Scientists Weigh In On The Politics Of Climate Change
When climate scientists talked recently about their latest research on global warming, they also responded to questions about the politics surrounding climate change. Here's a glimpse into the scientists' take on the role politics plays in the climate change debate.
The Copenhagen Diagnosis is a 60-page synthesis of recent research compiled and issued by 26 leading international climate scientists including Richard Somerville, a distinguished professor of meteorology at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
It's designed to inform delegates at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit which begins next week.
Somerville said the new study shows carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 are about 40 percent higher than those in 1990.
He says there's no time to "dither and procrastinate" in taking action to reverse greenhouse gas emissions.
"So the world is moving in the wrong direction," said Somerville. "And that's another reason why concerted action has to begin very soon. There's an urgency to this that isn't at all political or ideology-driven, it's simply scientific. There's a limit to how much greenhouse gases you can put in the atmosphere and we are, as has been said, we are now on track to exceed that limit in only 20 more years with business as usual emissions. So, we're running out of time."
Somerville says the scientists are not trying to dictate what policies should be agreed upon in Copenhagen.
But some tough decisions need to be made.
"As we've repeatedly said, we're climate scientists, not policy experts," said Somerville. "We're trying to simply say what is scientifically-necessary rather than talking about what type of accord should be reached in Copenhagen. And I think, having said that, a great deal of the growth in emissions has come in developing countries. China opening coal-fired power plants for example. So that ultimately it will be necessary for the emissions reduction to involve developing as well as developed countries. Mother Nature doesn't care where the CO2 comes from."
He says without action, the most severe consequences of climate change will become reality by the end of this century.
"There was a famous Saudi oil minister at one point who said "the stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones,"' said Somerville. "And I think if you want to put this in homey terms, the oil age must not last until we run out of oil, it has to end sooner."
Penn State University scientist Michael Mann says climate researchers face two challenges that come after they finish their research: A lack of scientific literacy among the public and an active effort by some groups to confuse people.
"When we try to educate the public about the science we are facing a very stiff headwind," Mann said. "And that's the headwind of efforts to confuse the public about the reality of the problem by some special interests who see it as a threat and the attempt to confront this challenge."
UCSD's Somerville says those special interests are divided along political lines in the United States.
"Polling data clearly show that liberal/democratic people are more inclined to accept the scientific view and conservative republicans are less acceptable to," said Somerville. "And as we all know, we had a narrow presidential election eight years ago, and if you tell me how somebody voted in Bush versus Gore, I can tell you with high confidence what they think about "An Inconvenient Truth."'
Somerville says Mother Nature doesn't care about politics.
"People can disagree about policy and economics and ideology," said Somerville. "But there's no such thing as liberal or conservative ocean circulation theory or republican or democratic cloud physics. And the science itself is non-partisan."
And, as another researcher put it, the ice has no agenda.
Meantime, President Barack Obama plans to attend the Copenhagen Climate Conference and is expected to make a commitment to cut U.S. emissions by 17 percent over the next decade.
Administration officials say they don't want to repeat what happened when the U.S. agreed to emission reductions at Kyoto, but never implemented them because of strong political opposition at home.
The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto agreement.