Overview of Climate Change in the United States

opinion Essay
4960 words
4960 words

Overview of Climate Change in the United States Outline 1. Overview 2. Uncertainty 3. The Structure of Government 4. Economic Impacts 5. The United States' Inward Focus 6. The Media 7. Partisan Politics 8. Conclusion Overview Climate change is on the international policy agenda primarily because of warnings from scientists. Their forecasts of a potentially dangerous increase in the average global temperature, fortuitously assisted by unusual weather events, have prompted governments to enter into perhaps the most complicated and most significant set of negotiations ever attempted. Key questions - the rapidity of global climate change, its effects on the natural systems on which humans depend, and the options available to lessen or adapt to such change - have energized the scientific and related communities in analyses that are deeply dependent on scientific evidence and research. At both the national and international levels, the policy debate over climate change is unfolding rapidly. But it is also becoming increasingly mired in controversy, and nowhere more so than in the United States. This raises a crucial question: Why is it that this country - the undisputed leader of the world in science and technology - is finding it so difficult to agree on policies to address an ecological threat that, if it materializes, could have catastrophic consequences for itself and the rest of the world? The perhaps surprising answer is that in the U.S. policy process, climate change is not now a scientific issue. Although much of the controversy appears to revolve around scientific principles, political and economic forces actually dominate. In a sense, this is not surprising: in dealing with possible climate change, policymakers, stakeholders, and the public have to confront competing economic interests, significant political change, and such difficult issues as intergenerational equity, international competition, national sovereignty, and the role (and competence) of international institutions. What are the primary factors that determine policy outcomes on this complex subject? Detailing them vividly demonstrates how scientific knowledge interacts with the formulation of policy on a significant issue in the United States. Of the many factors that can affect the role scientific evidence plays in questions of public policy, most important in the case ... ... middle of paper ... ...climate change. It will greatly ease the political difficulties of taking action if there are policy options that will reduce the costs both generally and to the major stakeholders. The menu for the scientific and technological communities is large, even if at present political factors dominate the issue. Eventually, however, the work of these communities will provide the necessary underpinnings for policy decisions. But it is important not to assume that current research and analysis will automatically determine policy. They will enrich the debate, to be sure, but that debate will hinge on a different calculus for some time to come. Disillusionment with this situation is not useful; realistic assessment of the role of knowledge is. Sources 1. L. D. D. Harvey, E. J. Bush, "Joint Implementation: An Effective Strategy for Combating Global Warming?," Environment, October 1997. 2. J. Lanchbery, "Expectations for the Climate Talks in Buenos Aires," Environment, October 1998. 3. E. B. Skolnikoff, Same Science, Differing Policies: The Saga of Global Climate Change, Cambridge, Mass., 1997 4. W. Kempton, "How the Public Views Climate Change," Environment, November 1997.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that climate change is on the international policy agenda primarily because of scientists' warnings of a potentially dangerous increase in the average global temperature, fortuitously assisted by unusual weather events.
  • Explains that the debate over climate change is unfolding rapidly, but it is also becoming increasingly mired in controversy, and nowhere more so than in the united states.
  • Analyzes how scientific knowledge interacts with the formulation of policy on a significant issue in the united states.
  • Opines that the uncertainty of scientific evidence, the structure of government, debatable economic assessments, international framework, media, and partisan politics can affect the role of science in public policy.
  • Explains that the climate change issue hinges on scientific evidence and forecasts, and the intergovernmental panel on climate change (ipcc) assessments have strengthened the general perception that global warming is real.
  • Opines that the evidence on climate change is not clear-cut. there is considerable uncertainty about the basic conclusion of a demonstrable anthropogenic "fingerprint" and the scale and timing of any warming that might take place.
  • Explains that uncertainty is a serious problem in the formulation of public policy. it gives full play to those who oppose corrective action, allowing them to question the legitimacy of the forecast risks and argue that regulation may be harmful if the risks are overestimated.
  • Explains that the uncertainty of climate change is not limited to the evidence on warming, as there are even greater doubts about the ecological, physical, and economic consequences of a significant change in climate.
  • Opines that even if the uncertainties were less pronounced, the issue would still raise ethical questions of intra- and intergenerational equity, which are highly charged politically.
  • Explains that the role of technological change in reducing greenhouse emissions is of central importance to climate change forecasts. advances in knowledge cannot be "known" in advance.
  • Analyzes how the structure of government in the united states makes it harder for the country to reach closure on an issue with such major implications and levels of uncertainty than it is for any other industrial democracy.
