America is a country that has historically been a leader in science. Our innovative and pioneering spirit pushed us to harness atomic energy, invent flight, and send men to the moon. Our technological achievements have helped make us the most powerful country in the world. However, over the last few years, our country has gone through an unprecedented denial of scientific reasoning.
We are no longer a country that looks to science to tackle our greatest challenges. We have grown to dismiss research that does not fit our worldview as unproven or unreliable. From vaccinations to genetically modified organisms, Americans have let their politics get in the way of sound science. But perhaps the most dangerous of all science denial has been that of climate change.
Scientists having been telling us for decades that immediate steps must be taken to curtail the burning of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophe. The research is sound and verifiable. But because we have lost our faith in and value of science, we have delayed critical action that should have been taken decades ago. Instead of bringing a wide variety of solutions to the table, we have let our politics paralyze us.
We weren’t always divided on this issue. For years the United States was a world leader in conservation. Members of all parts of the political spectrum have used science to create policies to protect our environment. Richard Nixon established the EPA and signed the original Clean Water and Air Acts. George H.W. Bush signed a cap-and-trade bill on sulfur emissions that protected us from acid rain. Ronald Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol that banned the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were depleting the ozone layer, which has since regenerated. And Teddy Roosevelt set aside millions of acres of the most pristine and beautiful land in the world to be saved forever. Each one of them used scientific research to take steps to protect the environment. They didn’t use their party affiliation to ignore the problem. Instead, they saw what the scientific data was telling them and took bold action.
This bold action is the type of action we desperately need now if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. This will only happen if Americans begin to value science and scientific research once again. We can then implement both conservative and liberal solutions that address the very real threat of a warming planet. We can give individual citizens energy independence while concurrently utilizing wind and solar power. We can introduce free market principles and competition to our energy sector and move away from a carbon-based economy. We can tackle this challenge together, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.
So on this Earth Day, I call citizens, no matter your background or political affiliation, to return to our roots as a scientifically literate society. I challenge us all to remember that science is not pushing an agenda but is about learning the truth based on verifiable and testable data. Hold our lawmakers accountable to find a solution to the scientifically verifiable problem of climate change. Do not accept justifications of ignorance, that they are not scientists and therefore cannot make scientific judgments, or let them cite flawed research. These excuses would be laughably feeble if the stakes weren’t so high.
Do this because all Americans want and deserve a clean, sustainable, and abundant Earth, with parks to hike in, land to hunt on, and air and water that is free of chemicals that could harm us. The only way we will solve the challenge of climate change is through a scientifically literate America that embraces research and values science as a guiding hand in our democracy.
This article was originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.