Nel's New Day

January 23, 2016

GOP Presidential Candidate Climate Deniers

Midwinter Meetings for the American Library Association are typically at the end of January. This one this year in Boston was unusually early—January 8-11. If we have met at the customary time, over 10,000 people would have been unable to get to the conference or stranded in the Northeast as a blizzard threatens 50 million people on the East Coast. With this storm, we can expect Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) or one of his colleagues to bring another snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that climate change doesn’t exist. Once again, they lack the education—or willingness to accept science—to understand that “Snowmageddons” is all a part of the human-created changes in climate around the world.

Once again, climatologists try to explain to the uneducated how warming-fueled ocean temperatures super-charged all this snow. As Thomas Mann, Director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, explained:

“There is peer-reviewed science that now suggests that climate change will lead to more of these intense, blizzard-producing nor’easters, for precisely the reason we’re seeing this massive storm—unusually warm Atlantic ocean surface temperatures (temperatures are in the 70s off the coast of Virginia).”

Extra moisture plus a cold Arctic outbreak equals monster snowfalls, he said, pointing out that massive winter storms are favored by climate change.

Levom Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, added:

“At present sea surface temperatures are more the 3F above normal over huge expanses (1000 miles) off the NE coast and water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10 to 15% higher as a result. Up to half of this can be attributed to climate change.”

A long-term pattern of more extreme precipitation, especially in Northeast winters, has led to superstorms predicted by climate scientists. Trenberth stated that “all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” The U.K. Met Office explained:

 “Basic physics tells us that a warmer atmosphere is able to hold more moisture — at a rate of approximately 7 per cent increase per degree [Celsius] warming. This is expected to lead to similar percentage increases in heavy rainfall, which has generally been borne out by models and observed changes in daily rainfall.”

When the temperature drops far enough down for snow, the storms will be fueled by more water vapor and thus be more intense themselves. The result is fewer snowstorms in regions close to the rain-snow line, such as the central United States, but with more intense snowstorms in the area when they do occur, just like more intense snowstorms in generally cold regions.

Climate warming is not enough to end below-freezing temperatures during midwinter but large enough to put more water vapor into the air. Studies show that warmer-than-normal winters favor snow storms as shown by wide fluctuations during the twentieth century, which experienced upward trends corresponding with strong cyclonic activity. Most of the United States had 71 to 80 percent of their snowstorms in warmer-than-normal years.

Climate change also causes snowstorms to be longer. The changing jet stream results in slower storm systems and longer periods of heavy precipitation.

Scientists announced that 2015 was the warmest year on record, the second year in a row. The world is on a trajectory of rapid global warming. Fifteen of NOAA’s 16 hottest-recorded years have occurred since 2000, and last year was the 39th consecutive year in which global temperatures have been higher than the 20th century average.  To Democrats, these facts make the fight against climate change more urgent than ever. Yet GOP presidential candidates laughed at Bernie Sanders when he said that climate change is the greatest threat to the U.S., preferring to stick with international terrorism. (It’s easier to scare the people in the U.S. with this position.) GOP candidates’ positions:

Donald Trump: The snowstorms are just “weather” until someone can prove otherwise to him.  Global warming is a “hoax.

Ted Cruz: He uses incomplete data in an attempt to show that satellite data shows no warming in the past 17 years.

Marco Rubio: Climate change exists, but the U.S. shouldn’t bother with addressing any problems in this area if other countries don’t do the same thing. The Paris climate deal is “ridiculous.”  The U.S. can’t limit its economy to tackle climate change.

Ben Carson: “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused. Gimme a break.” His spokesman tried to cover for his ignorance by explaining that Carson is a “questioner” and “could be persuaded.”

Jeb Bush: He follows Rubio, calling himself a climate “skeptic.”

Chris Christie: Although New Jersey has met clean air goals and expanded zero-emission electricity—according to the candidate—he doesn’t like government intervention “to chase some wild left-wing idea that somehow us [sic] by ourselves is going to fix the climate.”

John Kasich: He admits a problem with climate change but doesn’t “want to overreact to it.” Ohio is a fossil fuel-producing state (aka fracking) so Kasich doesn’t want to “worship the environment.”  Last September, he said, “I don’t believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change.”

