Quit arguing about the science already
I just got done talking with Betsy Rosenberg at EcoTalk about the Waxman hearings. More on that in a sec, but first of all: EcoTalk is one of the only national radio shows that focuses purely on environmental issues. It’s a fantastic source of commentary and ideas on green topics. Right now, the show’s in a bit of a crisis and needs to raise a chunk of money by the end of the week. Please read this and consider helping out of you can.
Now, the hearing. I missed the beginning — a good chunk of the Cooney and Deutsch testimony — so when Chris Mooney says "there were a lot of new revelations and developments," I’ll have to take his word for it. I certainly didn’t hear any.
The meta-point I’d like to make is: so what? Even if Waxman found a smoking gun — a case where a political appointee altered an unambiguous truth to become an unambiguous falsehood, or violated settled law or regulation — what would come of it? At best, the Bush administration would be further discredited. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but I don’t see how it would affect the climate change debate.
After all, Bush administration climate policy proposals, and proposals from most conservatives in Congress and think tanks, are predicated on the notion that global warming is real, human-caused, and a threat. Yes, there are still skeptics, and yes, Bush and his bunch still make ambiguous statements, but in terms of policy, most alternatives on the table already take their cue from the settled science.
I’ve made this point before, but once more for the cheap seats: progressives and greens seem to think that if we can finally, once and for all, win the science debate, in a way that forces all our opponents to cry Uncle, we’ll have won the war. Once people accept the science, they’ll accept our way of framing things and our proposed solutions.
But it’s not so. Re-legislating the science, over and over, benefits the deniers and delayers more than anyone else. They love to get into lawyerly debates over scientific technospecifics, while the public tunes out.
Meanwhile, their conservative brethren have already pivoted and started framing the next debate: policy. Already conservatives are busy establishing baseline conventional wisdom. “Addressing climate change would cripple the economy.” “Some people will benefit from climate change.” “People worried about climate change are alarmists.” “We don’t have the means to beat the problem right now, but in 10 years some new technology will come along and save us.”
While they’re injecting these talking points into the political bloodstream, we’re niggling about the troposphere and cosmic rays and sun spots, taking the bait every time a message board dimwit wanders along with some stock skeptical talking point. We’re clinging to the illusion of objectivity science offers us, while they’re out making the crucial policy and values arguments.
I agree that Bush has politicized the entire federal bureaucracy, and that efforts should be made to establish some degree of independence in scientific and fact-finding agencies. But in terms of the climate debate, nothing more is to be gained by bashing Bush over the head with science.
We need to be out there arguing that beating global warming will make us more prosperous, more healthy, more just, and happier. We need to make this fight appealing. Science is not going to do the work for us.