Is Kucinich politicizing science?
Last week, Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced to the Congressional record a Resolution of Inquiry (H. Res. 515), cosigned by around 150 House Democrats, "demanding that the White House submit to Congress all documents in their possession relating to the anticipated effects of climate change on the coastal regions of the United States." (Press release; PDF of the resolution.)
The idea, according to InsideEPA.com (as quoted by Roger Pielke Jr. — I don’t have the required subscription), is to put pressure on moderate Republicans, who are increasingly coming around on the climate-change issue.
Observers say the ROI will present House Science Committee Chairman SHERWOOD BOEHLERT (R-NY), Rep. VERNON EHLERS (R-MI) and Rep. WAYNE GILCHREST (R-MD) with a critical choice between siding with their party in deflecting attention from the president’s climate policies and their environmental records, which have won them praise and endorsements from environmental groups. Their decisions on the matter may prove crucial during their 2006 primaries, where at least one is expected to face a tough fight against a more conservative GOP candidate.
What to make of this?
On a substantive level, as Pielke says, it’s a little silly. The scientific evidence on the link between climate change and hurricanes, such as it is, is on public record. It’s not like the Bush administration has some super-secret science in its back pocket. Also, of the many federal policies that might mitigate hurricane damage, energy policy intended to reduce greenhouse gases is about the slowest, weakest, and most speculative. There are good reasons to reduce GHG emissions, and good reasons to try to mitigate hurricane damage, but the two are not particularly connected.
On a political level, however, it’s fairly clever. The climate-change issue represents a small but growing crack in the GOP coalition. The less ideological righties are starting to come around, but their hardcore brethren aren’t coming with them. A move like this, intended to force them to put up or shut up, is a win-win for Dems — either moderate Republicans go public with their concern over global warming and start an internecine battle, or they capitulate and lose their centrist credibility with voters.
Now, Pielke thinks this is politicization of science on par with Barton’s notorious letter to climate scientists, and expects all the same people to either protest or be revealed as hypocrites. I know trying to out hypocrites is the premiere blogging sport, but I’m not sure the cases are really parallel. Kucinich is attempting to force the administration to acknowledge and discuss legitimate peer-reviewed science. Barton was trying to intimidate and silence authors of legitimate peer-reviewed science.
It may be true that the science does not argue in favor of Kucinich’s preferred policies. If that’s true, the administration can turn over the requested documents and make that argument. It’s a policy discussion that needs to happen.
Barton, on the other hand, clearly decided the science argues against his preferred policies, and so tried to suppress the science.
I don’t mind policy-makers using science as a weapon in policy debates — it’s always happened, and always will. The misuse of science arises in distorting, suppressing, or outright denying science’s best conclusions. Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but it seems like to me a distinction that makes a difference.