Truth-seeking is natural science’s essence, and because of that scientific theories are always provisional, always subject to revision. The best and brightest scientists of the ancient world “knew” that the planets and the stars revolved around the Earth, and they constructed elaborate, multi-layered systems to explain why points of light moved irregularly in night skies. Most accepted that the Earth was flat, a scientific “truth” that was discarded when Columbus and others publicized evidence that we lived on a sphere. Today’s science, including projections of the effects of human-generated greenhouse gases and man’s taking almost half the planet’s land to grow crops, is also provisional, and it may change as new evidence and new thinking emerges. Still we rely on what current science tells us about electricity, gravity, and heat every day.
Lack of absolute certainty puts science at a disadvantage when it comes up against religious and political faith. As Exhibit A, I submit a video of Georgia Republican Congressman Paul Broun, a physician and member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Congressman Broun tells us that “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.” The man is a physician with years of studying natural science, and he rejects mainstream theories which conflict with his religious certainty that the “Earth is about 9,000 years old” and “that it was made in six days.” Doctor-Congressman Broun’s righteous attack on mainstream science naturally makes it easier for less-credentialed folks to reject inconvenient science, like evidence of human-caused global warming and climate change.
Climate science similarly fails to persuade when evidence conflicts with political certainties, beliefs such as that Americans are entitled to a continually-increasing standard of living measured by energy consumption and that personal freedom trumps protecting nature. Our return from Portland, Oregon, and its liberal environmental policies was punctuated by two October 6th articles in the Dallas Morning News, “EcoBoost lifts this cute-ute” and “Going green, to a point.” The “EcoBoost” story was about the new Ford Escape, a”cute-ute” suitable for taking housewives on errands. The small SUV won the reviewer’s praise for its souped-up 240-housepower engine, which can take mom with her shopping spoils and kids from 0-to-60 mph in seven seconds flat. The News’ car editor did not even nod at the energy and environmental costs of big engines, and he disparaged lesser-powered cute-utes as just not enough fun to drive.
The “Going green” story was about a Dallas suburb’s backing away from a sustainability plan funded with a Department of Energy grant. The city-staff-developed plan recommended 329 specific initiatives for the city to follow, like creating bike lanes and getting LEED certification for all new city buildings. One Councilman explained that the sustainability initiatives were being shelved because “We have some citizens that are concerned that our freedoms are being eroded.” The city’s Office of Environmental Stewardship has been disbanded while the the City Council tries to “find the right spot where you are not taking away freedoms but are addressing everyday common-sense issues.”
What will it take to convince decision-makers that energy conservation is a “common-sense issue,” and that a poisoned environment cuts everyone’s freedom to live a decent life? Too much, too late?