Epistemological issues raised by research on climate change
Climate change has become a reality, and much research on its causes and consequences is currently conducted. To our knowledge, very little attention has been paid to epistemological issues raised by climate change research. Randomized experiments cannot of course be done, so that climate change research needs to be observational, usually spanning over many decades or centuries. The amount and quality of information is often limited, at least as far as extrapolation to the remote past or future is concerned. In general causality assessment poses special problems, both in attributing meteorological events like tornados to man‐made climate change, and in attributing health effects to meteorological changes. We exemplify some of the major epistemological challenges in this chapter. This chapter stresses that climate change leads to extreme consequences the application of the Precautionary Principle: the consequences of certain forecasts would be so devastating (e.g. the melting of permafrost, that would free enormous quantities of CO2) that we have to act to prevent them, though their likelihood is extremely low. The usual balancing of the seriousness of the consequences vs. their likelihood of occurrence becomes very challenging.
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