Carly Fiorina: The energy industry should innovate on its own instead of having climate change regulations. The Paris conference was “baloney.”

Rick Santorum: A skeptic of climate change, he follows Trump and Cruz. He wants more than 97 percent of the scientists to believe in human-created climate change. “Lots of things cause climate change,” he said.

Mike Huckabee: In the past, he said that people need to take care of the Earth, a biblical precept, but he’s moved to “science is not settled” on climate change.

Rand Paul: Nature is a bigger part of climate change than humans. The planet has always had different climates, according to Paul, although he left out the parts in which humans couldn’t live on it.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was the only candidate who believed in climate change, and he’s gone.


The Earth’s average land temperature of 2.39 degrees Fahrenheit above the twentieth-century average should make it difficult for climate deniers to claim that global warming stopped in 1998. Record-high temperatures in ten months don’t show the “pause” that some people claim. Republican climate deniers are now much quieter than in the past, but they still won’t agree. Pundit David Brooks wrote that the GOP “has come to resemble a Soviet dictatorship” about climate science: even politicians who know the truth about global warming say otherwise “because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation.”

A month ago, the North Pole temperature was 50 degrees higher than normal. Manhattan was over 70 degrees on Christmas, and people were surfing in Queens. The storm system drawing warm air to the North Pole caused recent tornadoes in Texas and heavy rain and flooding in the Mid- and Southeast. A January hurricane in the north Atlantic was the first at this time of the year in 78 years. During an upper level low pressure center above Tucson in December created a temperature of -26 degrees at about 18,000 feet while the temperature at the same altitude in Barrow, Alaska was just only a few degrees colder.

states prepared


Do you live in a state that’s preparing for climate change disaster? Check the above map to see what grade your state receives.

December 18, 2014

Climate Change, Sea Rise Real

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 9:02 PM
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The year’s biggest lie: according to PolitiFact, “climate change is a hoax” was the favored choice. Almost 32 percent of the poll respondents chose this as a lie over nine other options. Scientists overwhelmingly support the position that people are causing the climate change. In contrast, chief climate denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) will chair his chamber’s Environment and Public Works Committee, and 17 of 22 GOP members of the House Science, Space, and Technology deny any climate change or any human cause for the problem.

Extreme heat in the winter when the polar vortex dipped far south into the United States has driven the warming in the Arctic, twice as fast as in lower latitudes. The average temperature for last year ran 1.8 degrees above the 1981-2010 average. Alaska saw 18 degrees above normal, and Greenland’s temperature were 16 degrees over normal last January. Warm temperatures are driving the above-average melt to Greenland’s ice sheet and the disappearance of a snow cover almost a month earlier than normal. The problem for the rest of the world is the serious loss of sea ice, possibly contributing to a wavier jet stream that stalls weather patterns.

Climate projections for 50 years in the future seem so impossible that many people ignore them. Looking 50 years in the past, however, consider the premier beach resort, Ocean City (VA), within “pleasant driving distance” of Washington and Baltimore, according to the glossy sales brochure. Richard F. Hall sold 2000 lots on Cedar Island starting in the 1950s, and his granddaughter and her developer husband sold more land in the 1980s. People built houses and then moved them away from the encroaching sea if they could afford to do so. Scientists warned about the failure of building at that location; state regulators allowed the development although they knew it was doomed for disaster.

cedar-island-houseNow the last house on Cedar Island has been taken by the ocean.

cedar-island-house-2On another barrier island, Miami Beach has spent millions to replenish sand on its beaches. Scientists believe that the seas will rise three or more feet by the end of the century—85 years from now. And people keep buying and building.

At the other end of the United States, the people of Shishmaref, a village of 563 people just 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle, have watched the eroding shores.  The town, originally with wide beaches, got a post office in 1901 and incorporated in 1969. Alaska’s average temperatures have warmed 3.4 degrees during the past half century, and the thawing permafrost is washing away. Fall and early winter storms also eat away at the area because the surrounding sea freezes for much less of the year than in the past. The island where the village is located loses up to 22.6 feet in one year with big storms and an annual of between 2.7 and 8.9 feet.

alaska house disappearsFor many people in the United States, the sea rise is of no concern. Yet 50 percent of the nation’s coastline is at high or very high risk of impacts from sea level rise, and 16.4 million people live in the coastal flood plain. More than half of the area covered by 40 large cities (population over 50,000) is less than 10 feet above the high tide line. Florida has the biggest problem because 27 of these cities are located in that state with 85 percent in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Even worse, each one sits on bedrock filled with holes, leaving them without any method of defense from the rising ocean.

