At a campaign fundraiser in West Virginia last month, Governor Rick Perry talked climate change and science with attendees. At the event, Mike Stuart, Chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party said, “We have to base our views on real science, not junk science.”
As part of an organization deeply rooted in science, I think it’s time we take a closer look at the Governor’s views on science and the scientific community, and evaluate what is being called ‘junk science’. Perry has said that a “secular carbon cult” is responsible for creating anxiety over the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on our planet. Perry also said of global warming, “The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just, is nonsense. … Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy."
It’s hard to find out what the science truly is when the Governor’s appointees censor scientists who are discussing climate change. John Anderson, a professor at Rice University, recently revealed that Perry’s Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) deleted all references to climate change and sea-level rise from an article he wrote about the changes in Galveston Bay.
Let’s analyze ‘what the science truly is’ from a scientist’s perspective. According to a report produced by the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made up of 800 scientists from all around the world, the global sea level rose 6.7 inches in the last century due to melting ice caps. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century. The 10 warmest years in global meteorological history have all occurred in the past 15 years. Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting—for example, Montana's Glacier National Park now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. This is in addition to all of the extreme weather events we are experiencing including unprecedented wildfires, heat waves, and drought here in Texas, which is exactly the kind of impacts that scientists predicted that global warming would bring. Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist and professor of atmospheric science at Texas Tech University, has said of global warming, “We have a very narrow window of time to do something meaningful about this issue, and that window is closing. Every year we go without a binding climate policy to reduce our emissions shrinks the chance we have of hitting lower emissions targets” [that can prevent large scale harm].
Perry has also likened his own position to Galileo "who was outvoted for a spell” and proclaimed that “virtually every day another scientist leaves the global warming bandwagon." When asked for elaboration on the scientists leaving the global warming front, his office provided two dozen articles, almost none from or about actual scientists.
To the contrary, research confirms that 98 percent of climate researchers believe that the climate is changing faster than it has before and that humans are responsible for most of the recent warming tends. Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University – the governor’s alma mater – has refuted claims made by Perry regarding skeptics in the science community. Dessler stated, “There are only a handful of atmospheric scientists in the entire world who dispute the essential facts — and their ranks are not increasing, as Perry claimed.” In fact, the National Academy of Sciences, the independent group set up by Congress to answer questions on scientific controversies for the country, concluded in 2010, "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment."
If you went to 100 doctors and 98 of them diagnosed you with cancer and said you should probably stop smoking cigarettes, but two doctors insisted that cigarettes were perfectly healthy, and that lump was probably not cancer, who would you listen to? At one time even Big Tobacco could find a doctor or two to push junk science and politicians willing to support their industry for the right price. I wonder whether Perry’s views on the environment have anything to do with the fact that he’s taken $11 million in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry since 1998? In a debate this fall Perry said he couldn’t be bought for a measly $5,000, but $11 million dollars might be a different story.
Rather than Galileo, Rick Perry is like the handful of doctors in the 1960’s who, when faced with a consensus in the medicine that cigarette smoke caused lung cancer, continued to advocate in ads that people smoke Camel’s. These doctors fronted for cigarette companies for money. One wonders what caused Rick Perry to reject science and carry the water for big polluters.