The Cost of twenty years of Reagan and Bushes has been very high. In about 1991, I wrote an article for a monthly newspaper in which I summarized the available data for Global Warming, and was very easily able to conclude that it was a real phenomenon with consequences already felt in a number of areas, a reasonably well understood mechanism, and a tangible set of solutions to work on. In 1997, the Kyoto protocol was signed on to by a number of nations (the US not included because of congressional Republican opposition). This month, in Bali, a re-run of something like Kyoto happened, and finally, the US is also signed on with most of the rest of the world.
One of the phenomena we see today, increasingly, is the corporate tipping point on climate change. Corporations are now recognizing the inevitability of changes to address global warming, and are stuck in the usual quandary that failure to start adapting now will make it difficult to compete in the near future when they are forced to make substantive changes in how things are done. However, making those changes now has certain financial and business-related costs and risks. The best solution for corporations is to be regulated from above to a reasonable degree so that all of the corporations (energy producers, for example) are required to make similar changes, and thus, no one company is left at the forefront twisting in the wind. For this reason we are seeing the odd circumstance where business-friendly Republicans are runnig very much behind the pack, while corporations are asking for regulation.
Is there anything fundamentally different in the science between 1991, or the year Kyoto was negotiated, and now? No, not really. There is certainly a lot more detail in the science and there is considerably more understanding of technolotical solutions. But these two kinds of advances would probably have moved along even more quickly than they have had it not been for the ideologically powered stifling of research.
On top of this there is yet another cost of Reagan-Bush and more broadly Republican control. One way to weaken the voice of science regarding climate change is to weaken the voice of science in general. I believe that Republican anti-science policies have been bolstered by the pro-corporation anti-global warming philosophy, but implemented across the sciences. Evolutionary theory is fundemnetal to biology, but grant proposals to US government agencies could not include the word “evolution” in their text. This could be thought of as a simple anti-evolution attitude by appontees at the very top of various government agencies, but I think this is more broadly part of the pro-business anti-science approach that really came from, and was fueled by, global warming denializm.
One result of this has been significantly increased attention to the messages of science, how they are developed and how they are advanced. Just look at the repertoire of blogs on Scienceblogs.com, and the nature of discussion among these blogs. From denialism to discussions of framing, and everything in between, ultimately comes from the sad but very true fact that science is fighting an uphill battle to simply remain relevant. Think about that for a second: Science is, simply, the rational approach to understanding the natural world. This is an idea that has ancient roots, and that had largely taken over academic, corporate, and government philosophy beginning centuries ago, but that is now under attack and in constant need of strengthening and justification. For one reason. Republicans.
The question can be asked now, was Bali a success? I’m not sure. Stoat summarizes a lot of the thinking on this, and points you to other sources. Quark Soup is not impressed. DeSmogBlog.com has a post called “Europe Blinks; U.S., Canada Win Lame Bali Compromise” noting, “The only mention of near-term targets for emission reductions are buried in footnotes in the “Bali road map” – the metaphorical way forward in which we all get to drive our SUVs to hell on Earth.”
Bali may not be impressive, and I won’t argue that it was a shining success. But there is a way in which it was a success. The US did not sign on to Kyoto, but did sign on to Bali. This means that the US is in the game, even if by doing so the strength of the agreement is less than ideal.
Last night, my daugther asked said this to me: “There’s a kid in my class who is a global warming denier. We are planning to have a fight with words today” … (this is instead of a fight behind the school by the playground, I assume) … “I know what I’m going to tell him, but do you have any suggestions?”
I said to her, “The US signed on to Bali. Tell your friend not even the US government is on his side any more.” Is my comment ccurate? Is it sufficient? Well, maybe good enough for Middle School.
Hey, Americans, we’re in seventh grade. Things are improving.