Saturday, December 26, 2015

Post Normal Policy

Having clarified what Normal Science is, Eli now moves on to Post Normal Policy.  Post Normal Science was formulated by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz. It tries to chart a path when

  • Facts are uncertain, 
  • Values in dispute, 
  • Stakes high, and
  • Decisions urgent. 
It was a response to problems that came to the fore in the 1980s such as environmental tobacco smoke, HIV/AIDS, acid rain, ozone depletion and, yes, climate change.  The observant amongst the bunnies will have noticed that science only has something to say about the first.  Values are a question of ethics, stakes economics, and decisions policy. However, the misleading formulation leaves much room for ClimateBall.  
The science part is Pre-Normal Science, the stage at which something has been observed, but no one quite knows where it came from, what it means or how to understand it.  Science actually has a way of dealing with such situations.

The initial flailing about to reach a useful understanding is later used by those who oppose action to obfuscate by insisting that still nothing is known, what is known is wrong, or at best that more research is needed.  Oh yes, natural variability.

Science starts with the Pre-Normal Science stage. What was the cause? Every idea could be proposed and is. Normal science sorts through them. Discarding ones falsified by observations and those inconsistent with basic principles.  Finally after a consensus forms the Jedi Council (IPCC, Ozone Secretariat, NRC, RS) clues in the policy makers.

Often after the science becomes sufficient there is no need for the last step except say, that’s a really cool paper. But sometimes the initial flailing about for a scientific solution can produce long lasting Post Normal Policy responses. These can be pernicious, and involve serious denial of reality.

Proposers of the discarded theories often still clutch them, but mostly they become opinionated Christmas Turkey Uncles/Aunts ignored within the scientific community and at the Family Festivals.

Post-Normal Policy ensues when normal science has reached a coherent, consilient consensus and it is clear that action is needed but it is economically or philosophically impossible for some to accept.

The response is to deny the utility of science and scientific judgment, thus the attacks on scientists and scientific panels that provide policy makers with their best scientific advice. It is important to remember that choosing up sides happens in the Pre-Normal Science stage before the scientific consensus emerges, but persists

Vested interests will frame research outside of the scientific consensus

Recognizing the division between Pre-Normal Science and Post-Normal Policy and the uses of the former to block action by in the later stage is useful for understanding the course of controversies that require normal science to understand policy responses.  



Though it's nice to see the antthopogenic climate signal catch up with the noise of variability, I still have problems with the Crisis Thing, said crisis having been declared in '88, after a century's worth of warming most folks failed to notice, as they were too busy gawping at Collier's and Newsweek touting A-bombs changing the weather and ice age replays to read GRL.

Like inflation, AGW is a Bad Thing, but the rates likewise count more than models of how and when they may run away . As the continuing crisis enters its second generation, and Jim Hansen's agent prods him to pen Storms of My Great-Grandchildren, I don't see much by way of bipartisan traction crisis-wise.

For all the zeal of the propagnda writing classes, the delta T rise is stuck in the 1 microK an hour groove. What we've got on deck urgency-wise is albedo feedback problems, lacustrine water surfaces warming three times faster than the atmospheric boundry layer, and the geometric amplification of IR optical depth at high latitudes.

EliRabett said...

Having lived through the outlawing of ciggies in bars and in lawing of gay marriage, Eli understands the theory of social lurch.


If you want the lurch, the lurch wants you.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Eli - that's a really cool blog post.

Fernando Leanme said...

There's no scientific solution. Wise engineers know that.

Bernard J. said...

"For all the zeal of the propagnda [sic] writing classes, the delta T rise is stuck in the 1 microK an hour groove."

Russell, you've had your ear flicked a little while back for making this fatuous statement. You might as well point out how slow is the speed of light, at a paltry 30 centimetres per nanosecond...

Oh, and the last time I looked the rate of warming is about double what you state, at around 2 μK/h, when considered over the last 40 years.

The important message here though is that at that rate, the integrity of the planet's ecology and of humanity's life-support systems have about 4 to 6 billions seconds left before significant system failure occurs - plenty of time to party one might suppose...

...if one considers ~1.3-2 centuries to be "plenty of time".

As I said previously Russell, you're a smart man. Stop pretending to be a daft old bugger: you're better than that.


Bernard, a microdegree an hour has been the mean for the last million hours or so.

Ignoring the view that the thermal ineria of the system still dominates its behavior represents the triumph of hope over geophysical experience - it's to the the modelers' credit that the IPCC has dialed back their projections to levels consillient with the physical scale of the forcing-- and increased policy realism.

