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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Midterm Elections, the Senate, and Republican Science Denial

By Phil Plait

Today is the midterm election for the United States, where many seats in the House and Senate will be determined. It seems pretty obvious that the House will remain in control of the Republicans. It seems likely the GOP will get a slight majority in the Senate today as well.

What does this mean? Well, in the short term and for many issues, not a lot. This previous Congress will go down in history as the least effective ever, since all it really did is block White House initiatives. They couldn’t even approve a surgeon general nomination! A GOP majority in the Senate will probably mean more of the same, since they’ll lack the supermajority needed to prevent Democratic filibustering of big items.

But this vast, gaping polarization of American politics is toxic, especially where it comes to the crucial issue of global warming. Here, a Senate GOP majority can have an extremely destructive effect. It will put a cohort of science-deniers into positions of authority over the very science they want to trample. This is extremely worrisome to me, and it should be to you as well.

Nowhere is this more important than the Environment and Public Works Committee. A Republican win will almost certainly make James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, chairman. This committee controls the Environmental Protection Agency, which is charged with addressing climate change and what to do about it. Inhofe is probably the most ludicrously adamant global warming denier in the Senate; he has called it a hoax and denies it to levels that would make the frothiest conspiracy theorists shake their heads in wonder.

Inhofe has indicated he will attack greenhouse gas regulators, so giving him control of this committee puts the "fox in charge of the henhouse" simile to shame.

Other committees will fare no better; as just one example Ted Cruz, R-Texas, could be chairman of the committee on science and space, and he also denies global warming. The irony is as excruciating as it is familiar.

Of course, the Republican mantra of late is to claim “I’m not a scientist, but …” as if this excuses them when they deny reality. I’ve excoriated this ridiculous notion before; it started in 2012 when Marco Rubio, R-Florida, used it when he said he wasn’t sure how old the Earth is (!), but it is now being wielded like a shield for Republican rejection of global warming. It was baloney then, and it’s still baloney now. Their lack of scientific qualifications hasn’t stopped them from trying to create medical legislation to control women’s bodies, or to try to make laws about agriculture, health care, and so many other science-based topics. It’s clearly a cynical dodge.

And it will cost us. These elections happen mere days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth Synthesis Report, a 40-page opus making it very clear that global warming is real, humans are causing it, and it’s disrupting our planet’s climate.

The summary for policymakers is as succinct as it is brutal in its assessment:

Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.

It then gives evidence and support for these claims, going into terrifying specificity:”

Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence), with only about 1% stored in the atmosphere.

So much for “the pause”.

Since the beginning of the industrial era, oceanic uptake of CO2 has resulted in acidification of the ocean … corresponding to a 26% increase in acidity.

Ocean acidification is killing off entire species, upsetting the ecological balance of the oceans. This is on top of sea level rise, the disruption of the heat transport balance of the planet, and the amplification of extreme weather we’re seeing all over the Earth.”

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

Ask Californians suffering from one of the worst droughts in history how they feel about “long-lasting changes in the climate,” for example, or how much you enjoy excursions in the polar vortex bringing frigid cold into the U.S. eastern states in the winter.

Global warming is real. It’s causing climate change on a planetary scale, and this is extremely dangerous for humanity.

Yet Republican politicians deny it as if their careers and funding depend on them doing so.

This is what these elections today mean. I am by no means a single-issue voter, unless you count reality as an issue. When you vote today, it quite literally affects the future of humanity.

Do we finally take action about the single greatest threat we as a species face today? Or do we elect officials who would rather take money from the fossil fuel industry and bury their heads firmly in the sand, putting off for at least another two years taking any action, or even recognizing that we need to take action against it?

Remember that today as you go to the polls. Your vote counts. Make it count.

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