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Stalin and Bush: The Politicization of Science
Published on Friday, June 14, 2002 by
Stalin and Bush: The Politicization of Science
by Marty Jezer

On June 3, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a report confirming that the threat of global warming is as serious as scientists have said. The report also confirms that “the changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities....” The impact of rising temperatures will be felt “within decades,” it states. Ice caps and mountain glaciers will melt, the sea will rise, and ecological systems will change; there will be floods, heat waves, and more dangerous storms. Low-level areas of the United States, like southern Florida and the barrier island developments along the Carolina coast will likely disappear.

The report, sent to the United Nations as mandated by a treaty signed by George W. Bush’s father, was put on the EPA web site without a press release or any public announcement. It’s no wonder that the Bush Administration was trying to hide it. Bush has always insisted that the threat of global warming does not exist. Now his own EPA, a federal agency created by the Nixon Administration, confirms that the scientists are right. Global warming exists and a major portion of it is a result of human activity. The implications are profound, affecting economics, geography, public health, how and where people live, the totality of the human and natural environment.

George W. Bush’s response to the EPA report was one of stunning disinterest. It’s just a document “put out by the bureaucracy,” he said. And, even if true, there’s nothing to be done, his advisors insisted. The Bush Administration will not mandate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, more fuel-efficient cars, or a crash program to get alternative forms of energy into production. Politics takes precedence over science. If science doesn’t promote the Bush Administration’s policies, then the science must be wrong.

One has to go back to the Stalinist Era of the Soviet Union to find such a display of political arrogance and ignorance of science. (One could also go the nearest zoo, I suppose, and see ostriches with their head in the sand). In the 1940’s, a scientific quack named Trofim Lysenko got Josef Stalin’s ear with the assertion that Darwin’s theory of evolution and Mendel’s theory of heredity were wrong. “Bourgeois science,” he called them, not fit for a communist state.

Lysenko didn’t know much about science but he knew what the Soviet dictator wanted to hear. Stalin had a very crude and self-serving interpretation of communist ideology. He believed that human consciousness was a blank slate that could be totally molded by the social environment. (Some American racists come to this issue from the opposite extreme and insist that hereditary alone determines human character.) In fact, the question of nature vs. nurture isn’t one of polar opposites; it’s a dynamic of complex interactions between genetic tendencies and real-life experiences). Lysenko impressed Stalin by insisting that genetics had no role to play in Soviet agriculture. In the right environment he claimed, wheat seed can produce rye. Stalin put Lysenko in charge of Soviet science. In the purges that followed the cream of the Soviet scientific community lost their jobs and, in some cases, were sent to the gulag or executed.

There are no gulags in America. The worst punishment EPA Director Christie Whitman faced, had she the courage to stand up for her scientists, was exile to New Jersey. But still the pattern is the same. Bush, as Stalin did, insists on putting scientific evidence through a filter of political correctness. Ideology and campaign contributions come first; science must adapt to the dictates of politics.

Stalin ruled in behalf of a privileged elite who hijacked communism for power and privilege. Bush rules in behalf of his ideological friends and financial benefactors: ruthless right-wingers who oppose government programs on principle, and greedy corporate bosses, like his friends in the Enron crowd, who are fixated on personal short-term power and profit. There are innovative companies working to find safe alternatives to greenhouse gases, but they need government support and public backing. Bush won’t give it to them.

The threat of global warming demands vision, enterprise, planning and, yes, government programs, coordination, and investment. Rising temperatures are not inevitable. The Bush Administration can join with every other major country in the world in endorsing the Kyoto Treaty to reduce greenhouse emissions. It can mandate better fuel efficiency in cars and invest money and resources in windmills, solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells that can transform energy from the wind and the sun into cheap, safe and reliable baseload power. But because Bush’s friends and financial backers are ideologically opposed to government programs and personally opposed to technological developments that they cannot control, the United States stands alone. And the world is warming.

There are so many issues that will have to be addressed if we do not reverse the trend of global warming. For example, how will the country deal with the dislocation of communities and industries when coastal areas are flooded? What happens with the gas and oil refineries in the Louisiana lowlands when the bayous are flooded? Who will pay for property loss and destruction that result not from “natural disasters” but from man-made global warming? Will Rocky Mountain glacier-melt cause Great Plains flooding followed by drought when the ice is all melted?. It may be of small consequence, except to Vermont, when the ski industry disappears and there’s no more maple syrup production, but what happens to the South when it become more tropical? The questions are endless, but the Bush Administration is disinterested in even starting a discussion.

The Soviet experience is a good example of what happens when narrow ideology takes precedence over scientific facts and objective reality. The Bush Administration is being derelict of its duty in its attitude towards global warming. It’s putting its own political interests over the future health, prosperity and well-being of the United States and the global community.

Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro and welcomes comments at

copyright (c) 2002 by Marty Jezer


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