Please take the trouble to read what I wrote three years ago in the AGU journal , Earth's Future about why I think progress on dynamic radiative forcing has remained so slow- and why i think things like Goresat will help us get to yes on the elusive first decimal place of doubling sensititvity.

Anonymous said...

While technically any unit of rate is as good as another (furlongs per fortnight, per the FFF system), when communicating with a public, it is useful to put change in terms that relate and they understand. Tectonic plates move slowly on the human schedule, but they move on the order that fingernails grow. Accordingly, it's not out of the range of human experience.

I think the attraction media and public have for seizing upon extreme events, however incorrectly, to attach to climate impacts is an alternative way: Punctuation of the normal. While +ENSO has happened many times, there's a lot of excess heat in them thar oceans.

This is why I think little indicators such as new and regular nuisance flooding, e.g., Boston's Long Wharf being flooded at astronomical high tide, are powerful means of getting the message across.

Anonymous said...

There's no wise engineer. Anyone who plays scientist-engineer-philosopher knows that.

Hank Roberts said...

Ya know that systems theory notion that people are very good at finding the leverage points for a problem, and consistently push them the wrong way?

I think 'Goresat' (Triana, DSCOVR) is one example -- the bright side instrument needed 15 years ago was built, shelved, belatedly launched with outdated instruments and degraded bandwidth; and the dark side instrument isn't even on the drawing boards. If those were done there'd be no more of this pfaffling about satellite records constructed from many different and various and degrading low earth orbit instruments.

I think the Fukushima debacle continues to be another example. What's the best way to flush soluble and volatile fission daughters out of a failed plant? Pump more water through it faster. As they are doing, because their barrier captured more contaminated water than expected and there's no place to put it except, duh, into the failed containments:

And what do we need to use less fossil fuels? Reliable nuclear power and reliable people managing it. What do we have? People speaking for the industry who just can't believe that itty bitty amounts of something could be bad, and can't believe that heavy molecules don't just sink to the ground and stay there.

In all these instances (and I know Russell will add his usual favorite examples if he hasn't already) we need people smart enough to notice they've been wrong and back out of the dead end sooner.

Say that lead poisoning knocks about five percent off the IQ level on population average -- which means out at the thin ends of the curve we have lost something like half the people who would have had IQs over 130, and doubled the number with IQs under 70, just from that one stupidly persistent industry alone.

Fermi paradox? What paradox?

richardtol said...

In the Funtowicz/Ravetz (FR) definition, "facts are uncertain" and "values in dispute".

In the Eli Rabett (ER) definition, there is a "coherent, consilient consensus", presumably on the facts, and the "need" for "action" is "clear" but "impossible for some to accept".

It strikes me that there is more than a semantic difference between ER and FR.

Bernard J. said...

"Bernard, a microdegree an hour has been the mean for the last million hours or so."

But Russell, the forcings that are causing this warming haven't been consistent across those "million hours or so". If one is going to consider the future, one should consider recent* trends resulting from current parameters, rather than relying on historical averages that include superceded data.

I'm sure that as a smart man you would agree with that.

And you have never really addressed just how it is that the current 2 μK/h rate of warming is not of concern (as you seem to be inclined to assume) for future humans, species and ecosystems, over periods of time relevant to said future humans, species and ecosystems - rather than to an emeritus professor in his late autumn years.

[*Where "recent" still includes a sufficient span of time for statistical reliability...]


Bernard, I heartily agree that the farther back you go, the more the signal to noise ratio of palaeoclimate proxies decays .

We can't deconvolute the components of past forcings until we succeed in quantifying their present interactions- there are many approaches, but the failure of all the different published sensitivity estimates to converge is a continuing source of perplexity-- until they do, visions of modelling outcomes will differ vividly.

Hank Roberts said...

> the failure of all the different published
> sensitivity estimates to converge is a continuing
> source of perplexity

But why be perplexed? The uncertainty is what we don't know -- take yon coccolithophores for example. Or any of the other biological changes that happened over deep time. Or those pesky clouds. And the bacteria that have been living in in them, and like the plankton evolving rather fast over deep time, for that matter.

Each of the episodes of rapid climate change differed in ways we can't be much more precise about. The various estimates make different assumptions and incorporate different ideas about what was happening. Of course they don't converge.

What's remarkable is how similar they are considering what we don't know yet.

"Differences in cloud feedbacks remain the principal source of uncertainty." -- RC in 2005.
They still do.

