Politicians who beg off taking a stance on global warming because they are not scientists are shirking the sacred responsibility and trust vested in public office.
In our governmental system, there is a division of labor. Scientists' job is to research environmental threats and produce findings that assess the risk to society. Elected officials' all-important task is to decide what course of governmental action to take, if any, in response to the risk in question.
Scientists are certainly free to express an opinion about what should be done to implement their findings. Given their expertise and close identification with the research, their views deserve attention.
But the fact remains that it is elected officials who are charged with the responsibility of managing the risk. It is their job to integrate not just scientific, but economic, social, ethical, and political considerations into the decision-making process.
Many of the politicians who are unconscionably copping out of addressing global warming have had no inhibitions about advocating specific actions against the Ebola virus. They have voiced strident demands, despite an absence of scientific expertise in the medical field. They are also not shy about pushing for rollbacks of anti-pollution regulations that are the product of technical expertise that most of them lack.
Indeed, elected officials are regularly faced with having to make difficult decisions on the basis of information from fields in which they have little or no professional proficiency. They are expected to employ sound judgment and a modicum of common sense in managing the risks that science has laid out for them.
Incumbent Members of Congress and first-time candidates for Capitol Hill who dodge taking a definitive position on major controversial issues often appear to have something to hide. Perhaps they want to conceal a viewpoint they fear will cost them politically. Nonetheless, voters are entitled to candor from a politician seeking their support so an informed choice can be made. There should be no tolerance for spineless ambiguity that shields a politician's elevation of personal ambition ahead of the public interest.
Transparency and tough decision-making are the names of the political game. If lawmakers cannot meet that standard, think seriously about voting them out.