In an unfortunate turn of phrase, we see Louisiana’s governor and policy wonk reminding voters nationwide of one of his unfortunate anti-science legacies: a state law challenging the theory of evolution but also climate science.
Gov. Bobby Jindal was focusing on energy policy in a series of meetings in Washington and Houston. That’s all well and good, and we think many of the governor’s prescriptions for responsible energy development make sense.
To spice it up, though, Jindal jeered at the administration of President Barack Obama, calling the president’s energy advisers “science deniers.”
What he meant was that it is foolish to deny or play down the costs of environmental regulations or the lost chances for business if energy resources are not developed.
In a related policy paper, he used the more precise phrase “energy deniers.” So far, so good; that’s a debatable characterization of national policy. And he can rightly point to ways that the Obama administration has avoided the evidence, in an overlong shutdown of many wells after the 2010 oil spill or the president’s unwillingness to approve his officials’ support for the Keystone XL pipeline.
What makes it risky for Jindal to hype his remarks with the phrase “science deniers”?
That phrase is most often invoked from the left, as a number of Republican politicians beholden to energy interests promote the notion that global warming is either not greatly influenced by human activity or is simply a scientific hoax.
If there is a single issue in which science-denial is rife, it is climate science.
If there is a single state that has the most to lose from rising sea levels, it is coastal Louisiana. And there are few states with a less coherent set of policies that address the issues of climate change; in fact, there is not any formal and comprehensive climate action plan at the state level in Louisiana.
In terms of science, Jindal’s highest-profile achievement — if you can call it that — is the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act, a 2008 law that encourages what it describes as critical thinking on evolution.
But the theory of evolution — the basis of biological sciences — is not the only target of the LSEA. It also promotes alternative study materials for public schools on “scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
This has been recognized internationally as a know-nothing assault on evolution, but the global warming part is striking. Evolution and origins of life are frequently challenged on religious grounds by fundamentalists, but global warming is controversial because of more secular concerns of overregulation or economic costs.
To conjure the phrase “science deniers,” when Jindal’s state policies are rank political opportunism on evolution is a double-edged sword. Will this be seen as the kind of headline-grabbing of a presidential candidate who is not ready for prime time?