The Science of Dumbing Down

Posted on by Mark Nykanen

A terrific piece in The New York Times this weekend by Bill McKibben—my pick for America’s best candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize—on why the White House isn’t just launching short-term damage to earth, but, as McKibben concludes “Trumpism will persist, a dark stratum in the planet’s geological history.  In some awful sense, his term could last forever.”

It can be daunting as a blogger on climate change to share new insights because after doing this for years a dangerous sense of déjà vu sets in with every report of melting glaciers and thinning Arctic ice and rising seas.  But as difficult as it may be to find fresh ways of talking about climate change, it’s a pleasure cruise compared to enduring a town hall meeting presided over by a doggedly conservative congressman.

I had that dubious honor last week when Congressman Greg Walden, a member of the House Republican leadership, held one at a community college hall in The Dalles, Oregon.  When he was questioned about climate change, he very quickly noted that the IPCC—the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—had named forest wildfires as the third leading cause of carbon emission on the planet, as if trees themselves were to blame.  He never even attempted to contextualize the impact of rising temperatures worldwide on the increase in wildfires.  He as much said, “Blame it on the trees,” shrugging his shoulders like Forest Gump.

By the wildfire context, I’m referring to the power of rising temperatures to extract moisture from both trees and soil in forest regions.  That has tinderized forests and prompted California’s ex-governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican mind you, to say there was no wildfire season, per se, in California any longer because the forests now burned all year long.

Walden is not a stupid man, so to watch him play stupid before a large and vociferous crowd—most of whom, thankfully, were not buying what he was selling—was to witness yet another grotesque attempt to manipulate a science-starved population.  He and others of his ilk can sometimes get away with this rubbish because people have a hard time making sense of the complexities of climate science.

McKibbon is a genius at making it understandable.  Give him a few minutes of your time on Science Saturday, while you support all those braniacs taking it to the streets.

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