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What Do the Debt Ceiling and Climate Crisis Have in Common?

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One of the problems that the Congress is encountering as it tries to raise the debt ceiling is that a significant number of Republican and Tea Party Members of Congress apparently hold the view that there actually would not be consequences for global markets or the US economy if we defaulted. This view is, of course, absurd -- but it illustrates a larger problem. Dramatic changes in the way we communicate with one another about issues affecting the common good have diminished the role of reason and fact-based analysis, encouraging ideological extremists to construct their own alternative version of reality and defend it against fact-based reasoning.

The same problem is found in the debate over the climate crisis. Notwithstanding the unanimous opinion of every National Academy of Science in every major country in the world, every professional scientific society in fields related to the study of the climate crisis and 97 percent of climate scientists in the world, many ideologues cling to the view that these facts are wrong, that scientists are perpetrating a hoax, that they are either greedy for more research dollars or secretly promoting the expansion of government, and that authorities such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are more reliable than the global scientific community in analyzing the impact of global warming pollution.

Two months ago, I wrote an article in Rolling Stone, linked here, that dealt with this issue.

In the same way, because the banks had their way with Congress when it came to gambling on unregulated derivatives and recklessly endangering credit markets with subprime mortgages, we still have almost double-digit unemployment, historic deficits, Greece and possibly other European countries teetering on the edge of default, and the threat of a double-dip recession. Even the potential default of the United States of America is now being treated by many politicians and too many in the media as yet another phony wrestling match, a political game. Are the potential economic consequences of a U.S. default "real"? Of course they are! Have we gone completely nuts?

We haven't gone nuts -- but the "conversation of democracy" has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired. Throughout American history, we relied on the vibrancy of our public square -- and the quality of our democratic discourse -- to make better decisions than most nations in the history of the world. But we are now routinely making really bad decisions that completely ignore the best available evidence of what is true and what is false. When the distinction between truth and falsehood is systematically attacked without shame or consequence -- when a great nation makes crucially important decisions on the basis of completely false information that is no longer adequately filtered through the fact-checking function of a healthy and honest public discussion -- the public interest is severely damaged.

"That is exactly what is happening with U.S. decisions regarding the climate crisis. The best available evidence demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that the reckless spewing of global-warming pollution in obscene quantities into the atmospheric commons is having exactly the consequences long predicted by scientists who have analyzed the known facts according to the laws of physics."

Cross-posted from Al's Journal

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