Year 3, Month 1, Day 4: Nattering Nabobs? Pointy-Headed Professors? Experts? We Don’t Need No Steeeeeenkin’ Experts!

The NYT has a year’s-end editorial noting the GOP’s reality problem:

Is there a connection between last year’s extreme weather events and global warming? The answers might be a lot clearer if the Republicans in Congress were less hostile to climate change research.

A typical year in the United States features three or four weather disasters costing more than $1 billion. In 2009 there were nine. Last year brought a dozen, at a cost of $52 billion, making it the most extreme year for weather since accurate record keeping began in the 19th century. There was drought in the Southwest while Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee destroyed homes and rerouted rivers in the Northeast. The most severe tornado ever recorded, and the most tornadoes recorded in a single month, flailed the Southeast. Floods drowned the Midwest.

Climate researchers have been cautious about linking individual events to rising global temperatures. Yet the evidence tells us the earth is warming, largely as a result of the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity. And many of last year’s extreme weather events were consistent with the effects of climate change. A warming atmosphere will hold more water, supplying the fuel for storms; steadily rising temperatures are likely to promote droughts. Climate is a complex subject, and definitive answers will require more study. But as Justin Gillis recently noted in The Times, the political climate for that is not favorable. House Republicans, many of whom reject the scientific consensus about the human causes of global warming, took aim at almost every program that had to do with global warming. Senate negotiators managed to protect most in the 2012 budget, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the hub of much of the government’s research into the effects of climate change on weather — took a big hit.

If we can’t disprove the evidence, let’s attack the experts! This letter is the first time I’ve specifically linked the China purges to climate denial, which I think is rather clever. Sent December 31:

Just as it’s impossible to link individual weather events to global climate change, we cannot establish direct connections between specific conservative denials of factual evidence and the GOP’s multi-decade crusade against science education. This reluctance to make promiscuous causal links is a feature of rational thought.

Irrational thought, by contrast, finds its political expression in Reaganesque government-by-anecdote, in pandering to religious zealotry, and in the dismissal of expertise as “elitist” (their desperate rejection of climate science has parallels throughout the GOP’s history, as witness the McCarthy-era purges of China experts from the State Department).

Just as climatologists have predicted for years that the world’s climate will be gravely affected by an escalating greenhouse effect, sociologists and political scientists have long suggested that increasing irrationality in American education, media and public discourse will ultimately destroy the Jeffersonian ideal of a “well-educated citizenry.” Unsurprisingly, those elitist experts have been proved correct. Again.

Warren Senders

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