Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How science denial is turning the GOP into the world's pariah

If you think Donald Trump leading the GOP primary race is the worst thing happening in American politics at this point, you’re wrong. There is something much broader, more subversive, and much more damaging to our country that is being left unchecked by the mass media.

On September, 16th, CNN hosted a marathon 3-hour Republican primary debate that broke records for viewership primarily for the reality-show-appeal of Trump’s campaign pugilism. What stuck out to me, and what should have made the headlines, were the two medical doctors that stood on a stage in front of 23 million people and denied the very science they’ve dedicated their professional lives to.

Maybe we can accept people like Trump, Christie, and Huckabee denying science and obfuscating national realities for their own personal agenda. But, as a nation (as an advanced nation!) we should not give this irrational leeway for Rand Paul and Ben Carson to pander to the anti-science/anti-intellectual crowd that forms the GOP primary base.

Both Paul and Carson have had extremely successful careers as surgeons for the tenderest of organs, eyes and brain respectively. Surgical career success such as theirs does not happen if someone is sloppy or careless, either physically or mentally. It happens by someone immersing themselves into the scientific world of medicine and trusting the process and evidence presented to them. These are affluent men of science, yet they have the audacity to stand on stage in front of millions and try to convince us they “aren’t sure” about climate change, or if vaccines cause autism? A belief in conservative/libertarian models of economics and social constructs is one thing, but denying the processes of your life’s work for primary votes exposes both your dishonesty, and your willingness to pander for votes at any cost.

If we dig deeper to understand why, we’ll find that the GOP is the only conservative party in the advanced democratic world to continuously deny the realities of modern climate science. The only one.

“A new paper by Sondre Båtstrand studies the climate-change positions of electoral manifestos for the conservative parties in nine democracies, and finds the GOP truly stands apart,” writes Jonathan Chait for New York Magazine. “Opposition to any mitigation of greenhouse-gas emissions, he finds, ‘is only the case with the U.S. Republican Party, and hence not representative of conservative parties as a party family.’ For instance, the Swedish conservative party ‘stresses the necessity of international cooperation and binding treaties to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, with the European Union and emissions trading as essentials.’”

You’ll find that throughout the world of democratic nations, conservatism lives up to its name within their ecological sphere of influence.

Chait continues, “Germany’s conservative platform declares, ‘[C]limate change threatens the very foundations of our existence and the chances of development of the next generations.’ Canada’s, writes Båtstrand, ‘presents both past and future measures on climate change. The past measures are regulations on electricity production, research and development on clean energy (including carbon capture and storage), and international cooperation and agreements including support for adaptation in developing countries.’ Even coal-rich Australia has a conservative party that endorses action to limit climate change.”

There will always be conservatives and progressives. In fact, our country was setup to both function and thrive on these opposing pressures. But the right-wing extremism pervading our current political reality is forcing us outside the realm of a functioning, world-class democracy. Donald Trump may be a symptom, but the anti-science extremism that has infected even the smartest is, ultimately, the sickness.  

--Brian Paul Swenk

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