So much ice in Greenland and Antarctica is melting that these two regions are shrinking and changing the pull of gravity. Water levels may fall in those locations while the gravitational pull contributes to the rising waters along the U.S. coastlines. As high-latitude ice melts in the higher latitudes, the water slopes more towards the equator.

Another contributing factor is the expansion of the ocean because of increased warming. People have argued that the rate of sea level is slowing, possibly because the heat is getting sucked up by the colder parts of the ocean. The slowing, however, won’t last. The last time that the planet warmed at this rate, about 120,000 years ago, sea levels were 15 to 30 feet higher than now.

A recent study shows that the worst-case scenario for sea level rise is 6 feet by 2100, but that study is based from expert opinion in 2012. Things have gotten much worse almost three years later as scientists have discovered that the Greenland ice sheet is far less stable than previously thought.

Everyone is affected by sea rise, even those who don’t live in affected areas. The damage was estimated to reach $2 trillion a year by 2100—and that study was two years ago. Cutting temperature increases in half could avoid losing almost $1.4 trillion of the total cost.

If the United States takes no action to slow down global warming, millions of people will face the same disaster during the next 50 years as residents in Ocean City and Shishmaref have endured. And many more millions will suffer from economic disaster.

April 7, 2014

Ryan, Conservatives Support Increased Climate Change

Last summer thousands of king salmon in Alaska died because the hot, dry weather that broke heat records. Maine commercial lobster catchers are losing money because massive crops are bringing down prices. The industry is still reeling from the bacterial shell disease that destroyed 80 percent of the stock off Rhode Island and Connecticut coasts in 1999. Dr. Robert Steneck, University of Maine, called this “an ecosystem way out of balance.”

The 2012 drought that covered 80 percent of the United States raised feed prices to a record high, making meat prices much higher. Last year, the “severe drought” in 67 percent of Texas, the biggest cattle-producing state, was up from 33 percent the year before.  These are all effects of climate change that are hurting the United States right now.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) new budget would make the disasters worse:

  • Blocks environmental regulation, especially EPA’s plan to regulate CO2 from coal-fired power plants. Expands fossil fuel use, calling for legislation that Ryan claims is caught up in “complicated bureaucratic approval processes”—most likely the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Defunds environmental programs by curtailing domestic discretionary spending, including spending for public lands and conservation programs.
  • Reduces investment in transportation and infrastructure because he thinks that greater fuel efficiency has contributed to the deficit through less taxes.
  • Distributes money to Big Oil.

Ryan’s budget came out at about the same time as the second of four planned reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: a summary of “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” The cautious report should cause terror although it omits the potential catastrophic impact of the planet warming from 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, there are few studies in this area because climate scientists thought, until recently, that people would try to slow down the disastrous climate change. It’s not happening.


[Left – warming based on the report and taking action; right – levels of nine degrees over much of the United States.]

According to the report, impacts of climate change are likely to be “severe, pervasive, and irreversible.”

  • We’re already experiencing the impacts of climate change: shrinking glaciers that change river courses and water supplies; shifting ranges and behavior of species from grizzly bears to flowers; drops in wheat and maize yields.
  • Heat waves, wildfires, and coastal flooding are major threats in North America, causing death and damage to ecosystems and property. Athletes and outdoor workers are especially at risk. Europe faces freshwater shortages; and Asia should expect more severe flooding from extreme storms.
  • Food sources will become unpredictable, particularly with a booming population. Lower crop production leads to increased malnutrition, already affecting nearly 900 million people. Maize, wheat, and rice are at risk, and the ocean will be a less reliable source of food as important fish resources in the tropics either move north or go extinct. Ocean acidification will eat away at shelled food sources such as oysters. Lower supplies and higher prices increase food insecurity and social tensions, leading to conflict.
  • Flooding and erosion will increase in coastal communities, erasing metropolitan areas, military installations, farming regions, small island nations, and other ocean-side places. Damage from hurricanes and other extreme storms will also bring risks of “death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods.”
  • People will become less healthy: heat waves and fires cause injury, disease and death; decreased food production means more malnutrition; and food- and water-borne diseases make more people sick.
  • Climate change means a need for more money.
  • An increase of climate refugees and climate-related violence can increase civil wars and international conflicts through additional poverty and competition for resources.
  • Violent conflict increases vulnerability to climate change because it harms assets that can help adaptation such as infrastructure, institution, natural resources, and livelihood.

