Friday, July 3, 2015

Patriotism, Science and Climate Change: 4 thoughts for the 4th

The July 4 holiday has been celebrated since the first anniversary of the 1776 Declaration of Independence.  On July 4, 1777, there were bonfires, bell ringing and fireworks to mark the day.

In my neighborhood in Sacramento, a local realtor is giving away American flags so residents can show their patriotism and pride in the United States.  As flags here and elsewhere are displayed, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how science and environmental values relate to patriotism.

Given that many of our leaders who consider themselves "patriots" are attacking science, scientific reasoning and are denying human caused climate change, I thought it would be a good time to consider the issues of patriotism, science and climate change.

Below, I've compiled some quotes and writings to support 4 patriotic thoughts for this 4th of July:

1.  The Founding Fathers' belief in facts and science helped shape their thinking and our Constitution

The Founding Fathers were "science enthusiasts" says Shawn Lawrence Otto in Scientific American:

"'Facts,' John Adams argued, 'are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.' When facts become opinions, the collective policymaking process of democracy begins to break down." Otto, Scientific American, November 2012

As Bernard Cohen points out in his book "Science and the Founding Fathers" Thomas Jefforson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and James Madison considered science an integral part of life, including political life.  They employed scientific "knowledge in shaping the political issues of the day, incorporating scientific reasoning into the Constitution."

2. Our military recognizes climate change as a clear threat

Patriotism is equated with support for our military.  Our defense leaders are telling us that climate change is an issue and it needs to be addressed.  The military is also at the forefront of experimenting with sustainable technologies.

The Department of Defense in their 2014 Climate Adaption Roadmap put it clearly:

"Climate change will affect the Department of Defense's ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security."

The Defense Department  $7 billion investment in renewables is one example of a deepening commitment to alternative energy and conservation.  The Pew Charitable Trusts explored how the Defense Department is leveraging resources to push alternative energy and conservation (report here).

The Center for Climate and Security has brought together retired military and security leaders to address climate change.  The bottom line of their work is clear:
"Climate change presents both direct and indirect threats to human, national, international security" from Climate Security 101

3.  Patriotism and environment are interlinked

President Teddy Roosevelt recognized the relationship between conservation and patriotism and spoke about it on many occasions:
"Let us remember that the conservation of natural resources, though the greatest problem of today, is yet but part of another and greater problem to which this Nation is not yet awake, but to which it will awake in time, and with which it must hereafter grapple if it is to live -- the problem of national efficiency, the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation"  Conservation as a National Duty, May 1908

More recently, Anne Marie Todd of San Jose State University, author of "Communicating Environmental Patriotism" suggests that
"Patriotism has historical roots as an environmental concept:  the belief that a country's greatness is defined by its environment."

4.  Addressing climate change is the patriotic thing to do

As a group of veterans in Montana told their community before Independence Day last year:
"Join us on this Independence Day, reflect on what patriotism means, take steps to reduce your carbon pollution and support efforts efforts to generate clean, domestic, affordable and safe energy for these United States of America."  Flathead News June 30, 2014

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