When you can’t have the moon, start a rock collection

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA’s science policy analyst. Many proponents of efforts to address climate change went into the beginning of the 111th Congress thinking they were going to make some significant headway. For the first time since 1994, Democrats had the rare fortune of holding the White House coupled with substantial majorities in both the House and Senate. But, while the House was indeed successful in squeezing through comprehensive climate legislation, Senate negotiators could not come to an agreement and the bill died. Efforts to pass legislation curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions seemed less likely when the House gained 63 Republican seats and Senate Republicans gained six seats after the Nov. 2010 mid-term elections. However, a dissection into the backgrounds and ideologies of individual members of the new Republican majority on energy and environmental issues suggest that  while any major climate change legislation is unlikely, there may exist a few opportunities for incremental successes in decreasing GHG emissions. During a recent event I attended that was sponsored by the National Journal, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, revealed  a glimpse into his priorities as well as his take on what type of legislation may move forward in the 112th Congress. Chairman Upton could be referred to as a “born-again” climate skeptic. During the briefing, he stated that while he accepts that the climate is changing, he does not believe the changes are man-made. Upton has joined with Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) in sponsoring legislation that would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. Last year, in his attempt to win the committee’s chairmanship and appear more conservative, he removed from his website language stating that climate change is a “serious problem that necessitates serious solutions.” Delving further into Chairman Upton’s background reveals a somewhat more complex stance on energy and environmental issues. Upton in 2007 successfully spearheaded legislation to phase out incandescent light bulbs in favor of the more energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, a move that put his prospective chairmanship in jeopardy. Additionally, Upton was among 26 Republicans to vote in favor of the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security and Consumer Protection Act, an omnibus energy bill that contained a clean energy standard. Others in the new House majority have also demonstrated support in the recent past to expand the nation’s energy portfolio beyond fossil fuels.  On Aug. 4, 2007, Tom Udall (D-NM) and Todd Russell Platts (R-PA) sponsored an amendment to the Energy Independence bill calling for a 15 percent national renewable electricity standard by 2020. Upton was not among the 32 Republicans...

Read More

The Senate, climate change, and the public opinion

On Wednesday, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) sent a letter, signed by 18 scientific organizations including ESA, to each member of the Senate. The letter states the consensus views of the scientific community: that climate change is real, that it is mostly anthropogenic in source and that, if unchecked, it will create major threats to our society. The letter is an exceptionally concise and to-the-point summary of the dire climate situation. Read the full text here. This letter is also especially important and timely given that a new poll out yesterday by the Pew Research Center shows some changing opinions about global warming in the American populace. The trends are not so good: 57 percent believe there is solid evidence that the Earth is warming, compared to 71 percent a year and a half ago. Only 35 percent think that climate change is a serious problem, down from 44 percent last year. Here’s The Grist’s David Roberts’ take on the issue: The temptation is to respond to a poll like Pew’s with lamentations about the state of science education–to imagine that the public, like scientists, can be swayed by the weight of empirical evidence. But the most important political takeaway is almost the opposite: popular belief in the science of climate change will follow popular support for clean energy, not the other way around. While we like to think that rational people will listen to solid scientific reason, we know that people are the product of marketing, often believing the word of a celebrity or a person they can relate to over the scientific facts. It remains to be seen how societal changes to combat climate change will be somehow made desirable to the mainstream American...

Read More