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In Washington, 3 is Greater than 97

May 17, 2014

“…and the politicians are so feeble-minded and gutless that you can’t even hate them anymore.”
– from A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Grey and Hopeless

A recent study from NASA tells us that the loss of a large ice sheet in West Antarctica is imminent and will cause ocean levels to rise. Scientists have been reporting on the instability of the Antarctic since 1968, but to some of those in the press, it’s just another message that we can ignore. There’s always a difficulty to place any emphasis on something that’s so far into the future. It’s hard to imagine, so we tend to stop thinking about it at all.

But there’s plenty in front of us right now. Sit in a traffic jam on the freeways and witness the routine carbon emissions. Notice that something’s off with the weather. After a brutal winter, friends in Illinois bucked up against May snow flurries yesterday. The A’s played in chilly Cleveland last night. Tonight will be more of the same. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s just the weather, don’t make too much of it. The records show and people remember “the year we didn’t have a White Christmas” and the “time that we wore sweatshirts at the Fourth of July parade.” We’ve always had fluctuations. My father, once a weatherman in the military, used to say that if “you don’t care for the weather in Chicago, wait a few minutes for it to change.”

After the White House’s recent release of its national climate assessment, Barrack Obama found some time on his visit with wealthy fundraisers in Silicon Valley to talk about solar energy and push for this and that. It’s the kind of thing that plays well out here.  We’re out ahead on that one and solar energy is mostly a softball for politicians in California. Water policy is the tougher issue.  The entire state is in a drought and with the start of summer, there’s no reason to look for rain soon.

Some politicians like to use climate change policy to separate themselves from their opponents. As such, they duck from responsible behavior and their due diligence duties. They’ll point to the Earth’s cycles with temperatures and carbon dioxide and move on. To them, things will work out fine without a unified social policy on energy or carbon emissions. They are not only removed from their responsibilities, but detached from reality.

Ron Johnson, a US Senator from Wisconsin, just comes across as being totally unable to take a serious view of an important issue. He likes to call himself an environmentalist because he likes to fish and get outdoors. We’re supposed to accept this as prima facie evidence that he knows what he’s talking about. He wants more science before he’s willing to support any policies intended to reduce carbon emissions. He’s absolutely inept at making a convincing case for his position, whether talking to a local reporter or debating with James Hansen, the the former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. How this guy was elected to one of the highest offices in the land escapes me.

Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has a record of dismissing the scientists who devote their time to the study of the climate and earth. He’s now positioned himself as a candidate who denies that we can do much to help slow down climate change. He prefers more of a laissez-faire approach. In a criticism of Obama, he says that since the president is not a meteorologist (you know, a weather forecaster like the folks you see on your local ten o’clock news broadcast) he has no standing to make climate policy recommendations. Obama ran for office on plenty of claims and promises, many of them shamelessly broken, but I don’t recall him touting his college science degree or weather forecasting experience. Still, he has the ability and responsibility to lead.

Since Rubio is not a climate scientist, this seems like a situation where an executive and policy maker needs to study the issue as possible and then consult with the experts. Lucky for us, there are a lot of dedicated scientists to turn to. So whose work does Rubio depend upon? We don’t know. It seems neither does he. When asked a direct question at his National Press Club presentation about “…what information, reports, studies or otherwise are you relying on to inform and reach your conclusion that human activity is not to blame for climate change..,”  he dodged the question and chose not to answer.

Johnson and Rubio aren’t alone. They have plenty of company. What’s behind this obstinacy and resistance from the politicians to accept the science? The usual, it seems. Money and religion. Psychologists could undoubtedly weigh in to tell us more.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists believe that we have a role. We’re being held up by the politicians and other interests who want us to put the matter into the hands of the three percent who disagree. We’d be a mobilized nation if we applied Dick Cheney’s “One Percent Doctrine” to the issue. Washington would define the problem, acknowledge the Earth’s historical cycles and then agree that this is the first time that human practices are a factor and can therefore be adjusted. That’s not going to happen, so maybe better reporting would do. In a six-year study of the major networks reporting on climate change, Sol Hart, a University of Michigan professor found that most reports were framed by differences between politicians. Further, less than a quarter of the news outlets’ reports were presented with “… information about the threat that climate change poses … paired with solutions on what can be done in response…” He believes that this leaves viewers less likely to take political action.

John Oliver has his own recommendation. 

  1. Denial is always easier, isn’t it? Too bad in this case, our grandchildren–maybe even our children–will pay the price.


  2. I don’t know where I heard it first, but I have been appreciating the latest “theme” (Fry and Laurie put me up to it, heh heh) of: “who cares how it started, let’s see if humans can do anything to help the climate?” Wouldn’t that a much better place to put our energies rather than use climate as a tool to disparage one’s political party?


  3. My religion tells me to be a good steward of the earth. To use my God given brain and free will to do what is right and good. It also says the money is the root of all evil and I might be inclined to trace most of this back to that.


  4. Great post and passion. The constant back and forth of who is responsible is just another form of red tape. Let’s push this issue aside so we can debate about non issues that we make seem like real issues. I do not know why our leaders are not being more responsible about climate change. I think grassroots organizations will have to take the lead on this. Not a bad thing when you consider that Rachel Carson’s work evolved into the u.s. EPA. Thanks Bruce, LMA


  5. It continues to amaze and frighten me that so many politicians are ignorant to science … in relation to climate change, declining water supply, reproductive health … scary (and ridiculous).


  6. I remember how happy I was, in the early early 1980’s when working with a publishing company and given the assignment of editing/writing a newsletter on solar energy. We were all SO EXCITED about this finally happening. Less than a year later, the newsletter was nixed. Too much lobbying in Washington against solar energy. It’s just not going to happen, I was told….
    P.S. My son is an investment strategist for…yup, you guessed it…solar energy. I hope he has more luck than I did.


  7. It doesn’t matter if 99% of the scientific community says global warming is a major problem, there are politicians who will claim the one percent who don’t are right. And what happens if political reality forces them to change their opinion? Very few will ever take responsibility for the position they took or the damage it caused. It goes beyond stupid to almost criminal. And it makes me angry. Obviously. Good blog, Bruce. –Curt


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