Remember back when climate change was a science story? One group of climate scientists said the Earth appeared to be warming and it looked like emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases of the Industrial Revolution were trapping heat in the atmosphere. Another group of climate scientists said the data just didn’t show that what we were seeing was anything but random climate shifts, just some much meteoro-statistical “noise.”
Over the last two decades*, evidence piled up that the first group was right. Almost every practicing climatologist came around to seeing that, indeed, we’re on an unusually fast warming trend and it’s clear that greenhouse gases have at least something to do with that. Serious climate scientists aren’t debating the basics anymore. Now they’re trying to gauge just how sensitive the climate is to greenhouse gases, i.e., how soon it’s likely to get how bad.
So today, climate change is not really so much a science story any more. It’s a business story. A government story. A consumer story. Even a food story.
But first and foremost, climate has become a political story. It’s late, so I won’t belabor the point, but here are two significant developments on that front:
- BP, Conoco and Caterpillar are pulling out of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of business interests and D.C.-savvy environmental groups. As Stephen Power and Ben Casselman report for The Wall Street Journal, it’s a sure sign that the Cap’n Trade legislation once thought likely to emerge from Congress is in big trouble.
- The United Nations’ top climate diplomat, Yvo de Boer, announced his resignation 3 1/2 years into his 4-year term. He remains nominally in charge until July, but really, he’s outta there. His early departure provides a symbolically loud echo of the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks in December. Darren Samuelsohn of Climatewire has a thorough piece in The New York Times, while John Vidal of The Guardian provides a little insight into the man himself.
So, on both the national and international fronts, the news today was that of a failure to come to grips with what appears to be humanity’s largest environmental challenge ever, one that already seems likely to push global temperatures higher than they have been since long before humans organized themselves into anything resembling modern society.
Will climate change ever go back to being mostly a science story? Not bloody likely. We’ll do our best to stay on top of the big political developments here.
* The actual theory about greenhouse warming dates to 1896. Evidence didn’t start to be amassed in any measure until the 1970s and 1980s, says a compact history by Spencer Weart. He’s the same climate historian we mentioned in yesterday’s post who wrote up how he thinks future historians will look back on this period of intense political detate about climate.
— Robert McClure