Think CSUN: The Politics of Climate Change

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(Sound of a light bulb rolling across the floor; music plays) Well, there is theologic truth, there's scientific truth, and there's political truth. And they all rely on very different assumptions. Policy is not made as a function of evidence-based decision-making. It's made as a function of interest-based decision-making. And so as we think about climate change, and the kinds of concessions that we might need to make, in order to reduce global warming, reduce greenhouse emissions, there are very real interests at stake. The problem with climate change is that the science is complicated. And that the kinds of things that you and I might look at as an indicator of climate change may or may not be indicators of climate change.

Hurricanes that occur are potentially, simply random acts, simply things that occur with some frequency maybe once-in-a-lifetime, maybe twice-in-a-lifetime. There are regular variations in weather, and we just don't know whether something like Sandy or Katrina was a function of climate change or not. Scientists will tell us that it's not really about the frequency of hurricanes. It's about the extent to which we can measure regular and sustained change in average temperatures, over time. And the evidence is overwhelming that indeed, we are observing that; we are measuring that. And part of it is, I think unique to the US in that our commitment to democracy is fundamentally different than our commitment to science or evidence based decision making. There's a whole variety of assumptions we bring into democratic policy making.

The main assumption is that everybody has roughly an equal say. I may not agree with you, but you have a right to say it. Science and technical decision-making is fundamentally different, because in science, everybody does not have an equal say. If one takes the argument one step further, in a democracy all policy must be made by allowing a competitive political arena. We all have a right to participate. So something like climate change then suggests that all of us have a right to our opinions. And in that sense all of us have a right to our own evidence. And why should I believe your evidence just because you're a scientist? (music).

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