Global warming debate heats up – or changes tone?

Dr John S. Theon, onetime supervisor of NASA scientist and originary proponent of the anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming thesis, Dr James Hansen, dropped a bombshell into the global warming debate yesterday by declaring himself a global warming sceptic. Theon (now retired) claims that Hansen was never muzzled by the US government, as he claimed to be, and asserts that the models used by climate scientists to forecast global warming are ‘useless’.

Not surprisingly, Theon’s claims have provoked a furore in the blogsphere, the ubiquity of which suggests that the global warming meme has passed out of fashion with the commentariat. How much this will slow the international march towards emissions cap and trade systems and green power strategems remains to be seen. Despite (reportedly) growing dissensus to the majority view, the climate change lobby now has the ear of government in the US, Europe, Australia and elsewhere. More significantly, President Obama is poised to unveil an innovative sets of proposals to ‘repower America’, which will have far-reaching implications for US consumers, industry and industrial innovators. Facing the prospect of the worst reccession in 60 years, many heads of state and business leaders may well surmise that a green revolution is exactly what is needed to reinvigorate markets and kick start the flagging global economy.

This indicates a salient point that is mostly overlooked in the continuing global warming debate, on the internet at least. Defenders of the anthropogenic global warming thesis who claim that the debate is over are dead wrong insofar as they mean the scientific debate. Science is never settled – argument stops only when interlocutors lose interest in the topic and move on to other themes. This is unlikely to happen with respect to global warming anytime soon. Having said this, it would appear that the debate concerning global warming has changed in both tone and substance in recent months, to the point that questions of climate science are less the central issue. Increasingly, debate is taking a positive and pragmatic turn, as political leaders and opinion makers consider the problem of global warming (whatever its provenance) in the context of associated problems such as energy dependence and economic crisis. Only months ago, Al Gore, for example, was ratcheting-up anxiety levels by presenting anthropogenic global warming as an existential crisis threatening human civilization. While Gore has lost none of his conviction, since Obama’s election he has taken to framing the problem as a positive challenge to repower and reinvent the US. Here is an excerpt from Gore’s address to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 28, 2009:

‘For years our efforts to address the growing climate crisis have been undermined by the idea that we must choose between our planet and our way of life; between our moral duty and our economic well being. These are false choices. In fact, the solutions to the climate crisis are the very same solutions that will address our economic and national security crises as well.’

The productive tone of this new discourse is to be welcomed. For too long, our talk of global warming has been cast in quasi-religious, apocalyptic tones, in which an immense range of scenarios and possibilities are reduced to the simple of option of damnation or salvation. By casting the problem in a positive, constructive light, we place the greater burden of our salvation on our own shoulders, which is precisely where it should lie. God will not save us from global warming – nor will Obama and Gore. It is we – meaning each and every one of us – who must take on this responsibility, each in our own small way.

The problem is not one of stopping global warming, or of simply learning to adjust. The problem concerns how to recreate (and repower) society for the 21st century, so that we leave a greener, happier, and healthier world for the century after that.

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