Factions in the Climate Debate

Government representatives from around the world are currently meeting in Copenhagen to discuss climate change. In an op-ed piece published today in the New York Times, Steward Brand says that the view that there are two sides in the climate change debate is overly simplistic. He argues that there are actually four sides:

1. Denialists who believe that global warming is not man-made.

2. Skeptics who are uncertain if global warming is man-made.

3. Warners who believe that practical steps need to be taken soon to combat global warming.

4. Calamatists who say that drastic measures must be implimented immediately to avoid apocalyptic climate change.

Mr. Brand is correct in asserting that the climate debate is more complicated than some people think. However, the differences in opinion are more nuanced than the way he frames them.

Among “warners” there are those who are willing to impose heavy regulations and taxes to curb emissions, but others are unwilling, for political and economic reasons, to commit to binding agreements that could slow economic growth by forcing businesses to make their production processes and products more environmentally friendly. This divide is best represented by the positions of European countries, which favor binding agreements and much greater government intervention, and the US, which is only willing to take more modests steps for the time being.

There is also a rift between developing countries, which argue that the burden of combating climate change should fall on wealthier countries that are mostly responsible for creating the problem, and developed countries, which object to letting nations like China and India off the hook simply because their economies are less advanced.

Mr. Brand observes that prominent denialists and calamatists tend to be political figures or ideologues, whereas scientists are more likely to be skeptics or warners. But he fails to mention that there is a consensus in the scientific community that global warming is man-made, and skeptics constitute a very small minority in that field.

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