Too Much Hot Air


Indulge in a brief hypothetical with us. Waiting to board a plane, you notice a cluster of men and women engaged in an obviously spirited conversation. Listening in, you discover they are airline mechanics. Almost every one of them believes that the plane you are about to get on is dangerous; that its wings will fall off if it is allowed to take to the air. But the lead mechanic, the one who gets to decide such things, argues there’s no absolute proof that disaster is imminent, and he clears the plane for flight.

What manner of idiot would you have to be to get on that plane?

An unassailable majority of the world’s scientists believe that climate change is real, that human activities contribute to it, and that the consequences will be devastating. Yet our president and our governor-such learned men as they are-insist it’s not true. (White House Press Secretary Dana Perino noted last week that global warming has an upside: Fewer people will die from colds. We did not make that up.)

Their flight of fancy might be amusing if they weren’t taking all of us aboard with them. Like many conservatives, they have a curious relationship with science, seeming to believe that adamant ideology can somehow trump empirical data. Perhaps their free-market bent leads them to believe that an invisible hand will hold the polar ice caps together. Or maybe theirs is a faith-based approach: Global warming is a divine creation, or God will come down and make everything all right.

Faulty science is quaint when it’s just a few rubes publishing flat-earth pamphlets. But when their intellectual bedfellows are setting our public policy, things get a bit dicier. Under President Bush, eight years that should have been spent facing up to global warming will have been squandered. Gov. Perry seems to believe that ridiculing the notion of climate change will help win him the second spot on the next GOP ticket or a cabinet post in a future Republican administration.

We don’t have time for this nonsense anymore. The window during which we can reverse global warming is closing. We owe it to those who will come after us to do something now.

The 2008 campaigns are well under way, and it’s no mystery why Iraq remains on the front burner. But the willingness and persistence of candidates to tackle questions about greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions are arguably more important.

Many conservatives want to make this issue go away by ensnaring us in a debate over whether there truly is a problem. Let’s not allow them to succeed. The problem is real and it’s time to suss out every candidate for every office on every ballot in every state, county, city, village, township, nook, and cranny on this.

As much, if not more, will be done locally than nationally to reduce carbon emissions. After all, cities and counties own fleets of vehicles, buy lots of light bulbs, and set mass transit and zoning policies. State agencies decide whether there will be more coal-fired power plants or whether new cars should have better fuel standards. So don’t just pester candidates for national office. Ask the folks running for city council, school board, hide inspector, and the local hospital district just what exactly they plan to do. Any who argue that it’s not really an issue aren’t fit for office.

This one’s not about liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican, or whichever partisan divide gets your juices flowing. This one’s about rational versus delusional. And the delusional has had the upper hand for too long. We can’t get off this plane, so we’ve got to stop electing people who want to take us down with them.