Spiegel Online recently published a narrative of the politicization of climate science over time, from James Hansen’s 1988 Congressional testimony all the way to last year’s “Climategate.”
The abbreviated story goes like this: scientists in the 1980’s first discovered and proved the link between a warming planet and human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. The politicization began when Hansen, in his Congressional testimony in 1988, described being pressured by a Republican-controlled White House to play down the risks associated with global warming.
The UN set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to research the problem, and the flame war really began. Large, multinational fossil fuel companies obviously had a huge financial stake in the outcome of the debate, and obfuscation was the goal. According to an oil-industry shill group, “[v]ictory will be achieved when average citizens recognize uncertainties in climate science.”
The fight over climate change in the political sphere boils down to this reality: climate science is inexact, and the earth’s future climate is being predicted using computer models that are programmed to represent the entire globe – its biota, the extent and status of forests, deserts, drylands, wetlands, and agriculture, the cycles of water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, the atmosphere, oceans, biosphere and the geology underpinning it all – frankly, these models try to predict everything on the face and underneath the sky of this planet.
These large and extensive variables make it tempting to dismiss the whole endeavor. But we’re already seeing the impacts of a warming world: higher temperatures, sea level rise, ocean acidification, altered precipitation patterns, melting glaciers, a change in the migratory patterns of birds and the timing of plant growth cycles. These are the realities we’re living in right now, and they match the effects predicted by climate scientists and modelers.
Should these trends continue, there’s a real possibility that the effects could be catastrophic. The future is inherently uncertain, no more so than when considering the earth’s climate. The science of climate change may not be exact, but it is clear: action is needed to prevent catastrophic change now, and it is our responsibility to take that action.