RSS
This is a perfect example of why scientists don't vote Republican
When it comes to climate change, the intellectual bankruptcy of the conservative movement is stunning
 
Why are we still even debating climate change?
Why are we still even debating climate change? (David McNew/Getty Images)

For the past decade and more, conservatives have trumpeted to the heavens any scientist with respectable-sounding credentials who is willing to dispute the international consensus on climate change. This week brought one more sad example of this phenomenon, with Red State editor Erick Erickson tweeting this Breitbart post, which gleefully parrots the views of one Professor Les Woodcock. He is that rarest of beasts, a climate denier with a science degree — but not in climatology, naturally.

So some doddering chemist emeritus doesn't believe in climate change. So what, right? But Woodcock's assertions are noteworthy for just how magnificently bogus they are. And the fact that he has been embraced by influential people in the conservative media-sphere shows both the intellectual bankruptcy of movement conservatism and the way it has poisoned the climate change debate.

Here's the line in question: "There is no reproducible scientific evidence CO2 has significantly increased in the last 100 years." That is an extraordinary statement, and a position that cleverer climate deniers tend to avoid. He's not just saying that warming isn't happening, or that warming is happening but humans aren't causing it. He's flatly asserting, with no hedging whatsoever, that carbon dioxide concentrations haven't increased.

There's just one flaw with his analysis: carbon dioxide concentrations are very easy to measure! All you do is shine a beam of infrared light through an air sample, look at the absorption frequencies of carbon dioxide, and then deduce the concentration using Beer's Law. It's a classic experiment in Chemistry 101.

Carbon dioxide concentrations are being measured in this manner right now (as well as with more sophisticated techniques). It's being done all the time in fact, in hundreds of places across the globe, organized by the Cooperative Air Sampling Network. Here's a chart (borrowed from Skeptical Science, but you can make your own) comparing thousands of global measurements to the longest-running individual station, on Mauna Loa:

I literally cannot imagine a statement that would be more scientifically incorrect and humiliating than the one Professor Woodcock made. It's like saying you don't believe in the existence of cheese. And somehow I doubt such a person would be convinced if you did the scientific equivalent of slapping him across the face with a big round of Stilton.

But the likes of Erick Erickson are patently uninterested in even the slightest scrap of scientific detail. All he wants is to claim the mantle of scientific legitimacy to justify his prior beliefs. Thus all the transparent puffery about Woodcock's "long and distinguished academic career" and so forth from Breitbart (not that these chumps had even heard of him before). Any publication that gave a hoot about science would realize that gleefully repeating such obviously false garbage is like defiling Isaac Newton's corpse.

It's no wonder that only six percent of scientists are Republican.

And it's also a good reminder that centrists like Clive Crook are completely wrong in their belief that scientists are somehow responsible for polarizing the issue of climate change. Erickson is one of the most influential conservatives in the country, and he simply doesn't care about getting the science right. He's a Lysenkoist to the bone.

In other words, conservatives are responsible for the shoddy state of our debate over climate change. It sounds partisan, but it's true. It's time our political culture came to grips with that fact.

 
Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week