Member´s Report #4/2007 Global warming – today’s debate, tomorrow’s dilemma?
Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies Instituttet for Fremtidsforskning
It may seem odd for futurists to write about the climate. Odd, because
the idea is hardly novel. To be honest: isn’t ‘climate’ yesterday’s
news? Instead of repeating what others have said for years, shouldn’t a
futurist look ahead and focus on trends that could lead us in new and
Our answer, simply, is “yes.” All of that is true. And when you read
the report, you’ll understand why we chose this topic.
Our focus is not climate change as such. Nor do we argue for or
against any assumptions or facts about environmental issues. That
is not our area of expertise. But we do want look more closely at the
environment debate, a debate that has arisen over the past few years.
Because no matter what technological solutions we come to devise in
the next ten years, no matter what consensus we reach, no matter what
happens when the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012, today’s debate and
our view of the state of the world will significantly affect our future.
The debate, the way it makes us feel today and the way it imposes
new fears and realities will change our society and the way we define
ourselves as humans. Just as mobile communication has changed every-
thing. Just like 9/11. Just like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
So mark our words: today’s debate will have some consequences
over the next 10-15 years, and companies, organizations and politicians
must be aware of that and act accordingly. Whatever the facts are in
15 years (whether or not we agree on them), today’s debate forever
changes the way we understand the term “environment” and the way
we understand our roles as individuals. Our behavior will change, as
will the demands and expectations of other players. This will be the
Our purpose is to explain further why we find the debate interest-
ing and why it is important.
This report will be presented in Copenhagen, Aarhus and Brussels
in December 2007.
Jessica Panke Wagner, Project Manager
The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies
MeMbeR’S RepoRt # 4, 2007: Global warminG – today’s debate, tomorrow’s dilemma?
DeveopeD by CopenhaGen institute For Futures studies (CIFS)
ConCept and projeCt leader: JeSSICA pANKe WAGNeR
projeCt Group: CARSteN beCK, MARtIN KRUSe, JeSSICA pANKe WAGNeR,
HeNRIK peRSSoN AND JeFFRey SAUNDeRS
writers: #1: JeSSICA pANKe WAGNeR, # 2: KeNNetH StoRMoeN,
# 3: MARtIN KRUSe, # 4: JeFFRey SAUNDeRS,
# 5: CARSteN beCK, # 6: MARtIN KRUSe, # 7: HeNRIK peRSSoN
enGlish adaptation: DeSIRAble RoASteD CoFFee
Cover illustration: MAJA AUGUStA GJelStRUp DyReboRG
GraphiC desiGn: StINe SKØtt oleSeN, NXt dtp: NXt
CopeNHAGeN INStItUte FoR FUtUReS StUDIeS, CopeNHAGeN, DeCeMbeR 2007
CIFS’S MeMbeR RepoRtS ARe pUblISHeD FoUR tIMeS ANNUAlly.
tHe NeXt MeMbeR’S RepoRt WIll be pUblISHeD IN MARCH 2008
foreword ............................................................................. 3
your guide to the climate debate......................................... 6
# 1 global warming is on our minds ................................... 8
# 2 the climate debate blowing in the wind? ................... 11
# 3 risk is a part of life ...................................................... 22
# 4 the US role in the global drama .................................. 25
# 5 what’s up for the future? ............................................ 37
# 6 future losers ............................................................... 47
# 7 future winners ............................................................ 57
sources ............................................................................ 62
some consequences for year 2025 .................................. 65
to the climate
You may not have time to read this report from cover to cover. But, cherry picking is
better than not reading it at all. Why not mark your areas of interest, check the boxes and
read the corresponding chapters.
At the end of this report, you’ll find our special list of consequences for the future.
Use it for inspiration, save it and hang it on the wall as a constant reminder that the fu-
ture will be different from the present.
#1: global warming is on our minds
About this report and its contents, and why we felt compelled to write it.
#2: the climate debate blowing in the wind
The debate from a rhetorical point of view: who is talking and what are they talking about?
Who appears in the news. Why do some people get more media attention than others?
#3: risk is a part of life
When facing risk, most people are afraid. But is the sense of risk always rational? Are we
too afraid of the threat of global warming? Or are we not afraid enough?
#4: the us role in the global drama
It would be almost impossible to analyze the debate without taking a closer look at USA
and its actions. This country is a big player and we should be aware of what is going on
in US politics regarding climate change. Furthermore, we have developed two scenarios
about US engagement in combating global warming.
#5: what’s up for the future?
What about the future consequences of global warming? Who is acting and who is not?
Who is supposed to act and who shouldn’t? Will sustainability be strong or weak? Will
there be bottom-up or top-down solutions? We don’t know. That’s why we have devel-
oped four scenarios for you.
#6: future losers
As simple as that – who will be the biggest loser in the future? We have some ideas and
we’ll tell you why we think as we do.
#7: future winners
Where there are losers, there are usually winners – who will be the biggest winner in the
future? We have some ideas here, too.
some consequences for the future
Just for inspiration: our ideas of the consequences that might occur in 2025. Maybe you’ll
find your company in one of the categories?
is on our
summer of 2007, scandinavia
It all begins very well, with extremely hot days in June. Unusually warm, actually. We
sweat at the office and complain some that many Scandinavian offices and public build-
ings are not air-conditioned. For the simple reason that it is not needed, we might assume.
But we are pretty sure air-conditioning will soon become reality here, as it
already is in southern Europe and the US, with summers that are bound to be even
hotter. It was the same in 2006, wasn’t it? One thing is certain: these unusually hot
summers must have something to do with climate change. Global warming and CO2
and all that. The phrases that have become mantras for ordinary people, though no
one is really able to explain the details. But who needs details? It seems enough to
know it is bad and potentially dangerous. We worry about the next water bill, but
we continue to water our lush lawns and, of course, our potatoes. In Scandinavia, the
potato is almost sacred; small, fresh potatoes are a delicacy, and summer is incom-
plete without them.
We worry about the heat because there will probably be a water ban if it continues.
A water ban will prohibit the use of sprinklers and such during the heat wave. The only
alternative will be a watering can. Or using the sprinkler at night, when the neighbors
But filling your outdoor swimming pool is not prohibited in most cities. So just fill
it to the very edge and then empty it into your garden. Good strategy if you are the lucky
owner of a pool. But if not, an inflatable children’s pool will do. It is legal, but many
neighbors probably sense a moral dilemma here. The neighbors with swimming pools are
happy, the neighbors without are angry.
Damn that global warming!
The suburban riots never materialized, though. In the middle of June, the skies open
– a huge, natural water sprinkler. It rains and rains. There is no end to the rain. It
rains in the morning, at night. It rains all day, sometimes for days on end, with only
short breaks. It pours all over northwest Europe. This is truly an odd summer: it has
almost never rained this much and definitely not this much at one time. Houses and
basements are flooded, trenches collapse and the sewers overflow. Every day, we
watch the disturbing images on TV, people paddling down their suburban streets
in rubber rafts. Not people in distant parts of the world – they are used to flooding
by now, aren’t they? No, these people are practically neighbors, living in homes and
towns that look like ours. And they are in tears because everything they owned on the
ground floor is gone. Scandinavian domestic travel operators are in tears, too, along
with ice-cream vendors and ordinary people who only wanted a pleasant summer in
the garden. No, there are no smiles this summer, unless you are a travel agent selling
charter trips to the Med.
Damn that global warming!
Christmas 2006, denmark
Every Christmas is different. And, each year, Yuletide commerce takes on a life of its own,
with a “Gift of the Year.” The “gift of the year” is that one “must have” that many people
buy -- the most popular Christmas gift. Such as a bread-maker, certain toys or a gadget we
cannot live without. The gift of the year is probably found under thousands of Christmas
trees throughout the country.
The gift of the year anno 2006 was even more special than usual, because it could not
be wrapped and put under the tree. Our focus has shifted; we have become more aware
of the state of the world. We have a conscience, now, and the waves of immaterialization
have lifted our consumption to new levels. We want to do good, something really good.
Not because it is expected of us, but because we want to. We want to contribute to the
That is why this year’s top gift cannot be wrapped. It is a goat. A real goat, bought
through a Danish church charity and donated to a poor family in Ethiopia.1 More than
16,000 Danes paid €35 to buy a goat for Christmas in 2006, and these 16,000 gift givers
– not to mention recipients – were probably very happy with their choice. We feel good
when we do good, without even thinking about it. And the good thing about goats is that
they will eat anything and require no special attention.
Unfortunately, good intentions sometimes go badly. Goats not only eat anything, they
eat everything, leading to erosion, the ruining of crops and further desertification in a poor
part of the world that is already suffering from all of the above.2 However, this year the
goat will be environment-friendly.
a complex world
The above anecdote is just an illustration of what it is all about. Of how it is almost impos-
sible to do the right thing, since we do not have all the facts, and since the environment
is really a huge web of connections and factors. Factors that sometimes conflict with each
other and with other areas of interest that are high on the public agenda. Areas such as
the quest for ‘the greater good’, as with the goat example.
