Tumblr Icon RSS Icon

Former GOP chair of House Science Committee Sherry Boehlert on “Science the GOP can’t wish away”

By Joe Romm on November 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm

"Former GOP chair of House Science Committee Sherry Boehlert on “Science the GOP can’t wish away”"

Share:

google plus icon

What is happening to the party of Ronald Reagan? He embraced scientific understanding of the environment and pollution and was proud of his role in helping to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals. That was smart policy and smart politics. Most important, unlike many who profess to be his followers, Reagan didn’t deny the existence of global environmental problems but instead found ways to address them.

The National Academy reports concluded that “scientific evidence that the Earth is warming is now overwhelming.” Party affiliation does not change that fact.

Once upon a time there were moderate, pro-science Republicans in DC, like Sherry Boehlert, former chair of the House Science Committee.  They are pretty much all gone from office now, replaced by Tea Party extremists, but Boehlert had a great op-ed in Friday’s WashPost, with the print headline, “Science the GOP can’t wish away.”

Here are more excerpts:

Watching the raft of newly elected GOP lawmakers converge on Washington, I couldn’t help thinking about an issue I hope our party will better address. I call on my fellow Republicans to open their minds to rethinking what has largely become our party’s line: denying that climate change and global warming are occurring and that they are largely due to human activities.

National Journal reported last month that 19 of the 20 serious GOP Senate challengers declared that the science of climate change is either inconclusive or flat-out wrong. Many newly elected Republican House members take that position. It is a stance that defies the findings of our country’s National Academy of Sciences, national scientific academies from around the world and 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists.

Why do so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world’s top scientific academies and scientists are wrong? I would like to be able to chalk it up to lack of information or misinformation.

I can understand arguments over proposed policy approaches to climate change. I served in Congress for 24 years. I know these are legitimate areas for debate. What I find incomprehensible is the dogged determination by some to discredit distinguished scientists and their findings.

In a trio of reports released in May, the prestigious and nonpartisan National Academy concluded that “a strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” Our nation’s most authoritative and respected scientific body couldn’t make it any clearer or more conclusive.

When I was chairman of the House Committee on Science, top scientists from around the world came before our panel. They were experts that Republicans and Democrats alike looked to for scientific insight and understanding on a host of issues. They spoke in probabilities, ranges and concepts – always careful to characterize what was certain, what was suspected and what was speculative. Today, climate scientists – careful as ever in portraying what they know vs. what they suspect – report that the body of scientific evidence supporting the consensus on climate change and its cause is as comprehensive and exhaustive as anything produced by the scientific community.

While many in politics – and not just of my party – refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change, leaders of some of our nation’s most prominent businesses have taken a different approach. They formed the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. This was no collection of mom-and-pop shops operated by “tree huggers” sympathetic to any environmental cause but, rather, a step by hard-nosed, profit-driven capitalists. General Electric, Alcoa, Duke Energy, DuPont, Dow Chemical, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler signed on. USCAP, persuaded by scientific facts, called on the president and Congress to act, saying “in our view, the climate change challenge will create more economic opportunities than risks for the U.S. economy.”

There is a natural aversion to more government regulation. But that should be included in the debate about how to respond to climate change, not as an excuse to deny the problem’s existence. The current practice of disparaging the science and the scientists only clouds our understanding and delays a solution. The record flooding, droughts and extreme weather in this country and others are consistent with patterns that scientists predicted for years. They are an ominous harbinger.

The new Congress should have a policy debate to address facts rather than a debate featuring unsubstantiated attacks on science. We shouldn’t stand by while the reputations of scientists are dragged through the mud in order to win a political argument. And no member of any party should look the other way when the basic operating parameters of scientific inquiry — the need to question, express doubt, replicate research and encourage curiosity — are exploited for the sake of political expediency. My fellow Republicans should understand that wholesale, ideologically based or special-interest-driven rejection of science is bad policy. And that in the long run, it’s also bad politics.

And it’s also self-destructive (see “A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice“).

Sadly, this is mostly howling at the moon (see “The climate zombie caucus of the 112th Congress“).

‹ PREVIOUS
New ‘Climate Science Posts’ sidebar

NEXT ›
McKibben on eARTh: Earth art

28 Responses to Former GOP chair of House Science Committee Sherry Boehlert on “Science the GOP can’t wish away”

  1. fj3 says:

    From Gavin Schmidt Realclimate on Climate Hack – http://nyti.ms/adB0SU

  2. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Did Reagan actually embrace scientific understanding? I seem to remember it was his government that kept denying acid rain was a problem, or if it was a problem, it was caused by natural sources, not humans (from memory, cars contributed 2/3rds in the form of nitric acid, the rest from industry mostly in sulfuric acid). It has been a while so time may be tricking my memory here. Many of the arguments seem similar to the ones we’re hearing today on climate change.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    “The record flooding, droughts and extreme weather in this country and others are consistent with patterns that scientists predicted for years. They are an ominous harbinger.”

