Politicizing Climate Change and Shunning Science

A lot of what I'll be discussing in the future is going to deal with the environment and the effects of global climate change. Already clouding the debate are exaggerated projections and statistics peppering the arguments of both conservatives and progressives. So, first we'll examine what scientists, the media, and politicians have to say about it.

Following the trend in conservative politics for the past 30 years, denying reality is a tactic utilized by politicians and pundits alike. The right enjoys broadly misunderstanding the word 'climate' - a word that, by definition, requires monitoring long-term effects. Rush Limbaugh claims that global warming is proven untrue when record lows in 2/3rds of the northern hemisphere were reported during 2009's winter (I know it's too easy, but I can't resist beginning with everyone's favorite target). While pointing this out, Limbaugh fails to recognize that after 2001 we experienced the 8 warmest years in history. More recent studies indicate that the past decade was the hottest on record. As conservative pundits point out that cold weather has proved global warming a hoax, the symptoms of global climate change are becoming visible across the globe. In 2006, major media outlets briefly mentioned the extinction of at least 65 amphibian species in Central and South America; in 2009, sailors using the Northeast Passage said that the Arctic ice is 10 times smaller than it was 20 years ago, and since 1975 there has been a steady increase of severe weather in the forms of hurricanes and tropical storms as temperatures rise.

Another way people deny responsibility for global climate change is by claiming temperature increases are natural or cyclical. However, when Sarah Palin posits global warming is not man-made then it is only reasonable to intuit that global climate change most certainly is man-made. These three graphs show the correlation of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the increase in global temperatures. Methane (CO4), a distant second in quantity to CO2, could be up to 33 times more efficient than CO2 at trapping warm air in the atmosphere. This graph shows concentrations of the three most common greenhouse gases (GHGs) spiking towards the end of the 20th century - just before the warmest decade in history. When experts are polled, over 80% of scientists agree that global warming is man-made, and 97% of active climatologists agree that humans are a contributing factor to global warming. The idea of man-made climate change is so widely accepted by politicians and governmental agencies that climatologists denying the truth of man-made climate change have thankfully been ostracized for their views.

This is not to say that there haven't been untruths published about climate change by supportive scientists or progressives. After years of attempting to debunk the 2007 IPCC report (a report that provided timeframes for climate change and guidelines for managing its predicted effects), conservative media finally discovered a mistake in the research regarding Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035. The IPCC has publicly acknowledged its mistake and backed away from the date 2035 citing poor evaluation standards, but the documented retreat of the Himalayan glaciers has led the IPCC to extend the timeframe for the disappearance of the glaciers until the end of this century. Climategate, a recent scandal centered around the actual facts used by the IPCC to determine whether climate change is indeed occurring, would have been a thorn in the side of all climatologists had there not been information corroborating the numbers of temperature increase at the rate of more than .3 degrees per decade from NASA. The cover-up discovered by the email sleuths was an attempt to omit data of brief aberrations in temperature because the scientists could not explain the fluctuations (maybe NASA could help out on this one, too?).

With all of this evidence telling us to reduce GHG emissions or suffer the consequences, the United States has historically backed away from global initiatives for reduction. The funny thing is, the United States adopted a cap and trade system in the 1990s to reduce SO2, and the cap and trade system has successfully cut SO2 emissions by half since 1980. However, the US is still being stubborn about participating in the most recent permutation of global climate change initiatives. Now, who or what is to blame for all of this climate change denial and why is there such a large group of deniers that remains a viable political force? The answer is probably going to be as complicated as it sounds. We'll stick to some basic answers for now, and go more in-depth in future posts.

First, there are groups that actively lobby to maintain our reliance on fossil fuels. Green technology is commonly framed as too expensive to be competitive in a free market, denying the truth that US biofuels - which emit as many GHGs as fossil fuels - are subsidized for mass production while imported biofuels are subject to tariffs, keeping biofuels artificially profitable. The agriculture lobby in America appears to be all about socialism, pouring $80 million per year into lobbying to retain $13 billion in subsidies (what conservatives should invariably refer to as "handouts") - money that could be spent on subsidizing actual green technology. An awesomely short-sighted public doesn't hurt the corporate agenda, either. Pietro Nivola, an energy expert at the Brookings Institution, indicates that new oil discoveries reinforce the fantasy that there is an almost unlimited supply of oil. However, the march to maintain GHG emissions does not solely come from conservatives or big business. Nuclear energy - a topic that will be covered extensively in future posts - is a non-GHG producing source of energy. Many progressive organizations fight nuclear energy for various reasons. Environment America, a non-profit that works to reduce emissions and typically shuns the strategy of adaptation, is concerned that investing in nuclear energy will prevent us from switching to 'limitless' fuel supplies, such as wind or solar energy. Other lefty groups claim it is too costly and unsafe; however, nuclear power using thorium instead of uranium has been proven safe in hundreds of governmental experiments. France, a country that generates 75% of its electricity from nuclear power, enjoys some of the lowest energy costs and lowest emissions from energy production among developed nations and has yet to experience a 3 Mile Island- or Chernobyl-type disaster. Nuclear energy - good for the environment and the soul (unless it kills 1 billion fish a year).

That's about it for now. I'll be back later this week to do a little more writing. I enjoyed blogging about the environment, so I'll probably continue to delve deeper into that topic. And remember - if you don't think man-made climate change is occurring, you're probably wrong!


Edited to add: This was written in part because Republicans and Democrats are attempting to push legislation through to prevent the EPA from placing limits on emissions.


Gil B. said...

I think this is a great start to the conversation, Mikey. You're right, when I try to sift through all the "yea" and "nay" material out there, I get frustrated! I'm glad you're taking the time to compile pertinent information on this and all the other topics you listed into one location. And very concise, considering. Not to mention *gasp* you cite sources!

I'm really looking forward to coming back here often to see what you've written. As a lay person, I say, "Thanks!" As a friend, I say, "Great job!"