09 February 2007

Climate change watch

The new IPCC report, confirming the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is both real and mostly caused by humans, seems to be awakening the American political system to the need for action on a problem which the rest of the developed world has long recognized.

Some denialist bloggers hypnotized by their own carefully-nurtured bubble world are still plaintively mumbling, "But..... but.....sunspots.....Mars.....medieval warm period.....Biblical End Times.....how come all these scientists aren't paying as much attention to our stuff as to the real stuff?" Republican politicians too strongly committed to denialism to back down still seem to be out somewhere in orbit around Mars, if not Tralfamadore. And the Bush administration, if not exactly denying the problem, is likely to resist serious action for the remainder of its term in power. But I think we've turned a corner at last. By 2009, if not before, the US government will become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

I am struck by the analogy between climate change and the Iranian nuclear threat. In both cases, we now have overwhelming evidence that the threat is both real and serious. In both cases, we can't afford to wait until overwhelming evidence turns into absolute certainty (and by whose standards? you never reach a point where every last skeptic is convinced), because the risks of inaction are too great. In both cases, the denialist position seems to be motivated mostly by ideological or philosophical discomfort with the actions needed to deal with the problem, not by any serious evidence that the problem doesn't exist.

At least in the case of climate change, it looks as though the denialists' illusions won't be an important factor for much longer.

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