  • Opines that scientific evidence has to have a decisive impact on policy. it may be crucial in placing an issue on the political agenda, or in influencing how that issue evolves as new knowledge is acquired.
  • Explains that the problem is magnified when the issue has high visibility and the economic stakes are large, as is the case with climate change.
  • Argues that scientific analysis is likely to play a larger role in the executive branch than in congress because the former has formal structure for conducting analyses and determining policy choices.
  • Explains that benefit-cost analysis compounds the problem of justifying current costs by means of future benefits because it discounts values that occur in the future.
  • Argues that congress is in an even more politicized position because it is structurally more exposed to the interests of influential stakeholders and has no analytical capability of its own to assess the validity and implications of scientific evidence.
  • Analyzes how congress's handling of the global warming issue illustrates this. the selection of witnesses is biased toward those who disavow any scientific basis for concern.
  • Opines that environmentalists, manufacturing companies, and trade organizations have lobbied in favor of policy actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but their influence has been marginal.
  • Explains that the range of policy options is further constrained by the attitudes of u.s. voters, particularly their antipathy toward additional taxes.
  • Explains that the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, coupled with the bicameral structure of congress, complicates the negotiations necessary to reach agreement on a consequential issue like global warming.
  • Explains that the clinton administration initially agreed to a cut of 7 percent in u.s. emissions by 2008-12 because it (and especially vice president al gore) had made an prior commitment that could not be disregarded without political cost.
  • Analyzes the economic implications of global warming and the measures that might be taken to prevent it.
  • Opines that the economic dimension of global warming is more speculative than the scientific dimension and even less amenable to convincing analysis.
  • Explains that there have been attempts to analyze the economic costs of global warming and to design policies to minimize them. the likelihood of creating even a marginally satisfactory trading system is slim indeed.
  • Opines that even with a strong economy and low fuel prices, neither the bush administration nor congress (nor the public) wants to adopt policies that might dampen growth when there is no evidence of an imminent ecological crisis.
  • Argues that fossil fuel prices have fallen steadily in recent years due to a worldwide glut of oil and is now about what they were at the time of the oil shocks in the 1970s.
  • Explains that climate change is a quintessentially global problem, and the international response to it has been astonishing.
  • Explains that the kyoto protocol exempts all developing countries from binding emissions reductions. without commitments from the developing nations, opponents can easily argue that it means little and unfairly penalize u.s. companies and workers.
  • Opines that the reluctance of the united states to participate in any effort in which the un and other international bodies will play a central role is disturbing.
  • Argues that the kyoto protocol may be a flawed approach to the threat of global warming. they argue that by focusing attention on near-term targets, the protocol detracts from the essential task of creating institutions and policies.
  • Analyzes how the media presents an issue as important to public attitudes as scientific evidence and economic analyses. the largely empty debate between climate skeptics and scientific community implies a considerable misreading of the actual situation.
  • Opines that without clear-cut scientific evidence, the public cannot help but be confused. the science of climate change will not be sufficiently certain to short-circuit these divisions for many years.
  • Opines that severe climatic events may lead to public acceptance of the reality of global warming whether or not those events are actually related to such warming.
  • Explains that partisan politics is of central importance to the way in which science influences climate policy. the republicans in congress tend to see global warming as a democratic issue, even though it was first placed on the agenda by the previous bush administration.
  • Opines that climate policy is likely to be pressed by the more conservative elements of the republican party because it offers many opportunities to exploit public opposition to new taxes and the export of jobs.
  • Explains that global warming is an issue with potentially enormous environmental, political, and economic consequences that was put on the national and international agendas by scientists.
  • Opines that the uncertainty does not have to be removed entirely to permit a new political consensus. continuing research on the forces at work, the indicators of climate change, and the available policy options is essential.
  • Argues that the scientific community must remain objective and not slant its results according to personal prejudices.
  • Opines that a growing scientific consensus will be only one factor in achieving political consensus on climate policy. a crisis that can plausibly be linked to global warming will probably be equally important.
  • Opines that the research must continue and be adequately communicated to both the public and policymakers. this includes continuing study of the fundamental phenomenon of climate change and ways to reduce emissions at minimum cost.
  • Opines that scientific and technological communities will provide the necessary underpinnings for policy decisions, but it is important not to assume that current research and analysis will automatically determine policy.
  • Cites l. d. harvey, j. lanchbery, e. b. skolnikoff, and w. kempton.

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