Addressing Climate Change: What Scientists Say About Solutions

The Huffington Post
Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte
Mary Ellen is a biologist; John Harte is an ecologist.
Posted: March 20, 2010 02:13 PM

Addressing Climate Change: What Scientists Say About Solutions

According to a recent Huffington Post blog by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson of Public Agenda, scientists present the facts surrounding the causes and consequences of climate change, but do nothing towards assessing and offering solutions.

Ah, so true for so many – but why expect scientists to excel in policy, anymore than we expect politicians or economists to excel in science?

Yet, increasingly, our society needs more people who have a firm comprehension of all these areas, since science is increasingly integral to the formation of governmental and economic policy in many areas, including climate change. There are a few multi-disciplinary graduate programs that do provide such an education, but not nearly enough. This is seen in the increasing, yearly number of excellent applicants that must be turned away from these programs due to lack of facilities — programs, such as the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley. (Full disclosure: One of us is a faculty member in that program.) Our country needs to devote far more resources to providing students with the insights and skill sets of both the natural and social sciences.

In the meantime, there are some scientists who have done exactly what Bittle and Johnson call for, so the more compelling question becomes: why haven’t their views been widely disseminated? Our society now suffers from an exploding fire hydrant of unfiltered information, thanks to the net and other proliferating media pathways, that have people drowning as they try to sort through it all.

Why is there so much unfiltered information? Partly because some reporters and their editors who, in the interests of trying to appear unbiased, report the patently absurd (some scientists make mistakes, so global warming is a hoax) right alongside the serious (the overwhelming amount of evidence indicates that global warming is real, despite the mistakes that some scientists make), or are not capable of distinguishing between the two. Partly, it is due to some economic powers with strong interests in perpetuating our energy economy the way it is (think fossil fuel industries, for example). They can bankroll a pretty big publicity campaign to mislead the public, as spelled out in the forthcoming book by Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt. They mislead through distraction, or smearing good scientists and/or good science.

In such a climate, it’s no wonder much of the public throws up its hands wondering what to do. The days of Albert Einstein being the national scientific idol are long gone, because we no longer have the context in which to support one, amidst the flood of unfiltered information and accusations.

So what do scientists say about solutions? Jim Hansen, the most prominent US government climate scientist, favors a carbon tax. Our personal bias is spelled out in the book that we provide only as a free download online, Cool The Earth, Save the Economy. (Full disclosure: Yes, we did write it. But the answer to Bittle and Johnson’s question necessarily involves self-promotion. We have not derived, nor will derive, any profits from the book in its current form (nor do we plan to do so). The book does exactly what Bittle and Johnson call for: it assesses available solutions, and outlines a policy in terms of practicalities, like cost and political acceptability. And it includes the three suggestions offered by Bittle and Johnson: it connects the energy crisis and climate change, it does not ignore the economics, and we present the information credibly as experienced educators — although, as noted above, credibility is a perishable commodity in a world of unfiltered information and accusations. People will have to judge for themselves if the book and its plan reflect common sense. Many have told us that it does.

Our overarching economic energy policy does not include cap and trade or a tax on carbon, but rather, suggests that the US implements both sticks, such as regulations, and carrots — market incentives such as 1) a tax break on the profits of those who sell truly clean energy and energy efficiency products; and 2) shifting energy subsidies from fossil fuels to truly clean, renewable energy sources. Let the market pick the winners. Make clean energy and energy efficiency cheaper rather than punishing users of fossil fuels with higher costs. President Obama has started to do some of these things.

We suggest that everyone, including Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, read the book. And look over our archive of Huffington Post blogs addressing climate change.

And spread the word.


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