Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Interesting Op Ed To Read on Global Warming

On Experts and Global Warming

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.
anthropogenic global warming, climate change, Global Warming, Plato, science

The Stone is featuring occasional posts by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, that apply critical thinking to information and events that have appeared in the news.

Experts have always posed a problem for democracies. Plato scorned democracy, rating it the worst form of government short of tyranny, largely because it gave power to the ignorant many rather than to knowledgeable experts (philosophers, as he saw it). But, if, as we insist, the people must ultimately decide, the question remains: How can we, non-experts, take account of expert opinion when it is relevant to decisions about public policy?

One we accept the expert authority of climate science, we have no basis for supporting the minority position.

To answer this question, we need to reflect on the logic of appeals to the authority of experts. First of all, such appeals require a decision about who the experts on a given topic are. Until there is agreement about this, expert opinion can have no persuasive role in our discussions. Another requirement is that there be a consensus among the experts about points relevant to our discussion. Precisely because we are not experts, we are in no position to adjudicate disputes among those who are. Finally, given a consensus on a claim among recognized experts, we non-experts have no basis for rejecting the truth of the claim.

These requirements may seem trivially obvious, but they have serious consequences. Consider, for example, current discussions about climate change, specifically about whether there is long-term global warming caused primarily by human activities (anthropogenic global warming or A.G.W.). All creditable parties to this debate recognize a group of experts designated as “climate scientists,” whom they cite in either support or opposition to their claims about global warming. In contrast to enterprises such as astrology or homeopathy, there is no serious objection to the very project of climate science. The only questions are about the conclusions this project supports about global warming.

There is, moreover, no denying that there is a strong consensus among climate scientists on the existence of A.G.W. — in their view, human activities are warming the planet. There are climate scientists who doubt or deny this claim, but even they show a clear sense of opposing a view that is dominant in their discipline. Non-expert opponents of A.G.W. usually base their case on various criticisms that a small minority of climate scientists have raised against the consensus view. But non-experts are in no position to argue against the consensus of expert opinion. As long as they accept the expert authority of the discipline of climate science, they have no basis for supporting the minority position. Critics within the community of climate scientists may have a cogent case against A.G.W., but, given the overall consensus of that community, we non-experts have no basis for concluding that this is so. It does no good to say that we find the consensus conclusions poorly supported. Since we are not experts on the subject, our judgment has no standing.

It follows that a non-expert who wants to reject A.G.W. can do so only by arguing that climate science lacks the scientific status needed be taken seriously in our debates about public policy. There may well be areas of inquiry (e.g., various sub-disciplines of the social sciences) open to this sort of critique. But there does not seem to be a promising case against the scientific authority of climate science. As noted, opponents of the consensus on global warming themselves argue from results of the discipline, and there is no reason to think that they would have had any problem accepting a consensus of climate scientists against global warming, had this emerged.

Some non-expert opponents of global warming have made much of a number of e-mails written and circulated among a handful of climate scientists that they see as evidence of bias toward global warming. But unless this group is willing to argue from this small (and questionable) sample to the general unreliability of climate science as a discipline, they have no alternative but to accept the consensus view of climate scientists that these e-mails do not undermine the core result of global warming.

I am not arguing the absolute authority of scientific conclusions in democratic debates. It is not a matter of replacing Plato’s philosopher-kings with scientist-kings in our polis. We the people still need to decide (perhaps through our elected representatives) which groups we accept as having cognitive authority in our policy deliberations. Nor am I denying that there may be a logical gap between established scientific results and specific policy decisions. The fact that there is significant global warming due to human activity does not of itself imply any particular response to this fact. There remain pressing questions, for example, about the likely long-term effects of various plans for limiting CO2 emissions, the more immediate economic effects of such plans, and, especially, the proper balance between actual present sacrifices and probable long-term gains. Here we still require the input of experts, but we must also make fundamental value judgments, a task that, pace Plato, we cannot turn over to experts.

The essential point, however, is that once we have accepted the authority of a particular scientific discipline, we cannot consistently reject its conclusions. To adapt Schopenhauer’s famous remark about causality, science is not a taxi-cab that we can get in and out of whenever we like. Once we board the train of climate science, there is no alternative to taking it wherever it may go.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Green Team Blog 11/19/2010-Contributed by: Dante Del Giudice and Jennifer Giroux

The Green Team conducted a Ĺ’debriefing¹ of the September 25 campus Green Up,
Clean up with the assistance of Patricia Nolin, Special Assistant to the
President, during their October meeting. The Clean Up event was deemed very
successful from many standpoints, but the most interesting information came
from the trash stream data analysis provided by Henry Barnard School (HBS)
students with the assistance of their teacher (and Green Team member) Marty

Cigarette butts and beverage containers accounted for over 80% of trash
collected. HBS students found this surprising and unacceptable and they had
very specific recommendations for the Green Team. The HBS students have
offered to help conduct non-smoking and anti-litter campaigns to educate RIC
students, faculty, and staff. The Green Team response to these suggestions
was positive, and the prospect of school children initiating and leading
campaigns for adult green education was a refreshing, heartening, and truly
original idea.

