Would you trust a politician who believes the earth is flat? Or that the sun revolves around the earth? Or that the Holocaust never happened?

No? Then what do we make of politicians who continue to deny the accepted scientific consensus that human activity is affecting the climate?

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In fact, should denying that climate science is valid disqualify a politician from holding public office in which he or she can make public policy?

That's the question posed by political analyst Jonathan Chait in a provocative and angry essay on New York Intelligencer, "Why Climate-Science Denialism Should Disqualify Anyone From Holding Office."

Toyota Prius at US Capitol, by Flickr user Izik

Toyota Prius at US Capitol, by Flickr user Izik

The essay responds to the failure of an amendment in the U.S. Senate simply affirming that “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

That amendment failed to pass on Wednesday; the vote was 50 to affirm, 49 against.

In other words, half the Senate will not go on record supporting the near-unanimous scientific conclusion that human activities that have vastly increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are affecting the globe's climate.

Wired offers a helpful list of which senators voted to support science--and which didn't--allowing U.S. readers to see how their own senators voted.

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Meanwhile, the new head of the Republican-led U.S. Senate committee on the environment and public works, James Inhofe [R-OK], called the idea that human activity could affect the earth's climate "arrogant."

“Man cannot change climate,” Inhofe said, the latest in a long series of absolute statements in which he contradicts the consensus of more than 90 percent of scientists.

Inhofe backs construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian tar-sands shale oil into the U.S.

Senator James Inhofe [R-OK]

Senator James Inhofe [R-OK]

In December, Inhofe joined with senator Carl Levin [D-MI] to add a provision to a defense spending bill that removes the cap on credits for natural gas dual-fueled vehicles in the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rules.

Last May, he also added an amendment to a highway-funding bill that bars states from permitting hybrid vehicles to use carpool lanes with only one occupant.

While yesterday's Senate vote "did not change any policy outcomes," Chait writes, "it ought to carry far more weight than a simple message vote."

He argues that a politician who "firmly and confidently rejects the firm conclusions of science on a major public policy question" should be viewed as unfit for office, just as a job candidate who insists than 2 + 3 = 7 would be.

Two BNSF locomotives hauling coal trains meet near Wichita Falls, Texas

Two BNSF locomotives hauling coal trains meet near Wichita Falls, Texas

Over time, accepted science has a way of settling into the public mind--although the increasing ability of citizens to consume only media that reflects views they already hold may make that process more challenging.

But the Senate vote provides as stark a demonstration of any recently that politicians can deny or contradict science without apparent penalty.

We wonder what the Senate vote would be on an amendment that confirms the roundness of the Earth.


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