In the 2006 satirical science fiction comedy, Idiocracy, the protagonist Joe Bauers, “Mr. Average American", is selected by the Pentagon for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakens 500 years in the future, to discover a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he's easily the most intelligent person alive and their only hope for survival.
With the Republicans bullying their way through state and federal legislation, the movie has become prophetic to the point where the only thing that isn't believable is that this devolution will take another 500 years. Idiocracy already has its living, fire-breathing poster child, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the ranking Republican and former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
You may remember Rep. Barton as the Congressman who on behalf of the American people apologized to the CEO of British Petroleum, Tony Hayward, for having our Gulf of Mexico get in the way of Hayward's oil spill. "I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure. [It] amounts to a shakedown, so I apologize."
How about Barton’s grasp of CO2 as a greenhouse gas? “It’s odorless, colorless, tasteless, doesn’t cause cancer... there’s nobody that’s ever been admitted to a hospital because of CO2 poisoning. Hell, “CO2 is in our Coca-Cola!”
Even better is Barton's explanation of how wind power could speed up climate change. "Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.” Yes, Joe, that sure is something to think about!
If Barton's awareness of why we must stop building wind turbines isn't enough to blow you over, how about his penetrating insight into just how innocuous air pollution is. At a Congressional hearing in April, Barton insisted that an EPA estimate that pollution controls on coal power plants would prevent 17,000 premature deaths a year had been “pulled out of thin air.”
Unfortunately, the air coming out of coal smoke stacks is hardly thin, but Barton's understanding of medicine certainly is. “To cause poisoning or a premature death, you have to get a large concentration of mercury into the body. I am not a medical doctor, but my hypothesis is that is not going to happen. You are not going to get enough mercury exposure or SO2 exposure or even particulate matter exposure.”
The only remotely true part of Barton's statement is that he is indeed not a medical doctor. Real medical doctors from the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association and other health groups were so outraged and stunned at Barton's statement they sent him a letter pointing out decades of medical research contradicting everything he said.
Mercury is the second most toxic substance on earth, after only plutonium, and is capable of causing brain damage in fetuses and children at unimaginably small concentrations. One out of every six women of child-bearing age has enough mercury in her blood to cause measurable brain damage in any child she might conceive.
The largest source of this mercury contamination is the emissions of coal fired power plants. Nonetheless, industry lobbyists and their allies in Congress, like Barton, have vowed to fight any attempt by the EPA to correct this deplorable public health disaster. Without a shred of supportive evidence, pollution control and environmental protection of any kind is suddenly being smeared as "job-killing", ignoring all the while that science clearly proves that pollution itself is “heart-killing, lung-killing, brain-killing and people-killing". Which Joe could argue does create job openings.
If Rep. Barton was just your crazy uncle who everyone avoids at family reunions, this would just be entertainment. But he is only the most outspoken of an entire legion of Republican politicians from their Presidential contenders on down who are strutting their disdain for science and the environment like a fully spread peacock’s tail. Even many Democrats are tagging along with this menacing flock.
In a normal world people who repeatedly lose their arm wrestles with reality would also lose the next election, their careers, and the right to leave the house without their medication and a chaperone. But in an idiocracy, they rise to power, ignore the facts, re-write the laws, cash the lobbyists’ checks, and force us all into their asylum. Idiocracy has indeed come to America, 500 years ahead of schedule.