So we all do the best we can -- most of us anyway – but can we really expect people and
companies to change their behavior, if we can’t even be sure what the right thing is?
It’s been said before, but we will say it again: the public debate about the environ-
ment is hugely complex. The debate seems to be a jumble of (often contradictory) facts,
statements, agendas, political spin and bombast. Taken together, we call it “the climate de-
bate,” and this is what we are expected to take part in, through our actions and behavior.
Consumers, individuals, and companies: we are all trying to navigate this reality, without
map or compass. And so are politicians, CEOs and all other players. The very same people
we trust to make decisions that will eventually save us all. So what should we believe?
What direction should we take? What is right and what is wrong?
It is often said that we all need to change our behavior to solve the climate problem.
And maybe we have started to. But our actions are based on what we believe to be facts,
things we think we know. What we know is based on what we pick up from the debate –
hence the debate will influence our actions, and our actions will affect the future.
Most companies know this and most companies talk a lot about the environment and
CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). CSR is the new buzzword that isn’t even new any-
more. But how many companies actually act, rather than talk? Are they prepared for what
is probably coming, or will the new demands from consumers and new regulations hit them
like a fright train? The fact is, now is the time to make choices about your future strategy.
Simplicity is a virtue when trying to explain the world. Shades of gray and nuance
complicate matters. A black-and-white world is easier to explain: coincidences do not ex-
ist and someone can always be blamed for whatever goes wrong. A black-and-white world
is simple. If you would make people listen to you and choose your message from all the
messages on offer, you must simplify and make the world seem full of risk. The far-right
and the far-left have always known this: when in doubt, blame the politicians, blame the
immigrants, blame everyone else.
But this time we don’t know whom to blame. The politicians? Multinational com-
panies in general? Previous generations that did not understand how damaging their
behavior was? The scientists? The poor countries? The rich countries? UN? USA? Your
next-door neighbor? Or perhaps we’d better blame ourselves – although some people will
always feel guiltier than others. If you are the kind of person who is more into the ab-
stract levels of guilt, there are even more categories such as globalization or demography.
If we do not know who is responsible for the problem, then we really do have a prob-
lem: because we don’t know who is really right.
One problem with today’s debate is the lack of heroes. Al Gore was awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize, but that does not make him a hero. Various newspapers have already pointed
to factual errors in An Inconvenient Truth.
All societies have their heroes. Henry Ford was the hero of the industrial society, a
man whose actions changed us, society and its ‘zeitgeist’. The same goes for Bill Gates, the
hero of the information society. But who will be the hero of the climate debate? The truly
good guy who is right, who tells it like he means it, and whom we can trust. In short: the
one who is supposed to do something.
This question is valid today. It is time to act, but there is no consensus about who that
someone is. So we should probably agree on that, soon. Of course, different scenarios ex-
ist, and both top-down and bottom-up solutions are possible.
in the wind
on rhetorical arguments
about the climate in a scientific world.
Would you be surprised if I told you the Earth’s average temperature hasn’t risen at all in
the last century? Probably not, since you are probably used to hearing all sorts of things
about our climate’s direction.
Around the world, thousands of researchers work with the climate. Hundreds of peri-
odicals and a flood of pundits have their view of the climate’s real state. So why is there
such apparent disagreement about basic questions such as “Is the climate really chang-
ing?” and “If so, has mankind any influence on this change?”
One reason for the confusing climate debate is that the agendas of researchers, politi-
cians and other players are different. The agendas may be driven by personal goals. In
the worst case, they collide in conflicting assertions about the climate. And some players,
thanks to rhetorical skill, present their messages more effectively.
the birth of modern climate theory
Today’s debate about the climate could figuratively be described, on the whole, as a cy-
clone, and the 20th century’s debate about the climate was hardly an even and unanimous
prediction of the present climate.
The present theory is based on the idea that manmade emissions of greenhouse gases
are a threat to our future; it was mooted long before it was widely accepted. And even
though researchers largely agree on the theory today, questions about its validity still crop
up; researchers and lobbyists occasionally try to disprove it with other theories about the
climate’s future. We will return to that. But when was the first tentative link between CO2
and global warming?
We must go back 111 years, to the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. In 1896, he
published “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the
Ground,” describing the link between the Earth’s changing climate and the amount of
Later, Arrhenius was the first to predict that global warming could be due to man’s
burning of fossil fuels. In 1908, Arrhenius forecast that manmade global warming would
take 3000 years. Obviously, he missed the mark by many years, but when we consider the
great increase in fossil fuel consumption since then, Arrhenius’ prediction is impressive.
Among other impressive forecasts, Arrhenius predicted that a doubling of contem-
porary CO2 emissions would cause average temperatures to increase 5°C. In compari-
son, in 2001, IPCC, the UN’s climate panel, estimated that a doubling of CO2 emis-
sions would increase global temperatures by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees. Despite his remarkable
foresight, it would be sixty years before Arrhenius’ theory was developed further.
International climate research
Like Danish researchers, whose work attracted little public interest, American researchers
were not exactly in the public spotlight. In the 1960s, American researchers were divided:
Will the Earth grow warmer? Are we headed into a new ice age?
Investigations had shown that the Earth’s warm periods typically last 10,000 years,
after which a new ice age occurs.1 In the temperature decrease from the middle of the
1940s to the middle of the 1970s, many researchers saw indications of an imminent, new
ice age. The cooling tendency seemed plausibly supported, moreover, by the relatively
large amount of dust and smoke issuing forth from the smokestacks of the time: Dust and
smoke might block solar rays.
The theory that a new ice age was approaching was mooted at the same time other
researchers presented the thesis about global warming. It was also in the 1950s-1960s that
researchers could confirm Arrhenius’ predictions about global warming, as it gradually
became clear that human activity was responsible for the emission of CO2 that had con-
siderable influence on the atmosphere. The gravity of this was unclear, however, until the
1980s, when temperature increases were so notable that researchers were forced to take
greenhouse gas-based global warming seriously. Researchers in the US were aware of the
connection, but the topic was still absent from the political agenda.
The North American summer of 1988 was extremely hot. Americans experienced the
worst heat wave since the violent industrialization of the 1930s. When prominent climate
researchers stated that global warming was behind the hot summer, climate change
quickly climbed the political agenda.
In 1988, in the wake of increased awareness of climate change, the UN established the
IPCC climate panel as an authoritative body to examine climate change.
With the creation of IPCC, the stage was set for the present debate about climate
change and the questions we now meet in the media’s articles about climate change.
1 Dessler & Parson: The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change (2007). Cambridge, New York, p. 9f
The climate’s players
As mentioned, one difficulty in gaining a nuanced view of the environment debate is that
the agendas of the players do not necessarily create a standardized and balanced picture
of the real state of the climate. The food chain goes from researcher to media, and from
there to citizens, political organizations, interest groups and politicians themselves. Each
has an agenda; each has a purpose with the climate. We must now look at the people who
shape the climate debate, and why they each can blur the overall picture.
What does a credible climate researcher look like?
What does a credible scientist look like? Today’s researcher doesn’t sit in his lab com-
paring measurements and observations, writing them down as matter-of-fact, objective
findings in research papers for us to peruse at the library. Today’s climate researcher must
know how to adapt his results to the demands of the media. The researcher who wants to
be publicly heard must know how to work the screen, be rhetorically skillful, be familiar
with ethos, logos and pathos, and appear competent and self-assured in both body lan-
guage and sartorial choice. Not every researcher can do this.
Researchers who cannot meet the demands of the communication age can have their pa-
pers “peer reviewed,” as the process of recognizing research is called. Peer review is a scientif-
ically-independent quality assessment of a researcher’s work, and it is the safe road to respect,
collegial backslapping and acknowledgement at the researcher’s institute.
Not all research goes through the peer review-process. Nature, a respected science
periodical, receives 10,000 submissions a year from researchers, of which 60% are not
published. The rejected researchers try to break through elsewhere, of course, possibly by
publishing in a less respected journal. If enough consensus exists about the researcher’s
work, it’ll be published elsewhere and come one step closer to the public.
New or controversial assertions are examined more closely and undergo a more rigor-
ous review by the researcher’s peers than less controversial assertions. In this way, we
have some assurance of the work’s quality and durability.
However, the so-called research consensus can lead a whole research field off into a
blind alley, because even the strongest consensus is not immune to erroneous observa-
tions or false causality. So the best definition of scientific “truth” is this: “when there
is strong scientific consensus about a scientific statement, people outside the scientific
forum should trust it.”
No matter how sound this assurance of truth sounds, theory remains open to personal
interpretation and creativity. Remember that Pythagoras had determined the world is
round by 500 BCE, an assertion that was the consensus among the learned through most
of history. But only in the Middle Ages did laymen accept this truth. Research consensus,
in other words, isn’t enough to spread the truth. Laymen may have another perception
than researchers -- not least when it comes to global warming and climate change.
