Why Politicians Like Rokita are More Dangerous–and Anti-American–Than you Think

According to yesterday’s New York Times, pragmatism about climate change is beginning to trump politics at the local level. The article focused primarily on candidates in Florida, where rising sea levels and other consequences of global warming have become too obvious for local Republican candidates to ignore. But the article also quoted Carmel’s Mayor, Jim Brainard, who has defied his national party’s fealty to Big Oil (more than 58% of Congressional Republicans deny the reality of climate change) and who has worked actively to reduce Carmel’s carbon footprint.

“I don’t think we want to be the party that believes in dirty air and dirty water,” Mr. Brainard said, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency was founded under President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican.

Contrast Brainard’s eminently sensible approach with that of Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita, who recently told the Purdue Exponent that claims about global warming are still “under debate,” and that the belief in anthropogenic climate change is “arrogant,” because after all, who are we to think our human activities could change God’s climate?

When asked by a constituent about government subsidies for renewable energy sources like wind and solar, Rokita said that he respects “God’s green earth,” but that the private market should decide which energy sources receive funding.

Evidently Rokita  hasn’t noticed the massive subsidies we taxpayers are providing to the (enormously profitable) fossil fuel industry.

It would be easy enough to dismiss Rokita and the other dogged defenders of the energy status quo as politicians pandering to a know-nothing base. As a 2012 article from Scientific American pointed out, however, these anti-science attitudes not only threaten America’s economic future, they represent a dramatic–and dangerous–departure from traditional American values.

The Founding Fathers were science enthusiasts. Thomas Jefferson, a lawyer and scientist, built the primary justification for the nation’s independence on the thinking of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke—the creators of physics, inductive reasoning and empiricism. He called them his “trinity of three greatest men.” If anyone can discover the truth by using reason and science, Jefferson reasoned, then no one is naturally closer to the truth than anyone else. Consequently, those in positions of authority do not have the right to impose their beliefs on other people. The people themselves retain this inalienable right. Based on this foundation of science—of knowledge gained by systematic study and testing instead of by the assertions of ideology—the argument for a new, democratic form of government was self-evident.

The authors warned that the anti-science posture of contemporary politicians “reflect an anti-intellectual conformity that is gaining strength in the U.S. at precisely the moment that most of the important opportunities for economic growth, and serious threats to the well-being of the nation, require a better grasp of scientific issues.” Anti-science positions occur at both ends of the ideological spectrum, from anti-vaccine activists on the left to climate change deniers on the right.

By falsely equating knowledge with opinion, postmodernists and antiscience conservatives alike collapse our thinking back to a pre-Enlightenment era, leaving no common basis for public policy. Public discourse is reduced to endless warring opinions, none seen as more valid than another. Policy is determined by the loudest voices, reducing us to a world in which might makes right—the classic definition of authoritarianism.

The entire article is well worth reading, but I found this paragraph particularly  compelling:

“Facts,” John Adams argued, “are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” When facts become opinions, the collective policymaking process of democracy begins to break down. Gone is the common denominator—knowledge—that can bring opposing sides together. Government becomes reactive, expensive and late at solving problems, and the national dialogue becomes mired in warring opinions.

When Congressmen like Rokita substitute convenient and uninformed opinion for science and fact, they threaten both our planet and our democracy.


  1. Perhaps the congressman should listen to a real scientist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson:’The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.’ Mr. Rokita’s opinions are not facts.

    Unfortunately, those extremist conservatives who base their politics on religious belief and the voters who continue to elect them (by either voting for them or not voting at all) put us all in peril.

    The same can be said about IN Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D., who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, when he responded to a witness encouraging him to read the scientific evidence regarding climate change with the following statement:
    “Of all the climatologists whose careers depends on the climate changing to keep themselves publishing articles? Yes, I could read that, but I don’t believe it.”

    Depending on the climate changing? What a foolish statement. He is a heart surgeon. I would not let him touch my heat if his opinion of science is so distrustful. He might decide to disbelieve some significant facts if he thought the scientists depended on continued publication for their career. After all, there cannot be anything new to learn about the heart that God created, now can there?

  2. Sheila—95% on the money. But you again seem reluctant to accept the fact that in today;s situation (and I would argue that it has been this way at least since Roosevelt) there is absolutely no equivalent on the left to the craziness you see on the right. I think you might even know it, but you are too polite to say it. I am not sure that the anti-vaccine crowd is a left-wing movement, but
    certainly it is a tiny one. The anti climate change movement, anti-science crowd (evolution anyone?) has a lockhold on one of the major parties. Is there any Democratic senator who is hostile to studying the consequences of climate change? Same with guns and the NRA.
    Look at how Issa behaved on the ebola situation last week in his hearings—hearings just to get on TV! He didn’t even know the correct name of the African country involved. He ridiculed leading medical people who testified. Just to scare people the week before the election.

  3. Since all of the basic tennants of conservatism have been demonstrated to be wrong in practice, those who depend on the brand for their jobs are left only with their acting ability for continued employment. They see the world as a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They recite their lines, they care not the consequences except for continued employment, they exit with our money. They feign expertise.

    There was a time when sense that made sense to our senses was adequate. After all, threats and opportunities existed only in our personal time and space. Now those things are global. That complexity requires of us to become experts who, given our individual limitations in time and intellect, can be defined as dependent on others for all other expertise.

    But the political thespians can play the expert in every field given a good script and directing. So they do. And their audience relate and internalize the drama and recite the same lines to each other and become the shamans that they confer celebrity on. The ignorant follow the ignorant because it makes common sense and it binds the brand.

    Conservatism believes every man to be an island. The rate of expansion of human knowledge requires each of us to be part of a team who together, not sparately, stand a chance of accessing all that’s available and required to contribute to progress.

