THE BLOG
05/08/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wishing Upon a Star and Other Scientific Methods

We live in an era of amazing technological advances while our citizens descend ever deeper into the abyss of scientific illiteracy. Nowhere is that made more evident than by curious actions taken by state legislatures in Utah and South Dakota. Congressmen in these two states believe that scientific inquiry can be reduced to the fiats of legislation, and that objective truth can be discovered through the passage of state law.

Utah and South Dakota have passed resolutions that deny the reality of climate change, while condemning the scientists who have raised the issue. The resolutions are astonishing for their gross inaccuracies and proud promotion of fiction over fact.

After reviewing the current state of affairs, I would like to propose my own resolutions based on the novel idea that science can advance through political will. But let us begin with the actual language from Utah and South Dakota.

Utah: WHEREAS, global temperatures have been level and declining in some areas over the past 12 years; WHEREAS, Earth's climate is constantly changing with recent warming potentially an indication of a return to more normal temperatures following a prolonged cooling period from 1250 to 1860 called the "Little Ice Age."

South Dakota: WHEREAS, the earth has been cooling for the last eight years despite small increases in anthropogenic carbon dioxide; WHEREAS, historical climatological data shows without question the earth has gone through trends where the climate was much warmer than in our present age.

Fact: These assertions are factually and verifiably wrong: the last decade was the warmest on record, going all the way back to 1880. The 11 hottest years on record occurred in the last 13 years. These facts are robust, measurable and unambiguous. These measurements are not in dispute by the scientific community.

South Dakota: WHEREAS, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life on earth. Many scientists refer to carbon dioxide as "the gas of life."

Fact: "Many scientists" call carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas. Of course CO2 is essential to plant life, as is water. But just because water is essential to life does not mean you want a flood in your basement. The benefit derived from water, or CO2, or any element or substance depends on location and concentration. And since humans are not plants what is good in excess for plants might not be, and is in fact not, good for people.

The argument that CO2 is beneficial for life and therefore not a threat is a sad and pathetic example of the worst kind of scientific illiteracy in which a little knowledge is terribly dangerous. The legislature has CO2 confused with oxygen. If these congressmen really believe CO2 to be the gas of life, I suggest we put them all in a room filled with nothing but carbon dioxide.

South Dakota also notes that "global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact" proving that the legislators do not know the difference between Creationism and Climate Change. Odd that they do not mention the Theory of Relativity or Quantum Mechanics as "just" scientific theories and not proven facts.

South Dakota: WHEREAS, more than 31,000 American scientists collectively signed a petition to President Obama stating: "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, or methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the earth's atmosphere and disruption of the earth's climate..."

Fact: The petition cited here has long-been discredited for multiple reasons, including the obvious lack of distinction made by field or degree. A Bachelor's Degree in computer science hardly qualifies one to evaluate climate data as a scientist. The petition was a political declaration, not a scientific consensus.

The public debate about the signatures would be hard to miss, meaning that the legislature included in the resolution language they knew to be misleading.

Utah: WHEREAS, global governance related to global warming and reduction of CO2 would ultimately lock billions of human beings into long-term poverty;

Fact: This assertion is conclusion by fiat, based on nothing but opinion unsupported by any evidence. What this "whereas" ignores is the indisputable fact that 60 million people live less than 3 feet above sea level; 600 million live less than 30 feet above sea level; 44% of humankind (almost 3 billion people) live within 100 miles of the coast. In the United States a sea-level rise of just one meter will result in a loss of between 5000 to 8,000 square miles of dry land, mostly in the southeast. A two-foot rise would eliminate about 10,000 square miles of land.

The risk of greater poverty comes from inaction, not proactive programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The potential catastrophic impacts on human lives if temperatures continue to rise are many: coastal flooding could displace hundreds of millions of people driven from their homes, major shifts in agricultural productivity could lead to local food scarcity and rampant hunger, and wars to control increasingly-scarce resources would be anticipated. A taste of what might come can be seen in the aftermath of Haiti's recent earthquake or the Tsunami of 2004 in which 230,000 people died and 500,000 were displaced. Truly astonishing is that deniers are confident the sea will not rise even one meter, with that confidence derived from faith and hope rather than data. That is a whole lotta love riding on prayer.

New Resolutions

To capture and build on the spirit of the resolutions gifted to us by Utah and South Dakota, I propose the following as a means of solving our most difficult problems. A world in which science is unconstrained by facts and discoveries are made by legislation is unlimited in potential. Really, if we can just make stuff up, why restrict ourselves to climate change? Let's think big. Our worries are behind us.

WHEREAS, the United States is dependent on foreign oil, which constitutes a threat to our national security, NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we have discovered an infinite supply of a new form of clean energy that emits no carbon dioxide and creates organic fruit as a byproduct.

WHEREAS, the financial crisis has created hardships on Main Street and Wall Street and the collapse of our financial system threatened global stability, NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that all banks are flush, the United States is debt-free, every household is solvent and CEOs at major brokerage firms are heroes of altruism.

WHEREAS, many of the most serious problems in the United States are a consequence of Republican policies and principles, NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Democrats and Independents win all future elections.

There is no need to post other resolutions because the sky is the limit; we have no constraints beyond the limits of our own wild imaginations. So let's just wish all of our problems away and call it good. Because that is exactly what the legislatures in Utah and South Dakota have done with their bold advance into the vast swamp of extremist fantasy and ignorance.