The March 20-26 issue of the The Economist, the British business-oriented weekly, is devoted to "spin, science, and climate change," as its cover puts it. The major element in the report is a comprehensive evaluation of climate science (pp. 83-86), which lays out the basics and takes up all the major lines of criticism, putting each in perspective. Though not short at nearly 4,000 words, it is the best concise treatment of the subject for a general audience that I've seen. Its conclusion: "The fact that the uncertainties allow you to construct a relatively benign future does not allow you to ignore futures in which climate change is large, and in some of which it is very dangerous indeed."
The issue is still available on some newsstands, and is well worth the U.S. price of $7. Its contents is available online only to subscribers.
The magazine also contains a long opening editorial (13) about climate science and policy, and a news report (32) discussing prospects for U.S. climate legislation. Here I have some serious quibbles. If you're one of those readers who regularly tells me I've drunk the cool-aid, I'd suggest you stop reading right now. But if you're the type of reader who has taken the time and trouble to not only learn the fundamentals of climate science but also to worry about the details of climate and energy policy, then you might want to read on.
Why is there so much confusion about climate science and policy? As The Economist sees it, "The problem lies not with the science itself, but with the way the science has been used by politicians to imply certainty when, as often with science, no certainty exists."
That's not how I see it. I'd say the problem is that scientists, policymakers, and politicians haven't been talking enough, and therefore have not come up with a coherent and convincing explanation of what climate policy can and should accomplish. If we can't actually stop global warming, what do we achieve by merely slowing it? How much and how fast do we need to slow it, and how much will we have to pay to do that? What ill effects of climate change can we avoid by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and what effects will we be stuck with no matter what we do?
Nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the general public, as the saying goes, and maybe that's why I'm not rich. For I cling to the myopic view that the public is perfectly capable of understanding the following points: (1) Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are rapidly climbing and are higher than they have been in any post-glacial era since humans started to walk the earth; (2) we are already in uncharted waters and are sailing more deeply into those waters all the time; (3) we need to turn around and go back as fast as we can, without making our situation even more risky or rendering our vessel unseaworthy in the process.
The Economist and its news writers are surely right that U.S. climate legislation will be a pale shadow of what once was hoped for. But with the enactment of health legislation this week, prospects for a climate bill are enormously enhanced. They will be evaluated in a post soon to come.