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Richard Frost: We must believe in science and scientists

Richard Frost: We must believe in science and scientists

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Richard Frost

Richard Frost

I teach environmental studies at UW-La Crosse. One of the topics we study is climate change.

My students are very concerned about climate change and cannot understand why there is no action by the president or Congress on this issue. They feel that our government is ignoring the biggest threat that our planet faces.

It mystifies them that our president is a climate change denier and that while many in Congress believe that climate change exists, they are unwilling to move forward with legislation to address it.

It makes no sense to my students that our government, responsible for the health and safety of its citizens, does not act upon this issue. I have a difficult time as an instructor trying to explain to them why this is so.

And each year that passes without action on climate change will only exacerbate the adverse effects and the costs required to deal with it.

In my class, students study the science of climate change and write a major paper explaining this science. This is at a university that has many departments and whole buildings dedicated to the scientific method and to science itself.

My students see that the president and many members of Congress are ignoring what an overwhelming number of scientists are telling us about rising global temperature, its causes and the dire consequences.

This is akin to totally disbelieving a weather report that predicts tomorrow’s extreme weather, whether it will be torrential rain with likely flooding, a tornado or a hurricane approaching the Gulf Coast.

There is probably not one person in this country, including the president, who does not believe that scientists can quite accurately predict tomorrow’s weather.

They know that without these weather forecasts, hundreds or thousands of people could die if they decided to ignore the forecast of an approaching hurricane.

Entire cities are ordered by their city or state governments to evacuate if there is a prediction of a hurricane approaching.

Why then would we ignore the forecasts of these same weather and climate scientists who use sophisticated measurements and data to warn us of the approaching dangers of climate change?

The Winter 2019 issue of Public Opinion Quarterly said that its “analyses of recent poll data show that Americans’ confidence in scientists has been high for roughly 40 years (relative to other institutions), and that it is high even for controversial topics such as global warming and nuclear energy.”

But in both the federal and many state governments there seems to be a war on science. In Wisconsin, under the Walker administration, the term “climate change” was scrubbed from all DNR publications. DNR personnel were warned not to use the term. Former Gov. Scott Walker purged the agency of many scientists and educators.

This war on science has been happening since the church persecuted Galileo in the early 1600s when he maintained that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of our solar system.

Now we are amazed at the ignorance of the church that silenced Galileo, then persecuted him for speaking out about his scientific findings — for speaking the truth.

During the current coronavirus pandemic, this war on science has been evident. The administration often disagrees with the recommendations for combating COVID-19 from world-renowned epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the administration tried to downplay the warning of many scientists, as well as the alarms from other countries that were in the midst of the spreading coronavirus. The government did little to prepare the country for the huge tidal wave of trouble that was approaching.

Who knows how many lives could have been saved if leaders in Washington would have effectively informed our citizens and mobilized the medical community to fight the pandemic.

Yes, climate change is an inconvenient truth, but it is the truth. Now, in the 21st century, we are making the same mistakes by disregarding science and scientists.

We would think, 400 years after Galileo, that we would have learned to trust science. Unfortunately, many in state and federal governments seem to be repeating those same mistakes.

A wise man once said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when grown men are afraid of the light.”

Richard Frost teaches Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.


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