Two Interesting Articles

January 27th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This post describes two papers that discuss different aspects of climate science, policy and politics. I don’t agree with everything argued in them, but they are thoughtful pieces of scholarship that challenge us to think. They are both worth a look.

In the journal Science Technology & Human Values Reiner Grundman has an interesting paper that makes the compelling argument that scientific consensus is neither necessary for sufficient for political action on climate change. He argues that the absence of a consensus did not limit progress on the ozone issue and the presence of a consensus has not forced progress on the climate issue. Instead, he argues the importance of political leadership. Here is the abstract:

Science, Technology & Human Values, Vol. 31, No. 1, 73-101 (2006)
DOI: 10.1177/0162243905280024
© 2006 SAGE Publications

Ozone and Climate: Scientific Consensus and Leadership
Reiner Grundmann

Aston University

This article compares the cases of ozone layer protection and climate change. In both cases, scientific expertise has played a comparatively important role in the policy process. The author argues that against conventional assumptions, scientific consensus is not necessary to achieve ambitious political goals. However, the architects of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change operated under such assumptions. The author argues that this is problematic both from a theoretical viewpoint and from empirical evidence. Contrary to conventional assumptions, ambitious political regulations in the ozone case were agreed under scientific uncertainty, whereas the negotiations on climate change were much more modest albeit based on a large scientific consensus. On the basis of a media analysis, the author shows that the creation of a climate of expectation plus pressure from leader countries is crucial for success.

A second paper is by our Myanna Lashen also the journal Science technology & Human Values (here in PDF), and grapples with the contradictory impulse for more democratic decision making and the practical reality of the role of information limits and political power that shapes the ability of the public to weigh competing knowledge claims. She argues,

this study demonstrates that exposure to countervailing opinions does not necessarily result in a more informed, participatory, and critically aware citizenry, a necessary basis for legitimate policy making in policy arenas in which only probabilistic knowledge is possible. This study of U.S. climate politics highlights problematic aspects of how governments, international bodies, and political and vested interest groups have chosen to deploy science. It shows that these actors deploy science and the “symbols of science” (Toumey 1996) in ways that constrain public debate and critical, balanced understanding of the strengths and limitations of scientific knowledge.

Here is Lahsen’s conclusion,

As shown by countless social studies of science, science is intimately and inextricably interlinked with politics, and no transcendent definitions exist by which to distinguish true science from “pseudoscience.” Even peer-reviewed science produced by means of the scientific method of hypothesis, experimentation, and falsification is liable to error. But it is nevertheless a particularly rigorous basis for the production of knowledge, and it can and should enjoy greater consideration relative to claims that not only are produced by less rigorous methods but also are paid by, and designed to benefit, financial and political elites over the general good. As responsible citizens, we must learn how to recognize the difference and to define the general good by means of truly participatory processes.

Like all of her work, this piece is complex and rich in detail, and challenges you to think about the complexities and inconsistencies present in the real world of human action.

16 Responses to “Two Interesting Articles”

  1. James Annan Says:

    The case of ozone is often cited as one in which the “science” won the day by providing a compelling case.

    I have heard a contrary view: the problem was pretty well understood for some time in scientific circles, we had exactly the same process that we see today of industry and the USA manufacturing uncertainty to justify inaction, and it was only due to the last-minute development of alternative chemicals that the USA’s (DuPont’s?) objections to the the Montreal Protocol were dropped.

    It was all a little before my time, though. Is there any (much) truth in this view?

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  3. Roger Pielke Jr. Says:


    The ozone case is interesting, mainly for the lessons that have not been learned. Maybe I’ll do a blog on this soon, but meantime, I would encourage you to have a look at this paper:

    Pielke, Jr., R. A., and M. M. Betsill, 1997: Policy for Science for Policy: Ozone Depletion and Acid Rain Revisited. Research Policy, 26, 157-168.

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  5. Terry Says:

    The ozone controversy if often given as an example where the skeptics were proven wrong. Question: were the skeptics indeed proven wrong on ozone?

    Acid rain is a controversy sometimes given as an example where the skeptics were proven right. (I seem to remember an enormous government study which found very little harm from it.) Question: were the skeptics indeed proven (mostly) right on acid rain?

    An off-the-top of the head answer would be sufficient and very gracious.

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  7. Rabett Says:

    Yes, the skeptics were proven wrong on every point in the stratospheric ozone issue. Of course you have to remember that it is really two issues, mid-latitude weakening, and catastrophic destruction in the spring over antarctica, and sometimes the arctic. See for example

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  9. Roger Pielke Jr. Says:


    Thanks for your comment. Your question about skeptics being proven right or wrong I think misses the most important point here.

    One ozone political action took place before the science was resolved. Around 1980 the debate was not between skeptics and a mainstream view, but different, competing mainstream perspectives.

    On acid rain, again political action took place before the scientific community organized itself to provide a comprehensive assessment of the science and its implications for policy.

    As much fun as some folks have playing the skeptics vs. mainstream game, history shows that winning this debate is not either necessary or suficient for political action.


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  11. Jim Clarke Says:


    While I have been a long time skeptic of catastrophic AGW, I never held the same skepticism for ozone depletion. The science was significantly simpler and I thought the experts where making a compelling argument. Recently, however, questions have come up.

    Given that the production of CFC’s continues today and that the chemical is remarkably stable, there should be more of it in the atmosphere today than ever before! The ozone layer should still be thinning! I recall that ‘the experts’ predicted continued thinning into the middle of the 21st century, even if all production of CFC’s was halted immediately.

    The fact that the ozone layer seems to be making a bit of a recovery (or, at the very least, has stopped ‘thinning’) is in direct contradiction to these predictions and an indication that the ozone thinning measured in the last several decades may not have been completely the result of human activity. There also seems to be strong evidence that the Antarctic ozone ‘hole’ existed long before CFC’s were ever created. It is a natural phenomenom, perhaps magnified by human activity.

