Science Is Not a Four-Letter Word

By labeling climate science “the greatest HOAX perpetrated on the American people” and recently claiming “the fix is in,” Sen. James Inhofe is charging scientific experts with not mere incompetence, but malfeasance. Many of the newly elected Republican majority in the House are following his lead. All of them should be aware of whom they are accusing of intentional deception, because it is to this community Americans have turned in times of need.

In 1780, with a Revolutionary War on their hands, members of the Continental Congress formed the independent National Academy of Arts and Sciences (NAAS). It is our nation’s invitation-only academy with founders Franklin, Washington, Jefferson and Madison and, by now, over 200 Nobel laureates as members.

On March 3, 1863, four months before Gettysburg, the Congress and the president of the United States established the National Academies of Science (NAS) to provide our country with the best science available – in times of war or peace.

In 1950, as the cold war was warming up, Congress established the National Science Foundation (NSF) “to promote the progress of sciences; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; to secure national defense.”

After the USSR launched Sputnik in 1957, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established. Their famous “rocket scientists” beat the Soviets to the moon. In 1970, President Nixon created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in part to handle the increasing amounts of data about our planet, which NASA’s satellites were providing.

NAAS, NAS, NSF, NASA, NOAA, along with the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), universities and colleges, research institutions, and every other knowledgeable and prestigious scientific organization, all endorse the position that global warming exists largely because of human activities and that it poses a serious threat to the planet.

But this is only the beginning of the radical Republican’s list of villains.

In 2010, the US National Research Council (NRC) – established to help prepare America for World War I – sent its report “Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations and Impacts over Decades to Millennia” to every member of Congress.

“Global Climate Impacts in the United States” was written by the US Global Change Research Program, which is composed of a number of agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, State, Interior, Energy, Transportation, HHS and the Smithsonian Institute. Are they participants in a “gigantic” conspiracy or mere dupes?

In recent reports, the Department of Defense and National Intelligence Council have found that climate change needs to be taken seriously, will be a “threat multiplier” and “is likely to exacerbate resource scarcities.” These concerns and contingency planning are shared by NATO and the defense departments of the European Union, Great Britain and Germany. But military and intelligence leaders are not alone in assessing and planning for future climate related problems.

The largest insurers like Lloyds of London, Munich Re, Deutsche Re, Allianz and Swiss Re, which cover trillions of dollars of property, have been raising alarms that global warming might wreck levels of havoc even they could not cover. They are already reporting increased levels of property damage due to climate change. Likewise, institutional investors are requiring climate adaptation plans from companies and state and local governments to protect the tens of trillions of dollars of stocks and bonds from climate risks.

Accusing these highly educated and well-informed military and financial professionals – tasked with safeguarding our lives and property – of participating in a giant fraud or being foolish victims is not only preposterous, but irresponsible.

Right-wing evidence? It comes from a fringe group of scientists who have, in the past, attempted to convince the American public that cigarette smoking, asbestos, coal-mine dust and lead – to name a few substances – are not harmful to human health. Could their reliance on oil, gas and electrical utility contributions to finance their campaigns be influencing Republicans’ views?

While America’s greatness has been due in large part to the important contributions made by its scientists, in recent years, we have fallen behind other countries in attracting our best and brightest to science and engineering. Depicting an entire scientific community as nothing but a bunch of hucksters and con artists, undermines persistent efforts to recruit young Americans to a vital and honorable profession.

The security, competitiveness and prosperity of the United States depend on our competence in science and technology. To retain our greatness in the 21st century, our country’s leaders need to pay tribute to, not denigrate, our hard-working and honest scientists and, as we’ve been doing since the Revolutionary War, listen to their informed advice.