Thursday, January 14, 2016

Of Sputnik and Climate Change - Science in the State of the Union in an Election Year

"Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there."

So said President Obama in his final State of the Union address this week to a joint session of Congress. In referring to Sputnik, the unmanned Soviet satellite launched in 1958, Obama is of course referring to the current day Republican denial of climate science. It's an appropriate analogy. Obama adds:

"We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and 12 years later, we were walking on the Moon."

And herein lies the critical point that will infuse the current campaign calculus in this presidential election year.  The science is the science, and the science unequivocally and undeniably demonstrates that human activity - primarily the burning of fossil fuels and consequent carbon emissions - is warming our climate system. The question is no longer whether it is happening, but how do we slow it down so the disruptions to the global health, environment, economy, national defense, and human suffering will be reduced.

It is no secret that all of the Republican candidates for president have repeatedly and aggressively denied the science so as to avoid taking responsibility for policy action. In contrast, all the Democratic candidates for president acknowledge the science. The issue isn't the veracity of the science - it is incontrovertible - the issue is whether the next president and Congress will honestly take on, or dishonestly shirk, their responsibility to act on behalf of the American people. President Obama goes on in the State of the Union:

"Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it."

The only group remaining who denies the science is the Republican party. Fed by lobbyist and billionaire money, Republican candidates from Cruz to Rubio to Trump to everyone else join their fossil fuel-supported Republican congressmen and Senators to abnegate their responsibilities to their constituents.

Unlike ever before, climate change will play an important role in the 2016 presidential elections. The Democratic nominee will undoubtedly raise the issue often. The Republican nominee will then find themselves in the position of either 1) denying reality, or 2) making a 180 degree reversal of what they have campaigned on. How one continues to show abject irresponsibility in denying science and/or blatantly lies and expects to remain a viable candidate is a question that remains to be answered.

Reminder = The science is unequivocal. Humans are warming the climate system and doing so has significant impacts on every facet of human life. The world's scientists note this, as do the nearly 200 countries of the world who have committed to taking action to deal with it. Responsible corporations, individuals, religious groups, the military, and the majority of every person or entity on the planet acknowledges the science and the need for action. Everyone except the Republican party, a point the President made clear during his speech.

President Obama spoke directly or alluded to other scientific issues as well - cancer, drug addiction, progress on AIDS and malaria, sustainable energy. Rarely has so much science made its way into the State of the Union address. This emphasizes an important contrast between the political parties in the United States. One chooses responsibility and action, the other lies about it. The American people have a choice this election. Do we choose responsibility, progress, and innovation? Or do we choose denial, dishonesty, and holding back Americans while the world moves forward?

It's our choice.

Full remarks of President Obama in the State of the Union as delivered.