John Boehner's War on Science

By Chris Mooney | April 19, 2009 3:38 pm

Through email channels, I just came upon this insane exchange between the current GOP House opposition leader and George Stephanopoulos from earlier today:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you then about energy. We showed your statement on the president’s decision through the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Also, you’ve come out against the president’s proposal to cap-and-trade carbon emissions.

So what is the Republican answer to climate change? Is it a problem? Do you have a plan to address it?

BOEHNER: George, we believe that our — all of the above energy strategy from last year continues to be the right approach on energy. That we ought to make sure that we have new sources of energy, green energy, but we need nuclear energy, we need other types of alternatives, and, yes, we need American-made oil and gas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that doesn’t do anything when it comes to emissions, sir.

BOEHNER: When it comes to the issue of climate change, George, it’s pretty clear that if we don’t work with other industrialized nations around the world, what’s going to happen is that we’re going to ship millions of American jobs overseas. We have to deal with this in a responsible way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is the responsible way? That’s my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?

BOEHNER: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide. And so I think it’s clear…

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don’t believe that greenhouse gases are a problem in creating climate change?

BOEHNER: … we’ve had climate change over the last 100 years — listen, it’s clear we’ve had change in our climate. The question is how much does man have to do with it, and what is the proper way to deal with this? We can’t do it alone as one nation. If we got India, China and other industrialized countries not working with us, all we’re going to do is ship millions of American jobs overseas.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it sounds like from what you’re saying that you don’t believe that Republicans need to come up with a plan to control carbon emissions? You’re suggesting it’s not that big of a problem, even though the scientific consensus is that it has contributed to the climate change.

BOEHNER: I think it is — I think it is an issue. The question is, what is the proper answer and the responsible answer?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what is the answer? That’s what I’m trying to get at.

BOEHNER: George, I think everyone in America is looking for the proper answer. We don’t want to raise taxes, $1.5 to $2 trillion like the administration is proposing, and we don’t want to ship millions of American jobs overseas. And so we’ve got to find ways to work toward this solution to this problem without risking the future for our kids and grandkids.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you are committed to coming up with a plan?

BOEHNER: I think you’ll see a plan from us. Just like you’ve seen a plan from us on the stimulus bill and a better plan on the budget.

So: First Boehner ignores the real issue; then, when forced to answer Stephanopoulos’s question, he totally bombs on the science: “George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.” Um, carcinogen? Cows producing carbon dioxide when they “do what they do”? You can’t make this stuff up–it can only emerge from a state of deep, deep confusion.

Boehner’s flubs–confusing carbon dioxide with carcinogens and with methane–make you wonder whether the guy even knows what global warming is. Can somebody get him a science adviser? Any graduate student will do–in any field, honestly.

I’ve been sounding off less and less lately about GOP abuses against science, as Republicans are no longer in power…but here Boehner is reminding me a lot of Tom DeLay. And isn’t he also an anti-evolutionist?

Comments (22)

  1. MadScientist

    It sounds like a typical politician to me, possibly standing up for special interests that are of special interest in his reelection campaign. Then again when I look around the world, most people are resistant to change; if we let most people have their way we’d still be living in caves. So this could simply be the case of your typical uneducated ego who thinks that the status quo is just fine – we’ve always done things this way, how dare you tell me it’s wrong?

  2. Karen

    “Can somebody get him a science adviser? Any graduate student will do–in any field, honestly.”

    A third-year undergrad in any science field would do just fine, though they might not have the patience for the job.

  3. Jon Winsor

    On a positive note, I noticed Michael Gerson mentioned his support for cap and trade on the PBS News Hour Friday. Not sure if this is new, but new to me…

  4. Eric the Leaf

    Well, MadScientist, there’s a lot to be said for living in “caves” and a lot ink has spilled about the nature of “progress.” For example, it can be argued that that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was the most successful adaptation in the history of the species and that the jury is still out on the rise plant and animal domestication, sedentary village life, and the rise of the state. But, well, those arguments aside . . .

    One problem you mention is that “most people are resistant to change.” I might reframe the argument. Most people don’t expect too much change during their lifetimes. Not technology so much, but basic patterns of enculturation, food production and acquisition, living arrangements, infrastructure, and the institutions that support them. In many ways predictability is good and that is the way each generation is socialized. If each generation had to fundamentally reinvent itself, the continuity of society would not be assured.

    Now, combine that with the equally dominant belief in “growth,” essentially the secular religion of our time. That works fine as long as the world is infinite or the environment we rely upon for support is not fouled.

    Once you suggest that the continuity of life is threatened, that growth might not be possible, and time-tested modes of transferring culture might be disrupted, then you have a powerful psychological dynamic. People will cling, in some sense understandably, to any philosophy, misguided or not, that might cast doubt on that verdict. Is that just irrationality? Is that just being scientifically illiterate? Yeah, well, perhaps. But I don’t think that the context for human behavior and change can be drawn that simplistically.

