June 5, 2013
Global Warming: Public Opinion and Policy
Posted by Sam
As a research scientist in Carnegie Mellon University’s interdisciplinary department of Engineering and Public Policy, I field a lot of questions. Perhaps the toughest of those is “How can you sleep at night, when you know your research is influencing policy? We’re scientists, not advocates!” Well, shall we pause a moment to consider how our reluctance to talk about policy implications has affected the global warming debate?
The scientific consensus is that climate change is occurring and is anthropogenically caused. Since 2007, no scientific body of national, or international, standing rejects the findings of human-induced climate change. Yet, in the United States, public opinion and public policy are not quite there, yet. The figure below shows America’s response to Gallup, the Pew Research Center, Stanford University, the University of Michigan (cited by Brookings), and Yale University/ George Mason polls asking “Is global warming happening?” While the differences between polls likely occur due to question wording, one stark realization stands out: since 2006, only 50-85% of Americans have agreed that global warming is happening. Shouldn’t this be closer to 99%?
As climate change impacts loom and related extreme weather begins to increase, scientists reluctant to speak have one silver lining – that despite an indecisive America, politicians are beginning to acknowledge the science and call for change. Recent notable events include:
- After Superstorm Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated, “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be – given this week’s devastation – should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
- In January 2013 in his Inauguration Address, President Barack Obama announced, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
- In his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama declared, “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions to take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.
- On February 14, 2013, the U.S. Government Accountability Office added climate change to list of highest risks facing the U.S. with the statement “Climate change poses risks to many environmental and economic systems – including agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems, and human health – and presents a significant financial risk to the federal government.”
As scientists, it’s not very easy to take a step outside of our normal comfort zone and explore the policy implications of our work. Yet to truly prepare for our future, we will need to understand not only the science, but also the policy implications for the challenges of our time. Please join us at the American Geophysical Union 2013 Science Policy Conference. Together, we can ensure our science is heard.
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-Dr. Kelly Klima, Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
The views of this article do not reflect those of the AGU as an organization
If the proven reserves of coal and oil remaining in the ground are four times the quantity needed to push global temperatures beyond 2 degrees C. And this in not counting Tar Sands or shale gas, it seems the potential for out-of-control warming is large. Is science in a street-fight with the fossil-fuel industry. Does the fossil fuel industry control government policy? How will science get heard? The policy implications are incendiary. A carbon tax is needed. Global reductions in carbon emissions are needed on a time frame that appears painful. Everyone is looking to the USA for leadership. When will rational long-term thought become more of an influence to policy?
Thank you for this outlet.
I won’t be able to make the meeting, but a couple of comments of, I hope, relevance.
One is, since I do study some parts of the climate system, I’ve been aware that there are policy implications for many years. What is not foregone, I feel, is what the best policy response is. One of my areas is sea ice, which, in the Arctic is declining, and particularly rapidly in the Summer-Fall. A potential policy response is to move infrastructure inland (to be less susceptible to the stronger waves which can occur with greater open water fetches). another is to evacuate elsewhere entirely (as is being done, probably, by a village), another is to build a stronger infrastructure in place (say ports and depots for the opening Northwest Passage), and many other variants already being discussed.
The only unambiguous policy that comes from the science, as far as I see it, is that it is necessary to reconsider our prior policies which were based on prior climates, and update them for present realities.
One contribution I try to make is blogging about science, which raises a different issue. Dan Kahan, http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2013/5/17/annual-new-study-finds-97-of-climate-scientists-believe-in-m.html and Keith Kloor http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2013/05/16/a-new-climate-survey-tells-us-what both leapt with hostility on Cook et al. 2013 reporting results that an extensive survey of the scientific literature showed very strong consensus that climate was changing and humans have something to do with it.
