On Saturday, political blogger Lee Papa made an interesting observation about Republicans who widely recommend panicking about Ebola. “Does any Republican talking about Ebola say, “I’m not a scientist” like they do with climate change?” he tweeted, referencing the long list of political figures who claim to not know the science behind climate change, even though they actively oppose any policy to fight it.
On Monday, Papa answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” As might be expected, most prominent Republican politicians who are not willing to talk about climate change because they lack qualifications are willing to talk about Ebola, despite the fact that they lack qualifications. As might also be expected, all those politicians favor strict policy measures to deal with the disease, even though most scientists say Ebola is not easily transmittable and does not pose a widespread threat to Americans.
“Republicans are glad to tell you that either the evidence is inconclusive or that they are too dumb to understand the science when it comes to climate change, so they think it’s wrong to act like it’s a crisis and refuse to do anything to slow or halt it,” Papa writes at his blog Rude Pundit. “However, they will go bugnuts crazy and try to cause panic when it comes to the science around the spread of Ebola, even when they have it wrong.”
The list of perpetrators is long. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says he’s “not qualified” to debate the science of climate change, but insists that President Obama should “absolutely consider” a ban on U.S. travel to West African countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he’s “not a scientist” when it comes to climate change, but also says it would be “a good idea to discontinue flights” from Ebola-affected countries. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal — who studied science in college — says he’ll “leave it to the scientists” to talk about climate change, but says it’s “common sense” to institute a flight ban.
The list goes on and on. Iowa U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst says she doesn’t “know the science” of climate change, and also says Ebola should be an Obama Administration “priority” and that a temporary travel ban is “common sense.” Florida Governor Rick Scott is “not a scientist” when it comes to climate change, but does want Ebola screenings at Florida airports. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said “I don’t know” whether humans cause climate change, but he does know that it’s a good idea to quarantine airline passengers in Ebola-affected African countries before they can fly out.
Taking it even further, at least one conservative pundit is perpetrating the conspiracy theory that scientists are actually lying about how difficult it is to transmit Ebola, and that it’s much easier to get than is widely believed. If that sounds familiar, it’s because of how often conservative pundits and politicians say that scientists are also lying about human-caused climate change, calling it a conspiracy to justify higher taxes, a fabricated theory to advance progressive political agendas.
Why is this comparison so troubling? For one, it highlights the immense disrespect that many modern conservatives have not only for climate science, but for mainstream science in general. Scientists know an incredible amount about climate change — countless peer-reviewed articles over the past three decades, in-depth content analyses of those peer-reviewed studies, and five mammoth efforts to achieve consensus among hundreds of experts across the world — all of which say the planet is warming, humans are causing it, and we need to stop it. Yet, Republicans who fundamentally disagree with the type of policies needed to stop it pretend not to be aware of that entire body of work, solely because it doesn’t suit their political purposes.
Now, that same attitude of ignoring science when it doesn’t support personal politics is spreading to Ebola. And as Papa notes, the other reason that is troubling is because it’s working: Americans are seemingly more scared about Ebola than they are about climate change. And that runs contrary to the facts as they are understood by the majority of the scientists who study both issues.
So here are the facts. Scientists overwhelmingly observe and agree that the planet is warming because of human-caused carbon emissions, and that warming will cause sea level rise, drought, and other extreme weather events. Warming will also make it easier to spread infectious diseases that are much more prolific than Ebola, including malaria and dengue fever. The risk of these things happening are greater if worldwide carbon emissions are not capped and reduced.
Scientists also overwhelmingly observe that the Ebola virus is not easily spread. It is not airborne — it spreads “through close and direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids,” primarily blood, feces, and vomit, according to the World Health Organization. The risks of a large Ebola outbreak in the United States are, to this day, incredibly low.
Politicians can pretend not to know all these things, but it’s worthwhile to remember: most of them are not scientists. So maybe we should listen to some.