Reframing the Global Warming debate with Joseph Romm’s Hell and High Water

by Mike Gaworecki

April 1, 2008

If you’re concerned about global warming and want to do something about it, Joseph Romm’s Hell and High Water: Global Warming – the Solution and the Politics – and What We Should Do (HarperCollins, 2007), is a fantastic primer.

Romm starts off by discussing what the best scientific models predict will happen to our planet if global warming goes unchecked for the remainder of the 21st century – hence the title, Hell and High Water, since we’ll probably see rising sea levels and recording flooding coupled with record droughts and uncontrollable wildfires.

The second half of the book discusses global warming solutions. Romm clearly and concisely details the technologies and policies we need to adopt to avoid the worst consequences of global warming and, along the way, dissects the rhetoric used by Republicans and conservatives to continually deny global warming is a serious problem (and somehow still be taken seriously) in order to delay any kind of meaningful action.

Rather than rehash Romm’s arguments, since you can read them for yourself, I’d like to share a few ideas I had while reading the book. I found the chapters on global warming rhetoric to be the most interesting.

Even Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz admitted, in a 2002 memo, that “The scientific debate is closing” against the Republican position on global warming. Since they can’t possibly prove the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is wrong, they have to rely on obfuscating and creating doubt around the issue. As long as the public has any doubt left in their minds, they are going to be okay with delaying action.

Here are some ideas for reframing the global warming debate that were suggested to me by Hell and High Water:

•    Skeptics = Deniers

“Skeptics” is a term that makes it sound as if the viewpoint that global warming is not caused by humans and/or is not a serious problem is actually legitimate. Romm prefers to call them Delayers and Denyers, which implies they are denying reality and delaying the inevitable, and I think that is a very valuable tactic. (Minor quibble: I would personally rather spell it Deniers; not sure if Romm’s spelling is the British version or what, but “deniers” is actually a word, whereas “denyers” isn’t.)

•    Climate Change = Global Warming

Luntz encourages his devotees to always use the phrase “Climate Change” because it “sounds less frightening than global warming.” Well, it is in fact a frightening situation. I’m not saying we should use fear to persuade the public – that is another Republican tactic – but Global Warming does indeed connote the severity of the situation. It denotes that something is being done to the planet, whereas Climate Change is more passive and sounds like something that would probably be happening anyway.

•    Sound Science = Politicized Science or Science Fiction

Republicans like to use the term “Sound Science” as often as possible in order to give the impression that that is what they are basing their views on. But there is no reason to deny the existence of global warming except for political or monetary gain. The arguments the Deniers are peddling are not based on science at all, they are pure fiction.

•    More research/New technological breakthroughs are needed = We can’t afford to wait

As far back as 2001, Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, said: “Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic [Global Warming] is rare in science.” There has been exhaustive research done on the causes and effects of Global Warming, and the overwhelming consensus is that humans are heating the planet and that this will have extremely dire repercussions for the planet and all of the creatures living on it. What’s more, we have the technology needed to begin drastically lowering the amount of greenhouse gases we are releasing into the atmosphere. What’s really needed is the political will to implement progressive emissions standards and clean technologies, because we can not afford to wait any longer before taking bold and decisive action. The truth is that if we don’t implement some sort of emissions caps and cleaner energy standards now, far more restrictive and onerous regulations will be required in the future when the situation has become more dire.

The scientific community has been identifying the causes and predicting the effects of Global Warming for decades now. Those predictions have been consistently reliable. There is no longer any room for doubt and, unfortunately, no time left for debate.

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