Scientist To Boehner – Pleading Ignorance On Climate Change A ‘Pathetic Dodge’


Speaker of the House John Boehner earned his stripes right out of college when he took a sales job with plastics and packaging company Nucite. His expertise in this field cannot be denied seeing as he rose through the ranks, ultimately helming the company as president prior to his election to congress.

Boehner and others were elected to congress not so they could become experts in every field in which they were meant to legislate. Rather, expectations are placed on our legislators that they will seek out the advice and council of the most knowledgeable individuals on any given topic and then produce legislation that is based on reliable and sound evidence reflective of the consensus within a particular community.

So why is it that many in the Republican party, Boehner included, have tried to explain away their willful and woeful negligence with regard to climate change by echoing the identical claim that they couldn’t possibly have an opinion because they, themselves, are not scientists and are therefore not expert on the topic at hand.
Surely not every legislator is an expert in the fields of economics, military strategy, social programming, education, healthcare and any other number of topics that might come before the House and the Senate. But we expect them to be intelligent and learned individuals capable of sorting through testimony to arrive at the best solution.

Yet, on a topic where inaction is certain to have catastrophic effects globally, members of the Republican elite, like Boehner, Marco Rubio, Rep. Michael Grimm of New York and Florida governor Rick Scott have parroted one another on the “But, I’m not a scientist” line.

We, as citizens would not accept this as an excuse on any other topic brought before our lawmakers so why is it that this ploy seems to be so effective at letting them off the hook? Each time a lawmaker shirks his or her responsibility by playing the “Ignorance Card” they can still effectively deny the reality that is staring us all in the face while, at the same time, continuing their efforts aimed at denying the creation of any regulations that might serve to abate the negative effects of climate change.

“Personally, I don’t think it proper for any American to use that argument,” said Donald. J Wuebbles, a distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences and coordinating lead author for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 assessment report.

In addition to studying the minutiae of climate change, Wuebbles and his fellow scientists specifically crafted the National Climate Assessment report so that it basically dumbed down the information enough that even a US Congressperson could understand it. As Wuebbles stated, that report was written in such a way that it should be “readily understood by any policymaker.”

“The assessment represents the latest understanding of the science and is the most comprehensive report ever prepared for the American people on climate change,” Wuebbles said. “The report itself was done for Congress under a law passed by Congress.”

While Wuebbles characterizes the statement made by Boehner and his ilk as improper, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, Michael Mann, had even more of a harsh criticism for the Speaker. Calling it a “pathetic dodge”, Mann claims the statement of real or feigned ignorance simply makes no sense in the context of political decision-making.

“What if we asked ‘Senator: do you advocate drinking toxic sludge?’ or ‘Senator: is jumping off the north rim of the Grand Canyon safe?’ or ‘Senator: should I place my head in the jaws of this lion?’,” Mann said. “Would the response still be be ‘I don’t know, I’m not a scientist’?”

For most of the entirety of the climate change debate, scientists have maintained a politically neutral stance, allowing for and hoping the science would speak for itself. Many in the scientific community may be seeing the current political impasse as too strident to ignore. That might account for statements made by Wuebbles,

Mann and others. Some scientists are, however, urging continued restraint.

For instance, the 2013 American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd suggested that the best course of action going forward would be if both scientists and politicians stepped back from the brinksmanship currently on display.

“I am certain that no policymaker is an expert on many different topics that cross their desk but they have to be considered,” he said, noting that scientists have an “obligation to ensure that public and policymakers don’t fall victim to being duped because of lack of science knowledge.”

“I think scientists that are too overtly political or activist lose credibility. Likewise, a stakeholder or policymaker speaking definitely on climate without any background or from non-peer reviewed perspectives is also dangerous,” he said. “I have long argued that we have to remove the vitriol and name-calling and work to help each other in the discussion.”