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Ira Flatow Introduction MELTING GLACIERS. RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURES. RISING SEA LEVELS, raging forest fires. Hellish hurricanes. Reemerging diseases. These are all symptoms of a changing climate, scientists tell us, a warming of the earth and a shift in the balance of nature. Scientists say that our consumption of fossil fuels has helped create a climatic shift. We have changed the very planet that has supported life as we know it for the past thousands of years. But what are we as a nation able to do about it? And do we have the political will to make the changes necessary to adjust? The federal government, including the Bush administration, has come under heavy criticism from scientists—some who w ork in and for the government itself—for denying the existence of global warming and the impact hum ans have had on helping to create it. For example, Senator James Inhofe (R., Okla.) has called the idea of human-induced global warm ing “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” President George W. Bush once denounced an internal govern­ m ent report on global warming as just “something put out by the bureau­ cracy.” And as governm ent scientists have attem pted to answer these critics with hard scientific evidence, they have had been asked to change their conclusions to fit government policy. One example: NASA scientist James Hansen, whose paper appears in this volume, says the government has tried to censor his public statements about global warming. In the light of this political turm oil over global warm ing, the questions before us are: ►Can we stop, slow down, or reverse global warm ing and if so, w hat m ust we do? ►Does our government have the leadership and the resources to spear­ head a national movement, as part of a larger international move­ ment, that can prepare us for the consequences of climate change? social research Vol 73 : No 3 : Fall 2006 1027 ►W hat role do scientists play in helping convince our national lead­ ers that action is necessary? ►Will our elected officials heed the warnings of researchers and put politics aside? Just why is global warm ing a polarizing political issue in the United States? ►W hat new bridges can be created between scientists and political leaders so that they better understand the role science plays in the future of the planet? ►Is our educational system up to the task of informing students about the interplay of science and politics? ►Should scientists be encouraged to speak out on im portant geopo­ litical issues or is that overstepping their roles? Do we need m ore “citizen-scientists”? ►How do we bring the media into the picture? In an age where loud, brash com m entators are the rage, how can one make sure compli­ cated issues receive the media coverage they deserve, while avoid­ ing being “dum bed down” to the point of being useless? How we answer these questions may influence whether our society is equipped to deal with issues that may take many generations to address. Global warming will be with us for the next hundred or more years. Does our society have the ability to create public policy to address a problem that will outlast one presidential adm inistration to another? After all, history shows that one president’s pet project is another’s bad idea. W hen Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the W hite House to illustrate the need to develop alternative energy sources after the first oil crisis in the ‘70s, Ronald Reagan made it one of his first official acts to rip out those panels, in defiance, sending the country in a totally different direction. Science and technology has always been the driving force behind prog­ ress; the basis ofour economy. They create jobs, heal the sick, and are instru­ mental for our “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” We are now seeing how the industrial revolution is colliding with the “law ofunexpected conse­ quences”—that is, the changing of our climate, the warming ofthe earth. The brief rem arks th at follow, originally presented as a panel discussion, address these issues and help define w hat...


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