Sunday, June 4, 2017

Dirty hands: Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord

Dirty hands:  Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord

As President Trump exits the Paris Climate accord, I’m reminded of the death of President James A. Garfield in 1881.  Charles Guiteau, who argued at his trial that the President died of malpractice rather than gunfire, shot Garfield in the back.  The jury rejected Mr. Guiteau’s defense, and he was hanged.   While a jury might have reasonably concluded that Mr. Guiteau was guilty, he had a valid point.  In the latter part of the 19th century, the American medical establishment were germ-deniers.  European doctors and scientists had established the role of germs in spreading disease and infection, and they had developed antiseptic methods to make surgery much safer.   Garfield’s doctors didn’t believe in germs, so they saw no reason to sterilize instruments or wash their hands.   They rummaged around the President’s body looking for the bullet with dirty fingers.

As President Trump explained his decision to withdraw from the Paris accord, I conjured up images of his filthy fingers probing our wounded planet.   To be sure, the Paris accord might not save the planet just as antiseptic surgery might not have saved Garfield.  However, we don’t have any hope of saving the planet if we don’t accept scientific facts, and take action based on those facts.

The President and his fellow skeptics are part of a rich tradition of deniers.  Deniers in positions of power have surfaced with almost every advance in our understanding of our planet.  People were imprisoned and died because some authorities did not believe in gravity, the heliocentric planetary model, or the round shape of the earth.  There’s a huge difference between deniers of centuries past and President Trump and his fellow non-believers:  the flora and fauna of the planet weren’t put at risk when deniers continued to believe that the earth was flat or the sun circled the earth.

Since the enlightenment and industrial revolution, our scientific capabilities have multiplied exponentially as has our ability to affect the environmental balance of the planet.  As a result, the rejection of facts and science now has monumental consequences.  In medicine it would be a high crime to enter the operating theater without scrubbing hands and donning surgical garb.  Ignoring climate science is a high crime.

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