If someone asks you a question that you think has a very obvious answer in the affirmative, I suggest responding with this expression: “Is the Pope Catholic?” For example, you could use this if a friend from another university asks whether these past three years have been the worst time to be a Michigan student in terms of the football team’s success.

I bring up that expression because President Barack Obama has recently promised to make environmental policy a priority for the new year. Climate scientists all across the country are wondering why it has taken Obama so long to recognize that our environment needs help. Information that is almost as obvious as the fact that the Pope is Catholic.

Obama has been by no means ignorant of climate change throughout his first two years in office. At the end of his Democratic nomination victory speech in 2008, he said that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” He knew years ago that there were problems that had to be dealt with, but it’s clear that he didn’t make the environment a priority for his first two years in office — a time when he had Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress. Now that the new, Republican-heavy House of Representatives has been sworn in, it seems like Obama’s vision from two years ago of healing the planet isn’t going to come to fruition.

Some conservative readers are probably saying: “How does a Republican-controlled House mean our environment is screwed?” I wouldn’t be so pessimistic if the GOP at least recognized that our planet Earth is suffering at the hands of man-made events. In most of the Western world, the argument about dealing with climate change centers on questions like: “How can we deal with it?” In America, the debate is: “Does climate change even exist?”

Let’s look at Rep. John Shimkus (R–Illinois) who spoke in 2009 before a House subcommittee: “The planet won’t be destroyed by global warming because God promised Noah.” I wouldn’t be so worried if this quote came from some random crazy guy on the street. But this is a United States Congressman. And since the Republicans have taken control of the House, Shimkus is now a candidate to chair the House Energy committee this year. If he assumed this position, progress toward addressing climate change would be in serious jeopardy.

Other conservatives that deny global warming include Fox News host Sean Hannity, who argues that winter is cold and seems to be getting colder and more extreme every year, so global warming cannot be happening. This theory doesn’t hold a lot of water since climate scientists have already theorized that climate change causes extreme weather in general, regardless of temperature. His statements not only demonstrate that he doesn’t have a basic understanding of earth’s seasons, but they also imply that he should be freaking out whenever nighttime comes around because he thinks the sun is starting to burn out.

What’s even worse is that no scientific body of legitimate standing in the world has a dissenting opinion on climate change. In 2006 the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued the following statement: “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society … The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now.” And that’s just one example. I encourage you to look up credible scientific organizations and their official stances on climate change. I guarantee that none of them deny it.

On one side, we have politicians from a party — many of whom are so scientifically ignorant that they deny evolution — who think global warming is a hoax. The other side consists of scientific organizations dedicated to scientific research that agree action needs to be taken urgently because climate change is man-made. It’s absolutely befuddling how these two sides are taken with the same amount of seriousness. Republican House Speaker John Boehner once said, “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.” If you ask any credible scientist whether carbon dioxide is harmful to the environment, whether humans have anything to do with it and whether Obama needs to take action, you might get this response:

“Is the Pope Catholic?”

Dar-Wei Chen can be reached at chendw@umich.edu.

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