So it’s not all our fault. But we failed. We failed, along with the scientific mainstream, all the national academies, all the universities, all the professional groups that have come to understand the daunting implications of the growing human interference in the flow of energy through the climate system.
We all failed horribly. The closer you are to America and to climate science, the bigger your share of the failure. We screwed up. We fell into a bunch of polemical traps.
As of today, it is official. The US House of Representatives today voted down 240-184 an amendment from Henry Waxman (D-CA) that stated:
Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.
This is to say that even the agreement in principle that there is a problem has been roundly defeated in the congress, 19 years AFTER the US agreed with the rest of the world on exactly this point, since which time North America has ignored the progress in the rest of the world in coming to terms with its implications. That is to say, the present Republican caucus voted nearly unanimously against the underpinnings a treaty signed by 2/3 of the senate and a Republican president in 1992, despite the fact that the supporting evidence is dramatically stronger than it was then, and that obvious, non-subtle consequences of climate change are starting to occur, just about on schedule.
This is despite the fact that, as Joe Romm points out,
Last year, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the equivalent of the Supreme Court of science — a body that is ultra-conservative from a scientific perspective — reviewed the scientific literature in a major report and concluded:
A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems….
Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.
There’s a lot of headscratching this week. Keith Kloor is justifiably gobsmacked; many of his readers and their sock puppets, as one would expect, are not. Quoting Chris Mooney’s observation that
If, as we suspect, skeptics invoke climate frames that resemble abortion politics, this has serious policy implications. As long as members of the skeptic movement are included in the policy debate and sway the opinions of some lawmakers, their discourse is critically relevant.
I might have dismissed this rationale two years ago, before the rise of the Tea Party and its dismissal of climate science spread like a contagion throughout the GOP. Now I’m inclined to think that another form of culture war is underway that is definitely not healthy for a constructive dialogue on climate change. I do hope that the reasonable climate skeptics that visit Collide-a-Scape understand this.
If you want to save the planet, forsake your arrogance and defiance of God and ask for His forgiveness. Put prayer back in the schools. Put the Ten Commandments back in public view. Stop killing His gift of children; killing infants in the womb is not a God-given right.
Wake up to the fact that God has said the wisdom of our wise men is foolishness. In other words, our wise men don’t know jack.
If we turn from our wicked ways and seek God with all our hearts, God will forgive our sins and heal our land.
With all this going on, John Abraham has coauthored a piece
on political site The Hill with Democrat congresswoman Betty McCollum. Their conclusion is solid:
Every single member of Congress has a choice: deny the science of climate change or take real steps to confront a changing climate. Congress must accept scientific reality and act on climate change.
Well, yeah. I wish, though, that they had not coauthored the piece. Let me explain why.
WHAT THE PROBLEM IS
We can easily define the practical problem as the near-unanimous agreement of a major political party in a view of a crucial issue that is based in utter fantasy. People who stick their necks out in this way are unlikely to reverse themselves. The possibilities, short of the severe decline of world which we need to void, are the severe decline of the United States, or a sharp separation of the points of view of the supporters of the Republican party from those of their representatives. Even a sharp decline of the Republican party, which seems likely given the trail of destruction their zealots are leaving in the congress and the state houses these days, will not suffice. It is absolutely crucial that the voters who had been inclined to support Republicans understand these issues better, so that whatever responsible conservative force emerges to replace the current batch of detatched-from-reality conservatives, whether within or outside the Republican party, takes real, honest science seriously.
By publishing a piece where a scientist and a Democrat speak together, their article, however cogent, reinforces the incorrect idea that climate science is an interest group with a political alliance. Indeed, it is possible that our problems stem from widespread opposition to Al Gore; this would explain the difference between America and the rest of the world, where the spokesmen for the problem are not closely associated with a political party.
I have been a great admirer of Mr. Gore’s for many years, indeed, since his days a a senator. Despite the mockery, we would likely not have the privilege of this conversation were it not for Gore’s perceptive support for a widely accessible “information superhighway” system. The absurd tragedy of his bizarre defeat in the election for president was a strange and bleak turning point in history. And his return to the climate issue was a natural process. But it is flawed because he attached a party and a cluster of identity issues to climate change. He reinforced the dull earnestness of kind, well-intentioned, none-too-smart schoolteachers that drive people to rebellion. He was everything that a happy redneck loves to hate. His associations with the rich and educated fed the bizarre paradoxical association of “liberal” and “elite” in the backwoods worldview. And so, climate change became an identity issue.
HOW TO MAKE THE PROBLEM WORSE
So every time we play into that framing, every time we rub people the wrong way by being rude or smarmy or superior or (let’s face it) fun-hating, we reinforce that image of liberal as fun-hating freedom-hating authoritarian. It’s so bizarre. It’s so backwards from the rest of the world’s idea of liberalism and conservatism, including that of American liberals.
(Let me tell you about being 13 at Expo ’67 sometime. Big liberal fun. Federally funded Disneyland. A future so bright…)
But when you look at the big picture, you’ll see these climate horrors are a sideshow. The extent to which the country is being mauled and wrecked by people with a grade school understanding of economics is so astonishing and terrifying that the climate fiasco is beside the point. More to the point, if the Republicans are so much under the control of a cultural thread that is juvenile and arrogantly stupid that they really believe a 30 billion dollar cut infederal expenditures in a weak economy is appropriate, the rank stupidity of their approach to climate issues not surprising. In fact, they embrace that foolishness happily; it is emblematic of their rejection of the sense that emerges from centuries of accumulated experience and decades of individual study.
Again, it is to the genuine conservative that we must appeal. Everybody else understands the situation; perhaps not well enough to decide well, but at least well enough not to be obstructionist. But the way to do that is still not to reinforce their suspicions about science as an interest group dominating the function of science as collective perception.
I’m not sure there’s any way out of this awful mess anytime soon. Some people seem to be gearing up to blame God for everything awful that is coming, even if all the fairly clear predictions really do end up corresponding well to how the climate will shift, tilt and crack. It will be all the worse if it cracks some other way we haven’t foreseen!
But the wrong thing to do is to have science look like ideology, for scientists to be seen to cozy up to people with ideological and political agendas. This is because it is not important for Democratic voters to look good. It is important for Republican voters to look twice.
I had given my talk which includes a section on the importance of the “voice” of the messenger, based on the 4th chapter of my book, “Don’t Be So Unlikeable.” To make the point I showed portions of two BP commercials from last year about the Gulf oil spill. The first one is Tony Hayward, C.E.O. of BP and with a foreign accent that automatically conveys condescension. The second one, produced after their communications folks realized they had blown their mass communications, is a homeboy from the Gulf coast with a thick southern drawl, pronouncing “oil” as “all.” First guy terrible, second guy okay. It’s not frickin’ rocket science. People listen to voices they like.
The trouble, of course, is that scientists bond better with pedantic patricians like Mr. Gore than with good ol’ boys like a well off Texas-born-and-bred BP engineer. You need to talk to rednecks, so get a redneck, and if you can’t, at least get somebody who likes and respects rednecks and who rednecks like and respect in turn.