Local weather science and the Supreme Court docket

Climate science and the Supreme Court

Reposted by Dr. Judith Currys Climate Etc.

Posted on October 16, 2020 by curryja

by Judith Curry

An alternative assessment of US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's statements on climate change.

For those of you outside of the United States, hearings are ongoing to confirm the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. There are many very political issues surrounding this nomination and its timing. Let's put all of that aside for now and look at their statements on climate change.

Barrett's statements (link):

"I will not express an opinion on a public policy issue, particularly a politically controversial one."

"I don't think my views on climate change or global warming are relevant to the work I'd be doing as a judge. I also don't feel like I have views that are adequately informed."

"I'm definitely not a scientist," she said when asked by Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) If she had a personal opinion on the matter. "I mean, I've read things about climate change. I wouldn't say I have firm views on it."

"I don't think I am in a position to decide what is causing global warming or not."

The Twitterati are hysterical about these statements. From an article in the Washington Post:

"The climate change judge's exchange was brief, but her critics say it was disqualified."

"It is a requirement that a Supreme Court judge be able to review evidence in order to make a decision," he said. "The scientific evidence for climate change is beyond doubt or debate, but Amy Coney Barrett refused to accept the reality."

“One case about climate change will be up to date next year. A case is under way in which several oil companies, including the Dutch Royal Shell, are being sued by the city of Baltimore, which is trying to hold them financially responsible for their greenhouse gas contributions. Barrett's father spent much of his own career as an attorney for Shell. "

An article in Esquire is titled, Amy Coney Barrett's answer to this question about climate change is utterly disqualifying.

"Put simply, this is completely disqualifying for any official public office in 2020. This isn't even a current Republican bullshit line on the matter." I'm not a scientist "is so 2014, maybe because even the elite Political Media – theirs Taschen is just getting fooled by another email caper today – realizing how stupid it is. Does Judge Amy Coney Barrett accept the scientific consensus that gravity keeps her in this chair? If so, why? She's not a scientist, so how could she know? "

There are two points worth discussing here:

  1. Whether "belief" in climate change really means anything when uttered by politicians and other non-scientists
  2. What judges should know about climate science.

"I believe in climate science"

I think Amy Coney Barrett's answers to the climate question were admirable. She wanted to stay out of a controversial political debate. But more importantly, she would not pass judgment on anything for which she had not carefully evaluated the evidence and did not feel qualified to pass judgment. I thought her attitude toward it showed wisdom and humility.

In the 2016 presidential debates, Hillary Clinton said, "And I believe in science," with a particular focus on climate change.

In the political debate on climate change, "I believe in climate science" is a statement that is generally made by people who don't understand much about it. They use such statements to explain belief in a scientific phrase that is beyond their knowledge and understanding. The beliefs of those making such a statement are often more like believing in Santa Claus than an actual understanding of science. In the case of Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech at the Democratic Democratic Convention in the United States, Clinton's appeal to science was a partisan rallying cry tied to ridiculing Donald Trump and his supporters as "anti-science".

In the context of climate change, “I believe in science” uses the general reputation of science to give authority to the “consensus” on climate change and to protect it from questions and skepticism. "I believe in climate science" is a sign of social group identity that supports a specific solution: massive government legislation to limit or ban fossil fuels. Belief in climate science makes it appear that disagreement over this solution amounts to a rejection of the scientific method and worldview. When exposed to a science that challenges their political biases, those same “believers” are quick to claim “pseudoscience” without considering (or even understanding) the actual evidence or arguments. An excellent recap of all of this can be found in a previous blog post discussing an article by Robert Tracinski.

In my experience, albeit limited, very few politicians have made any serious attempt to understand climate science other than being able to parrot stakeholder-provided discussion points.

The following is left for us: one side attacks science and the other side uses science for political attacks. Neither side really cares or understands the science.

Kudos to Amy Coney Barrett for adequately responding to climate change questions

Supreme Court

A New York Times article explains why the judges' “opinions” on climate change are relevant to the Supreme Court. Establishing EPA exposure could be a challenge in future Republican administrations. There are also lawsuits against the US government and oil companies that could make it to the Supreme Court.

Wikipedia has a good overview of the Juliana v. US government case, as well as previous cases. Procedural issues aside, I don't see what kind of Supreme Court decision on climate change would depend on the judges' understanding or decision on the details of the science.

The Dutch Urgenda judgment accepted the authority of the IPCC assessment reports. This was an unusual decision based on the U.S. judicial system, leaving political issues to the legislature and executive.

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