Tuesday, December 22, 2009

climate illiteracy

Several Republican delegates from the US House of Representatives came to Copenhagen on the last day of the conference, mainly to hold a press conference that spelled out their problems with what was being negotiated and make clear that climate legislation (such as cap & trade) in the US is far from a done deal - countering John Kerry's speech from two days prior.

Among the chief complaints are that such a bill is a "job killer" and that they feared the intellectual property rights implications for corporations. A significant component of the UN climate deal would transfer low-carbon technologies to less developed countries with the intent that they work toward overcoming poverty without fossil fuels. This is much the same intellectual property rights argument that makes it difficult for poor Africans to get AIDS treatment: the drug companies would be losing out on all their R&D investment if they just gave it away to people that really needed it.

One reporter asked whether these congressmen had spoken to any of the delegates at the Copenhagen conference from small island nations (such as Tuvalu and the Maldives, who have offered some of the most impassioned arguments for immediate action) - they each replied 'no.'

Most striking to me were the reps' explanations of their understanding of climate change science. Listen to a couple clips from Texas congressman Joe Barton:

Whether the lack of nuance to this analysis is real, or mainly for show with the regular folks back home - playing on their rising distrust for science, I can't say. It is clearly not an attempt to take the issue seriously and honestly. By feigning obliviousness about how the world works, other than 'it gets hot in Texas in the summer, cold in the winter, and beyond that, I don't know,' this view hopes that greenhouse gasses will somehow go away and not bother us. That is strong faith in scientific illiteracy. As long as you can't read the book, whatever it says can't hurt you.

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