The hostility’s basis was the puzzling part. It wasn’t the political reflex against bearers of bad news. It was that Cook et al. were addressing ‘knowledge deficit’ — and that this is wrong, wrong, wrong. As far as I can see, the main thing which scientists uniquely bring to a public discussion is their extensive knowledge about their area. If knowledge deficit is _not_ the problem (as Kahan repeated many times in following days) then it’s some group of non-scientists who are the ones to address it, as some other trait is needed. Though perhaps they (and others) have some highly specialized definition of ‘knowledge deficit’ they’re assuming the rest of us know. Any ideas?
Back to the other blog-related point. As I said, I blog about my science. Also others things, which may mean that my blog wouldn’t qualify. I’ve been meaning to suggest to AGU and AMS (I’m a member of both) that we implement for blogs something like the AMS seal for weather forecasters. Not that everything on the blog is perfect, any more than every forecast by every seal-holder is perfect. But that AGU/AMS/… examine the blog and blogger’s credentials + knowledge and give a seal to those who are describing the science pretty well, blogging largely about the science, and there’s some reason to believe they’ll continue doing so (as the AMS seals are time-limited and require recertification).
Science, innovation and policy are part of a process of change. Some changes are hard to face such as climate change, where its recognition makes us responsible for promoting and implementing solutions that we may get the chance to see the results still in our life time and definitely impacts the living condition of the next and other more future generations.
We need to identify people with great creativity and a spirit of a champion to help push and take calculated risks on the implementation of the new solutions.
We need to find the way to diminish the gap between research findings and practical world. These should not be seen as “different budgets” because they are just assignments of money that is collected either through taxes or profit sources. Why not open a wider door to look and try to implement those ideas?
We are in a transition phase where a space for intellectual, technical and other types of trade-offs could happen even without the presence of dollars, or minimum cash circulation in specimen. See Wikipedia and all the engine searches. See all the Linux platforms.
A little more liberal action does reflect on a recreation of new business and economic organizations and interactions. Yet it takes some “let go” and courage to step into the unknown. Nevertheless science does that very well.
For some time now I’ve been thinking and moving towards the facilitation of the incorporation of science and research into the “practical world”.
This type of approach to have a bigger multiplier group of climate change solutions adaptation requires these type special champions to be a bigger wave towards shaking and changing policies.
Congratulations on this event!
I agree, even if only to a certain degree, that a continued trend in the excessive emissions of greenhouse-effect gases, vapours and particles (GHE-GVP) might drive to a potential destructive scenario, resulting from anthropogenic climate change and global warming (ACC-GW), and to a general deterioration and complication of the living conditions in our planet. This is what in general has been stressed by IPCC-4 (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_sp.pdf; http://www.ipcc.ch/; http://unfccc.int/portal_espanol/items/3093.php), and from what I see this position continues, for the most part, to be justified and adopted by WGII AR5. However, I believe that there are other variables that are granted only marginal attention, or that have been placed aside or even forgotten, perhaps at purpose, but requiring increased attention and priority. I will underline them as my contribution to this reviewing process.
Is ACC-GW already forcing an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme hydrometeorological hazards?
Assumptions and preliminary calculations appearing at WGII AR5 seem to “reconfirm” and indicate that an increase in the emission of GHE-GVP will induce an inevitable and irreversible trend in the frequency, intensity and incidence of hydrometeorological hazards. Other opinions differ from this position, while indicating that this is not so evident, or not so true and not so easy to verify (Wilby et al. 2010). Gray (2011) and Klotzbach and Gray (2012) categorically and even emphatically conclude that it is not possible, under the present circumstances, to accurately assess this influence, since precise climatic forecasts cannot be made beyond the short term (1 to 10 days maximum), and otherwise considering the mechanics and thermodynamic balances of the atmosphere, particularly on its infrared radiation capture and release processes. Also, they explain, with their own data and arguments, that no significant change in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones is to be foreseen, even along with the expected increase of CO2 emissions. They recommend caution when using speculations to orient public policy and choose national priorities.
Increasing risk, does it derive from increasing climate-related hazards or from increasing vulnerability?
