It is time for the midterm elections. Full disclosure, I’m actively recruiting a candidate for Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, and you can look me up on the Internet if you want to know more about that. But I’m also doing something else (and related): Asking people to get involved in this year’s election cycle with one specific objective in mind: Bringing science to Congress.
Many MinnPost readers are aware of the work by Shawn Lawrence Otto and may have read his book where he notes that the number of scientists (or even almost-scientists) that can be found in the U.S. Congress can be counted on one or two hands in any given year, yet many, perhaps most, of the truly important issues we face as a nation are very closely linked to science. So Congress is full of people who don’t know what they are doing, which I suspect you already knew.
Three examples of science-related policy that come to mind right away are climate change (global warming, if you prefer), copper mining in Northeast Minnesota, GMOs (a perennial topic) and, coming to a radar screen near you, nuclear power.
Climate change is real, and there need be no discussion of that (and Bigfoot is not real; we can leave that discussion out as well). But there are important and difficult policy-related decisions that have to be made. We must keep the carbon in the ground. How do we advance “green” alternatives to make that happen? How do we link up the interests of unions and environmentalists, as well as utilities and home or business owners, so that we can actually move forward on papering our state with solar panels, decorating it with windmills, installing efficient heating and cooling systems, and getting everyone their own electric car? I’m serious. The infrastructure has to change and it will not change by itself.
Mining on the Range
Copper mining in the Iron Range (now the Copper and Iron Range?) will be a big issue in this election cycle at the state and national level. This is a science-based issue. Do we have to mine it at all? If so, and presumably that is to create jobs and not just get more pennies, how do we do it without harming the environment? How do we demand an excellent non-biased and helpful environmental review of copper mining generally and of specific mining efforts in particular? Mining in Minnesota was central to the birth of the modern environmental movement. Let’s please do this right.
GMOs are my favorite nuanced issue in politics, perhaps, especially when it comes to labeling. GMO supporters see no need to label anything. Do they not realize they look like they are hiding something when they say that? I’m personally interested in seeing GMOs advance as a way of saving the planet. But everybody hates Big Ag in it’s corporate glory, right? And isn’t more information always better than less? A label that says “contains GMO’s” is utterly useless, but how does a label contain the more detailed information we crave, without the label being bigger than the product? Well, we have technology for that, I would think. And what, exactly, are those GMOs for, anyway? I hear very little accurate talk about that subject from either “side” of the debate.
Nuclear power is a longer-term issue. We may need to build more nuclear power plants to reduce carbon emissions. Or maybe not. Whatever your opinion on that is, I promise you it is invalid (sorry) because this is one of those things we simply do not know at this time. I’m a rare breed in this area, perhaps: I don’t like the idea of nuclear power at all and historically I’ve agitated against it, yet I think we might have to build some plants. But I’d strongly prefer the nuclear power industry to not be involved in that process, thank you. It’s a trust issue. Maybe the Navy. It seems seem to have a good record on nuclear power. As far as we know …
We can’t demand that our candidates be scientists, but we can demand that they are able to intelligently address science-related issues. Try asking a candidate about a science-related issue and see how that goes. Report back, we all want to know!
Greg Laden is a science communicator and teacher who has studied the relationship between human evolution and ecology, climate change during the Holocene, and African and North American prehistory. He blogs at Scienceblogs.com.
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