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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The politics of climate change

A couple of stories have crossed the wires in the last 24 hours that illustrate precisely how the present US administration's practice of "faith-based science" is harming our citizens, our country, and our planet.

First, let me make clear my position on climate change. Anyone who attempts to ignore or dispute the data which shows our planet is getting warmer (or more precisely, our climate system is getting more energetic) is a fucking moron. (Yes, that's a technical term.) The data is also clear that at least some of this warming is due to human causes, almost certainly most of it is, and very likely the overwhelming majority of the earth's warming is a result of the increased carbon and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere as a result of human activity over the past several hundred years. That's where the science is, and if you are not willing to accept that, you should not be in a position of establishing, directing, or implementing public policy.

The real points of debate right now are how severe the impact on the planet will be, and whether we have 10 years, 50 years, or a hundred years to reverse the changes, or whether it may already be too late.

Lovelock, to cite probably the most well known of the "act immediately or it's too late" thinkers, has proposed both a crash program to convert all energy generation to nuclear powered to reduce greenhouse gases, and alternately despaired that we're basically doomed.

I tend, on my better days, to fall in with the "50 - 100 year window to fix things" crowd. Mostly because it's a time frame within which signifcant change can be made. If Lovelock is right, however, we'll find out soon enough.

Either way, the sight of my government continuing to deny the existence of the problem is just getting me angrier by the day. Yesterday, Reuters reported that:
The United States is battling to stop next month's Group of Eight summit in Germany from pushing for urgent talks on a new deal to fight global warming after the Kyoto Protocol lapses in 2012.

In a draft of the final communique for the June 6-8 summit seen by Reuters, Washington wants references taken out to the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for a U.N. conference in Bali in December to open talks on a new global deal.

According to the draft, the United States supports the deletion of the following paragraphs: "We firmly agree that resolute and concerted international action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and sustain our common basis of living."

"To this end we will, in the face of the U.N. Climate Change Conference at the end of this year, send a clear message on the further development of the international regime to combat climate change."

And after removing those clear, if less than specific, paragraphs, here's what the US wants the new document to say: "Addressing climate change is a long-term issue that will require global participation and a diversity of approaches to take into account differing circumstances."

Say what? What a bunch of drivel. Where's the leadership? Where's the drive? Where's the vision of how to meet this urgent challenge and create a livable future for our kids. I'm trying to imagine John Kennedy mumbling this pabulum while announcing that the US would put a man on the moon within a decade. That's why Armstrong and Aldrin were able to go to the moon in 1969, while Both Bush's space program announcements have been consigned to the bureaucratic dustbin.

This morning, an AP story showed another side of the administration's inability to deal with reality, preferring instead to revel in Sunday school dioramas that may comfort, but fail to enlighten or educate.
The Smithsonian Institution toned down an exhibit on climate change in the Arctic for fear of angering Congress and the Bush administration, says a former administrator at the museum.

Among other things, the script, or official text, of last year's exhibit was rewritten to minimize and inject more uncertainty into the relationship between global warming and humans, said Robert Sullivan, who was associate director in charge of exhibitions at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Also, officials omitted scientists' interpretation of some research and let visitors draw their own conclusions from the data, he said. In addition, graphs were altered "to show that global warming could go either way," Sullivan said.

"It just became tooth-pulling to get solid science out without toning it down," said Sullivan, who resigned last fall after 16 years at the museum. He said he left after higher-ups tried to reassign him.

This is not all that different from the presence of Creationist fiction at the Grand Canyon, for example, a willful ignorance of science and human observation in favor of fear and superstition. What makes the Smithsonian exhibit worse is that it prevents those visitors, many of whom may be encountering this debate for the first time, from learning the full scope of the issue from a supposedly trustworthy source. All in the name of a politics which is rooted in preventing the dissemination of human knowledge.

You know, the irony is that if it turns out that Lovelock is right, we won't be able to blame God at all for our failures.

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  • I'm convinced government cannot be our last best hope at this point in the game. As dumb as they are for perpetuating the policies that brought us here, we are for spending our $$$ on products that cause continued environmental degradation by means of their production and/or use.

    The internal combustion engine needs to go away. It needs to go away soon, and it needs to be driven by consumers who simply don't want it anymore. If we wait for Congress or the President to do something, our children and grandchildren will still be waiting.

    You know what could get us there much faster? $1 gasoline tax. Maybe even more. Make gasoline so painfully expensive (and it's nowhere near that now) that we are all compelled to move beyond it.

    Electric cars aren't much more advanced now than they were 100 years ago (Jay Leno has the car to prove it, and does at every opportunity). We can do better. But take what we've got and get it out the door and let the market fund the R&D to make the next generation of EV's better. Then if fuel cells ever come along, we can evaluate whether or not to use them at that point.

    By Blogger viridari, at 12:00 PM  

  • I'll point out that a $1 gasoline tax would in fact be a government policy.

    I thik that the recent increase in gas prices, well over a buck a gallon in the past two years (hell, i paid $1.99/gallon as recently as the first week in January of this year) has had a very minor, but still noticeable, effect on driving habits.

    This country needs to mke major changes in every aspect of our community lives that currently encourages and privileges automobile use. I don't see any other way of doing than than through our government, which needs to be seen as the mechanism by which we create and implement public policy, rather than as "the enemy," as many on the right wing like to rhetoricize.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 12:08 PM  

  • "You know, the irony is that if it turns out that Lovelock is right, we won't be able to blame God at all for our failures."

    No, but you can blame god for the other guy's failures.

    Every time there was an earthquake in San Francisco, there'd be a letter to the editor of the SF Chronicle saying that god was doing this to punish gays. Although there were usually more deaths when there was a heat wave in Chicago or a flood in Missouri, I never heard anyone talking about god taking it out on those immoral mid-westerners.

    Just look to the late Jerry Falwell's comments about 9/11 to see who'll take the blame.

    By Anonymous cd, at 8:38 AM  

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