For example, the explanation for the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica suc-
cumbed to a mistaken research consensus. From the first observation in 1982 to 1987,
three plausible theories were put forth until, in 1987, scientific consensus coalesced
around CFCs as the cause of the hole in the ozone layer.
In other words, despite peer review and ordinary research consensus, we can never be
completely assured of the validity of the researchers’ assertions.
So it can be hard to describe the credible climate researcher exactly, since even the
most rigorous scientific quality control, and the strongest research consensus, can go
awry. To that, add the challenge the layman has in her search for valid arguments in the
climate debate: How does she decide how strong a research consensus is, or who has the
credibility to pronounce consensus, and how does she learn if a theory is peer reviewed?
As a result, we find it hard to know what to believe, and it can take years for scientific
consensus to be broadly acknowledged by the public.
International research consensus
If we must point to one institution that can be called the premier climate authority, it
is the IPCC. The international climate council was established to create greater overall
knowledge about climate research and create greater research consensus on which to
base political decisions. The IPCC was created at the end of the 1980s by the United
Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. It includes
hundreds of researchers, who are divided into three working parties to examine differ-
ent aspects of climate change. The IPCC is, therefore, the highest authority on climate
change. But that must not keep absolute skeptics of climate change from speaking criti-
cally of the IPCC.
Lomborg and the media
The political scientist Bjørn Lomborg’s career on the climate warpath must be character-
ized as “successful-despite-the-odds”. He is one of those researchers who finds it difficult
to pass through the eye of the peer-review needle, but who anyway gains wide recognition
for his controversial approach to global warming. When Lomborg’s first – and loudly dis-
cussed – book, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, was
to be published, the Cambridge University Press came under great pressure to publish the
book at a non-scientific house, rather than a well-reputed scientific publisher. In addition,
critics in scientific world suggested the publisher should change its publication guidelines
to avoid publishing fundamentally political works. After a carefully selected group peer-re-
viewed the book, it was, as is well known, published in 1998. So why did the book become
a bestseller after the world of research fell all over itself to criticize it? The explanation
lies in the conflicting agendas of two worlds: science and the media.
While the usual purpose of research is to gain consensus in a field, the media’s purpose
is to sell news. In addition to “sensation” and “identification,” “conflict” lies on the hit-list of
news characteristics that sell newspapers. Lomborg must be said to be the epitome of two,
at any rate, of these news criteria. The reader is taken in hand and led through an acknowl-
edgment process of the real state of the world. From the book’s first chapter come the calm
words: “We all know the Litany: the environment is in poor shape on Earth. Our resources are
running out…” 2(“We” being, in other words, all of us who aren’t experts, but who sit on the
couch, sorrowfully listening to the doomsday prophecies of climate experts.)
Lomborg, in other words, has a sense for pedagogical language, rhetorical devices
such as allusion and intertextuality – witness his allusion to the annual State of the World
report in his subtitle -- and is painfully aware of the persuasion element that means telling
2 Lomborg, Bjørn: Verdens sande tilstand (1998). Centrum, Haslev, p. 17
us that it will all work out OK nonetheless. The book’s first chapter is, in fact, optimisti-
cally called “Things are getting better”.
Lomborg is also known for his rational logos arguments. There are no alarmist prophe-
cies, only apparently rational ends about how we can best invest funds and best fight the
world’s problems. Should we save people from dying of heat caused by global warming,
or should we go with the flow and exploit the increasing temperatures to save people from
freezing to death? is Lomborg’s question in his new book, Cool It.3 No frills, no elaboration
of the consequences of the temperature increase, which some researchers believe is much
higher at the poles, with altered ocean currents and other consequences to follow.
Another of Lomborg’s well-known arguments is that we should rather fight diseases
in the Third World such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. His argument is based on the hid-
den premise that rich countries will unhesitatingly give more money to fight disease
if not asked to invest in reduced CO2 emissions. However, this seems improbable,
inasmuch Denmark is a leading contributor to poor countries and invests heavily in
reducing global warming, while the US neither supports Kyoto or contributes much to
Superficially, Lomborg’s arguments seem reliable and acceptable, but they have been
strongly criticized internationally and, in addition, in Denmark by Environment Minister
Connie Hedegaard, among others.
Lomborg and Gore: cold and warm fronts
The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize went to former US vice-president Al Gore, author of the book
and documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, and the IPCC. The day the award was
announced, Lomborg was quoted in Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, that it was a
shame the prize went to Gore. IPCC estimates the oceans will rise 30cm in the next 100
years, while Gore, in his film, estimates an incredible rise of six meters.
In contrast to sensible Lomborg’s apparently rational arguments, Gore uses images to
communicate his take on the climate debate, and to win the peace prize, helped greatly by
his slideshow about the world crisis on which his book, An Inconvenient Truth, is based.
If you open the book, which could be a manuscript for the film, the difference
between Al Gore and Lomborg’s argumentation is clear. Lomborg rarely uses emotional
appeal and does so obscurely. Gore’s picture-saturated book, with its 20cm by 20cm pages,
is a clarion call for the cause – a shout from the rooftops, to put it mildly.
When I paged through Al Gore’s book, I realized some pages were thicker than others.
When it dawned on me I could unfold them, out came the scenario of a failed Gulf Stream
and a Europe encased in a new ice age. The language is ultra-pedagogical with large type:
“This is the image that first caused me to think about – and then to become intently
focused on – global warming. It was show in the mid-1960s to a small undergraduate class I
took taught by the second teacher I want to tell you about: Roger Revelle.” 5
The book’s easy-style and full page illustrations are relieved from time to time by bio-
graphical excerpts about Al Gore, such as the section “Concrete and Countryside:”
3 Lomborg, Bjørn: Cool it (2007). Knopf, New York
4 Bach, Christian Friis: ”Ny bog: Bjørn Lomborg: Lad os starte med isbjørnene”, Dagbladet Information
22.9.2007, p. 38
5 Al Gore: En ubekvem sandhed (2006). Aschehoug, p. 30
“I breathed freely – full-chested, invigorating breaths – unlike any I took on the streets of DC.” 6
In the film, the biographical sections act as breaks from Gore’s climate lecturing, much
as advertising breaks up television programs. In the book, the biography side-bars bring
us closer to Gore’s life, philosophy and reasons for working with the climate.
Al Gore’s son, Albert, was in a car accident as a child and suffered serious injuries that
required a year of recuperation. During that year, Al Gore thoroughly reconsidered the
purpose of his life:
“It was during that traumatic period that I made at least two enduring changes: I vowed
always to put my family first, and I also vowed to make the climate crisis the top priority of
my professional life.”7
Through identification with the terrible event of his son’s accident, we are forced into
compassion with Gore. When Gore found his way out of the crisis, he found it most pressing
to tell his fellow Americans about the climate crisis. Who cannot share Gore’s compassion,
and who can criticize his project of devoting his life to informing ordinary Americans about
what he or she can do to ensure “the most costly of God’s beautiful earth ... aren’t lost.”? At
any rate, Gore has his intentions in the right place, creates solidarity with his audience, and
builds a high ethos on which to base his further argumentation and climate assessments.
Back to Lomborg’s criticism of Gore. Gore predicts the seas will rise six meters. The
IPCC says 30 centimeters. Lomborg asks who is correct. In the end, we don’t know. What
we do know is that Greenland’s icecap and the arctic icepacks are melting faster than
statistics predict. Whether the statistics are multiplied by 1.5 or 10 depends on how pes-
simistically one chooses to view climate change, and how dramatic a picture one wishes to
paint. Drama and exaggeration are exactly what Gore has been accused of, and an English
High Court has ruled that Gore’s film may be used for teaching only if the teacher also
notes it contains “nine scientific mistakes”.8
The question now is whether the end justifies the means. Is it justified, in the name
of the noble environmental cause, to exaggerate the alarm and move the melting of the
Greenland icepack forward? Given Gore’s rhetorical success in putting the environment
on the American agenda as never before, some observers – though not Lomborg – will be
tempted to say yes.
the media’s influence on the debate
The media’s role in the climate debate suddenly became clear during the summer of 2007,
when DR2, a Danish television channel, broadcast a controversial British documentary,
The Great Global Warming Swindle. The film argues that global warming has nothing to
do with humans. The program was later strongly criticized by NOAH, a Danish environ-
mental lobby, who claimed the documentary tends to “libel Danish climate researchers.”
Tony Juniper, another critic, and leader of the environment lobby Friends of the Earth
said: “In my wildest dreams, I never imagined a responsible European broadcaster would
show it.” 9
6 Al Gore: En ubekvem sandhed (2006). Aschehoug, p. 122
7 Al Gore: En ubekvem sandhed (2006). Aschehoug, p. 70f
8 From BBC 11 October 2007: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7037671.stm
9 von Sperling, Anna: ”Klimadebat: Kritik af DR’s klimasatsning” in Dagbladet Information d. 12.7.2007, 1.
section, p. 5
In response, DR’s development director, Carl Otto Dethlefsen, said the documentary
was sent as part of DR’s series about climate change and “in that connection, we deliber-
ately looked for at least one program that disagreed with the conventional climate problem
wisdom” and “We also have a duty to tell the other side of the story.” 10
The debate about the controversial documentary illustrates the role the media will
sometimes play in the climate debate. Controversy always sells better than a story we have
often heard before, so researchers or players who offer novel explanations often attract the
microphone and ink. But what does this mean for the rest of us, who try to act in the best
interests of the Earth’s future, and who try to find a well-considered basis for decision?
