Sorry Bernie, Science Doesn’t #FeelTheBern

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

A lot of Americans seem to be under the impression that there is something unique and (wonderfully) different about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Yet, other than the fact that he identifies as a socialist — in a world where capitalism brought one billion people out of poverty in just the last 20 years — his other views, particularly on science, are predictable and banal. Time and again, he has planted his flag firmly in the camp of the anti-scientific left.

Take his recent debate performance as an example. He stated:

“Today, the scientific community is virtually unanimous: climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and we have a moral responsibility to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy andleave this planet a habitable planet for our children and our grandchildren.” (Emphasis added.)

Actually, the scientific community does not believe that the habitabilty of the planet is in jeopardy. Not even the most extreme climate models predict that Earth will someday become uninhabitable to humans. It is this sort of careless, hyperbolic, and unscientific rhetoric — most often spouted by politicians — that has caused the climate science community a lot of heartburn.

Additionally, it should be noted that while human activity is largely responsible for climate change, the IPCC AR5, which is seen as the global consensus on climate change, is more measured in its conclusion. It writes (PDF, page 5): “More than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) from 1951 to 2010 is very likely due to the observed anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.” (By “very likely,” the IPCC means 90+% confident.) More than half is certainly a lot, but it also implies that a substantial proportion of climate change is due to other factors.

Mr. Sanders’ apocalyptic view of climate change makes his opposition to nuclear power particularly inexplicable. One would think that if climate change really is the “most significant planetary crisis that we face,” as Mr. Sanders once said, then the most efficient solution to that crisis should be warmly embraced. Instead, he rejects it because “we do not know how we get rid of the toxic waste from the [nuclear plants] that already exist.”

Wrong again. We do know what to do with nuclear waste: Store it in a stable, long-term facility, such as the one at Yucca Mountain. However, the Obama Administration, for purely political reasons, mothballed the project. (Instead, waste is being stored on-site at nuclear plants all over the country, an irresponsibly dangerous option.)

Mr. Sanders, predictably, endorses solar, wind, and geothermal as the answer to our “moral responsibility to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel,” despite research that suggests that nuclear power could replace fossil fuels in 25 years. Belief that renewable energy is the sole solution to the world’s energy demand is nothing more than magical thinking.

On GMOs, Mr. Sanders is yet again opposed to mainstream science policy. His endorsement of GMO food labels is in direct opposition to the policy stance of the American Medical Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Finally, Mr. Sanders, notwithstanding his lack of credentials, appears to enjoy playing the role of a medical doctor in public. In February, he said that rich people have “psychiatric issues” and are “addicted to money” in the same way as the “people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.” Setting aside the absurdity of his comment, it is discomforting to know that Mr. Sanders believes that people who oppose his policies suffer from mental illness.

Ironically, at the beginning of the year, the Vermont Senator told CBS News, “It is hard to do serious and important things if you reject science.”

On that point, we are in agreement. That is why Mr. Sanders will never reside in the White House.