Friday, February 8, 2019

The House of Representatives Welcomes the Return of Science

The blue wave that flipped the House of Representatives gives us reason to hope that science may once again be used to help legislators perform their constitutional duties. While the House was under Republican control science did not inform legislation nor was it part of government oversight. This all changed with the new slate of Democrats who were sworn into the 116th Congress.

A recent IPCC study adds to the vast pool of scientific evidence supporting the existence of anthropogenic climate change. This is the most studied phenomenon in the history of science. Reams of independent investigations have come to the same conclusion, climate change is real and it augurs a catastrophe of epic proportions.

It is reprehensible that the GOP and the Trump administration have worked so diligently to deny the facts and muddy the truth about climate science. Republican legislators have staged political theater like sham hearings to undermine the perceived veracity of climate change. Republicans have even worked to censor climate science to deny children access to a fact based education. 

This is harmful to the national interest. It stymies government support for efficiency and the wider green economy. It also obscures the economic opportunities associated with climate action.  There are also global implications. Trump's rejection of science-based climate action severely hampers global efforts to keep temperatures from rising beyond the upper threshold limit. The climate denial coming from the leader of the world's largest economy has had a ripple effect that may have contributed to the failure of other global leaders to do what they must to meet their emissions reduction targets

While climate change may not be obvious to the average person, heat records and extreme weather events convincingly bring the message home. Republicans are behind disinformation efforts that muddy the waters to undermine the link between extreme weather and climate change. However, advances in attribution science expose the GOP's cynical manipulation of the facts.

Trump disagrees with his own military's assessment that climate change is a real and present danger. Only a few months ago the Trump administration tried to hide a government report that conclusively supported the veracity of climate change and the need for immediate action. Trump dismissed the report saying he doesn't believe it. This is consistent with the mendacity that has come to be the defining feature of his presidency.

As a means of protecting his lies Trump targets the truth-tellers. Trump did not want a science advisor because he resists science for the same reason he goes after the media

Trump's anti-science tyranny commenced on inauguration day and shortly thereafter he tapped fossil fuel lobbyist Scott Pruitt to take over the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt immediately went to work slashing regulations designed to protect the health of Americans. He also warred against science and scientists within the agency. Pruitt was subsequently forced to resign, however his destructive legacy remains and it is being carried forward by his successor a coal lobbyist by the name of Andrew Wheeler.

Trump, the GOP and the fossil fuel industry are all complicit in their anti-science climate denial. Efforts to resist this dirty energy powered cabal's assault on science began Shortly after Trump's inauguration. First there was the march for science and then a number of leading figures including leading scientists called out Trump and the GOP for their anti-science stance. One of the most accomplished scientists of our times, the late Stephen Hawkings also called for climate action shortly before his death. Other critics of Trump and the GOP's rejection of science include the former governor of California Jerry Brown and Al Gore.

The implications of Trump's rejection of science are deadly serious. While he plays politics with facts the world is ebbing every closer to tipping points from which we may not be able to recover. This is why the shift in political power that took place last November is so significant.

There were a number of environmental victories in the 2018 midterm elections but none was more significant than flipping the House. The blue wave that saw Democrats gain control of  the 116th Congress includes scientists and a record number of women (127). The House gained its first Muslim women, the first Somali-American women, the first Native American women and the first female physician. 

Newly elected representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), is leading the call for urgent science-based action to combat climate change. She is supportive of the Green New Deal which includes a raft of policy initiatives.

Part of what makes the blue wave so positive for science is the fact that there are ten scientists who were elected to Congress (nine members of the House and one in the Senate). The list includes a couple of physicists, an oceanographers, a nurse, and a biochemist.

This slate of candidates campaigned around issues like support for solar energy and opposition to offshore drilling. In many races climate change was an important issue for voters and this is a change that does not bode well for Republicans or for Trump. 

Trump's climate denial may end up being one of the reasons that contribute to his demise. The Democrats control of the House mean that the GOP's climate denial will now be challenged by the facts. This is yet another reason to hope that 2019 will be a turning point for climate action.

The reintroduction of science represents a major change that will have significant implications for those in government who would obfuscate in an attempt to gain political advantage. Science will help to unmask politically motivated policy positions and it will serve as an antidote to the climate denial that has defined the GOP's disinformation efforts in recent years. 

This is a victory for America's democracy because it challenges the lies and distortion that have become emblematic of the GOP. This change could not come at a better time as Americans grapple with reality and seek the truth.

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