Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Climate Change Debate

This week the senate indicated that there will be no meaningful legislation on energy and climate this year. Also this week, NASA reported that 2010 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record. And coincidentally, the sun is experiencing a "recent minimum of solar irradiance", meaning that less solar radiation than normal is heating the earth. So we can't blame the sun for the current heating trend, as I've heard so many climate change deniers try to do.

All this is to say that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is almost certainly real. A recent paper reported that the vast majority of climate scientists believe this. Quite frankly, the evidence is overwhelming, and the potential impacts are frightening. In this context, the senate's refusal to act is mind boggling.

I've given some thought as to why we seem to be losing the debate about AGW. In my experience, debate is divided by political ideologies. Most conservatives either deny the science, or don't believe that AGW is all that bad. I've listened to conservative commentators who bounce from "it ain't happening" to "it's not us" to "it's not bad, and may even be good". James Inhofe, the Republican senator from Oklahoma, said yesterday that
"We're in a cycle now that all the scientists agree is going into a cooling period,."
Now, this is just ridiculous. I doubt that Inhofe can name one reputable climate scientist who believes this. But facts don't matter to Inhofe and his ilk - what matters was corporate profits and low taxes. That he would make these claims in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary speaks to his intellectual and moral dishonesty.

I don't really know why conservatives refuse to accept the science behind AGW, but I suspect that there are several reasons:

  1. They HATE Al Gore
  2. Fighting AGW means government regulation, which they hate that almost as much as they hate Al Gore.
  3. Regulations would include some type of new tax, and we know how they feel about that.

I understand all this. The problem is that the deniers have controlled the message such that we don't even have honest discussions about tackling AGW. They've managed to turn the discussion into dishonest tirades about the evil climate scientists and their agenda to control the world and take away your SUVs. This approach is working - even with democratic majorities in the house and senate, nothing is being done.

I don't know how we combat the deniers and turn the debate back to a meaningful discussion of policy. Climate science is very complicated, and easy to distort. And the deniers are good at what they do. But we need to keep fighting this battle - it's real, and if we lose, the results could be devastating.

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