To counter Luntz, they insist that “the science is settled” and “we have the tools we need to solve the problem.”
This is all … kind of dumb. “Certainty vs. uncertainty” is a red herring. Of course the science isn’t “settled.” Of course substantial uncertainty remains about what will happen and the way to avoid or adapt to it. Of course that doesn’t mean what climate deniers say it means.
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