A Call for Rethinking Climate Science Methods

Climate science faces a challenge in delivering direct and immediate societal benefits. Today, there is a gap between what it produces and what users actually need. In the article "Usability of climate information: Toward a new scientific framework", philosopher Joe Roussos, together with his colleague Julie Jebeile at the University of Bern, identifies the primary focus of climate science on physics as the root of the problem. By starting from physics, which sees objectivity as something free of values, it is not possible to achieve knowledge that is practically useful or provides appropriate guidance on ethical issues. Instead, they argue that what is required is a shift towards a science-for-policy where usability is the guiding principle.

Traditionally, climate science has mainly studied the physical aspects of climate, like atmospheric physics and weather patterns. While attempts have been made to incorporate life sciences and Earth system modeling, climate science still struggles to integrate environmental, ecosystemic, and socioeconomic dimensions. This affects its ability to address concerns related to social justice, public health, environmental safety, biodiversity, and economic growth.

Unlike autonomous sciences like astrophysics or particle physics, climate science serves society and should adopt a more policy-oriented perspective. Moreover, narrow disciplinary studies are not enough for understanding climate change in its entirety. The paper suggests climate science should, through collaboration, mirror the interconnected nature of human society, global ecology, and the climate system.

Currently, climate science focuses on creating accurate models based on physics. This leads to many different models that make it difficult for policymakers to make decisions. Climate science could also pay more attention to local and regional impacts, which are often the most important for decision-making. Providing climate information that aligns with the needs of policymakers would require climate science to rethink its methods.

The article brings up the challenge in making climate information useful while still being objective. It is important climate scientists consider the values and perspectives of the people who will use the information and be aware of the political realities. Working together with stakeholders and collaborating would produce information that is trustworthy, relevant, and timely.

To improve the usability of climate science, researchers can draw upon frameworks like post-normal science and mandated science. Post-normal science emphasizes collaboration and working across disciplines to address urgent societal problems. Mandated science, especially regulatory science, helps in creating specific and useful scientific information by engaging with policymakers and navigating political and legal contexts.

Bridging the usability gap in climate science requires a shift towards making climate science more useful for policymakers. This involves collaborating with different experts, managing values, and changing the way climate science is done.

Julie and Joe list five requirements that future climate science would need to meet:

  1. Collaborate across disciplines.
  2. Cooperate with stakeholders
  3. Consider the importance of values.
  4. Address uncertainty in a way that makes it manageable for decision-makers.
  5. Communicate uncertainty in a way that does not undermine research results among those who are not used to assessing uncertainty in research.

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