Robert A. Levine 11-11-15
One of the foundations of Western civilization has been a belief in science and the ability to utilize new discoveries in practical ways to improve and extend human life. Yet currently, the citizens of many Western nations are rejecting scientific information and recommended responses as being valid, spurning behavior changes on the basis of this knowledge. Scientific data is being endorsed or denied in different nations because of long held biases, religious beliefs, economic incentives, and so forth. And evidence does not seem to make a difference. Two major areas of global importance where science has been disregarded are climate change and the safety of genetically modified crops (GMOs- genetically modified organisms).
Republican conservative politicians in the United States deny that climate change is real and doubt whether mankind could be responsible if global warming is indeed occurring. Because of this, they have refused to pass laws to address this critical issue. This is in spite of the fact that climate scientists have repeatedly shown that global warming is real and caused by human activity, particularly the burning of coal and oil which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Methane and nitrous oxide are also “greenhouse” gases like carbon dioxide that trap the earth’s heat and result in the warming of the planet. Backed by the fossil fuel lobby and the Koch brothers, Republicans claim that controlling carbon emissions to cut down on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would damage the American economy and that there is not enough evidence to warrant this action.
Fortunately, rational Americans like President Obama accept the veracity of global warming and his administration has taken steps to reduce greenhouse gases, in conjunction with China and Europe. The majority of Americans, including those who deny global warming, appear to believe that GMOs are not dangerous and are willing to eat foods containing ingredients from GMO crops. A significant minority, however, including environmentalists who want to stop global warming, are afraid of GMOs and refuse to ingest them, ignoring the scientific evidence of their safety.
For the most part, Europeans feel that global warming is a real threat and have taken steps to cut down on the production of greenhouse gases. (Interestingly, their testing for automobile emissions has not been as stringent as in the U. S, allowing Volkswagon and other automobile companies to game the system.) But Europeans are almost uniformly against GMOs, calling them “frankenfoods” and believing the lies and propaganda against them. This false information has been generated mainly by environmentalists in groups like Greenpeace. Seventeen countries have recently banned GMO cultivation on the basis of the popular belief that they are dangerous. Many farmers as well as scientists have argued against this ban, realizing that GMOs increase crop yields and are safe to eat. Instead, farmers have to use pesticides and chemicals that may leach into the local water supply to control insects and crop diseases to produce foods for European consumption.
This ban on GMO cultivation will check development in this promising area of biotech science in European universities and corporations. The Scientific Advisory Council of the European Academy of Science had previously warned that European countries were lagging other nations internationally in agricultural and biotech innovation and new technologies such as genetic research. This could have future economic ramifications for the European Union.
But even more importantly, African countries have followed the European lead in not cultivating crops that are genetically modified, concerned about potential side effects that are non-existent. There are worries that GMOs can produce sexual dysfunction or homosexuality, which is of course ridiculous. This means, however, that drought-resistant, insect-resistant, and disease-resistant crops will not be grown in sub-Saharan Africa, though these could enhance crop yields dramatically and provide foods that would alleviate hunger and famine, reducing the number of malnourished children.
A number of people in the U.S. and Europe (particularly those afraid of GMOs) are also resistant to having their children vaccinated, believing this increases the chances of autism or other developmental problems. Again, the scientific evidence has disproved this theory and vaccinations are necessary for the safety of all children. And there are other instances as well, where people disregard scientific evidence that should shape their beliefs, reinforced perhaps by what children are taught in some schools (creationism, intelligent design, and non-acceptance of evolution).
Science has provided data that clearly shows global warming is real, foods containing GMOs are safe, and vaccinations are safe and necessary. Yet many people choose to think otherwise, ignoring the evidence that is available and acting in unacceptable ways. And at times the leaders of democratic nations acquiesce and pass laws that are unreasonable in light of the scientific data, or refuse to pass other laws that are necessary. Citizens and legislators need to accept scientific evidence to guide their behavior, but obviously this is often disregarded. A problem for democracy and the world.
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