a bad week for science in politics
Discussions about global warming and certain lawmakers just don’t mix. Obviously they have a right to voice their opinions about climate change just like every one of us, but some of the things they say are so wrong or misguided form a scientific standpoint, one starts to wonder whether we should really trust them with looking after our nation. Maybe they didn’t do all that well in science class (as they like to remind us come election time), but don’t they have staffers and advisers who could help them out with getting a grasp on what can only be described as middle school science? Rather than do just a little research or ask a knowledgeable person, they’re going into the public eye and with absolute seriousness spout off their misconceptions.
Exhibit A is the now infamous incident in which Texas Rep. Joe Barton asked the Secretary of Energy Steven Chu about the origins of oil and how it got to Alaska, implying that hundreds of millions of years ago, Alaska must’ve been warm for oil to form. An incredulous Chu cautiously explained that the landmass that is now the state of Alaska was indeed warm at one time but eventually drifted with its oil deposits to its current location, something that most of us learned by age 11 and really shouldn’t be asking during an important hearing with smug smirks on our faces. To make matters worse, Barton then bragged about “stumping” Chu and had the official GOP live blog call the answer he received “perplexing.”
So to sum this up, Barton was asking questions every middle school student should know before passing a basic science class test and his GOP colleagues are “perplexed” by seventh grade science. And Rep. Barton is bragging about this, telling the world via his Twitter feed that he confused a distinguished scientist who was floored that an elected official couldn’t grasp the concept of continental drift! This is one of the lawmakers who will define our energy policy over the coming years and not only does he lack some of the basic knowledge he needs to make informed decisions about it, he’s proudly putting his ignorance on parade to an audience of millions and thinking he’s just outsmarted a Nobel laureate in physics.
Then, as if to compete with this appalling incident, House Minority Leader John Boehner decided to challenge the scientific consensus on excessive concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by saying that “the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.” Which it is. Especially when we consider that carbon dioxide is not a carcinogen. It’s a greenhouse gas. Having a very low concentration of it in our atmosphere is the difference between a moderate range of global temperatures and our planet being a mostly frozen slush ball due to our distance form the Sun. So if just a tiny splash of carbon dioxide is what’s keeping us warm, what happens when we start adding on to that with wild abandon? And if the planet gets too hot as it did during the Permian extinction which killed the vast majority of life on Earth 250 million years ago? That wouldn’t be harmful to the environment?
That goes double for Michele “The Government Will Put Young People In Brainwashing Camps” Bachmann, who in a recent speech to Congress declared that carbon dioxide is a natural gas and that it makes up 3% of our atmosphere. Here’s another byproduct of natural processes. Gamma rays. They don’t just come from an exploding nuclear warhead and they’re perfectly natural. But they’re lethal to all known life in powerful enough bursts. Bachmann sounds like a homeopath telling us that anything natural must be good for us even though nature can just as easily kill you as nurture you. The other problem with her lecture is the fact that if we really had a 3% concentration of carbon dioxide in the air, Earth would be an arid desert where complex life would have to evolve very differently to survive. Instead, that concentration is just 0.03% and as mentioned above, it’s potent enough to give us our moderate climates rather than keep us in a permanent ice age.
What’s really sad is that Barton, Boehner and Bachmann are just using the latest iteration of arguments given by other lawmakers who sincerely believe that the discussion about global warming is some sort of nefarious socialist conspiracy to either defang American industry or start a UN led New World Order. These are people being paid with money taken out of every paycheck we receive and rather than help us make decisions which will help us in the long run, they choose to spend their time arguing about things they clearly don’t have any real grasp of and are too self-assured to ask an adviser or a staffer to do a simple, two minute fact check.