Ignoring Cancer

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.



Still a Skeptic?

This post is for all the skeptics out there.

Here at the NRDC Action Fund, we long ago accepted the science that global warming is a real problem. But a systematic misinformation campaign by polluters has led many smart people – including Members of Congress and candidates for President – to doubt the data. While the polluter-funded, die-hard deniers will never be convinced, one wonders: can you, the sincerely skeptical, ever be won over?

Hopefully, one converted skeptic can spread the not-so-good news. Skeptical scientist Richard Muller independently analyzed climate data to determine whether or not the globe is warming. His preliminary results are in and he couldn’t be clearer about his conclusion: “Global warming is real.” His funders, including polluting kingpin Koch Brothers, can’t be pleased. These are the same people who are donating to political candidates who are denying global warming and promising not to take action. The paper still has to be peer-reviewed, but Muller has posted his findings online so you can see the data yourself.

So, sincere skeptics, are you convinced yet? Don’t take it from us. Take it from one of your own. The thermometers don’t lie. The planet is heating up. Look at the facts, think about it again, and admit that the doubts have been resolved and we’ve run out of time for excuses.

Should Candidates Who Don’t Believe in Science Be Disqualified from Serving as President?

As the GOP candidates jockey their way toward the presidential nomination, they continue to create new litmus tests for what makes a worthy pick. The top contenders have to loathe government. They have to hate health care reform. And most deny the reality of climate change.

Most of these benchmarks have their roots in ideological battles but that last one is different. It requires candidates to forgo reality as they disavow scientific evidence.

I wonder how they choose which science to accept and which to ignore. Is it alright to acknowledge that gravity exists and cigarettes cause cancer, but not okay to concede that man made climate change is making the Arctic is melt and extreme weather events are becoming the norm? When do you cross the line? When does the crazy start? Most importantly, should ignoring science disqualify you from being president?

Having a president who willfully disregards the scientific evidence of a looming threat is not in our national interest, to put it mildly. I don’t think President Reagan would have gotten elected if he’d said he didn’t trust the data showing the Soviet Union had an enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons. We don’t need leaders who close their eyes to the facts.

But in this race, it’s not about the facts; it’s about speaking to the Tea Party crowd. And denying climate change offers candidates an irresistible trifecta. It allows them to belittle the science geeks and eggheads who might think they are smarter than ordinary folks. It gives them a chance to talk about government regulations—in the form of limits on carbon emissions—which gets their base all riled up. And it helps them keep the campaign donations from oil and coal companies rolling in.

Siding with the 3 percent of scientists who question climate change may play well with a small minority of hard-right voters, but it doesn’t serve the rest of us. There has always been a place in American society for the fringe dwellers—the religious zealots and the conspiracy theorists and the committed Luddites. But that place is not in the White House. Living in denial in the face of evidence isn’t a sign of leadership – it is a sign of delusion and it should disqualify you for serving as President.

There is also a healthy tradition of skepticism in America, but skepticism is not an excuse for inaction. It should be the beginning of a quest to find answers. If Representative Michele Bachmann doubts the existence of climate change, she should travel to the Arctic in the company of researchers. If Governor Perry doubts that the globe is warming, he should walk the scarred plains of Texas with those who have studied the links between climate change, more frequent droughts, and intensified wildfires.

The fact that they don’t journey to find the answers tells me they aren’t skeptics at all: they are just closed-minded. They don’t want to pursue new information or collect the facts on the ground. They want to stay within the confines of Tea Party ideology.

Casting doubt in and of itself shouldn’t disqualify you from becoming the president of the United States. But willfully rejecting the facts, when the consequences of doing so will be devastating, should.

Texas is burning. Governor Perry’s Hair Should Be On Fire. (Instead, It’s His Pants.)

At the Republican presidential debate last night, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and “a monstrous lie to our kids.” Perry went on to tell a monstrous lie about climate change:

“The science is – is not settled on this. … [J]ust because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”

Oh. Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences said, in a 2010 report requested by Congress, aptly called America’s Climate Choices:

“Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

Here are three of the Academy’s conclusions – about as definitive as science gets:

“Climate change is occurring is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.”

“Most of the warming over the last several decades can be attributed to human activities that release carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—for energy is the single largest human driver of climate change, but agriculture, forest clearing, and certain industrial activities also make significant contributions.”

“Individually and collectively, these changes pose risks for a wide range of human and environmental systems, including freshwater resources, the coastal environment, ecosystems, agriculture, fisheries, human health, and national security, among others.”

Former Gov. John Huntsman warned his party again about the danger of becoming anti-science:

“Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I’m saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science. We can’t run from mainstream conservative philosophy. We’ve got to win voters.”

Galileo would not be proud.