  5. The only thing he is right is about nuclear energy, and I doubt it’s because of the right reasons.

  6. Actually it’s oxygen that is one of the biggest carcinogens around, much more pernicious than CO2

  7. NewEnglandBob

    RepubliCANTS like Boehner don’t want to have to think or be logical or consistent. All they want is for the go’mint to take care of the real ‘mericans like CEOs and fundaMENTALists.

  8. MadScientist

    @Eric The Leaf:

    Caves are fine if they don’t get damp inside, you have screens on to shut out the bugs and vermin, doors to keep out the wind, fiber-optic lighting, plumbing, toilets and showers, electricity, and of course computers. I’d also like to be not too far from a hospital – cave hospitals are fine too and the military have built a few over the years (well, tunnels rather than caves), but overall I wouldn’t pine for the good ol’ caveman days. Imagine how horrible the caveman days would be – the creationists would always be telling you to look out for the dinosaurs because they’ll eat you and if you point out that no one’s ever seen a live dinosaur they’ll make up some story to go on believing that dinosaurs were still alive anyway.

  9. angela

    Wow. I’m a grad student in education (college admin), but I am far more science literate than this bozo!

  10. Most politicians get the science wrong. They can’t be bothered to know anything more than the sound bites they’ve been fed. At least he isn’t trying to tell us that there is no climate change.

    Still, his economic concerns are valid (if badly expressed).

  11. james wheaton

    I believe the GOP’s denial of AGW is perhaps the centerpiece of its war with the Obama administration. It is a dangerous game – the GOP still has political power to at least be a boat anchor as precious time slips away. A majority of GOP congressmen are of this bent. I indeed hope the EPA has the teeth to force action.

    Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary action.

    Eric – a very intuitive post. However I think good old fashioned right wing protestant religion is a big driver in regards to the ‘think” people like Boehner display.

  12. Michael

    Boehner’s ignorance is typical of politicians of all parties. Sad, but inevitable in our strange political system.

    The CO2 issue is an important one, however. The EPA is acting in a completely political way, and not in the least in a scientific way. CO2 is absolutely essential for plant life on earth, and to label it a pollutant is just plain insanity. You might make the argument [global warming] that too much CO2 is bad for humans and other fauna, but to add it to a list of dangerous pollutants is just wacky.

  13. Larry Esser

    Where did “carcinogen” come from? Is Boehner paying attention? The right wing is in powerful denial (and a state of ignorance) on climate change, just as it is with gay civil rights and women’s rights. It is interesting that pols such as James Inhofe (Senate, R-Oklahoma) who are viciously anti-gay are also the loudest deniers of climate change. They are really frightened of a loss of control over nature and society , a “control” that exists only in their minds. That is why they react like cornered animals instead of thoughtful adults. As fewer and fewer people listen to them, the louder they get.

  14. patrick

    his last name is Boehner. uhhhuhuhuhhuhuhuh…..

  15. doug

    Look at the bright side: if the Republican alternative for dealing with climate change is anything like their alternative budget, it’s going to be HILARIOUS.

  16. Tom

    Politicians, not science, have concluded AGW is man-made.

    Rather than contest carbon-dioxide as the culprit, consider this: The composition of the air we breathe is: 78.084% Nitrogen, 20.9476% Oxygen, 0.0314% Carbon Dioxide, 0.0002% Methane, (the total thus far equals 99.0632%) plus various other elements which total 100% (note: measurement of dry air, percent by volume, at sea level at 15 degree C).

    Considering the preceding data, how do we conclude limiting the output of an element representing 3 one hundreds of 1% will arrest climate change, or improve it?

    If you believe the computer-models used to forecast future temperatures, sea levels changes, et al, are accurate, you are indeed the fool Abraham Lincoln spoke of when he said: “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

    PS: we can’t even get an accurate 5 day weather forecast using the most powerful computer models available today! How are we to venture an accurate guess on the climate of next century?

  17. Jon Winsor

    “The composition of the air we breathe is…”

    We already dealt with this before, Tom. Are you the same troll that was here several days ago who asked the exact same question?

    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2006/03/natural-emissions-dwarf-humans.php

    As for “Politicians, not science, have concluded AGW is man-made.”

    The authors of all these studies would beg to differ: http://tinyurl.com/heatisonline

    None of them have anything to do with models, by the way.

    And all of these scientific organizations would beg to differ as well:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change

  18. I had to share this with you – a real reponse to a homework assignment about air pollution:
    “What evidence exists to prove that Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant? Carbon Dioxide is no more associated with “global warming” (hoax) than is water vapor.”

    To which I said, ” I understand that you may not agree with the textbook. However, you are to use the textbook as the reference for your assignments. Grades will be issued
    based on your ability to read, understand, and write about the information in the textbook.”

    Got a better suggestion?

  19. Don’t leave out the Democrats. Waxmen is setting a new record and he’s in charge of the pushing the democrat climate policy.

    http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2009/04/26/what-if-bush-had-said-it/

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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