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Politics Trumps Science, But Not Really

Politics Trumps Science, But Not Really

The New York Times has a front-page article today headlined “Politics Slows Climate Study.” The gist of the Times story is that 1) there have been an unusually large number of extreme weather events in recent years, 2) many scientists believe that human production of large amounts of greenhouse gases is the primary cause, but 3) there have not been rigorous scientific studies to test and define linkages.

Recent science has established that global warming is real. The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project, partially funded by two politically-conservative billionaires, showed temperatures getting warmer worldwide over more than 200 years to the satisfaction of people who are paying attention. See this blog’s December 1, 2011, post by Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer titled “Healthy Skepticism on Climate.”

There is less agreement on whether human activities are partly or mostly causing rising temperatures. There is also less agreement on whether warmer temperatures are causing the rise in extreme weather events experienced worldwide, obviously noticeable in 2011. Those questions are of great importance to our futures, and one would expect generous funding would go to scientists exploring the facts. But no; politics trumps nature. As today’s Times story put it:

This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it. The idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a “propaganda” arm on climate.
It is both scary and reassuring to me that nature does not, to my knowledge, pay attention to what American politicians say she is or should be doing. We can refuse to look, but that is very unlikely to change what is actually happening. It seems both comical and tragic that there is resistance among our elected representatives to the idea of examining challenges to our living comfortably on this beautiful planet. But ultimately the responsibility lies with each of us, both for our actions and for our votes.

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