In 1988 the scientific community established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a forum for sharing their concerns about documented €“ and disturbing – changes in global weather patterns. By 1997 the evidence of climate change was so convincing that 191 nations signed the Kyoto Protocols, aimed at slowing the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Fast forward to 2012. NASA has produced clear evidence that atmospheric CO2 levels are higher than they’ve been in 400,000 years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency in charge of the National Weather Service, states that there is no longer any doubt that human activity is changing the chemical characteristics of the Earth’s atmosphere. The national science academies of the world’s leading economies, including the U.S., Germany, Russia, and China, have declared that climate change is real and urged their governments to take immediate, aggressive action.

And then there’s Rick Santorum.

Along the campaign trail in Colorado, Ohio, and Michigan Santorum has declared climate change to be a hoax cooked up by the Obama administration to scare people about oil exploration. Spending less money on oil exploration means more money for the federal government, Santorum said, which means more government control over peoples’ lives.

He doesn’t explain how the government would make money by allowing less oil exploration, or how any of that would equate to more control over peoples’ lives. Nor is it important that concerns about global warming began long before Obama entered politics, or that America’s most prestigious scientific institutions are urging immediate action to reduce carbon emissions. Somehow it’s all connected, and in the alternative reality of Tea Party politics, the more elaborate and mysterious the conspiracy, the more plausible it becomes.

Romney and Gingrich have also questioned climate change, but it’s clear they are just pandering to conservative audiences. Both have acknowledged the problem during their political careers and will likely do so again when the primaries are over. And neither man has accused the country’s scientific establishment of being involved in a vast conspiracy to deprive the American people of their freedom.

Not Rick Santorum. His strident rejection of any scientific evidence that conflicts with his religious or social views has helped make him the new champion of the far right, which is why he is surging in the polls. But if he wins the nomination based on his anti-science agenda, he’ll be in no position to back down during the presidential campaign.

Intellectual curiosity is not a quality that American voters prize in their leaders, as the election of George Bush clearly demonstrated. But they do expect them to respect and support America’s scientific establishment, not label them as political enemies. Questioning the severity and timing of climate change is one thing; but where’s Santorum’s evidence that it’s a hoax?

Right now, Santorum is preaching to the Tea Party choir, and they’re cheering him on. But in a presidential campaign, the national media won’t be so kind. Republicans should be deeply concerned.

 

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