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 Summer 2011

Perspective

Science Should Be a Bipartisan Issue

Climate denial is in fashion among members of Congress who, like Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), continue to ignore the facts. Rohrabacher uses his website to praise his district’s “scientific and research companies,” and “institutions of higher education.” Yet, he also puts out scientifically erroneous information—that temperatures have not risen nationally since 1998 or that global warming could be caused by sunspots—in order to justify inaction on climate change today. Meanwhile, officials in Rohrabacher’s own district are concerned enough about global warming to adopt a sustainability plan for the city of Long Beach, and to study the effects of rising sea levels on the city’s freshwater supplies.

History has shown that science is often used as a political football. In 1920 Albert Einstein wrote, “Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.” Rohrabacher’s attacks on science may score political points with his partisan supporters—as other climate deniers in Congress are attempting to do by stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate global warming emissions under the Clean Air Act, or by cutting funding for programs that protect public health and the environment—but this posturing could also have serious consequences that extend far beyond the ballot box.

Fortunately, history also provides us with a blueprint for how to thwart science deniers. When the tobacco industry tried to mislead people about the dangers of smoking, health professionals countered the industry’s misinformation with effective communication based on solid science, translating the facts about smoking’s impact on human health into terms that helped people see how cigarettes could destroy their lives.

In a similar vein, UCS is working with professionals who, like scientists, are trusted by the public and can communicate the facts on global warming in a way that clearly illustrates its potential impact on our daily lives. Doctors are helping us describe the health threats of climate change, economists are adding up the future savings—and costs of inaction—associated with climate policies, and military officials are stressing their conclusion that climate change could threaten national security. By collaborating with these experts and engaging Americans across political lines, we hope to transcend partisan divides and turn our decision makers from the wrong side of science to the right side of history.

Kevin Knobloch, president