Bernard J. said...

"...but the failure of all the different published sensitivity estimates to converge is a continuing source of perplexity-- until they do, visions of modelling outcomes will differ vividly."

The range for equilibrium climate sensitivity, even if one takes the lower end, is still such that it indicates serious ecological consequences: the only difference is a few more decades to centuries before shit meets fan.

And a consideration of the biosphere even as it has responded today shows that there's trouble on the horizon, Russell.


Bernard, if you fast backward to present ecological reality , which is to say the world as it exists in response to the scant 1 degree warming of the past century , R.Soc.Proc B has this to say :

Few global species extinctions are thought to have been caused by climate change. For example, only 20 of 864 species extinctions are considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) [47] to potentially be the result of climate change, either wholly or in part (using the same search criteria as a recent review [9]), and the evidence linking them to climate change is typically very tenuous (see the electronic supplementary material, table S1).

However, there is abundant evidence for local extinctions from contractions at the warm edges of species' ranges. A pattern of range shifts (generally polewards and upwards) has been documented in hundreds of species of plants and animals [48,49], and is one of the strongest signals of biotic change from global warming. These shifts result from two processes: cold-edge expansion and warm-edge contraction (see the electronic supplementary material, figure S1). Much has been written about cold-edge expansions [21,50], and these may be more common than warm-edge contractions [51]. Nevertheless, many warm-edge contractions have been documented [52–58], including large-scale review studies spanning hundreds of species [48,59]. These warm-edge populations are a logical place to look for the causes of climate-related extinctions, especially because they may already be at the limits of their climatic tolerances [60]. Importantly, this pattern of warm-edge contraction provides evidence that many local extinctions have already occurred as a result of climate change.

We generally assume that the proximate factors causing local extinction from climate change are associated with the death of individuals. However, others factors may be involved as well. These include emigration of individuals into adjacent localities, declines in recruitment, or a combination of these and other factors. The question of whether climate-related local extinctions occur through death, dispersal or other processes has received little attention (but see [61,62]), and represents another important but poorly explored area in climate-change research.

In other words , plus ca change...

Bernard J. said...

[Part I]

FFS Russell, how quickly do you think extinctions usually occur, especially in the initial* stages of a planetary event?

Or are you of the mindset that if it's not going to happen in your remaining alloted time it's not important?

I'm sure that you're acquainted with the phenomenon of an extinction debt. Humans have already clocked up a whole lot of such from the proximal sequelæ of fossil fuel use, and the more distal impacts of climate change (synergising with our other environmental damages) are going to rack up a whole lot more debt. Just because species don't fall off the perch today doesn't mean that we aren't profoundly altering the global biodiverity of the future.

Frankly I'm a little surprised that there are as many extinctions as have already been identified, that are directly or partially attributable to climate change, as for every one that we find there will be many more that have yet to be noted or will simply never register. And the extract that you quote, if you read it carefully, indicates that there is already further extensive erosion at the edges of many species ranges/bioclimatic envelopes/niche boundaries: read it carefully and you might grok that what we're seeing today is simply the first small shuffling steps of an extinction behemoth that is going to trample on global biodiversity for centuries and millennia to come. This is today's "ecological reality": not the gloss with which you tried to paint the lips of the pig.

There are many categories of climate change denial, Russell. The most extreme are those that refuse to accept the fundamental physical science of 'greenhouse' gas warming, or the chemistry of acidification, or the stoichiometry of combustion and of human addition of CO2 to the atmosphere. Next in line are those that minimise the magnitude of the sensitivity of climate to the presence of CO2, or that seek to diminish the relative contribution of humans to the contemporary warming.

Amongst the most subtle of denials are those that deprecate the response of species and ecosystems to changes in the environment. These are perhaps the most understandable of denials, because their avoidance generally requires a finessed understanding of the complexities of and the time scales on which species and ecosystems operate, but they are denials of science nonetheless.

In this aspect of the global warming discussion you do little to put light between yourself and those who are overtly lodged in the denialist camp. Indeed it's reminiscent of those who take the work of physical climate scientists and twist it to infer something completely different to the actual meaning.

Bernard J. said...

[Part II]

You should take some time to read some of the recent literature on the subject. As a somewhat abitrary start Urban's piece from earlier this year, and Essle's et al a few months later, are worth a look. Don't restrict yourself to the recent material though - there's useful information from earlier years.

