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Analysis: ‘A Red Team to end the climate wars: fun but likely to fail’

Summary:  Team Trump has proposed a Red Team project to resolve the climate debates. It’s an exciting promise of an easy solution to the public policy gridlock. It will make the situation worse.

Climate War

The climate debate has — like so many other policy debates — become dominated by a proposal by Team Trump. They suggest some kind of “Red Team vs. Blue Team” debate about climate change. These articles show there is little agreement about the structure or goals of the project.

What is “Red Teaming”?

Turn to the Red Team Journal (founded 1997). Start with “A Balanced View” of Red Teaming.

“Defined loosely, red teaming is the practice of viewing a problem from an adversary or competitor’s perspective. The goal of most red teams is to enhance decision making, either by specifying the adversary’s preferences and strategies or by simply acting as a devil’s advocate. Red teaming may be more or less structured, and a wide range of approaches exists. In the past several years, red teaming has been applied increasingly to issues of security, although the practice is potentially much broader. Business strategists, for example, can benefit from weighing possible courses of action from a competitor’s point of view. …

“Despite the many advantages of candid red teaming, the practice is subject to various limitations and constraints. A red team cannot predict with certainty what an adversary will do, nor can it uncover all possible weaknesses in a concept, plan, or system. Red teams that claim these abilities overstate the benefits of red teaming and invariably mislead their clients. Decision makers who attempt to use a red team to divine specific events risk doing worse than nothing.”

Red Teams work well to analyze an organization’s positioning and actions vs. an adversary or competitor. It is a natural tool for the military and security fields, and works well for business strategy. The Red Team artificially creates divisions within an organization, breaking consensus thinking and facilitating growth of new perspectives. There is little chance that Army officers gaming the Opposing Force in a war game will be seen as the real enemy (Nazis, Russians, etc).

But there is no enemy organization in the climate debates. The existing divisions in our institutions are the problem. Climate science today has broken into two tribes (of unequal size). The work has become politicized, tied into the polarized politics of America. These factions are part of the problem. Now some advocate pouring kerosene on these flames by pitting the two sides in a head to head confrontation, like a World Series of Climate Science — with the crowds madly cheering “their” team. It would take divine intervention for this to produce anything useful — for either climate science or the public policy debate.

A Red Team is not a relevant tool to help resolve the climate debates. It is the opposite of what we need today.

Alternative Analysis

Red Teams are just one form of Alternative Analysis (A. A.). From the Red Team Journal.

“Alternative analysis is the superclass of techniques of which red teaming may be considered a member. As with red teaming, these techniques are designed to help debias thinking, enhance decision making, and avoid surprise.

“According to Fishbein and Treverton, ‘alternative analysis seeks to help analysts and policy-makers stretch their thinking through structured techniques that challenge underlying assumptions and broaden the range of possible outcomes considered.’ They further clarify the term by specifying that ‘Alternative analysis includes techniques to challenge analytic assumptions (e.g. devil’s advocacy), and those to expand the range of possible outcomes considered (e.g. what-if analysis, and alternative scenarios).’”

I doubt any A.A. tool will advance the state of climate science. I have seen no historical examples of this, let alone successful examples. But some forms of A. A. are appropriate tools to break the public policy paralysis.