How to clear the gridlock on climate change



Image by Steve Snodgrass/Flickr

Most of us, in dealing with opposition from a spouse or a child, have the tendency to try one more analogy, restate our position using different words, or just say it louder. All those behaviors are based on the belief that the other person just doesn’t understand what we’re saying. If we could only make our position clear, he or she would embrace it.

Unfortunately, a lot of political dialogue follows this path, too. We can’t believe the other side doesn’t get it – on gun control or health care or national security. We think of new phrasing, print up data charts or find new spokesmen to deliver our message. We rarely consider the possibility that they understand what we’re saying, but that their perspective generates a different logical conclusion.

This mental block has been a serious problem when it comes to the climate change debate over solutions. Environmentalists, seeing the enormity and urgency of the problem, propose bold action. Conservatives, who believe well-intentioned government policies often have bad unintended consequences, resist that action.

Environmentalists remind everyone of the danger we face – with photos of melting glaciers, video of stronger storms and graphs of rising pollution – and hope the message will finally hit home. Conservatives point to government programs they believe have set the nation on the wrong course, and resist the effort to implement new ones.

That’s where we’re stuck right now. And to get unstuck, I think, will require a change in tone from both sides. As I said in a previous post, it just doesn’t make sense to write off a hundred million of your fellow Americans as fools for disagreeing with you.

Environmentalists must continue to show the public the dangers we face from loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and do it in as vivid and compelling a way as possible. Conversely, conservatives who believe some government programs can be harmful to the ends they seek to achieve should continue to make their case – outlining smarter ways to address issues.

But both sides should do it with an understanding that most of those who disagree with them are not dumb or evil. And we should all be willing to accept those facts that are well established. For instance, progressives should accept that because a problem needs solving it doesn’t mean that every proposed solution is a good one. At the same time, conservatives who have an inclination to reject what they consider “hysteria” and prefer to be guided by data should follow that data where it leads. If the vast majority of respected scientists and major scientific organizations have agreed on global warming causes and found greenhouse gas pollution is causing dangerous changes to our world, that should be stipulated in the discussion of solutions.

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency


None of this is meant to suggest that everyone will be convinced by a civil, balanced discussion. Or that the dysfunction in this national conversation can be equally blamed on both sides. In previous climate change debates there have been loud, well-funded and highly irresponsible voices that deliberately sought to obscure the fact that man-made climate change is real. Interest groups and talking heads who call climate change a “hoax” are either badly misinformed or deliberately misleading, and they will never accept facts that contradict their political goals.

But there are many thoughtful people who have been skeptical but are willing to base their views on the evidence. And opening a conversation with them, in a respectful way, will only increase the chances that we can address this problem in time to avert the worst impacts of climate change. There is at least some evidence that our efforts are working in the population at large. In 2009, only 35 percent of Republicans believed that climate change was real; today the number is 48 percent. And ultimately, if we win over their constituents the politicians will follow. 

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Keith Gaby

Keith Gaby

Explores the intersection of politics and climate change.

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Keith -

With all due respect, I as an Independent, and global warming skeptic, do not resist the dismantling of the U.S. economy specifically and western society generally JUST because government and politicians are exceedingly poor at efficient deployment of tax dollars. No, I (and many independents, conservatives and (eek) liberals) oppose destroying our way of life to fix a problem, posited by flawed scientific studies and politicized by the IPCC, that doesn't exist!

Meet the New Climate Deniers

By Rich Lowry - April 2, 2013

There are few things sadder than the “climate denier.” He ignores the data and neglects the latest science. His rhetoric and policy proposals are dangerously disconnected from reality. He can’t recalibrate to take account of the latest evidence because, well, he’s a denier.

The new climate deniers are the liberals who, despite their obsession with climate change, have managed to miss the biggest story in climate science, which is that there hasn’t been any global warming for about a decade and a half.

“Over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar,” The Economist writes. “The world added roughly 100 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO2 put there by humanity since 1750.” Yet, no more warming.

The Economist has been decidedly alarmist on global warming through the years, so it deserves credit for pausing to consider why the warming trend it expected to continue has mysteriously stalled out.

The deniers feel no such compunction. They speak as if it is still the late 1990s, when measurements of global temperature had been rising for two decades. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said that “we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.” In a passage devoted to global warming, though, he didn’t mention the latest trend in global warming.

A denier feels the same righteous sense of certitude now, when warming has stopped, as he did a decade ago. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently opined that “sensible people accept the fact of warming” — but apparently not the fact of no-warming. He scorned those “who manipulate the data in transparently bogus ways to claim that warming has halted or even reversed course.” Does he include James Hansen, the famous NASA scientist, among these dastardly manipulators? No one this side of Al Gore has warned as persistently about global warming as Hansen. He nonetheless admits that “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

None of this means that the Earth didn’t get hotter in the 20th century, or that carbon emissions don’t tend to create a warmer planet, or that warming won’t necessarily begin again. It does mean that we know less about the fantastically complex global climate system than global-warming alarmists have been willing to admit. The Economist notes the work of Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading in Britain. He has found that if global temperatures stay the same for a few more years, they will fall below the range of 20 climate models. In other words, the scientific “consensus” will have been proven wrong.

