Troubling Study – Conservatives Skeptical of Science

When I saw this headline in my newspaper this morning my heart just sank. A study conducted by the American Sociological Review noted the trust in science had declined precipitously among conservative, routine church goers. Even worse, the decline was the greatest among the educated conservatives. The survey author, Dr. Gordon Gaucher, noted a recent Gallup Poll which supported his findings saying the number of conservatives who do not believe global warming was caused by man-made gases declined to 30% from 50% two years ago. On the flip side, the belief of liberals increased  to 74% from 72% on the same question. In other words, 70% of conservatives do not believe in man-made global warming.

This article and finding is troubling. I have noted in earlier posts that I left the Republican Party for several reasons, but the core reason was the “ostrich-like head in the sand” stance on global warming. The data is overwhelming and even former skeptics like Robert Mueller of Cal-Berkeley who was the GOP poster child changed his mind after reviewing the data and analysis himself. He went before a committee of Congress and surprised the GOP Congressmen with his change of heart and published his report last fall. Yet, I held out hopes that with the obvious and severe changes we are witnessing in the current weather pattern over an extended period of time would eventually wear people down.

The fact the Governor of Texas has a severe water shortage issue in much of his state and one of his cities on the gulf (Galveston) is predicted to be under water in no more than 100 years, should be eye-opening. But, his solution is to do away with the EPA and have the words “global warming” and “climate change” expunged from technical reports. This also occurred in the George W. Bush white house, when scientific papers were altered redacting those same words. I have said before I have never before felt like we were living out the novel “1984” as when George Bush (not Orwell) was leading a white house that altered scientific reports. I do not make this up, unfortunately.

At the same time we are witnessing this, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) based in Paris noted the US is ranked 23rd and 27th in Math and Science. So, this lack of trust in science is painful to see and hear. Our country’s greatness was based on our ability to innovate and bring to production new ideas, processes and products. In Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s book “That Used to be Us – How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How It Can Come Back,” they note education and innovation are our biggest concerns going forward. They note that innovation is portable, so if we cannot innovate here, the innovation will be executed elsewhere. There are some leaders who note that certain manufacturing jobs will never come back to these shores.

So, we must value and support STEM education. We must rely on our scientists to conduct unbiased data analyses and tell us what they think and what the data means. On the global warming issue, many conservatives get their information from the Oil and Gas Industry. At best, this industry’s views will be biased as much of the environmental crises on top of us, be it toxic chemicals or climate change, are due to their cavalier development of products and oil/ gas extraction. I watch the very business like blond-haired, attractive spokesperson  confidently tell us on TV commercials about all the easy jobs and clean energy solutions that exist in natural gas, oil sands and offshore drilling. I look to my wife and say that if this actress only knew how incorrect her lines are, she would probably resign from her position.

After completing my read of Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s book “Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis” I am scared of where we are. I am also angry that the petro-chemical industry could have gotten away with poisoning our children for so long and that the EPA and FDA seemingly can never catch up (just today the FDA punted on Bisphenol A which is known to cause problems for children). Dr. Steingraber believes we can fix our toxic chemical and climate change environmental crises, but it will take a concerted effort that must begin now. She cites many examples of where we have eradicated certain maladies (polio, rabies) or reduced measurably their impact (cigarette smoking). She notes climate change will only make the toxic chemical crisis worse with the warmer planet. It is interesting a new autism prevalence study came out this week which notes autism now occurs in one out of 88 children. In Dr. Steingraber’s book there are chemicals in various products that create a higher degree of autism and certain areas and children are exposed more than others.

She would tell the lovely spokesperson on the TV commercials about the extreme ways we are gathering fossil fuels – offshore drilling, mountain top removal, oil shands extraction and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking)  – are releasing so much toxic chemicals into the air and water, that it is killing our children and adults or making them live severely altered lives. At the time of her book, she noted 1,500 violations of fracking miscues in Pennsylvania alone and we have all seen the stories where the water can be lit on fire in some locations with the chemical spillage from the fracking water. And, on the Keystone pipeline the President is deferring, it should be noted the company that built another similar pipeline and is vying for this one has had 15 oil spills in less than eighteen months of operation. And, offshore drilling is not without its challenges as witnessed in the gulf two years ago. There are other oil rigs – someone told me to remember the name Atlantis – that could cause some problems.

