Reductionist science is useful, but limited. That’s not how we typically state that fact; most often, we take exactly the same idea and apply it to models, those which we build based on reductionism in attempts to make predictions about complex systems. Sometimes those predictions are spot on, really accurate. Sometimes, they’re not.
The difficulty lies in complex systems themselves. We won’t get into scale and degree of complexity, not any more than we have to, because infinity throws a slight monkey wrench into the idea of complexity, at least to my thinking. But one of the characteristics of any complex system is that they all have emergent properties, unpredictable characteristics that are the result interactive effects of the component parts of the system.
Science understands how greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane trap the sun’s energy, warming the atmosphere.
Science understands how the tilt of the earth and its rotation on its axis and revolution around the sun influences energy balance at the surface. It knows about how other atmospheric and geophysical factors affect radiational loading.
Science understands energy balance, that the sun’s energy interacts with surfaces on the earth (and in the atmosphere, too, it’s interacting with greenhouse gases), and how that sets up large scale, like, global, patterns of atmospheric circulation. Atmosphere includes water; water is a vital component of energy balance.
Science understands the differences in energy balance of various surfaces, the sea, a forest, an asphalt parking lot, and how those differences influence smaller scale patterns of energy transfer.
Science understands oceanic currents, the drivers of those currents, the interactions occurring, the spin of the earth, temperature, salinity, the landforms present.
Science makes predictions about climate change based on all of this knowledge, and other knowledge, all of these little understandings about a very big and very complex system, planet earth.
Science mostly understands just how limited those predictions are.
Science knows that it hasn’t accounted for that specific, massive parking lot that replaced swampland there at Disney World. It knows that taking down forest in the tropics has a different effect than taking down forest in the Taiga, but that both influence climate in a way reduced to X in the models. Science knows that water in the atmosphere is a big deal, and that the way water moves into the atmosphere is influenced by climate, and landforms, and lifeforms. Science knows that all of those models telling us what the future will look like are best guesses, guesses based on limited data.
At least good science knows that.
Some science even recognizes the earth, or Gaia, as a living system in and of itself, one that responds to changes in ways unpredictable. Gaia knows the effect of that parking lot, it lives it, just as surely as you live the sting of the bee, and in some way, respond.
I don’t know what your response will be. I could make some predictions based on past experience, or what I know of bee stings, or perhaps of your personality, but the bottom line is, I just don’t know. Maybe you’ll be in an exceptionally good mood at the moment and smile; maybe you’ll have an anaphylactic response and die. I just don’t know.
It’s kind of the same with climate change.That it is changing is pretty clear.That greenhouse gases are likely drivers of that change is pretty clear. What it means for the year 2050, or 2100, or 2525, nobody knows. Nobody.
Reductionist science is useful, but limited.