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« Greenbait | Main | Pluralism - an explanation for greens »
Wednesday
Apr232014

From another age

Sheila Jasanoff is reckoned one of the great thinkers about science and technology and her writings therefore tend to command instant interest. Her latest piece is on societal responses to climate change and can be seen here.

It's hugely disappointing, and not simply because of a rather superficial understanding of the state of climate science:

The causal connection between human activity and the warming of the earth's mean surface temperatures has strengthened from quite tentative to "extremely likely" over a quarter century.

Jasanoff sees cause for optimism on three fronts - our understanding of climate science, our ability to make technological responses to it (although I'm not entirely convinced by her examples)...

Energy-related knowledge and know-how have also grown, from the design of efficient wind turbines and solar panels to projects for modifying the earth's surface to reflect radiant heat back into the atmosphere.

...and finally intensification of local initiatives to respond to climate change. On this latter point she really does come across as something of a dinosaur. Seeing people's reducing faith in government action, she says that people are coalescing around the local - food, energy and, erm, recycling - with a focus on the city rather than the state. Jasanoff sees these tendencies as a challenge to international collaboration:

...large resources have to be mustered to weather big needs, as in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima after the 2011 tsunami, or the Philippines after the 2013 typhoon. What would happen if devastation of such enormity became the order of the day in a world of
isolated, ingrown enclaves, with no one prepared to offer relief to distant communities in dire need? And how much solidarity would the international community muster if populations least culpable in contributing to global warming, and least able to mitigate its effects, suffered the harshest consequences?

Climate change has put in question humanity's capacity to work together on a problem that  strains political will as well as technological ability. Where we will be in a century depends in part on how we read the ethical obligation to confront the planetary future. Will it be seen as a mandate for stewardship and collective responsibility that transcends local particularity-or as an invitation to every place that can mobilize the resources to act for itself on its own steam?

The need for large resources to be mobilised in response to major natural disasters is of course true. What she doesn't explain is why "collective responsibility" - a 1950s idea if ever there was one - is a good approach to dealing with managing causes as well as symptoms.

It's almost as if "collective responsibility" is an end in itself.

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Reader Comments (47)

Jassanof is just too parochial for words. She is also a slave to the belief in technological redemption: "...efficient wind turbines and solar panels to projects for modifying the earth's surface to reflect radiant heat back into the atmosphere." [Sheesh!!] I bet she's never more than a finger away from her iPhone and Twitter feed.

If she took her head from her backside she'd see that much of the solution is as basic as providing cheap and available power - NOT windmills or PV - to countries where it is common for cooking and heating still to be done on dung fires in unventilated buildings.

Apr 23, 2014 at 9:27 AM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

Basically she has swallowed without question anything the IPCC has throw out , and so the claims of 'increased certainty' despite the fact that reality increasingly conflicts with its claims .

Apr 23, 2014 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

paging Mr. Sokal !

Yet another incurious social scientist on a bloated sinecure spouting regurgitated "received wisdom" twaddle ?

Apr 23, 2014 at 9:40 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Unfortunately, as anyone with a bit of "Energy-related knowledge and know-how" would understand, it's not the efficiency of wind turbines and solar panels that matters most - it is energy density, intermittency and lack of fuel storage that really count and make them useless technologies in a modern society.

Apr 23, 2014 at 9:49 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Comes across as a dilettante and thereby shreds any reputation she may have had. Get this;

Slowly and silently, humankind's growing productive force over the last three hundred years - more people, more mobility, more agriculture, more industrial development - has spewed into the earth's atmosphere a collection of gasses that trap heat and have converted the planet into a giant greenhouse.

Apr 23, 2014 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Whenever I see anyone slipping that tsunami in amongst the extreme weather events, I smell a rat. Yes, it's defensible, she can say she didn't claim it to be a weather evnt. But I still get a faint muridine whiff.

Apr 23, 2014 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

She is Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Never heard of her before. Usually a Professor of "YXY Studies" is just a hanger-on. Someone who couldn't, or wouldn't, actually do it for real. I see no evidence that she understands any part of it, but is clearly mainly interested in the "government" bit.

Apr 23, 2014 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

She may be a "great thinker" but she obviously hasn't thought very hard about "climate science".

Apr 23, 2014 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

It's almost as if "collective responsibility" is an end in itself.
I don't know Jasanoff but for a certain political mindset collective responsibility was pretty much an end in itself.
I note she is professor, not of science and technology but of 'science and technology studies'! The sort of post that a friend of mine once described as knowing nothing about anything but everything about how to teach it.

Apr 23, 2014 at 10:32 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

...large resources have to be mustered to weather big needs, as in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima after the 2011 tsunami, or the Philippines after the 2013 typhoon. What would happen if devastation of such enormity became the order of the day….

Better keep these tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and blizzards away from delicate solar panels, fragile wind farms and vulnerable power transmission lines. In Jasanoff's renewable future what happens to the communities living in danger zones? Will they have to move thousands of miles to areas where renewable power can be reliably harvested? Will everyone have to live in Nevada?

