Wednesday, July 14, 2010

KVMR science, aerosols and climate policy

In short: The climate science policy preferences that the "aerosol" segment of yesterday's KVMR show Soundings might have seemed to suggest, are not those of the climate scientist interviewed.

(Re KVMR, please see caveat at the end of this post.)

When it comes to climate change, KVMR's biweekly science show Soundings ("A look into how the natural world works, and how we interact with it") avoids addressing policy issues.
(These _are_ covered on the KVMR show Conversations, whose host features "leading edge thinkers in the areas of Environmental Restoration, Social Justice and Spiritual Fulfillment".)

This omission creates a pitfall for the listeners, since most of us want to apply our science learning to inform our policy views; and if we're left without guidance on the applying, we may end up headed the wrong way.

This post counters the "policy pitfall" from yesterday's show, which featured two interviews: the first with Peter Asmus (link) on benefits and drawbacks of various energy sources, the second with Reed College climate scientist Juliane Fry (RC link) on knowns and unknowns of aerosols' influence on climate.

(The Asmus segment did address energy policy - he doesn't favor nuclear (critique), doesn't think we'll hear "Drill, Baby, Drill" off the California coast anytime soon, & when offered the opportunity to condemn solar concentrators in the desert he didn't do so, saying instead that we need a diversity of energy sources.)

The Fry "aerosols" segment didn't address policy implications explicitly, but - in my view - they were present implicitly, conveyed via enthymemes. So I emailed Dr. Fry to compare her own views to (my impressions of) the policy implications a listener could have taken away from the interview.
(with added bolding, text in brackets, and punctuation fixes; and (July 24) I've added Stahler-Fry "uncertainty" notes, for clarity)
("...a few quick questions about the implications of aerosol research (both the scientific findings & the remaining unknowns) for climate policy...")

Q: First, on the uncertainties re the magnitude of aerosols' effects on our climate system -
Let's say a listener hears this (i.e., Stahler: the uncertainties re how & how much aerosols affect climate are huge; e.g. aerosols have an indirect effect on warming via effects on clouds; Fry: aerosols are much shorter-lived than GHGs; but much more variable geographically; we haven't figured out all the parameters here yet) and argues from it that
a) these uncertainties swamp what *is* known about the cause of the current warming, and that
b) therefore we really don't know enough, and so
c) therefore it's premature to act (against climate change).
How would you respond to this interpretation?

JF: I would disagree that the uncertainties swamp what we do know, though that's a subjective statement. More quantitatively, within our error bars, there will be warming with the full range of possible aerosol 'masking' - the question is only one of degree, and in my personal (not scientific) opinion [and The Economist's(link)], uncertainty is more reason for action, not less.

Q: Second... you said something like "...we can tweak the climate effectively with the aerosols we generate".
What would you say to a listener who takes this as meaning that, again, it's premature to act [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now], since we can use aerosols later on to geoengineer our way back to a 20th century climate ?

JF: There is no 'geoengineering back' -- with aerosol injection we only geoengineer to a new and uncertain climate state of high co2 and high aerosol-- there are myriad possible unintended consequences so I am frightened of the techno-optimism of fixing climate with aerosols.

So the gist of Dr. Fry's policy-related views is that
"...uncertainty is more reason for action, not less. ... There is no 'geoengineering back' -- with aerosol injection we only geoengineer to a new and uncertain climate state of high co2 and high aerosol-- there are myriad possible unintended consequences..."

Caveat: I'm not an audio or video person (aud.&vid. are so *slow*, and so hard to Google, and you can't take notes via copy&paste, and there's not enough time in the day), so my knowledge of KVMR's offerings may be incomplete. I do keep urging them to provide even minimal "here's what we're saying" text via RSS - by being audio-only they're also shutting out the hard of hearing - but (for now) they appear to have other priorities.
Jul. 30 update, added link to host of "Conversations" KVMR show.

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