As depicted in the painting above by Italian painter Cristiano Banti, Galileo once stood in front of inquisition judges with the possibility of facing the penalty of death for his heretical views: the Earth revolved around the Sun. Although it was the Polish astronomer Nikolaus Copernicus who first proposed the idea, it was Galileo who valiantly tried to push for its acceptance. Discoveries through his crude telescope all but confirmed Copernicus’ theory; we have come a long way since then. Yet, despite the fact that scientists have made great strides in scientific discoveries, we are at a point in history that does not differ too much from Galileo’s time. Unlike Galileo’s era, however, the welfare of our planet and its people is incumbent upon the acceptance of the scientific consensus.
Not many Americans doubt NASA’s declarations about space. We generally accept the existence of extrasolar planets, that the Earth does indeed revolve around the Sun and that our galaxy is but one of billions. Regardless, many Americans will scoff at NASA’s impassioned pleas to consider and act upon the threat of global climate change. They have even set up a convenient website that aggregates decades of climate change studies from more than 6,000 meteorological stations across the world. Climate change is but one of the many victims of doubt. From the health benefits of water fluoridation to the acceptance of life-saving vaccines to GMOs, many people choose to ignore decades-worth of research in lieu of listening to a handful of detractors.
The scientific consensus argues that this rapid change in climate is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels. The evidence is all there, from the melting of the polar ice caps to the slow destruction of the Great Barrier Reef due to ever-increasing ocean acidity to catastrophic weather phenomena. However, studies show that many Americans form their opinions on climate change from their politicians rather than from their scientists. Not to mention, in the developed world, this seems to be a greater issue in the United States than any other nation. This proves to be a problem when trying to tackle an issue that globally affects everyone. Already the poorest of nations struggle with the consequences. How much longer will we wait to act more aggressively to combat this problem?
This past week, China announced that they will be investing 2.5 trillion yuan (roughly $361 billion) in alternative energy sources. Their aim is to replace half their energy sources, currently dominated by coal and other fossil fuels, with wind, hydro, solar and nuclear power by 2020. France has already been leading the world in nuclear energy, with nuclear fission accounting for 75 percent of their electricity. Last year, Portugal ran their entire nation on renewable energy sources for four days straight. Nations are making great strides in combating climate change. Regrettably, the same cannot be said about the US. While we are making strides, such as the city of Las Vegas running almost completely on renewable energy, it is certainly not enough.
Not many Americans doubt NASA’s declarations about space.
American scientists, such as those at NASA, would find much in common with Galileo. A quick look at Galileo’s story reveals a war not of religion against science, but one about science and politics. In Galileo’s time, the Catholic church was a powerful political entity struggling to keep a hold of its influence in the face of the Reformation. Incidentally, Galileo was caught in a whirlwind of political paranoia. His declaration of scientific fact challenged the Church’s authority and influence. Consequently, this put him in a difficult position between promoting scientific fact and preserving his life. In the end, he was forced to retract his statements and copies of his work were confiscated en masse.
In our modern era, the evidence of climate change by the burning of fossil fuels seeks to undermine the influence and profits of many corporations. The most powerful of these have special interest groups lobbying in the government to reduce the restrictions imposed by the EPA. There is a problem when profit trumps the very future of our planet. One could argue that many scientists aim to seek out truth and provide solutions to problems while corporations and their special interest groups seek only to increase their profits at the expense of the environment.
For the nation to move forward to counteract global climate change we need politicians who make decisions based off of the scientific consensus. Unfortunately, the newly inaugurated president and his team seem to be the sort of people who put their interests ahead, and willingly deny scientific fact. The future head of the EPA is a man who once sought to destroy it. He also asked staunch anti-vaccine propagandist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to head a commission on vaccine safety and its link to autism (never mind the fact that the link between autism and vaccines has been very thoroughly debunked at this point). President Trump also aims to shut down NASA’s climate research division to crackdown on “politicized science”.
However, not all hope is lost. We, the people, are the voice and the power behind the government. We can continually reach out to our congressmen and senators and voice our concerns to propel climate change legislation. The EPA has put together resources on how we as individuals can help combat climate change. We also need to increase scientific literacy and continue to seek to further educate those who may not understand the dangerous implications of global climate change. There is also the ever increasing need to promote scientific fact and to challenge special interest groups bent on silencing it.
We need to act. Unlike Galileo’s discoveries, global climate change is a pressing issue that we need to address sooner rather than later. The state of this planet, the only one we have, and its future generations rely upon us acting now. The scientific consensus seeks only to help rather than to lead astray.