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No Planet, No Jobs: The Suicide Bombing of Science

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Climate change was noticeably absent from the presidential debates. It's not a "gut" issue, the pundits said: "Voters want to hear about jobs, the economy, health care and other issues that impact their daily lives and security." The consensus of commentators was that no matter what position candidates took on climate change or what kind of proposals they put forward to combat global warming it would not significantly add or subtract votes. That's why Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of Barack Obama, based primarily on the climate change issue, grabbed media attention and shocked many. Of course New York City's mayor was right. He was implicitly endorsing the principle in the title of this article: No Planet, No Jobs.

An overwhelming majority of scientists around the world have sounded the climate-change alarm--some of them have even warned that we may be beyond the point of no return. According to a survey reported in USA Today, a whopping 97 percent of 1,372 scientists who were queried said that climate change is real and man-made. In another study released in September 2012 over 97 percent of the 203 scientists surveyed who are actively publishing in peer reviewed journals also concluded that climate change is man-made. Of particular interest, this study included scientists from all the universities attended by Mitt Romney,who recently declared: "We don't know what's causing climate change on this planet."

I will not repeat the details in the litany that you have heard over and over about the icebergs melting, rising sea levels, the gaps in the ozone layer, increasing extremes of weather, and so on.

Hurricane Sandy should be a wake-up call for a crash program--a Manhattan Project to address the climate change crisis. The Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb, mobilized an enterprise that achieved success in a mere four years. But will climate change spark this kind of mobilization? All the signs say that it should, but it's not clear that it will.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that climate change is a real danger to our planet, there are still naysayers, who have a small stable of their own experts, some of whom are well-credentialed. They argue essentially that climate change is cyclical and does not forecast catastrophe. But does that give their position equal standing. No! A greater responsibility falls on the naysayers to make their case. If their view ultimately proves wrong, --"We're sorry; you were correct"--the outcome could go down as the most colossal and far reaching mistake ever.

To understand the implications, one has to go no further than the historic debate about smoking. Several decades ago, when the evidence about the health risks of smoking began to mount, there were also naysayers. Smoking, they said, didn't have the horrific effects that the "alarmists" were warning us about. At the time there were no curbs on seductive ads that celebrated the sophistication of smoking. Even children were bombarded with the message that smoking is what real men and women do--like the Marlboro man (two of the men who posed for Marlboro ads died of lung cancer) and other glamorous images in magazines and on billboards. In case anyone didn't believe the Marlboro man, there was always the ad that trumpeted: "More Doctors Smoke Camels than Any Other Cigarette." According to the National Institutes of Health it wasn't until the late 1990s that "the major U.S. cigarette manufacturers admitted, to varying degrees, that smoking causes cancer and other diseases."

But what if the deniers had held sway and we had done nothing. Untold numbers would have died---some with agonizing deaths that would have brought pain and suffering to themselves, their families, and loved ones. Even greater numbers would have suffered chronic health issues that would compromise the quality of their lives and the lives of their families for decades. But the continuing epidemic of smoking would not have ended life on the planet. When we finally reached a critical mass of smoking-related death and disease we woke up and introduced restrictions on advertising and put in place other measures to get people off the destructive habit. In fact, those measures have resulted in a 50 percent reduction in smokers compared to fifty years ago.

That's not what will happen if the deniers are wrong about climate change. The consequence of doing little or nothing could be "good-by, humans, welcome, cockroaches." This catastrophic possibility, supported by massive scientific evidence and an overwhelming consensus of scientists, mandates that naysayers have a greater responsibility to prove their stance----facts, studies, and data to make a powerful case. They must drop the rhetoric and get to work.

It makes little sense to talk about the best ways to create jobs without giving at least equal attention to the best ways to save the planet. On the political front, we must hope that pandering to the populace and vested interests will recede now that the election is over. But will President Obama, along with legislators of both parties, have the courage to aggressively counter the suicide bombing of science?

Yes climate change is a jobs issue and moreover, it's the foremost personal and national security issue. The misery delivered by hurricane Sandy has unveiled the hazard of a wait-and-see policy. What are we waiting for now?

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