I couldn’t help but recall that commercial with its closing line as the predicted Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast of the United States. Even now, a day after the hurricane has blown through central Pennsylvania—on its way to the Midwest—the storm is wreaking incredible havoc. Manhattan, New York City has been hugely affected—power stations exploding disrupting power, cranes dangling from building construction sites, cars trapped in or out of Manhattan with bridges and tunnels closed.Of course, post-hurricane there will be debates—has global climate change made such super-storms inevitable? I have read enough to know that climatologists are careful to talk about long-term trends, and steer us amateurs away from drawing hasty conclusions about individual weather events being caused by global climate change. So, they are comfortable attributing the many heat records that were broken this past summer and the widespread extended drought to global climate change. They are less comfortable attributing a single storm such as Hurricane Sandy to global climate change.
I find this whole topic maddening. It is emblematic of a weird tendency in the U.S.—the tendency to subject something that either is (or isn’t) to a popularity contest. So, polls are conducted to determine if people BELIEVE in global climate change. And, while you might not think something such as global climate change would be an indicator of one’s political leaning, we find that depending on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, global climate change is or is not happening. 85% of Democrats say there “is solid evidence of warming” as compared to 48% of Republicans who accept that. (Source: Pew Research Center) (Incidentally, more than 70% of so-called Tea Party adherents do NOT believe that global climate change is occurring.)Where my anxiety goes off the scale is when the political ramifications come to play in WHO provides leadership in our national governmental structures on these issues. Where the Republican platform four years ago had an extensive section on climate issues, the whole topic of climate has disappeared from the Republican platform. Thankfully, the Democratic platform still deals with global climate change. I know, I know—the platforms don’t mean much. They simply give a snap-shot of what matters to the respective parties.
It should come as no surprise that our regard for science—or, I should say, our lack of regard—has an effect on our success in science education. A recent report found that the U.S. is lagging behind many countries in various subject scores. As the report notes, we might have won more Olympic gold medals, but we aren’t winning gold in education areas including science. Who ranks first in science? China. The U.S. ranks 23rd. (Source: Huffington Post article)
I do not blame our public education system for this decline—not at all. I blame the pervasive attitude in the U.S. that science just doesn’t matter. After all, you can subject it to a popular vote—if most people don’t believe it (whatever IT is: global climate change, evolution, you name it), then it must not be true. Not only is it NOT true, but it has to be disputed at every turn. Layer on top of that scorn a constant drum beat of fascination with the most mindless topics imaginable—can you say Snooky? Honey Boo-Boo? Boxers? Or Briefs? (All those topics have been asked of recent candidates for President, where the candidate’s position on global climate change has NOT been asked.)Well, Mother Nature gets the last word. It’s not nice to fool her.