We’re All Mad Here

As Alice (in Wonderland) stumbles upon the Matter Hatter’s tea party, the Cheshire Cat greets her with, “Come on in, we’re all mad here.” The Cheshire Cat should be posted at the door of the new House of Representatives. With the Republicans turning Congress into a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, first in line to receive the sentence of “off with their heads” are environmental regulations and the scientific community, if not the scientific method itself.

Disdain for climate science has become obligatory for Republican politicians and even a few Democrats. Former believers like Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) (Tweedledee and Tweedledum) have disappeared into the Republican global warming witness protection program. Every single Republican presidential hopeful is making the March Hare look sane by proudly standing up for scientific illiteracy.

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The impetus for this antiscience rumpus is not that the scientific evidence has been repudiated, or even lost its shine. Quite the opposite. The research, the scientific conclusions and the warnings of the scientists have only become steadily stronger. This year’s catastrophic worldwide weather extremes add further urgency to their warnings. The world’s largest insurance companies and even our Defense Department believe strongly in the science. The supposed “climate-gate” email scandal that made headlines last year and was recited relentlessly by climate deniers has been thoroughly debunked by multiple independent investigations.

Nonetheless, House conservatives are serving up a brew of political ideology, theology and electoral expediency they believe has created a new truth, making rationality, empiricism and science irrelevant. They have even threatened that the scientists themselves may become targets of criminal investigations, kind of like mixing Orwell’s “1984” with the Salem witch trials.

And the new intoxication with antiregulation goes far beyond climate science. Many Republicans are calling for a “full offensive” against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcing the Clean Air Act, declaring it “job-killing” federal regulation. Many Tea Party victors proudly profess their desire to abolish the EPA altogether, a move that would no doubt hasten their version of Nirvana – a brutal corporate free-for-all and everyone for themselves.

Though suspicion of science has always been part of conservatives’ DNA, it is their carrying water for corporations that has dragged the country down the rabbit hole many times before. When scientists declared that cigarettes were deadly and manipulated to be addictive and that we should regulate them, big tobacco screamed “junk science.” When it became obvious that automobiles were unsafe gas hogs, the Big Three whined that seatbelts, then nonexploding gas tanks, then air bags, then catalytic converters and, finally, increased fuel efficiency would all be job-killers and would put them out of business.

When it was proven that asbestos and leaded gasoline were killing us and eating away our children’s IQ’s, corporations hollered, “anti-business, job-killing regulations.” When air pollution was proven to be deadly, industry wailed that the research was flawed, that the scientists were just tree-huggers and that they couldn’t afford scrubbers on smokestacks. When Ohio’s Cuyahoga River caught fire, manufacturers claimed that if they couldn’t use the nation’s waterways as open sewers, they would have to lay everyone off. These tactics worked and delayed public protection for decades, but it was nonsense then, and it’s nonsense now.

The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, enforced by the EPA, have arguably provided the greatest economic and quality of life benefits of any federal legislation ever passed, adding literally trillions of dollars of economic value to our economy, adding millions of jobs and enabling all of us to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. A landmark study demonstrated that just the first 20 years of the Clean Air Act added five months to the life expectancy of the average American.[1]

In fact, the societal benefits have been monetized in many studies and were demonstrated to pay back a return on investment anywhere from ten to 40 times the cost of controlling the pollution.[2] And all the research indicates that even cleaner air and water would be equally good investments. If the EPA is successful in reducing the nation’s greenhouse emissions, the outcomes of that reduction will far exceed even these benefits.

At the Mad Hatter’s tea party, reality is turned upside down in a frenzy of nonsense. But this antiscience, antiregulation nonsense will create a world more like J.R.R. Tolkien’s hideous industrial wasteland of Mordor, hardly a Wonderland with silly white rabbits.

1. Pope, C. A. III, Ezzati, M., Dockery, D.W. “Fine-Particulate Air Pollution and Life Expectancy in the United States.” New England Journal of Medicine. Vol. 360:376-386 Jan. 22, 2009 Num. 4.

2. Jackson, Lisa. “The Clean Air Act by the Numbers,” The Huffington Post, Sept. 20, 2010.