The last two put together are terrifying. Climate change will cause conflicts, and conflicts will cause climate change. 

People can still reduce global warming by cutting emissions, but cable reporting is not likely to help people understand that even low levels of climate change will cause “breakdown of food systems” and “violent conflict.” CNN gave the report one minute and eight seconds in two segments. In comparison, people watching MSNBC could see 19 minutes and 49 seconds. Almost all the five minutes on Fox attacked the idea of studying climate change with no idea what the report contained:

  • “[It’s] alright for you to exhale without paying tax to the United Nations.”—Claudia Rosett on Neiil Cavuto’s program. The journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies recommended “doing things to stop North Korea.
  • Bill O’Reilly accused climate change activists of wanting to “destroy [the] economy or allow villains like Putin to blackmail with his fossil fuels” based on a “phantom global warming theory” when “no one knows whether it’s true.”

Stephen Colbert had more about the report than either Fox or CNN, and Jon Stewart had a ten-minute rant in January. Young people watch The Colbert Report and The Daily Show; maybe there is hope for them.

Last week, the U.S. House tried to stop study of climate change by passing a funding bill to improve forecasts of “high impact weather events” like tornadoes and hurricanes “for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.” The House hasn’t passed a major weather-related bill in 22 years, and tornadoes are eminent. Yet these events are killing fewer people, frequently because they cannot afford better-built homes. There was no mention of increasing lower-profile weather and climate disasters that kill far more people every year. Heat waves now kill more people in the U.S. than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. Weather-related accidents kill 6,000 people per year—10 times more than heat waves do.

causes of death climate

The U.N. report probably won’t make any difference. As Andy Dessler, professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, said, “If people are persuaded by evidence, they would have been persuaded long ago.” Conservatives blame President Obama because he can’t force GOP members of Congress to believe in climate change. An article in The Hill stated, “The skepticism of Republicans is exacerbated when Democratic lawmakers and Obama push for new regulations, such as the push for stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.” The conservative take is that corporations and conservatives would magically do something about climate change if there were no regulations.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said the polarization over climate change is far more pronounced in Congress than in the country as a whole. In the U.S. 83 percent of the people think that the country should do something about climate change even if it costs more money. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers continue their vocal disbelief about climate change to keep getting millions of dollars from corporations for their campaigns.

Bridenstein should heed the words of Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research:

“It is irresponsible not to mention climate change in stories that presume to say something about why all these storms and tornadoes are happening. The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). Tornadoes come from thunderstorms in a wind shear environment. … The basic driver of thunderstorms is the instability in the atmosphere.”

Emissions could be reduced by taxing carbons, but Ryan’s budget pays corporation to produce carbons. Corporate taxes of $25 per metric ton of carbon could reduce emissions by 10 percent while increasing federal revenues by $1 trillion. U.S. taxpayers provide carbon producers with $4 billion a year, making this country the largest single source of fossil-fuel subsidies.  Eliminating these subsidies world-wide could cut carbon emissions by 13 percent. The U.S. could control carbon production in other countries by levying taxes on imported goods imported from other countries.

We can make a difference by reinstating tax credit for wind energy, revamping public-utility laws to reward energy efficiency, and rewriting building codes to cut emissions from buildings. Under President Obama, the EPA has published rules governing emissions from new power plants, prohibiting new coal-burning plants. More plans include fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles such as tractor-trailers and emissions limits on existing power plants. It’s a start, but we need to push for more.

