The need for and nature of foresight

While I am not a fan of Donald Rumsfeld, I think the quote above from one of his news briefings drew some rather unfair lambasting. It summarises, if one concentrates on its meaning and applies it to climate change, some important aspects of the science of climate change as well as defence policy questions. That is, there is a whole range of aspects of climate change, with some much more certain than others. There are also uncertainties and possibilities we are aware of, and may even be able to quantify in terms of risk. But, there is also a possibility that there are things about climate that we simply do not know, and which may totally surprise us.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to provide foresight in relation to the possible human impacts on climate, with a view to helping governments formulate wiser policy options and decisions in relation to climate change. Foresight is the act or power of seeing into the future, a perception gained by looking forward, and care or provision for the future. It is an everyday occurrence. Prudent people use foresight to decide or plan their actions so as to improve their future prospects. In this spirit governments around the world have recognised that human societies, through their use of resources and waste products are capable of changing the environment, including the climate.

Foresight requires some estimate of future conditions. In the case of climate change this includes projections of future emissions of greenhouse gases and particulates into the atmosphere, consequent concentrations of these pollutants in the atmosphere, and their effects on the climate. In addition, so as to understand how serious this might be, estimates are also needed of the consequences for society in terms of potential impacts on areas such as agriculture, water supply, health and building safety and comfort. This is complicated by the fact that impacts depend not just on the stresses applied by climate, but also on the strength and adaptability of society. This requires an understanding of how changes in society will affect its capacity to absorb or adapt to climatic stress.

There are, as viewed from the present, many possible futures. How we foresee the future possibilities, and the conscious or unconscious choices we make that will influence development of society, will help determine which of the possible futures will actually occur. The purpose, from a policy perspective, is not to predict which of the possible futures will occur, but rather to inform us so that we might choose which one we would prefer and attempt to bring to reality.

Continue reading here: Predictions scenarios and projections

Was this article helpful?

0 0