To what extent can science tell us what to do about the future, especially in relation to novel phenomena like climate change. Flooding across the Southwest since early January and now across the south and some areas of the Home Counties saw a link being made last week in the mainstream media for the first time with human-influenced – or ‘anthropogenic’ climate change – ACC for short. A resident of a village on the Somerset Levels was widely quoted as saying
‘I’m used to seeing floods on the Levels, but this is just something else,” he said, noting that when the area flooded less severely last winter “we were told it was a one-in-100-year occurrence”, but that ‘the following year it happens again — only worse!”’
Several climate scientists were quoted as suggesting that we have found ourselves in an entirely novel situation. Myles Allen from Oxford University stated that:
What is clear is that just looking back at the historical record to plan flood defences or set insurance premiums is increasingly misleading.
Nigel Arnell from Reading University said that:
We have long been exposed to risk from flooding, but climate change is loading the dice
The implication of these statements is that the future will not be like the past, that the probabilities of flooding and other events will change, perhaps radically. The implications of this are important, both for understanding the role and limitations of scientific knowledge in helping us prepare for this future, and for thinking through the moral significance of the resulting uncertainty. Dr Chris Groves (Social Sciences, Cardiff University) explored these implications, and suggested that, even if scientific knowledge faces crucial limitations in what it can tell us about the future, this should not prevent us drawing firm conclusions about how we should act.