mark hertsgaard

Independent Journalist & Author


Climate change: Galileo moment for GOP

BY Mark Hertsgaard | POLITICO

Will it take the Republican Party as long to accept modern science as it took the Roman Catholic Church? The church waited 359 years to admit Galileo was right — the earth does move around the sun. Not until 1992 did the Vatican officially withdraw its condemnation of the man Albert Einstein called the father of modern science.

Today, even children know that the earth revolves around the sun. But that idea was heresy to the 17th-century church. When Galileo would not abandon his views, the Inquisition put him on trial in 1633. He was forced to recant under penalty of death, then lived under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Now the House Republican majority is launching its own attack on Galileo’s scientific descendants. Rejecting mainstream climate science became a GOP litmus test during the 2010 midterm elections. Republican leaders then floated the idea of putting mainstream climate science on trial in congressional hearings.

This week, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy Committee, introduced legislation that would “repeal” the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific determination that greenhouse gases threaten human health and welfare.

After Galileo reluctantly recanted, legend has it that he muttered, “Eppure, si muove.” In other words — censorship and repression could not change physical fact: The earth moves around the sun, whether the church agreed or not.

This is true today: Modern science has conclusively demonstrated that human activities are dangerously overheating the planet — notwithstanding Republicans’ desire to repeal that conclusion.

Republicans are the only major political party in the world that rejects this mainstream climate science. The right-of-center parties controlling governments in Britain, Germany and France, for example, not only embrace mainstream climate science, they support far more aggressive climate policies than anything advocated by Republicans — or Democrats — in Washington.

U.S. news coverage usually refers to climate deniers as skeptics. That is misleading. Skepticism is invaluable to the scientific method. But an honest skeptic can be persuaded by facts. These deniers are largely impervious to facts — at least facts that contradict their worldview.

When virtually every major scientific organization in the world, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and its counterparts in 18 other industrial countries, has affirmed that man-made climate change is real and extremely dangerous, only a crank would continue to insist that it’s all a left-wing plot.

What, are all these organizations and the thousands of scientists associated with them part of a vast conspiracy? Are they all lying careerists or incompetent buffoons? That is the only logical conclusion to draw from the Republicans’ continuing insistence that climate science is bogus.

Despite having no more scientific credibility than the Flat Earth Society, the climate cranks have held our nation’s climate policy hostage for decades. One reason the United States has done so little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the past 20 years is that our government has listened as much to these climate cranks as to real scientists.

As a result, our planet is now locked into at least 50 more years of rising temperatures and the climate effects they unleash — longer droughts, stronger storms, harsher heat waves, rising sea levels. The young people of Generation Hot—the two billion people born worldwide since NASA scientist James Hansen put the world on notice in 1988 that global warming had begun—are fated to spend the rest of their lives coping with the hottest climate in civilization’s history.

Yet if one judged solely by recent media coverage, one would think deniers have a point. In an embarrassing display of scientific illiteracy and political gullibility, news organizations have repeatedly played into the deniers’ hands: Implicitly endorsing their unfounded accusations of fraud against scientists whose emails were stolen, by portraying a single error in a thousand-page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as reason to question all of mainstream climate science.

Then the media largely abandoned the climate story over the past 12 months, even as mainstream scientists were turning out one landmark study after another, clarifying the extreme peril.

There is no point trying to change the climate cranks’ minds. For economic as well as ideological reasons, they will no more acknowledge the truth of man-made global warming than the 17th-century Vatican would concede that the Bible was not literally true.

The rest of us, however, can change how we relate to the cranks.

As Republicans seek to repeal climate science, it is past time for the chattering class in Washington to stop giving them a pass. Climate cranks should instead be called to account for the terrible damages they have set in motion and prevented from further sabotaging our nation’s response to this crisis.

We cannot wait 359 years to believe in science.



2 Responses to “Climate change: Galileo moment for GOP”

  • maxwood says:

    Thank you for your work.

    First, a general observation: trees eat CO2, store up our future supply of fresh water, produce fruit which is healthier for us (and chimps) than grainfed beefrcattlemeat– so it is my profiound hope that we can be about the business of reversing 10,000 years of criminal “agriculture” by drastically increasing the biomass of trees to replace both desert and grass lands on 95% of planetary landscapes by 2222 in honor of Pete Rose and Al Capone. (Propaganda explication availble.)

