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To Tackle Climate Change, Can We Separate Science from Politics?

Can we separate science from politics in order to head off the worst impacts of climate change? How?

by Countable | Updated on 12.13.18

This year’s annual United Nations climate change talks are drawing to a close, and politics and science have once again clashed amidst global efforts to head off the worst impacts of a warming planet.

A heated debate over whether the parties “welcomed” or “noted” a landmark climate change study couldn’t be resolved. Ultimately, the parties failed to endorse a major scientific report they had commissioned themselves.

Is there a better way?

As the topic of climate change continues to be politicized, thereby stymieing meaningful action at a policy level, some scientists point out that it’s because the science and politics of climate change have become unhelpfully and even dangerously intertwined.

Chuck Watson, a geophysicist who’s been involved in climate change research and policy since the mid-1990s, recently wrote a piece outlining the hazards of conflating science and politics. In it, he reminds us of the three essential questions to ask about any major challenge:

  1. What are the facts? In this case, what’s the climate doing, why is it doing it, and what is it likely to do in the future?
  2. What are the potential implications and impacts?
  3. Given the likely impacts, what (if anything) should we do about it?

Watson notes that the first two questions deal purely in science, and the third is mostly a policy matter:

“In my not so humble opinion, one key problem is the current system tries to do all three in a single process… Another key problem is that because the ‘left’ … has fully taken up the cause because it fits with their worldview, and allows many of their agenda points to be pressed under the rubric of ‘doing something,’ even if those things wouldn’t really do much about the underlying problem. Likewise, much of the opposition on the ‘right’ … is based more on a reaction to the policy proposals of the ‘left,’ and the false concept that anthropogenic climate change is a fake issue to promote those policies.”

Watson provides a quick primer on climate science that’s well worth reading, but the highlights are these:

  • Human activities are causing ahistorical, unnatural changes in both weather and climate, and those changes are increasing.
  • The best science indicates that there are and will be increasingly negative impacts for both humans and the natural world.

Watson believes that the existing international approach to climate change, embodied by the United Nations conference that’s currently underway, doesn’t work, precisely because the science and the politics are too entangled. He notes that as a scientist, he doesn’t really know how to fix the political process to make it work better. Somberly, he concludes:

“But I know for sure we are headed for some really bad times ahead if we don’t. It’s a pretty planet, with amazing places and wonderful people. Let’s figure out a way to not screw it up…”

What do you think?

Can we separate science from politics to tackle climate change risk? How? Tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Photo Credit: NASA / Public Domain)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(115)
  • Milan
    12/14/2018
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    Stop being shortsighted - the science is there - come on - we’ve landed on Mars and on the moon - it’s pretty clear scientists know what they are doing. You use cell phones don’t you ? The internet ? It’s all because of science. Stop putting party over world and do something already. Yes - it may even be unpopular in the beginning - suck it up and do the right thing. We have ONE planet!!!!

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  • Chickie
    12/14/2018
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    If nothing is done, the effects of climate change will not differentiate between Republicans, Democrats or Independents. The responsibility falls to all of us to do something collectively as citizens of the world.

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  • Lesia
    12/14/2018
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    Clearly many people don’t know the difference between climate and weather. Thankfully scientists do. Just remember at the start of every disaster movie is a scientist being ignored.

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  • Miles
    12/14/2018
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    But if we do that, then how will the Democrats use fear of the world ending to control people & tax them out of their minds?

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  • B
    12/14/2018
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    The problem is, the people that know what they are talking about (the scientific community), don’t have the power to shape policy, and those that do hold power, are too often motivated by money to ignore climate change. That’s not going to change without voting in the right people.

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  • Mark
    12/14/2018
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    The left says humans cause climate change. So eliminate all humans. But they go first LMAO.

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  • OlderNWiser
    12/15/2018
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    Climate change is horrifically real and we in California would be hard-pressed to deny it after choking on smoke for so long. I want a planet teeming with life including forests and wildlife, with clean water, and all of us thriving having decent food, shelter, healthcare, A beautiful environment, and peace. We could pay citizens a living wage for producing green energy instead of padding the pockets of the wealthiest and defrauding people who are attempting to use green energy. Let’s take care Of each other and this beautiful planet now.

