Two MU professors say U.S. remains weak on climate change

Friday, February 12, 2010 | 8:55 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The message was clear Friday as two MU professors addressed a packed auditorium on the MU campus: the United States has not carried its weight as a world power in addressing climate change.

Geography professors Mike Urban and Mark Cowell said hopes that the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen would make headway towards an international consensus on how to reduce the impact of global climate change were not fulfilled.

The professors served as observers at the December climate conference for the Association of American Geographers. The conference included 194 nations and 84 non-governmental agencies.

“People were aching that someone would show a strong leadership position,” Urban said. “You could almost hear the bubble pop when a negotiation failed to be reached.”

Urban said the U.S. negotiating position at the conference consisted of modest proposals and unprogressive policies, which he believes are due to the Obama administration’s fear of policy rejection in the U.S. Senate.

Cowell said that a large goal of the conference was to make legally binding agreements that would supersede the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that commits nations to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, which ends in 2011.

An international, legally binding agreement would ensure that nations make good on their promises to reduce emissions.

Urban said the U.S. would be more likely to strike deals directly with China, the world’s largest polluter, to reach more modest goals than were presented by the United Nations.

The professors said that while skepticism surrounding the legitimacy of climate change persists in America, the international community sees climate science as a given and is more interested in tackling the issues implied by scientific evidence than questioning its validity.

“There was virtually no talk of skepticism in the two weeks that we were there,” Urban said.

David O’Brien, a professor of rural sociology at MU who attended the Friday afternoon event in Memorial Union, said he believes political division surrounding the issue in the last decade has been counterproductive.

“People get scared,” O’Brien said. “The problem is people not understanding the science.”

Cowell and Urban encouraged people to learn more about the scientific basis of climate change and to take an active role in exerting pressure on legislators to make environmentally conscious policy decisions.

“It’s not a question of convincing politicians but rather convincing people to convince politicians,” Urban said.

“The best political solution is mobilization,” he added.

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