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Greenhouse Bananas--Laugh or Cry?
in the news: Steve Mirsky's usually light-hearted "Anti-Gravity" column in the February issue of Scientific American--entitled Greenhouse Bananas--takes on Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, young earth creationist Ray Comfort and their worldviews. In the process it gets into the debates over global warming, homosexuality, and evolution.
commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org):
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry as I read this. Certainly the gulf between the worldviews of people like Inhofe and Comfort and those who write for Scientific American is depressingly large. So what, you ask? I suppose it doesn't matter--unless you're frustrated by the inability of often highly polarized democratic institutions like the US Senate or a local school board to act on matters of public concern: global climate/energy concerns, science textbook selection, etc. As I look over the list below I've put together (based on a worldview theme analysis), I'm wondering what common ground exists between these science and non-science camps? (I use these terms, following the "Non-Science Smear Campaigns" subtitle of the online version of the above column.) I don't doubt that both sides hold their beliefs with great conviction and sincerity. I don't doubt that some of the gulf can be attributed to different religious perspectives and education (or lack of it.) I suspect some of the scientific illiteracy so widespread among the American public (even the supposedly well-educated!) can be traced to intellectual comfort: people are uncomfortable considering concepts or issues possessing more than a certain level of complexity. Many, rightly or wrongly, put nearly all math and science concepts into that category.
While I have been known to delve into--even find delight-- in such complexity, I also like the KISS philosophy ("keep it simple, stupid!"). Every spring when I'm doing my income tax return, I long for simpler tax code laws. In the last year, I've been especially depressed by the complexity of legislation proposed to reform the USA health care system and address global climate/energy concerns. In response to these latter concerns, last summer the House passed a bill built around "cap and trade" schemes for limiting carbon dioxide emissions which is 1250 pages long! Not surprisingly, on his website, Senator Inhofe, who has called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public" blasts it. The senator's biography one finds there describes his "common sense, conservative Oklahoma values" and portrays him as "a strong advocate for the principles of limited government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility...[who] believes that the federal government works best when it returns dollars, decisions, and freedom to our local communities and families."
Recently two of Senator Inhofe's colleagues, Democrat Maria Cantwell and Republican Susan Collins, have introduced a "cap and refund" alternative to the House bill. According to a The Washington Post editorial ("Senate offers some hope for legislation to combat climate change" The Washington Post, Feb 10 2010)--the bill--The Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) Act--"would cap the amount of carbon the United States produces and sell pollution permits to those who produce or import dirty fuels. Suppliers would pass these costs to customers, which would discourage carbon-guzzling. It would also raise costs, of course, but the government would rebate 75 percent of the revenue from the permit auctions back to the populace...Ms. Cantwell and Ms. Collins estimate that 80 percent of Americans would break even or come out ahead, even as consumption patterns shifted toward greener goods and greater energy efficiency." I am especially intrigued by the inherent simplicity of their approach--and by their bill's length: its complete text is a mere 39 pages! While I'll be amazed if Senator Inhofe, who sits on the key Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, supports it, I see it as a compromise designed to appeal to those Americans who value simplicity, honesty (see "A Refreshing Dose of Honesty" The Economist Feb 4 2010), common sense, and some of the things Inhofe does.
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