    Joe, there’s part of the answer to your question: “What should I say to a group of people who don’t follow the climate issue closely but are interested in the issue and what they might do?”

    Thanks again for your continued service, Representative Boehlert.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Mad Hatter‘s Tea Party.

    Someone have a graphic?

  5. John Mashey says:

    People should recall that Boehlert was an outspoken “good guy” in 2005-2006, i.e., he pushed back hard against Barton/Whitfield harassment of MBH, and after Barton turned down an offer of NRC panel by NAS, and recruited Wegman, Boehlert did ask for an NRC panel (the one run by Gerald North).

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Sherry Boehlert was a hero of mine in the 90′s, when (along with Republican colleague Steve Horn) he fought harder for the ancient forests than most Democrats.

    Like Horn, Boehert couldn’t be bought. Today’s Republicans and some Democrats have concluded that they need oil, timber, and coal money to get elected. The price they paid was to accept the embrace of essentially criminal organizations. The Republicans have paid a terrible price, spiritually as well as intellectually.

  7. Scrooge says:

    Perhaps a little rewrite of history but if it works that’s ok. I liked the article with gavin #1. It was pretty straight foward.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    Regarding climate, there is only one voter: nature.

  9. Reagan’s party was already distorted beyond recognition to the Eisenhower republicans I knew when my Dad was County GOP chairman in the 50s and 60s.
    Nixon was his last Republican vote.

  10. George Ennis says:

    “The record flooding, droughts and extreme weather in this country and others are consistent with patterns that scientists predicted for years. They are an ominous harbinger.”

    Did he mean something like this?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/us/21weather.html?hp

  11. Jim Eaton says:

    Well, while Reagan was incorrectly quoted as saying, “if you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all,” he did say “a tree is a tree — how many more do you need to look at.” Reagan did some good things, signing landmark legislation and stopping a proposed highway across the Sierra Nevada, but he also appointed James Watt as Secretary of the Interior.

  12. David Benson and Madhatter’s Tea Party.

    I thought you may be interested to know that the BBC doesn’t get the Tea Party as is clear by this:

    Tea Party not so mad

    And going by his #1 comment there neither does ‘Petrol Head’ Clarkson, which is no surprise to me. I used to cringe at the flawed arguments in his Sunday Times opinion pieces on just about everything.

  13. Wit's End says:

    In the last century, the right wing gave out crumbs to environmentalists only because the real costs of pollution (including climate change) and the vast sacrifices that would be required to avert catastrophes weren’t yet apparent to most people – including scientists, politicians, corporate titans, and environmentalists.

    As it became more obvious that 1. positive amplifying feedbacks in climate change means the end of civilization and 2. toxic ozone building up in the tropospheric atmosphere is decreasing crop yields, killing trees, and causing ecosystem collapse (and this is all BEFORE ocean acidification became a concern!), polluting industries began to wage their disinformation campaigns in earnest – and moved to take over all branches of the government as well as consolidate wealth in the very top tier.

    As long as the ultra-rich and powerful remain deluded that they can forever buy their way out of a food shortages and the consequences of violent weather from climate chaos, nothing will change until the trod-upon people rise up. It remains to be seen if they do, or if they just die quietly from starvation and disease.

    Remember trickle-down economics? Pissed on is more like it.

  14. Wit's End says:

    George Ennis, #10, that NYT article is a masterpiece of Orwellian double speak. It doesn’t make the link to climate change even though it says the following:

    The seven presidential disaster declarations issued here — part of a record 78 nationwide so far this year — more than doubled the number in any previous year, naming all but 10 of the 66 counties as a disaster area; some many times over.

    Gov. Michael Rounds, with typical understatement, said, “We just happened to have a run of bad weather.”

    “We just had a lot of extreme weather that maybe didn’t make the national news but caused serious disruptions,” said W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has established a near-permanent presence in the state this year. “For whatever reason, the weather keeps hitting them.”

    “The flooding is increasingly getting worse,” said Mr. Knock, who lost 160 acres of corn to the river that parallels his property. “People are getting disgusted with it. Because it’s not just some years and it’s not just once a year. It’s three times or four times a year. Extreme is normal — that sounds crazy, but that is how it is.”

  15. Lewis C says:

    Boehlert stated -
    “Why do so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world’s top scientific academies and scientists are wrong? I would like to be able to chalk it up to lack of information or misinformation.

    I can understand arguments over proposed policy approaches to climate change. I served in Congress for 24 years. I know these are legitimate areas for debate. What I find incomprehensible is the dogged determination by some to discredit distinguished scientists and their findings.”

    It is simply not cedible that Boehlert finds the far right’s attack on science as ‘incomprehensible’. There are four plausible explanations that he must know well, but chooses not to discuss.

