Scopes Monkey Trial for climate change

Via Environmental Capital (and basically every other news source), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has challenged the EPA to a 21st-century Scopes Monkey Trial for the science of climate change.

Joe Romm is already on the warpath:
Who ever could have imagined that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would publicly — and proudly — equate climate science with evolution and their denial with a belief in creationism? Time now for the the major businesses on the Chamber’s board to speak up since many of them publicly claim to support strong climate action (see here). It might also be time for advocates to start boycotting those brand-name companies if they don’t act swiftly to stop.
This will never actually happen, which is good for climate change legislation, regardless of the eventual outcome; the spectacle of a public trial would implicitly reinforce in the public's mind the alleged inconclusiveness of existing climate science (a brilliant use of framing).

The issue is a difficult one - in my mind the science underpinning the mainstream view of the ultimate effects of anthropogenic climate change is probably at 80% or 90% or 99%, but definitely not at 100%. The fact that man has contributed to global warming is more like 99% (all the circumstantial evidence points to it, we just lack the ability to create a counterfactual to prove it), but the eventual effects are still highly uncertain, particularly due to our limited understanding of nature's many feedback loops, positive and negative. I don't think an intellectually honest climate change supporter could look me in the eye and say with 100% certainty that the earth has no self-regulating feedback loops which might dampen the effects of humans on the earth's temperature. Not that we know what they are, but like a black swan, the fact that we haven't seen them doesn't prove they don't exist.

So with less than 100% certainty, what is the government to do? It boils down to the difference between science and business, in a sense. In science, something is not true until 100% proved, which can take decades, and that is OK; in business, on the other hand, decisions are made under uncertainty all the time - anyone who waited for 100% certainty would be ten steps behind his or her competitors at every turn. So the philosophical question is, should a government make policy like an objective scientist, or like a business? I would argue it's closer to the latter, but I think reasonable people can disagree on this issue in the abstract. In practice I strongly support climate change legislation in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, because I believe there is a very high chance it is the right thing to do, but I don't profess scientific 100% certainty of this, and I don't find it morally repugnant for people to disagree with this on philosophical grounds.

Update: Ars Technica explains why putting climate change on trial is a terrible idea.
It's one thing for the Chamber to try to reopen a policy debate that has been kicked around for close to a decade and made its way all the way to the Supreme Court; it's a lobbying group, and that's more or less its job. But to suggest that a courtroom setting and media frenzy are the best way to bring some clarity to the science is ludicrous. The sort of arguments that make for good courtroom statements tend to obscure the details of science, and the specific example proposed by the Chamber clearly indicates that they do nothing for the public's understanding of science.

Of course, it may be possible that the group really is that cynical, and this is precisely the outcome it is hoping for.

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