Pathways to Progress on Climate Change, pt 4
Diversifying Policy Options and Promoting Public Debate
This week's release of the U.S. National Climate Assessment report has sparked headlines at news outlets across the country. Much of that coverage has highlighted what specific states, cities and communities can do to defend against climate change-related risks and impacts.
This past month has also brought increased attention to nuclear energy, natural gas fracking, and carbon capture and storage as important technological options for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, points strongly emphasized in the latest UN IPCC report.
Yet in contrast to the recent focus, these two policy paths -- investing in climate adaptation and promoting innovation in "hard" energy technologies -- were virtually ignored as part of national debate during the period 2007 to 2010.
Instead, environmentalists and their allies pushed to pass cap and trade legislation and a binding international treaty; strategies designed to put a price on carbon and promote solar, wind, and energy efficiency as solutions.
The recent shift to include a broader menu of policy actions and technologies is representative of the necessary role that the expert community must play in balancing the well intentioned efforts of environmentalists, who historically as advocates have restricted debate on climate change to just a few politically favored policy actions and technologies.
As Roger Pielke Jr. argues in his 2007 book The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Politics and Policy, in the face of intense lobbying and political mobilization on climate change, experts and their organizations can act independently as “honest brokers” to expand the range of policy options and technological choices under consideration by elected officials and the public.
As I review in this essay, we will also need experts and their organizations to take the lead in convening debate about the actions best suited to protecting local communities against climate impacts and the technologies that can enable a cleaner, more abundant energy future for specific regions of the country.