ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy Lecture as part of ESRC Festival of Social Science

Chair: Professor Nancy Cartwright, professor of philosophy at LSE

Speaker: Professor Leonard Smith, director of the Centre for the Analysis of Time Series (CATS)

Content of lecture

Overview of the ‘Climate Models: current science and common sense’ policy lecture

Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy Lecture as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science

Early in the 20th century, scientists suggested that human emissions of carbon dioxide could lead to a warmer planet, and that this would result in warmer, wetter winters for Europe. Looking back over the last hundred years we see that the Earth has indeed warmed up, and 20th century physical scientists are in broad agreement that much of this warming is indeed due to human activities.

As is typically the case, physical science does a much better job explaining the generalities of the past than predicting details of the future. Today’s computer graphics look realistic, but how much detail can we count on beyond “warmer, wetter winters over Europe”?

So what is a social scientist to do? How can scientists inform climate policy: policy on international agreements limiting future emissions, on stimulating relevant technological development, on disaster aid, ideally on reducing the severity of future disasters caused by weather events? Climate change brings into focus just how deeply social science research is influencing our social, economic and political lives, and how those influences will affect us and future generations.

This event explored the challenges faced in interpreting developing science to inform action given political realities.

The aim was to exploit the insights of the sciences and the foresight provided by models (physical, social and economic), to see how making the best use of the available science requires as much common sense as it does computer simulation.

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