It’s very difficult to know what is fact and fiction in the climate debate, when
only experts or people who work with climate daily have the expertise to look into a
Stories in the daily press are built up as view vs. counterview. Rarely do we learn how
many researchers stand behind one view or the other. Rarely do we learn how widespread
support may be for a point of view compared with other points of view.
Science has fairly detailed data about climate change. Even so, when the controversial
and sensational has great news “value,” this unfiltered nuanced data rarely comes forth.
The German climate debate
In the fall of 2007, Germany saw a sharp debate about Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate
researcher at Potsdam-institute für Klimafolgenforschung. Rahmstorf would probably
describe himself as the watchdog of the climate debate.11 His opponents call him its cru-
sader. What prompted the controversy was Rahmstorf’s article in Frankfurter Allgemeine
Zeitung describing how the German media misleads citzens about the climate crisis by
relying too much on unreliable sources.12 In the article, Rahmstorf refutes point by point
the researchers he disagrees with, and who have appeared publicly with their alternative
explanations of climate change.
Rahmstorf’s opponents retort that he blacklists journalists who disagree with him. In
the article’s conclusion, the argument against Rahmstorf’s media critique:
“When scientists declare their assumptions to be dogmas, they become soldiers of faith.
Then it’s time to contradict ... Somebody must still keep the door open for a skeptical world-
view against largely unified conventional wisdom…”13
The German debate is also about the media’s role in the climate debate, on the one
hand, and science’s role, on the other. Rahmstorf’s opponents have looked dimly upon
him when he seems so certain in his assumptions.
Refutations and modifications have always been rhetorical tools to create credibility,
but when research results have been repeatedly, like those theories supported by Rahm-
10 von Sperling, Anna: ”Klimadebat: Kritik af DR’s klimasatsning” i Dagbladet Information 12.7.2007, 1.
section, p. 5
11 Bartsch, Chritian et al.: ”Wir müssen Urängste relativieren” i Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung d. 5.9.2007,
nr. 206, p. 35: ”Wenn Wissenschaftler ihre Annahmen zu Dogmen erklären, werden sie zu Glaubenskrie-
12 Rahmstorf, Stefan: ”Deutsche Medien betreiben Desinformation” i Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 31.
13 Bartsch, Chritian et al.: ”Wir müssen Urängste relativieren” i Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 5.9.2007, nr.
206, p. 35: ”Wenn Wissenschaftler ihre Annahmen zu Dogmen erklären, werden sie zu Glaubenskriegern”
storf, there’s no reason to pull alternative theories out of the bag that only confuse the
public. In any case, they must be presented in a context that leaves no doubt about their
relative validity – like the “news” reported in The Onion.
It’s the climate debate’s disagreement between breadth and depth - between pluralistic
opinion and scientific unanimity. The schism will certainly also be a part of the future
debate, and will help shape our view of the debate. Because we must decide whether we
believe those who agree or those who question the majority.
At any rate, it’s about asserting one’s view against a background of honest arguments
that do not tend to the dogmatic, and that are also largely supported by accepted available
facts. The Nobel Peace Prize of 2007 seems almost characteristic of this problem. Award-
ing the prize to the IPCC, with its hundreds of researchers from 130 countries, acknowl-
edges scientific consensus, while Al Gore receives it for the most powerful, isolated and
agenda-setting expression about man-made climate change.
The politician’s contribution to the climate debate
To publicity-seeking “climate researchers”, honest scientists and sensation-hungry
media, we must add politicians to the list of players in the climate debate. Politicians
have the job of making, on the basis of available research, decisions that best meet party
policy and the expectations of voters. In addition, we must expect them to act with an
eye to their own career, and so be driven to some degree by what looks good on the c.v.
In other words, politicians have a big task and many different agendas to consider. Let’s
look more closely at the factors that help shape a politician’s actions and communica-
tion to the public.
The question of global warming is, by definition, complex, and politicians seldom
have resources to thoroughly evaluate a scientific assertion. Therefore, many politicians
stake out a position that agrees with their political ideology, and then seek out theories
that support the position.14 It is rhetorically powerful to present one’s arguments first, and
then support them with scientific gravitas.
An example politics-followed-by-scientific-gravitas is the Copenhagen Consensus pro-
gram, established by the Danish government in 2002, with Bjørn Lomborg as director. The
group’s goal, leading up to a 2004 conference, was to analyze the Earth’s biggest challenges
from a cost-benefit angle and then prioritize the challenges. Lomborg’s book The Skeptical
Environmentalist had already appeared in 1998, and was apparently a point of departure for
Lomborg. Critics claim the government must have been aware of Lomborg’s views when
he was appointed director of the think-tank, and that he was appointed to promote them.
Seventeen problems were ranked by the think-tank, with the climate problem ranking 17th –
in other words, the least important major world problem to spend money on.
The climate problem’s last place ranking at the Copenhagen Consensus conference
may have something to do with the law of inertia. It is always easier to stay the course
than to argue for a change of political agenda.15 As mentioned before, the IPCC was estab-
lished in 1988 and, by 1990, had produced clear evidence of human influence on climate
change. But in Denmark, the climate crisis only recently – 19 years later – assumed an
14 Dessler & Parson: The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change (2007). Cambridge, New Your, p. 40
15 On the law of inertia, see: Se Perelman, Chaïm: The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (1969).
University of Notre Dame Press, p. 106f
important place on the agenda. The Danish environment ministry’s campaign “One Fewer
Ton” shows that the climate and manmade CO2 emissions have, after many years, finally
found a place on the political agenda.16
I also consider Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth as a symbol of how much it takes
to change the political agenda. The film’s assertions are called “exaggerated,” the book
could be read by a six-year-old, and is so densely illustrated that the reader doesn’t actually
have to read it to get the message. I say this not to dismiss the work, but to point out how
o-b-v-i-o-u-s the message must be to change the political agenda.
These examples of the law of inertia show how difficult it may be for a politician to
put a new subject on the agenda. But the Danish climate agenda has slowly changed:
witness Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard’s praise of Gore’s documentary,
which stands in sharp contrast to Lomborg’s view of the climate problem.17
Take hold of value-based arguments
The biggest difference between science and politics is that science is fact-based, while
politics is about future action. Political decision-making, and the question of what we
should do, deal with subjective questions that require a politician to put the question on
his agenda. Since this can never logically follow the objectively-best political action in a
given case, we will always need an unsurpassed openness to new agendas and different
worldviews to decide best how to react to climate change.
The distinction between the climate researcher and the environmental politician lies
between arguments about truth and action . Truth is largely indisputable, since it has be-
come our collective property, but the actions suggested by the facts at hand are very much
open to debate.
“Is the climate changing?” is one question, whose answer falls into the truth category,
and we can answer in the affirmative.
“Is human activity the culprit?” is the next question that has been widely discussed. By
now, there should be agreement in answering “yes.”
The third question is “How do we best and most suitably react to the man-made
changes?” This is the truly difficult factor in the debate, one we should concentrate on
much more. An argument may be perfectly shaped, logical and rational, but, still, it can
never dictate a fixed political action. So the parties to the debate must be open to all sides,
both those that are against them and for them, to reach the most well-considered basis for
decision as possible.
Which way will the climate debate go?
It is clear the climate debate is complex and makes it difficult for the individual to act cor-
rectly on the basis of what he or she has heard of climate change in the media.
Yesterday, in a news broadcast, I heard that the Danish environment ministry has
stated that a single gas heater at a café produces two tons of CO2 a year, which seemed
alarming. As a consumer, am I to avoid these cafés, or wear woolen underwear so I can
16 See the campaign here: www.1tonmindre.dk
17 Hedegaard, Connie: ”Al Gores film er god at få forstand af” at the Danish environment ministry’s website:
ask the manager to turn off the heat? The next story in the broadcast was about a dispute
between two towns over which had the right to build a large luxury vacation center with
indoor water park. With the café heater’s CO2 emissions still in my head, I couldn’t help
wonder how much CO2 is released by an indoor water park.
The many arguments and investigations make it very difficult for the individual to
judge what actions are morally correct when it comes to climate change. Is climate change
so seriously advanced that it cannot pay to do anything about it now? Or will it be so
expensive to do anything about global warming, that our best bet is to get as much out of
the development as possible, which we cannot influence anyway? Some will undoubtedly
see it this way after the recent heated environmental debate. But I hope most will look
more optimistically on the future, even though the debate, for the next many years, will
be marked by the same clashing tendencies we see today.
