Global Warming Politics

The preceding was based on dispassionate science. There has been no appeal to political or religious beliefs.  However, the global warming discussion has become passionate and political.

Science is supposed to be self-correcting. Bad science, such as the phlogiston theory or phrenology, is usually eventually replaced by good science. But politics is not self-correcting. It is a big boiling pot where agreement is never reached. Maybe that's why climatologist James Hansen says "Science and politics don't mix."[1] (Page 24 of his excellent presentation.) But surely this would be a recipe for a disaster. Good governments need to enlist the expertise of economists, epidemiologists, lawyers, historians, sociologists, etc., etc. Climatologists should be added to the list.

Planetforlife usually tries to stand on the pedestal of dispassionate science. In this section, highlighted in yellow, Planetforlife slips a little.

Item 1

cigar Rush Limbaugh, whose voice reaches 20 million Americans, is usually a strong supporter of the Bush administration agenda. But he was very upset with the Bush administration in May of 2002. That's when the U.S. Department of State published the US Climate Action Report. On that day he ridiculed the administration's apparent flip-flop on global warming, wondering aloud before millions of listeners whether things would have been much different had political nemesis Al Gore won the presidency.

"I don't believe there is any conclusive evidence of global warming," he thundered, without stating his sources. "And I certainly don't believe that it can be attributed to human activity – and particularly not by activity by the United States. That is the political agenda behind the global warming scare. It is an anti-West, anti-U.S., anti-free enterprise movement." (The United States has 5% of the world's population but produces 25% of the human made carbon dioxide.) 

Limbaugh doesn't understand what scientists do. They do research and they publish the results. The results are refereed by peers before publication. Certainly scientists make mistakes but all good scientists know that facts do not seem to know about politics or religion. Limbaugh actually thinks that scientists should be rapped on their heads until they produce science with the correct political agenda.

The U.S. Department of State agreed to write the US Climate Action Report for the United Nations. There was no news release or announcement when the report was shipped to the United Nations offices although this was certainly a newsworthy event.

You can learn more about the US Climate Action Report at the home page. 

Item 2

This appeared as an editorial in the March 2004 issue of Scientific American. This is a full and unedited quote. Leading scientists have used Scientific American to communicate their ideas to the world since 1845. 

The Climate Leadership Vacuum

If you still doubt that global warming is real and that humans contribute to it, read the article beginning on page 68. Its author, James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is no doomsayer. Instead of relying on just computer climate models, which skeptics don’t trust, Hansen builds a powerful case for global warming based on the geologic record and simple thermodynamics. He sees undeniable signs of danger, especially from rising ocean levels, but he also believes that we can slow or halt global warming affordably —if we start right away.

Politically, that’s the rub. As time slips by, our leverage over the problem melts away. Even small reductions in gas and aerosol emissions today forestall considerable warming and damage in the long run. In our view, the international community needs a leader, but the obvious nation for the job still has its head in the sand.  

President George W. Bush’s administration implies that it will get more serious about global warming after further years of study determine the scope of the problem (tick ... tick ... tick ...). The Kyoto Protocol is the most internationally acceptable approach to a solution yet devised. Largely at the insistence of American negotiators, it adopts a market-based strategy.  Nevertheless, the White House in 2001, like the U.S.  Senate in 1997, rejected the treaty as economically ruinous and environmentally inadequate. The administration has yet to propose a workable alternative. 

Two years ago the president committed the country to reducing its greenhouse gas “intensity”—the emissions per unit of economic output—by 18 percent in 10 years. But he has not enunciated a clear and credible strategy for doing even that. The White House boasts of the $4.3 billion budgeted for climate change–related programs in 2004 as well as its backing for hydrogen-based energy. But those initiatives don’t set any goals by which they can be judged. All they do is throw money at new technologies in the hope that businesses might eventually adopt them. In other areas of environmental policy, the administration insists on cost-benefit analyses—but not for climate change policy. 

