Year 2, Month 10, Day 23: Governor Canute?

The Iowa State Daily, a college paper, comments on Rick Perry’s denial industry:

It is a sad time we live in when scientific findings are censored and silenced in favor of personal or political biases. This cannot be more apparent than in the recent example of Texan officials doing some unofficial editing of a environmental report.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has a contract with the Houston Advanced Research Center to report on the state of Galveston Bay, but their recent paper was apparently too full of references to climate change, destruction of wetlands or sea level to pass muster.

It’s probably not surprising, really, considering that the TCEQ has several top officials appointed by Rick Perry, who shares similar views on climate change.

This is a rehash of a number of earlier letters on similar themes. It’s too bad that this material continues to be relevant and useful. Sent October 19:

It was during the Bush presidency’s boom years that an unnamed administration official mocked journalist Ron Suskind as a member of the “reality-based community.” The aide went on to say that America was an empire, “and when we act, we create our own reality.” Of course, reality-based reality eventually caught up with the previous president and his team, most notably in the form of Hurricane Katrina and in the utter failure to find the Iraqi WMDs we were assured were there.

But the Republican party’s political experts still believe that troublesome facts can be negated with the right combination of photo opportunities, obfuscation, and stout denial. Maybe so, in the surreal world of electoral politics.

In the reality-based world, however, no amount of bluster can stop the rising sea levels in Galveston Bay, and denying ideologically inconvenient data can never be the foundation of good policy or good government.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 10, Day 22: Today Is The Tomorrow You Worried About Yesterday

The Columbus, Indiana “Republic” runs an AP article on the censorship of climate science in Texas:

GALVESTON, Texas — A Rice University oceanographer says the state’s environmental agency is refusing to publish his research article on a Texas bay unless he agrees to delete key references to rising sea levels and human involvement in climate change.

Professor John Anderson has declined the proposed edits by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, calling the changes to a report on Galveston Bay “censorship” and an attempt to mislead the public.

Consequently, the state agency said it will remove Anderson’s article, which deals with long-term sea level rise and mentions manmade climate change, which commissioners have publicly questioned in the past.

Republicans are the hardest Sapir-Whorfians of us all. If there are no words for the problem, there is no problem. Presto! Sent October 18:

It is an axiom of many politicians that many difficult problems are easily solved by eliminating them from the historical record. Military records and embarrassing photographs can be destroyed or made to vanish; statements are rendered “inoperative”; actions can simply be firmly denied. A compliant media enables this behavior by fostering a simulacrum of journalism in which the presentation of two divergent opinions is considered “objective.”

But when policy is based on science, absolute veracity is essential. The recent censorship of climate scientists’ work in an oceanographic report on Galveston Bay is a case in point.

Climate-change denial may be electorally convenient for Texan lawmakers, but rejecting actual measurements and analysis when they don’t fit a preset ideology is both unethical and stupid. Rising ocean levels aren’t Republican or Democratic; the greenhouse effect is neither conservative nor liberal.

Those who politicize scientific research destroy the value of both politics and science.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 1, Day 18: Denial Is Flooding

The Charlotte Observer recognizes that rising ocean levels will have significant implications for people who live on the coast.

Rising sea level is the clearest signal of climate change in North Carolina. Few places in the United States stand to be more transformed.

About 2,000 square miles of our low, flat coast, an area nearly four times the size of Mecklenburg County, is 1 meter (about 39 inches) or less above water.

At risk are more than 30,500 homes and other buildings, including some of the state’s most expensive real estate. Economists say $6.9 billion in property, in just the four counties they studied, will be at risk from rising seas by late this century.

The comments on the article perfectly illustrate the point of my letter.

The equations are simple. The atmosphere warms and the ice melts; the ice melts and the sea rises; the sea rises and people lose their land and their homes. It’s only now that US citizens are beginning to experience things that people in Bangladesh (where only a few feet separate “highlands” from “lowlands”) have known for years. And the gradually rising ocean waters are accompanied by another, equally insidious tide: a greater percentage of Americans doubt the scientific evidence for global warming than ever before. Just as our industry adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere at ever-increasing rates (despite the fact that their effects were predicted over fifty years ago), our media broadcasts the voices of denial, making a mockery of a genuine emergency. When did expertise, training and insight become liabilities in our public discourse? What will it take for us to recognize the danger we’re facing?

Warren Senders