Bali: Are we there yet?

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Gerard Harbison
    December 17, 2007

    In 1997, the Kyoto protocol was signed on to by a number of nations (the US not included because of congressional Republican opposition).

    The Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto in 1997. The resolution was co-sponsored by Robert Byrd (D, WV). There were 55 Republicans and 40 Democrats for the measure; 4 Democrats and one Republican abstained.

    Petty partisanship is an instant way to lose credibility.

  2. #2 Ambitwistor
    December 17, 2007

    “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.”

    But the US didn’t actually agree to do anything about the climate. “Signing on to Bali” just means they agreed to continue talking about it. Talk is cheap.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    December 17, 2007

    Gerrard: As is so typical with an action in the Senate, the votes tell very little about what actually happened. Credibility comes from addressing realities, not making stuff up.

    Ambitwistor: Indeed!

  4. #4 ering
    December 17, 2007

    “In 1997, the Kyoto protocol was signed on to by a number of nations (the US not included because of congressional Republican opposition).”

    This is patently untrue. There was unanimous bipartisan opposition. 5 minutes of research cold have saved you a lot of embarrassment, but as a scientist, you knew that already, no?

  5. #5 Trinifar
    December 18, 2007

    Greg, this is a great post. I really enjoy your essays. Is there a way to flag them, perhaps in the post title, so they can be distinguished from your short posts? The short ones are fine, but these longer ones can get lost in the noise. Kinda like trying to drink from a firehose.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    December 18, 2007

    Trin: suggestions are always welcome. This blog is always in flux, at least in my mind. I’m thinking of something in the side bar.

  7. #7 Daniel C. Smith
    December 18, 2007

    You write:
    Evolutionary theory is fundemnetal to biology, but grant proposals to US government agencies could not include the word “evolution” in their text.

    Where did you get the idea that we can’t use the word evolution when applying for grants from government agencies? I just did a search on the NSF website to look for grants that were awarded that have the word evolution in their title. There are lots and lots of active grants with evolution in the title and text. Most of them awarded while the repubs controlled congress. What gives?

    There is plenty of evidence for the republican war on science without having to make stuff up. Perhaps you are referring to some short-lived policy under Regan or Bush senior, but I have never heard of it. If so, please point me to a reference.

    Although, I would expect that kind of craziness from the current administration, in this case, it just ain’t so.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    December 18, 2007

    Daniel, I am not making stuff up, don’t be an ass.

    It depends on the agency, and once this became more generally known that this was happening, it also became less “true.”

    Advice has not infrequently been given to not use evolution in the title or abstract of NIH grands and in certain areas of NSF.

    It has been true since the days of Proxmire that grant names and abstracts have been scrutinized by grant officers to avoid , in those days, nomination for the golden fleece award, and more recently (these days) to avoid being dragged (the grant, not the scientist) onto the floors of congress for ridicule. Avoidance of the word evolution has been a major issue in this area.

    Make stuff up indeed! I will always tell you when I’m making stuff up.

  9. #9 Daniel C. Smith
    December 18, 2007

    Greg, I don’t doubt that instances of Bush appointees trying to piss on grant proposals with the word evolution in them did and do occur. I’m sure some proposers have been given the advice not to use the word in proposals for some program or another. But your statement makes it sound like you just plain couldn’t use the word evolution in grant proposals to government agencies. As a generalization (and it sure sounds like a generalization the way it is written), this is demonstrably false. People can and do use the word in grant proposals and plenty of those proposals have been selected in more than one program from more than one agency.

    I agree with the main points of your post. I’m not trying to be an ass (my wife says I don’t have to try), I just get bothered by generalizations like that. You didn’t mean that grant proposals in general to government agencies in general couldn’t use the word evolution. I get that. But it sure sounds that way, the way you wrote it.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    December 18, 2007

    No, it is not a general phenomenon, but in at least one granting agency (a very large one) it was and still may be the strong recommendation for all proposals.

    There was an interesting informal study a few months back about the use of the word “evolution” in publications in, I believe, the medical science industry that showed a similar trend.

  11. #11 Ram K
    December 18, 2007

    All this is important only if we can do something tangible without affecting our current prosperity and that of the developing world. I and others are yet to be convinced that -

    1) we can actually mandate Global policy change in energy consumption patterns.
    2) such changes will have any affect on global warming.
    3) the warming will continue forever and result in catastrophe.

    The only thing I can see happening is people regionally making changes to improve pollution and toxic waste issues. That much is enough for me.

  12. #12 Engineer
    December 19, 2007

    Well, the U.S. government may be on your side, most likely licking their chops at the thought of new “carbon taxes” and increased fuel taxes, but the science is not:

    (Dr. Carter video) http://www.aefweb.info/

  13. #13 Ram K.
    December 19, 2007

    The conversation with your daughter is very chilling; it smacks more of religion rather than inculcating scientific curiosity.