- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
When science yields troublesome conclusions, attack the scientists.
This has become a political pattern. When scientific evidence suggests that the activities of humans are contributing to climate change, ridicule the evidence. Perhaps find a study that calls these conclusions into question, then insist that in the political arena it be given equal weight with the vast majority of other scientific work.
This can muddy the debate and blunt calls for expensive remedies and difficult changes in behavior.
It is template for political obfuscation that has been in place since before the 21st century began. And yes, it has its adherents even in St. Maryís County, where any rise in sea level threatens to destroy valuable property and where the community is vulnerable to more intense and destructive tropical storms and hurricanes bred by warmer ocean water.
In a similar vein, there are those in St. Maryís who deny the scientific evidence that nitrogen and phosphorus are slowly killing the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries that surround this peninsula.
Thatís because the remedy is expensive and disruptive. When the state government, after years of taking half-measures to restore the bay, moved to improve sewer plants, limit septic systems and require that new ones be upgraded, rural counties objected.
St. Maryís and other waterfront communities have far more to gain from a cleaner Chesapeake than people who live elsewhere in the watershed and have to drive hours to even see the water. But thatís the push and pull of politics. Local officials look out for their constituents and the local governmentís pocketbook. Upgrading sewer plants and new septic systems is expensive.
But attacking the evidence that nitrogen is a cause of the bayís problems is the wrong argument.
This happened most recently when St. Maryís County Commissioner Dan Morris refused to approve loans the St. Maryís County Metropolitan Commission needs to upgrade the countyís largest sewer plant and other projects. The money will be repaid by charges to MetCom customers. Nitrogen and phosphorus, he said, are ďsomething we donít even know are harming the bay that much.Ē
Actually, yes we do. Nitrogen and phosphorus come from treated and untreated sewer water, and from fertilizer runoff from farm fields and lawns. These nutrients feed unnatural algae blooms that decay and rob the water of oxygen that oysters, crabs and fish need to survive in the bay.
To argue there is no evidence of this is incorrect. In fact, it was Southern Maryland that helped prove this in the public arena more than three decades ago when the county commissioners of the region sued the state and federal governments over policies that in effect treated the Patuxent River as a sewer pipeline. Scientists studying the bay provided evidence in support of their argument about the harm these nutrients were doing.
Itís fine to object to the cost of the proposed solution, to criticize the strategy or to say that the benefit is not worth the expense. Political arguments like this are a kind of cost-benefit analysis that routinely influences public policy.
But attacking scientific conclusions because it is unpleasant to believe them is like assuming that when the engine light comes on in a car it must always be because of a faulty light and couldnít possibly be a faulty engine. It may be temporarily comforting to believe that, but itís not true.