Up to date and according to the most reliable sources, the real impact of ACC-GW over the extent, intensity and frequency, if any, of climate-related disasters has been no more than marginal, compared to the respective effects of natural climate variability and to the constant increase in societal vulnerability -exposure, fragility, socioeconomic values at stake, deterioration of the environment and quality of life, poverty, etc.- (Mora 2006; Mora 2009; Mora 2010a, Mora et al 2010b, and 2010c; Mora et al. 2012a, and 2012b).
A matter of proportions and relativity: ACC-GW vs. other hazards
According to the World Health Organization (WHO; Table 1), the average yearly death toll derived from ACC-GW, combining all its variables, reaches up to 150,000 people. This figure is more than worrisome but it must be validated, particularly when compared to the 750,000 fatalities, 152 million people affected, and the countless economic losses occurring every year and caused by other natural hazards, not related to ACC-GW (e.g. earthquakes, volcanoes, climate variability, torrential debris flows, El Niño-La Niña-ENSO, land degradation, etc.) and by public health hazards (Table 1). Therefore, it seems adequate and wise to rethink and redefine focuses and priorities.
Table 1. Estimated number of fatalities caused by several types of hazards, after the World Health Organization (WHO) et al.
Hazard Estimated fatalities/year Source
Climate change 150,000 WHO, WMO, UNEP; 2003. Climate change and human Health: Risk and responses, Summary. Geneva: World Health Organization; http://apps.who.int/bookorders/anglais/detart1.jsp?sesslan=1&codlan=1&codcol=15&codcch=551
Malnutrition 4 million; affects ½ of the world population World Health Organization; 2002. The World health report. Reduc-ing risk, promoting healthy life; http://www.who.int/whr/2002/en/index.html
Insufficiency of micronutrients (Zn, Fe, Vit. A) 2 million
Lack of good quality potable water 2 million
Malaria 1.1 million World Health Organization & UNICEF; 2005. World malaria re-port; http://www.rollbackmalaria.org/wmr2005/html/toc.htm
AIDS 3 million World Health Organization; 2008. Report on the AIDS epidemics: http://apps.who.int/bookorders/anglais/detart1.jsp?sesslan=1&codlan=1&codcol=88&codcch=54#
Air pollution (indoors and out-doors) 2.5 million World Health Organization; 2004. The World health report. Chang-ing history; http://www.who.int/whr/2004/en/
Policy, agenda setting and priorities
Country policy and preventive processes shall be defined according to local conditions and specificities, taking into account how each society faces extremes and if at the end, it seems socioeconomically and environmentally feasible, sound, and admissible for developing countries to reduce development expectations to adapt to conditions imposed by already richer, emerging and industrialized countries, with no clear intention of limiting their economic stability, particularly during these times of economic crisis, and therefore with agendas and priorities of their own.
Each country must have the opportunity to choose its own priorities, according to the realities faced. But even if the initiatives proposed by the Hyogo Frame of Action (http://www.unisdr.org/eng/hfa/docs/HFA-brochure-Spanish.pdf) and the United Nations Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation (http://www.eird.org/publicaciones/Climate-Change-DRR.pdf) make sense and are reasonable, the excessive attention given to ACC-GW has created an unfortunate perverse effect of diverting focus and resources from other equally or sometimes even more pressing and complex issues.
There is no doubt that ACC-GW threatens human well-being at the medium to long terms and it must therefore be dealt with as it is deemed required, but integral risk management (IRM, also and unfortunately known as “disaster” risk management; Mora 2010a) on pressing priorities, particularly on the short and mid terms, must not be despised and eclipsed by Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), seen nowadays as a panacea and as a separate and predominant mitigation tool (http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR31/46.pdf; http://climatechange.worldbank.org/climatechange/content/adaptation-guidance-notes-key-words-and-definitions; http://www.hls-esc.org/1st_HLS_ESC/presentations/BP5.pdf). CCA must instead be considered as a supplement to IRM to face anthropogenic drivers (not only the consequences) of ACC-GW, taking the opportunity granted by its unprecedented political support and capacities to attract financial resources, to highlight scientific and technological knowledge and to lever preventive actions to reduce and/or transfer risk. Since the reduction of vulnerability must be seen as the main priority, its intelligent implementation through structural and non-structural mitigation measures is, under any circumstance, the best “adaptation” instrument to face any kind of hazard anyway.
