Republicans are more skeptical of global warming than Democrats yet about the same when it comes to acknowledging climate change. And global warming skeptics conserve energy just as much as believers.
That's good news, because it means they aren't anti-science, they just aren't convinced, and they aren't convinced because they smelled an economic and political motivation in focusing on CO2 and a particular date in 1990 that made it much easier for the two strongest proponents of the Kyoto agreement, France and Germany, to achieve targets the U.S. could never achieve.
What needs to happen is to take activists - in environmental groups, in climate science and in science journalism - farther out of the mainstream so science can tackle the issue.
Another problem is Harte wrote that quote above in 2002. Now, 2002 was a hard year for convincing people, much like 2011. The IPCC, to its discredit, had thrown out every scientist on the committee who didn't like previous methods and focus on CO2 for the 2001 statement and popular support for doing something about global warming was still ramping up to its 2006 crescendo. But the air was let out a little in 2007 when journalists printed media talking points as facts and then later came resulting issues with grey literature and ClimateGate. The UN saw the issues and has said they will reform the IPCC based on IAC recommendations last year but...we've made no progress in the core issue, and the core issue is not right-wing deniers putting blinders on about global warming the way the left did communism, or fetishists hoping the world is ruined so they can stick their tongues out at Senator James Inhofe, the core issue remains that we know a train wreck is coming.
That train wreck is physics. You simply cannot continue to add people and the pollution that goes into making sure they are well-fed and there are cars and Blu-Ray players for them to buy without it having an impact.
The solution may be reconciling biology - including people in ecology and climate science who talk about biodiversity and see more complexity the more they look at nature but don't seem to really understand systems - and physics, which wants systems to become less complex the more they look at nature. Physicists understand nonlinearity, including what they do not know about predicting it, while environmentalists instinctively know things can get weird but make projections that aren't always grounded in science.
Because the Earth is a system, and massive, and we live here, the scientific method people most think of when they think about the scientific method - think, experiment - isn't really possible, but we are not the first to be confounded by the impossibility of experiment. French mathematician Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier found Neptune "with the point of his pen" because it was not possible to see it experimentally, and Newton was able to provide a foundation for big motion in space the same way.
There are differences, as Harte notes. The planets were not going extinct, as biologists will note that species are at risk of doing, but progressive desires to assemble elite panels of climate change true-believers and hand down government fiats are not workable in a democracy - people have to buy into the action plan or it becomes as successful as Prohibition.
But biological approaches can contribute to our understanding of physics too; a recent UC Davis study grew the short-lived copepod Tigriopus californicus for 10 generations to see how it adapted to climate change; it was only able to tolerate another 1 degree F so extrapolating that out to humans at 200 years means that evolution may not work on the small timescale the physics of climate change will. This is more rigorous than the partially made-up species-area relationships that have wildly overstated species loss but also lets us know what the boundary conditions for simulations should be.
Better grasp of physics by climate scientists - and more rigorous numerical models - than they had 10 years ago also makes it possible to more accurately predict feedback between the climate and the rest of the planet.
Biologists often work on the very small - astronomers do not study one star but an evolutionary biologist might work with one microorganism or an ecologist in one area for the bulk of his career. The sort of analysis that UC Davis researchers recently did can be done with larger species as well - we have accurate data on temperatures and more accurate data on known species since the 1980s - which means a meta-analysis of similar experiments in different areas could lead researchers to predict the unpredictable - nonlinearity - if a nonlinear system can be made into a linear system with very small steps.
It may be, as Harte says, that our understanding needs to be punctuated by a radical new understanding that makes things clear; like evolution in biology or plate tectonics in geology or gravity in physics.
If so, a synthesis between the life sciences and the physical sciences had better get started.