Stat­ing the ob­vi­ous

Mitt Rom­ney, ar­guably the lead­ing Repub­li­can can­di­date for pres­i­dent of the US in the 2012 elec­tion, re­cently di­min­ished his prospects by declar­ing he be­lieves the earth is warm­ing.

Element - - Global Bulletin - By Ray­mond S. Bradley Ray­mond S. Bradley is a di­rec­tor at the Cli­mate Sys­tem Re­search Cen­ter at the Depart­ment of Geo­sciences, Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts. He is the author of Global Warm­ing & Po­lit­i­cal In­tim­i­da­tion.

To most sci­en­tists, such a state­ment would be in­nocu­ous, and an ac­cu­rate as­sess­ment of cur­rent un­der­stand­ing. But to a large frac­tion of the United States Repub­li­can Party, this is an un­ac­cept­able po­si­tion – rank­ing up there with gay mar­riage, gun con­trol and abor­tion rights.

An­thro­pogenic cli­mate change has be­come a lit­mus test for Repub­li­cans in the US. If you want to ap­peal to the hard core of the party – those whom you need in or­der to ob­tain the party’s nom­i­na­tion – you can­not ac­knowl­edge what al­most ev­ery national sci­ence academy and sci­en­tific or­gan­i­sa­tion has ac­cepted for years. In fact, many other prom­i­nent Repub­li­cans, sens­ing the winds of ret­ri­bu­tion, have al­ready back-tracked on what­ever pre­vi­ous state­ments they may have made, if they con­tained even a whiff of cli­mate re­al­ity. Given the im­por­tance of get­ting the US on board to ob­tain an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment on con­trol­ling green­house gases, this dis­missal is sad and alarm­ing.

Cli­mate sci­en­tists on the frontlines of this bat­tle have suf­fered from the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere. The idea has been pro­moted that cli­mate sci­ence is a worth­less cha­rade, where data is ma­nip­u­lated to ob­tain a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated re­sult. Sci­en­tists have been abused on blogs and emails and some have even been threat­ened. A lead­ing Repub­li­can Se­na­tor asked the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate 17 cli­mate sci­en­tists (my­self in­cluded) for com­mit­ting fraud and other crimes. How have we ar­rived at this sorry state?

In or­der to un­der­stand the state of play, one has to recog­nise that the is­sue of global warm­ing is be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by a group of in­di­vid­u­als, busi­nesses and or­gan­i­sa­tions that have fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests in mak­ing sure that the US does not en­act any leg­is­la­tion to con­trol green­house gas emis­sions. At the ex­treme, these groups be­lieve in mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ism – that free mar­kets, stripped of con­straints, will take care of any prob­lems we face. To bol­ster this strat­egy, they pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port to or­gan­i­sa­tions which pro­mote ideas such as global warm­ing is a hoax and the IPCC (In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change) re­ports are full of er­rors. They also flood the elec­toral sys­tem with money, to en­sure that like-minded right wing politi­cians are elected to congress. These politi­cians then du­ti­fully hold hear­ings, invit­ing hand-picked sci­en­tists (of­ten with min­i­mal qual­i­fi­ca­tions in cli­mate sci­ence) to pro­vide tes­ti­mony to sow the seeds of doubt about the re­al­ity of global warm­ing. The po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives of these hear­ings are rarely dis­cussed by the me­dia. The pub­lic just hears that more sci­en­tists dis­agree about an is­sue they find hard to deal with (which it is), so they con­clude that if sci­en­tists can’t agree, why should they sup­port leg­is­la­tion to con­trol emis­sions? In this way, the cyn­i­cal, but ef­fec­tive, strat­egy runs its course, and the US sits on its hands while at­mo­spheric CO2 con­cen­tra­tions ap­proach dan­ger­ous lev­els.

If cli­mate sci­en­tists were in­deed work­ing to­gether to ma­nip­u­late data and cre­ate a fic­ti­tious sce­nario, that would re­quire a re­mark­able feat of co­or­di­na­tion and a sense of com­mon pur­pose. What could the mo­ti­va­tion of this co­hort be? The an­swer was given to me by Con­gress­man James Sensen­bren­ner (now vice-chair­man of the US House Com­mit­tee on Sci­ence, Space and Tech­nol­ogy). This high-rank­ing Repub­li­can ex­plained that the Ky­oto Pro­to­col was a con­spir­acy by de­vel­op­ing na­tions to crip­ple the US econ­omy. Since these de­vel­op­ing coun­tries could not com­pete on a level play­ing field with the US they had de­vised the Ky­oto Treaty to tilt things in their di­rec­tion, and cli­mate sci­en­tists were com­plicit in this strat­egy.

Which brings me back to Mitt Rom­ney. The Repub­li­can Party in the US is now in thrall to the ex­treme right wing, which is in turn fi­nanced and coached by those with the

“I be­lieve that cli­mate change is oc­cur­ring — the re­duc­tion in the size of global ice caps is hard to ig­nore. I also be­lieve that hu­man ac­tiv­ity is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor.”

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney

fi­nan­cial mus­cle to pro­mote their agen­das. To ob­tain the back­ing of these groups you have to toe the line and speak the words their dogma re­quires: global warm­ing is not hap­pen­ing, per­haps even a hoax; what­ever warm­ing has oc­curred is just a nat­u­ral os­cil­la­tion; even if hu­mans had some­thing to do with it, it’s not a big deal and we can adapt to it. And, be­sides, we can’t af­ford to con­trol green­house gases as such ac­tion will re­sult in mas­sive job losses. For a politi­cian seek­ing the party’s nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent, it is a dan­ger­ous strat­egy to cross the line on this topic.

To the ide­o­logues who have in­vested mil­lions to sup­port their po­lit­i­cal fac­to­tums in the US Congress, their money has been well spent, as leg­is­la­tion to con­trol green­house gases has vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared from the con­gres­sional agenda. But, not con­tent with that suc­cess, they have now drawn a line in the sand for those seek­ing of­fice; global warm­ing is off lim­its en­tirely.

Mean­while the rest of the world has recog­nised the re­al­ity of global warm­ing and ac­knowl­edged the dan­gers that it poses. Although tak­ing steps to ad­dress the mat­ter is dif­fi­cult, many coun­tries have em­braced the op­por­tu­nity to re­duce en­ergy con­sump­tion, im­ple­ment con­ser­va­tion strate­gies and pro­mote tech­nolo­gies that in­volve en­ergy pro­duc­tion from non car­bon-based fu­els. Politi­cians who em­brace these strate­gies rep­re­sent the fu­ture. Those who don’t will sim­ply be­come foot­notes in his­tory. Rom­ney made the right de­ci­sion – on this topic, at least.

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