Oh Sarah Palin

This morning one of my friends from Algeria came up to me shaking his head, asking me how anyone in America could listen to Sarah Palin’s crazy ramblings about climate change. I wanted to tell him that no one did, that Palin is a crazy neoconservative desperate for media attention. Judging from the low percentage of Americans have a “unfavorable” view of Palin and the high volume of comments on her op-ed applauding her for “calling it like it is” and “bringing God back to government,” I guess there is something about Palin that many Americans find appealing.

And why wouldn’t they? It is so much easier to deny that climate change exists, to pretend that the past two hundred years of extracting and burning natural resources hasn’t had an impact on the world we live in.  It’s much simpler to believe that the stolen emails of a few climate scientists regarding replacing Siberian tree rings with more accurate local air temperatures could eliminate the consensus of thousands of scientists and institutions around the globe. Most Americans would rather forget what they learned in grade school, that the scientific method makes it very hard for scientists to
hide or manipulate data, because all of the methods are subject to the
scrutiny of knowledgeable peers.

When 97% of climatologists believe that human-produced greenhouse gases are causing global temperatures to rise, it’s hard to believe that the media hype over a  few emails conveniently released days before COP-15 is factually correct.

Palin also writes that “the agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won’t change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse.”

As I’ve found from my time in Copenhagen, the main agenda being pushed in these international negotiations is actually far from international, its an agenda based on what the U.S. Congress (and the interests that fund it) will or will not accept.

In terms of hurting our economy, climate change adaptation and mitigation is less than 3% percent of gdp while the cost of inaction has been estimated at an upwards of 5% of gdp, largely from natural disasters and changes in weather patterns. With far less than we spent on bailing out the banks, we can create jobs, alleviate asthma rates and ensure that young people (like me!) have a livable place to retire in.

Sarah Palin is right about one thing; good environmental policy-making is about weighing real-world costs and benefits. The cost of doing nothing in Copenhagen, whether you measure it in terms of economic, environmental or moral reasoning far outweigh the cost.