Monday, November 5, 2012

A Plea for Rationality: Science, Global Warming and the 2012 Campaign

Athabasca glacier (British Columbia) in 2005
Athabasca Glacier in 1909
Global warming is and will be one of the defining issues of our generation. It is so unfortunate that we have a political party that is in such a state of denial over climate change that it will fight to see that nothing is done for at least the next decade. As I have noted in the previous two posts, we have lost 12 years already when we could have made real changes in our production and consumption of energy. It isn't that the technology isn't there; we have simply chosen to ignore renewable energy technology in favor of continued production of oil, gas and coal.

Only one party accepts the need for change, but it has been hamstrung by the opposition. The Republicans are led by the likes of James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Rick Perry of Texas, states that have been particularly hard hit by global warming in the form of horrific heat waves and crippling drought.

If it sounds like I am making a single-issue argument, I am not. Dealing with global warming is an issue that involves our energy policies, which in turn involves our foreign policy. We have now fought several wars in which the protection of oil and gas fields has been a primary aim. Does anyone remember that we liberated Kuwait in 1991 because we were worried about the civil rights of the Kuwaiti people?

Energy is going to be a burning issue in our economy as well (pun definitely intended). Anyone who doesn't like $4.00 per gallon gasoline is bound to be bitterly disappointed over the next 10-20 years as production falls while demand rises. Gas and heating oil will be increasingly expensive, despite the current excitement in the industry over fracking. Fracking just means we will produce and use up a limited resource all that faster. And the continuing use of fossil fuels will continue to fuel global warming, causing disruptions in agriculture and raising food prices as well.

Do we like our national parks? Global warming already has had measurable effects on many western national parks. Most notably, Glacier National Park will be glacier-free in a decade or so. In many the high mountain parks that I love so much, alpine species are being squeezed out, and pests are on the increase. I was appalled at the destruction of the Lodgepole forests across central Colorado on my trip there in 2011. The bark beetles responsible used to be killed by the intense winter cold, but no longer. And the fires...the devastation last summer affected all the western states, with record acreage being burned. It's only going to get worse.

We cannot hope to deal with as a society with global warming unless our citizens are educated. So this issue goes deep into the way we bring up our children as well. Science teachers at all levels are hamstrung by budget cuts that favor teaching to standardized tests, and they are not able to encourage rational and critical thinking.

I have been in turns angered and disappointed at how the campaigns have evolved over the course of the last year. I have not been responding rationally when I read some of the ridiculous things the candidates have been saying, including the few references to global warming and climate change. I felt like throwing things at my television, or flinging my laptop across the room. But I want to make some rational pleas to you now. I know I don't have the biggest soapbox around, and I may be mostly preaching to the choir, but I hope you will consider these arguments when you vote tomorrow.

If you live in California's new 10th congressional district, I hope you will consider voting for Jose Hernandez to represent us in the House of Representatives. Jose is a NASA astronaut and scientist; we have had few of either in congress over the years (John Glenn served well and there were a few others). He grew up in our valley, picking crops with his family. I would be far more assured to be represented by someone who has been trained in science. Representative Jeff Denham, his Republican opponent, seems like a nice enough guy, but he is a cookie-cutter Republican who voted with his party 95% of the time. He would do nothing about global warming and other science-related issues.

If you live in California, please vote in favor of Proposition 30 and against Proposition 32. The education system in our state has been ravaged by the Great Recession and the paralyzed legislature that cannot deal with taxes without a two-thirds majority. We have been given a choice to raise our sales tax one quarter of one percent to maintain our schools, colleges and universities. Not to raise our budgets, but to maintain what we have now. We can't cut anymore without damaging our society for years to come. Why vote no on Proposition 32? It would mean that corporations would have a clear field for unlimited expenditures in politics while hamstringing the unions and others who oppose them. Just look at who is supporting it.
And finally, I will be voting for President Barack Obama. I know there are many issues in the race and so many factors that go into a choice for president, some of them shallow and horribly misinformed, and some that are profoundly important. I know that President Obama is a proponent of science and intelligent choices in energy development (except for his pronouncements on "clean" coal). He has not been perfect, but he has proven to be a calm and collected leader in dealing with some of the toughest issues our nation has ever faced. I do not see any positive signs that his opponent understands any of the issues in energy, environment and education, and if he does, his many contradictory statements makes it hard to understand what he does know. I think Barack Obama has earned a second term.

Whether you agree with me or not, get the heck out there and vote if you haven't already done so. It is a precious right to do so in our society, and there are those who are trying to put up roadblocks. I am ashamed at the behavior of Governor Rick Scott in Florida and Secretary of State John Husted in Ohio and others in trying to suppress the vote in their states. To make someone stand in line for six or seven hours to exercise their right to vote is shameful and anti-American.

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