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Body Politic Denied
Do Facts Still Matter? The Growing Chasm between Politics and Reality in 2010
When it comes to solving global warming there has always been a large gap between what is needed and what is politically possible.
In 2009 it looked like we were finally on our way to at least narrowing the gap. President Obama appointed a dream team of scientists to key posts: John Holdren as Science Advisor, Steven Chu at Energy, Lisa Jackson at EPA; the Economic Recovery Act included record investments in clean energy; and the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive, albeit imperfect, clean energy and climate bill.
There's no argument that the facts are on the side of climate activists, not skeptics. But this leaves out something important:
- The public's understanding of what it means to call something a "theory". For many, "theory" is something like a "guess" or "notion"
- "Risk" and "uncertainty" inherent in any climate change discussion, but, as with "theory", scientists don't share a common family of meanings with a skeptical public.
- Let's not even get started on funding for messaging and who's better at it.
- We're living in an era of sweeping doubt and mistrust of evidence based expertise. Some experts have clearly let us all down, economists, financiers, financial regulators. In other instances, the popular science press can be confusing. Does eating butter cause heart disease? Why are we only learning now that hormone replacement therapy's a health risk for women? So how do climate scientists and action advocates distinguish themselves from this bad company? "Just the facts" won't do it, alas.