A Climate Change Team B?


The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences yesterday released a three-part report on the science of climate change and suggested policy responses with the aim of mitigating and adapting to its effects. The NRC report dealing with climate science concludes:

Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.

The report then cites a lot of evidence for this conclusion while noting that there are some outstanding research questions that need to be further refined:

Scientific understanding of climate change and its interactions with other environmental changes is underpinned by empirical and theoretical understanding of the Earth system, which includes the atmosphere, land surface, cryosphere, and oceans, as well as interactions among these components. Numerous decisions about climate change, including setting emissions targets and developing and implementing adaptation plans, rest on understanding how the Earth system will respond to GHG emissions and other climate forcings. While this understanding has improved markedly over the past several decades, a number of key uncertainties remain. These include the strength of certain forcings and feedbacks, the possibility of abrupt changes, and the details of how climate change will play out at local and regional scales over decadal and multidecadal timescales. While research on these topics cannot be expected to eliminate all of the uncertainties associated with Earth system processes (and uncertainties in future human actions will always remain), efforts to improve projections of climate and other Earth system changes can be expected to yield more robust and more relevant information for decision making, as well as a better characterization of remaining uncertainties.

Naturally, these reports all urgently call for further research funding. (I suspect that there has never been an NAS report that did not urgently call for further research funding.) One idea from the report that merits some consideration is the establishment of an integrated climate observing system. This would provide data that would not only show the pace of warming, but is vital for helping to validate the climate models upon whose outputs policymakers may wager vast sums in an attempt to avoid deleterious climate change.

A truly bad idea from the report is:

Recommendation 5: A single federal interagency program or other entity should be given the authority and resources to coordinate and implement an integrated research effort that supports improving both understanding of and responses to climate change. If several key modifications are made, the U.S. Global Change Research Program could serve this role.

A top-down monopolistic climate science research effort would enforce (even unconsciously) groupthink. An intriguing idea to counter groupthink was offered at a Capitol Hill briefing by the Marshall Institute last week. Team B. Princeton University physicist William Happer, who also heads up the Institute, discussed his successful experience with the Team B process when he consulted on missile defense for the Department of Defense. In that case, the Team B experts killed off many flawed ideas that were being promoted by other sections of DOD.

With regard to climate change science, the idea is that a select group of climate researchers would be convened with the explicit goal of trying to poke holes in the analyses and conclusions of consensus climate science. Obviously, how to set up a climate change Team B requires careful thought, but it's likely that launching such a process would help avoid some of the intellectual pitfalls that are inherent in any monopoly, including scientific research monopolies.