As fringe climate skepticism was being pushed into the cultural mainstream over the last few years, it left many environmentalists and scientists scratching their heads. How could this be happening? we wondered. So we protested, debunked, and screamed facts at the advancing cavalcade of lunacy. But like a cartoony snowball rolling downhill fast, it surely and inexorably gained momentum. That snowball has landed somewhere around here: The nation's most prominent conservative commentator is now denying not only climate change itself, but the mundane, uncontroversial tools that continue to inconveniently provide evidence that it is occurring.
Yes, last week, Rush Limbaugh launched into a bizarre rant about how the Heat Index was actually a government conspiracy -- he'll be the judge of what's hot, durnit -- and managed to get the meme picked up by Fox's meteorological team. The whole line of reasoning was so bizarre that Dave Letterman couldn't help but lampoon it on his show:
Letterman's spoof is pretty funny, but as usual, Limbaugh's influential ignorance isn't. As Brad Johnson notes over at TP Green, Limbaugh's statements aren't only idiotic; they're dangerous. Scientists have found that sickness and mortality rates rise whenever the index rises over 95. It's not just an arbitrary government bureaucracy -- it's a tool scientifically designed to promote public well-being.
And the fact that Limbaugh -- and a steadily growing posse of other pundits -- continues to cavalierly dispense with science is more alarming than ever. It reflects that the cottage industry of climate change denial has started something of a domino effect -- the impulse to prove that the planet isn't warming is so strong that anything associated with climate science is flagged as flawed as well by the influencers amongst this backwater arena.
Recognition and acceptance of scientific fact is becoming more of a selective practice, though this is hardly surprising for a nation that still embroiled in numerous statewide battles over whether evolution can be taught in school. Chris Mooney calls it "the Republican war on science", and I once considered it both a temporary setback and a bit hyperbolic. But it now has me more concerned than ever -- research funding is being gutted, environmental protections overturned, and science education scaled back.
If these trends continue, we'll indeed see the number of people who think like Limbaugh continue to rise -- folks whose faith in their own anecdotal experiences supersedes scientific fact. It's a disturbing time indeed.
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