January 7, 2014

Cold Brings Out Climate Change Crazies

This year the media has concentrated on the weather as subzero temperatures swept across many parts of the nation, and conservative pundits have responded with glee:

“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bulls*** has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice.”—Donald Trump

“Global warming my gluteus maximus.”—Sarah Palin

“I would love to see Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary sitting outside on the 50 yard line of Green Bay the whole game, and then afterwards do a presentation for us all on global warming.”—Rush Limbaugh

“We’re looking at global cooling, forget this global warming.”—Stuart Varney, Fox Business

These people all have one thing in common: they aren’t scientists. In contrast, scientist Jeff Masters said this:

“As the Earth gets warmer and more moisture gets absorbed into the atmosphere, we are steadily loading the dice in favor of more extreme storms in all seasons, capable of causing greater impacts on society. If the climate continues to warm, we should expect an increase in heavy snow events for a few decades, until the climate grows so warm that we pass the point where it’s too warm for it to snow heavily.”

Science writer Chris Mooney also pointed out that  “scientists … stuck in the ice” got trapped after ice broke off of a glacier. Mother Jones added that record lows in the U.S. are happening at the same time that the temperature is about 120 degrees in Australia.

Mark Fischetti, senior editor at Scientific American gave a brief explanation of the current “Polar Vortex”:

“More and more Arctic sea ice is melting during summer months. The more ice that melts, the more the Arctic Ocean warms. The ocean radiates much of that excess heat back to the atmosphere in winter, which disrupts the polar vortex. Data taken over the past decade indicate that when a lot of Arctic sea ice disappears in the summer, the vortex has a tendency to weaken over the subsequent winter.”

If you talk to an uneducated climate change denier, here is some information, starting with the difference between climate and weather–two different things.

Weather: the state of the earth’s atmosphere at a specific time, usually referring to day-to-day temperature and precipitation in a specific area over a short period of time.

Climate: trends in atmospheric conditions over a long period of time in a more generalized area.

Weather changes according to seasons because the Earth’s position toward the sun changes. The angle of sunlight changes because the Earth revolves around the sun. The Roman Catholic church condemned Galileo in 1633 for his position on the sun being the center of our universe and didn’t apologize until 21 years ago—to show you how slowly education comes to the people.

In the summer, the angle is more direct than in the winter. In the colder season the ground isn’t as warm because the heat is spread out and there are fewer hours of sunlight. The weather is bitterly cold in many parts of the United States right now because an Arctic-chilled air mass headed south. When a high pressure system weakens the polar jet stream, air goes from high pressure to low pressure. Heat causes storms, and more heat causes more energy to be distributed by the storm.

Drunk Jet-Stream-300x225Bioanthropologist Greg Laden pointed out that while the Arctic air heads south, the North Pole is “relatively warm.”  The cold has not expanded; it’s just taking an “excursion.” Jennifer Francis explained that global warming is causing the influx of extreme cold. She compared the wavy pattern of the jet stream to a “drunk walking along.” Less drastic changes in temperatures between northern and southern climates caused weakened west-to-east winds and thus the “drunk” jet stream. Alaska is warmer at this time, perhaps leading to Palin’s comment. The United Kingdom is suffering from extreme cold while Scandinavia is have a warm winter.

Francis pointed out that climate change will cause this pattern to be more and more common with “wild, unusual temperatures of both sides, both warmer and colder.”

Self-appointed climate authority Newt Gingrich doesn’t deny global warming, but he likes the idea. He cites his experiences as looking at exhibits of “Antarctic dinosaurs,” and the “glacial moraine” to explain that life was “just fine” at that time. David Kreutzer of the conservative Heritage Foundation agreed that scientists think that climate change is caused by humans, but he, too, doesn’t see any problem with a much warmer planet.

Gingrich has company from the Koch brothers’ sponsored ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). In a workshop last summer, Joseph Bast, president  of Heartland, told conservative state legislators that there is “no global warming trend” but if it were to get hotter, global warming “would be beneficial to the natural world and to human civilization.” Global warming, according to Bast, would help you live longer. Bast’s proof is that the amount of CO2 has increased during the past century at the same time that the average human lifespan has lengthened. A dropout from the University of Chicago, Bast majored in economics.

