The venerable publication Scientific American has thrust itself into the Op Ed section by giving the first political endorsement in its 175-year history in its October 2020 edition. We will pause for 1/100th of a second to let you guess. Yup. Joe Biden, because Donald Trump “rejects evidence and science”. Now let us state, in the name of fairness, that Donald Trump frequently makes statements that reject evidence, logic and decency, like linking Ted Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination. But there are ways and means for a society to deal with political dysfunctions. Having scientific publications join the partisan fray is not among them; rather than elevating politics it debases science. Although based on its stance on climate change, SA has in fact only confirmed what everybody already knew.
Indeed, in late August it ran a piece “What Climate Change Does to the Human Body” by an ENT physician blaming climate change for wildfires plus “flooding, torrential rainstorms and heat-related deaths. In fact, the climate crisis has led to a widespread public health crisis.” And yes, ENT stands for “Ear, Nose and Throat” so she is an expert on flooding. And she went on to write that “July 2019 was the hottest July on record; September 2019 was the hottest on record; January 2020 was the hottest on record; May 2020 was the hottest on record. This is not a coincidence. It is a pattern. Carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, has increased by 9 percent since 2005 and by 31 percent since 1950. A U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report pointed out that the world has already warmed about one degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels.” But hang on.
If she believes the IPCC, there’s been a total of one degree of warming from pre-industrial times, some but not all of it natural. And already we’re in flames? Oh yes: “a two-degree increase will lead to unprecedented extreme heat, water scarcity and food shortages around the globe.” Not another two. Another one making two in total. (Mind you, it’s odd that we are told elsewhere that replacing the world’s two billion air conditioning units with “panels containing insulated capillaries full of chilled water enclosed in a polyethylene membrane… could cut hydrofluorocarbon use, and thus avoid an additional 1C of warming.” A huge crisis we can solve with little more than a wave of our hand; heroism without sweat.)
Speaking of flooding, our ENT alarmist says even our nasal passages are at risk because “Across the country, the health concerns of the climate crisis are increasingly being recognized, pushing thousands of medical providers—doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, medical students—to become advocates for change. In my own practice, I explain to patients how the climate crisis affects their health. For example, apart from contributing to global warming, rising carbon dioxide levels increase the amount of pollen that plants produce as a consequence of higher rates of photosynthesis. This rise in pollen levels can lead to worsening allergy symptoms. Another example is fine particulate matter (known as PM2.5) associated with air pollution, much of it linked to the burning of fossil fuels that help drive the warming.”
Stop right there. The debate over PM2.5 has two sides. But neither of them, until now, claimed it was an effect of warming even if it did come from burning fossil fuels. Of course the fringes of the climate debate are full of people thinking it did everything including clog the kitchen sink or create “pingo” craters in Siberia that we’ve known about since at least 1825. But in Scientific American? Really?
Alas yes. This piece isn’t evidence-based. It’s hysterical. Including that business about food shortages when, as we’ve noted before, the world is looking at record grain harvests including in India, with individual records for corn, wheat and soybeans despite, or perhaps due to, that gentle warming and greater availability of CO2. And the IPCC doesn’t actually predict mass famine. Ahem, doc. We’re having trouble swallowing… your piece.
We won’t quote any more of it partly because you can fill it in for yourself; it is as unoriginal as it is unscientific. But once SA gives full throated cry to such stuff, it might as well endorse Biden as well. As it did, and not just over climate and scientific evidence. Its indictment of Trump from the point of view of sober apolitical science including that “He has repeatedly tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act while offering no alternative; comprehensive medical insurance is essential to reduce illness” and his “withdrawing from the World Health Organization” whereas Biden’s merits include “increased salaries for child care workers”. Where’s that on the periodic table?
Of course if Biden now says something goofy about science, along the lines of “deadly signs like these [western US wildfires] are unmistakeable - climate change poses an imminent, existential threat to our way of life,” expect the editors of venerable Scientific American to … ignore it. Partisanship is like that.