Earlier this month, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that he doesn’t think carbon dioxide is the primary driver of climate change. (Spoiler alert: it definitely is.) This wasn’t just the regular variety of climate change denial, it was a rejection of the most basic, rudimentary science.
If there was an annual award for the most intellectually offensive statement on science made by an American politician – let’s call it the James Inhofe Award – then EPA chief Scott Pruitt looked to be a shoe-in for it. However, a little known Pennsylvanian Republican State Senator by the name of Scott Wagner might have just clinched the ignominious accolade.
When asked to explain his opinions on climate change to the general public at a recent event in Harrisburg, he said this: “We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off? Things are changing, but I think we are, as a society, doing the best we can.”
Correct. This actual US State Senator, one of the most powerful politicians in the world, thinks that human bodies are heating up the planet and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why climate change is happening.
Sen. James Inhofe, who infamously used a snowball to "prove" climate change was a myth. C-SPAN via YouTube
Here’s the thing, though – that’s insane. We are not capable of giving off so much heat that the entire planet is heating up 170 times faster than would naturally be expected. Why did this not happen when the dinosaurs, with their massive heat-emitting bodies, ruled the world?
This is perhaps the weirdest example of correlation not equaling causation. You might as well say that because the woolly mammoth is now extinct, temperatures are rising because their furry coats kept all that nefarious heat trapped inside them. Now that they aren’t around, we’re boiling to death.
Wagner, however, wasn’t finished.
“I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the Earth moves closer to the Sun every year ― you know, the rotation of the Earth,” Wagner noted. “We’re moving closer to the Sun.”
He’s slightly more correct here. The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is elliptical, so technically the Earth does get slightly closer to the Sun during part of its orbit, but then it also gets further away again. Cumulatively, per year, there is no difference, and it certainly has nothing to do with climate change.
He could be referring to the “wobble” of the Earth on its axis. This is one of the Milankovitch Cycles, three alterations in Earth’s orbit that occur on 23,000, 41,000, and 100,000-year-long cycles. These do change the climate quite significantly – but they are nothing compared to human activity, which is the primary driver of climate change today.
So no, we aren’t moving closer to the Sun. Actually, we’re moving away from it, by around 15 centimeters (6 inches) every single year.
Unsurprisingly, this particular lawmaker, who is currently in the running to be the Governor of the so-called Keystone State, is a long-time fan of fossil fuels. As can be seen quite clearly in the US, those who “dig coal” tend to strongly believe that climate change is a massive conspiracy, a myth, or (at best) think it’s an entirely natural phenomenon.
When American politicians do lean this way, they tend to come up with wonderful little clips of pseudoscientific nonsense to make it sound like they know what they’re talking about. In Wagner’s case, you can tell he had nothing convincing prepared – his brain just panicked and vomited out all the science-sounding words he could remember, hoping for the best.
The result is that he might be getting our inaugural James Inhofe Award.
The man of the hour
[H/T: State Impact Pennsylvania, NPR]