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Science the best tool for policy, believe it or not

We know things based on a variety of circumstances. We know our friends from our accumulated interactions with them. We know language largely from listening to others speak. Much of what we know is similarly built on our personal experience.

Some of what we know is gained by learning from those whose insight and wisdom we trust – whether it be a minister, a political leader or a teacher. We all rely on others for some of our knowledge and our beliefs.

In some cases, there is a widely agreed upon reality, such as how an internal-combustion engine propels a car down the road. Most of us don’t have direct experience with the thousands of small explosions in the piston chambers, yet we accept that it is from the energy released in these explosions that moves the car. Similarly, we have vague understandings of how computers, light bulbs and other mechanical items work.

For other things, such as why a thrown ball will return to the ground, how the Earth rotates around the sun and the moon around the Earth, most of us readily accept the explanations of science.

The reality of human impact on climate change is often debunked by referring to it as merely a theory. If it is just a theory, then it is more of an optional belief.

The same could be said of gravity. It also is a theory, as far as science goes. It is a widely accepted explanation, the one that best describes the measured and observed phenomena around us. It is possible that a new theory will arise that will prove better at explaining things, and the theory of gravity will be discarded. Until then, engineers are expected to build airplanes, rockets and houses based on the mere theory of gravity.

The theory that Earth’s climate is changing in part because of human activity, primarily the use of fossil fuels, is no longer seriously debated within the scientific community. It is the accepted scientific theory for many disparately observed and measured phenomena – from a rise in carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere, to an increase in the melting of polar ice.

Choosing to not believe is always an option. Many choose to not believe the theory of evolution because of the perception that it is in conflict with religious teachings.

For policymakers, choosing to not base medicine, education or habitat management on our understanding of evolution would not only be stupid, but totally irresponsible. It is accepted reality. Policymakers should rely upon the accepted scientific theory.

Likewise, it is no longer responsible for policymakers to ignore the accepted scientific theory of climate change. It would be analogous to asking road and bridge engineers to ignore the theory of gravity and instead rely on chants and incantations.

Whether you choose to believe it or not, we are changing the Earth’s climate by our fossil-fuel addiction. We’d better build policy on that knowledge.

dan@sanjuancitizens.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.