Dr. Steingraber advocates the cessation of all new fossil fuel now. She cites that is takes about fifteen years to show a difference.  She also believes with others we could be fully powered by alternative energy in not too distant a future, but we have to plan and act today. Solar continues to lessen in price, wind is in abundance on land and offshore, and as Bill Maher would say, “when an offshore windmill collapses, the only sound you hear is a splash.” And, geo-thermal, various strains of hydropower (waterfalls, river and ocean currents) and several other methods have merit. The key is the concerted effort and investment to make products scalable and promote more and smarter ways to conserve.

So, I am saddened by this study as we need to have a strong majority understanding our problems such as global warming. We need this majority to understand the problem is far worse due to the current and future existence of toxic chemicals in the air, ground and water and that global warming will only make it a bigger problem. If we can see the problems as they are and not dressed up in versions of the truth as told by biased sources such as those with a vested interest in the outcome, we can work collaboratively to plan and execute alternative strategies. But, when you have a major political party deny verifiable data and tell a body of people that the scientists don’t know what they are talking about, it is harder to come to a consensus and act.

As I noted in my last post, this more than anything worries me if the GOP carries the white house. We will return to the “1984” like days where a former petroleum lobbyist is in charge of the Council on the Environment for the President. We have truly missed out on eight years of dealing with these issues and the rest of the world is on Chapter Four and we are in Chapter One. And, some of our leaders have not even opened the book. President Obama has done some nice work in moving the ball forward with the mileage standards, promoting more green energy as a percentage of a power company’s energy production and investing in green energy companies, but it is not near enough.

We need a more concerted effort that begins with a clear identification of the problem and developed action steps. Otherwise, our children will continue to be slowly poisoned and we will see more cancers, endocrine and neurological disorders, we will witness the sea consuming shore line, we will witness sea plankton die off at a faster clip, we will see bee populations die off even more and our planet will become unsustainable. We already have concerns over population growth, where the planet can not support more people consuming at North American rates of consumption. So, if food and water supplies are compromised by climate change and toxic chemicals, you can see where this will lead. Dr, Steingraber notes even if you set aside all the by-products of fracking, it takes a huge amount of water to do the fracking that cannot go back in the water system as it is poisoned. We drink that water, so will have much less to drink in those areas. Texas may be a lens into the future with its severe water shortage.

My kids are like most kids and enjoy playing the post-apocalyptic video games. The sadder twist may be the real life apocalypse won’t come from nuclear weapons. The apocalypse will come from our increasing trend of treating our world like an unattended crock pot where the dial continues to ratchet up. The water will become very dear, the food will be more scarce, and there will be certain places we cannot go, not due to nuclear fallout, but due to chemical over-exposure. We will slowly burn off the sustainability of our planet for human life and those that survive will become the post-apocalyptic game players.

So, let’s value our science and feed our curiosity. We can do wondrous things when we put our minds to it. For the very religious, the true miracle God gave us is our ability to think. Our ability to envision big dreams and actually make them happen. Science fiction has bred science which has bred invention and new products. We can solve these problems if we identify and invest in the solutions that will be sustainable and not toxic. Conservatives, we need you to believe in miracles – the miracles of science. We can together make them happen. To do otherwise and to be a poor steward of our planet, to my way of thinking, dishonors our creator. I cannot cite scripture well, but I know there is some that encourages us to take care of our earth. I pray that we do.



5 thoughts on “Troubling Study – Conservatives Skeptical of Science

  1. Great post! I like the point about Mueller actually reading real data and coming to the proper conclusion on the environment. I think most would have the same reaction if exposed to that type of data.
    I’ve always wondered if the media has been too objective on this issue because of allegations of liberal bias. When we look at the scientific data, it’s so obviously one-sided it’s impossible to ignore. But when the average person catches one story on the news about this debate and they see one scientist concerned about the environment and another (dug up from nowhere and pulled from the fringe) denying the firsts’ claims, it gives the impression of the whole thing being 50/50 in the scientific community. If we reach a point of no return with the environment and people are taking a last look back at what went wrong, I have to imagine there will be an uproar over our generation and the way this has been debated in the media.

    • Thanks for your comments. I agree with your concerns over playing this as a 50/50 issue when most of the experts support one side. I also don’t like it when the talk shows get two talking heads side by side, one of whom has spent a lifetime on a subject while the other has not. My hope is I can encourage people to read Dr. Steingraber’s book as when you are talking about protecting your kids, this supercedes political beliefs.

  2. I am with you big time on supporting STEM education. I would encourage everyone to consider making that STEAM with an A added for Arts, because the overall need for critical thinking and deeper understanding depends on that as well.I have played some of those post-apocalyptic video games. I always lose early in the game. I am afraid when the real thing starts next Thursday, I will be one of the first losers in that one too.

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