Integrating Science and Politics

Power Efficiency Guide

Ultimate Guide to Power Efficiency

Get Instant Access

According to the Pew Climate Center, "Given future trends in population growth and increasing development in coastal areas, we know that the damage caused by severe weather will increase regardless of global warming. Climate change, namely sea level rise and increases in tropical storm activity, likely will exacerbate the damage'' (Pew Center on Global Climate Change 2007). In light of the recent findings of the IPCC, United Nations Environment Program executive director Achim Steiner stated that failure to act on global warming "will one day in the history books be considered irresponsible'' (Leicester 2007). Or, as former CBS New Anchor Walter Chronkite (2004) warned during the 2004 presidential election: "Global warming is at least as important as gay marriage or the cost of Social Security. And if it is not seriously debated in the general election, it will measure the irresponsibility of the entire political class. This is an issue that cannot, and must not, be ignored any longer.''

While concerned about securing collective action on an international scale to effectively address global environmental problems, researcher Lawrence Susskind (1994:76-78) has argued that scientists play five important roles in the global environmental policy process. These five roles are ''trend spotters'' who identify changing environmental patterns; ''theory builders'' who attempt to explain the changes noted by trend spotters; ''theory testers'' who are involved in experimentation to test hypotheses set forth by theory builders; ''communicators'' who function is to take complicated scientific findings and make them understandable to the lay public and policy makers; and ''applied-policy analysts'' who offer scientific advice to policy makers based upon the work of the other groups of scientists. As Susskind argues, in order to be effective, scientists involved in each role must interact within a public framework and confront the sources of their disagreement as a means to adequately perform their responsibilities.

Taking into consideration Susskind's view of the role of scientists in the policy making process and on the basis of the discussion set forth so for, five steps that might be considered in an effort to improve the linkage between science and politics are set forth in Table 3. The table depicts the importance of addressing the role of data gathering, communication, understanding, politicization and recalcitrance. The solutions suggested in the table represent a preliminary effort to help to improve the linkage between science and politics that will foster better decision making in the domestic and global environmental domains.

Since policy makers and citizens alike rely on the scientific community to provide warnings and potential solutions in response to environmental problems, to what extent will scientists and scientific knowledge play a role in the policy making process regarding global warming? The Montreal Protocol represents the outcome of collaboration between scientists, policy makers, and organized interests (environmentalists and business and industry) to address the global problem of

Table 3 Linking Science, Politics and Policy

Problem

Solution

Inadequate data

Poor communication between scientists and policy makers Lack of understanding between science and citizens

Politicization of issues

Recalcitrant skeptics

More research and continued replication and refinement of experimentation Clarify the issues and concepts addressed in the scientific and policy making domain Improve the education system to enhance the scientific knowledge base of citizens to strengthen their understanding and decision making ability Develop and improve methods to ensure policy makers a transparent and open decision making process Increased efforts to ensure that consensus or majority view positions among members of the scientific community are disseminated to the citizenry stratospheric ozone depletion (Sussman 2004:360-362). Although chlorofluorocar-bons (CFC's) were discovered in the 1930s, it wasn't until 1974 when two chemists, Molina and Rowland, concluded that once in the stratosphere they contribute to the breakdown of the ozone layer (Miller 2002:466-467). Although steps were taken in the U.S. to address this problem, international cooperation was needed to take a global view about this environmental threat. A decade later, notwithstanding an American president (Ronald Reagan) who pushed an anti-environmental agenda, the chemical industry concerned about the impact on their industry resulting from the prohibition of ozone depleting substances and pressure from organized interests (e.g., The Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy) that opposed the protocol, consensus was achieved to reduce CFC's. In this case, the work of the scientific community was effectively integrated into the decision making and policy process resulting in an important international environmental agreement.

In contrast, despite the warnings of the IPCC and other national and international organizations, the case of global warming and climate change has yet to achieve this same kind of consensus among the relevant political, scientific and economic players. As Miranda Schreurs (2004:207) observed, fundamental differences separate the United States and the members of the European Union (EU): "The [European Union] and the U.S. have reluctantly agreed to disagree on their climate change strategies. The fifteen members of the EU strongly support the Kyoto Protocol. . . . The United States, in contrast, has rejected the Kyoto Protocol and instead is advocating what it calls a voluntary, science-based approach to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.''

