This week, ScienceDebate.Org posted the responses to fourteen key scientific questions from President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney. Overall, the candidates responded as one might expect. However, the winds of change appear to have blown – both President Obama and Mr. Romney accept that climate change is real and that humans are having an impact. That’s where the similarities end and the unfortunate half-truths begin.
I urge you to follow the link and read the candidates’ responses to these important scientific questions when you have time. I assume that if you’re reading this post that you care about science and the use of science to inform policy decisions. Getting acquainted with how the two candidates view scientific issues and the role of scientific knowledge in shaping this country’s future is crucial for making an informed vote this November.
The movement towards accepting climate change as real has been ongoing in both parties for quite some time, and now it looks like both presidential candidates from the two major political parties in the US are on board with the 97% of practicing scientists who have reached a consensus on the reality of climate change and the role of humans in causing and driving it. About time!
However, just because politicians accept climate change as a reality does not necessarily mean that they want to or plan to do anything about it. Mitt Romney expresses some doubt that the United States of America should cut emissions or move strongly towards greener energy. He considers climate change a global, not American problem, and cites countries such as China as the appropriate arenas for change. He is half right – the whole world needs to come together to address climate change since it is, indeed, a global problem; however, it is inaccurate to paint this as an issue to be addressed by industrializing nations. It is a problem driven in large part by the industrialization of the Western World, creating a sort of tragedy of the commons where the polluting industrialized nations are pointing to the polluting industrializing nations, who are merely following the same trajectory in terms of energy as industrialized nations, as the source of the problem that the industrialized nations in fact created.
Even worse, some politicians have expressed views that increased CO2 is a good thing. Former U.S. Representative John Shimkus said as recently as 2009 of climate change and CO2 that “It’s plant food … So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere? … So all our good intentions could be for naught. In fact, we could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.” There is no scientific support for that view, especially since most plants are limited by nutrients such as nitrogen, not access to carbon dioxide.
At the Republican Convention, concern about climate change and rising sea levels was played as a joke, laughed at, and derided. The fact that climate change is having real negative effects on Americans and people across the globe is not a laughing matter. While it is important to acknowledge climate change as real and human-driven, it is also important to acknowledge it as a serious problem to be tackled head on. It is important to create policies and actually move towards a solution. The only way things will change and improve is if we do something about it.