Thursday, September 29, 2016

Experts, scientists, lay people... what do they know & what do they do?

I have new paper out in Minerva with the title The Problem of Expertise in Knowledge Societies. It is open access, so this link should enable you to get immediate access.

Here is the abstract:

Monday, September 26, 2016

Unsettled science, and more wickedness

Gernot Wagner and Richard Zeckhauser have a new paper out. It's title is 'Confronting Deep and Persistent Climate Uncertainty' and the motto of the paper is 'Climate science is not settled.' To avoid misunderstanding, the authors are not contrarians of climate policy, quite the contrary. Their argument is supposed to boost policies aimed at decarbonization.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Richard Tol on climate policy

As Paul Matthews pointed out in the comments section of a previous thread,  Richard Tol has a new paper, called The Structure of the Climate Debate. In it he argues for a specific climate policy (low but rising carbon tax); celebrates the Paris agreement for handing back the responsibility to nation states; and discussing possible reasons for the lack of progress in climate policy over the past two decades.

The paper is well written and I suggest you read it in full. I will restrict myself to a few comments for now. These comments relate to the proposed carbon tax and the reasons for the lack of progress.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What Future for Science?

Dan Sarewitz has written a thought provoking piece for The New Atlantis, "Saving Science". He argues that science has received massively increased funding during the Cold War until today, but has lost its innovative role in solving problems for society. He sees the reason for this in science being left to itself, operating under a mandate that is not responsive to societal demands. Much research is fraudulent, not replicable, or irrelevant.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hottest summer - what does this tell us?

The Guardian has a page 3 article today on reports that July 2016 was the hottest July ever. It is a good illustration of how information from the physical sciences is used to argue for urgent climate policy measures. It is a useful reminder of how the dominant framing of climate change plays out in everyday media communications. Readers of Klimazwiebel will know that I am no fan of this kind of approach, in fact none of the Klimazwiebel editors is.

So what does the article say, and why is it problematic to expect any positive policy effects based on reporting like this?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Climate change as a wicked social problem

I have a short piece in Nature Geoscience with the title 'Climate change as a wicked social problem'. Here is the link

I argue that climate change has been defined as a problem with a solution, following the successful example of the ozone layer. Applying the conceptual pair of tame and wicked problems I make the case that whereas ozone protection can be seen as a tame problem (which has a clearly specified solution), climate change cannot. It is a classical wicked problem that only can be managed better or worse. But influential actors who applied the same logic from ozone to climate were ignorant of social science research that could have prevented this colossal error of framing. This framing error has led to the belief that scientific consensus drives policy and that any distraction from 'the science' is the reason for a lack of progress.

It is high time the social sciences (not only economics, who have been the only visible social science discipline in the IPCC) start engaging with the issue of climate change on their own terms. All too often they have been defining the issue of climate change in terms of climate science, forgetting the unique contributions they can make.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Bray and von Storch 5th International Survey of Climate Scientists 2015/2016 is now available online at :

An alternative access is via

The report presents the findings of a survey of climate scientists’ perceptions of the global warming issue. The survey was conducted in 2015/16. The survey includes the following sections: demographics of participants, participants’ assessment of climate science, the utility of models, extreme events, attribution of extreme events, climate and society, science and society.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

David MacKay, 1967-2016


Mark Lynas has just published the last interview with David, eleven days before his death. In this frank account of energy policy, MacKay has something to say about the prospect of solar, wind, CCS, nuclear.... and the Ecomodernist Manifesto.

See the context on Mark Lynas' blog here
including David MacKay's famous Global Calculator.

Last week David MacKay died who was an incredibly creative scientist, and advisor to the UK government. While I did not have the opportunity to meet him in person I was impressed by his book 'Sustainable Energy -- Without the Hot Air'. The book is freely available online ( MacKay takes a pragmatic approach to climate policy and asks what types of our activities use what amount of energy and how we could make a difference. He develops a number based approach, equating every energy type to a the equivalent of a 40W light bulb which is always on. On average a person in Britain uses the equivalent of 125 light bulbs.

