Climate Change: A Differential Diagnosis23 Nov 2021, Posted in All Posts, Blog Posts
If Gregory House, MD has taught us anything it is that people lie and people have bias. On a topic as politically charged as climate change, we can chalk lies up to rhetoric and framing of an issue. But the more interesting and pertinent issue is bias.
When starting a differential diagnosis of a patient, any number of underlying issues could be the cause of the symptoms. When first proposing an explanatory cause for a complicated medical case, each doctor relies on their expertise and background.
The oncologist sees cancer. The neurologist sees nervous system issues. The immunologist sees autoimmune.
This is a natural response – these professionals have been trained to see the smallest details that can be a tell for a specific and rare condition. In the end, one of the doctors is probably right – or maybe two of them. But in every case, it takes the entire team to correctly diagnose the patient and more importantly, determine the proper course of treatment to cure them.
It is popular to look at Earth as a patient. With symptoms like temperature changes, droughts, and storms, many rush to blame climate change. Regardless of the accuracy of this diagnosis, they then tend to rely on a single course of treatment, one prescribed by environmentalists.
We cannot rely on a singular expertise when tackling major public issues. Moreover, public policy has no silver bullets. It is a nuanced mix of political intelligence, economic balance, scientific information, sociological understanding, and many more. Nothing is more interdisciplinary than politics, because nothing is more diverse than people, and reducing political decisions to a single or even handful of disciplines can be disastrous.
Climate change is not as simple as 97 percent of experts agreeing. That statistic in itself lacks credibility, and relies on an appeal to authority. But it is the statistic that launched a thousand activists, and it illustrates the issue: this group identifies a problem, so all solutions and actions should be informed by this group.
Achieving climate balance also requires ensuring responsible stewardship of natural resources and the environment and promoting human flourishing. This herculean task will take a differential approach. It will take chemists, physicists, geologist, oceanographers, climatologist, meteorologist, and more. It will take economists, historians, political scientists, and more. It will take private investors, innovators, entrepreneurs, engineers, businessman, and more. All of these are checked and balanced through peer review, media scrutiny, the marketplace, the ballot box, appointments, and confirmations.
Hard sciences help inform the discussion about data and dynamic natural systems. Economists inform the allocation of scare resources and efficiency of actions. Innovators and entrepreneurs create new technology and business models to create value, improve safety and efficiency, and reduce environmental impacts. And politicians help ensure legal and regulatory frameworks are properly calibrated.
In the ideal world, this would includes independence and freedom of thought. Allowing groupthink or echo chambers to grip other industries limits the effectiveness of the approach. If climate change is the monumental challenge it is presented to be, hard data must be clear, copious, and transparent, and then actions and policies must be debated and set with the input and guidance of diverse schools of thought and fields of expertise.
Ultimately, decisions about the climate, environment, energy, transportation, and infrastructure cannot all hinge on the word of a single industry, expert, or field of study. Healthy skepticism, cross-discipline collaboration, and market activity must characterize steps forward for the United States to prosper.
Written by Benjamin Dierker, Director of Public Policy
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.