Ideology to Hijack the Global Warming/Climate Change Debate.
As a Pew Opinion Poll reflects, Global Warming has become yet another chapter in the ongoing U.S. Culture Wars between Liberals and Conservatives. This gulf in beliefs is especially wide with people who identify with the Tea Party movement (very anti "Big Government") -- where 41% surveyed were "Deniers", believing that Global Warming just isn't happening.
|Agreement on the Basic Science: Global Warming Theory is based on Nobel Prize winning science1 -- which is clearly not "Junk Science". One basic concept area that everyone can relate to is Rayleigh scattering -- of why the the sky is blue. Applications|
1 This includes: Rayleigh scattering and distillation, van der Waals (equations of state), Wien's law, Planck's constant (central to radiation theory).
Probably 99% of Climate Scientists can agree on a core of basic beliefs that does represent "a consensus on settled science":
- CO2 is a Greenhouse Gas;
- Adding CO2 will have a warming effect on the Planet;
- CO2 levels have risen dramatically during the Industrial Age;2 3
- In the past ~200 years, the Earth has warmed.
- For the past 60 years, the bulk of this warming is human driven.4
2 NOAA data for 650 million years; NOAA data for past 1,000 years; IPCC AR5.
3 The level of CO2 is now 42% above pre Industrial Revolution levels.
4 Views on what "bulk" means -- a percentage greater than 50% (Curry) to 100% (Schmidt).
|Science Uncertainty: But understanding Climate Science/Change is much more than just this "basic science". Called a "Wicked Problem", this involves extremely complex issues of our Planet's natural variability (wind and ocean currents), geological events (e.g., volcanoes) and feedback loops.|
Where Climate Scientists can and do sharply disagree is how much and how quickly human driven greenhouse gases will effect global temperatures and regional climates through:
- Feedback Loops (e.g., cloud formation);
- Impacts on Natural Variability (climate oscillations, e.g., El Nino).
- The predictive ability of Forecasting Models (e.g., the "Pause").
In describing "Wicked Problems", perhaps the best analogy ever coined was by U.S. Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld of knowns and unknowns -- where applied to Climate Change there are:
- Known Knowns (the Basic Science);
- Known Unknowns (natural variability and feedback loops).
- Unknown Unknowns (things we don't even know that we don't know).
The Rhetoric of Uncertainty: But it's important to understand that the current unknowns do not disprove a scientific consensus in the above "core beliefs". A good example of this is the current Global Warming "Pause" -- where for the past ~15 years there have been:
- No statistically significant increases in Earth's land temperature,
- Even though CO2 levels continue to significantly increase.5
5 Although the Earth's average surface temperature rose sharply by 0.9 degree Fahrenheit during the last quarter of the 20th century, it has increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by ~25%.
Deniers or extreme Skeptics/Contrarians saying or implying this "Pause" disproves a core of "Basic Science Beliefs" is a classic application of anti-science. One can try to poke all the gotcha holes they want in "Theory X", but doing so doesn't prove an alternative "Theory Y" (e.g., a tactic used by religious Literalists that their attempts to cherry-pick enough holes in the theory of evolution proves Creationism beliefs).
Ideological Hard-liners can also create all the ubiquitous "conspiracy theories" (i.e., Climategate) they want -- but this still won't change the above 99% Consensus either.
are a reaction to the incendiary statements of many Republicans.
Conversely, Advocates need to do a much better job in their communication of uncertainty -- especially their defensiveness. A good start would be a well versed "consensus" recognition that Climate Scientists don't yet adequately understand the sensitivities of this "Wicked Problem" -- especially the ability of current Climate Models to predict near term decadal impacts.6
6 Called Transient Climate Response or TCR.
Clearly, CO2 parts per million levels and temperatures have not responded in a linear cause and effect fashion in the short-term (as many initially believed). Maybe the long-term progression of Global Warming is a stair-step function (with pauses of decades or more). Maybe its a exponential log function when some thresholds are broken through until equilibrium. Maybe, its a combination of these functions with warming interacting and compounding natural variabilities on things we currently just don't even know about (unknown, unknowns).
We do know this -- if anything does happen with severe consequences, we won't be able to fix it as changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration levels can persist for centuries. With a trajectory to double the Earth's CO2 levels, mankind is conducting the biggest science experiment of all time involving very deep uncertainties.
