Orwell was an Optimist

Quick quiz, two questions: 1 – What percentage of scientists think global warming is occurring?  2 – What percentage of scientists think global warming is caused by human activities?  Read those again carefully; it’s not the same question twice.

The answers (I won’t make you wait) are 100 and 98.  No statistically significant number of scientists deny the Earth is growing warmer.  About two percent deny humans are the cause.  Many of that minority are funded, directly or indirectly, by fossil fuel industries.

Kudos to presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Jr. for saying at the Republican debate last night, “in order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science.”  He probably wasn’t going to win the nomination in any case, so why spend the next six months pretending to live in La-La land?

Pollsters for the other Republican candidates could have told Mr. Huntsman that adhering to good science is bad politics.  A few hours before the debate, Kevin Drum reported in Mother Jones that most Americans don’t know that global warming science is a settled issue.  He cites the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication as saying that less than 20 percent of Americans know there is scientific consensus on global warming.  Reading that, I had unsettling flashbacks to the “Elvis is alive” mythconception so popular in the mid-80s.

We don’t need reminding in Vermont.  We’ve had two hundred-year floods since May.  The last one, courtesy of Hurricane Irene (Why Irene?  Why not Exxon? Or Cheney?), destroyed 700 homes and washed out hundreds of roads and bridges.

Such calamities are never welcome, but in this third year of massive recession and government budget shortfalls, this is a real economic gut punch to the state.  Inns are closed, festivals have been cancelled, leaf-peeping season – which despite its too-cute name, is extraordinarily important to the tourist economy – will undoubtedly suffer.  (It was shaping up to be a less-than-stellar display this year anyhow, as it is whenever the summer months are dry.  Ironic, isn’t it?)

We’re also an agricultural state and crops contaminated by floodwater are unsafe to consume for both humans and beasts.  That applies to acres of cattle feed and dozens of streamside community-supported-agriculture farms in this localvore-loving state.  The dairy farmers were late getting their crops into the fields and missed their first cut of hay because of heavy spring rains.  (Ironic again?  You’re goddamned right it is.)

Contractors were already hard-pressed to finish planned road construction projects before winter, now we have several hundred new projects that beg completion before the punishing blizzards arrive.  Given the extent of damage all along the East Coast, even if we had the money to bring in workers and equipment from out of state, I doubt they could be found.

This is what the much-scoffed-at-by-right-wing-politicians computer models predict for the northeast.  Warmer and wetter, but the wetter doesn’t happen in a steady, manageable fashion.  Huge spring deluges, then months of parched soil, then more deluges.

This flood was the last thing people need as they are laid off from their jobs, as they lose their houses.  If Bill Gates breaks his leg, he can afford the finest medical care and has a dozen gadgets to keep working as he sits on the couch.  When a low-income laborer breaks her or his leg, it’s a financial crisis – via medical bills and loss of work – which may push his or her family into poverty for years.  That’s how this flood feels in this state right now.  It’s frightening.  And yet a bunch of Republican millionaires stood on a stage last night and complained that poor people don’t pay enough taxes.

Most of those millionaires deny global warming (and evolution, but let’s leave that for another day).  Worse, perhaps because the media puts a climate skeptic in every “balanced” story, most Americans don’t know there is consensus on global warming and what causes it.

In 1944, as he watched the events he would soon turn into “1984,” George Orwell wrote, “One day there will be a big, careful, scientific enquiry into the extent to which propaganda is believed.”  Even George Orwell didn’t foresee that science would be one of propaganda’s victims.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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