A real action plan is feasible. Current technology can stop the increase of soot emissions from diesel combustion at a reasonable cost. Reductions in airborne soot would boost the reflection of sunlight from snow back into space. Minimizing soot also directly benefits human health and agricultural productivity.  

Suitably controlling greenhouse gases is a greater challenge, but it can be done. Kyoto establishes a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide and other emissions.  The administration has favored programs to trade credits for industrial pollutants such as mercury.  Carbon dioxide is an even more appropriate subject for such an effort: creating environmental mercury “hot spots” raises local health risks, but concentrating carbon dioxide production is harmless. 

The expense of reducing carbon dioxide could be kept low by letting the marketplace identify cost-effective ways to meet targets. Domestic emissions trading for sulfur dioxide under the first Bush administration was highly successful. Output levels were cut ahead of schedule and at half the expected cost.

The only significant U.S. activity in carbon dioxide trading now is at the state level. Ten northeastern states have established a regional initiative to explore such a market. Meanwhile the administration sits on the sidelines.  That’s not good enough: it needs to show specific, decisive, meaningful leadership today.

THE EDITORS editors@sciam.com

Item 3

This appeared as an editorial in the May 2004 issue of Scientific American. This is a full and unedited quote.

Bush-League Lysenkoism

Starting in the 1930s, the Soviets spurned genetics in favor of Lysenkoism, a fraudulent theory of heredity inspired by Communist ideology. Doing so crippled agriculture in the U.S.S.R. for decades. You would think that bad precedent would have taught President George W. Bush something. But perhaps he is no better at history than at science. 

In February his White House received failing marks in a statement signed by 62 leading scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, 19 recipients of the National Medal of Science, and advisers to the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations. It begins, “Successful application of science has played a large part in the policies that have made the United States of America the world’s most powerful nation and its citizens increasingly prosperous and healthy. Although scientific input to the government is rarely the only factor in public policy decisions, this input should always be weighed from an objective and impartial perspective to avoid perilous consequences. . . . The administration of George W.  Bush has, however, disregarded this principle.” 

Doubters of that judgment should read the report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) that accompanies the statement, “Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making” (available at www.ucsusa.  org). Among the affronts that it details: The administration misrepresented the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and other experts on climate change. It meddled with the discussion of climate change in an Environmental Protection Agency report until the EPA eliminated that section. It suppressed another EPA study that showed that the administration’s proposed Clear Skies Act would do less than current law to reduce air pollution and mercury contamination of fish. It even dropped independent scientists from advisory committees on lead poisoning and drug abuse in favor of ones with ties to industry.  

Let us offer more examples of our own. The Department of Health and Human Services deleted information from its Web sites that runs contrary to the president’s preference for “abstinence only” sex education programs. The Office of Foreign Assets Control made it much more difficult for anyone from “hostile nations” to be published in the U.S., so some scientific journals will no longer consider submissions from them. The Office of Management and Budget has proposed overhauling peer review for funding of science that bears on environmental and health regulations —in effect, industry scientists would get to approve what research is conducted by the EPA.  

None of those criticisms fazes the president, though.  Less than two weeks after the UCS statement was released, Bush unceremoniously replaced two advocates of human embryonic stem cell research on his advisory Council on Bioethics with individuals more likely to give him a hallelujah chorus of opposition to it.  

Blind loyalists to the president will dismiss the UCS report because that organization often tilts left—never mind that some of those signatories are conservatives. They may brush off this magazine’s reproofs the same way, as well as the regular salvos launched by California Representative Henry A. Waxman of the House Government Reform Committee [see Insights, on page 52] and maybe even Arizona Senator John McCain’s scrutiny for the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. But it is increasingly impossible to ignore that this White House disdains research that inconveniences it.

THE EDITORS editors@sciam.com  

[1] NASA (National Aeronautical and Space Administration) builds and orbits meteorological satelites. NASA also has expertise in meteorology and climatology. In June of 2003, NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies published a very readable presentation called Can We Defuse the Global Warming Time Bomb? by James Hansen.