Objectivity and a comparison of methodological scenario approaches for climate change research

Synthese 191 (10):2049-2088 (2014)
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Climate change assessments rely upon scenarios of socioeconomic developments to conceptualize alternative outcomes for global greenhouse gas emissions. These are used in conjunction with climate models to make projections of future climate. Specifically, the estimations of greenhouse gas emissions based on socioeconomic scenarios constrain climate models in their outcomes of temperatures, precipitation, etc. Traditionally, the fundamental logic of the socioeconomic scenarios—that is, the logic that makes them plausible—is developed and prioritized using methods that are very subjective. This introduces a fundamental challenge for climate change assessment: The veracity of projections of future climate currently rests on subjective ground. We elaborate on these subjective aspects of scenarios in climate change research. We then consider an alternative method for developing scenarios, a systems dynamics approach called ‘Cross-Impact Balance’ (CIB) analysis. We discuss notions of ‘objective’ and ‘objectivity’ as criteria for distinguishing appropriate scenario methods for climate change research. We distinguish seven distinct meanings of ‘objective,’ and demonstrate that CIB analysis is more objective than traditional subjective approaches. However, we also consider criticisms concerning which of the seven meanings of ‘objective’ are appropriate for scenario work. Finally, we arrive at conclusions regarding which meanings of ‘objective’ and ‘objectivity’ are relevant for climate change research. Because scientific assessments uncover knowledge relevant to the responses of a real, independently existing climate system, this requires scenario methodologies employed in such studies to also uphold the seven meanings of ‘objective’ and ‘objectivity.’

Author's Profile

Elisabeth Lloyd
Indiana University, Bloomington


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