Our policy-expectations must shift appropriately. This is not to suggest that we should uncouple our policy decisions from our best current models—quite the opposite. I believe that the central point that Will Wright makes in the quotation from his discussion of SimCity and SimHealth is still sound: disagreement about policy represents disagreement about models. However, the nature of the disagreement here is different from that of the past: in the case of climate science, we have disagreement not about which model to settle on, but about how to sensibly integrate the plurality of models we have. The disagreement, that is, revolves around how to translate a plurality of models into a unified public policy.
My suggestion is: don’t. Let the lessons learned in attempts to model the climate guide our attempts to shape our influence on the climate. Rather than seeking a single, unified, top-down public policy approach (e.g. the imposition of a carbon tax at one rate or another), our policy interventions should be as diverse and multi-level as our models. Those on both sides of the climate policy debate sometimes present the situation as if it is a choice between mitigation—trying to prevent future damage—and adaptation—accepting that damage is done, and changing the structure of human civilization to respond. It seems to me that the lesson to be drawn here is that all these questions (which strategy is best? Should we mitigate or adapt?) are as misguided as the question “which climate model is best?” We should, rather, take our cue from the practice of climate scientists themselves, encouraging innovation generally across many different levels of spatio-temporal resolution.
By way of a single concrete example, consider the general emphasis (at least at the political level) on funding for alternative energy production (e.g. solar, hydrogen fuel cells). It is easy to see why this is a relevant (and important) road to explore—even if the possible threat of climate