Reaching a Consensus: A TED presentation provides a good perspective of how to be effective when taking on difficult, wicked problems. The lecture uses a example of Dr. Alice Stewart, who in the 1950’s thought she had found a solid statistical link between expectant Mothers who had received x-rays and childhood cancers. But while Dr. Stewart was eventually shown to be correct, it took the medical science community over 25 years to achieve a consensus in proving and accepting this linkage.
|For over two decades within the medical and public policy arena, Dr. Stewart was labeled an Alarmist in her Catastrophic warnings.|
As the TED lecture explains, science is most often messy and laborious. In resolving challenges, the Right Kind of both Advocate and Skeptic is needed in an environment of some basic trust -- not driven by tribalism and hard-line ideologies of political, religious, economic, and even academic special interests or egos.
|Conservative Hot Buttons: |
In recent years, negative ideological "values" messaging from Conservative Think Tanks, Media Sources, and Religious Groups have associated and demonized environmental policy initiatives as big-government, socialism, anti-free markets, job loss, and even with Faith (worshiping the Green Dragon).
buttons of Conservatives to create a perfect storm.
The effectiveness of this negative messaging is absolutely evident in national polling, where partisan divides on environmental issues are greater than on major issues like the budget deficit, health care, and Social Security.
(% rating each a top priority)
|Protecting the Environment:|
|Problems of Poor & Needy:|
|Reducing U.S. Budget Deficit:|
|Dealing with Global Warming:|
Clearly, environmental issues have become a "hot button" among many Conservatives -- a litmus test in defining one's personal values:
|"Global warming is a religion of a secular left that rejects the God of creation in favor of worship of creation. . . Any of those involved in the science of global warming oppose capitalism in general and America in particular. They are maladjusted, Al Gore type angry people in need of prayer." (Erick Erickson of RedState.com)|
History of Republican Environmental Leadership: The current adversarial and combative attitude toward environmental issues hasn't always been the case. The Republican Party has a rich history in leadership and bi-partisan cooperation to address numerous serious environmental issues.
Two vivid examples are ozone depletion (President Reagan) and air quality (under both Bush Administrations) -- where significant improvements have been achieved without destroying the economy, advancing socialism, or worshiping a supposed Mother Earth.
When past Republican EPA Administrators7 serving under every Republican President thinks Anthropogenic (emissions from human activity) Global Warming is a real and serious threat, this should mean something to Conservatives -- no matter what Al Gore believes.
7 Ruckelshaus (Nixon), Thomas (Reagan), Reilly (Bush), Whitman (Bush).
Where Have the Conservative Thinkers Gone?: By reducing Global Warming/Climate Change to Culture Warfare, Conservatives have and continue to fail miserably. The Problem isn't "Junk Science" of liberal scienctists, its the "Junk Thinking" by Conservatives. They are forgetting the very core principles of conservatism, and how these principles should be applied to any policy issue.
|The "True Problem" for Conservatives is that from the get-go, the issue of Global Warming was hi-jacked by Liberal Ideology policy proposals. Conservatives have never developed meaningful and consistent policy alternatives based on their principles to pro-actively tackle this issue.|
By arguing that no or little actions are warranted, Conservatives are choosing to play a very dangerous and high stakes "winner take all" game. No person on this Planet knows how the science or politics of Global Warming will eventually play out. Two things can absolutely happen: (1) Breakthroughs in science confirming the theory where the timing and consequences are unquestionably serious; (2) The occurrence of extreme weather events which overwhelms public opinion (correct or not) to demand immediate major policy actions.
|Waiting to develop, taking a pro-active leadership position, and establishing credibility on conservative policy alternatives is a non-starter. If swings in public opinion do occur to take action, it will be too late. Liberal policies (e.g., carbon taxes) will be too entrenched and Conservatives' credibility will be shot (labeled as obstructionists).|
- No matter how a U.S. Carbon Tax is packaged, it will still be a regressive tax -- disproportionately impacting the poor.
- Impact of a Carbon Tax on U.S. Manufacturing competitiveness. Will it result in increased imports, just outsourcing carbon emissions?
- Any Cap & Trade System would be a new Wall St. toy. Remember how these financial derivatives wrecked the World's economies?
|A Conservative Path : By bashing Liberals less and studying science more, there just might be a way out of this mess. Using an approach advocated by Dr. Ramanathan called "Fast Mitigation", a sound-science foundation for "no regrets" climate policies can be developed -- reflecting|
Fast Mitigation (basically targeted to improving air quality) coupled with policies to spur high economic growth using international trade just might provide the ticket needed. With pro-active "smart and creative" conservative leadership, meaningful and immediate reductions in the "Global" trajectory path of greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved.
|Fast Mitigation: While CO2 is about 77% of total greenhouse gas emissions, it is not the only thing that contributes to global warming. Other potent warming agents include three short-lived gases and dark soot particles -- called short-lived climate pollutants:|
9 Based on the most commonly used auto refrigerant (HFC-134a). A new refrigerant (HFO-1234yf) with a GWP that is just 4 times that of CO2 and exists for only 11 days is scheduled to become the new standard for automakers in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
According to Dr. Ramanathan, the warming effect of these pollutants is currently about 80% of the amount that CO2 causes.
