Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Blinded Science

One of the most egregious flip-flops by the current President Bush relates to his 2000 campaign promise to curb CO2 emissions from power plants. Despite using the environmentally friendly issue to reinforce his image as a "compassionate conservative," Bush quickly reversed course upon entering office. The move was so abrupt and so complete a renunciation of the former position, that it alienated members of his own Party, even his own cabinet - specifically then EPA Director Christine Todd Whitman who was left out of the loop, touting the CO2 standards in public appearances just days before the announcement. The embarrassment from that episode contributed to the tensions that eventually led Whitman to resign her post in 2003.

Moderate Republicans Jim Jeffords (Sen-VT) and Sherwood Boehlert (Rep-NY) were also caught off guard by the decision as they were poised to introduce the legislation that would have implemented the Bush campaign promise. That reversal, as well as other trends in the GOP leadership, led Jeffords to quit the Republican Party altogether, forging ahead as an Independent.

This move by Bush marked the first salvo in a war against the science of global warming, and the public's perception of that science. The stakes in this battle are high, and the outcome of the debate will determine policy in the present and for years to come. President Bush, well aware of this, knew that acknowledging the realities of global warming would compromise many of his other initiatives. Take this quote from
Frank Luntz (via Legal Fiction):

Most scientists believe that [global] warming is caused largely by manmade pollutants that require strict regulation. Mr. Luntz [a Republican strategist] seems to acknowledge as much when he says that "the scientific debate is closing against us." His advice, however, is to emphasize that the evidence is not complete.

"Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled," he writes, "their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue."
As an aside, that is the same Frank Luntz who is a pollster for MSNBC's (hosting a show on the same network), though you wouldn't know about his partisan ties because he is never made to disclose them on the air. At the very least, his ties to the Republican Party should create at least a seed of doubt about his infamous focus groups and poll results.

But I digress. Luntz was arguing that in order to avoid public opinion lining up behind policies, legislation and treaties to combat global warming, Republicans must continue to muddy the waters of the science which describes the phenomenon.

An editorial appearing in the Wall Street Journal shortly after Luntz's statements seemed to take the cue:

There is a better way [than passing a law that restricts business], which is to keep fighting on the merits. There is no scientific consensus that greenhouse gases cause the world's modest global warming trend, much less whether that warming will do more harm than good, or whether we can even do anything about it.

Once Republicans concede that greenhouse gases must be controlled, it will only be a matter of time before they end up endorsing more economically damaging regulation. They could always stand on principle and attempt to educate the public instead.
So the Bush administration toed the line, claiming that more studies were needed and that there was no compelling evidence to suggest global warming was either real, or in the alternative, a man made phenomenon.

Others in the Republican Party went even farther.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) "called global warming a hoax perpetrated by environmentalists on the American public. [emphasis added]" What interest environmentalists would have in pulling off such a hoax, Inhofe did not explain.

The relentless manipulation of science by the Bush team led to the
exasperated response of a group of scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, who signed a petition condemning the White House for deliberately and systematically distorting scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry, to name but a few areas.

As the evidence from impartial scientists continues to form an avalanche of persuasion, even the Bush administration is buckling a little under the weight. In an historic break from prior stances and declarations, the Bush administration finally acknowledged the reality that global warming is occurring and the role that man made emissions play in contributing to the process. The problem is, no one seems to have
told the president.
On environmental issues, Mr. Bush appeared unfamiliar with an administration report delivered to Congress [in late August] that indicated that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases were the only likely explanation for global warming over the last three decades. Previously, Mr. Bush and other officials had emphasized uncertainties in understanding the causes and consequences of global warming.

The new report was signed by Mr. Bush's secretaries of energy and commerce and his science adviser. Asked why the administration had changed its position on what causes global warming, Mr. Bush replied, "Ah, we did? I don't think so." [emphasis added]
Although no legislative or administrative action followed these statements, it is actually a bit alarming that the Bush administration would even admit to the existence of global warming after so long a stonewall. The reasons for the admission might provide even more cause for concern. The Independent published these findings on the matter:
Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have jumped abruptly, raising fears that global warming may be accelerating out of control.

Measurements by US government scientists show that concentrations of the gas, the main cause of the climate exchange, rose by a record amount over the past 12 months. It is the third successive year in which they have increased sharply, marking an unprecedented triennial surge.

Scientists are at a loss to explain why the rapid rise has taken place, but fear that it could show the first signs that global warming is feeding on itself, with rising temperatures causing increases in carbon dioxide, which then go on to drive the thermometer even higher. That would be a deeply alarming development, suggesting that this self-reinforcing heating could spiral upwards beyond the reach of any attempts to combat it. [emphasis added]
The work of ecologist John Harte might provide some clue as to how and why the cycle of global warming is self reinforcing. Harte has been studying the actual effects of a warming planet for nearly 30 years in Colorado. By simulating a warmer world over a contained area, Harte is "looking into the future" and he is concerned about what he sees. He explains, "We often hear criticism of global warming science from non-scientists who like to point out that there's uncertainty in the climate models, and that maybe the effect won't be as bad as we project. But what this scientific experiment is showing us is that if anything, our current climate models are underestimating the magnitude of future warming." [emphasis added]

The thrust of the science describes a two fold impact: First, as the Earth's surface is heated, the carbon in the soil is also heated up and released from solid form, contributing to the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere which further increases the heat. Second, as the Earth's temperature increase, certain plant life is destroyed and the flora that replaces it is less able to convert CO2 into oxygen, so there is a diminished capacity to eliminate the already increased levels of CO2.

This phenomenon has been observed in Harte's experiments, and in real world studies of oceanic algae and Arctic flora. Add to that the current rates of deforestation, and the reality is that we are severely crippling the ecosystem's ability to eliminate CO2 at a time when we are producing ever more of the gas, and when the effects of the emissions themselves is further augmenting the problem.

The threat of global warming is real. That those who warn of the impending calamity are labeled alarmists and scaremongerers is the result of a deliberate campaign by interested parties to marginalize the science and quell the dissent. Predictably, our inaction is making the problem worse, and we may be nearing a tipping point after which remedial measures will be too little too late. This issue alone should provide all the rationale necessary to vote for regime change in November. The time to act was yesterday, and as calmly as possible I say that we are running out of time.

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