On the other hand, climate change doesn’t necessarily bring only negative impacts and effects. Since positive ones are seldom discussed at IPCC and at the WGII AR5 document, I recommend balancing positions by considering opinions and options, such as those formulated at:
• http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/effects/agriculture.html; http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/10/071017-greenland-warming.html
In any case, there is evidently no panacea and no single solution at reach, particularly after the very disappointing outcomes of the meetings in Copenhagen-2009 (http://unfccc.int/meetings/copenhagen_dec_2009/meeting/6295.php), Cancún-2010 (http://unfccc.int/meetings/cancun_nov_2010/items/6005.php), and Durban-2011 (http://unfccc.int/meetings/durban_nov_2011/meeting/6245.php). There remain many inconclusive issues and outcomes from these reunions, with a bitter and somber panorama depicting an impasse, with plenty of placebos, and partial and politically correct answers, but mostly leading to nowhere.
References cited (pdf versions are available upon request)
Gray, W. 2010. Gross errors in the IPCC-AR4 report regarding past and future changes in global tropical cyclone activity (a Noble Disgrace). Science and Public Policy Institute. 122pp; http://hurricane.atmos.colostate.edu/Includes/Documents/Publications/gray2011.pdf ; http://hurricane.atmos.colostate.edu/
Klotzbach, P; Gray, W; 2012. Extended range forecast of Atlantic seasonal hurricane activity and landfall strike probability for 2012. Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University; Fort Collins, CO 80523. 43pp; http://hurricane.atmos.colostate.edu/Forecasts/2012/june2012/jun2012.pdf
Mora, S; Keipi, K; 2006. Disaster Risk Management in development projects: models and checklists. Bull. Engineering Geology and the Environment (2006) 65:155-165. DOI 10-1007/s10064-005-0022-1; http://www.springerlink.com/content/y56j7l5m73603441/
Mora, S. 2009. Disasters are not natural: Risk management, a tool for development. Geological Society, London, Engineering Geology Special Publications 2009; v.22; p.101-112; doi10.1144/EGSP22.7; http://egsp.lyellcollection.org/cgi/reprint/22/1/101.pdf?ijkey=t0zzngz8DHPBz9N&keytype=finite
Mora, S. 2010a. Disasters should not be the protagonists of Risk Management. Keynote speech at the 11th International Con-gress, International Association of Engineering Geologist and the Environment. Auckland, New Zealand. 2010. 18pp; http://www.scribd.com/doc/40784124/Manejo-del-riesgo-Sergio-Mora-geologo
Mora S, et al. 2010b. Multiple hazards assessment in Haiti. Government of Haiti, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, United Nations system.65 pp. http://gfdrr.org/docs/Haiti_Multi-Hazard_RiskAssessment_Report_EN.pdf; http://community.understandrisk.org/group/haitijanuary12thandbeyond/forum/topics/multihazards-assessments; http://www.iris.edu/hq/haiti_workshop/docs/Report-MULTIHAZARDS-HA-English-SergioMora-Final-Red.pdf
Wilby, R; Mora, S; Abdallah, A; Ortiz, A. 2010c. Confronting climate variability and change in Djibouti through risk manage-ment. Geologically Active – Williams et al. (eds). © 2010 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-0-415-60034-7. 11th International Congress, International Association of Engineering Geology and the Environment; Auckland, New Zealand. pp. 511-522.
Mora, S. et al. 2012a. Multi-natural hazards assessment in Haiti. 2012. Phase 2: NATHAT 2. GoHA, the World Bank, GFDRR. Three volumes (i. Regional analysis, ii. Natural hazards at the metropolitan area and selected neighborhoods, Port-au-Prince, iii. Methodological guide for multi-hazards assessments) (in final preparation; pdf draft version available upon request, for restricted use)
Mora et al. 2012b. Slope instability hazard in Haiti: Emergency assessment for a safe reconstruction. Banf, Alberta, Canada. Keynote speach. Landslides and Engineered Slopes: Protecting Society through Improved Understanding – Eberhardt et al. (eds) © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-0-415-62123-6.
