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Let’s be honest – the global warming debate isn’t about science

By Dana Nuccitelli (The Guardian) - October 7, 2013

The 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states with 95 percent confidence that humans have caused most, and probably all of the rapid global warming over the past 60 years. Approximately 97 percent of climate experts and peer-reviewed climate science studies agree.

There are of course open questions yet to be answered by climate scientists – precisely how sensitive the climate is to the increased greenhouse effect, for example. But even in a best case, low sensitivity scenario, we’re headed for dangerously rapid climate change if we continue on our current business as usual path. And the worst case scenario, which is just as likely as the best case scenario, would mean we’re headed for a global catastrophe.

The IPCC warns that if we want to avoid very dangerous climate change, we’re on track to blow through our allowed carbon budget in as little as two to three decades if we continue on our current path of relying on fossil fuels. If we’re lucky and the low sensitivity scenario is accurate, perhaps we’ll have an extra decade or two, but even in this best case scenario, we’re on an unsustainable climate path.
Politically biased media climate coverage is not a coincidence

The scientific evidence is what it is, and it has no political bias. The same is not true of the media outlets that cover the topic. It’s not a coincidence that politically conservative tabloids and newspapers like the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Australian, and Wall Street Journal spend a disproportionate amount of time amplifying the voices of the less than 3 percent of climate contrarian scientists, as well as many non-scientist contrarians.

It’s certainly not the case that David Rose has some brilliant insight into the state of climate science that climate scientists don’t have. He and his fellow climate contrarians simply approach the question backwards. They start from their political ideological opposition to climate solutions and work backwards, seeking out cherry picked evidence to justify their predetermined conclusions, thus ignoring the 97 percent of inconvenient scientific evidence. This climate contrarianism ideological bias is illustrated in a new study, summarized by Graham Readfearn:

“if you’re a conservative who believes the world runs best when businesses operate in a “free market” with little government interference, then the chances are you don’t think human-caused climate change represents a significant risk to human civilisation.”

Let’s debate the solutions

Even if you’re not convinced by the scientific evidence, you should support taking action to mitigate global warming. What if you’re wrong, as the body of scientific evidence indicates is the case? There is unquestionably a possible scenario in which our greenhouse gas emissions cause harmful and potentially catastrophic climate damages.

I know what contrarians are thinking – what if I’m wrong, and we end up wasting money deploying green technologies, cleaning the air and water and transitioning away from limited fossil fuel resources in the process? That’s why we need everyone helping to craft the best possible solutions to maximize the economic benefit of this inevitable transition.

Take the USA as a prime example. The Obama Administration recognizes the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but Republicans in Congress refuse to even consider any climate legislation. As a result, government greenhouse gas regulations are the only available option. From an economic perspective, it’s far from an ideal solution, but because the Republican Party won’t participate in crafting better legislation, we’re forced to implement less than ideal solutions.

The situation in Australia and Canada is even worse, with politically conservative parties running the governments and refusing to take any action to achieve serious greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The new Australian Prime Minister has even vowed to eliminate Australia’s carbon pricing system.

Are you a supporter of the free market? Then advocate for allowing the free market solve the problem by pricing greenhouse gas emissions. The debate should be about how to best achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions with maximum economic benefit.

To utilize the free market by pricing carbon emissions, the main options are a carbon cap and trade system or a carbon tax. Then there’s the question of what to do with the revenue generated by the emissions price. Some options include reducing the federal deficit, funding green technology research and deployment, lowering other taxes, and returning the funds directly to the citizens. A growing number of Republicans in the USA favor the latter, revenue neutral carbon tax approach.

British Columbia has a revenue-neutral carbon tax, offset by decreases in income taxes, and the system enjoys broad support from 64 percent of citizens. The province’s economy is doing well and its greenhouse gas emissions are falling. They’ve shown that a well-crafted climate solution can work.
We need conservatives to be constructive, not obstructive

Ultimately this climate ‘debate’ is not about science. The scientific evidence is crystal clear that humans are causing rapid global warming. The longer we wait to do something about it, the more climate change we commit ourselves to, and higher the chances are for a climate catastrophe. From a risk management perspective, failing to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is just plain stupid. Opposition to climate action isn’t about the science, it’s about the politics and policies.

So let’s debate those policies. The more input we have from different political and ideological perspectives, the better crafted the solutions will be. After all, Republicans came up with the concept of cap and trade as an alternative to government regulation of pollutants, and it was a good, successful idea.

Denying the science and obstructing the solutions will only make the problem worse. It also results in climate solutions that are far from ideal, like US government greenhouse gas regulations instead of legislation allowing the free market to solve the problem. We need everyone on board to help craft the best possible climate solutions and help grow the economy in the process.

Climate change is a situation that fits the adage “you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” Be part of the solution.