Apr 022012
Authors: Jason Pohl

In a time when climate change and environmental degradation dominate science and policy talks in the U.S., one professor is using a different type of science to move the discussion forward: political science.

Michele Betsill, a political science professor at CSU, recently collaborated with a team of policy researchers from around the world in an effort to better understand global governments and their approaches toward climate change.

The report was submitted as part of the Earth System Governance Project’s broader goals and movement toward sustainable living.

The research hinges on the idea that leadership at all levels will be tested and ultimately lead the charge moving forward in addressing the climate change discussion –– not just the national governments often in the spotlight.

“I think the group of scientists involved would agree that action is needed beyond the nation-state,” Betsill said.

“Politics is fundamentally about figuring out who gets what when and how,” she added. “Coming to agreement on these questions is one of the most challenging aspects of the issue.”

The report explains that, despite the best efforts of several national governments, environmental degradation continues to reach unprecedented levels. It ultimately calls for a transformation in the way society is organized and people live their lives.

Beyond that, it says that an “ambitious road-map” needs to be implemented for the future in order for change to truly happen.

The link between politics and climate change is clear to Betsill, who said studying society’s use of resources can often be more difficult than the science behind the climate change itself.

“… It requires society to come to agreement about the nature of the risk, how to balance climate concerns with other issues (and) who should bear the benefits and burdens to taking action,” she said.

The sentiments were echoed by Scott Denning, an atmospheric science professor at CSU. He explained that any progress is good progress on this issue, which is becoming more and more the defining issue of the 21st century.

“I think it’s very important,” he said regarding the crossover of disciplines and collaboration. He said it would be better if the issue could be fixed on the national level, but at this point, anything is progress.

“At some point, my own intuition is that if people can make some rational economic decision – save money to make money –– that’s when things really get to change. That’s when it actually makes economic sense.”

And while the politically-charged topic of climate change may ignite heated debate on all levels, Betsill said she just hopes to move the discussion more forward for the sake of science and the future of society across the globe.

“Until we tackle these types of issues head on, it will be difficult to make any progress in dealing with the challenge,” she said.

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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