All I want for Christmas is a little science literacy.
This is the season for lists, and Mother Jones recently ran a list of the dumbest science deniers of 2014.
Topping that list was Donald Trump, who may well be the most ludicrous and least self-aware person on the planet. Trump (who regularly takes to Twitter to embarrass himself) responded to freezing temperatures in parts of the country as evidence that “this very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop.”
Umm…Donald, there is a difference between weather and climate. Look it up.
The Donald also joined the anti-vaxxers, pointing to the thoroughly debunked link between autism and vaccination, and–to top it off– insisted that we shouldn’t allow those doctors and nurses who had been selflessly tending to Ebola patients back in the country. The tweet:”People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences.”
We can laugh at Trump (most people do), but far more portentous than the nattering of an ignorant, narcissistic billionaire is the ongoing attack on sound science from Congress. That attack is genuine cause for concern.
Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas took his opposition to basic science straight to the source: The grant-writing archives of the National Science Foundation. In an unprecedented violation of the historic firewall between the lawmakers who set the NSF’s budget and the top scientists who decide where to direct it, Smith’s researchers pulled the files on at least 47 grants that they believed were not in the “public interest.” Some of the biggest-ticket projects they took issue with related to climate change research; the committee apparently intended to single out these projects as examples of the NSF frittering money away on research that won’t come back to benefit taxpayers. The investigation is ongoing, and the precedent it sets—that scientific research projects are only worthwhile if they directly benefit the American economy—is unsettling….
Science denial on Capitol Hill is set to get even crazier next year. When Democrats (and environmentalists) got a sound whooping in the midterm elections, a new caucus of climate change-denying senators swept in. Almost every new Republican senator has taken a position against mainstream climate science, ranging from hardline denial to cautious skepticism. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the incoming majority leader, has vowed to make forcing through an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline his top agenda item in the new year; he also wants to block the Obama administration’s efforts to reign in carbon pollution from coal plants. And the incoming chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is none other than James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who actually believes that global warming is a hoax orchestrated by Barbra Streisand. You can’t make this stuff up.
Maybe evolution is more selective than we thought…..
Let’s see…..Of the 2,258 peer-reviewed papers that have been published by 9,136 authors on the subject of climate change between November 2012 and December 2013, exactly one, written by a single Russian scientist, rejected the idea that climate change is caused by human activity.
But hey–what do those dorky scientists know?
An organization called the Heartland Institute has announced that its grandiose sounding 9th International Conference on Climate Change will take place at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The venue is appropriate–these are the folks who want the world to gamble on the livability of the planet going forward.
The Institute claims that “hundreds of the world’s most prominent ‘skeptics’ will converge” at the event. As one commentator noted, these “prominent” skeptics have evidently been too busy to publish peer-reviewed papers.
If these are the “world’s most prominent” skeptics, denial is amateur night.
There’s a medical officer from a Texas sheriff’s office, an architecture professor, a climate skeptic blogger named Willis Eschenbach (my personal favorite–he has a certificate in massage therapy and a B.A. in psychology). Among the (many) non-scientists speaking will be Marc Morano, a former staffer for crazy Sen. James Inhofe, and someone named Fred Singer, who has been called the “granddaddy of fake science.” Both Morano and Singer were profiled in Rolling Stone as “climate killers.”
According to the sustainability blog TriplePundit, previous versions of this conference have been funded by ExxonMobil, the Koch Brothers and the Scaife Foundation to the tune of $67 million. (Big Oil cares a lot more about its bottom line than about the world my grandchildren or yours will inhabit.)
Yep–those are the “experts.”
As TriplePundit pointed out, the problem is that millions of people don’t understand or trust science. They lack the resources to evaluate the competing claims. That creates a void, which is then filled with a PR-manufactered “controversy” funded by people with corporate or biblical axes to grind, and repeated and amplified by Fox News and its ilk.
I don’t know about you, but I believe the science. And it scares the crap out of me.
In a recent speech, Noam Chomsky addressed the “controversy” about global warming.
There is indeed a controversy: on one side, the overwhelming majority of scientists, all of the world’s major National Academies of Science, the professional science journals, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) : all agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human component, and that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon, maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with very severe effects on the possibility of decent human survival.
It is rare to find such consensus on complex scientific issues.
A couple of weeks ago, a reader of this blog sent me an “info graphic” she had discovered that illustrates the matter. It’s well worth clicking through and viewing.
The question, of course, is: why is there so much resistance to settled science? I understand opposition by the self-interested, the industries dependent upon fossil fuels. But the anti-science cohort is far larger than the special interest groups, and it extends well beyond denial of global warming. It’s larger than the religious fundamentalists who are still arguing about evolution.
There are some kinds of ignorance–willful or not–that are harmless. Rejection of a reality that can literally destroy us is not one of them.
Hot enough for you this summer? Because it’s going to get hotter, and I’m not referring to our increasingly debased electoral rhetoric.
As a post to Science Matters emphasizes, climate change is not a prediction. It’s here. Even scientists who were previously skeptical (and there weren’t many) are now convinced that the earth is warming even more rapidly than previously expected, and that human activity is a large generator of that warming.
Let’s ignore every other issue dividing Americans–what to do about the economy, about Syria and Iran, about the various “wars”–on women, on the GLBT community, on drugs…you name it. In a very real sense, arguments over those issues are equivalent to arguments about how to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. If there is one issue of global life-and-death importance, it’s climate change.
And on that issue, the parties could not be further apart.
The science–and the scientific consensus–is overwhelming; we face a truly unprecedented global threat. The Democrats haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory, but they have acknowledged the threat and the urgency of addressing it. Most Republicans, on the other hand, continue to deny the science and reject the reality of climate change. (I suppose that shouldn’t surprise us; they also reject evolution.) Mitt Romney is now parroting the GOP’s standard climate change denial, and Paul Ryan, his running mate, is a climate-change-denying conspiracy theorist.
I’m not a believer in single-issue voting, but I’m not a big fan of committing slow suicide, either. If there was ever a single issue worth embracing, this is it.
I know my posts sound increasingly frustrated these days. Here is just one example of why that is.
According to Talking Points Memo,
“Thirty-one Republicans on the House Energy And Commerce Committee — the entire Republican contingent on the panel — declined on Tuesday to vote in support of the very idea that climate change exists.
Democrats on the panel had suggested three amendments that said climate change is a real thing, is caused by humans and has potentially dire consequences for the future. The amendments came on a Republican bill to block the EPA from offering regulations to mitigate the results of global climate shifts. The global scientific community is in near unanimous agreement that climate change is real, and that humans contribute to it.
None of the 31 Republicans on the committee would vote yes on any of the amendments..”
I know that every legislative body and every political party has its nuts and ideologues. But thirty-one members of the GOP and U.S. Congress voting against reality really boggles the imagination. There are plenty of aspects of reality that I don’t like–beginning with the fact that science denial is making the world more dangerous for my children and grandchildren–but that doesn’t mean I can blithely pretend they don’t exist. Refusing to acknowledge facts in evidence is suicidal for individuals and societies alike.
The fact that these people were elected in what I can only assume were fair and free elections is infinitely depressing. But it really happened and their decisions have real consequences.
And whether they choose to ignore it or not, climate change is accelerating, and the consequences of their refusal to acknowledge that reality and deal with it will affect believers and nonbelievers alike.