As Alice (in Wonderland) stumbles upon the Matter Hatter's Tea Party, the Cheshire Cat greets her with "Come on in, we're all mad here." The Cheshire Cat should be posted at the door of the new House of Representatives. With the Republicans turning Congress into a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, first in line to receive the sentence of "off with their heads" are environmental regulations, the scientific community, if not the scientific method itself.
Disdain for climate science has become obligatory for Republican politicians and even a few Democrats. Former believers like John McCain and Lindsay Graham (Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum) have disappeared into the Republican global warming witness protection program. Every single Republican presidential hopeful is making the March Hare look sane by proudly standing up for scientific illiteracy.
The impetus for this anti-science rumpus is not that the scientific evidence has been repudiated or even lost its shine. Quite the opposite. The research, the scientific conclusions and the warnings of the scientists have only become steadily stronger. This year's catastrophic world wide weather extremes add further urgency to their warnings. The world's largest insurance companies and even our Defense Department believe strongly in the science. The supposed "climate-gate" e-mail scandal that made headlines last year, and was recited relentlessly by climate deniers, has been thoroughly debunked by multiple independent investigations.
Nonetheless, House conservatives are serving up a brew of political ideology, theology and electoral expediency they believe has created a new truth, making rationality, empiricism and science irrelevant. They have even threatened that the scientists themselves may become targets of criminal investigations, kind of like mixing 1984 with the Salem witch trials.
And the new intoxication with anti-regulation goes far beyond climate science. Many Republicans are calling for a "full offensive" against the EPA enforcing the Clean Air Act, declaring it "job-killing" federal regulation. Many Tea Party victors proudly want to abolish the EPA altogether.
Though suspicion of science has always been part of conservatives' DNA, it is their carrying water for corporations, that has dragged the country down this rabbit hole many times before. When scientists declared that cigarettes were deadly, manipulated to be addictive and we should regulate them, Big Tobacco screamed "junk-science". When it became obvious that automobiles were unsafe gas hogs, the "Big Three" whined that seat belts, then non-exploding gas tanks, then air bags, then catalytic converters and finally increased fuel efficiency would all be job-killers and put them out of business.
When it was proven that asbestos and leaded gasoline were killing us and eating away our children's IQs, corporations hollered, "anti-business, job-killing regulations." When air pollution was proven to be deadly, industry wailed that the research was flawed, the scientists were just tree-huggers and they couldn't afford scrubbers on smoke stacks. When the Cuyahoga River caught fire, manufacturers claimed that if they couldn't use the nations water ways as open sewers they would have to lay everyone off. These tactics worked and delayed public protection for decades. But it was nonsense then and it's nonsense now.
The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, enforced by the EPA, have arguably provided the greatest economic and quality of life benefit of any federal legislation ever passed, adding literally trillions of dollars of economic value to our economy, adding millions of jobs and enabling all of us to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. A landmark study demonstrated that just the first twenty years of the Clean Air Act added 5 months to the life expectancy of the average American.
In fact the societal benefits have been monetized in many studies and demonstrated to pay back a return on investment anywhere from ten to forty times the cost of the controlling the pollution. And all the research indicates that even cleaner air and water would be equally good investments. If the EPA is successful in reducing the nation's greenhouse emissions that will far exceed even these benefits.
At the Mad Hatter's Tea Party reality is turned upside down in a frenzy of nonsense. But this anti-science, anti-regulation nonsense will create a world more like J.RR. Tolkien's hideous industrial wasteland of Mordor, hardly a Wonderland with silly white rabbits.
Dr. Brian Moench is President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org