Climate change may be the greatest threat human civilization has ever faced. We don't know for sure, but there's a good chance that if we allow this process to go unchecked, or accelerate the change through expanded use of fossil fuels, warming may actually topple 11,000 years of progress. At the very least, it looks to cost untold lives and unimaginable fortunes as desertification overtakes farmland, oceans invade both land and freshwater environments, storms ramp up to previously unwitnessed ferocity, and millions (if not billions) of people are forced to pick up and move. It's a problem of daunting, almost unimaginable scale.
And yet, when the media condenses Rick Perry's statements this week to "Perry comes out against climate change," they're missing not just the story, but the danger in what he said.
Here's Perry response to a question about climate change.
"I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. I don’t think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven, and from my perspective, is more and more being put into question."In this statement, Perry has done a couple of things that are extraordinary. One, he's admitted that climate change is real. Don't see it? It's right there, where he says "questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change." Even Perry, with his unending series of rain prayers, can no longer deny what has become blindingly, sweatily, exhaustingly obvious—the world is getting warmer. The battle over whether the climate is changing is done, over, finito. Even for staunch conservatives, the fight will no longer be over if the climate is changing. From here on out it's why.
Perry doesn't bother to provide a why, but then dismissing man-made climate change is only the second strangest thing Rick Perry managed to say in a single paragraph. When Perry says that "a substantial number of scientists have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects," that's just a staggering claim. It's an attempt to write the charges leveled during the laughable "climate gate," into the history books, despite the fact that all of those accusations have been proven over, and over, and over to be insubstantial. Even those politicians who voiced similar statements during the heat of the moment when the accusations were first leveled have some excuse. They jumped the gun. They failed to wait until the charges could be checked out. They were ignorant.
That's not true for Perry. The charges have long been tested and found wanting. The scientists involved have been universally vindicated.
Perry doesn't let that slow him. He levels a blanket charge, one that includes not one name or a single example of wrongdoing. He follows this up with an equally odd statement, that there's been a steady stream of scientists newly-awakened to the idea that man-made climate change is not happening.
Attention television pundits, talk show hosts, newspaper columnists, and magazine interviewers this is the issue, not whether or not Perry believes in climate change. Who are these scientists that Perry says have accepted bribes to alter their data? Can he produce one? Can he name a single instance? Who are the scientists stepping up to question the idea of anthropocentric climate change? If they're coming "daily," Perry should have no problem producing a dozen. Or how about five? Hell, make it three. Where are they?
The charges that Perry has leveled are very, very serious. Everyone made a big deal about his hints that Ben Bernanke had committed treason. Well, his accusations against climate scientists should be at least as shocking. Why is no one asking him to support these charges?
It's not as if you're unaware of what politicians are saying. Let Sarah Palin stumble over the story of Paul Revere, or Michele Bachmann mistake Elvis' birthday, and it's news. But Rick Perry can say that American scientists are taking bribes to create data about climate change, and it's barely noticed. Why is that?
Surely this is weird enough to warrant attention. Who does he think is paying these guys? Who keeps those dollars "rolling in"? Is the UN trying to convince Americans to conserve oil because they want to horde all the fuel for their invading fleet of black helicopters? It's one thing for conspiracies to brew on AM radio, or to slosh around in your elderly aunt's crazy emails. It's another thing to have a candidate for president of the United States painting scientists as members of an evil cabal funded by unknown sources.
That anyone would think that there's some conspiracy to hold up evolution or climate change shows a profound ignorance of not just science, but academia. If anyone was to come up with one shred of solid evidence supporting an alternative explanation to natural selection, or clear evidence that climate change wasn’t man-made, that person wouldn't be run out of town. He or she would be the most famous scientist in a century. They'd have a choice of colleges, research grants, book deals. No one gets famous—heck, no one even secures tenure—by writing a paper titled “Yup, the last guy who looked at this was exactly right.” Science craves controversy, lives on it. Is it a perfect system? Nope, and there are many opportunities for reform (some of which the go-faster world of the Internet has already forced on the slow-down world of scientific journals), but Perry’s idea of how science works is itself a dangerous fantasy.
Forget climate change. Perry’s statements go beyond his views on climate change or evolution. He's attacking science itself, disputing the whole idea that we can actually know anything. For Perry, everything is just a "theory that's out there," with no evidence worth considering but what his gut tells him. Science, the whole experiment of the last two hundred years, is not just suspect, it's already convicted.
Sure, it’s not the first time, and Perry is not the first to level these kind of bullshit charges. But so long as no one calls him on it, it will continue to be open season on science and scientists, and that, folks, is about the biggest threat I can imagine to this nation and all the rest.