MacKay reveals some interesting facts about the contribution we could make to energy consumption (mobile phone chargers are not a good place to start). He also shows the challenge posed by the decarbonization goals. Even if we covered all of the British coastline with tidal energy systems we would only reduce the number of light bulbs per person by 4. If we were serious about eliminating the equivalent of all 125 light bulbs half of Britain would be covered with windfarms (we need 600,000 of them). Alternatively we could build 300 nuclear power plants.

The Telegraph has an obituary here:

The energy debate in the UK, and across the globe, has lost an important voice of reason.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Von der Vermessung der Welt zur Vermessung der Wissenschaft

Anlässlich einer Tagung zur Küstenforschung blickte der ehemalige Direktor des Nationalparks Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer zurück auf die Forschung, welche die heftigen Konflikte um den Nationalpark nach dessen Gründung begleitet hatte. Genützt hätten ihm vor allem die Geisteswissenschaften, von denen er über die Geschichte der Landschaft, über die Beweggründe der Akteure (inklusive ihm selbst) und damit auch die Dynamik der Auseinandersetzungen gelernt habe. Die vielen naturwissenschaftlichen Projekte hingegen hätten allenfalls zu einem neuen Küstenzonenmanagementprojekt und damit hauptsächlich zu mehr Verwaltungsaufwand für seine Behörde geführt. Das wird den Küstenforschungsprojekten vielleicht nicht gerecht, doch war dies eine der seltenen öffentlichen Bekundungen des Wertes von Geisteswissenschaft, die ich aus dem Umfeld angewandter Forschung gehört habe.

Die Forschungspolitik in Deutschland sieht das allerdings anders, wie einem interessanten Artikel aus der taz mit dem schönen Titel "Die Vermessung der Wissenschaft" zu entnehmen ist. Sie bevorzugt Wissenschaft, die mess- und quantifizierbar ist. Ein Institut mit vielen Drittmittelprojekten und mit vielen Veröffentlichungen in peer-reviewed Journalen mit hohem ImpactFaktor gilt als exzellent und als genereller Vergleichsmaßstab für alle Disziplinen. Das ist natürlich Pech für Geisteswissenschaftler, die nicht schon während oder gar vor Projektbeginn ihre Resultate veröffentlichen, sondern erst nach womöglich langen Forschungen, und dies dann auch noch in Sammelbänden oder dicken Monographien, die natürlich mit keinen Impact Faktor gemessen werden.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nach Paris: Das Klima der Unsicherheit

Der Winterschlaf nach Paris war wohlverdient, aber natürlich geht die Klimadebatte weiter. Aber wohin, und wovon handelt sie? Es ist mal wieder an der Zeit zu sortieren, was sich auf dem Schreibtisch inzwischen so angesammelt hat. Als Leitmotiv dient mir ein kleines Zitat aus einem Interview mit dem Ethnologen David Harvey: "The idea that if we cannot measure it then it does not exist is one of the most dangerous, foolish ideas of our times."
Die Klimawissenschaften sind zu Recht stolz darauf, den von Menschen verursachten Klimawandel als statistische Größe und physikalische Realität identifiziert zu haben. Daraus hat sich allerdings eine eigene Dynamik entwickelt, die Metrik zum Schicksal macht und alle anderen Wissensformen und Realitäten auf den Rang verweist. Dadurch entsteht eine enorme Schieflage und Verengung der Klimadebatte, die große Teile der Realität einfach ausblendet, ganz abgesehen von der Überforderung der Klimawissenschaften als einer Art Leitwissenschaft. Die Warnung von David Harvey blieb mir daher beim Sortieren meiner Artikel über die Debatte um die in Paris vereinbarten 1,5 Grad oder um syrische Klimaflüchtlinge im Sinn.