    I believe that to the planting wing of reforestation led by Wangari Maathai must be added a scrap lumber carpentry wing, i.e. aiming to conserve existing trees, the bigger = the more important, by promoting a scrap-based architecture, carpentry and manufacduring economy, whereby for every inch, pound or ton of despised and rejected scrap wood or landscape waste rescued from the duimpster and converted into product dislodging from the market a similar product based on live-killed lumber, a corresponding inch, pound or ton of live tree shall not perish but have, if not everlasting life, at least a few hundred more years giving food, topsoil, fresh water, shelter and other services to trillions of animal beings including big standlegged anthropoid ones.

    Since it is announced at the Chicago Public Library that you will soon be meeting with Suzanne Malec-McKenna, who woriks in the Chicago Department of Environment, I wonder if you can find out from her (I’m living a somewhat incognito life currently and don’t want to contact officials directly) whether there is a City ordinance whereby it is prohibited for anyone, even a dedicated adaptive reuse woodworker, to live in a shed, trailer or warehouse building on property licensed for Recycling activity– which would be a great money-saver and convenience for anyone who wants to be constantly right where the piles of scrap wood are, viewing the inventory for purpose of figuring out what kinds of trimming and processing are best suited to derive the most strategic valued-added product formation from each individual piece of such resources.

    I am concerned that (a) a recycling company’s insurance firm appears to be insistent on enforcing such an ordinance even where the city forgets to do so, and (b) it gets in the way of at least one dream I’ve had of inviting persons in need of both lodging and employment, such as ex-offenders, high school dropouts, Haitians and other refugees to reside and work at such a site, turning trillions of dead twigs, sticks and logs harvested from drought-affected zones (like
    California) where they constitute a billion+-dollar wildfire hazard, or frrom underfrunded park districts like Cook County where dead and leaning trunks and branches obstruct walking in the woods and present a depressing ugly view. (The last remarks refer to forested areas within a mile or two of the Resource Center’s facilities at 70th St. and 135th Polace, where a gang of workers could pick up, load, bring to the workspace, trim, process and pre-process, trim and sand products such as walksticks, tiool handles, toys, music instruments.)

    Cargobox loads of scrap lumber from construction and demolition, broken pallets and crates etc. could be delivered and turned into kits to make bike-trailer carts (ship the kit, with two bike wheels, to China or India where domestic labor can assemble the completed vehicle, replacing some of the 500 million cars they are threatening to put on the road in a couple of decades); compost bins (built on a pallet, for loading on a truck and delivering to remote, non-agricultural, reforestation-oriented sites, thus suitable for human and animal waste disposal in overseas locations like Haiti where water-borne infections threaten human life; warehouse, stockroom and thriftstore shelving (much wood and other property waste results from failure of good-will institutions to have enough shelving to exhibiit their goods where customers can find and purchase them; the average customer will only dare pick one or two boxes off the top of a pile to see what’s underneath); shelved lumber-racks built on a pallet for storing and marketing boards, bars etc. so customers can pull out and examine each piece individually; stools, stepladders, sleeping lofts, workbenches etc.

    Programs like these are chronically underfunded while good reusable lumber goes into dumpsters– or is unproductively ground down (“Recycling, while a good idea, is not the final answer”– slogan for a Creative Reuse Center) in part because of widespread ignorance of lumber reprocessing techniques, and accordingly because there is a lack of understanding of the creative mentality which motivates workers– even illiterate or pre-judged individuals– who under today’s financial constraints will need the most economical lodgings while developing their talent.

    While it may not be possible to lobby the Chicago officials on short notice, I invite inquiries via my email as to what lumber reprocessing techniques are involved, and how I propose to train workers to perform them. Some prioretized smaller woodworking products are described at Wikiversity: Essential Preschool (Eco-toys).

  • Get your facts straight..... says:

    Mark, will it take you as long as the catholic church to do your journalist research before you and your sidekicks continue making fools of yourself. Researchers that give the hockey stick chart REFUSE to give their data, WHY? As a journalist, that should be your question. Also, how can they say that is the facts without their data to prove it? Why are you not asking these types of questions?

    This is quoted from one of the scientist e-mails, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.” As a journalist, WHY should be your question instead of touting that 98% of scientist state global warming is happening. I’m not a journalist, but I will ask, where is your data on that and what is the source? Are you a journalist or a pundit? Ask the question instead of going with your opinion.

    Do this research Mark, I have and I’m not a journalist. Check the names of scientist claiming global warming, they ALL are receiving government or UN grants. WHY? should be your question to the scientist or your congressman from SanFran. Are the scientist stating facts or mixed data for money? Taxpayer money?

    Politico?? Maybe you do have an agenda and the TRUTH or Journalism is not it.

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About Mark

Independent journalist Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden; HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth; and A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. He has reported from twenty-five countries about politics, culture and the environment for leading outlets, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Mother Jones, NPR, the BBC and The Nation, where is the environment correspondent. He lives in San Francisco.