Good Enough for Ethics

January 21, 2017 · 1 comment

At his blog, Living on the Real World, AMS Associate Executive Director William Hooke makes a compelling prediction for the next four years: Ethics will matter more than ever.

He’s not talking about politicians, necessarily. He’s talking about our ethics, as members of the atmospheric sciences community. His reasoning? Our capabilities in making predictions are getting that good:

In this high-stakes environment where the products and services we provide are the basis for action, ethics matter. When can and should a NWS field forecaster begin to act when numerical guidance appears to diverge from on-the-ground reality? What observations, products and services should be considered public goods? What can and should be privatized? What’s at stake with warn-on-forecast? To list these few examples doesn’t do justice to the dozens of ethical dimensions to the daily work of everyone in every corner of today’s Earth observations, science, and services community.

At the AMS Annual Meeting on Sunday, Tom Ackerman (meteorologist/climatologist) and Steve Gardiner (philosopher/ethicist) of the University of Washington will moderate a panel session on ethics (1:30 to 3:30 p.m.; Room 613).

Gardiner is the author of the book, A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change, in which he describes the way this environmental hazard combines many of the classic types of ethical dilemmas found separately in other threats to civil society. The challenges include incomplete knowledge and the uneven distribution of exposures to risk, incentives for action, and burdens of cost—across geography as well as economic classes and generations.

To get a taste of the discussions this week, try this lecture in which Gardiner shows how 200 years ago Jane Austen anticipated the perfect storm of ethical challenges of climate change.

Then follow up Sunday’s sessions by attending “Shades of Gray: Panel Discussion on Ethics, Law, and Uncertainty in the Weather, Water, and Climate Community,” on Wednesday (8:30 a.m., Room 613):

Though our Enterprise is indeed motivated by altruistic interests, ethical gray zones emerge. How confident are we in that climate model, and what should we disclose? Should we attempt to create a forecast beyond 7-14 days? What is the proper balance between providing information and urging action? The presentation of scientific uncertainty can be fraught with misinterpretation and resistance, particularly from non-scientists.