October 20, 2004

Bush's War on Science

Bush's war on science is one of the main reasons to vote him out of office. Nevertheless it is clear that the chattering classes are not too concerned. The environment is given so little notice that there wasn't one question about it during the debates. Out on the campaign trail, very little said about the Bush record on science, including the environment.

Still, the Bush record is so bad, that it demands exposure even if voters are not really asking. Today's NY Times had an article on how many Noble Laureates have come out in opposition to Bush based on his refusing to use scientific evidence and process in creating and validating policy. Although the Bush flacks continue to try to cover Bush's flank, it is hard to dismiss the dismal record Bush is running on and the concern reputable scientists are expressing about that record.

Although there are significant disputes on any number of scientific areas, none causes more concern than the President's obstinate refusal to recognize the danger caused by global warming. The problem is so severe that some governmental scientists are speaking out despite the fear of losing their jobs.

Yet complaints about the administration's approach to scientific information are coming even from within the government. Many career scientists and officials have expressed frustration and anger privately but were unwilling to be identified for fear of losing their jobs. But a few have stepped forward, including Dr. Hansen at NASA, who has been researching global warming and conveying its implications to Congress and the White House for two decades.

Dr. Hansen, who was invited to brief the Bush cabinet twice on climate and whose work has been cited by Mr. Bush, said he had decided to speak publicly about the situation because he was convinced global warming posed a serious threat and that further delays in addressing it would add to the risks.

"It's something that I've been worrying about for months," he said, describing his decision. "If I don't do something now I'll regret it.

"Under the Clinton-Gore administration, you did have occasions when Al Gore knew the answer he wanted, and he got annoyed if you presented something that wasn't consistent with that," Dr. Hansen said. "I got a little fed up with him, but it was not institutionalized the way it is now."

Under the Bush administration, he said, "they're picking and choosing information according to the answer that they want to get, and they've appointed so many people who are just focused on this that they really are having an impact on the day-to-day flow of information."

When a scientist is nominated to work on an advisory panel under the administration, they are first asked whether they support the president before they are considered further.

Although science and the environment get short shrift in this campaign season, the long term effect of creating policies that are not based in reality are quite dire. Ignoring the science means that policies that exacerbate global warming are left in place even while the evidence is no longer, whether we will face consequences from global warming, the question is how bad will it be.

In the news today is how the consequences of global warming will hurt the poorer developing countries the worst.

In a report published today, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, WWF and 15 other groups say rich governments must immediately address climate change to avoid even "obscene levels" of worldwide poverty.

"Food production, water supplies, public health and people's livelihoods are already being damaged and undermined," the report says. "There is no either/or approach possible. The world must meet its commitments to achieve poverty reduction and also tackle climate change. The two are inextricably linked."

The report, which draws on UN predictions of the effects of climate change in poor countries over the next 50 years, says poor countries will experience more flooding, declining food production, more disease and the deterioration or extinction of entire ecosystems on which many of the world's poorest people depend.

And just recently, another report showed that over the past two years, the jump in greenhouse gases shows a reason for concern. Unlike previous jumps in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which could be linked to other natural phenomena such as the El Nino or volcanoes, this jump has no such obvious cause. Although it could be due to the more frequent forest fires or the very hot summer, scientists believe that the most likely cause is from the use of carbon based fuels by humans. Scientists caution that if the trend of the past two years continues for five years, that this would be very bad news in how fast global warming was happening.

When historians look back on George W Bush's legacy, I suspect they will determine that his biggest failure was to ignore the problems of global warming and indeed, to implement policies that exacerbated the problem. Long after Iraq is gone and forgotten, long after humans learned to not be overly frightened by terrorism, the effects of global warming will shape and limit the lives of our descendents. Will they curse our selfishness and shortsightedness in letting a "democratically elected" leader act with such little regard for the future?

Posted by Mary at October 20, 2004 01:46 AM | Environment | Technorati links |

One small correction, Mary. There was a question about the environment during the second debate, asked by a "civilian". Kerry knocked that one out of the park.

But you're absolutely right that that consummate professional newshound, Bob Schieffer, avoided this huge -- and hugely negative for the worst environmental president we've seen -- issue. Clearly gay marriage and strength of spousal fealty are much more important considerations for elucidating the choice we have to make.

Posted by: N in Seattle at October 20, 2004 07:20 AM


Posted by: Isabeau at October 20, 2004 05:10 PM