Each month, the Green Team meetings are well attended by a wide variety of
campus community members. If you haven¹t attended a meeting, I encourage you
to do so in the upcoming months. If you are interested in learning more
about us or would like to join the mailing list, please contact me at Together we are making a difference!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Comments about the Sept. 27th Anchor Article

Did you all see page 11 of the September 27 Anchor? It had articles about the green-up clean=up day event and a letter lamenting the loss of half-price bus discounts for RIC students.

The clean-up day article was quite comprehensive, but was written before we had any tallies about what is in the litter stream. But now that the tally results are available, this gives an opportunity for the Green Team to designate someone to describe the results in a follow-up article. We now know the prevalence of cigarette butts, so this is an opportunity to remind smokers about proper disposal.

As for the bus issue, with the added RIPTA fare increase, RIC student monthly passes went from $27.50 to $62. By providing (expensive!) "free" parking here while eliminating the bus discount, our Board of Governors is adopting a policy that not only encourages pollution and congestion on our roads, it is regressive as students who may not be able to afford a car subsidize, with tuition money, those who drive and park free. It is ironic we have a fee to use the library, but not the parking lots! The next Board meeting is at RIC on Nov 4, perhaps the Green Team should make a presentation asking the Board to re-join the Upass discount system (which URI still has as well as almost all the private colleges.)


Friday, September 17, 2010

Minutes of Green Team Meeting 9/16/2010 and Eileen's Thoughts

Friday, September 17, 2010

This is the first posting for RIC’s Green Team blog. We are a diverse group of students, faculty, staff, and administrators here at Rhode Island College who care about environmental issues and want to make where we work a healthier and more efficient (saving energy and the earth) place.

This blog will be a place where we present our minutes of the meetings for everyone to read and an opportunity to share our thoughts about green issues. I eagerly volunteered to get us stared with this blog and then we will rotate the responsibility to each Green Team Member can have a turn sharing so here goes….

At our meeting today, Thursday September 15th, 2010, the RIC Green Team talked about the Green Team sponsoring the Clean Up Day next Saturday, September 25 from 9-1pm. Come join the fun as we clean and improve our campus.

Jennifer, Barry, and Jim worked the Green Table for Student Activities Day on Wednesday. They had 20 students sign up for the Clean Up Day and many asked them about biking and commuting. The tree walk maps were passed out too, and students loved learning about these walks. We hope to scan and get a tree walk pamphlet scanned and up on our website or on this blog soon!

Recycle a Bike is donating two cruiser bikes that will be housed in the Student Union.

We were presented with a map of where the new campus bike racks were going to be placed and we were all excited about this initiative. There was discussion about the Vehicular Traffic policy that related to bikes and there is a statement that is in the process of being revised that will allow bike riding on the campus mall beginning October 1st. We questioned why there were not any bike racks near the dorms.

The Transportation Sub Committee reported that the new bus routes and the problems in front of Roberts Hall have been resolved. RIPTA (Rhode Island Transit Authority) schedules should be readily accessible and it was noted there is one posted inside at Roberts Hall. We hope to have a permanent place to make these bus schedules available. Issues were raised about why RIC students are not allocated the 50% discount to ride the buses, but the RIPTA printed schedule notes that URI and CCRI students do receive a half off discount.

Finally, we deliberated how to pay for the light switches to place around the campus to remind everyone to turn off lights and power when not in use.

Eileen’s Personal Thoughts (At the end of briefly telling you about our meetings each person will be able to share):
It has been great working with the Green Team at RIC, from the large general first meeting last February, to the monthly meetings since last March. In this short time, we have been productive in setting and completing some initiatives. I really can’t remember how or why I became a green “nut” because my kids would tell you years ago I really didn’t care about recycling or green things. For the past 5 or 6 years I have become a fanatic about green issues. I have become a real recycle advocate as well and try not to have much trash at home or work. My neighbor allows me to use her compost, too. Yes, I even drive a Prius!

This is my second year at RIC and I am truly impressed with the commitment to the campus. The new bright red(or is it moroon?) trash canisters that were placed around this summer and the multi unit bins for recycling are a huge help.

I hope the Transportation Sub Committee explores how we can go back to offering a discount to RIC students (I wonder what the history is here with the discounting) for RIPTA busing, too. My son is in a PhD program at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburg and he receives free busing and free passes to every museum in the city; this is such a great incentive for students to use public transportation and to soak in the culture.

Yes, we need to help others commute, ride bikes, and recycle. I wish I could ride a bike to work but it would take a little too long to get here (I live over the MA border)!!!! Maybe I will try to do that on ride your bike to work day in the spring!!

Post comments and ideas for the Green Team at RIC here and come join the fun as we make a difference contributing to a low carbon footprint.