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20
Public Involvement in Water Resources Decisionmaking in a Climate of Uncertainty

Helen Ingram

University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

Through much of this conference we have been considering uncertainty of the physical climate. This panel will consider another kind of climatic uncertainty—that of the political climate. As a political phenomenon, global climate change burst onto the public agenda in 1988. The conditions that allowed for the emergence of this issue to broad public consciousness have been discussed at length by myself and coauthors Hanna Cortner and Marc Landy (1990) in the book, Climate Change and U.S. Water Resources. Briefly summarized, the main components of the political atmosphere that brought public attention to this issue were:

  1. The nature of the issue. It could be portrayed as serious and certain, consequences were perceived as happening soon, and sinners apart from ourselves (such as those who destroy tropical rain forests) could be blamed for the difficulty.

  2. Science entrepreneurs. The issue was given a great deal of credibility by research scientists such as James Hansen and Stephen Schneider, who directed communications more to the public than to fellow scientists. Important to the effectiveness of science entrepreneurs were the science reporters who have come to hold positions on the nation's major newspapers and magazines and were poised to cover such a story.

  3. Political entrepreneurs. Politicians, particularly those with national aspirations, are open to new issues with which they can make their mark. Senator Albert Gore and Representative Timothy Wirth helped to draw attention to the issue. For instance, Timothy Wirth told National Public Radio that he purposefully scheduled the testimony of Hansen before his committee on a day that the



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OCR for page 324
Managing Water Resources in the West Under Conditions of Climate Uncertainty: Proceedings of a Colloquium November 14–16, 1990 Scottsdale, Arizona 20 Public Involvement in Water Resources Decisionmaking in a Climate of Uncertainty Helen Ingram University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona Through much of this conference we have been considering uncertainty of the physical climate. This panel will consider another kind of climatic uncertainty—that of the political climate. As a political phenomenon, global climate change burst onto the public agenda in 1988. The conditions that allowed for the emergence of this issue to broad public consciousness have been discussed at length by myself and coauthors Hanna Cortner and Marc Landy (1990) in the book, Climate Change and U.S. Water Resources. Briefly summarized, the main components of the political atmosphere that brought public attention to this issue were: The nature of the issue. It could be portrayed as serious and certain, consequences were perceived as happening soon, and sinners apart from ourselves (such as those who destroy tropical rain forests) could be blamed for the difficulty. Science entrepreneurs. The issue was given a great deal of credibility by research scientists such as James Hansen and Stephen Schneider, who directed communications more to the public than to fellow scientists. Important to the effectiveness of science entrepreneurs were the science reporters who have come to hold positions on the nation's major newspapers and magazines and were poised to cover such a story. Political entrepreneurs. Politicians, particularly those with national aspirations, are open to new issues with which they can make their mark. Senator Albert Gore and Representative Timothy Wirth helped to draw attention to the issue. For instance, Timothy Wirth told National Public Radio that he purposefully scheduled the testimony of Hansen before his committee on a day that the

OCR for page 324
Managing Water Resources in the West Under Conditions of Climate Uncertainty: Proceedings of a Colloquium November 14–16, 1990 Scottsdale, Arizona National Weather Service predicted would be hot in order to maximize the public impact of the testimony. Weather. The triggering event of the hottest, driest summer in decades gave people a graphic example of what might be in store because of global warming. Getting an issue on the agenda is a different matter from keeping it on as a continuing agenda item or formulating and building a consensus for possible solutions to the problem. As a moderator to this panel, I wish to identify a few questions that I hope the panelists may choose to address: What happens if the weather is cool and wet during the next few summers? Will the disagreements within science increase, not so much about the correctness of the prediction but rather concerning the importance of the issue and what sort of research should be conducted? Will the public become disenchanted and skeptical about global climate change as it listens to conflicting scientific viewpoints? How will the policy debate change? Will alternatives in national energy policy continue to be the focal point of debate, or will other matters be considered? Will social science have a role in suggesting other responses, such as human adaptation to change through resettlement and changing lifestyles? Will we come to recognize the limits to the earth's capacity to sustain continued growth in human populations and increased human intervention into natural systems? Who are the winners and the losers in global climate change? Third World countries, which have contributed rather little to the creation of the climate change problem, may nonetheless carry the brunt of policies to limit development and to preserve forests. How can the burden of reducing the load of greenhouse gases be equitably shared among winners and losers? I now turn to our speakers to address these and other issues. REFERENCE Ingram, H. M., H. J. Cortner, and M. K. Landy. 1990. The political agenda. Pp. 421-443 in P. E. Waggoner, ed., Climate Change and U.S. Water Resources. New York: John Wiley & Sons.