John Holdren: US public opinion is near a tipping point on climate change despite deniers’ strategy

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In a February 18 interview at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Harvard Prof. John Holdren, outgoing AAAS board chairman, said “I really think we’re close to a political tipping point in the United States on the climate change issue….I think the deniers are finally losing the battle and the discussion is now moving to solutions.”

An interviewer with the UK Guardian [link to audio here] asked Holdren about why the U.S. public has been so slow to wake up to the dangers posed by rising carbon dioxide emissions. Holdren replied:

I think deniers of the reality of the climate change problem have been more effective in the United States than they have been in Europe. They’ve been more abundant in the United States….Climate change deniers, or skeptics as they’re sometimes called, have received attention in this country out of all proportion to their numbers, their qualifications, or the quality of their arguments. And it has slowed down the whole discussion in the United States.

It was basically a deliberate strategy—how some of the deniers continued to focus attention on some of the scientific uncertainties, to prevent the discussion from moving forward to what we could actually do about this problem, what the solutions are likely to be.

I think the deniers are finally losing the battle, and the discussion in the United States is now moving to solutions.

Holdren said:

A lot of different factors have contributed to it: the drumbeat of science, new reports all the time saying something’s happening bigger, faster, more dangerously than anybody thought even a few years ago….I think what it’s going to tip us into is a serious climate policy, a mandatory economy-wide approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And I think when the United States finally does this, it’s going to change the political climate in the developing countries, who are suddenly going to be willing to do more than they’ve been willing to do up until now.

John P. Holdren is Professor of Environmental Policy at the Kennedy School of Government and in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. He is the director of the Woods Hole Research Center, and just completed a term as board chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

See our February 24 post: Harvard Prof. John Holdren on “Global Climate Disruption: What do we know, what should we do?”

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