One of the most striking characteristics of the last American presidential election was the amount of fact-baseless claims politicians have made. Candidates simply made statements about climate change, whether or not it was true -without deeming to source their information at all. The man who perpetrated this most of all? America’s newest President: Donald Trump. Since taking office, he has instituted a number of policies that seem to bring America closer towards an industrialisation-era style of deregulation and lack of any thought given towards the environment.
Whether or not you voted for him, it brings about an interesting question. Why would the public vote for a man who routinely claimed that scientists had political bias? What does this say about how much the public trusts science?And, what does that have to do with climate change policy?
The Pew Research Centre asked both scientists and other respondents last year about their opinions on different topics. For example, while 88 percent of scientists say that genetically modified foods (GMOs) are safe to eat, 37 percent of American adults agree with them. That’s a huge 51 point gap between the two. Even worse is that once the respondents are broken down between Republican and Democrats, in 2014, Pew found that 42 percent of Republican voters view scientists as liberal - not independent.
That is a problem - because climate change policy is rooted in how scientists view what is happening on the planet today and where it will go in the future. Listening to scientists brought President Obama and the majority of other world countries to sign the Paris Climate Agreement, something that President Trump has already withdrawn from. He withdrew from this agreement because politically - it was the right choice to stand with his constituents, even if scientists in both his administration and outside stress the urgent need for global change.
Much of public distrust can be rooted in the fact that scientists are grouped with the “elite,” where Republicans often place much of their disagreements and problems. Further, in the past years, there have been many instances where false positives have gained national or international traction before being retracted. For every one study telling one result, there is another that boldly claims the opposite. What is published online does not include research methodology or the statistical significance of their findings.
Climate change policy, in the simplest form, is political solutions for climate related problems. It can also be called environmental policy and it should rely on facts rather than short-term political gain. How we can fix this has to do with regaining the public trust in science. That means better research, higher standards of statistical significance, more transparency, and learning how to talk about science in a way that is easy for everyone to understand. Public trust in science might be at a low right now - but creating good climate change policy relies on it being much higher. Where will scientists take the first step?
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