Posted by: greeningwashington | February 4, 2009

A Global Discussion

Seventeen years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the United States once again has its chance to redeem its global leadership position and prove to the world that we are a responsible and forward-thinking nation. President Obama must learn from the failures of his predecessors and position himself as a strong advocate for a reduction of global carbon emissions. For the past eight years, the Republican leaders in Washington have failed to acknowledge the responsibility that humans have for the warming planet.

In a press conference during 2006, President Bush said of global warming, “The globe is warming. The fundamental debate is, is it man-made or natural–but put that aside.”

It is obvious from his rhetoric that President Bush failed to consider the numerous reports published by national and international experts on climate change. Reports ranging from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose reports are edited by thousands of scientists before publication, as Andrew Dessler reported in my interview with him in 2007, to the National Academy of Sciences all confirmed there is a link between human activity and global warming.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried a similar denial strategy regarding homosexuals in 2007 when he stated,

“In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” he said, to laughter and boos from the audience. ‘In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have this.” (Fox News, 2007)

Yet the flat-Earth syndrome did not stop with the denial of the science. Not only did the Bush Administration deny the overwhelming amount of science that linked fuel emissions to global warming, they even allowed lobbyist Philip Cooney, chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, to falsify reports that suggested a link between emissions and climate change.

The only logical explanation that I can come to regarding the Bush Administration’s refusal even to try to understand the science is simply political.  Ensuring endless billion dollar profits for major energy companies seemed to be the bottom line. How else could the leader of the free world, who is supposed to lead with dynamism and rationality (which includes critical analysis), so easily dismiss the process of science?

America has elected a new leader, and President Obama has the power to significantly influence the global conversation on global warming and climate change. The first step toward tackling this problem would involve comprehensive federal legislation accompanied with state and local action. Second, President Obama must make a strong showing at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Third, President Obama must reverse the ineffective regulations and practices established under the Bush Administration at agencies such as the EPA and the Department of the Interior. Finally, the public must take steps to reduce their inefficient use of energy and automobile transportation.

P.S. the denial of global warming and the refusal by certain politicians to take comprehensive action reminds me of Pascal’s Wager, which can be summarized with the statement, “If you believe, and God exists, you will be rewarded in the afterlife. If you do not believe, and He exists, you will be punished for your disbelief. If He does not exist, you have lost nothing either way.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

If we “believe” in human-caused global warming and take action, and it exists, then we will have averted perhaps catastrophic consequences. If we do not “believe” in human-caused global warming, and it exists, there will be irreversible and life-altering consequences. And, if global warming “is not caused by humans,” but we take action, then we would have perhaps prevented the second scenario — of course, as some will argue, at the expense of wealthy multi-billion dollar companies (I am excluding the auto industry, since the federal government just “bailed them out”).

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