Governor Chris Christie is nothing if not controversial. To me, that is a good thing. Helicopter scandals aside, the controversy surrounding Christie isn’t based on moral lapses in his personal life, as is becoming very common among politicians these days. The Governor drums up controversy because he says what he thinks, does what he says he is going to do, and doesn’t care if you or anyone else likes it. Whether you agree of disagree with his stances, you have to admit it’s pretty refreshing to see a politician that does something beside talk, and who actually acts on what he says he is going to, even if there are a lot people who won’t like it.
This attitude has garnered Christie a lot of attention from the national media, and had many calling him a front runner to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Christie has said numerous times he plans to finish his job in New Jersey before moving on. This would lead you to think if he really has no interest in joining to 2012 presidential race he could very well be looking at 2016.
What does this have to do with the environment? Well, as someone who has no problem saying what he thinks; Christie, a Republican with national appeal, has gone against the typical party line and acknowledged the legitimacy of human induced climate change.
Recently Governor Christie had the state withdraw from its commitment to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap and trade like system designed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power generators among the member states in the northeast. Several environmentalists cried foul over this and the state legislature has attempted to force the state back in, an action which the Governor vetoed last week. It was in discussing his decision to leave RGGI that Christie acknowledged human-made climate change:
"While I acknowledge that the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing, that climate change is real, that human activity plays a role in these changes and these changes are impacting our state, I simply disagree that RGGI is an effective mechanism for addressing global warming."
Again, this is a pretty big deal for a highly touted Republican to go against the supposed opinion of his base, and admit that climate change is real, and we are causing it. Though it may be a big deal that he is saying this, I don’t think it is actually anything groundbreaking or detrimental to him being a national figure among his party.
In the last 5 years I can’t remember a single person I have talked to that does not think our actions are having SOME impact on the climate. That would be regardless of political stance or level of education. The consensus seems to be that yes, we’re making an impact on the environment. How much of an impact and what we can or should do about it, well that’s where the opinions start to vary.
So this is why I think what Christie is saying probably reflects the opinion of a lot of people when it comes to the whole climate change debate (and yes, it is still a debate, anyone who tell you differently has no concept of the basic philosophy of the scientific method).
The Governor isn’t telling everyone that Atlantic City and all other coastal cities are going be under water by the end of the century. He is not saying that New Jersey will end up with a climate similar to South Carolina in 50 years. He is not saying extreme weather such as droughts, hurricanes, and blizzards are going to be more frequent and more severe. No, he is not making any claims as to what the impacts are, he is just saying that our use of fossil fuels is impacting Earth’s climate in some way, and any human induced change in our climate is not a good thing.
While there are highly opinionated people on both side of the spectrum; those who claim it’s all a hoax, and those who are saying the data is so concrete that there can be no debate, the truth is, nobody really knows what our impact on the climate is. The science behind human induced climate change can really be simplified into one sentence; greenhouse gases that we emit trap heat within our atmosphere, preventing it from radiating into space. That is what we know. Despite what some would have you believe, we don’t know what trapping in all of that heat will actually do. There are models out there that say all sorts of things. But consider this; these models are attempting to take into account EVERYTHING that impacts our climate. That is something that I don’t see as possible.
There are millions of factors that have to be included in a model, some of which we don’t fully understand, others we probably don’t even know about yet. And anyone that would tell you there is a simple graph that shows lines that correlate increases in greenhouses gases to increases in temperature are doing themselves a serious disservice. Greenhouse gases have increased as we pump more of them into the air. Over that time the temperature has gone up as well. But as greenhouse gases have increased, you know what else has also, our life expectancy! Now these things obviously don’t correlate, our technology has increased, so we have needed more power, and thus emitted more toxic gases, but likewise our technology has also kept us walking around this planet longer. Its sloppy science to use the temperature/CO2 level charts as the be all end all of the climate debate. Just because lines match up on a graph doesn’t mean the relationship is that simple.
None of the models out there on what will happen to the climate are THE AUTHORITY on the issue. If you really want to see why none of these models should be considered an absolute truth read “Hack the Planet”. This book deals with the idea of geo-engineering the planet to combat climate change. In other words, our emissions are impacting the climate, so let’s also take active step to combat this, rather than just decide to reduce emissions. There are many plans associated with engineering a solution to climate change, and I won’t get into them. But here is what you take away from the book. Attempts to actively change the climate never work out as they are expected (modeled!) to. Better still, scientists noted in the book, many of whom believe the threat of climate change is very real, won’t support further geo-engineering because they can’t be certain what is going happen if you attempt one of these proposed solutions. If they are that uncertain about a climate model that attempts to fix the problem, how can they possibly speak with certainty on models that show the impacts of climate change itself?
I think the reasonable answer to all of this is exactly what our Governor is saying. Yes, there is no doubt that emissions from fossil fuels are having some impact, what that is, nobody knows for certain. Partisan fighting in nothing new in the world of politics, it’s pretty ironic that someone as outspoken and bullish as Chris Christie represents the voice of reason in the climate debate.