Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Politics in the guise of science?

John Tierney writes in the NYT about Roger Pielke's assertion that scientists pretend to be neutral experts, while pushing their own political agenda through their research.  The best example, of course, is climate change - where Tierney suggests members of the public have differing solutions due to "conflicting values about which sacrifices are worthwhile today."
One of Pielke's solutions, which he says is research not being funded, is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, as an alternative to a proposed "cap-and-trade" system.  To quote from the NYT article:

"Yet research into this strategy has received little financing in past budgets or the new stimulus package because it doesn’t jibe with the agenda of either side in the global-warming debate. Greens don’t want this sort of “technological fix”; their opponents don’t want to admit there’s anything to fix. And neither side’s advocates will compromise as long as they think that science will prove them right."

Two things:
(1) Removing CO2 from the atmosphere is inherently less efficient than controlling these emissions at the source.  That is the same reason that (I believe) solar energy will never provide the end-all solution to the energy crisis - there's lots of it, but too dilute to be effectively trapped.  I don't know what assumptions or methods Pielke used; I think I have mentioned this problem to Pielke at a seminar he gave at CU, and he might have acknowledged this fact.
(2) Trapping CO2 from the atmosphere - who pays?  I am not sure, but it could be everybody.  The French, who use a lot of nuclear energy (that doesn't emit CO2).  Or even people within the US, who use wind energy or other alternative energy sources that don't emit CO2.  At least with programs that prevent CO2 emissions in the first place, we know who pays - the emitter, and the users of that emitter's product.

Now, for all I know, Pielke might just be advocating that these alternative ideas are not being funded as (in his opinion) they should be (at worst, he could be complaining that his research isn't getting funded).  At the very least, they deserve to be looked into, for sure (including seemingly crackpot ideas like putting scattering aerosol into the atmosphere).  And some removal of CO2 from the atmosphere might well be essential; controlling future emissions may not be enough, as CO2 currently being emitted (or emitted in the past) sticks around for a 100 years.

The best solution is to prevent the problem from even occurring ("prevention is better than cure"), and hence reducing CO2 emissions at the source remains, as far as I am concerned, the main solution.  And as for the "values" debate - that is just a divide between people who believe this Earth is their God-given right to abuse as they please, and other, more sensible people.

That's not politics in the guise of science - it's plain common sense.

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