Arild Underdal (2000) established a framework to better understand the role of science in the environmental policy making process. The study reported here employs Underdal's framework and adapts it to the issue of global warming and climate change (see Table 4). The purpose is to assess when science and scientists are more or less likely to have inputs into the policy making process regarding global warming and climate change.

It is evident that scientists and science are more likely to be employed in the environmental policy making process when there is a consensus on the issue and whether there is a feasible "cure" for the problem. Notwithstanding the arguments

Table 4 The Impact of Science on Global Warming Policymaking

Factors Impact of Science Mixed Impact of Science on Policymaking on Policymaking

More Likely Less Likely

Consensus Cure Effects

Socio-Economic Center Development of Problem Effect on Public Political Conflict

put forth by some naysayers, members of the scientific community are in general agreement that human activities are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that are generating global warming. There are several climatic consequences resulting from this global phenomenon and one is the increased likelihood of powerful hurricanes impacting the coastal eastern and gulf states of the United States and countries located on the Asian pacific rim. Moreover, a variety of options have been offered to address this problem from the scientific community to policy makers and most recently by former Vice President Al Gore through his recent film, An Inconvenient Truth. For instance, industrialized countries can slowly ween themselves off of fossil fuels, put more funding and research into alternative sources of energy and employ conservation of natural resources as a fundamental principle of their energy policy.

It is less clear whether and to what extent four factors put forth by Underdal-whether the effects are close or remote, does the problem effect the socio-economic center of society, whether the problem is developing quickly or slowly and are the effects being experienced by the public - will lead to substantive inputs by the scientific community. Unlike earlier environmental problems including air and water quality that were more easily "experienced'' by the consumer, global climate change is a complex problem. As Michael Kraft (1996:14) has described it:

Increasingly, it seems, the so-call ''third generation'' of environmental problems, such as global climate change and loss of biodiversity, are even more problematic than the more familiar issues of the "first generation'' of environmental concerns of the early 1970s (e.g., air and water pollution) and the 'second generation" that emerged later in the 1970s (toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes). The third generation of problems are less visible, their impacts are distant and uncertain, they are often not very salient to the public, and experts disagree on the magnitude, timing, and location of their effects.'

For policy makers and citizens alike, it is difficult to understand whether the ''effects'' are close or distant in time, how quickly or slowly this is happening and the extent to which these effects are experienced by the general public. Moreover, compared to visible air pollution or an oil spill, global climate changes may seem to be occurring incrementally and slowly over time according to the lay person. While scientists can inform us that the polar caps are melting, for instance, this phenomenon is far from the social center of society. Moreover, notwithstanding recent and powerful hurricanes impacting the U.S., most recently Hurricane Katrina, coastal dwellers are accustomed to ''hurricane season'' and may not understand the potential impact of global warming on the intensity of hurricanes of the future. Consequently, the results appear to be mixed in terms of integrating science into the policy making process under these circumstances.

Finally, science is least likely to be part of the policy making process when political conflict is high. Despite the recent report of the IPCC, domestic forces within certain countries and international disagreements work against effective efforts to address the problem. For instance, the current U.S. President Bush along with a Republican-controlled Congress (1994-2006) supported only voluntary measures to address the problem. Democratic legislators representing automobile or energy-producing states oppose any changes unless developing countries are included in any global warming agreements. Despite a new U.S. Congress with a Democratic majority, efforts to deal with global warming and its consequences appear to be "backbenchers" as the war in Iraq remains the primary issue of concern. At the same time, several U.S. states, including the largest state California, have undertaken initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, hundreds of U.S. cities in 44 states have joined together in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions through the U.S. Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement (ICLEI2007). These efforts include land use management, transportation planning, energy efficiency, green power among others. Furthermore, over 600 cities around the world have announced their commitment to combat global warming (Herro 2007).

Despite the fact that a sufficient number of countries including Japan, Russia and member states of the European Union have ratified the Kyoto Protocol putting it into effect, in addition to increased efforts at the subnational level in the U.S. and other countries, the effort to achieve successful international collaboration on this issue remains problematic without the leadership of the United States.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Survival Treasure

Survival Treasure

This is a collection of 3 guides all about survival. Within this collection you find the following titles: Outdoor Survival Skills, Survival Basics and The Wilderness Survival Guide.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment