Republican rejection of science threatens humanity

ScienceDaily for April 19, 2001 has a disturbing news report (“Democrats and Republicans Increasingly Divided Over Global Warming, Study Says”). While scientists around the world are coming to a growing consensus concurring on the reality of global warming, Americans are being polarized along political lines with Democrats accepting the scientific consensus and Republicans rejecting it.

Dr. Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University published “a first-of-its-kind” study of the politics of global warming. McCright, who was named in 2007 as a Kavli Frontiers Fellow in the National Academy of Sciences for his work on the sociology of climate change, says that it is “depressing” to see the gap growing between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of climate change. The gap jumped by 30% between 2001 and 2010. SD says McCright concludes that this gap keeps “meaningful national energy policies from being considered.”

As long as science is rejected how can we meaningfully solve our problems? How could we have funded cancer research if Republicans rejected the scientific view that cancers exist? This is pretty much where we are at today on the issue of global warming.

McCright says, “Instead of a public debate about different policies to deal with global warming, a significant percentage of the American public is still debating the science. As a result, we’re failing to significantly address one of the most serious problems of our time.”

By going over 10 years of Gallup Poll results the study found that people on the political right are increasingly rejecting the scientific consensus on global warming while people on the political left basically accept it.

Other findings were that in 2001 49% of Republicans thought global warming was already having effects but this number dropped to 29% in 2010. In 2001 60% of Democrats thought global warming was under way, a number that grew to 70% by 2010.

If people did not call themselves Republicans or Democrats, but used the terms conservative and liberal instead then the gap grew from around 18% in 2001 to 44% in 2010.

Having a college degree makes it more likely that liberals and Democrats accept the scientific view but more unlikely that Republicans and conservatives will. If even college educated Republicans and conservatives are rejecting science then we are in real trouble. However, since we don’t know how many of them got their degrees from bible colleges we can’t really know for sure what’s going on with them.

McCright explains these figures from the “prevailing” theory of how the American people get their political ideas – from “political elites.” McCright says, “In the last few decades political elites have become polarized on climate change. This has driven the political divide on this topic within the American public, as regular citizens have taken cues from ideological and party leaders they trust.”

People also tend to turn to media outlets that reinforce what they already think. For example Fox news vs. NPR (which itself has more conservative than liberal viewpoints expressed, yet is deemed liberal). People who like one rarely pay attention to the other. Yet one actually reports scientific findings and the other prefers pseudo-science.

Well, “this is not a recipe,” McCright says, “for promoting a civil, science-based discussion on this very serious environmental problem. Like with the national discussion on health care, we don’t even agree on what the basic facts are.”

Are things looking better? Not according to Dr. McCright. SD quotes him as follows: “Many Republican Party leaders have moved further to the right since the 2008 presidential election. We’ve also seen attacks on climate science by Tea Party activists. It seems like climate change denial has become something of a litmus test for Republican candidates. This continued elite polarization on climate change means that the general public will likely remain politically divided on climate change for a while.”

So, the future does not portend well for the US to do anything serious in the realm of climate change. With many scientists convinced that 350 Parts per million of atmospheric CO2 is the upper limit that our air can take that is compatible in the long run with most life on Earth (we are already at 391 ppm and growing by 2 ppm every year) the longer the Republicans ignore science and cater to special interest groups (i.e., the big capitalist corporations) the more damage they do to the entire planet for their personal short term agendas. This is a real crime against humanity now and in the future.

Photo: Physicist Janet Machol explains how her LIDR, an acronym for light detection and ranging, experiment, works aboard the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration research ship, Sept. 11, 2006 in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Tex. The scientists on the ship were part of a team of more than 200 scientists, plus five aircraft and a multitude of land and sea-based sensors participating in the project known as the Texas Air Quality Study. (David J. Phillip/AP)



Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins has a background in philisophy, anthropology and archeology. He writes from New York, NY. Riggins was associate editor of Political Affairs magazine.