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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Awesome must read by Barry Bickmore, Republican geoscientist: I. WILL. NEVER. VOTE. FOR. A. CONSPIRACY. THEORIST. [Rick Santorum]. "I encourage like-minded Republicans to show up to the primaries and Just Say No to Conspiracy Theorists."

by Barry Bickmore, "Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah" blog, February 23, 2012

Now that Rick Santorum has overtaken Mitt Romney in the polls, I have to start asking myself whether I could vote for Santorum if he wins the nomination.  What is a Republican scientist to do?

Politically, I think I am probably somewhere around the center of the Republican party on most issues, but unfortunately, this hasn’t been a good couple of years for “moderate” Republicans.  This is certainly the case for Mitt Romney, at the moment.  Oh, I know he is presently on the stump preaching about how conservative he is, but the fact is that he doesn’t have the most conservative of records.  Another relevant fact is that he is a Mormon, so Romney does significantly worse in localities that have a higher percentage of Evangelicals, who often call the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a “non-Christian cult.”  All of this makes him a tough pill to swallow for the “Tea Party” wing of the party,  which is dominated by ideological purists and Evangelical Christians.

Santorum doesn’t have the most conservative record on some issues, either, but he has consistently been on the extreme right with respect to social issues.  He’s also a Roman Catholic, and Catholics generally aren’t viewed as unfavorably as Mormons by most Evangelicals, in my experience.

And then there’s the issue of climate change.

While Romney once backed emissions caps, he has now at least become more wishy-washy in his public statements about the issue.  That is, while he once said that he “believed” humans were causing some of the global warming we’re seeing, he now says he “doesn’t know” what is causing it.  While he once said that we should try to limit emissions, he now says it’s not the right time to be spending “trillions of dollars” on it.  He sounds different, but in fact he hasn’t really contradicted anything he said previously.  Maybe he still “believes” humans are causing global warming, but doesn’t “know” it, and “believes” that we ought to do something about the issue, but has in mind a price tag in the “billions of dollars” range.  I have no idea, but I can imagine Romney’s updated language still sounds a bit suspicious to Tea Party activists, who overwhelmingly reject the evidence that humans are causing significant climate change.

Santorum has never had a moment’s doubt about climate change, however.  According to Politico, Santorum recently claimed that global warming is a “hoax.”

Now, to some extent I can understand the belief that “the science of man-made global warming” is too uncertain, because there’s always uncertainty involved with any scientific theory.  And the fact is that a few years ago I thought the uncertainty was too much for any drastic action, as well.  My problem is that I’m a geoscientist with areas of expertise that overlap quite a bit with those of many climate scientists.  When I decided to study climate change in depth, I fairly quickly found that even given all the uncertainty, there’s only a miniscule chance that human-caused climate change is such a minor problem that we don’t have to worry about cutting our emissions.  When I looked into charges that climate scientists were guilty of conspiracy, I found the scientists’ critics had taken their words badly out of context, and the conspiracy would have had to be so vast as to be utterly impossible to sustain.

I’ll be blunt.  The climate change conspiracy theories aren’t just untenable–they’re idiotic.

Now, I’m really not that picky about the political candidates I vote for.  As long as they seem to mostly align with my policy views, and to generally be reasonable people who have some kind of moral compass, I don’t have a problem voting for them.  But that part about being “reasonable” is a sticking point, here, because I don’t consider people to be reasonable who believe and promote wacko conspiracy theories.

Lately, conspiracy theories seem to have gained a lot of traction on my side of the political fence. Back in 2010, one poll showed that 46% of Republicans believed Barack Obama was a Muslim, and last year a poll of likely Republican primary voters showed that 51% were “birthers.”  So what is someone like me supposed to do, when people like these are picking the Republican candidates?  The ultra-right keeps telling me that nominating a moderate Republican like Romney is a recipe for failure, because there won’t be enough of a “contrast” with Obama, and such a candidate wouldn’t be able to “mobilize the base.”  Even if they’re right, if Santorum is nominated I will be faced with a choice between (1) a guy who seems fairly reasonable, but disagrees with most of my policy preferences, and (2) a guy who agrees with most of my policy preferences, but is a conspiracy theorist.

If the ultra-right wing wants to draw a line in the sand and tell us that “the base” won’t show up to vote for a moderate Republican, all I can do is counter with my own line in the sand.


I just can’t make myself do it.  I can’t put someone like that in charge of the most powerful military force on the planet–no matter what a second term for Obama might mean for the economy or the make-up of the Supreme Court.  This is where my loyalty to the Republican team ends.  I encourage like-minded Republicans to show up to the primaries and Just Say No to Conspiracy Theorists.

If you’d like to read more about the frustrations of Republican scientists about their party’s stance on climate change, see “GOP Not Listening to Its Own Scientists on Climate Change” by Katherine Bagley at InsideClimate News.

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