And so we return to this article’s opening: the arguments of the climate debate consist
of, and will continue to consist of, unsentimental facts, sophisticated sensation-searching
broadcasts, debatable causalities, cosmopolitan consensi and pathos-arguments that go to
the bitter end to convince us which way the climate debate should go.
hoW do you raTe abILITy To affecT The WorLd very bad
around you? bad
0% 50 % 100 %
Source: CIFS survey on change 2004
In The nexT 10 years, are you LIkeLy To be personaLLy affecTed by terror
The foLLoWInG ThreaTs? rIse In % beTWeen 2005 and 2007
rise eU rise US
Source: German Marshall Fund Transatlantic trends 2007
risk is a part
Risk is a part of life. Risk is part of planning and evaluating the future, for individu-
als, business and government. Katherine Rowan has shown that when measuring risk
technically, analysts understand it in terms of multiplying severity by likelihood (Risk
= Severity * Likelihood)
In risk management, we often prepare for probable events that will have little effect,
but which must be addressed because they are likely. Public transport agencies must plan
for train delays, for example. But we must also prepare for the improbable, yet severe:
terrorist attacks or environmental catastrophe, for example. Whether to spend money on
the likely-but-not-severe or the improbable-but-severe is a constant debate in risk manage-
ment because of limited resources.
When considering climate change, we already know the big question is: is the climate
really changing? This question pertains to identification. We must have a clear understand-
ing of the phenomena in question. We don’t. The system’s complexity makes for uncer-
tain judgments. As a result, the very basis for discussion is open to interpretation, which
is why so many people are confused even at this level.
Another question we ask is: to what extent is the phenomenon a threat? The phenomena
in question typically influence human life. This is why meteors rarely pose a problem, be-
cause the oceans are so vast and there is so much uninhabited land. With climate change,
we look at human exposure to risk. Since many possible consequences must be measured,
we try to look at them separately and together. One study may look at rising sea levels
and the threat posed to coastal areas. Another study may look at temperature increases in
Africa and the attendant effects on conflict and migration.
It is not enough to identify causes, problems and people at risk. We must also measure
how big the risk is. This is a vital point in risk management and risk communication.
People often react irrationally to information and are unnecessarily frightened due to a
lack of knowledge about or preconceived ideas about a phenomenon.
The complexity of climate change is a result of the multifaceted aspect of the phenom-
ena. Climate change is not an incident, such as Chernobyl. It cannot be grasped in quite
the same way. And this means that risk assessment by individuals is uncertain.
While statisticians base risk on quantitative historical data, such as average annual
lung cancer deaths or the chances of dying in a car accident, individuals assess risk differ-
ently and sometimes illogically. This difference is evident when we consider flying. When
assessing subjective risk, laymen tend to exaggerate the risk.
The personal perception of risk differs from the technical perception of risk. Studies
(Sandman 1987) show how the personal perception of risk is depends on voluntariness,
control and perception of fairness. With climate change, we can test these questions
generally, or against particular communities. On the whole, mankind may seem to have
entered into the problem voluntarily; however, most people disagree with this perception,
because most people feel they have no influence.
In western democracies, this is false, because we elect politicians who represent
our beliefs, and we can punish the companies that do not meet our standards. But for
much of the world, this is the case. Particular communities or groups of people are be-
ing subjected to changes in their environment that they did not cause. Dioxins, widely
used in India and other parts of Asia, are vaporizing into the atmosphere, where they
drift to polar regions, descend, and cause genetic damage to Arctic animals.
Risk is evaluated in relation to mastery. We perceive risk that we can influence as
This was corroborated by a CIFS survey in which four types of people were catego-
rized according to their view of the future. The future-oriented innovators were fairly
confident of their ability to influence their lives and future, and so were optimistic about
the future. Those who felt threatened by the future, however, tended to feel little or no
ability to affect their future.
People from the countryside are familiar with snakes and other dangers, and so are
unafraid of them. Whereas walking in the city, with all its traffic, can be perceived as
highly risky. People tend to view the risks of atomic waste, climate change and other
phenomena beyond their control as more risky than driving a car. The lack of feeling of
mastery and familiarization makes for a somewhat distorted risk assessment. This could
mean that, as people become familiar with climate change, they will get used to it. It is
often claimed that a frog put into boiling water will jump out of the pot to save its life,
while a frog put into cold water gradually warmed to boiling will not. The slow process
of climate change and human adaptation may mean we familiarize ourselves with the
risk embodied in climate change. As a result, we may wait until it is too late. Whether
the talk of climate change will subside due to overexposure or strengthen seems to
depend on people actually experiencing the change. According to the World Bank, the
Chinese, with their direct exposure to pollution, are much more worried than Europeans
by the direct effect of the environment on health.
Studies show that the greenhouse effect will affect Africa first and, according to
the CIA, this can cause conflicts over land, as we have seen in Darfur. This touches
upon another aspect of risk perception- fairness. Is it fair that rich countries, in
pursuit of their own happiness and material wealth, destroy the land of others and
dump the problems in their backyard? Most people would agree that the troubles
facing Africa in the future are morally unjust. The UN expects that two billion people
will lack water in 2050, and that 50 million people, most of them African, will be
environmental refugees by 2010.
risk assessment is different in different cultures.
According to the German Marshall Fund, Europeans differ from Americans in their threat
perception. Americans are troubled by the prospect of economic crisis; they find only for-
eign dependence on energy as more troubling. Europeans are more worried about climate
change (85%) while only 70% of Americans perceive climate change as a threat. Both
consider global warming to be more of a concern than they did in 2005. In 2005, 73% of
Europeans, but only 64% of Americans, perceived it so. The American levels today, in
other words, roughly match European levels in 2005.
the US role
in the global
September 25, 2007 – Denmark’s environment minister, Connie Hedegaard met with mem-
bers of the US House of Representatives to discuss climate change and global warming.
Following her discussions, she concluded that US resistance to developing effective policies
to combat global warming stems not only from US President George W. Bush, but from a
broad swath of US lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican. The meeting, in effect,
doused any expectations she had for a rapid change in the US position on climate change.
She concluded that it would be a long time before the US government would actively engage
itself in taking meaningful actions to cut US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and combat
Is this actually the case? Are the policy discussions regarding climate change and
global warming at a standstill? What is the status of the US political debate on global
warming and climate change?
We have chosen to focus on the United States for two reasons.
First, it was the world’s single largest emitter of GHGs until China caught up to and
surpassed it this year. The US, however, remains one of the world’s largest per-capita
emitters of GHGs: individual Americans release over 20 tons of CO2 annually compared to
about ten tons by citizens of EU-15 countries.
Second, as one of the world’s largest polluters, and because it rejected the Kyoto
Protocol in 2001, the US is seen by the rest of the world as essential to creating effective
anti-climate change policies. Without US buy-in, China and India are unlikely to partici-
pate. Japan, among others, has stated that it will assume no further commitments beyond
Kyoto if the United States and major developing countries are not onboard.
Therefore, negotiations over a new global anti-climate change protocol are unlikely
to succeed without bringing these players onboard. Following an analysis of the current
state of US politics and policies regarding global warming, we will present two possible
scenarios for US engagement in climate change over the next five years.
1 ”Miljøminister Connie Hedegaard: Stejlt op ad bakke med USA” Berlingske Tidende. 26 September 2007:
14 – 15.
But, first, a little history.
a little history
Since the late 1970s, an international scientific consensus has emerged about manmade
climate change, as shown by reports by US National Academy of Sciences (1979, 1983,
and 2001), World Climate Program (1985), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007). Even so, the issue of climate change due to man-
made global warming remains controversial in US political and public arenas. Since
the late 1980s, the debates about global warming and climate change have ranged over
whether it is actually happening, to whether it is manmade or natural, to whether GHG
emissions can be sufficiently reduced without causing large economic and social disloca-
tions. The global warming debate split into two camps: environmental reformers on one
side and, on the other, the political backlash – ideological conservatives, the business com-
munity, and members of federal, state and local governments.
The issue of climate change came to the forefront of public and political consciousness
in June 1988, when Senator Timothy Wirth (D-Co) called for hearings on a day when tem-
peratures were expected to reach a scorching 36°C and when anxiety was growing about
a drought affecting the American South and Midwest. The hearing’s star witness, James
E. Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified that the
world was warmer than at any time that century, and that man-made GHGs – not natural
climatic variations -- were the cause. He was the first scientist of his rank and prestige to
unequivocally state that the burning of fossil fuels was related to global warming. The
results of his testimony were initially dramatic. Both the Los Angeles Times and the New
York Times reported that a broad consensus in support of environmental regulation to halt
global warming had developed.2 His testimony and the subsequent public and political
debates it sparked led to a flurry of activity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which led to
the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 and
the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCC) in 1992.
”you know, i’m not going to get involved in
a mumbo-jumbo of peer-review documents.
there’s politics within the scientific commu-
nity, where they’re all intimidated to speak out
once someone has staked a position”
Rep. John Doolittle (R-Ca) in a 1995 hearing, where he and a number of subcommittee members wanted to
debunk the science behind ozone depletion
2 Maxwell T. Boykoff, et al. ”Balance as bias: Global Warming and the US prestige press” Global Environ-
mental Change 14 (2006): 130.
