Summary: Here is a first-person account of a small but telling incident in the climate policy wars, showing how the methods used by climate activists won battles, but lost the war. Their political power could destroy opponents, but doing so did not convince a majority of the US public. Now Republican gains have closed the door for action by the Federal government and most states, at least for the foreseeable future. The effects could be unfortunate.
“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.
By Professor Roger Pielke, Jr.
Presented at the University of Florida, 17 March 2017.
Posted with his generous permission.
Lessons for us from this incident
The movement for massive US public policy action to fight climate change began (as an arbitrary date) with the testimony of James Hansen on 23 June 1988 in a sweltering (due to careful preparation) Senate conference room. During the following 29 years vast sums were spent to build public support for such measures. Now it has come to a standstill, having accomplished little. The public ranks it near the bottom of national priorities Most Americans rank climate change low among US public policy priorities (see the polls here, and more here). The Republicans running Washington want to rollback what little has been done.
Why? Climate scientists made major tactical errors. But activists’ excesses were lethal to their cause. Academia, the news media, NGOs, and government agencies provided full spectrum support, laying down a barrage of propaganda — ranging from scholarly and compelling to outlandish or even horrific (see 40 posts with more examples).
Here we see another method activists used: suppressing information contrary to their false assertions by swarming attacks on people, vicious and unscrupulous. I have experienced them (see details here and here). Here is an account of a more serious attack staged by journalists, scientists, and academics. It was obviously bogus at the time; time has just provided more evidence. It was politics by smear, seeking to destroy a professional reputation for political gain. Whatever the merits of either side in the policy debate, activists’ behavior did not deserve success.
The political gridlock on public policy relating to climate change has prevented the most obvious and easy first step — preparing for the almost inevitable repeat of past extreme weather. Events like superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina were warnings, showing our mad lack of preparation for likely weather events. Unless we change soon, we will pay dearly for our folly.
As for climate change — irrespective of the politics, the climate will eventually decide who was correct in the climate policy wars.
About the author
Roger Pielke, Jr. was a Professor of Environmental Studies at the U of CO-Boulder, and Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is now Director of the Sports Governance Center in the Dept of Athletics. Before joining the faculty of the U of CO, from 1993-2001 he was a Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
His research focuses on science, innovation and politics. He holds degrees in mathematics, public policy and political science from the University of Colorado. In 2006 he received the Eduard Brückner Prize in Munich for outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary climate research. In 2012 Roger was awarded an honorary doctorate from Linköping University in Sweden and the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America. His page at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research has his bio, CV, and links to some of his publications.
He is also author, co-author or co-editor of seven books, including The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics (2007), The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (2010), The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change (2014), and The Edge: The War against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports (2016).
Some of his recent publications.
- “Catastrophes of the 21st Century” at Aon Benfield Australia.
- “Tracking Climate Progress: A Guide for Policymakers and the Informed Public” in the IEEJ Energy Journal.
- “My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic” in the Wall Street Journal.
- “The Truthiness about Hurricane Catastrophe Models” with J. Weinkle in Science, Technology & Human Values.
For More Information
For more about this pitiful episode in climate policy advocacy, see A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
- Important: climate scientists can restart the climate change debate – & win.
- How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
- A status report on global warming. Much depends on the next few years.
- Good news for the New Year! Salon explains that the global climate emergency is over.
- Climate activists’ final act, as they move into the last stage of grief.
- A look at the future of global warming. Our political response depends on its trend.
To learn more about the state of climate change…
… see his book The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change. See my review. Here is the publisher’s summary…
“In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.”