"Science isn't political."
I applauded inwardly when I heard Jane Lubchenco utter those words yesterday at a Salem City Club meeting.
She mostly talked about her experience as Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA). Lubchenco was appointed by President Obama in 2009 and served until 2013. Currently she is a Professor of Biology and Zoology at Oregon State University.
After the meeting I waited around for a chance to talk with Dr. Lubchenco. My question for her related to what I said recently in Time for public officials to "come out"...about climate change.
What is more important for life on Earth than having a planet that supports the sort of human living we've been accustomed to? And not just for we who are living today, but also our children, grandchildren, and generations to come.
So I'm planning to ask our local public officials, elected and appointed, whether they agree with the scientific consensus that (1) global warming is occurring, and (2) humans are mostly responsible for this. I might also ask those who answer "yes" if they think we need to do something about global warming/climate change.
Since Lubchenco mentioned climate change often in her City Club talk, I wanted to ask her if she could think of any reason why local public officials shouldn't be willing to say whether they agree with the scientific consensus about climate change/global warming.
"No," she told me. Which is the answer I expected, since she'd just said that science isn't political.
Science seeks to learn about the nature of shared reality, the world everyone inhabits -- conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, religious believers and non-believers, everybody.
Lubchenco's talk spurred me to compose a message I'll be sending to Salem-area public officials. And other local leaders: newspaper editors/publishers; Chamber of Commerce executives; corporate and non-profit organization leaders; people running for elected office.
Here's what I wrote.
Since you are a Salem-area leader, I'd like to know your answers to three simple questions about climate change.
Here's why: science isn't political.
People can (and do) disagree about all kinds of things. But science offers us a common ground where we can agree on basic facts about the world we share. With that foundation, debates about policy questions can be much more productive.
We can focus much more on "what should be" than "what is."
I'm deeply concerned about climate change/global warming. In my view, this is an issue that must be dealt with at all levels of society: national, state, county, local, organizational, individual. I'm focused on local.
If Salem-area leaders are in agreement about the problem, seemingly policies aimed at solutions will be easier to come by. This is why I'm conducting this survey: to learn how you and others view climate change.
I look forward to receiving your reply to this message. A simple "yes," "no," or "not sure" to each question is welcomed. Any other thoughts you would like to add would be extra-welcomed.
Responses will be made public. Including my own. I'm a "yes," "yes," "yes." However, even though I'm hopeful this will be everybody's response, I realize it likely won't be. Which is fine. Coming to agreement on scientific facts isn't possible unless we know where (and why) we disagree.
Here are the three questions for you:
(1) Do you believe that global warming is occurring, and is causing the Earth's climate to change in various ways?
(2) Do you believe that humans are mostly responsible for the global warming/climate change that is occurring?
(3) Do you believe that humans need to engage in actions to deal with both the causes of global warming and its detrimental effects on humanity?
Please don't be overly concerned about the precise wording of these questions. There are many ways they could have been phrased.
I just tried to get their meaning roughly right: (1) Is global warming happening? (2) Are humans mostly responsible for it? (3) Should we do something about global warming?
For an interesting thought experiment, go to Wikipedia and look up the entry for "climate change opinion by country".
Therein, in a tabulated format, are percentages of the populations of each country that a) are aware of climate change (and it's alleged implications), b) attribution of the primary cause of climate change to human activities, and c) opinion as to whether climate change is a personal threat.
Then, Google up the stances of China, India, and Brazil with respect to climate change and detect the finger-pointing that is extant.
China agrees with the Kyoto Protocols with respect to greenhouse gas emissions but is technically exempt from responsibility. Even so, it vows to be a front-runner in a reduced-carbon emitting economy and is the world leader in alternative-energy applications such as wind and solar energy. Despite efforts, China emits more greenhouse gas per capita than an other country. 5th-grade math will give you a clue as to exactly why. Duh.
India emits a relatively low percentage of greenhouse gas per capita - almost ten times less than the USA or China. It seems logical (to me, anyway) that requiring India to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is tantamount to asking them to be a scapegoat.
Brazil is a bit paranoid, and (rightfully) is pointing the finger at the developed Northern Hemisphere countries for decimating it's environment, if human-caused climate change is true. Brazil claims that pervasive poverty among it's population is already burden enough without having to implement greenhouse gas restrictions. The rest of the world should get it's act together before asking Brazilians to sacrifice trivial conveniences such as electricity, cars, and refrigeration.
Asking Americans to voluntarily sacrifice the comfort and convenience afforded by greenhouse gas emissions will get politicians laughed out of office, given the official stance of the major governments of the world.
Posted by: Willie R | February 23, 2014 at 08:42 AM
Willie, China is #1 in total greenhouse gas emissions, but #72 per capita in 2005 according to this:
The highest emissions per capita in major countries are in Australia (#5) the US (#7) and Canada (#8). The US is #2 in total emissions. Shame on us.
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | February 23, 2014 at 01:44 PM
Big oops! on my China greenhouse gas emissions per capita quotation, but they still emit the most CO2. You cannot keep that many people alive without burning fossil fuels, no matter how well-intentioned a government may be.
Actually, the per capita greenhouse gas measurement is only relevant inasmuch as it illustrates the relative prosperity of a country. I am not that smart, but developing strategies to curb greenhouse gas emissions around this particular statistic will definitely prove to be problematic for some obvious reasons.
But getting back to the gist of Blogger Brian's posting - I think it is OK for politicians to admit that they must capitulate to scientific fact,as long as they admit that they are clueless when it comes to feasible solutions to climate change.
Posted by: Willie R | February 23, 2014 at 04:27 PM
Climate is changing, but what is to be done about it?.. A worldwide ban on burning fossil fuels? Does anyone believe that will happen? What if it turns out the cause was not greenhouse gases, despite scientific consensus, but something else? How do you get 7 billion people to take austerity measures? I think nature itself will impose a new paradigm, with or without us.
Posted by: tucson | February 24, 2014 at 11:20 PM