As Graham Wayne explained on, however, hotter average temperatures cause problems with the water supply for agriculture, increased ocean acidity causing an unstable food chain, sea level rise, etc. The belief that warmer winters would mean fewer deaths fails to take into consideration the increased number of deaths from increased heat, about five times as many as prevented with warmer winters. Warmer climate also encourages disease-bearing insects such as mosquitoes to migrate; malaria is currently showing up in more and more places.

One serious problem of climate change is shown in California by the severe drought of 2013 when the jet stream tracked far north of normal over the eastern Pacific for the entire year. The warmer than normal air and higher than normal pressure pushed the usual West Coast storms toward Alaska while it brought cool air to the central and eastern United States. Ducks happily splashed during December in Siberia’s ice-free River Yenisei while California reservoirs dried up.

Instead of its average annual 30 inches of rain, Santa Cruz got 4.78 for all of 2013, a drop from the previous record low of 11.85 inches. Snowpacks are 20 percent of normal at the end of the year. There is no apparent end to the California drought. Scientists tie the bizarre jet stream pattern to very warm oceans and the distribution of heat in them. Another possibility is the accelerated trade winds and ocean currents from fresh water provided by melting Antarctica glaciers.

The enhanced greenhouse effect is, and will, cause serious problems for the planet. Greenhouse effect: the sun’s visible light (radiation) heats the ground; the heated ground releases the heat back into the atmosphere as infrared radiation. Greenhouses gases trap the heat and send it back to the ground, meaning that the energy coming in is faster than the energy going out. Too much of these greenhouse gases means that the globe will get very hot very quickly.

Venus and Earth are almost the same size and have the same amount of CO2; most of the Earth’s CO2 is caught in rocks, however, while most of CO2 on Venus is in its atmosphere. Earth’s atmosphere contains .004% of CO2 while the atmosphere of Venus is made up of 96.5% of CO2. The average temperature of Earth is 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average temperature of Venus is 872 degrees Fahrenheit. As greenhouse gases like CO2 increase, the temperature increases.

Greenhouse gasses

Scientists predict that the planet will heat up by over 7 degrees by 2100 if the emissions of greenhouse gases are not cut. A warming planet means fewer clouds, reflecting less light back into space. Professor Steven Sherwood said about the higher temperature:

“It would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet. Climate skeptics like to criticize climate models for getting things wrong, and we are the first to admit they are not perfect. But what we are finding is that the mistakes are being made by the models which predict less warming, not those that predict more.”

Although the average of global air temperatures has not rapidly increased since 1998, the heat continues to be trapped by greenhouse gases with over 90 percent disappearing into the oceans. The temporary cushion for the planet has been the oceans, but this will not continue. The “pause” may also result from the lack of temperature readings from polar regions, where warming is greatest, according to a study last November.

Newt Gingrich asked, “What kind of hubris does it take to say, ‘I know exactly what this planet’s temperature ought to be and I’m gonna manage it to that effect’?” Even the Bible assigned the stewardship of our planet to humans. Doing nothing is failing in our responsibility.

As usual, Jon Stewart makes far more sense on his comedy show, The Daily Show, than the conservative politicians and pundits.

Climate change and global warming are supported by 29,000 scientists in almost 12,000 peer-reviewed papers. Ninety-seven percent of scientists believe in human-caused climate change. If even 29 doctors told me I had a brain tumor, I’d pay attention to their diagnosis. My question is why the conservatives weren’t talking about global warming during the extreme heat suffered by much of the United States 18 months ago.

May 25, 2012

Conservatives Display Ignorance

While some authors are writing about how conservative minds are hard-wired to believe the way that they do (a really scary thought!), Eric Alterman writes about their ignorance. He doesn’t claim that conservatives are stupid; they just refuse to believe facts and reality. Maybe call it a “war on knowledge.” His position matches the survey last year that Fox watchers, known to be largely conservative, are not only much less knowledgeable but also more misinformed that those who get their news from other media.

Most of the people I know (other than a few family members) agree that global warming is a serious problem caused by human activity; 97 percent of climate scientists with credentials have the same opinion. Yet every one—yes, every one—of the 21 Republican candidates who ran for Senate in the last election deny any global warming. They call it “fraudulent science” (Sharon Angle – NV) or “sunspot activity” (Ron Johnson – WI). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), on the short list for Mitt Romney’s vice-president said, “The climate is always changing.” Some claim a global “conspiracy,” although they may be closer to the truth of a conspiracy to not believe in it because most of them received lots of oil money for their campaigns.

