OUR VIEW: What don’t you know and when didn’t you know it?

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are vying to become a gathering of Know Nothings. Given their tendency to run from scientific inquiry, the name fits.

This week U.S. Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia’s First District proposed an amendment to the $34 billion energy appropriations bill that bars the U.S. Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers from participating in the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and also prohibits both agencies from addressing either of the reports’ recommendations.

Here’s McKinley’s rationale: “Spending precious resources to pursue a dubious climate change agenda compromises our clean-energy research and America’s infrastructure. Congress should not be spending money pursuing ideologically driven experiments.” Now there’s a reason resources are precious, but that’s not the issue McKinley wants to address.

McKinley’s amendment, which follows another one in May that disallowed the Defense Department from developing contingencies from the threat of global warming, received universal Republican support in the House, including from U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, and from five Democrats, among them Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat doing his best impersonation of a Republican as part of an effort to fend off an election challenge in November from former West Virginia State Sen. Evan Jenkins, himself once a Democrat.

At the time of his Defense amendment, McKinley said the choice was between funding President Obama’s “controversial climate change plans” and the nation’s “security.” But by preventing these agencies from even studying climate change, House Republicans are gambling with peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Consider this: among the bill’s provisions is the authorization of $1.7 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to spend on reducing damages from floods and storms, on shore protection and on construction efforts on rivers and harbors. Surely these qualify also as national security interests.

McKinley and House Republicans are apparently confident enough in their own understanding of climate science to dismiss the research of climate scientists around the world, so much so that they’re willing to prevent any effort at furthering our understanding of the mechanism behind changes in global weather patterns and the contribution that carbon pollution makes in those changes. While McKinley wisely voted to fund disaster relief efforts in the wake of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, his amendments against funding planning for climate change-related disasters indicates he’s willing to  conflate science and politics. The House of Representatives and its Republican majority would rather to continue not knowing what they don’t know and they want the rest of us to not know it too.

In his book, “Democracy, Reason and the Laws of Nature,” Timothy Ferris argues that the scientific revolution that began with Copernicus in 1543 that ultimately produced the Enlightenment helped make possible the rise of liberal democracies around the globe. Indeed, argues Ferris, one of the first casualties of political and societal repression is scientific inquiry. That is because, Ferris says, “science is inherently anti-authoritarian. In order to qualify as scientific, a proposition must be vulnerable to experimental testing.”

It’s such scientific study, here in evidence by the Department of Energy’s funding of climate change research, that McKinley and his Republican colleagues in the House dismiss as “ideology.”

When it comes to ideologies, they would know.

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