Get ready. Nowhere and nothing is safe. The Uncertainty Monster is here and it wants to raid your national finances.
In another stroke of tax-funded-insight, Stephan Lewandowsky has scientifically shown that the less we know, the more we should spend. This could be the perpetual-fountain-of-grants for scientists who discover Uncertainty. Sadly this is bad news for scientists who find something real instead.
Gone are the days when policy-makers try to do cost-benefit analysis on the factors we know and can measure. In a brave new world The Uncertainty Monster arrives in Monte Carlo and eats the Discount Rate. Common sense dissolves in a naked singularity, then Climatic Change publishes what’s left.
It’s not clear what effect this news will have on national climate science research budgets. Lewandowsky notes in Part I that: “…it is independent of the presumed magnitude of climate sensitivity.” This will come as a relief to modern climate scientists who have been actively failing to pin down climate sensitivity for nearly four decades. Now we know that it doesn’t matter what climate sensitivity is, the answer is “money”.
Some critics warn that political leaders might use this new research as a reason to cancel all BOM and CSIRO climate funding. After all, it follows that better research that reduces uncertainty may also reduce the need for urgent action. Anyone who cares about the climate would surely not tolerate the risk.
Potentially The Uncertainty Monster implies that a disaster that is highly uncertain, but very unlikely, like, say, a Martian invasion, requires more urgent action than a disaster that is 99% likely but quite certain, like, say, national bankruptcy. It follows that accurate numbers are pointless, and the field of inquiry known as mathematics may be canceled too.
This new scientific philosophy will be a boon for researchers of asteroids and aliens — since their Uncertainty Monsters are potentially as large as The Universe, it follows that the budget should match. There are rumors Congress is now looking at aliens and asteroids anew, and will allocate 100% of the US national budget to both.
In other news the journal Climatic Change, formerly a peer reviewed journal, has announced it is remaking itself as a satirical outlet. The editor said: “There are so few true parody journals, and seriously, most real science is dry. Naturally, don’t take anything we publish seriously again.”
Scientists unmask the climate uncertainty monster
Scientific uncertainty has been described as a ‘monster’ that prevents understanding and delays mitigative action in response to climate change. New research by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, and international colleagues, shows that uncertainty should make us more rather than less concerned about climate change.
In two companion papers, published today in Climatic Change, the researchers investigated the mathematics of uncertainty in the climate system and showed that increased scientific uncertainty necessitates even greater action to mitigate climate change.
The scientists used an ordinal approach — a range of mathematical methods that address the question: ‘What would the consequences be if uncertainty is even greater than we think it is?’
They show that as uncertainty in the temperature increase expected with a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels rises, so do the economic damages of increased climate change. Greater uncertainty also increases the likelihood of exceeding ‘safe’ temperature limits and the probability of failing to reach mitigation targets. The authors highlight this with the case of future sea level, as larger uncertainty in sea level rise requires greater precautionary action to manage flood risk.
Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology and member of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol, said: “We can understand the implications of uncertainty, and in the case of the climate system, it is very clear that greater uncertainty will make things even worse. This means that we can never say that there is too much uncertainty for us to act. If you appeal to uncertainty to make a policy decision the legitimate conclusion is to increase the urgency of mitigation.”
Co-author, Dr James Risbey of Australia’s CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, said: “Some point to uncertainty as a way to minimize the climate change problem, when in fact it means that the problem is more likely to be worse than expected in the absence of that uncertainty. This result is robust to a range of assumptions and shows that uncertainty does not excuse inaction.”
These new findings challenge the frequent public misinterpretation of uncertainty as a reason to delay action. Arguing against mitigation by appealing to uncertainty is therefore misplaced: any appeal to uncertainty should provoke a greater, rather than weaker, concern about climate change than in the absence of uncertainty.
Stephan Lewandowsky, James S. Risbey, Michael Smithson, Ben R. Newell, John Hunter. Scientific uncertainty and climate change: Part I. Uncertainty and unabated emissions. Climatic Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1082-7Stephan Lewandowsky, James S. Risbey, Michael Smithson, Ben R. Newell. Scientific uncertainty and climate change: Part II. Uncertainty and mitigation. Climatic Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1083-6