While I have been distressed frequently by the news over the last four years, nothing has angered me more than learning that Dr. Anthony Fauci and his family have received death threats and must have bodyguards. How can this happen? How can anyone sink to such a low level to make such threats? Dr. Fauci has spent his life studying, researching and learning about communicable diseases. He has worked to use that knowledge to protect every one of us.
Dr. Fauci is a world leader in the field of communicable disease. He has been advising presidents since Ronald Reagan. He only advises political leaders. Political leaders are the ones who make policy. Countries throughout the world have turned to him and the CDC. He is an expert. That doesn’t mean he has perfect knowledge or can’t make mistakes. He embodies the essence of what good science represents, but too many people don’t understand how science works. Because of this lack of understanding, we now have a culture which too often condemns expertise.
Science is an ongoing undertaking. It endeavors to increase its knowledge and understanding. It is self-correcting as it grows with new knowledge. Learning what isn’t true is as important as the truth. Peer review means that everything is challenged. Were there flaws in the research methods? Were there statistical errors? Can the study or experiment be repeated? Can predictions be made based on the research? Scientific research is about getting it right while always recognizing that knowledge is never static.
With complex issues, scientific findings are seldom absolute. Science works within levels of confidence. Take the case of smoking. The question does smoking cause lung cancer was asked several decades ago. Did the science prove absolutely that smoking causes cancer? No, but the overwhelming evidence has shown that with a very high level of confidence science can say it does. Because science often doesn’t work with absolutes, the tobacco companies used the public’s lack of knowledge about science to conduct a campaign of doubt to delay actions against their product.
Climate change is a matter of fact. It has been measured by using thermometers and looking at records over time. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the earth’s overall temperature has increased by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Enough to have already caused increased storm frequency and intensity with more severe rain events, more droughts. The fire season is getting longer in the west with more intense fires. Sea levels are rising increasing the threat to coastal areas and cities. The oceans are becoming more acidic.
The evidence and the science of climate disruption make it very clear that the destructive effects on our civilization have already begun. The predictions made decades ago by Dr. James Hansen to Congress are proving to be all too accurate. Our civilization has grown and developed with a planetary climate system that has remained stable with small variations since the last ice age. Past climate change was caused by natural factors such as changes in the earth’s orbit, variations in the tilt of the earth’s axis, and changes in the intensity of the sun, but our current climate change is caused by man’s burning of fossil fuels. Without the increases of greenhouse gasses from human activity, the earth would be cooling now as a result of natural variations.
The oncoming climate crisis is clear to everyone except it seems most members of the Republican Party. We haven’t acted to deal with this growing crisis because of greed and a political ideology incapable of adjusting to the reality which science presents. Exxon’s own scientists warned of the danger back in the 1980s, but Exxon became a leader in funding climate change doubt taking a page from the tobacco industry. It is very clear that government must take action. It is not a question of big versus small government, but government taking the actions that must be taken. The costs of making the necessary changes will not be cheap, but far, far less than the costs of not taking action. Do we care about our grandchildren or are we simply too greedy or ignorant to care?
Jack D. Miller lives in Lewisburg.