3. The Structure of Government
4. Economic Impacts
5. The United States' Inward Focus
6. The Media
7. Partisan Politics
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 ...
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...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.
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.
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