Climate change is much in the news. My view of climate science is that it shares a lot of the same problems as orthodox macroeconomics. Common features include:
1. Use of computer models in which there are a variety of parameter choices that can be used to fit historical data. There is no single model that is thought to represent truth. Instead, forecasts are made using a “consensus” of several models.
2. High causal density.
3. Some question about the use of aggregate data. Macro talks about “the” wage rate or “the” capital stock or “the” unemployment rate or “the” price level, but the divergencies and disparities are much more significant. Similarly, climate science talks about “the” average global temperature, when variations across seasons and locations is enormous.
Some differences include:
1. Macroeconomics clearly has some intrinsic political survival value. The Fed wants to be as powerful as it can be, so it sponsors a lot of research that deals with the importance of monetary policy. Politicians want excuses to run deficits, so Keynesian macro is attractive to them. Climate science has less intrinsic political value. Politicians do not really want to undertake the policies that would be needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
2. Keynesian macroeconomics notoriously contradicts what one would predict using microeconomic models that otherwise work well. Climate science has more reliable “microfoundations” in greenhouse gas theory, although the fact that carbon dioxide is a relatively minor greenhouse gas (compared with water vapor, for example) is rarely mentioned in the press.
3. The proponents of Keynesian economics, while they might seem a bit dogmatic to someone like me, are not out to suppress those who disagree. The vast majority of them are charitable enough to acknowledge that there are reasonable doubts about the subject. Of all macroeconomists, I can think of only one who regularly hurls snarling, ad hominem insults at those who disagree. The others stick to arguing substance. Proponents of climate change theory routinely derogate skeptics.
I am a macroeconomics skeptic. I think that my background in the subject is deep enough that my reasons for skepticism are legitimate. See, for example, my memoirs of a would-be macroeconomist.
I am a climate science skeptic, but not based on a similarly deep background. I just look at the superficial similarities with macroeconomics and infer that skepticism is warranted. It is plausible to me that the climate “consensus” is way off. However, it could be off in either direction–maybe the temperature increase will be faster and sharper than the consensus forecast.
When it comes to the differences between macro and climate science, points (1) and (2) favor climate science. However, point (3) leans against climate science. Good ideas are persuasive. If you need to excommunicate unbelievers, you are dealing in religion, not science.