2 November 2020

The Discussion About Science We Must Have

Posted by Dan Satterfield


My friend Ed Maibach researches climate change/energy opinions at George Mason University, and he recently sent me an email with this polling result.
Atmospheric science folks like me are very interested in this because of the great disconnect between what the science says and what the public thinks. Natural gas is better than coal or oil, but it’s still a fossil fuel that produces CO2 and something we must steer away from by mid-century.


At the latest.


The science is also telling us that we are running out of time to make that switch. I bet Ed will tell me this poll is good news because never before have so many people chosen the correct answer! Ok great, but this poll says a third of the nation does not understand the basic science that we must get away from fossil fuels. This is not good, because it says a third of America believes a lie.
Maybe it is not all their fault. The natural gas producers have spent millions using the word CLEAN and Natural Gas in the same sentence on TV. Add in the fact that if someone wants something to be true, then it is easy to convince them it is true (See confirmation bias). 
Is it ok to use natural gas while we rapidly build out wind and solar? Yes, it is.
In fact, using it is much better than using coal or oil. Fracking has produced so much natural gas that it has killed coal and that’s good!
Fracking is ok as long as it is a stop-gap energy production while we rapidly build out renewable energy sources, and I’m far from the only person who understands climate science to feel this way. Coal is by far the worst and oil comes next. The world is moving toward clean energy and fairly quickly now because it’s cheaper than fossil fuels and when you add in the cost to the environment, it is MUCH cheaper.
We have to go more quickly though.
So, how do we game the system to give the advantage to clean energy?
a combination?
I don’t know any better than anyone else! I do know there are policy experts who could talk for hours on it with great expertise and it is a conversation long overdue. Am I the only one who thinks we could get some really useful ideas from all sides of the political spectrum? I bet not.
The science is beyond overwhelming so those who still argue there is no problem do NOT deserve a seat at the table. We should listen to any politician who has feasible (and sane) ideas on how to do it. Here’s the problem: In 2020 America, facts do not seem to matter to some. This past weekend we saw large crowds chanting “Fire Fauci! Yes, let’s fire a world-renown scientist because he is telling us something we don’t want to hear. If we cannot change this mindset, America is no longer going to be a world leader. We have to accept basic 100-year-old germ theory and this must even be said in the year 2020 speaks volumes.


We are at a turning point and we must decide to accept scientific truths no matter how uncomfortable they are. You’ve read it before, but Carl Sagan’s writings from 25 years ago are uncannily prescient in this anguish filled fall of 2020. It’s time to read it again and to share:


“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

We must stop celebrating ignorance and start accepting science. Even if it hurts.