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December 28, 2006

Eye-Opening Conclusion

Tony Soltero

One of the more insidious features of right-wing propaganda is its hostility to scientific research, particularly the research that arrives at conclusions that are, shall we say, inconvenient to right-wing interests.

This is an especially acute problem with religious fundamentalists, manifested most prominently in their insistence to foist off scientifically flimsy ideas like "intelligent design" into our schools despite the overwhelming real evidence for Darwin's theories of evolution.

There are other areas where right-wing agendas have blocked or ignored scientific progress - the HPV vaccine (suppressed for years because fundamentalists thought keeping people from having sex was more important than protecting women from cervical cancer), and studies that link industrial pollution to birth defects and shorter life expectancies.

But the single most significant conservative battle with scientific reality is only tangentially related to religious fundamentalism. And that issue is global warming.

The scientific evidence that global warming is happening, and that it's resulting in large part from man-made greenhouse gases, is all but incontrovertible. The scientific community is nearly unanimous is this assessment, and the discussion has shifted from "Is this happening?" to "What do we do about it?" With the exception of a few who have been bought off by the hydrocarbon-extraction industries, any scientist worth his Ph.D. takes global warming as a given.

Despite this, right-wing interests have managed to run a massive public relations campaign alleging that the scientific consensus is wrong and that global warming is a hoax, and they've gained traction with a not-insignificant proportion of the population.

Their sources are almost invariably associated with oil and gas interests, or tend to be people like Michael Crichton, who might make fine novelists but are most resolutely not scientists; and some say it's liberal Democrats who hide behind celebrities. These are people whose intellectual brethren continue to insist that there were WMDs in Iraq, or that we never did land on the moon. And they'd be laughed out of the room if our news media were serious.

But our news media, of course, isn't serious. So, some people still think that global warming is some sort of Greenpeace conspiracy, despite the odd and intense weather patterns that we've been encountering in recent years around the world. Hurricane Katrina, for one, became a Category Five storm because of a warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico.

So that's why its interesting to note that Allstate Insurance has stopped issuing new homeowners' policies in 11 counties in Maryland, mostly on the Eastern Shore, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun. The reason? According to the article, "warnings by scientists that a warmer Atlantic Ocean will lead to more strong hurricanes hitting the Northeast."

Geez! When did Allstate get taken over by a bunch of crazy tree hugging liberals?

Like all insurance companies, Allstate has a direct financial interest in weather patterns, and thus requires the most accurate projections possible. Ignoring scientific assessments can cost an insurance company billions of dollars, so the insurance industry has no time for the ideological tap dancing of global-warming deniers - they need facts. They need to listen to expert scientists, not right-wing spin doctors. And the facts are soberly telling us that global warming is very real and will lead to more catastrophic weather events like Katrina in the future.

Whatever the ethics of denying insurance coverage to homeowners, the point is that Allstate has decided that offering coverage in low-lying coastal areas is not a good investment anymore. And no global-warming denier can argue with the realities of the rational marketplace.

In a larger sense, actions like Allstate's might finally wake up the portion of the people who still think global warming isn't real. Certainly many Eastern Shore residents will. And then we can all finally move on to the next stage of the discussion - "what do we do about it?"

Because this problem isn't going away.

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