Climate change research should be less political

Alexander Chase

Climate change is no matter of opinion. As its impacts become more devastating, inaction has become unthinkable. Even so, politicians who deny climate change have enormous power over climate policy and research. But now more than ever, unscientific political opinions should have no room in discussion about climate science.

UT students’ representatives in particular have an outsize influence on federal climate policy. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) chairs the Senate Committee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. The chair of the corresponding House committee, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), represents most of West Campus. Both have claimed that climate change is a myth or “religion.”

Both have used their power on these views to attack actual scientists. Smith’s Committee led the charge to slash NASA’s earth science budget. He has used his subpoena power to harass NOAA scientists who produce research contrary to what he says. Cruz has introduced legislation to gut the Clean Air Act. Both have used their authority to promote unsubstantiated false beliefs about climate.

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that humans are causing this change. The scientific community is as sure of this as it is that smoking causes cancer. Exxon Mobil knew this in 1977, and has spent millions of dollars to fund climate change denying politicians. Saying otherwise means blindly attacking the scientific process.

Attacks on politicians for ignoring public opinion on climate change miss the point, however. While politicians are ignoring voter opinion on science, this still implies that politicians should be listening to an opinion, not data. This legitimizes Smith and Cruz when they listen to their donors, especially oil companies.

While it matters that the vast majority of scientists believe humans are causing climate change, those are still opinions, no matter how well-informed. What does matter is that their research is finding that the earth is warming, on average, and that this will have devastating effects for its inhabitants.

Understanding how science works should be a basic requirement to take part in science policy. NASA would never hire an engineer who denies Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Why, then, are science-denying politicians given jobs they lack the skills to perform?

There are well-defined processes,which the University of Texas teaches, for disputing scientific conclusions. Medical laboratory science senior Alex Vences said he is frustrated with the way science is used in politics.

“Scientific journals invite fellow researchers to review the data and, in some cases, perform the experiment themselves to double-check the data,” Vences said.

Vences said he believes that it reasonable for politicians have room to deny climate change “when they have performed a reproducible experiment that yielded credible evidence contrary to the current accepted theory.”

In order to start to combat the effects of climate change — which are neither distant nor minor — this data needs to be taken seriously. Now is time for less politicized science, and more accountable government.

Chase is a Plan II and economics junior from Royse City. Follow Chase on Twitter @alexwchase.