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A science-free Congress?

To our dismay, and the nation’s detriment, self-described climate change deniers – strongly supported by fossil-fuel interests — continue to mislead Congress and the public.

In late January, we joined 14 other leading scientists in writing a letter to every member of Congress, asking our elected representatives to separate science from policy. We called attention to the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change, urging Congress to “address the challenge of climate change, and lead the national response…” We want Congress to understand that, with each passing day, the problem worsens.

Our letter was certainly not the first plea to Congress to address climate change, and it won’t be the last. An open letter just last May from 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences urged similar actions. But the race to run away from the problem is nothing short of staggering. [emphasis added]

So begins an excellent Politico op-ed by John Abraham,  associate professor of thermal sciences at the University of St.Thomas, Peter Gleick,  president of The Pacific Institute, Michael Mann,  director of the Earth Science Center at Penn State University, and Michael Oppenheimer,  professor of geosciences at Princeton University.

The NYT magazine published a piece last month  with a similar theme, “Fact-Free Science,” which noted:

… more than half of the Republicans in the House and three-quarters of Republican senators … now say that the threat of global warming, as a man-made and highly threatening phenomenon, is at best an exaggeration and at worst an utter “hoax”…. These grim numbers, compiled by the Center for American Progress, describe a troubling new reality: the rise of the Tea Party and its anti-intellectual, anti-establishment, anti-elite worldview has brought both a mainstreaming and a radicalization of antiscientific thought.

Even former leading Republican members of the House have made the same point (see Former GOP chair of House Science Committee Sherry Boehlert on “Science the GOP can’t wish away”).

While some ‘appeasers’ think we should let the deniers win the debate and simply stop talking about climate science, that is the road to certain ruin.  As difficult as it is to imagine a aggressive action on climate or clean energy energy time soon, there  is no possibility whatsoever of  the nation and the world taking the necessary steps to avert multiple simultaneous catastrophes in the coming decades absent  abroad understanding of the science.  Moreover, if only the anti-science crowd participates in the debate, then there is no possibility the public’s confusion will end.

Imagine if the  public health community had taken the same view of the lies from the tobacco industry and given up on the health message.

“Energy independence” and “reducing dependence on oil” are great messages — indeed, they have been great messages for decade upon decade upon decade now, far longer than  climate change has been a major message — but they have never succeeded in creating a sustained set of policy is to actually reduce oil consumption in absolute terms (let alone the set of policies needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in absolute terms).

In the end,  you can’t cure the disease unless  you understand the diagnosis and prognosis.  And so we come back to the article by the four scientists:

Nothing exemplifies this more than a bill by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), to overturn the scientific finding by the Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gases are harmful to human health.

We are saddened and disturbed that Upton is apparently planning to hold a vote in committee very soon to overturn a science-based determination absent any scientific justification for doing so.

This science-free approach serves only the interests of oil and coal producers and other big polluters who don’t want Congress — or the American people — to know what decades of scientific research have revealed about current climate trends and the growing future risks we face.

Science is the Achilles heel for those who try to perpetuate the myth that climate change is not occurring, or that the massive build-up of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere is not the main reason the climate is changing. There is no serious disagreement in the scientific community that global temperatures are increasing, sea levels are rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic and that fossil fuel combustion is the primary cause.

In addition, the rapid shrinking of Arctic sea ice and the pattern of extreme weather and climate — including widespread drought, extraordinarily intense rainstorms, heat waves and wildfires — reflect more than just natural climate variability.

These findings have been confirmed by all the leading scientific academies around the world, most prominent among them, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which last year issued a series of four comprehensive reports that were unambiguous. The academy stated, “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities … and in many cases is already affecting a broad range of human and natural systems.”

Like the tobacco industry before them, fossil fuel interests regularly trot out discredited voices, false and disproven arguments and selective and misleading evidence to generate doubt. Their goal is to create the perception that fundamental aspects of climate science are controversial. They are not.

All their claims, all the studies they cite and all the evidence they have presented has been thoroughly reviewed by climate scientists. There is no scientific basis for contesting the academy’s finding. But that doesn’t stop fossil fuel interests from pouring millions of dollars into distorting, misrepresenting and, at times, falsifying the science.

We are disheartened that many in Congress choose to be guided by those who profit from pollution. Now we learn that Republicans in the House are proposing to cut more than $170 million in climate change programs, as well as to compromise the EPA’s ability to carry out its science-based mission. Given the staggering costs of disaster response and the financial ambush awaiting us if we fail to anticipate the risk of massive climate disruption, such action can only be labeled irresponsible.

These same Republicans pledged no cuts to national security. Yet the growing risk of climate change has been clearly identified as a national security threat by top military experts and analysts.

If Congress turns a deaf ear to science, it would be up to mayors, city planners, the building trades, transportation officials, health care workers, small and large businesses, universities, city councils, agriculture interests, water management officials and many others to take the lead in laying out the risks. We are grateful that many already are.

Hear!  Hear!

This reposted from where Dr. Joseph Romm is Editor.

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