Phil Plait’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

This article was originally published on RealClearScience.

The Apocalypse is here.

Science writer Phil Plait’s worst nightmare came true. The Republicans won control of the U.S. Senate. What can we expect to happen? In Plait’s words, the Republicans will “put a cohort of science-deniers [sic] into positions of authority,” which “quite literally affects the future of humanity.” Why? Because, now, the United States will no longer be able to address climate change, “the single greatest threat we as a species face today.”

In other words, this:

When it comes to climate change, this type of fearmongering is sadly common among science writers. Political silly season turns otherwise objective science analysts into obnoxious partisan cranks. Because so many people believe the sort of outrageous claims Plait has made, they need to be addressed.

“This previous Congress will go down in history as the least effective ever…”

As cathartic as it is to name everything you hate as the “worst ever,” it makes for very poor analysis. For instance, the worst president in U.S. history is not George W. Bush or Barack Obama, but probably a tie between Franklin Pierce (the drunk), Warren Harding (who ran a very corrupt administration), and James Buchanan (who failed to prevent the Civil War). Any randomly selected Congress from the 1850s could probably be described as the “least effective ever.”

“Ted Cruz, R-Texas, could be chairman of the committee on science and space…”

Unlikely. Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell, the presumptive majority leader, do not like each other. Besides, the current ranking member of the committee is John Thune, which means he is far more likely to receive the gavel.

“Ask Californians suffering from one of the worst droughts in history how they feel about ‘long-lasting changes in the climate’…”

Any one weather or climate event cannot be linked definitively to climate change. The LA Timesrecently reported that there is “no clear link” between global warming and the drought its state is experiencing. Besides, the Southwest has experienced a lot of long droughts in its history. As unsettling as this might be, megadroughts may be normal for the region. Yes, climate change can worsen extreme events or make them more likely, but that is the most that can be said. As a scientist, Plait knows that. However, logic and science go out the window when politics is involved.

“Do we finally take action about the single greatest threat we as a species face today?”

This question is so backwards and full of incorrect assumptions, it’s not even wrong.

In the 111th Congress, the Democrats had a 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and a large majority in the House. If the Democrats really wanted to do it, they could have passed climate change legislation. But, they did not. Instead, they did absolutely nothing. The House passed a cap-and-trade bill, 219-212, which then died in the Senate. Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, did not even call a vote on the bill.

Why is Phil Plait blaming Republicans, but not Democrats? Well, you can answer that question.

It should also be noted that American carbon emissions have fallen dramatically. There are avariety of reasons for this, but one of the big ones is the growing adoption of natural gas made possible by fracking — a technology that Democrats and their environmentalist allies oppose. In fact, the U.S. is well on its way toward meeting the goals laid out by the Kyoto Protocol, even though we never ratified the treaty.

Finally, his assertion that climate change is the “single greatest threat we as a species face today” is absurd. RealClearScience believes the evidence for disruptive climate change is convincing, but the evidence for apocalyptic climate change is lacking. Besides, even if apocalyptic climate change is real, it would not pose an existential threat to the human species. That award still goes to nuclear war. Furthermore, poverty, infectious disease, malnutrition, and lack of access to electricity and health care are all far bigger threats than climate change.

Regardless of your political affiliation, you can rest assured that a GOP-controlled Senate will not cause the Earth to explode in an apocalyptic fireball. Unfortunately, the Bad Astronomer will likely continue to blow hot air.