Friday, February 22, 2013

How Did Climate Skeptics and U.S. Politics Block Action on Climate Change?

Naming the Problem - What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming(145 Page pdf, Theda Skocpol, Symposium on the Politics of America’s Fight Against Global Warming, Harvard University, Feb. 2013)

Also discussed here: Study: It's not Obama's Fault that Enviro Groups Botched the Climate Fight -A Harvard study blames the political blindness of environmental groups for failure to pass climate legislation.(Suzanne Goldenberg, Mother Jones, Jan. 15, 2013)

And here: Beyond baby steps: Analyzing the cap-and-trade flop(Bill McKibben, Grist, Jan. 14, 2013)

Today we review a paper prepared by a Harvard political scientist that analyses the trends of recent American politics which led to the successful blocking of policy and actions to mitigate climate change which had impacts far beyond North America in international conferences and protocols, despite the election of a President who ran on a platform (in 2008, not 2012) to address climate change. In looking at factors that contributed, she noted how the acid rain treaty and legislation in the late 80s (and the Montreal Ozone Protocol in 1987- the first time that an international treaty was achieved using scientific modelling) led environmental leaders to use these successes to emphasize narrow modeling and scientific solutions to address climate change.

Unfortunately as it turned out, they neglected or underestimated the need to counter the growing right wing opposition which relied almost exclusively on using the media to undermine the scientific bases and broaden its public appeal. She gives some hope for progressive climate legislation after 2016, provided broad public support is cultivated. As a side note, the same shift occurred to the north of the U.S. in Canada, hastened by the election of a government more influenced by the oil industry than its predecessor. climate skeptics  

Key Quotes:

 “By the 1990s, global warming was recognized among environmentalists as a threat to the environment very different from traditional kinds of air and water pollution. The EPA is not optimally organized to cope with such an overarching issue for the national economy, because its parts are focused on pollution in land, air, and rivers, lakes and oceans”

 “The environmental movement “actually tries to spend its money on developing solutions to climate change…. [T]hey spend hardly anything on political or cultural processes.” In contrast, the “climate change countermovement spends all of its money there.”

 "The stark truth is that severe weather events alone will not cause global warming to pop to the top of the national agenda…Fresh strategies will be needed, based on new understandings of political obstacles and opportunities."

“Skocpol attributes much of that shift to the well-funded effort by conservative think tanks to undermine climate science. The '90s and onwards saw a sharp increase in the publication of reports and books questioning climate change”

“it will be difficult for the world to move meaningfully against climate disruption if the United States does not. And it will be almost impossible for the U.S. to act if one party not only rejects the most common solution proposed for the problem (cap-and-trade) but repudiates even the idea that there is a problem to be solved.”

“Some years from now – mostly likely after 2016 – another, better-conceived legislative push for carbon capping might be able move forward, especially if it has carefully prepared, strong backing from a broad alliance constructed on the basis of a more realistic grasp of the underlying dynamics of U.S. politics.”
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