Sunday, August 3, 2008

Abortion Politics

Over at the blog Prometheus, Roger Pielke, Jr., has posted a discussion on "The New Abortion Politics" of climate change. In essence, there is an emerging philosophy among climate change activists (for arguments sake, lets say it is the political left) that the only method to get action on climate change is to present those who deny or obfuscate efforts to do so are immoral. It is conceived that this is in line with how the political right has handled abortion - those that are pro-choice are not just wrong but morally bankrupt, which leads to the use of a litmus test when making choices (i.e. supreme court, President, etc.).

Pielke, Jr. lays out some examples of whom would be considered immoral:

*Not questioning any consensus views of the IPCC (in any working group)

*Not supporting adaptation [measures or policies]

*Not emphasizing the importance of significant technological innovation

*Not pointing out that policies to create higher priced energy are a certain losing strategy

Is this a winning strategy? Is it a just one? Will this shorten or lengthen efforts to mitigate the sources of anthropogenic climate change? Will it just embolden the opposition?

I think it can be argued that there has been some good to come out of the give and take between the pro and anti climate change groups (for lack of better labels). The constant questioning of scientific findings has led to better science, almost like an extra layer of peer review. An indirect example has been the ever increasing certainty of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the most recent report stating a 90% level of certainty regarding the realism of climate change and its human-induced drivers.

The fierceness of the climate change opposition has also played a part in molding the policy discussion. Many "deniers" have pointed towards the economic ruin that would be caused by emissions reducing policies, like a carbon tax. From such discussions, policies centered on green economies through technological innovation, conservation, and increased electrical generation through nuclear sources, have become top priorities.

While each of these is still heavily debated, they have led to a progression of policy. Presidential candidates have used climate change mitigation as a solution for economic hardship, expanding the pool of voters who truly care about climate change as an issue. Up until now, those who believe we need to act on climate change have used deniers to strengthen their arguments and solutions. Yet, will a hard right turn to paint deniers as immoral actually digress recent forward thinking movement? I fear it would...


Chris Crawford said...

I agree, approaching the subject of climate change as a moral issue is the wrong approach. There are two completely independent aspects of the issue:

1. The science
2. The political response.

The opponents of AGW have fought hard to question the science, and the great bulk of their opposition is bogus. There are a few challengers who make good cases: Steve McIntyre is probably the best of these. The great majority of these, however, are nutcases. The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (operating out of a warehouse outside Cave Junction, Oregon) is a good example of the nutcase side of the AGW opponents. In general, though, the scientific question is primarily over the speed of onset and the magnitude of the effects.

The political side, however, is a completely different story, because the basic political judgement is utterly subjective: how much do we owe to future generations? How much sacrifice should we endure today to save them from sacrifice 50 or 100 years from now? These are serious questions, easily debatable from both sides. And ironically enough, there is a vague analogy with the abortion issue: who speaks for the unborn fetus and who speaks for the unborn generations?

Sue said...

I think that casting the debate on climate change in that kind of black and white/moral versus immoral terms is a horrendous mistake, whether we are talking about the scientific process of observation and testing, or the political process of deciding whether or not to change aspects of our society and economy. I don't think that the moral absolutism of the anti-abortion/pro-life movement has helped that movement all that much either. The vast majority of Americans fall neither in to the extreme eliminate all abortions camp nor the extreme allow any abortion camp. Most of us feel that there may be some limited circumstances in which abortion is an acceptable but regretable option, and others where it is not acceptable. I'm not sure that the anti-abortion movements moral absolutism has really gained them much ground in the last 35 years. Look at what happened in South Dakota. Governor Mike Rounds signed a piece of legislation that outlawed abortion in the spring of 2006, and it was quickly overturned by the citizens of South Dakota (hardly a "liberal" and certainly not a "blue" state) in state wide referendum.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Thanks for posting about this. As readers are no doubt already painfully aware, I have little patience for dogma or for the careless or antagonistic use of generalizations. I also think it's important for people to realize that while we may believe a great deal, we know comparatively little. And, as Sue suggests, most people fall into the massive spectrum of grey between the often-artificial poles.
Turning climate change into a "with us or against us issue" is not only irrational, but works against results. This position makes the fight the central issue and relegates the desired outcomes to the arsenal of arguments. It turns anyone who disagrees, doubts, or even raises questions into an enemy. "I saw Goody Osburn with Representative Joe Barton (R-TX)."
I believe there is a moral issue here. People should understand the implications this issue has for other people. However, demonizing someone for a lack of understanding, for skepticism, or for simply still being in the debate is wrong. And, my inner pragmatist tells me that this doesn't solve any problems, doesn't educate, doesn't seek to understand, but does take time, money, and energy.

Pat Jenkins said...

prog i thought the "left" hated religion because of the dislike of being forced to follow a "dogma". how ironic they in turn employ the same tactic with climate change... hmmmm!!!