Year 3, Month 3, Day 24: Dangerous Lack Of Minds

The Springfield, MI News-Leader runs another version of the fact-check on Rick Santorum:

Santorum’s “tell that to a plant” crack begs the question — how dangerous can carbon dioxide be? Too much is definitely a bad thing. Exposure to high levels of CO2 can cause “headaches, dizziness, restlessness, a tingling or pins or needles feeling, difficulty breathing, sweating, tiredness, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, coma, asphyxia to convulsions,” warns the Wisconsin Department of Health, “and even frostbite if exposed to dry ice,” which is solid CO2. Poor air circulation in buildings and high carbon dioxide in soil seeping into basements can lead to high levels of the gas.

Plants do, in fact, absorb CO2. But even plants might not like too much of it. A 2008 study conducted at the University of Illinois found that instead of increasing organic matter in soil, higher carbon dioxide levels actually led to less organic matter. Increased CO2 also may limit plants’ ability to cool the air. A 2010 article in Science Daily said that a study by researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science found that carbon dioxide’s effect on vegetation was causing some of the earth’s warming.

Santorum is entitled to his own opinion, of course. But voters shouldn’t be misled into thinking carbon dioxide isn’t a problem, or that climate scientists don’t overwhelmingly agree that global warming is real and human activities are making it worse.

So I wrote another version of my “Rick Santorum is a dangerous idiot” letter. Sent March 18:

Rick Santorum’s words on climate change demonstrate what happens when American anti-intellectualism gets carried to ludicrous extremes. The former Pennsylvania senator no longer has any need for facts, for the worldview held by his core constituency is entirely conditioned by ideology. No reality need apply.

These hard-line denialist conservatives are eager to believe any rhetoric that reinforces their preconceptions, which makes them easy marks. Let’s look at those preconceptions briefly, shall we? On the one hand, Santorum’s followers are addicted to the convenience of cheap fossil energy; on the other hand, they are fervently awaiting the Biblical apocalypse. In short, they’re a demographic group for whom conservation and long-term thinking are not just pointless, but actively evil.

If Mr. Santorum believes his own words, then he’s just another mark — as gullible as his followers. If he doesn’t, he’s a con artist. Either way, he has no business leading America.

Warren Senders

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