Science and Politics Talking Past Each Other

Science and Politics Talking Past Each Other

Submitted by Cynthia Koehler on Wed, 02/13/2013 - 21:16


The San Francisco Chronicle reported recently that “within the lifetimes of today's children, scientists say, the climate could reach a state unknown in civilization.”

The World Bank says that at current trends, the Earth could warm by 4 degrees Celsius in 50 years. The last time we think this happened was roughly 14 million years ago.  In light of the obvious and near term implications for the health, wealth and well-being of people – extreme heat, drought, insect infestations killing off huge swaths of forests nationwide, decreased water supplies, etc. – one would think that there would be a strong incentive on the part of political leaders to make climate responses a key national priority and take serious action.  And certainly many people took notice of the President’s decision to focus on climate issues in his inaugural address.  

But when asked about climate policy and a legislative proposal to tax carbon, the President’s spokesman indicated that climate change is a “real issue” and that dealing with it is an “important goal,” but at the same time the Administration has “no intention of proposing a carbon tax.”

Certainly there are a lot of different ways to tackle the enormous challenges presented by the mounting evidence of the catastrophic problems that our country and our children, not to mention the rest of the globe, will be facing due to climate change. 

Neither a carbon tax nor any other single measure is a silver bullet, of course.  There are no silver bullets.  But it is deeply troubling that the scientific and political worlds are continuing to talk past each other, as if neither is capable of recognizing the scale of the other.  It will take a more fully engaged public to move the political meter, and the question is what devastating inflection point it will take for that to happen.