    1/. God doesn’t do science, thus it’s a lie. – This could explain some bigotry, but not the swathe of ranking GOP figures now committed to denial.

    2/. Fossil profiteering corruption – Again this could explain a fraction of the denial, but the sheer scale and urgency of the threats to entire cities’ inundation, to food supply, to water supply, and to national security, put the issue way above petty short-termist payoffs for the GOP – the denial is pushing all nations off a cliff.

    3/. A ‘free-market’ philosophy in which those nations which cannot afford the costs of surviving climate destabilization will ‘fade out’, leaving their resources for those nations with the wealth and ‘civilization’ to put them to proper use.

    The fact that this explanation is genocidal in intent, and thus unmentionable in polite society, does not detract from its position as a coherent account of why the core of the GOP is content to watch climate destabilization accelerate to its predicted calamity. From the far right’s perspective, with the US facing growing rivalry from several emerging powers, how else could its dominance be maintained ?

    4/. A tacit co-operation in the ongoing Bush policy of a ‘Brinkmanship of Inaction’. – In this the GOP’s denial, and blocking of any serious negotiation of the global treaty, is an essential component – Obama would have no excuse and no standing internationally without that denial. Under this account, when China, India, EU, Brazil etc are so hard hit by climate damages that they accede to US terms of the treaty, we could expect the GOP to suddenly ‘see the light’, ratify the agreed terms, and try to profit massively from quick, dirty and unsustainable geo-engineering techniques.

    Of these four explanations, I’d expect the core of the GOP to be split between options 3/. & 4/.

    Exposing the incoherence of the GOP’s denial of science is necessary but it is patently insufficient. What is required is a step change, first in the promotion of the moral case for action and the genocidal culpability of GOP denial, and second for that case to be led by a figure of national standing either in the Whitehouse, or striving to be elected to the Whitehouse. Both the clear moral case and the credible messenger are required to get sufficient media coverage for the message to be heard and acted on.

    If there are other explanations of the GOP’s policy of denial, I should be interested to read them.

    Regards,

    Lewis

  16. Chris Winter says:

    Lewis C wrote (#15): “It is simply not credible that Boehlert finds the far right’s attack on science ‘incomprehensible’. There are four plausible explanations that he must know well, but chooses not to discuss.”

    Based on Boehlert’s legislative history as described by others in this thread, I don’t see how you can discount the truthfulness of his statement.

    “Of these four explanations, I’d expect the core of the GOP to be split between options 3/. & 4/.”

    Why not all of them, acting (separately or in combination) in different individuals?

    “Exposing the incoherence of the GOP’s denial of science is necessary but it is patently insufficient. What is required is a step change, first in the promotion of the moral case for action and the genocidal culpability of GOP denial, and second for that case to be led by a figure of national standing either in the White House, or striving to be elected to the White House. Both the clear moral case and the credible messenger are required to get sufficient media coverage for the message to be heard and acted on.”

    Do you have any nominations for who this “credible messenger” might be?

    “If there are other explanations of the GOP’s policy of denial, I should be interested to read them.”

    A variant of your first, anticipating the Rapture, is always a possibility. It’s an interesting spiritual schism: some, like Shimkus, holding essentially that God will preserve civilization; others saying the End Times are near, so Earth will pass away before climate change hits. I don’t know of anyone in Congress who believes this, but it would not surprise me much if some did.

    More likely, in my opinion, is sheer political expediency. Saying climate change is a hoax sets up an enemy against which the rubes can be roused to garner votes. The lie that acting to limit CO2 emissions will “destroy the economy” and “kill millions of jobs” works even better in these times of high unemployment.

  17. Colorado Bob says:

    This bares reposting -

    Leaking Siberian ice raises a tricky climate issue
    — The Russian scientist shuffles across the frozen lake, scuffing aside ankle-deep snow until he finds a cluster of bubbles trapped under the ice. With a cigarette lighter in one hand and a knife in the other, he lances the ice like a blister. Methane whooshes out and bursts into a thin blue flame.

    http://www.newsvine.com/ _news/ 2010/ 11/ 21/ 5504021-leaking-siberian-ice-raises-a-tricky-climate-issue

  18. George Ennis says:

    @Wits End

    I agree with your comment. How many extreme weather events have to happen in a state for a governor to entertain the possibility of a linkage to climate change?

  19. Colorado Bob says:

    The Extreme Rain Events of 2010

    This is just partial list of the extreme rain that fell in 2010 . If you know one, add it to this thread. All the reports listed here are from The National Weather Service, NOAA, and news reports.

    http://coloradobob1.newsvine.com/_news/2010/11/21/5504169-the-extreme-rain-events-of-2010

  20. Barry says:

    Lewis (#15) and others, one other possibility for why GOP politicians are lock-step attacking climate change is that the GOP VOTERS have been turning against it in huge numbers for awhile now.

