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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Palin on Science Policy

In a clear demonstration that she has no appreciation for the concept of irony, Sarah Plain has penned an opinion piece for the Washington Post highlighting the pitfalls of the politicization of climate science in which she does just that. In the article, she concludes that the Climate-Gate affair "exposed a highly politicized scientific circle" and that there is no consensus on climate change science after all. She then goes on to stress the importance of quality science to the policy process by making inaccurate generalisations about both science and policy:

"But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental
trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes.
We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction
policies are far outweighed by their economic costs."

The first sentence above is quite inconsistent with the science on the attribution of global climate change, although I suspect the phrase "weather changes" was used quite intentionally in lieu of "climate changes" given few scientists would attempt to attribute a particular weather event to global climate change. Alternatively, perhaps Palin doesn't understand the distinction between climate and weather, in which case one wonders why she's wading into the debate at all. Nonetheless, this is beside the point. Meanwhile, the second sentence is inconsistent with any of the attempts to actually compare the costs and benefits of climate policy. Yes, cap-and-trade policies will pose costs to the economy (that is in fact their entire point), but integrated assessments such as the Stern and Garnaut reviews have indicated the benefits of moving to a low-carbon economy are substantial in themselves.

She wraps up the piece by stating that Copenhagen is a "politicized conference" which the President should boycott. Well, of course it's a politicized conference. COP-15 is not a scientific conference, it is a policy conference, where politics can, should and will be center stage. Therefore, suggesting a political leader boycott a political event, because it is political doesn't seem to remotely resemble anything approaching a rational argument.

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