Why the stall in warming? According to The Economist, maybe we’ve overestimated the warming impact of clouds. Or maybe some clouds cool instead of warm the planet. Or maybe the oceans are absorbing heat from the atmosphere. Although the surface temperature of the oceans hasn’t been rising, perhaps the warming is happening deep down. James Hansen thinks new coal-fired plants in China and India, releasing so-called aerosols into the atmosphere that act to suppress warming, may be partly responsible for the stasis in temperatures.

Hansen writes that knowing more about the effect of aerosols on the climate “requires accurate knowledge of changes in aerosol amount, size distribution, absorption and vertical distribution on a global basis — as well as simultaneous data on changes in cloud properties to allow inference of the indirect aerosol forcing via induced cloud changes.” Is that all? He ruefully notes that the launch of a satellite with a sensor to measure all of this failed, with no follow-up mission planned.

Hey, but don’t worry. The science is all “settled.”

What is beginning to seem more likely is that the “sensitivity” of the global climate to carbon emissions has been overestimated. If so, the deniers will be the last to admit it.

Mr. Jackson — I agree that we shouldn’t dismantle the economy to solve climate change.  I, for one, like my car and air conditioning — and the airplane that flies me to my vacation.  But over the last two centuries, our economy has gone through many changes and thrived, and switching to clean energy to avoid the worst and most expensive impacts of climate change is necessary.  Unfortunately, the problem of climate change does exists — it’s been tested and re-tested and poured-over for decades by thousands of independent scientists. 

Not just the IPCC, but our National Academy of Sciences (which President George W. Bush called the “gold standard” of scientific judgment) and all the major American scientific professional organizations have concluded it is happening.  As for the Economist article, they make very clear that climate change is happening, and they are raising is an issue within that larger trend.  I encourage you to read both the full article and thoughts about it by my colleague Nat Keohane. But if you read just one article, I’d suggest this short op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, authored by a scientist who was skeptical of climate change and so did some experiments partly funded by the conservative Koch brothers.  

Global warming alarmism takes a hit: James Varney/links
By James Varney,|The Times-Picayune

on April 04, 2013 at 11:15 AM, updated April 04, 2013 at 11:26 AM

As it was for Gov. Bobby Jindal's tax proposal in Louisiana, proponents of global warming are having rather a testy week. And this time the questions were launched by a traditional ally.

The big story came in The Economist, a British magazine that, like most all press outlets, has long been sold on the theory and provided a voice for its most vigorous backers. The magazine noted it turns out temperatures haven't been rising on the planet for the past 15 years.

Now, The Economist was quick to add, that doesn't mean temperatures haven't gone up in the 20th century or that they won't go up again. What it does demonstrate, and what some high shamans of the global warming movement admitted, is that the science on all this remains fluid and complex. Less acknowledged, but clearly true, too, is the notion perhaps global warming isn't the apocalyptic event so many have claimed. Rich Lowry made those points nicely in a New York Post column.

The latest news that perhaps the planet isn't on the eve of destruction from humans comes at a time when the green movement is apparently going through some growing pains. That was the point of a fascinating essay in Prospect magazine, linked on Real Clear Politics, that basically said the fact environmental groups are now taken seriously has led to rifts within the movement. There are some remarkable tidbits in the essay: my favorite is when a left-wing thinker imagines a world with, "perfect income redistribution and everybody makes $15,000 a year." That's progress?

Still, the global warming warriors are strapping on the armor again to fight the XL Keystone pipeline. The tube is designed to bring oil from the tar sands of Canada through the United States to refineries in the South. President Obama, in a transparent sop to left-wing greenies before the election, nixed the pipeline even though federal studies showed it wasn't the environmental calamity opponents claimed. Obama ordered another big study.
Well, that study came back and concluded once again that the pipeline is OK. These are dangerous times. The threat is Obama may use his electoral freedom, all these green-light environmental studies, the fact the pipeline would create thousands of jobs and provide us with a very solid, affordable source of energy and bind us even tighter with our one of our best allies, Canada - in other words, all those awful developments - and approve the pipeline's construction.

That would be a disaster, according to James Hansen, the global warming Cardinal who is retiring as the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen is among the most vociferous activists in the global warming theater - even the Prospect magazine piece noted he has twice been arrested for protesting the XL Pipeline
- but at the same time he was one of the people who reacted quite reasonably to The Economist piece.

Hansen's piece is a gem in many ways. But perhaps the biggest is his own acknowledgement the Canadian oil is coming out, Canada isn't going to just sit on it. So does it go across the Canadian Rockies to Pacific ports and hence on giant tankers to Asia, or will it come to us?

4/03/2013 @ 9:16AM
Global Warming: Was It Just A Beautiful Dream After All?

Madison Square after a blizzard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like most of you, I yearn for shorter winters, more shirt-sleeve weather, less lashing from frigid winds. As a confirmed New Yorker, I’m not willing to do what millions have done: move to the sunbelt. I want warmer weather here in the Big City.