Since the Industrial Revolution of 1750 (in W/m2)
Decision Making Under "No Regrets": Often the words "no regrets" are used as code "to kick the can down the road" by just calling for more research. Used in a correct context, "No or Low Regrets" should be a process of best efforts to make good decisions, especially under deep uncertainties.
- Overturn the law by re-writing the CAA (through the election of a GOP President & majorities in Congress).
- Further fight the law in the Courts (e.g., current EPA Lawsuit).11
- Make the law better (or less onerous) through Bi-partisan cooperation.
10 Defined as a pollutant agent under the CAA effecting weather or climate.
11 Both of the first two paths involve deep uncertainties. For example, to overturn EPA Regulations would likely require a super majority (60 votes) in the U.S. Senate. Also, based on legal precedents, overturning EPA authority is highly questionable.
What Conservatives should be very concerned about are the potential consequences if policy opposition is unsuccessful. By not developing pro-active alternatives, a huge void is created. If public opinion does ever demand immediate action (e.g., from catastrophic weather events) -- it will almost certainly be a liberal top/down approach based on command/control:
- Carbon Taxes
- Cap and Trade
- Federal Energy Mandates (Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard).
Buying Time: While Fast Mitigation to reduce short lived carbon pollutants is not a long term cure-all to Global Warming, it could have a dramatic and immediate effect in decreasing the growth rate (trajectory) in global atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.
- Sensitivities of global temperatures and climate to increase CO2.
- Technology Breakthroughs (solar, natural gas fracking, nuclear, etc).
|Improving Air Quality: In forming public opinion, a picture can be worth a thousand words. For many Americans, connecting with the need to reduce CO2 emissions (a colorless, odorless gas) can be difficult. Fast Mitigation targets known air quality pollutants (such as heavy truck diesel exhaust) that everyone can connect with for cleaner air.|
Also, applied on a regional and local basis, Fast Mitigation can be tailored to reflect conservative principles of flexibility and de-centralized bottom-up approaches (compared to one-size-fits-all) targeted to where air quality issues are of higher concern.
Building Low Carbon Global Markets through Economic Growth: Using international trade to address concerns of Global Warming/Climate Change is a perfect example of applying conservative principles of bottom-up, de-centralized, flexible, and reward based no-regrets policy actions.
|If reducing the trajectory path in green-house gases is to be truly treated as serious on a global stage, pragmatic lessons must be drawn from international trade -- where reciprocity reigns supreme. No country eliminates or reduces its trade barriers without reciprocal and meaningful concessions from trading partners.|
- Developing countries would commit (with verifiable standards) to building low carbon intensity economies by purchasing high technology/energy efficient American products.
- In exchange, the U.S. would give Developing Countries unpreceded access into U.S. markets for their products.
- Simply stated, this Policy approach accentuates stuff we're good at (high technology products) and stuff that Developing Countries are good at (low labor cost products).
An example of this would be current U.S. efforts to create a large free-trade zone encompassing 11 other Pacific Rim countries (excluding China) -- called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Its important to emphasize that in this international trade effort, everything should be on the table (including the use of coal fired electricity generation using U.S. produced technology).
Additional News Stories:
Showtime's Years of Living Dangerously (full episode)
Simple Explanation of Infrared Radiation
Basics on Global Warming Theory (Nobel prize winner, Dr. Molina)
Climate Etc. Blog thread on the Pause.
Wall St. Journal on Environmental Concerns since 1976.
Global Warming Potentials of Greenhouse Gases (GWP)
Climate Models -- (N.Y. Times)
Use of Statistics in Science -- (N.Y. Times)
Fast Mitigation in India -- (Washington Post)
U.S. Policy on Methane emissions -- (N.Y. Times)
U.S. Methane emissions -- (Slate Magazine)
CO2 Equivalents -- (Wikipedia)
Social Cost of Carbon -- (U.S. EPA)
Black Carbon and Arctic Sea Ice -- (What's Up With That Blog)
Estimated Impact of CO2 Power Plant Regs by State -- (Bloomburg News)
Comments on Fast Mitigation by Dr. Curry of Georgia Tech -- (Climate Etc.)
Comments on Black Carbon by Dr. Curry -- (Climate Etc.)