Climate science stands on its own weight

Like many Americans, I witnessed our 44th president deliver his first State of the Union address last week, expecting to hear the usual remarks about the recession and, given Obama’s reputation as an orator, maybe at most a moment or two of eloquence. As a graduate student in biology, I was pleased but not surprised to hear Obama reference the stimulus money that went to scientific research and his dedication to improving science education. But when the President mentioned climate change, I perked up and abruptly stopped nodding automatically.

It wasn’t that I disagreed with his point — he was supporting clean energy and energy efficiency. It was his apparent acceptance that scientific evidence was insufficient to drive bipartisan legislation on one of the most important issues of our generation.

Obama had begun talking about climate change with a backhanded introduction: “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change,” which was followed by audible booing from one side of the aisle. But Obama smiled and continued, “Here’s the thing — even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future — because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”

At first glance, this economics-based argument for pushing ahead on clean energy policy seemed like a reasonable one. After all, if one can’t convince an opponent with one line of reasoning, try another. But nagging at me was Obama’s implication that America can be a leader even if it ignores science. Surely the man who promised in his inaugural address to “restore science to its rightful place” was kidding? Along with the rest of the scientific community, I had presumed that this ‘rightful place’ was somewhere other than the boot soles of George W. Bush ’68.

But after my initial anger began to wane, I started to think about why Obama said what he did. Cleverly, Obama had avoided providing a label for “those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence.” The jeering made it clear his intended targets across the party line understood whom he was addressing. If Obama can get Republicans to join in on climate change legislation for economic reasons, then kudos to him. But was that really all he was trying to do? If Obama thought he was cajoling his Republican countrymen to pass clean energy legislation, he was not successful. The truth is that scientific evidence is not respected in politics — and I believe Obama was calling them out on it. I’m sure there are some Republicans — and Democrats — who genuinely don’t believe the wealth of data that support global warming. I suspect, however, that there are far more who have no qualms with the evidence itself, but choose to attack the science because it’s the easiest and most efficient way of undermining its political power to create laws that limit the detrimental effect of humans on the environment.

Science shouldn’t tell us what policies to enact, but as the closest thing we have to unbiased information it must be the foundation for recognizing the problems we need to solve. And because science can inform so many of our important policy decisions from climate change and energy to education and the economy, it should matter much more than it currently does — especially in an administration “friendly” to science. At the same time, we should refrain from politicizing science and transforming it into a weapon to delay important legislation. Obama’s appeal is disturbing because “overwhelming scientific evidence” should be enough to galvanize action. The reality is that a nation that refuses to embrace empirical evidence will never lead the global economy. America must not be that nation.

Comments

  • Y’11

    Should we have embraced the Himalaya glacier tibit in the IPCC report?

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see emperical evidence from either side. Climate research is flawed… at best. Your best bet is making the argument that Obama had made.

  • anon

    The problem is that science has played politics in the regard to “climate change”. Before we spend billions and change our way of life we should know what is really happening. There is overwhelming evidence that we were lied to for years, and not just by one person or group of people. Several scientific reports have been debunked recently.

  • ProfBob

    We are not really entitled to our opinions unless they are based on sound evidence. The researchers in climatology and nearly universally agreed on climate change. Business people, with no expertise, are not. I suggest reading Book 2 of the free ebook series “In Search of Utopia” (http://andgulliverreturns.info) for a survey of the evidence.

  • Kai

    #1,#2:
    That is simply and blatantly false. Every scientific organization on the planet has staked their reputation on the clear and overwhelming evidence of anthropogenic climate change. People may be paying big money to convince you otherwise but no scientific organization or report has been “debunked” – merely carefully misinterpreted. Take a science class and present empirical data of your own before dismissing many of the most intelligent people on the planet and their concrete results. Don’t confuse the complications of working within a system with many variables with bad science. Uncertainty is honest, FOX “News” is not.

  • πῦρ ῤωμαϊκὸν

    Oh boy… here we go again with the BS appeals to authority: “Oh you can’t have an opinion on something unless you spend all your time studying it…”

    The fact of the matter is that Global Warming supporters have been engaging in nefarious and ILLEGAL acts to support their theories. You don’t believe me? Remember the whole climategate mess? Well, the British government just concluded the man at the center of the scandal broke the law, but cannot be punished because the investigation occurred after the statute of limitations expired (you know, because he was hiding all the evidence). Read it for yourselves here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7004936.ece .