Despite this initial activity, divisions quickly arose between the United States and
Europe, and within the United States between environmental reformers, moderates, and
climate- change skeptics who are supported by political, industrial and commercial inter-
ests. By 1997, the US shifted from a being an anti-global warming proponent to a country
where the science behind global warming, and policy solutions to address the problem,
came under attack. On July 1997, the US Senate unanimously passed the Hagel-Byrd
resolution. This resolution notified President Clinton that the Senate would not ratify
any treaty that would result in serious harm to the US economy and that would impose
mandatory emissions reductions for the United States without imposing corresponding
reductions on large developing nations (such as China and India). Even though President
Clinton would eventually sign the Kyoto Protocol in November 1998, this resolution effec-
tively killed US participation in the treaty. The treaty lay dormant until President George
W. Bush renounced any attentions of abiding by the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.
What happened? The climate-change debate became embroiled in broader debates
over environmental regulation that had been brewing since the early 1980s. The environ-
mental legislation that had been enacted in 1970s, when many of the first US environ-
mental laws were passed, overestimated the speed with which new technological innova-
tion would occur, and underestimated compliance costs and the difficulties associated
with writing standards for hundreds of industries. A backlash developed.
In the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, a broad consortium of anti-environ-
mental regulation and anti-global warming actors emerged. This consortium included:
- Regulated industries and businesses that chafed at the costs associated with compli-
ance and who resisted the enactment of new legislation;
- Ideologically motivated players (conservative think tanks, politicians, and commen-
tators, for example) who strongly believed in limited government, property rights,
humanity’s dominion over nature, preferred private sector solutions, and resisted
federally imposed regulations; and
- Members of state and local government who resisted the expansion of federal authority.3
The thought of a binding international treaty regulating CO2 emissions struck this conser-
vative consortium as direct threat to such core principles as sustained economic growth,
free trade, national sovereignty and continued abolition of governmental regulations.
The most radical shift in the US political landscape regarding global warming and
climate change occurred after the 1994 Republican take-over of Congress. A majority is
important in the US Congress, since the majority party appoints committee chairman-
ships, convenes hearings and composes witness lists, and decides which bills will come to
a vote. The 104th and 105th Congresses (1995-1998) were adamantly opposed to federally
imposed environmental regulations and to international solutions to climate change.
Republican congressional leaders, particularly those who led the House Commit-
tee on Science, attacked existing environmental policies and research and sought to
3 Michael Kraft, “US enivornmental policy and politics” Journal of Policy History 12 (2000):17-42
promote those policies and scholars who supported their perspectives. Studies have
shown that the number of independent expert natural scientists -- unaffiliated with
environmental organizations, industry or the government – called to testify before
Congress fell during this period. The number of climate change skeptics, however,
who were affiliated with industry organizations and conservative think tanks, in-
creased sharply. The climate change skeptics’ testimony typically took three tacks: (1)
the evidence for global warming is weak or wrong; (2) if global warming actually does
occur, it will help, not hurt, humanity; and (3) proposed efforts to limit GHG emis-
sions will do more harm than good.4
As the skeptics appeared more often before Congress, they appeared more often in
US media. Global warming skeptics, many of whom were employed at such conservative
think tanks as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, began
sending their findings to politicians, bureaucrats, and media outlets. This development
amplified uncertainties within the US public arena about whether global warming and
climate change were actually occurring. Studies of US media outlets have shown that,
despite growing consensus among environmental scientists about manmade causes of
global climate change, the media’s professional requirements to provide balanced cover-
age (equal time to both sides) made it appear there was greater disagreement within the
scientific community than there actually was.5
The climate change skeptics’ approach dovetailed with popular resistance to public
environmental policies. This popular resistance had several causes. First, automobile
and energy industry interests are more deeply entrenched in the United States than in
Europe. These industries have resisted and still resist attempts to set mandatory GHG
emission limits.6 Second, some US unions feared that environmental regulations limit-
ing GHG emissions would affect production capacities, threatening members’ jobs. Third,
many Americans have grown used to a lifestyle of high consumption and relatively cheap
transportation. These consumption habits, combined with a relatively lower population
density and longer traveling distances, meant that many Americans felt that increasingly
stringent environmental regulations – such as President Clinton’s proposed taxes on
energy consumption to force conservation in 1993 – would attack their way of life and, as
a result, were deeply unpopular.7 Fourth, many in the United States perceive environmen-
talists as being doomsayers and scolds who are anti-technology and anti-growth. These
attitudes clash with US popular beliefs in a boundless future.8
As a result of these developments, the science of climate change and prospective policies
designed to limit the emissions of GHGs came under increasing assault. This trend intensi-
fied in 2001, when George W. Bush became president. For the first time, individuals who
were critical of both the science behind global warming and potential policies to hinder it
4 Aaron McCright, et al. ”Defeating Kyoto: The Conservative Movement’s Impact on US Climate Change
Policy” Social Problems, Vol. 50, No. 3 (2003): 348-373.
5 Maxwell T. Boykoff, et al. ”Balance as bias: Global Warming and the US prestige press” Global Environ-
mental Change 14 (2006): 131.
6 The automobile industry has launched a number of legal challenges to California and New Hampshire’s
attempts at strengthening automobile emissions regulation.
7 J.W. Andersen, How Climate Change Policy Developed: A Short History (Washington, DC: Resources for
the Future, 2005): 5.
8 Mark Horowitz, “Burning Down the House” Wired Magazine. (October 2007), 128.
controlled both the legislative and executive branches of government. In 2007, Dr. James
Hansen, the scientist who launched the climate change debate 18 years earlier, testified
before Congress that he had “never seen anything approaching the degree to which informa-
tion flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now.”9
Despite the growing influence of US climate change skeptics during the 1990s and
early 2000s, environmental organizations were able to block most of conservative efforts
to loosen or repeal environmental legislation. A stalemate developed in the legislative
branch, and most action regarding climate change, as a result, was delegated to state-level
actors and the Bush administration.10
the Current situation
US attitudes and the political debates surrounding climate change have changed rapidly
over the last few years. Many point to Hurricane Katrina and growing media coverage of
events that can be attributed to global warming – increased hurricane activity and glacier
melting – as the tipping point in popular and political attitudes towards global warming
in the United States. By early spring 2007, the former Vice-President and presidential
candidate Al Gore won an Oscar for his film An Inconvenient Truth. And on 12 October
2007, he won Nobel Peace Prize. The debate about whether global warming exists and
whether human beings are responsible is now largely over. State and municipal govern-
ments have begun filling the void left by the lack of federal government action on climate
change. Many of the business that supported the global warming skeptics now want clear
international and national global warming regulations in order to avoid a patchwork
regulatory environment. Broad sections of the US population are now starting to view
climate change as a global problem, although most still do not see it as the most important
problem. Despite executive branch intransigence, President George W. Bush has convened
a climate change conference, where he stated that “climate change is a real problem – and
human beings are contributing to it.” Congress, since the Democratic takeover in 2006,
appears to be increasingly interested in enacting climate change regulation. Despite this
trend, the debates over climate change are not over. They have shifted to arguments over
whether a mandatory regulatory framework, like the Kyoto Protocol, is the best solution
to solve the climate change problem.
Due to the lack of political action at the federal level, state and local governments
began to fill the void. States are developing plans to mitigate climate change, mandating
investments in energy efficiency and renewable resources, and setting emission reduction
targets. California’s environmental policies are the most internationally recognized. On
June 1, 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger committed California to GHG targets that
match 2000 levels by 2010 and 1990 levels by 2020. According his order, emissions would
be 80 percent below current levels by 2050. In his signing ceremony, he stated: “The de-
bate is over. We know the science. We see the threat. And we know the time for action is
now.”11 In 2006, the California state legislature made the 2020 target enforceable by law.
9 Kelly Young, “US funding of climate science – details revealed” New Scientist Environment. 20 March
10 Barry Rabe, Can Congress Govern (New York: Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service,
New York University, April 2007).
11 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Governor’s Remarks at World Environment Day Conference” 1 June
The nature of the US regulatory framework gives an important role to play in the
domestic regulatory framework. States have primary jurisdiction over many areas
of importance to GHG reduction policies such as land use, agriculture, and electric
Many states also perceive climate change as both a threat to their economic wellbe-
ing and a possible future revenue stream. Coastal states worry about rising sea levels;
agricultural states are growing increasingly concerned about unpredictable weather and
droughts. Many states view climate change as an opportunity to improve the citizens’
health and well being and to boost their local economies. For example, states can:
- Become producers and exporters of alternative, renewable fuels.
- Sell carbon-reduction credits.
- Attract and retain high-tech industries and businesses, etc.