And Russell, if you really want to make an argument that all is fine and dandy with a little warming, please refer us to more than one or two poorly-interpreted papers - find (if you can) the research that explicitly indicates that the heating of the planet will not do more than trim a few 'useless' species from the edges.

Otherwise pull up your socks old man and cease with the denial-lite.

[* Yes, we are still very much in the preliminary stage of ecological response to global warming.]


The least disinterested ground state a scientist can be in is having been prepared , or groomed, by peer group pressure into predicating what goes in to their analysis on some overriding principle. Those vesting too much faith in the precationary principle risk embroilment in a feedback loop leading to apocalyptic or teleological beliefs, or even televangelism--( if they went to divinity school)

The problem is less a matter of climate science getting religion than ( apologies to Aquinas) of beware of the coach with one playbook.

I'm not kidding when I say I still don't think anybody knows how to deconvolute climate forcing , and it may take a strong decadal signal or the modellers matching the historical record better before I do. Because he folks who declared a crisis a generation ago seem in continuing denial of the paradoxical capacity of expanding knowledge to slow the resolution of modeling problems by adding complexity rather than deconvoluting them, in much the same way that the IPCC's litany of 95% parameter certainties has morphed into the 300% spread in in scenario outcomes. In short, the Precautionary Principle is self-referential.

Bernard J. said...

Russell, it is clear that you haven't worked in the field, in ecology, with ecologists.

There have been many profound ecological changes already from both global warming and non-warming human impacts on the planet. Many of these align with historical modelling, others don't precisely, and some few don't at all. The overall result though is that ecologists are generally correct in their conclusions about the human impacts on the biosphere, and where they are not they have often been conservative in their modelling.

The "crisis" to which you refer appears to be of a particular shape in your mind, where in fact the consequences of human impact may be just as profound, but not conform to the particular manifestation that you imagine. I suspect that this is a reflection of your apparent distant understanding of ecosystem and evolutionary processes.

Perhaps you imagined the response was supposed to be linear from the first prognostications of the 60s and 70s, and close in materialisation to those initial modellings, but as in any field of science (and as you yourself intimated...) things turn out to be more complex than they might have at first appeared. Responses are generally more sigmoid in trajectory than linear, and in most of the biological responses to climate change we are still very much in the stage where the solutions of the derivatives for current values of t are less than 1. In layman's terms this means "we ain't seen nuthin' yet".

And as an emeritus physicist you should be able to appreciate that relatively small changes in calculated exponents' constants can lead to appreciable shifts in solutions for t around the range in which the point of inflection occurs. In plain English this means that modelling might have been slightly off in estimating some of the parameters affecting a trajectory, but that doesn't change the fact that the trajectory will still be realised - just on a somewhat different timescale to that originally modelled.

Given that you seem to be reluctant to delve deeply into the literature itself I would heartily recommend some of John Mashey's sage advice in such circumstances, which is to visit your nearest institution of higher learning/research and introduce yourself to some of their ecologists. Harvard itself has many excellent ones. There will almost certainly be a number who would be more than happy to give you a crash course in the nature of human impacts on biodiversity, how these impacts are changing ecosystems over time, and what the consequences will be on scales beyond the few years left to an old emeritus.

I know that you have some acquaintance with aspects of the ecological literature, but it appears to be a somewhat naïve one, as exemplified by this delightfully guileless suggestion:

"If so, conservationists might outrun the otherwise fatally slow northward motion of deeply rooted ecosystems by planting a scatter of southerly trees and plants 1° or 3° north of their present natural range. Putting slow-growing trees in place faster than climate can carry them could assure future refugia for many species as slow-growing forests mature."

It's all a little more complicated than that...

I well understand that you mean it when you say you "still don't think anybody knows how to deconvolute climate forcing". The problem is that you appear to be sitting at your keyboard thinking it, rather than talking to the people who are in the field watching the changes occur before their eyes. I've witnessed these changes, my colleagues have, and many thousands of other ecologists and environmental scientists around the world have, too. If you are going to make sweeping conclusions about the harm or otherwise that global warming will have on the biosphere, it behoves you to first speak with the people who actually know what's going on.

Bernard J. said...

Russell, if you are having difficulty understanding the nature and magnitude of the changes that global warming has set in train, you could do worse than to correspond with someone like Ove Hough-Guldberg:

Just a suggestion.


Thaks Bernard-Hoegh-Guldberg's people are ddoing outstanding work on coral conservation , and I'm happy to have provided some imput in that regard.

My agnostic view of systems inertia does not stay my hand from adressing the possibility of physics -based water conservation

I have a followup to this

in the works