When Ideology Trumps Facts
In the ongoing, fractious city council election, Lagunans have been jolted by Jon Madison’s inability to validate implausible, phony academic achievements. Lagunans received another jolt at the Firebrand Media-organized candidate forum on Oct. 14 when candidate Michele Hall expressed mocking skepticism about human-caused global warming in response to a question from the audience.
Shocked about this skepticism, which ignores an overwhelming 97 percent scientific consensus that human-induced climate warming is a major peril, I spoke with Ms. Hall at the close of the forum.
She said she was familiar with the world-renowned National Academy of Sciences, but seemed unaware of the Academy’s findings that human-caused global warming was occurring and is serious. Then I asked her if she reads Scientific American magazine, which has published numerous articles on this topic, and she said, “no.” She cited Dennis McTighe of Stu News as her source or scientific authority for her view. I don’t know Mr. McTighe’s expertise on this matter, but if Ms. Hall is correctly channeling him then they are both outliers far beyond the pale of mainstream science as represented by the National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and countless premier university science departments the world over.
Given that conservative Republicans are usually, though not always, in the forefront of those either denying the existence of global warming or claiming that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have nothing to do with the phenomenon, I suspect that Ms. Hall’s view derives from her political ideology rather than her objective look at evidence and the plenitude of academic studies.
I’m not objecting to healthy skepticism. Many of the world’s most prominent climatologists, like Dr. James Hansen (formerly of NASA), originally dismissed the likelihood of human-caused global warming. In some cases it took years of their own research to change their minds.
By the late 1990s, however, only a minute segment of the scientific community remained in doubt about the reality, sources, and magnitude of global climate change. The skepticism and denial that now remains is patently unhealthy. It puts not just Laguna Beach but the entire planet at risk due to the increasing ravages of global warming: floods, severe droughts ruining croplands, ocean acidification imperiling marine life, and sea-rise that is projected to destroy trillions of dollars worth of homes and commercial real estate situated along America’s coastlines. In the South Pacific, island homelands are being submerged and could disappear. Moreover, the Pentagon warns that climate change is threatening international security.
I wish I could be as undisturbed as Ms. Hall appears to be about all of this. Does she realize that tens of thousands of cities nationwide are acting by implementing policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions? Our federal government has been blocked from taking action by the oil/energy lobby and its shills in Congress.
Has she read the city of Laguna Beach’s Climate Protection Action Plan that took two years to write and get approved by Council in 2009? If elected, would she assume responsibility for implementing that plan? Of course, since she doesn’t believe human usage of fossil fuels is the major cause of warming, she would likely have little incentive to read or implement this document that puts our city on record as having taken action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
To Ms. Hall’s credit, she supports peripheral parking, which, like the free trolley, is a practical, effective step in cutting emissions.
In this city of comparatively sophisticated, informed voters we need to ask: does this candidate demonstrate an adequate level of curiosity, critical thinking, knowledge, and concern about what is arguably the most critical environmental issue of our time? Can Laguna Beach afford to have sitting on the council a person (or persons) seemingly driven far more by a conservative political ideology than by facts?
Tom Osborne received the city’s Environmental Recognition Award in 2008 for chairing the work group that wrote Laguna’s Council-approved Climate Protection Action Plan.