Summary: Why have there been such meager results from the three decades-long campaign for public policy action in America to fight climate change? Professor Roger Pielke Jr. explains how activists on both sides brought Manichean paranoia to the debate, poisoning it. The results might have historic painful effects. He shows how we can fix the debate, if we try.
“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.
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. 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).
Now it has come to a standstill, having accomplished little. The Republicans running Washington want to roll back what little has been done. The majority of the public ranks climate change low on the list of public policy concerns. As a public police concern, the environment was ranked #12 in a 2014 survey. Climate was #14 in a 2014 survey. Climate was rated in a 2016 survey as “below average in importance” by people in both parties.
Why? Climate scientists made major tactical errors. But worse was how activists on both sides poisoned the debate. In this presentation Professor Roger Pielke Jr. describes the result as Manichean Paranoia. He suggests some simple steps America can take to fix and restart the debate. Let’s listen to him. After the presentation are some likely results if we fail to do so.
This presentation posted with his generous permission.
Video of his presentation
About the Paranoid Style of American Politics
“Paranoia has a long history in the American polity. American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. … I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. … It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”
— “The Paranoid Style in American Politics“ by Richard Hofstadter in Harper’s Magazine, November 1964.
From the publisher… “Historian Richard Hofstadter’s book offers a valuable perspective on contemporary domestic affairs. He investigates the politics of the irrational, showing how fringe groups can influence — and even derail — the agendas of a political party.”
The political gridlock on the public policy response 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. is a Professor of Environmental Studies at the U of CO-Boulder. He was 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. His website has links to his works, and essays about the many subjects on which he works.
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.
- An example of climate activists at work that shows why they lost. His presentation at the University of Florida, 17 March 2017.
For More Information
- 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.
- A story of the climate change debate. How it ran; why it failed.
To learn more about the state of climate change…
… see Pielke’s 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.”