Seriously, science deserves respect

Political opinions should not be dismissive of consensus conclusions by scientists.

THIS ONE, even in the hyper-partisan world we live in today, seems over the top.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, according to reporting by the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, has changed its website language on the topic of climate change. Previously, the entry read, “Earth’s climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat-trapping (green house) gases are the main cause. ...” It went on to cite various statistics and discussed how the phenomenon might impact Wisconsin and the Great Lakes.

The new entry takes a different position. It does not deny the existence of climate change, but states, “The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. ...”

WHAT’S AT WORK here is partisan politics, given precedence over science.

Surveys of scientists have shown 97 percent of working climate experts conclude human activity is the major contributor to change. It is technically accurate, we suppose, to say the matter remains under debate if 3 out of 100 scientists disagree. Accurate, but not very persuasive.

As recently as two years ago the DNR employed a small number of scientists who were researching climate change and its application to Wisconsin conditions. But those scientists were eliminated in what also appeared to be partisan-related actions.

Meanwhile, statistics indicate declining enforcement in Wisconsin of environmental rules and regulations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been auditing Wisconsin in an investigation into enforcement lapses.

And most recently a proposal has been floated in Madison to break up DNR functions and distribute them across other agencies.

Does any of that start to sound like a pattern?

LOOK, WE BELIEVE America has more than its share of environmental wackos who feverishly dream of returning to some sort of pre-industrial utopia.

Likewise, we believe the federal EPA and the state DNR sometimes have made enforcement look more like harassment. The sort of zealousness that suggests every puddle in a farmer’s field ought to trigger waterway regulations is absurd.

But the answer to correcting one extreme is not to substitute another.

Nor is it good stewardship or good government to superimpose the views of partisan politicians over the knowledge of trained scientists, especially when the global consensus is as clear-cut as 97 percent.

Stripping the bark off environmental regulators may make partisans feel good, but it could have serious consequences later on.

ONLY THE HOPELESSLY naive can miss what this argument really is all about.

Money.

Sustaining a clean environment is not cheap. Raising the stakes to impose even more stingent requirements in an effort to mitigate climate change is even more daunting.

Commercial interests are in the frame of making profits for shareholders today, not so much investing heavily because of what might happen half a century away.

Likewise, politicians want votes now, not 50 years hence. Perhaps more to the point, politicians need donations now to finance elections.

Here’s our take. This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing equation. Middle ground — yes, we know, those are dirty words — ought to be attainable, to improve environmental conditions without ruining businesses. Business and science and politics ought to be able to work together for the common good in this country — and this world.

If they can’t ... well, better really hope 97 percent of scientists are dead wrong.

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