Why no action on climate change? Don’t blame ‘scientific uncertainty’

graffiti on brick wall says "If the climate were a bank, it would have been saved."

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Joost J. Bakker

In four decades of testimony before the U.S. Congress, a solid majority of expert witnesses said climate change and global warming are real, and are caused by human activity, a new study says.

In a paper published in the journal Climatic Change, researchers from Texas A&M University, Idaho State University, and University of Oklahoma suggest looking at business interests, partisan predispositions and political ideology – and not scientific uncertainty – to identify the barriers to government action.

Congress has heard near-complete agreement among scientists on this issue since 1969, the study says, challenging the notion that additional information is the key to evidence-based policy making.

“Different perceptions and claims among lawmakers are a major hurdle to agreeing on action to address global warming and these were thought to simply reflect scientific uncertainty,” lead author Xinsheng Liu, an associate research scientist at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, says. “However, our findings show that congressional testimonies are in fact consistent with agreement in the climate science community and that the sources of controversies must lie elsewhere.”

The researchers analyzed 1,350 testimonies taken from 253 relevant congressional hearings held from 1969 to 2007. Among expert witnesses who expressed a view:

* 86 percent say that global warming and climate change are happening.

* 78 percent say they are caused by human activity.

* 95 percent of scientists giving testimonies say they support action to combat climate change.

Liu’s co-authors are Arnold Vedlitz, professor and director of the Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy (ISTPP) at Texas A&M, James Stoutenborough at Idaho State University, and Scott Robinson at University of Oklahoma. Stoutenborough and Robinson recently worked at the Bush School and continue to conduct research with ISTPP as senior fellows for the Institute.

More at the Bush School of Government and Public Service