The Limits of Knowledge and the Climate Change Debate

The question of whether climate change is produced by human created global warming has triggered an increasingly contentious confrontation over the conduct of science, the question of what constitutes scientific certainty, and the connection between science and policymaking. In a world in which we seek to understand complex, multifaceted phenomena such as climate (and to extract from this knowledge appropriate policy responses) the enduring epistemological question arises: What do we know? Logical inquiry might be expected to help resolve this knowledge problem but is confounded by the assertion that the “science is settled,” by condemnation of those who disagree as “deniers,” and even by proposals that they be prosecuted. There is increasing talk on the left—and even among Democratic state attorneys general and the highest levels of the Obama administration—of criminalizing the very effort to rebut the climate change orthodoxy

What could have been a fruitful, albeit perhaps contentious debate over decision making when addressing highly complex phenomena has degenerated into a prolonged contest. While recognizing the problems attending denial of climate change, our purpose here is to elucidate the limitations of the now-dominant view and attempt bring debate back to this topic so it does not become an entrenched.

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