Chait has a great little jab at the Republican “I’m not a scientist” schtick when trying to square objective reality with the denialism or fantasy of their own coalition. I’m not a scientist either. I have no expertise in measuring carbon levels back thousands of years; I have no clue how to balance measurable heat in the oceans as opposed to the deserts; I cannot say what would likely shift in weather patterns if we keep boiling our planet like the proverbial frog; and on and on. But I can read temperature charts and I can read the IPCC report and I can glean something relevant from the crushingly overwhelming majority view of the relevant climate scientists.
And that simple act of amateur reasoning is all we ask of ourselves as citizens, and it is all we can ever ask of our elected representatives. We elect them to make decisions about the future of Afghanistan, the sectarian conflict in Syria, the intricacies of Internet regulation, and any number of complex questions usually grasped only by experts. Sometimes, they can become kinda experts themselves. But what’s vital is that they simply use reason – a core democratic practice – to figure stuff out.
On this important issue, one entire party in our system has simply decided to opt out of these basic demands of democratic life. And this is not restricted to Christianist congressmen who believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago. It’s deep in the bones of what’s left of the intelligentsia as well:
In a recent hearing before Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce refused to take a position on whether anthropogenic global warming is real. “Room to Grow,” the new policy manifesto by a coalition of non-crazy Republicans, has one chapter on energy, which omits any reference at all to climate change. It doesn’t deny climate change, nor does it concede it — it merely treats the energy debate as if the question of whether to price carbon emissions does not exist at all.
A figure as respected on the right as Charles Krauthammer has been reduced to claiming that no reigning scientific theory should be taken seriously because it might one day be adjusted in light of new data or new experiments.
This is what happens when reason becomes anathema in one hermetically sealed party:
According to Pew Research Center surveys conducted last year, 25 percent of self-identified Republicans said they considered global climate change to be “a major threat.” The only countries with such low levels of climate concern are Egypt, where 16 percent of respondents called climate change a major threat, and Pakistan, where 15 percent did. By comparison, 65 percent of Democrats in the United States gave that answer, putting them in the same range as Brazilians (76 percent), Japanese (72 percent), Chileans (68 percent) or Italians and Spaniards (64 percent).
It matters when one major party refuses to accept reality – when it refuses to grasp the fact that you cannot raise revenue by cutting taxes, that the United States practiced torture, or that human-made climate change is real. When one side engages in this surreal debate, the country becomes incapable of engaging in any real debate. I know we’ve become used to this – and the press has found a way to write about the GOP as if they are not a reckless, know-nothing, post-modern fantasy machine. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remain capable of shock and anger at this pathetic excuse for a political party, at the unique idiocy of this party of the right in the Western world.