The Science and Politics Problem Policymaking Climate Change and Hurricanes

Glen Sussman

Abstract In February 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Fourth Assessment Report that discussed the progress made in our understanding of the impact of natural and anthropogenic activities involving global warming and climate change. On the basis of this report, policy makers and citizens alike now have a scientific basis upon which to assess the problem of global climate change and should be encouraged to implement appropriate national and international actions in response to the warming of the planet. Given this background, this study will: 1) examine the "science and politics problem'' as it relates to the subject of this book, 2) provide an overview of the scientific understanding of global warming, climate change and hurricanes, 3) focus on the political factors that influence environmental policy making with emphasis on the United States since it is a dominant global power and major producer of greenhouse gases, and 4) offer a framework that shows the conditions when science is more or less likely to have substantive input into the policy making process as it relates to global climate change.

Between June 2005 and January 2006, twenty-seven tropical storms crossed the Atlantic Ocean and threatened coastal communities in the United States. Three of these storms became serious hurricanes that brought death and destruction to coastal and inland regions in the United States. This tropical cyclone activity that spawned Hurricane Katrina in August, Hurricane Rita in September and Hurricane Wilma in October was part of an Atlantic tropical storm season never seen before (Hayden 2006:68). The devastation unleashed by this tropical cyclone activity revealed a number of sociopolitical and economic problems including increasing populations in coastal regions with the concomitant development of housing and businesses, a lack of vision on the part of policymakers in Washington and the expense incurred when monster hurricanes make landfall. The consequences of hurricane damage also revealed the reality of the threat - namely, insurance companies that are in the business of dealing with risk have begun to refuse providing coverage to homeowners and businesses in the potential path of hurricanes. Climate change is now an important issue for Lloyds of London Swiss Re and Munich Re in Europe while

J.B. Elsner and T.H. Jagger (eds.), Hurricanes and Climate Change, 387

doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-09410-6, © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009

major insurance companies in the United States including State Farm, Traveler's Insurance and Allstate established criteria that reduced their risk (Garreau 2006). For instance, Gulf Coast communities are no longer able to obtain insurance from American International Group, Inc. the largest insurer in the world while in Florida Allstate dropped 95,000 policies in 2005 and 120,000 in 2006 and in New York the insurer dropped 28,000 of its policyholders (Larsen 2007). Moreover, as Larsen (2007) reports, Allstate and MetLife have decided not to issue new policies on Long Island, New York, the site of a powerful hurricane in 1938.

In February 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fourth Assessment Report that discussed the progress made in our understanding of the impact of natural and human activities on climate change. While the report confirmed that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is not evident from observations in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level,'' it stressed the role played by anthropogenic actions that are now seen as a major contributor to global climate change (IPCC 2007). What was noteworthy about this Fourth Assessment Report was that it had built upon earlier studies and produced, in the words of the authors, "improvements in the quantitative estimates of radiative forcing.'' In short, policymakers and citizens alike now have a scientific basis upon which to assess the problem of global climate change and should be encouraged to implement appropriate national and international actions in response to the likelihood of continuing warming of the planet. As the authors of the report stress:

Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture (IPCC 2007).

The IPCC along with other scientific agencies have informed the international community that global climate change will have serious consequences. While some countries including the United States have moved slowly in response to the growing body of global climate science that demands action, other countries including Sweden, Britain and Denmark have taken the lead in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Kennedy 2006). However, an increasing effort is needed to secure leadership by the United States and participation by developing countries to address this transnational problem.

Although the research findings of the IPCC among other sources have been distributed to policymakers and citizens, it is important to note that global warming and climate change are complex and difficult to understand contemporary global environmental policy problems. While it is unlikely that average citizens in the United States and other countries would read scientific studies about global warming, it is noteworthy that the mass media (broadcast and print) have made an important effort to inform and educate citizens. Moreover, citizens around the world have, generally, acknowledged and accepted the argument set forth by the scientific community as shown by numerous public opinion polls (Pew Global Attitudes Project 2007).

Given this background, this study will: 1) examine the "science and politics problem'' as it relates to the subject of this book, 2) provide an overview of the scientific understanding of global warming, climate change and hurricanes, 3) focus on the political factors that influence environmental policymaking with emphasis on the United States since it is a dominate global power and the major producer of greenhouse gases, and 4) offer a framework that shows the conditions upon which science can be effectively integrated into the environmental policymaking process as it relates to global warming and climate change.

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