Apr 23, 2014 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterChairman Al

I have never had any real regard for Sheila Jasanoff. She is an academic with little understanding of the science. She blindly believes what the "authorities" tell her and then builds her case around a poor understanding.

She reminds me of the many non-scientists who regurgitate all nonsense derived from unvalidated climate models without any understanding of their limitation.

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Chairman Al~ There won't be room in Nevada. It will be covered with solar panels.

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterOtter

In a village, a busybody can make quite a nuisance of herself (or himself for that matter). They decide everyone else needs to be 'organised'. Barbara Ward was an example of a busybody on a global scale, and there are many more. This lady seems to be one of them.

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:12 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I am afraid that ''climate science'' understanding is not good. It has dropped back to near zero from a promising start in the 1960's when I did a course in it. Understanding of thermodynamics has dropped to zero with the likes of Davey etc.

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

"It's almost as if "collective responsibility" is an end in itself"

I guess you got it in one.

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

reminds me of that old song "soviet power + electrification".....

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered Commenterbill

I really do hope she and the warmists science folks develop vegetable varieties that can grow in frozen ground - especially tomatoes. Or, at least, the shortened growing season.

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

"Sheila Jasanoff is reckoned one of the great thinkers about science and technology"

By whom?

She has failed to mention and therefore I suppose spot, any of the significant political and social trends affecting science and particularly climate science.

Her only theme appears to me to be "people aren't working together".

Hasn't she noticed that people worldwide are now working together more and more on the internet.

I think what she really means is "people aren't joining my club of mad-cap new-age pagan pyramid worshippers". (Or whatever her particular slant is)

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:58 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

John Shade: "In a village, a busybody can make quite a nuisance of herself (or himself for that matter). They decide everyone else needs to be 'organised'. Barbara Ward was an example of a busybody on a global scale"

That's a very good way of putting it.

Apr 23, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

One would think that knowing when to shut up is a must have for any knowledgeable person.

Apr 23, 2014 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

In the meantime, on the planet Bollox, I watched in amazement this morning as Wayne Rooney's demented 'cousin' was waxing lyrical about the huge new 'renewables' project which was, according to the BBC, going to power 'three million homes'... Davey was, with a completely straight face, talking about 'reliable' energy...
Reliable..?
RELIABLE..?
From wind turbines..?
Oh - and 'cheap'...!
The BBC reporter did try (not very hard) to question him on these assertions - but Davey was in full flow...

Apr 23, 2014 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Here we stand on the brink of a nuclear conflict and they are still bleating about tiny warming from a harmless trace gas.

Apr 23, 2014 at 12:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

For someone with an interest in science and the law she seems to have little regard for the burden of proof.

Apr 23, 2014 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

"Sheila Jasanoff is reckoned one of the great thinkers about science and technology"

By who?

Apr 23, 2014 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

The problem seems to be the current trend of blurring the boundaries between disciplines.
It was bad enough when scientists morphed into activists but now it seems they are also morphing into writers of cruddy horror movies.


"Slowly and silently, humankind's growing productive force over the last three hundred years - more people, more mobility, more agriculture, more industrial development - has spewed into the earth's atmosphere a collection of gasses that trap heat and have converted the planet into a giant greenhouse."

OK. So until mankind appeared there was no greenhouse effect??

Apr 23, 2014 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith L

sherlock1:

I noted the statistical sleight of hand in the BBC's report:

These could cost up to £1bn each year in subsidies,

for what?

Mr Davey also said the projects would add nearly 5% to the UK clean energy supply.

but it really doesn't cost much does it?

However, he added that the measures would add 2% to household energy bills by 2020, when it is hoped some 30% of electricity will come through renewable means.

Of course, the reason it's only 2% in 2020 for these projects is that bills will have escalated so much from all the other renewables planned to get to the 30% figure. Basically, it's a large tranche of supply at 155 £/MWh - or three times the cost of power at present. But such real figures - or the real figures on nominal capacity and expected output - are nowhere to be seen.

Apr 23, 2014 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

If you didn't know any better, the sheer mind-boggling cluelessness of this female's take on the climate religion farce might be likely almost to make you question the usefulness of whole swathes of similar academics happily employed by the thousand to enjoy their lifelong intellectual ego trips. Paid for by taxpayers in the real world economy, or what still remains of it. If you didn't know any better, that is.

Apr 23, 2014 at 1:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

I note that Guido Fawkes calculates the subsidies using more accurate data at £1.4bn p.a.

http://order-order.com/2014/04/23/daveys-new-green-projects-to-cost-taxpayer-1-4-billion-a-year/

Apr 23, 2014 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Sheila Jasanoff?

Why lordy, I must get myself more rarefied, my circle ain't up high enough. Having said that, if she is one of the great thinkers, perhaps it's better if I stay more lowly, I don't have much truck with highfalutin.

Apr 23, 2014 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

I wonder if she's considered ho she'd make a living in the low energy future because only in an energy rich world would there be spare cash to fund idiots.

Apr 23, 2014 at 2:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"I wonder if she's considered ho she'd make a living in the low energy future because only in an energy rich world would there be spare cash to fund idiots."

Stirring comment, and which applies to all green adherents - I wonder if Richard and Julia have pondered such - low energy future = no jobs.

Apr 23, 2014 at 2:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Sheila Jasanoff is a well-known and well-cited author in the social sciences and science studies literature. She has papers on the global warming movement going way back. As such, she is a voice that carries and ought to carry greater weight.

It is surprising to see such unsophisticated language from her. Spewing gases into the atmosphere?

Apr 23, 2014 at 3:02 PM | Registered Commentershub

The causal connection between human activity and the warming of the earth's mean surface temperatures has strengthened from quite tentative to "extremely likely" over a quarter century.

I think because this "extremely likely" claim from the IPCC WG1 Summary for Policymakers was so widely-quoted, most people assume it is actually based on (a) scientific evidence and/or (b) scientific consensus. I don't think people realise how few IPCC authors were involved in that particular claim, or that it assumed that the Global Climate Models are reliable.

I wonder if people knew more about the IPCC process, would they be less quick to make the claim?

By the way, here's my summary of how the "extremely likely" conclusion was reached by the IPCC AR5, which I wrote back when WG1 was released. What do you think?

Apr 23, 2014 at 3:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterRonan Connolly

"Barbara Ward was an example of a busybody on a global scale"

Any relation to our own Honest Bob..?

Apr 23, 2014 at 4:01 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Google shows 80 pages mentioning both Jassanof and "Bob Ward" .. Not including Robert Ward

Apr 23, 2014 at 4:13 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

If that piece is anything to go by, you should remove her from your "great thinkers" list.

Apr 23, 2014 at 4:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

"<I>By the way, here's my summary of how the "extremely likely" conclusion was reached by the IPCC AR5, which I wrote back when WG1 was released. What do you think?</I>"

Very interesting read.

It's very long (in a blogpost sense) but covers lots and lots of things in addition to the "extremely likely" conclusion process. It's too bad that there are so many out there who have heard the 97% number and practically nothing else but are dead certain about their certainty. If they would only read something like this then they might be a little less eager to throw that number around. But the likelihood of them reading this is vanishingly small, unfortunately.

Apr 23, 2014 at 5:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterkcom

kcom (Apr 23, 2014 at 5:40 PM),

Thanks, glad you found it interesting!

You're probably right about the length. I try to go through things systematically, which means my essays tend to be much longer than the typical "blog post". But, in this world of Twitter, SMS & short soundbites, most people don't seem that interested in detailed analysis.

I wonder if that's part of the problem? Maybe it's just so much easier to say "97% of scientists say...", than to ask "What exactly do scientists say, and why do they say that? Are they actually correct?", and then investigate for yourself, that people simply don't bother. Could that be a factor in the popularity of the "97%"/"extremely likely" memes?

Apr 23, 2014 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterRonan Connolly

"You will be assimilated into the Borg Collective." - Locutis of Borg

Apr 23, 2014 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd Caryl

Ok, we can seed clouds and produce rain locally, but; anyone who thinks that we,
the human race can control the climate, is suffering from delusions of grandeur (in my opinion)
To believe such a thing, one needs to suspend ones reason and logic and allow the Amygdala to
take possession of ones brain.

Apr 23, 2014 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Where we will be in a century

Our descendants will be about 30cm higher up the cliff as they flee, screaming in a blind panic, the relentless, unrestrained rise of the oceans, clutching their copy of AR26 Summary for Policymakers and asking why, if 127% of all climate scientists agree that it is 133% certain that humans are causing climate change, did nobody think of the great gandchildren?

Apr 23, 2014 at 10:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

Ronnan Connolly

I echo the comment of Kcom,
A very interesting analysis of the convoluted IPCC process explained in simple language.

It held my interest and i found it to be very informative.

Thank you.

Apr 23, 2014 at 10:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

Who, just who, nominated Jassanof as an 'important thinker? The drivel she produces is about as scientifically knowledgable as the young lad who remarked to me about a vehicle with one bright and one dim headlamp that
'That fellah's battery must be on a lean, eh!'
Reminds me that 'In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is King!

Apr 23, 2014 at 11:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander Kendall

Apr 23, 2014 at 3:19 PM | Ronan Connolly

I found it very good too and beautifully presented.

Apr 24, 2014 at 1:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Sheila Jasanoff sounds like a typical academic with little understanding of any real science. She believes anything that the Authorities tell her and uses that to build an article with little real understanding of scientific or economic reality.

I have a few friends, stil, who similarly believe fervently in CAGW reality and just regurgitate the nonsense derived from IPCC nonfunctional climate models without any thinking for themselves..

Apr 24, 2014 at 11:11 PM | Unregistered Commenternicholas tesdorf

"Understanding of thermodynamics has dropped to zero with the likes of Davey etc." --John Marsha

Had you considered the possibility of negative values for such understanding as exemplified by Davey, usw?

Apr 25, 2014 at 10:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Thanks for the positive feedback. I'm glad some of you found it interesting/informative!

Apr 28, 2014 at 9:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterRonan Connolly

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