The dirty politics of climate change
The U.S. is an enormously important sophisticated driver of not just science and research but also culture and – well, it’s just so odd! I mean this is such a weird place. As a foreign observer, you’re constantly asking, 'How on earth is it possible that this place that represents so much excellence, so much innovation, so much technology, that really to a large extent is driving the planet in so many positive directions, is also filled with such a disproportionatey large number of so many incredibly backwards and ignorant people...?'
Hoffman: I don’t know how to answer that except to say that we’re a very heterogeneous place. One element of the climate-change debate is distrust of science, and that’s a strain that’s been in the American society for a long time. But at the end of the day the majority of Americans do trust science.
They do. If they get sick they’re going to a hospital, what’s that hospital based on? The scientific process. They get in their car, they help their kids with their chemistry or biology homework. This idea that on this one issue science got it wrong really will not stick. Because the majority of Americans do believe in science. They do trust the scientific method.
Burton: But you just told me there was this National Academy of Sciences study that said that 75% of Americans don’t understand science –
Hoffman: There’s a difference between understanding, between passing a test, and trusting it. If they get sick and the doctor says 'We’re going to start chemo,' they’re not going to look at the scientific papers. They’re going to say, 'I trust that doctor. I’m going to trust the process that got to that conclusion, and we should take this step.'
Burton: Right. And similarly on a much more mundane level, they’ll turn on a light switch and expect the light to actually work.
Hoffman: Yes. And turn on the car.
Burton: OK. So, I get that. But still there are some aspects of the situation on the political-cultural side of things that are pretty troubling. When you watch Republican Party conventions – I mean, this is not a fringe party – you see people in major political positions of power in the most dominant country on the planet who are saying all sorts of things that you are cringing at.