    Again, I am not saying that humans had nothing to do with ozone depletion, simply that the skeptics may have had some valid points. Your statement that “the skeptics were proven wrong on every point…” seems to be a bit premature and a little too emphatic!

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  13. Jeff Norman Says:


    I do not have access to the complete article by Reiner Grundman, however the abstract makes no mention of the relative cost impacts of the Montreal Accord and the Kyoto Treaty.

    The revolutionary changes to our industrialized societies implied in the Kyoto Treaty and the very high price tags associated with these changes requires a level of agreement that far exceeds that of the Montreal Accord.

    If Reiner Grundman addressed this I would be curious as to what his argument entails.


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  15. Tom Says:

    I might be missing something, but it seems that while everyone is discussing who is right or wrong on the scientific side of the debate, the chilling conclusion of this article is that the science isn’t as important as the polictical?

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  17. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:


    Yes, Grundmann does note that the climate case is “larger” than the ozone case and is much more difficult, with the economic context obviously different. But he does not that they are similar in that in the early 1970s it was inconceivable that CFCs would be banned, and now we seem to “take it for granted.”

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  19. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Tom- You aren’t missing anything!

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  21. Mark Bahner Says:

    Jim Clarke writes, “Given that the production of CFC’s continues today and that the chemical is remarkably stable, there should be more of it in the atmosphere today than ever before!”

    No, CFC production has decreased by such a significant percentage that there is no reason to expect increases in atmospheric concentrations.

    See this website for details:

    For example, that website shows CFC-11 production peaked at approximately 380,000 metric tons in 1987, and had decrease to 3,145 metric tons in 2003.

    The levels of CFC-11 have responded just as could be expected from this production decrease:

    “There also seems to be strong evidence that the Antarctic ozone ‘hole’ existed long before CFC’s were ever created.”

    No, there isn’t evidence that a “hole” exist before CFC’s were ever created. One accepted definition of “hole” is “<220 Dobson units”. Such a “hole” did not exist over Antarctica prior to approximately the early 1980s. See these comments for details:

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  23. Mark Bahner Says:

    “As shown by countless social studies of science, science is intimately and inextricably interlinked with politics, and no transcendent definitions exist by which to distinguish true science from ‘pseudoscience.’”

    Falsifiability (the ability for a prediction to be proven wrong) is a transcendent characteristic of science versus pseudoscience.

    The “projections” in the IPCC TAR are not falsifiable. Therefore, they are not science.

    Just as Intelligent Design is not falsifiable, and therefore is not science.

    If the ozone layer had continued to thin, even as CFC production began to be dramatically reduced, then the theory/prediction that CFCs caused ozone depletion would have been falsified (proven wrong).

    However, the ozone layer has stopped thinning:

    …and can be expected to repair itself over the next several decades.

    That’s the difference between Nobel-Prize-winning science (CFCs and ozone depletion) and pseudoscientific rubbish (the projections in the IPCC TAR).

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  25. Tom Hewitt Says:

    I take exception with your statement “If the ozone layer had continued to thin, even as CFC production began to be dramatically reduced, then the theory/prediction that CFCs caused ozone depletion would have been falsified (proven wrong).”
    Had that ocurred, it wouldn’t prove the human inputs were not in part or largely responsible, just that the dynamics were more complicated than the theory that produced the original results could predict. In the advent of uncertainty in theory, and
    very limited observations rigorous statements can not be made, the best that can be done in such
    circumstances is intelligent estimation of probabilities.

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  27. Rabett Says:

    Actually, the ozone layer did continue to thin when CFC production was banned, and it WAS pointed to by some as evidence that CFCs were not responsible for the ozone thinning/hole. OTOH anyone with half a clue knew that there would be a delay between halt of production and decreased concentrations in the stratosphere, because it takes about 5 years for anything emitted on the surface to reach the stratosphere.

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  29. Jim Clarke Says:


    Perhaps I was mislead about the science around CFC’s. I was under the impression that the average CFC molecule would persist in the atmosphere for about 50 years or so. I seem to recall the experts saying that the amount of CFC’s would continue to increase for decades as old systems leaked and new production, while dramatically reduced, was not eliminated.

    Obviously, atmospheric concentrations of CFC’s began to level off, even decrease slightly, almost as soon as the Montreal Protocol took affect! Either I was given a false impression, or the system is more complex than we know.

    As to the pre-existance of the ‘hole’: I recall that the French took measurements in the 50’s that indicated less than 220 Dobson Units at a distant location in Antarctica. Perhaps these measurements have been discredited, but I still find it a bit presumptious to categorically claim we understand the ozone hole and what causes it, when we have such limited data for such a relatively short period of time.

    Again, I am not denying the role of CFC’s in all of this. I just think the final story will not be nearly as cut and dried as some make it out to be.

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  31. Rabett Says:

    Jim, you are creatively mixing a number of things here. The first one is the issue of an “ozone hole” being observed in Antarctica in the 1950s. Ozone has been monitored at Halley bay since the mid-50s. Dobson, from the British Antarctic survey (not French) observed low ozone in the springtime (ozone btw is measured in Dobson units, which tells you something). This is a natural remnant of the situation before the polar vortex breaks up in the spring, because it stops transport of ozone into the polar region. The decrease seen in the “ozone hole” is still deeper. There is a rather complete discussion of this urban legend at

    You can see that the concentrations of the common CFCs at
    CFC-11 has already started to decline, CFC-12 is at about the max and should start to decline. This is perfectly consistent with the average amount of time that a refrigerator/air conditioner goes without a charge and the statistics for manufacturing the CFCs.