A new mantra in the politics of climate change is reemerging, and it’s not good. In the last few weeks, random elected officials began proclaiming “they aren’t qualified” enough to know if climate change is man-made.
This morning Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said: “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”
Earlier this week when asked if he believes in the man-made influence on climate change Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) said: “I’m not a scientist.”
Both can thank Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) for starting this mantra back in 2009 when he said “I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision.”
Although Senator Rubio has hedged a bit lately as he (or his pollsters) realize that to become President he’s going to need a big coalition of supporters, most of whom will believe climate change is in part man-made.
These kinds of statements may just be clever attempts to avoid the question, but if they mean it, we should all have concerns about whether these people are really fit for office. After all, elected officials are decision makers who are asked to vote everyday on issues where they have no expertise. That is why they hold hearings with experts, why they hire experienced staff that does their research, and why they should take the time to understand a topic. I’ve never heard them say they weren’t qualified to vote on sanctions for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program because “I am not a physicist.” Or I can’t decide if the CDC should have more funding to research bird flu because “I am not a doctor.” Or I can’t weigh in on universal pre-K or the Common Core because “I don’t have a doctorate in education.”
The fact that key GOP leaders are deploying this dodge shows that the age of denial is over. The majority of voters realize that climate change is a real threat, and they want leaders to deal with it, not pretend it doesn’t exist. But the Tea Party crowd hasn’t received the memo yet, so GOP leaders who want to appeal to that base have to be coy and demur the science. And while these lawmakers may not be scientists, they can rely upon the work of the 97 percent of scientists who have concluded that climate change is caused by human activity.
Let’s follow their logic in a practical application in your own life. If a doctor told you that you have cancer and you needed to seek treatment, would you tell the doctor you’re not qualified to talk about treatment options and move on with your day? No, you would do research, maybe get a second opinion and educate yourself so you could seek the best treatment.
Our world needs leaders who take climate change as seriously as they would a diagnosis of cancer. It sounds dire – because it is dire. Countries will disappear, poverty will rise, and the health of our children will suffer. We have a moral obligation to address climate change. Pleading ignorance is not a compelling leadership strategy. We need lawmakers who will inform themselves about the threats facing our communities and our nation. Speaker Boehner, Governor Scott, and Senator Rubio need to become qualified to have a discussion and then lead. That is what they were elected to do and we are running out of time to act.