    The environment that life takes place in has profoundly changed and continues so at ever increasing speed. Some are adapted well to those changes, some not. Extinction however proceeds more slowly than progress. We need to push the progress while the ill-adapted exit. That’s the power if democracy. Democracy though is only as powerful as knowledge, and knowledge only as powerful as life long learning given the pace of humanity’s knowledge explosion.

    The island is irrelevant. It’s the entire earth that’s at risk. Our only home.

  4. I grew up in the Chicago area and worked in a steel mil for about 5 years back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Once in a while I would sit along the river bank. Huge pipes from the Mill discharged a multi-color untreated liquids into the river. Today the river is polluted beyond redemption with heavy metals etc.

    The Environmental Movement was almost immediately labeled as Left Wing. Years ago I had a friendly disagreement with a co-worker about pollution. The Co-Worker’s response was Mother Nature would heal our wounds on the environment. (Side Bar he was an avid watcher of FOX News.)

    I will be blunt. People who think humans have no effect on the earth are fools or deluded at best. There is a long list of animals that are now extinct because of humans, perhaps the most spectacular recent example is the Passenger Pigeon. Bees maybe next. Is it just a coincidence that the entry and migration of modern humans into Americas, Australia, etc., resulted in total destruction of large mammals. These large mammals had lived and flourished for millions of years prior to humans arriving.

    News report from California on the ( Sarcastic Alert) “Stewardship” of Private Industry- Report from The Center for Biological Diversity.
    Almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, according to state documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity. The wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants.
    The state’s Water Board confirmed beyond doubt that at least nine wastewater disposal wells have been injecting waste into aquifers that contain high-quality water that is supposed to be protected under federal and state law.
    California’s oil and gas fields produce billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater each year, and much of this contaminated fluid is injected underground.

    Above in California is in a nutshell the Capitalism Free Market usual response Injecting pollutants underground out of sight out of mind. California is in the midst of a massive drought and we have Private Industry polluting aquifers.

  5. Anthropogenic global warming theory is based entirely on climate models, models that do not consider adequately the nomber one factor in temperature changes – precipitation. AGW is a theory, unproven by history, which depends entirely on the sufficiency of the data being fed into the models and those models being constructed. Saying that AGW theory is “fact” and above question is about the most anti-science statement ever uttered. What if Einstein was ridiculed for not accepting Newton’s theory of gravity? He would have never developed the general theory of gravity showing Newton had his theory wrong. Rokita and Buschon are being extremely pro science in questioning AGW theory. It’s the people who insist the theory is above being questjoned who are anti science.

  6. “Policy is determined by the loudest voices, reducing us to a world in which might makes right—the classic definition of authoritarianism.”

    The one with the most money shouts the loudest.

  7. Paul, you might want to seriously read the opening comments again before you talk nonsense. In fact you might want to read something where the authors actually know something rather than right wing material. People who equate uninformed opinion with knowledge are ignorant, not heroic or groundbreaking. Einstein demonstrated a more sophisticated level of thinking about the problem, which is vastly different from the stuff we commonly hear from Mr. Rokita and Mr. Buschon. Einstein had higher thoughts in his sleep than Rokita and Buschon on their best day.

  8. Climate models predict the weather results from excess energy accumulated here because increased and increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations restrict the radiation from returning to space as readily as it used to. There is not the slightest doubt from the standpoint of physics that under those well understood conditions the only possible consequence is climate warming.

    What’s been intensely studied over the last 25 years is how that warmer climate will affect weather like precipitation patterns, ice and snow accumulation, ocean acidity and sea levels.

    What’s still unpredictable is not the science but the politics. When will act responsibly and intensely to stop causing unaffordable consequences to future generations? At what rate will the Pauls of the world let go of brand loyalty over the knowledge of dedicated scientist doing what they’ve always done; employ the scientific method and intensive peer review to uncover the nature of reality. Clearly people who don’t trust science would never fly in an airplane, drive a car or believe an X-ray. That’s fine with me. But dragging the world into economic suicide by denying what they don’t personally know is not.

  9. Unfortunately, if history is any guide, our great nation will be limited in its ability to deal with the type of big problems that develop over many years, and also require a sustained and consistent commitment to mitigate over many many years. across. It seems to be far more politically expedient to leave the problem fester until the only resolution is violent and/or destructive upheaval, such as The Civil War, WWI, The Great Depression and WWII. The most likely outcome in this bleak outlook is the Balkanization of the US into 5 or more separate nations that will wage war against each other over energy, water, food and livable land.

  10. Couple things Paul,

    I guess you’re an expert in climate modeling now as you assert that scientists develop “models that do not consider adequately the nomber one factor in temperature changes – precipitation” Could I get a reference for this, I’d like to know where you learned it. Although if I had to guess, I’d say you’re not going to show us where you learned it, given past instances where I’ve have asked you for the source of other unsubstantiated statements. My guess is, it’s probably some pathetic climate denial blog that you’re too embarrassed to divulge.

    Also, I think you mean the general theory of relativity, not the “general theory of gravity.”

  11. RR, I think Paul likes to fly over, drop those little ignorance bombs and fly out just as fast. I don’t think we’re in for any serious thought or discussion. After comments like he makes, how can there be?

  12. Rokita has a beautiful conservative resume that includes his voter registration law to address a problem that doesn’t exist, denying science and invoking the deity’s name in his own defense. Sadly he has a lot of good company in Indiana – Dan Coats, now Luke Messer. I have to think that he even seems extreme to his fellow republicans. The question is how long can he continue to hold on to his congressional office before he is forced into lobbying, just to scratch out a living?

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