In addition, individual states produce large amounts of GHGs. For example, California
produces more GHGs than Brazil, while Texas releases more than France. This despite the
fact that Brazil’s population is five times larger than California’s and France’s is two and
half times larger than Texas’.12
Many states are enacting their own legislative priorities, or they are creating regional alli-
ances with neighboring states. As a result, a “patchwork” of varying regulatory frameworks
aimed at combating global warming is developing across the United States at the regional,
state, and local levels. As of March 2007, there were five regional initiatives that address
climate change and clean energy. At the state level, states have passed a myriad of laws and
initiatives that cover: low carbon electricity, transportation, and agricultural policies; emis-
sions policies; and climate action plans. For example, twenty-three states and the District of
Columbia have mandated that a specified amount of electricity must come from renewable
sources, and almost half of US states have policies dedicated to supporting energy efficiency
and renewable energy products.13 Only states in the American Southeast have not enacted
GHG emissions reduction policies.14 In addition, more than six hundred and fifty US cities
have formally adopted ordinances that commit them to honoring the Kyoto Protocol.
There are several problems with this localized, patchwork approach. First, businesses
are forced to deal with many uncertainties about compliance with local and regional
regulations, which lead to inefficient business. Second, many states have strict budgetary
requirements that limit their ability to fund long-term climate policies. As a result, many
cities and municipalities expect federal funds to pay for their climate change policies.15
Third, most state policies do not go far enough in reducing GHG emissions. Only some
are delivering real reductions in GHG emissions, and only a few are inline with what is
12 Learning from State Action on Climate Change (Arlington, VA: Pew Center on Global Climate Change,
13 Learning from State Action on Climate Change (Arlington, VA: Pew Center on Global Climate Change,
14 Barry Rabe, Can Congress Govern (New York: Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service,
New York University, April 2007).
15 John Bailey, ”Global Warming Requires Local Solutions” StarTribune.com (5 October 2007).
and will be required globally to combat climate change. As a result of this patchwork of
policies, many businesses now want a uniform, national approach to reducing GHG emis-
sions. Ten major US companies, including General Electric, DuPont, and Alcoa, recently
joined with four nonprofits to create the US Climate Action Partnership.16 Dow Chemical,
Shell, Chrysler, General Motors, which once supported the Global Climate Coalition – a
now defunct industry alliance that promoted climate change skeptics and organizations –
have also joined US Climate Action Program.
The US population is likewise becoming increasingly concerned about global warm-
ing. US popular attitudes are divided and are as partisan as those in the political sphere.
Despite the growing concern, Americans, however, are less concerned about global warm-
ing than they are other policy issues, such as the war in Iraq, health care, etc.
In January 2007, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of US attitudes towards
climate change. They found that most Americans (77 %) now believe that global tempera-
tures are rising, but there still remains a great deal of debate as to its causes. Less than
half believe that it is caused by human activity (47 %), while one-in-five believes that it is
caused by natural causes.17
Popular American opinions regarding climate change, however, are divided largely
along party affiliations. Democrats are more than twice as likely to think that global
warming is a very serious problem than Republicans (54 % v. 24 %). Conservative Repub-
licans and college-educated Republicans are the least likely to believe that climate change
is due to human activity.18
Despite the growing unease, Americans do not believe that global warming is of great
personal concern to them when compared to other countries. Only 19% felt that global
warming was of a great deal of importance to them, lower than any of the fifteen coun-
tries the Pew Center surveyed.19 In addition, most Americans – Democrats included –
ranked climate change lower than most other policy priorities.
Since taking office in 2001, President Bush and his administration have been par-
ticularly intransigent on the issue of manmade global warming. Since he renounced the
Kyoto Protocol in 2001, he has proposed plans calling for an 18% reduction in US emis-
sions intensity from 2002 to 2012 – this goal will actually allow a 12% increase in the total
amount of GHGs emitted during this period. His plans also call on businesses to volun-
tarily cut GHG emissions and rely on the development of technology to fight the effects
of rising temperatures. The President has softened his tone regarding GHG emissions.
On February 16, 2007, he agreed to the non-binding “Washington Declaration,” where he
agreed to outline a successor to the Kyoto agreement. In addition, he hosted the afore-
mentioned climate change conference in September 2007.
The administration’s intransigence in combating global warming has been called into
question by state and local governments. In March 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled
that the executive branch must revisit its decision not to define carbon dioxide as an air
16 Eileen Claussen, et al. ”A New Climate Treaty: US leadership After Kyoto” Harvard International Review
Vol 29 1 (Spring 2007).
17 Global Warming: A Divide on Causes and Solutions (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, January 24,
18 Global Warming: A Divide on Causes and Solutions (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, January 24,
19 Little Consensus on Global Warming (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, July 12, 2006).
pollutant (Massachusetts v. US Environmental Protection Agency.) In this case, the admin-
istration’s lawyers mounted a vigorous defense that claimed that, since the 1990 Clean Air
Act did not explicitly define carbon dioxide as a pollutant, they were under no obligation
to do so. While the opposition – led by the Massachusetts attorney general and which
consisted of counterparts from ten other states – argued that US government had to. The
issue became a messy fray as municipalities filed briefs in support of state governments
and business groups and organizations filed in favor of the federal government.20 This
situation largely arose due Congress’s unwillingness and inability to legislate effectively
on environmental and climate change issues.
Since the Democratic takeover of Congress in November 2006, climate change has
once again come to the forefront of congressional discussions. As we saw previously, the
increasingly politicized nature of the climate change debate from 1990-2005 in the United
Congress has meant that most congressional hearings on the issue devolved into political
grandstanding. Reviewing the Congressional Record from this period, one is more likely
to learn about the climate science views of the novelist Michael Crichton than states’ and
other nations’ experiences with GHG emissions regulation. In 2005, Congress’s attitude
towards climate change began to change. In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution stating
the time had come for Congress to enact limits on GHG emissions that would first cause
them to slow, then stop, and finally reverse. The vote was 55 to 43. The 110th Congress
(2007) has introduced 125 different climate change related bills, resolutions, and amend-
ments. This compared to the six major environmental laws enacted in the preceding 12
years. The proposed legislative activity includes calls for US participation in international
climate change negotiations, the establishment of cap-and-trade systems, and funding for
climate science and climate-friendly technologies. Congress is currently considering seven
bills proposing alternative cap and trade systems. The proposed legislation all plan for
cuts in US GHG emissions, though they all differ in degree to which emissions will be cut.
The most aggressive of the seven is Sanders-Boxer-Waxman bill, which proposes an 80%
reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.21
Despite the recent congressional activity, the debates about how best to solve the
global warming crisis are far from over. Some conservatives claim that mandatory GHG
emission limits, as required by Kyoto, are the worst way to tackle the global warming
crisis, saying they would cost too much and unnecessarily risk jobs and future economic
development. They often cite the works of Bjørn Lomborg, arguing that the money would
be better spent on other alternatives – technological solutions, for example. On the left,
there are those, such as Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who claim that only
calling for limits on emissions will not inspire the technological advances necessary for
successfully combating global warming.
There are also questions about the likelihood of overcoming internal congressional
turf battles over climate change and the current state of legislative and executive branch
relations. Climate change is one of those issues that cross a number of congressional com-
mittees within both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This is problematic as
20 Barry Rabe, Can Congress Govern (New York: Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service,
New York University, April 2007).
21 Economy-wide Cap-and-Trade Proposals in the 110th Congress. (Washington, DC: Pew Center on
Global Climate Change, September 2007).
committees often compete with one another for jurisdiction and influence. A committee
chairman can call hearings and delay action on proposed bills and amendments. For ex-
ample in the Senate alone, the following committees can claim some form of jurisdiction
over the issue of climate change: Energy and Natural Resources; Commerce, Science and
Transportation; Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Environment and Public Works; and
Appropriations. Each committee has several subcommittees, further complicating quick
action on climate change.
The success of any proposed legislation will also depend upon legislative and execu-
tive branch relations. Currently, the Democrats control both houses, although their con-
trol is weakest in the Senate (51-49). Any legislation limiting GHG emissions, therefore,
must attract the support of the president and congressional Democrats. The Democrats’
slim Senate majority make it unlikely that Congress can overcome a presidential veto.
According to recent statements by the US Director of the National Renewable Energy Lab
of the Department of Energy, it appears as if President Bush may be open to some form of
mandatory national GHG emissions limits in the future.
two possible Future scenarios for
us participation in Frameworks for
Climate Change towards 2012
As we have seen, climate change is a highly polarizing and contentious issue in the United
States. The following is a presentation of two future scenario projections of US participa-
tion, or lack thereof, in future international framework agreements on climate change.
The two future scenarios are:
the united states signs and ratifies the successor treaty to Kyoto.
the united states develops a voluntary GhG emissions’ reduction agreement with
China, india, and australia regarding climate change – Kyoto expires.
chIna and GhG emIssIons:
- China is the world’s largest consumer of coal. Coal has twice the amount of carbon per unit of energy than
natural gas, and 20% more than petroleum.
- China relies on coal for over 80% of its electricity and two-thirds of its total energy.
- there are more coal-fired power plants in China than there are in the United States, United Kingdom, and
- Its coal fleet is expected to double by 2030.
