Something to believe in

Global warming fears may not be enough to support clean energy

UNR political science professor Christopher Simon chats with an audience member at the recent Clean Energy Forum.

UNR political science professor Christopher Simon chats with an audience member at the recent Clean Energy Forum.

Photo By kat kerlin

The Reno to Copenhagen March to the Arch is Fri., Dec. 11. Social mixer begins at West Street Market, 148 West St., at 5:30 p.m. The candlelight march heads out at 5:50 p.m., followed by an open mic by the Reno Arch on Virginia Street for marchers to voice their messages to leaders. Musical instruments, skateboards, children, bikes and creative spirits are encouraged. A map and more information is at

Concerns over global warming won’t be enough to sustain public support for clean energy, largely because climate change has become so politicized. That’s according to UNR political science professor Christopher Simon, who said as much at the Clean Energy Forum held at the school on Dec. 6.

The event, organized by the Sustainable Energy Forum, came a day before the United Nations’ climate change conference began in Copenhagen, Denmark. It ends Dec. 18.

A month earlier, more than 3,000 emails and documents from the Climatic Research Institute in England were stolen in what’s become known as “Climategate.” The controversy surrounds a few quotes some say were taken out of context. Others view them as proof that climatologists are trying to skew or hide data on climate change to make global warming appear worse than it is. A widely circulated quote came from CRU director Phil Jones in a 1999 email: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (i.e., from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” Just in time for the Copenhagen talks, the scandal has thrown fuel to the fire for climate skeptics and threatened to discredit the large body of work conducted by researchers worldwide who contend that climate change is real, moving quickly, and humans have something to do with it.

“Whatever the data says, reality is socially constructed,” said Simon. “When the public doesn’t believe it, the policy doesn’t exist.”

It appears concern over global warming is already losing momentum, due in part to increased political partisanship. A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive shows belief in global warming is at its lowest point in 12 years, with Democrats more likely to believe it than Republicans. Only 51 percent of adults said they believed greenhouse gases would cause the planet’s temperature to rise, compared to 71 percent two years ago.

So rather than hyperfocusing on global warming, said Simon, “the long-term is when we start thinking in terms of sustainability.” That requires a delicate balance among the public, the technological sector, politicians and the business community. “If we want a clean energy solution, all four of these actors must act in unison.”

Simon sees sustainability as intricately tied to global warming but focused on cooperation. He thinks cooperation will come from a community level more than a national one.

A grassroots event this weekend aims to reach from the community level to a global scale. The Reno to Copenhagen March to the Arch on Dec. 11 (see column note) is one of many candlelight vigils worldwide being held that day. Reno participants will address leaders at Copenhagen with messages that will be posted online at YouTube and other websites.

“It’s hopefully a nonpartisan issue because it’s an issue for each and every one of us to address,” says community organizer Billy Howard. “Those looking for independence from foreign oil particularly might want to come down and say, ‘We want the United States to go further in getting this green revolution on.’”