But I’ve grown old waiting for the promised global warming. I was 35 when predictions of a looming ice age were supplanted by warmmongering. Now I’m 68, and there’s still no sign of warmer weather. It’s enough to make one doubt the “settled science” of the government-funded doom-sayers.

Remember 1979? That was the year of “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, of “The Dukes of Hazard” on TV, and of “ Kramer vs. Kramer” on the silver screen. It was the year the Shah was forced out of Iran. It was before the web, before the personal computer, before the cell phone, before voicemail and answering machines. But not before the global warming campaign.

In January of 1979, a New York Times article was headlined: “Experts Tell How Antarctic Ice Could Cause Widespread Floods.” The abstract in the Times archives says: “If the West Antarctic ice sheet slips into the sea, as some glaciologists believe is possible, boats could be launched from the bottom steps of the Capitol in Washington and a third of Florida would be under water, a climate specialist said today.”

By 1981 (think “Chariots of Fire“), the drum beat had taken effect. Quoting from the American Institute of Physics website: “A 1981 survey found that more than a third of American adults claimed they had heard or read about the greenhouse effect.”

So where’s the warming? Where are the gondolas pulling up to the Capitol? Where are the encroaching seas in Florida? Or anywhere? Where is the climate change which, for 33 years, has been just around the corner?

A generation and a half into climate change, née global warming, you can’t point to a single place on earth where the weather is noticeably different from what it was in 1979. Or 1879, for that matter. I don’t know what subliminal changes would be detected by precise instruments, but in terms of the human experience of climate, Boston is still Boston, Cairo is still Cairo, and Sydney is still Sydney.

After all this time, when the continuation of industrial civilization itself is on the table, shouldn’t there be some palpable, observable effect of the disaster that we are supposed to sacrifice our futures in order to avoid? Shouldn’t the doom-sayers be saying “We told you so!” backed up by a torrent of youtube videos of submerged locales and media stories reminding us about how it used to snow in Massachusetts?

Climate panic, after all, is fear of dramatic, life-altering climate changes, not about tenths of a degree. We are told that we must “take action right now before it’s Too Late!” That doesn’t mean: before it’s too late to avoid a Spring that comes a week earlier or summer heat records of 103 degrees instead of 102. It was to fend off utter disaster that we needed the Kyoto Treaty, carbon taxes, and Priuses.

With nothing panic-worthy–nothing even noticeable–ensuing after 33 years, one has to wonder whether external reality even matters amid the frenzy. (It’s recently been admitted that there has been no global warming for the last 16 years.) For the climate researchers, what matters may be gaining fame and government grants, but what about the climate-anxious trend-followers in the wider public? What explains their indifference to decade after decade of failed predictions? Beyond sheer conformity, dare I suggest a psychological cause: a sense of personal anxiety projected outward? “The planet is endangered by carbon emissions” is far more palatable than “My life is endangered by my personal evasions.” Something is indeed careening out of control, but it isn’t the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, those of us who long for warmer weather will have to give up the dream–or move south.

Really, you yearn for warmer summers in New York City?

Clearly, you've thought this one out.

Has it ever occurred to you that our "way of life" is not as wonderful as you might think? Commuting back and forth to work, rush hour, mailboxes stuffed with corporate junk mail, commercial bombardment, millions of people's real potential subsumed while 1 in a million transcend the class they were born into, time and assets subsumed by employers and debtors; air pollution, water pollution, poisoned soil, poisoned plants & animals, cancer, stress, strife and enslavement to carbon-based energy, and the list goes on and on and on.

I'd really like to know just what, sir, could not be improved by a green economy, an egalitarian society, and clean energy?

Nothing wrong with a green economy and/or clean energy. As for egalitarian society, you've spent too much time listening to our Socialist in Chief, Mr. Obama, a member of the 1% who pretends to identify with the 99%.

We'll get your clean energy when green energy becomes more cost-effective than competing, traditional sources. And we'll have a green economy when all of us consumers become willing to pay extra for the feel-good notion of "certified eco-friendly" products. Don't hold your breath.

Still waiting for what will not be improved by an egalitarian society.

However, I won't hold my breath for a lucid response, since it's clear you're low on critical thinking and high on FOX "news" about the President's "socialist agenda" even though the lie is in direct conflict with your 1% comment. Roll of eyes.

It's unfortunate for all of US that you and your FOX friends couldn't hack the intellectual rigor of high school, much less college, John.

Anne -

Thanks for taking the high road. I happen to be a libertarian, and not a FOX news viewer. I find Hannity almost as repulsive aa MSNBC's Rachel Maddow (and that's saying something). Like most liberals, you've taken a giant leap to the wrong conclusion.

Barack Obama is a wealthy man with a 6-figure annual income who'll become much wealthier when he's an ex-president lobbyist and paid speaker. His crocodile tears for the 99% fool few beyond you. And Mr. Obama supports a socialist wealth-redistribution agenda. To argue otherwise is foolishness.

And P.S., I happen to have a Bachelor of Science degree in an environmental discipline, as well as a Masters of Economics. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

That is on of the main concern of our government. I'm sure they're making a way to lessen or stop those pollution in our environment. The orange county web design agency is supporting the advocacy for preventing climate change.