- It will be difficult to rein in its GHG emissions as industrial energy demands consumes 70% of China’s
- China’s industrial base supplies 35% of the world’s steel and 28% of its aluminium.
the us signs and ratifies a successor treaty to Kyoto.
It is November 1, 2012, and President Hillary Clinton is running for re-election. After
a long arduous series of international and congressional negotiations, the Copenhagen
Protocol is set to take effect, replacing the controversial Kyoto Protocol. This is one of her
major accomplishments as president.
The Copenhagen Protocol (signed in 2009) includes not only Annex I (industrialized)
countries, but, most importantly, includes the major industrializing countries as well. This
hurdle, which was a major sticking point for congressional leaders during the negotia-
tion of the Kyoto Protocol 12 years earlier, was only overcome following the Democrats’
victory in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections. The Democrats gained an
additional four seats in the Senate, bringing their majority to 55-45. The Democrats’ vic-
tory was interpreted domestically and internationally as mandate for US participation in
international global climate change protocols.
This change in US attitudes towards climate change was essential in breaking the
deadlock in the negotiations. Sensing that the window of opportunity for successfully
negotiating a successor treaty before the Kyoto Protocol expired was closing, President
Clinton called on the newly elected 111th Congress to pass the Combating Global Warming
Act of 2009 as one of its first acts of business. Supported by Vice-President Barack Obama,
“First Gentleman” Bill Clinton, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Vice-President Al
Gore, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, she was able to overcome congres-
sional opposition, including the Senate’s limited-government and climate-change skeptics’
attempts to filibuster to this act.
This legislation, modeled on California’s landmark climate change legislation, enacted
a mandatory cap-and-trade system that called for emission reductions to 60% below 1990
levels by 2050. With Governor Schwarzenegger and former Vice-President Gore looking
on, President Clinton signed the Combating Global Warming Act of 2009 into law. This
law, although not a ratification of the Kyoto treaty, was designed to be compatible with
the Kyoto Protocol system. Although Kyoto Protocol countries could not buy US GHG
credits, American companies could buy theirs to meet compliance requirements.22 The
Chinese and Indian delegations, who previously refused to give up the exemption status
they enjoyed under Kyoto without a demonstration of US intent, likewise gave up their
Getting China and India to give up their exemption under Kyoto and accept a staged
application of absolute “Kyoto-like” targets, did not come easily. It was, however, es-
sential as developing countries are expected to surpass developed ones as the world’s
biggest emitters of GHG before 2030.24 China, which has been building one pulverized
coal-burning power plant a week since in the mid-1990s and two a week since 2006,
demanded dramatic expansions to bilateral and multilateral efforts to develop and expand
22 This is possible under the Kyoto Protocol. For more information, please see: Linking US and International
Climate Change Strategies (Washington, DC: Pew Center on Climate Change, 2002).
23 Jeffrey Logan, et al. ”For China, the Shift to Climate-Friendly Energy Depends on International Collabora-
tion” Climate Change Science and Policy (2007).
24 Wilbur Perlot, Post-Kyoto and the position of the European Union (Amsterdam: Cliengendael international
energy programme, 2005)
its use of the latest green-technologies. They demanded more technology transfers and
joint venture-arrangements between Chinese and US and European firms. These projects
expanded greatly on upon such current arrangements as US-China FutureGen “clean coal”
project that includes a collaboration of 12 energy companies and the China-EU Partner-
ship currently led by the UK. These projects are seen as essential to increasing developing
countries’ energy intensity, which allows them to decouple the linkage between economic
development and increases in GHG emissions. India made similar demands as a price for
their participation, and negotiators from Europe and the United States agreed. As part
of the deal struck, China also agreed not to further develop coal as a transportation fuel
through coal liquefaction until it could successfully be decarbonized. With these agree-
ments in place, the Copenhagen Protocol was signed on 11 December 2009 – the last day
of the UNFCCC and the fifth meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which took
place in Copenhagen, Denmark.
With a 67-33 vote, the US Senate ratified the treaty in 2010. With that vote, the Senate
has overcome international skepticism regarding the United States’s ability to not only sign,
but also ratify a climate change treaty. This is a proud moment for both President Hillary
Clinton, former President Bill Clinton and former Vice-President Gore, as they have finally
been able to overcome one of their significant political defeats from the 1990s.
the united states enters into a voluntary agreement with China,
india and australia – Kyoto expires
It is November 1, 2012. Kyoto is set to expire at the end of December, and its expiration
is mourned in Europe and Japan. In the United States, its passing is also mourned by
environmentalists and members of the Democratic Party. Much to the Democrats dismay,
Fred Thompson and the Republican Party were able to separate themselves from President
George W. Bush’s poor popularity ratings. He was elected president in 2008, and although
the Democrats maintain control of both houses of Congress, the Republicans were able to re-
gain some of the seats they lost in the House in the 2006 election. Despite former Vice-Pres-
ident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Gore’s best efforts to raise Americans’ concerns
over the environment and climate change, American voters were not swayed by his argu-
ments. Climate change is too distant a threat to them. Republicans successfully persuaded
the majority of voters that that the global war on terrorism, education, the economy, and
illegal immigration are more important and immediate concerns. Despite the population’s
concerns over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Democratic candidates were still unable
to shake their reputation as being weak on national security and terrorism.
Despite the Republican victory in 2008, President Fred Thompson – a noted climate
change skeptic and an advocate for a limited government – recognizes that Americans still
want some action to be taken in regards to global warming and climate change. Instead
of mandatory limits like those that are called for in the Kyoto Protocol, he believes in
voluntary and technical solutions to reduce GHG emissions and to limit climate change.
Building on President Bush’s climate change policies, President Thompson calls for
increased efforts to improve the United States’ energy intensity and decrease its reli-
ance on foreign energy sources. Congressional Democrats realize that they do not have
the necessary two-thirds majority required to overcome a presidential veto. They decide
to reach a compromise that will at least increase funding towards research in improved
climate-friendly technologies and alternative fuels. As a result, President Thompson is
able to push legislation through the Congress that increases US funding for research into
alternative transportation fuels, especially ethanol.
Thompson’s victory is widely perceived as a sign to the international community that
the United States is unwilling to agree to mandatory GHG emission limits. As a result,
China and India see little reason to take on new mandatory GHG emission limits. In
heated discussions throughout 2009 and which culminated at the Copenhagen Fifth Meet-
ing of Principals in November – December of that year, China and India refused to even
accept a staged application of mandatory limits, citing the US apparent unwillingness to
do the same.
At the same time that he was able to secure victory for his domestic climate change
policies, President Thompson calls for the reinvigoration of the Asia Pacific Partner-
ship on Clean Development and Climate (commonly referred to as the AP6). Officially
launched in January 2006, the AP6 brings together Australia, China, India, Japan, the
Republic of Korea, and the United States. The AP6 focuses on fostering clean energy tech-
nology cooperation. Within this ad hoc organization, President Thompson was able to
secure agreement for the establishment of GHG emission reduction targets, which allow
each country choose how best to meet them (for example, through mandatory cuts or in-
vestments in technology). He then announces that the AP6 member countries will invest a
total of USD 10 billion over the next three years towards climate-friendly technologies.
Without China and the United States – the world’s two largest emitters of GHG – oth-
er Kyoto countries, most notably Japan, are unwilling to take on new emission reduction
requirements. Negotiations are deadlocked, and there is no chance that it can be broken
before US presidential elections are decided on November 6, 2012. As a result, the Kyoto
Protocol will expire without a successor agreement. The efforts to create an expansion of
a global mandatory emissions reduction regime are thrown into disarray. Depending on
the outcome of the 2012 election, which pits Thompson against a Democratic challenger, a
new mandatory regime could not enter into effect before 2015 at the earliest.
what’s up for
The consequences of climate change and the impact of the climate change debate are
inherently uncertain. This uncertainty, combined with the long-term aspects of climate
change, makes this an area where most organizations must consider carefully if, how and
when to act.
The climate debate has moved considerably during the last two years. From a debate
based on interpretation of basic scientific facts, combined with a debate on actions and
consequences in some parts of the world. Today, we have a debate almost entirely occu-
pied with the consequences:
- Who should act?
- How fast should we act?
- Do we act inside one global frame or many regional/national frames?
- Will the actions be visible in people’s daily life (changing habits, values etc) or will they
be invisible (system changes)?
The change in the debate is perhaps most striking when looking at the major oil compa-
nies throughout the world. A cursory glance at the website of state-owned Saudi Aramco
(the biggest oil company in the world) still shows a stunning silence when it comes to
But the story is different at the websites of the three major private-sector companies.
Exxon Mobil (by far the largest private-sector oil company)just about recognizes the
environmental challenges, while Shell and BP write at length and in depth about the link
between energy companies and the climate.
Which strategy is correct? And can we speak of one right strategy? Doesn’t it depend
on the characteristics of the market? In the oil industry, for example, is the company
mostly “upstream” or does it have downstream, consumer market interests, too?
The oil industry example shows that the consequences of climate change are being felt
even today. But the main issue seems to be when and how to act. For reference, please see
the following web sites: