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April 18, 2006

Congressional Opinions on Climate Science and Policy

[Also posted on Prometheus blog]

Thanks to Chris Weaver who posted a link yesterday in the comments to a very interesting recent poll (here in PDF) from the National Journal on views of members of Congress on climate science and policy. The poll provides some empirical evidence to support a number of arguments made here on Prometheus. Here is my interpretation of the significance of the poll:

1) The poll asks, “Do you think it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made pollution?” The replies are interesting with 98% of Democrats saying “Yes” and only 23% of Republicans saying “Yes.” Presumably, “beyond a reasonable doubt” means with greater than 95% certainty, so the question requests a level of certainty greater than that expressed by the 2001 IPCC which expressed a 64%-90% certainty on the same question. So members of both parties need to go beyond the most recent IPCC to answer this question. They could be steeped in the most recent science, but I’d guess there is more than a small ideological element at play here, on both sides. I haven’t seen the most recent drafts of the 2007 IPCC, but I assume that it will come out much more consistent with what the Democrats believe. Nonetheless, an important observation here is that, as has been found in many areas, the views of members of Congress are more ideologically determined than those of their party membership among the general population. In opinion polls of the public asking the same question, Democrats do not show such unanimity of opinion, and Republican views are not so consolidated. I chalk this down to the effects of gerrymandering of Congressional districts which has often been pointed to as a key factor in a legislature far more ideological than the people who they actually represent.

2). But what should not be overlooked, is that even with the party divisions, a clear majority of members of both the House and Senate believe that global warming is real and caused by humans. If the poll numbers accurately reflect Congressional perspectives, then 55 members of the Senate and 251 members of the House (!!) believe that “it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made pollution.” This seems to be inescapable evidence that there is exceedingly little value left in continuing to argue the science of this particular question. Clearly, there are other factors at play here beyond “skepticism” which shapes how decision makers act on climate change. Efforts to educate Congress on the reality of climate change are in my view completely wasted on a majority of the convinced.

3) The poll asks a second question, “Which of these actions to reduce pollution could you possibly support?” and the answers included five options, Mandatory limits on carbon dioxide emissions, Increased spending on alternative fuels, Greater reliance on nuclear energy, Higher fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, and a Higher gasoline tax. For each of these issues, except a gasoline tax which is not favored by members of either party, there is far more agreement than was displayed on the question of science. And in each case there is evidence of enough support to suggest that agreement across parties might be found on particular policy options. The devil is of course always in the details, but what this poll shows is that debate on climate policy show be taking place in terms of policy options, and not science. There is ample evidence that there is room for compromise across partisan boundaries, without the need to turn Republicans into Democrats or vice versa.

Bottom line: The nation awaits politically creative policy options that can navigate the complicated set of interests of 535 members of Congress to start taking effective action on climate policy. All of the precursors for such action are in place, minus of course the politically creative options. Efforts to debate the science are simply misplaced in such a context. Die hard partisans will no doubt come up with a range of excuses why they cannot compromise, and will gravitate back to the science as a comfortable home for maintaining the present debate. Such partisans typically point the finger of blame at their political opponents, though they should be looking in the mirror. The evidence from this poll suggests very strongly that such reactions are grounded more in a desire to maintain the present gridlock, rather than to move the issue of climate policy forward.

Posted by ami at 09:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2006


Emory University is seeking exceptional candidates for the position of Director of Sustainability Initiatives. Reporting jointly to the Offices of the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (Provost), the Director will have direct responsibility for overseeing all University initiatives related to sustainability.

The Director will be expected to function as a visionary leader and organizational strategist to help Emory become a national model for sustainability in higher education. The Director will also create the strategy to integrate sustainability into both the operational and academic functions of the University, network with and facilitate internal and external resources to accomplish that goal, and evaluate the needs of the University community. Further, this position will be responsible for developing programs and new initiatives to enhance Emory’s stature and create detailed implementation plans for those initiatives. The Director will need to create and implement communication strategies to promote broad awareness of initiatives and develop a University-wide process and organizational structure to support sustainability inquiry, change, and assessment. Ideally, the selected candidate will build effective partnerships and relationships with surrounding communities and key Atlanta institutions and establish effective linkages with units across campus that may have sustainability initiatives in process or as part of their overall strategy. The Director will also coordinate, support, and expand opportunities for faculty, staff, students and administrators to learn about sustainability issues throughout the academic and operational dimensions of University life.

The ideal candidate will hold a bachelor’s degree, with an advanced degree in an appropriate field (e.g., MA, MS, MD, PhD, JD) preferred. Additionally, competitive applicants should have five to ten years of progressive experience and leadership in the area of sustainability, resource management and/or related initiatives. Specific experience in the areas of sustainability policies, sustainable food systems, healthy living programs, conservation, energy, waste and/or water management is preferred. Experience within a University setting is preferred.

With an expected start date of September 1, 2006, applicants should submit a current resume and cover letter (outlining relevant experience) to the Office of the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration (ATTN: David Hanson), Emory University, 201 Dowman Drive, Administration Building, Suite 409, Atlanta, GA 30322. A more detailed job specification may be found at www.finadmin.emory.edu (under the “Emory Policies” link).

Screening will begin immediately and will continue until an appointment is made. All communications will be treated confidentially. Emory University is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. Drafted March 2006

Posted by ami at 01:31 PM