As US Republicans officially dismiss climate change, scientists charge them with 'willful ignorance'

Jeremy Hance
March 17, 2011

US Republican congress members officially rejected the widespread scientific consensus that the world is warming and the cause is primarily greenhouse gas emissions. As Republicans in the US House and Commerce Committee voted to stop the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, they were also forced to vote on three Democratic amendments asking congress to confirm the science behind climate change. The amendments failed as all 31 Republicans, representing the majority, voted against every amendment, summarily rejecting decades of climate research. However scientists have responded in a particularly scathing opinion piece in Nature, one of the world's most respected scientific journals.

This week US Republicans voted against the statement, put forth by Democrat Henry Waxman, that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level."

During the 20th Century, global surface temperatures rose by a minimum of 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.56 degrees Celsisus) and up to 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). Temperatures continue to rise: the decade of 2000-2009 was the warmest on record since 1880 when rigorous temperature recording began. Last year was among the warmest years on record.

Covering global surface temperatures from 1880-2000, the graph shows global annual surface temperatures relative to 1951-1980 mean temperatures. Except for a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s, Earth's surface temperatures have increased since 1880. As shown by the red line, long-term trends are more apparent when temperatures are averaged over a five year period. Image credit: NASA/GISS.
Republicans also voted against a statement conceding that climate change was largely due to anthropogenic emissions, and all republicans—save one who abstained—voted against the statement that public health is currently threatened by climate change. Yet both of these statements are in line with current climate science findings.

Scientists, who usually stay out of politics, fired back in an opinion piece in the journal Nature, dubbing the legislation against the EPA as "anti-science" and the rhetoric behind it based on "willful ignorance". They argued that Republicans dismissed scientists while repeatedly spreading misinformation.

"One lawmaker last week described scientists as 'elitist; and 'arrogant' creatures who hide behind 'discredited' institutions. Another propagated the myth that in the 1970s the scientific community warned of an imminent ice age. Melting ice caps on Mars served to counter evidence of anthropogenic warming on Earth, and Antarctica was falsely said to be gaining ice," Nature's editors write. "Several scientists were on hand — at the behest of Democrats on the subcommittee — to answer questions and clear things up, but many lawmakers weren't interested in answers, only in prejudice."

The scientists admit that mitigating climate change is a uniquely difficult problem and that science is never perfect, however they write, "to deny that there is reason to be concerned, given the decades of work by countless scientists, is irresponsible."

According to the opinion piece, the Obama Administration should move forward on curbing greenhouse gases where it can, and the rest of the world should move forward in tackling climate change—with or without the US.

"It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness, a sad state of affairs in a country that has led the world in many scientific arenas for so long," the op-ed concludes.

Intellectual wilderness may sound harsh, but US Republicans are virtually alone in the world in supporting a party-wide view that climate change simply isn't occurring, according to Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (March 17, 2011).

As US Republicans officially dismiss climate change, scientists charge them with 'willful ignorance' .