Reprinted from the San Diego Union Tribune
By John H. Reaves
I grew up admiring the glory of facts in shows like “Dragnet”: “Just the facts, ma’am.” No wonder; we’re progeny of the 16th-century Age of Enlightenment, which heralded the rapid development of science, medicine, law and democracy.
But there is a current political war against fact and science.
The GOP has taken lead role of Anti-Science Inquisitor. Many Republicans have supported round after round of fruitless but symbolic efforts to censure, cut and curb all things related to climate, including its study, funding and regulation, since regaining the House in 2010. The effort has been lead by oil and gas interests, including the billionaire Koch brothers. The conflict with national interests reeks. Just ask the military.
The Kochs and oil and gas staged a coup of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010. Nine of the 12 new Republican members signed a pledge to oppose regulation of greenhouse gases (GHG). Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said climate change was a “serious problem” in 2009, but as new chairman, found power as obstructer. And, many Republicans in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee now rail against climate.
Moderate Republicans seem afraid to speak up. Presidential candidates even kowtowed to the extremists. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich once said climate change was a problem but then retreated. Rick Santorum has always angrily called climate change a “hoax”; most others were close behind.
Radicals at Fox News and Rush Limbaugh convey only ridicule.
The GOP is running a three-ring circus now. Koch and oil-supported Heartland Institute liken people who believe in global warming to the Unabomber. It’s so crazy, some GOP states are outlawing considering sea level rise when planning coastal development.
Democrats pay lip service to the environment but have proved spineless. Feeling burned once, they wait for Republican action. Obama has dropped the “C” word.
We fail when our national discourse on facts and science become politicized and taboo. Science develops through repetition and challenge by peers. It’s fact-based. It’s what keeps science cutting-edge, honest and reliable. It is why we trust ourselves to skyscrapers, surgeries and planes, and know much about our universe.
The science behind climate change is well established. Even longtime skeptic Dr. Richard Muller now agrees. It is fact that GHG are trapping heat in the atmosphere. World temperatures have increased over 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 50 years, with the Arctic heating fastest. The ocean has absorbed two-thirds of GHG and most of the heat – but is nearing its limit to absorb. The sea has risen about 6.7 inches the past century; the rate doubled this past decade. Almost all the world’s glaciers and ice sheets are melting.
Small changes in temperature are starting to cause radical changes in our climate system. Noted climatologist Dr. James Hansen just reported there is a 30-fold statistical increase in extreme weather since 1950 to 1980 caused by global warming. GHG stay in the atmosphere for decades. We’re already tethered to changes that will trigger threatening new feedbacks, like methane release from melting permafrost.
Yet the parties lack integrity or courage to explain the urgency and need for correction.
Climate change is not a belief. Those who call it a hoax are deliberately misleading or simply mislead. The strategy is pure Madison Avenue. Call something a name long enough and your audience might believe it.
But facts are facts. And polished purveyors of falsehoods intend to stoke confusion, “justified” by their appetite for: re-election. Control and dominance of energy markets. Freedom to pollute. Lack of accountability. Profits.
So when you hear people attack science and scientists with vitriol, just ask yourself why. In time, the GOP will suffer from its Faustian deal with oil and gas in the Great Lie to the American people. Since Democrats profess to know the urgency of the situation, their party, too, will be branded for standing by idly.
Meanwhile, good solutions exist that can muster bipartisan support.
Place a steadily rising fee on carbon-polluting products and watch a surge of private capital to clean energy and efficiency. Return 100 percent of that as a “greencheck” to all households to ensure two-thirds of households come out ahead or break even. Conservatives such as George Shultz, Michael Bloomberg and Bob Inglis endorse it. Use border tariffs to protect our businesses when other nations lack the fee.
It is time for a rational discourse. And a science lesson.
Reaves, an environmental and business lawyer based in San Diego, is a founding director of Citizens Climate Lobby. He recently returned from Washington, D.C., where he was lobbying members of Congress for a carbon fee and dividend.