    Once the percentage of your voters drops below 50% on an issue of high emotion, you can bet only the politicians that jump on board will be elected. Look at the poll numbers for GOP voters on climate. Off a cliff.

    Many GOP politicians have created spaghetti-like answers about climate change that are trying to say “vote for me” to their voters while also leaving the door open to a solution.

    Notice that ONLY the GOP politicians that don’t have to face GOP VOTERS again are speaking out. That should tell you something about where the pressure is coming from.

    GOP voters clearly do not like the SOLUTIONS proposed so far.

    What Boehlert could do to save the GOP and our nation is to join together with the many conservative figures that realize the need for climate policy and draft one that will get GOP voters back on-side. Get Schwarzenegger and a bunch of military folks and conservative economic thinktanks and GOP ex-pols and produce a plan. Seriously, why is this not happening conservatives? That is the real mind-boggler for me.

    GOP voters have lost faith in Democrats coming up with a national climate policy they can trust. It is going to require GOP and conservatives to create one. Time for conservative leadership and heroes on a problem conservatives know needs to be solved.

  21. peter whitehead says:

    Why the GOP/Teaparty obsession with climate denial? Perhaps because any problem that can only be solved by collective action (even worse, colective international action) challenges the whole concept of total freedom of individual choice. THerefore there cannot be a problem.

    The whole extreme conservative view of the world requires an endless supply of new resources with no consequences for their use. This worked OK in the Old West. ‘Go West, young man’ – the opportunities of this bit of land are used up, so move on to the next bit.

    Or, as the original Mad Hatter said to Alice ‘When the plates are dirty, we just move down the table’

  22. Barry says:

    Oh, and for the conservative climate policy, don’t forget to include the many business leaders and major corporations that want climate policy. How much more GOP can you get than WalMart?

    And there are very large investor groups representing trillions in assets that are demanding climate policy too.

    Nixon went to China.

  23. Jeffrey Davis says:

    From the article:

    “Why do so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world’s top scientific academies and scientists are wrong?”

    From common sense and Upton Sinclair:

    “When a man’s paycheck depends on his not understanding something, you can depend upon his not understanding it.”

    The denialists aren’t stating scientific opinion. They are trotting out political tactics. It’s doubtful if 2 congressmen in 100 have ever actually read anything on the issue. Having an actual scientific opinion would be too much trouble.

  24. Colorado Bob says:

    Barry -
    The Walton family has controlling interest in First Solar.

  25. Sasparilla says:

    At this point “howling at the moon” seems dead on.

  26. Ziyu says:

    It’s because the Tea Party and GOP voters have adopted an overall deny science approach.
    They’re trying to deny that air pollution like NOx and SO2 is a problem.
    They’re trying to argue that coal and oil are clean while wind is dirty.
    They’re denying the fact that there’s a food contamination problem.
    They’re denying that advertising can make people do something against their best interests.
    They’re denying that the US health care system has massive problems.

    Now on to why they won. Their propaganda made it seem like Democrats were trying to solve non-existent problems in complicated ways and that there were no problems except government. Thanks to Beck and Limbaugh, the voter population was dumbed down and voters wanted everything super-simple even if that’s not how the world worked. The Tea Party gave them something super-simple and they won. But that doesn’t mean the TP can govern effectively when their only strategy is to cut government and deny problems.

  27. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s a dream that the Republicans are going to be the ones to finally move us forward with a decent climate policy. They won’t even tolerate dissent now, and Republican Senators who are years away from elections- or in safe seats- parrot the bullshit.

    It’s unlikely that all Republicans don’t accept the science, as would seem apparent from their votes. They are lying to the voters and to themselves, and lack any semblance of courage or truth on the most important subject of their lives.

    It’s time that a broad coalition worked to defeat Republicans who won’t accept reality. We can write off districts in Oklahoma and Georgia, but plenty of voters in the rest of the country are willing to listen to the truth. The reason they haven’t gotten the message is distortion from the mainstream media. There are many ways to get around this, such as Bill’s efforts, but a focused attempt to call MSM on their lies and to communicate the full horror of the danger is what we need.

  28. Tomas L. Martin says:

    It’s all about the regulation question, as the last few paragraphs in Boehlert’s excellent statement start to go into. If you genuinely believe in ultra-free market, laissez faire economics, and that government should be ‘drowned in the bathtub’, because the trickle down free market is better at providing prosperity than public-led initiatives, then climate change will be your worst nightmare.

    Oligarchs and plutocrats can argue away most arguments for government intervention and regulation in the interests of growth and progress – the argument over healthcare is a prime example. But due to the utterly border-agnostic nature of climate change, it’s impossible to get anything done globally without government intervention. When your entire philosophy is predicated on eliminating government, climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to your argument, as it really can’t be dealt with in any other way.