I begin 2015, my 40th year in the environmental journalism field, thinking about global warming.
I have followed this global warming scientific debate since 1975, long before politicians, religious leaders, economists or fat-walleted fossil fuel industry leaders got involved. Only after 1988, when the scientific consensus was becoming obvious that the earth was warming and greenhouse gases were contributing, did these other voices join and seek to shape the scientific debate.
I expect this year to be pivotal in the larger debate now that the scientific debate has shifted.
If you look at the world community they are facing the harsh reality of the problem. Each individual has to balance its effects on themselves, their country and their aspirations against the potential effects on their grandchildren and civilization.
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The nations could not reach true consensus on action in 2014 but it was not because of skepticism.
With Pope Francis joining the discussion, China and India now forced to plot their own future through a transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a low carbon one, perhaps we will return to the political debate here.
A period of low oil prices will either help or hurt our leadership in this transition. We already have reduced our carbon intensity and with the kind of technological leadership the United States has shown for more than a century, we can thrive even as the oceans rise, the weather gets more erratic and our society adjusts.
People on all sides of this debate are not stupid. This is heavy science that taps into millions of data points that provide pictures going back hundreds of thousands of years. The science of modeling, which really only advanced since World War II, continues to grow and get better.
I see the scientists on all sides of the debate as mostly brilliant people of good faith -- we all are the heroes of our own story -- who are practicing their fields in a manner to advance the truth. Sure, there are some who simply want to get better grants, better positions, more attention. But the peer review process and involvement of thousands of scientists with different backgrounds, beliefs, fields, and expertise tends to overwhelm or correct these biases.
Then there are the millions of dollars spend by the fossil fuel industry and its supporters seeking to exploit the uncertainty and to foster delay so their current business models can play out a little longer without complete reinvestment. This makes it hard to clear a path toward political consensus when our national politics is so polarized.
But it is not insurmountable.
That’s why I think states and local governments will eventually lead on these issues. Governors, legislatures, mayors, county commissioners and council members have to deal with the issues that grow out of the world consensus just as corporations do.
In the long run, neither party owns this issue. Values will trump science and economics.
Whether it is creation or nature it is something we all value.