Munich Re. 2012. Natural catastrophes 2011. Analyses, assessments, positions. Earthquake, flood, nuclear accident. http://www.munichre.com/publications/302-07225_en.pdf
I would like to add a comment to this statement: “…After Superstorm Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated, “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be – given this week’s devastation – should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action….”
To me, this is pure sensationalism coming from an ignorant in hard science. Sandy was a Hurricane category 1 (Saffir-Simpson scale) thar moved from the Caribbean Ocean as a typical cyclone, and nobody even had any particular comment about it, even if damage occurred in Cubam Haiti, Jamaica and Dominican Republic… Why was then labeled as a “superstorm” only because it landed in New York?
It has been clarified already that it did have nothing to do with anthropogenic global warming, which is pernicoiusly confused with climate variability. I recommend to read: http://tropical.atmos.colostate.edu/Includes/Documents/Publications/grayklotzbach2012.pdf
Read ‘The Manic Sun,Weather Theories confounded’ by Nigal Calder
One of the problems is that so many groups with widely different agendas regularily hijack those scientific studies that support their objectives while ignoring those that go the other way. This is the material the public is most exposed to and it leaves them with the feeling that, “science does not know what it is talking about.” It is no wonder that they tend to rely upon superstition and local observations to make up their minds. Unfortunately it is with those same minds that they cast their ballots. The challenge for science in this debate is to produce a clear and widely accepted view of what is happening, why it is happening and what really can be done about it.
See Cook et al. 2013 reposted at skepticalscience.com and the Guardian for a scientific analysis of this topic.
First, in the figure Dr Klima presents, a straight-line eye-fit to the polling data suggests that there’s been a secular decreaee in the numbers of citizens affirming that global warming is happening. What would be the response if the question were, “Is climate change happening”?
I think the negative responses to the original question meant, “I’ve heard about it but it’s not happening to me.” In the absence of an a fundamental understanding of basic physics, chemistry and meteorology it’s extremely diificult to draw one’s own conclusions. And that’s assuming one doesn’t already subscribe to a particular ideology. Thus people need direct experience that’s beyond the norm to detect a trend over time
The next step would be to ascribe trends to something other than divine providence, personal failures, witchcraft, luck, or highly probable untestable theories. Instead, we’re seeing opinions based on ignorance, the “boy who cried wolf!” syndrome, and a belief in magic.
“The arrogant do not long endure:
They are a dream like one night in spring.
The bold and brave perish in the end:
They are as dust before the wind.”
—–The Tales of the Heike
“Increasing intelligence may be a lethal gene.”
——Ernst Mayr – geneticist
Thanks everyone for commenting! This is a really great discussion, and I look forward to hearing more… both here and during the conference.
If the American public were asked “Is climate change happening?” rather than “Is global warming happening?” I suspect that more would answer yes.
Global warming implies (incorrectly) that there in a monotonic increase in temperature, which is obviously not happening anywhere. Climate change is evidenced by intenser hurricanes and tornadoes, more wildfires and droughts, etc.
Here in the UK, as in other parts of the world e.g. Melbourne, Aus., we are experiencing unseasonal cool temperatures. One is tempted to ask: Where is global warming when you need it? The sooner the term “global warming” is consigned to the dust heap, the sooner we will make progress in warning the public about the dangers of climate change!
Will it be possible to get transcripts of these lectures.
Slides from the talks will be posted by presenters that choose to have us upload them. They will be posted on the speaker bio pages.
Please find my updated blog, “How Much Public Support is Needed for Policymaker Action on Climate Change?” at: http://cmu-energy.blogspot.com/2014/06/how-much-public-support-is-needed-for.html
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