June 16, 2016 3:36 pm

Moving Past Politics in Discussing Climate Change

Image depicting the DSCOVR mission to monitor Earth's energy balance, courtesy of NOAA.

The DSCOVR mission, courtesy of NOAA.

On this Friday’s podcast, in-studio guest NY Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin says that at the start of the 21st Century, global warming became a “political badge,” joining the ranks of such hot-button issues as abortion and gun rights.

But here at StarTalk, we try and treat the subject the way we try to treat everything else. To paraphrase Sgt. Joe Friday on Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.”* Or as our host Neil deGrasse Tyson says, it becomes a problem when “people see politics more than the facts.”

So what are we doing interviewing environmental activist and former Vice President Al Gore in an episode about climate change and clean energy? Well, the same way we interviewed former President Jimmy Carter about his efforts to eradicate the Guinea Worm, or former President Bill Clinton about the science-oriented programs that happened on his watch (Human Genome Project, Hubble repair missions, increased funding for the NSF, DOE and NIH), we believe that we can have an honest discussion of facts with people who have a high level of expertise about the issue, without politics hijacking the discussion. In Al Gore’s case, as Vice President he proposed the Earth monitoring satellite that was finally launched in 2015 as DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory), as well as, of course, his efforts to educate the world about global warming documented in An Inconvenient Truth.

Of course, not everyone will agree with that statement, and you have to be the ultimate judge for yourself if we succeed in our goal. And, while we believe that we are not taking one side of the aisle or the other, we certainly do discuss the politicization of the subjects addressed in all the shows I’ve referenced.

That’s how murky these waters have become. If you describe a scientifically indefensible point of view that frequently belongs to members of one political party, it seems almost inevitable that people who believe that will think that you are getting political, rather than seeing that you are just addressing the science that applies.

Wow. Even just writing that statement was like jumping through hoops while holding a tray filled with lit candles and cats.

I guess all I’m saying is that here at StarTalk we hope that you will listen to this week’s podcast in the spirit it is intended: to foster a scientifically informed and literate discussion of two of the most important issues we, as citizens of the planet Earth, all face: climate change and the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner, alternative sources of energy.

And heck, even Andrew Revkin and Al Gore don’t agree on some of what’s discussed on the show: hardly a monolithic adherence to a party platform, given where some people would locate them on the political spectrum.

As always, we ask is that you do tune in this Friday and decide for yourself. Join us for Climate Change and the Future, with Al Gore, with Host Neil deGrasse Tyson, guests former Vice President Al Gore, journalist Andrew Revkin and comic co-host Maeve Higgins, this Friday at 7pm EDT on iTunes Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play Music and right here on the StarTalk Radio website.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons

*According to the fact-checking and urban legend debunking website Snopes, Jack Webb never actually said the ubiquitously quoted “Just the facts, ma’am” in the show, though he frequently said, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

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