This fall, President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney will have a series of debates covering domestic and foreign affairs. The first debate should be about Science, with a capital S. Why? Because Science affects every aspect of society, underpinning smart policy governing energy, food production, human health, national security, economic growth, environmental fitness, natural resources and the quality of life.
How well versed or advised are our candidates in the science of climate? Water? Biofuels? Biomedicine? Is the science they cite credible or quack? Face it: Political expediency never lets the scientific facts get in the way, opting for soothing delusions over tough, responsible policy implications.
Let’s begin with two questions.
- Climate Change. As The Economist magazine declared recently, we have entered the Anthropocene Era, in which humans are the greatest agents of change on a planetary scale. Global warming, much of it human-induced, is playing with the life-support systems of the planet. If unchecked, potentially we face: devastation of our oceans, protein resources, fresh water and agro-production; virulent diseases run amok; disruption of ecosystems that clean our air, water and soil; extinction of half or more of Earth’s plants and animals; and sea-level rise and inundation of coastal cities. Yet, during the Republican primaries, all but one of the candidates proudly ridiculed climate change and the science behind it.
Recently, Richard Muller and his Berkeley Group, formerly one of the fiercest critics of climate change, announced his epiphany in the New York Times (“The Conversion of a Climate Change Skeptic,” July 28, 2012) after re-analyzing all the data and blessing the results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Earth’s land temperature has increased 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit during the past 250 years, with a 1.5-degree rise in just the past 50 years. “Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.”
Question for Gov. Romney: You have pledged to exempt carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, from the Clean Air Act. As president, then, what policies would you promulgate to control climate change nationally and globally?
- Science and Public Literacy. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” But what if the people that form the government are not well-informed? This spring, a study by North Carolina’s Coastal Resources Commission predicted a 39-inch sea level rise by 2100. To placate coastal real-estate developers, the GOP-led legislature passed a bill on July 3 that outlawed consideration of a sea-level rise above 8 inches. As comedian Stephen Colbert put it in his June 4 show, “If your science gives you a result that you do not like, pass a law saying that the result is illegal.”
The motto in Congress is: If you don’t like the cure, deny the disease. In a March interview with Rachel Maddow about climate change, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said, “I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.” Other disease deniers include most Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, including its chair, Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who also sits on the House Science Committee, is campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat in Missouri. On Aug. 19 he assured a St. Louis television audience that rape victims have a biological defense against becoming pregnant, justifying his stance against exempting rape from anti-abortion legislation. “From what I understand from doctors,” Akin said, “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” One of the “doctors” is Jack Willke, long-discredited by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as contradicting “basic biological truths.” On taking his seat alongside Hall and Broun on the House Science Committee, Akin could lead them in a rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic, Wonderful World: “Don’t know much about history/Don’t know much biology/Don’t know much about a science book …”
Question for President Obama and Gov. Romney: How can we entrust the best interests of the nation to members of Congress and its committees who are scientifically challenged, blithely dismissing the science they just don’t like?