“The obstacles to action on climate change are not really about science and science communication anymore, they’re about politics, and the political resistance to taking action,” we told Al Jazeera English TV in a story about the confirmation of global warming by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study led by physicist Richard Muller.
Climate Science Watch transcript from the October 31 climate change segment on Al Jazeera English:
Al Jazeera news anchor Anand Naidoo: “Thanks Tony. The study was partially bankrolled by the Charles Koch Foundation, whose founder is a major funder of climate change deniers. Richard Muller found that temperatures on land are now one degree Celsius warmer than in the 1950s, and he warns that “greenhouse gases could have a disastrous impact on the world.” Muller said he came into the study with “proper skepticism,” reflecting the attitude of 18% of the country, who do not believe global warming is happening. 64% believe it is happening, and the remaining 18% say they don’t know.
“It's difficult to estimate exactly how much money is spent on so-called climate change denial, however oil and gas companies spent over $163 million in lobbying congress in 2009. Those efforts appear to be paying off. Last year the Senate refused to pass a bill to curb gas emissions. The US lags behind other nations, announcing in 2001 that it would not implement the Kyoto Protocol – that’s the international treaty requiring nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
“Earlier I spoke with Richard Muller from Santa Fe, New Mexico where he presented his findings on Monday. He says developing countries are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.”
Muller: “Most of the carbon dioxide emissions on the future that will give global warming are going to be coming from China, from India, and from the developing world. That creates a problem because there’s nothing we can do in the United States unless we set an example that the developing world can afford to follow. I’m not sure what policies we should change; I think we have very reasonable policies on climate change right now. But a policy where we simply reduce our own emissions by spending lots of money on expensive technology, that doesn’t help the world, and it will not slow the ultimate global warming, assuming the theory is right.”
Al Jazeera: “I’m joined now by Rick Piltz from Climate Science Watch, which aims to hold officials accountable for how they use climate science research. In 2005 he resigned from the US government’s climate change science program because of White House interference. Thanks for joining us.”
Piltz: “Good to be here.”
Al Jazeera: “So what do you make of Richard Muller’s change of mind?”
Piltz: “Well it's an important study in that he looked at an enormous amount of data on the global surface land temperature record, really more data points even than the US government scientists’ record. But he came up with exactly the same findings that the leading climate scientists have known for years. That the planet is warming, and that the rate of warming has been accelerating in recent years.”
Al Jazeera: “So we have an eminent climate change denier who says ‘I’ve looked at the data and I’ve come to the conclusion that people who believe in climate change have been telling us for a long time, that temperatures are rising.’ How does an opinion like this, a change in opinion rather, translate into concrete action?”
Piltz: “Well, that’s hard to say. It will be difficult for people who completely deny that global warming is happening to have any credibility. But there are several fallback positions. They’ll argue about how much of it is caused by human activity, although that is also well established by a mountain of scientific evidence, it’s from our burning of fossil fuels.”
Al Jazeera: “And that is something that he didn’t investigate.”
Piltz: “It wasn’t part of his study. But the National Academy of Sciences and the IPCC and the climate science community generally have been making this point for years. And there’s a question of how it will change in the future: it’s projected to warm at a much greater rate in the future. What will the impacts be: there are likely to be a very wide range of harmful impacts. I don’t think that this particular study itself will force action because the obstacles to action on climate change are not really about science and science communication anymore, they’re about politics, and the political resistance to taking action.”
Al Jazeera: “You look at those figures that I cited earlier on, we’ve got 64% of America who believe that climate change is happening, 18% saying no. Is there going to be a tipping point somewhere in the future that’s going to make politicians look up, get up, and say ‘we have to do something about this’?”
Piltz: “Hopefully before we experience disasters beyond the environmental tipping points. My sense is that public opinion will follow strong leadership. Right now in this country they’re not getting strong communication from the political leadership that this is an urgent problem. The right wing is dug in on being against government regulation and really denying the science, and even in the White House, you don’t have the President talking about the problem.
“Granted there are a lot of problems to talk about, but I think that when the leadership is ready to bring public opinion along, public opinion will go along with it. But we’re not there yet because there are powerful economic interests, particularly in the energy industry, that don’t want to be regulated, that don’t want alternative fuels that they don’t necessarily control to be brought into the system to break the stranglehold of oil on transportation or to move the power system off of coal.
“The Koch brothers, you’ve talked about, are an enormously important player in that they have a personal fortune of $50 billion and they aggressively use it to fund a wide range of the right-wing takeover in this country – and climate change has been drawn up into the whole battle over what kind of government are we going to have and what kind of country are we going to be, and who is going to control it.”
“Okay we’re going to have to leave it there, thank you for joining us.”
More on the BEST study:
RealClimate, Berkeley earthquake called off
Joe Romm, Climate Progress: WashPost: “The Scientific Finding that Settles the Climate-Change Debate” and “Confirms” the Hockey Stick Graph
Earlier CSW posts:
A comment on the UN climate treaty negotiations (Al Jazeera interview October 6)