Conservatives starting building this monumental ignorance when the Reagan administration considered defunding government support for social science through the National Science Foundation. People who formed the Consortium of Social Science Associations saved it, but conservatives are currently trying to eliminate all government funds for political science research. Newt Gringrich did manage to destroy the Office of Technology Assessment that provided Congress from 1972 to 1995 with nonpartisan analyses of complex scientific and technical issues.

Recently the House tried to abolish the American Community Survey—a crucial government data collection that has existed in various manifestations since 1850. As Catherine Rampell of The New York Times Economix blog explains, it “tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.” The government uses this source to annually appropriately allocate $400 billion in government funds.

Showing the swelling ignorance of Congressional legislators, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) said, “This is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.” He obviously has no idea that scientific surveys are “random surveys.” Nor does he understand that law enforcement relies on this data to predict such crimes as meth production and private industry uses the results of the American Community Survey. In addition, the money that legislators think would be saved is then spent on the census because the annual survey makes the ten-year survey much cheaper.

These issues are far more serious than the ignorance shown by past potential presidential candidates such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) who thinks that the shot supposedly beginning the American Revolution was fired in Concord, New Hampshire, not Massachusetts. According to Bachmann, the authors of the Constitution in the late 1700s “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States” despite the fact that these were the men who agreed, in that same Constitution, that slaves were equal to three-fifths of free men for the purposes of a voting population. She also declared that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s passage of the “Hoot-Smalley Tariff” caused the Great Depression despite the fact that Herbert Hoover passed the Tariff, and the Depression started three years before FDR was elected. And on and on, including Bachmann’s declaration that global warming is “all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”

Congressional conservatives don’t understand how computers work, as shown by the questions that they ask when considering blocking rights to websites. They don’t even understand how “babies are made,” as shown by their explanation of why they want to pass a “personhood” amendment to the Constitution.

The conservatives’ ignorance just doesn’t stop. “Asking a conservative pundit for advice on race is like asking an ayatollah for advice on preparing the Christmas ham,” said Leonard Pitts. Lawrence Krauss said, “It is not too late for the public to turn their back on candidates that turn their back on empirical reality and scientific progress.” (I really hope so!) Conservatives’ total ignorance this spring about women’s policies has inundated the media. Their only solution is to keep women from making any decisions.

Conservatives want others to be ignorant too. Although they sometimes talk about the importance of education, as Romney has done recently, they don’t want youth to have any sex education. They want teenage girls to get pregnant  and then force them to have the child in the conservative world where the government refuses to help the uneducated pregnant teens and the young mothers.

As for college, Santorum finally backed down on his comment about what a snob Obama is to want all young people to have some sort of higher education. Romney, on the other hand, sticks to his suggestion that young people who can’t afford college should join the military. He also goes along with the rest of the conservatives to make the interest for federal student loans twice as much as the interest on mortgages is at this time.

The ultimate ignorance that will destroy this country is the conservatives’ denial of the reasons behind our poor economy and the answers to solving it. Lack of regulations and far lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations have led to extremely high income inequity between the top 1 percent and the rest of the people in the country. This in turn has led to increased polarization between political views with the far-right refusing to compromise. The nation is moving toward the far-right because the wealthy can now afford to buy the deniers and the ignorant who make the economic situation worse by eradicating the middle class through their attacks on unions.

According to economists, austerity is not the answer, but conservative legislators refuse to recognize this fact. They stick to their misguided belief that lowering the taxes and make massive cuts to the safety net–certainly not the defense, though–will save the country, the same way that global warming will go away if people just ignore it.

The ignorant conservatives who refuse to recognize expert knowledge have one goal: to undermine government programs and move more taxes into the hands of the wealthy.

“Wherever people sacralize something, there you will find ignorance, blindness to the truth, and resistance to evidence.”—Jonathan Haidt. That’s the movement we have in the United States.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College. This column won the 2011 Mirror Award for Best Digital Commentary. His most recent book is The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.


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