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  • Timothy
    12/14/2018
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    Yes, the climate is changing. It changes everyday. Can we have a real discussion about the “science” and the hysteria around this issue. There are literally 10’s of thousands of variables in our climate, they change every day. There are no accurate models that can predict the future AND match the patterns of the past. We simply do not have the models that are accurate, yet. If a model is correct it works both forward and backwards, not just forward. The climate has ALWAYS changed, 4 ice ages have occurred, 6000 years ago there were forests in the Middle East and gardens. I agree we, humans, need to be responsible and good stewards, but all this hysteria needs to stop so we can have discussion on what that means. Look, In the 1970’s we were certain that a hole discovered in the Ozone layer was cause by mankind and fluorocarbons used in products. We banned those products to “save” the Ozone layer and prevent a new Ice Age. Now 40 years later, we believe that maybe that hole was there all the time and the predictions of a new Ice Age by 2000 are debunked. Oh yes, and one of the new solutions for Climate Change is to pump millions of pounds of Fluorocarbon into the atmosphere to prevent global warming. In the late 1980’s, scientists believed by 2010, there would be now more snow on the earth. Only he highest elevations would be cold enough to support ice and our children and grandchildren would only know snow from pictures. Again, hysteria and panic, but this time about global warming. BTW, last year we had record snows in places. Now we have been on a “pause” for 15 years. We, humans, simply don’t/can’t predict the total climate of the earth. We can’t even predict if it will rain tomorrow correctly. Finally, the scientist who originally predicted the Ice Age and invented the original models has said this is a disproven theory. He also states that the Climate change hysteria is job about control and money. I am willing to discuss Climate Change, it let’s all take a step back and look at how to better our lives and be responsible. You want to talk about true green energy, let’s talk about hydrogen cars (which GM shelved because the Obama administration wanted electric cars), let talk about nuclear energy and the fact the coal power plants burn cleaner and cause less pollution than a semi truck.

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  • Cosmo
    12/14/2018
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    I believe both parties admit to climate change. The degree of change is questionable. In addition, the World polluters have no interest in taking the necessary steps to slow down and possibly stop climate change. That’s another part of the issue. Severity of the climate change if we do nothing to doing a little to having the whole world make a 100% commitment. The Paris accord is over. Nothing changes until all the major polluters embrace the commitment to reduce carbon emissions. Now let’s move onto other issues we the citizens of the USA can actually complete. Like build the wall, remove non citizens, remove non citizens from welfare rolls, reduce taxes, create entry level jobs and better paying jobs.

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  • Carl
    12/14/2018
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    The recent climate report was written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 Countries. The partisanship is not from the report.

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  • Lynn
    12/14/2018
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    Apparently not. And what you’re calling SCIENCE is more closely akin to mere hype and attempting to incite hysteria. Morons.

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  • Linda
    12/14/2018
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    GOP argue the science is wrong. It’s merely a political tactic by liberals. Democrats believe human activity affects the climate; science proved it; regulations with standards will stop it; environment protection will stop it. The goal is to put science over political opinions to protect the planet against industry practices that negatively affect our environment. Stop pollution and unsafe industry practices such as harmful chemical use. Common sense must be applied instead of political opinions. Protect the environment & our planet.

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  • Robert
    12/14/2018
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    We have to separate CLIMATE CHANGE from petty politics...or SPACESHIP EARTH IS DESTROYED😂

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  • Esther
    12/14/2018
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    WALL-E

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  • Cndrla
    12/14/2018
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    I believe one party is in bed financially with the big corporate polluters who put profits above everything. I believe everyday people, the teachers the nurses the police officer are waking up and realizing this is not a spectator sport. We can’t sit back any more while the wealthy self serving continue to dis honor our nation our people and our planet. Any reasonable human being believes “The Science”. We can all see the rapid climate change. So the answer is to VOTE THEM OUT! ...RUN FOR OFFICE...eventually our politicians will mirror this melting pot of a nation. We are a Democratic nation who has been hijacked by money and greedy humans. We are a nation of HEBS, Highly Evolved Human Beings. We are all one and when we act as one, we can do anything. Love will win every time! Love your nation and resist the lies and the hate created to manipulate all of us. Our Planet needs us to be good stewards.

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  • Dawn
    12/14/2018
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    We wouldn't HAVE to separate politics from science if the oil & gas corporations weren't considered "people with free speech rights", and money wasn't "speech". Fix campaign finance laws, and you'll see a lot of climate denialists suddenly catch on.... And if they don't, get voted out when voters come realize the severity of this non-hoax issue. It's funny how you can "not believe" data and scientific facts when your campaign funding depends on it.

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  • Mark
    12/14/2018
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    Hell NO! Politicians can’t comprehend what scientific proof shows.

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  • Tooluser1
    12/14/2018
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    Well we can start by admitting that "anthropocentric climate change" IS political. We can throw out cherry picked and heavily manipulated data. We can address the indisputable fact that leftists are USING this issue to further their wealth redistribution schemes. We can admit that in the near term we have FAR more to worry about for the next 3 decades or so in the Grand Solar Minimum that IS occurring, and address imminent global COOLING and the resultant crop losses and heating needs. Then we can use this cool period to get UNBIASED, UNMANIPULATED data that takes into account ALL factors such as solar cycles, volcanism, that plants CONSUME carbon, all the things the current cult of "manmade" climate change want to ignore.

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  • John
    12/15/2018
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    As a retired forest scientist at a major university and then in the U.S. Forest Service, I and my colleagues tried to do research to find out the facts and determine to the best of our ability what was happening, what the impacts might be, and how we might be able to mitigate and/or manage the forests and environment for the future. We provided the information in scientific articles, practical management articles and briefing papers for politicians and decision makers. Theoretically, it was up to them to make the "right" decisions for what is best for "we-the-people," our country, and the world. If they asked questions we were required to provide the scientific answer, not the politically correct answer, to the best of our ability.

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  • Gerry
    12/19/2018
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    An entire farce. See who is laughing all the way to the bank after they fly off in private jets. It is so unfortunate that s many brainwashed fools believe this crap

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