Your Opinion: Scientific method and climate change
Friday, January 31, 2014
It’s the time of year for middle and high school science fairs, where students make an educated guess and then try to scientifically prove or disprove the hypothesis using scientific methods. The scientific methods must be “fair” which require testing that allows the changing of one variable while keeping all other conditions the same.
We could try to apply this process to the hypothesis stated as “Mankind is causing catastrophic climate change.” To have scientifically fair methods would require keeping all variables the same except for mankind’s production of carbon dioxide. Since we don’t control ocean currents, the sun, and other factors this is going to be difficult.
Also, the climate has never stayed the same. We have extrapolated to estimate temperatures for hundreds and thousands of years, but to what accuracy? Since there are some climate models predicting changes to the nearest tenth, how accurately can we really compare these predictions to historical climate change?
It seems that catastrophic man-made climate change is at best still an educated guess. For this reason there are many extremely educated scientists on both side of the debate despite what several government activists that frequently write into this newspaper say. Even though “consensus” is far from a scientific term and would have no place in the process of scientific proof, let’s use it in the interest of common ground. There is of course consensus that the climate is changing (always has and always will) and we have been in a warming period.
The current warming trend may be coming to a close but time will tell. Many scientists on both sides of the debate also believe that mankind is having some impact to the climate. The real debate remains as to whether mankind is going to cause parts of New York and Los Angeles to wash into the sea. We are nowhere close to scientific conclusions on that point. Is there any other science question that is taught as proven science before being proven (except our existence solely through evolution?)
So what should we do about teaching students scientific methods? The schools and students are doing pretty well; the adults should just be more practical. Additionally, has someone determined that right now we live in the “perfect” climate and need to keep it the same no matter what the economic costs? If mankind impacts the climate enough to cause problems, we will engineer solutions.