Convergence and Disparity in Climate Change

This lecture is about convergence and disparity with respect to climate change—disparity between what scientists believe and what the American people believe. As to convergence: a few years ago I visited a famous patch of water in which two great rivers join, where the inflowing Rio Negro meets the Solemoes, becoming the great Amazon downstream of the junction. To the amazement of tourists, the line between the black water and the relatively clear main stream is distinguishable for miles below the junction. But this wedding of the waters isn’t exactly harmonious: along the line there are strong eddies, hinting at a violent subsurface hydrology.

Something like the meeting of these two rivers happens also at the convergence where science intersects with public policy—and politics. Some scientists may insist that policies about science, technology, and related regulation by the state ought to be based on the science. The public, however, has a right to be engaged in this process and will defend that right. Sometimes individuals will question whether the scientific case for a decision is reliable; at other times they may claim that an alternative decision based on other values (perhaps cultural or economic) should trump science in the decision because it yields greater benefits. The resulting eddies, pitting various stakeholders against one another—some darker than others—are characteristic of this convergence too.