Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Climate Science and U.S. Politics

The last several days have brought continued reminders of the intense and deeply politicized discourse about climate change in the United States.

On August 3, leading climate scientist James Hansen published an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled Climate change is here - and worse than we thought.  Referring to a study that has since published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, he stated:

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

Unsurprisingly, there have been strong public reactions to the new study, with some praising it and others critiquing its approach.  Meanwhile, with the upcoming U.S. presidential election consistently in the public eye, daily stories about climate change and the presidential election abound, from ones saying it isn't a major issue in the campaign to one today talking about how Romney's climate skeptical communications aide is influencing him.  I hope that we can have a thoughtful dialogue about these issues, which engages nuance and avoids the sound-bite polarization that so often dominates today's political discourse.

Hari Osofsky

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