    AS for the little glacier snafu, dear old Pauchari ( a railroad engineer, BTW. Talk about not being an expert on the subject…) refuses to apologize for the mistake because it wasn’t directly his fault. I guess for the head of the IPCC, the buck doesn’t stop here, it moves around until we forget about it. Oh yeah what was that about a conflict of interest: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/78466/India/Pachauri+in+a+spot+as+climategate+hits+TERI.html .

    Then there’s the matter of inreased scrutiny of data collection tachniques.

    This isn’t to say the most fundamental concepts, like the Arrhenius equation, are wrong, but it certainly suggests the “experts” are fudging the numbers (whether out or laziness or for a conspiracy, who can tell?). Anyone says we should not continue to look into this (especially given most of this was done with public money. It’s just good stewardship for God’s sake), even for posterity’s sake, is hopelessly caught up in his or her ideology – devoid of credibility.

  • Mojo

    Global Warming is no different than Creationism. Both are religious dogma looking for a cloak of scientific validity. Neither finds it. This will go down as the biggest scam in history, and the few true ‘believers’ in global warming left when the dust settles will likely do as the creationists did – build a goofy ‘museum’ to display their ‘science’ for other believers. I can see it now, a flaming globe in the foyer.…a bronze statue of Al Gore (Inventor of the Internet)….a Polar Bear petting zoo…

  • Climate Truther

    Looks like India is forming an independent climate panel because it does not trust the UN. Not surprising, since the UN is one of the most corrupt organizations out there and there is such controversy surrounding the IPCC and CRU.See report here:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/7157590/India-forms-new-climate-change-body.html

  • Tanner

    ,Interesting article in Febuary American History Magazine about a European expert on climates who warned that North America’s climate is dangerous to Europeans, indeed America had different diseases then those found in Europe. Reading the article it mentions that the climate in colonial america was different. Things like the draining of marshes and cutting forests for fuel and commerce changed America’s climate. I wonder? If we get “too green” would a new set of diseases evolve or re-emerge. It is “the balance” that needs to be found.

  • TheDopeFromHope

    Silly child, you lefties think “global warming” causes everything from acne to earthquakes, from hurricanes to tsunamis. If you did a little digging, you’d see the science has been corrupted.

  • Yale ’08

    Wow, as if an industrial society hasn’t destroyed life enough. Only in America can you find people so completely terrified when they are told that their way of life needs to change. The climate change deniers here need to go back to their corporate media holes.

    Anthropogenic climate change correlated with industrialization is a FACT. The scientific community is 99% in consensus on this issue. Open up your eyes and stop playing politics, like you do with virtually every important issue (health care, warfare, etc).

    How stupid do you have to be to actually believe that present consumer behavior on a global scale is tenable in the long term? You really think God’s green earth was meant to be treated this way? That it’s OK? That organisms and ecosystems were meant to handle this degree of waste?

    We wiped out the Native Americans; tribal societies more sophisticated than this post-industrial planet’s ‘civil’ society. They achieved that rarity we have always been fighting: environmental integration of man.

    I’m convinced this is the end, at least for America. From health care to endless warfare and now this. The only thing we lead the way in any more is destruction.

  • anon

    Yes Yale ’08… lets look to the more sophisticated tribal societies and rid ourselves of our horrible “civil” society. Lets go back to foraging and being nomads. The short life-spans, constant struggle for survival, etc. are just so appealing.

    Just because the scientific community is “99% in consensus on this issue” (which is a blatantly misinformed and juvenile claim) does not mean they are correct. Does the universe really revolve around the Earth? Is the world truly flat? Saying something is a fact does not make it so.

    There is something to be said for promoting sustainability and being good stewards of our planet but drastically altering how our planet’s populace lives, off faulty science no less, is another issue.

  • Debba

    Fear of actual facts, and fudging with data (to come to the conclusion you desire) would get you thrown out of any industry. It is amazing what you can get away with if moneypots follow.