Congress should listen to Stephen Hawking – not Ted Cruz - on climate change

According to the Pew Research Center, just 14 percent of Republicans view global warming as a top priority. In addition, only 24 percent of Republicans view human activity as the cause for global warming.  As for the views of certain GOP leaders, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) made the following quip during a freezing winter: “It’s cold. Al Gore told me this wouldn’t happen.” 

Fellow conservative Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) wondered why Senate Democrats spent all night discussing climate change “during the cold spell that hasn’t been much fun in Oklahoma.” Inhofe also added that, “Maybe if you keep saying it’s real, people will believe it.”

The statements of these GOP weathermen, as well as the views of most other Republicans, lead to the following question: Should the U.S. create environmental laws based on the remarks of politicians like Ted Cruz or scientists like Stephen Hawking?

Unlike Cruz and Inhofe, world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has likened the dangers of climate change to nuclear war. In a 2007 speech in London to the Royal Society, Hawking stated that “we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth.” He goes on to explain the importance of acting responsibly on this issue: “As citizens of the world, we have a duty to share that knowledge. We have a duty, as well, to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change.” 

When one of the most brilliant minds in the history of science makes the claim that climate change can be likened to the dangers of nuclear weapons, it’s only logical that people like Cruz and Inhofe should take notice.

In addition, other prominent scientists have made similar claims about the importance of legislative action. Michio Kaku, when discussing Hurricane Sandy, made the following call for both parties to take climate change seriously by stating, "Whether you're for Romney or Obama, I think it should be on the national agenda."

Professor Kaku also explains the basis behind why he views climate change to be a danger: "I used to be a skeptic. I used to say, 'Come on. The Earth is so big. We are so small.' But then you look at the indicators. The fact that all the glaciers are receding. We have wacky weather. We have 100-year storms that are now the new-norm. We have to realize the trends are all in one direction. There's not trend in the other direction. All trends are in the direction of the heating of the Earth, the energizing of the atmosphere, which provides the energy of the hurricanes."  When asked about skeptics in the scientific community, Kaku stated that it’s "near unanimous” and that “you have to hunt very carefully for any kind of skeptic… most of the skeptics, just like myself, have changed their opinion and now realize it's a real, tangible effect.” 

Like Kaku and Hawking, 255 members from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2010 wrote an open letter calling for action on climate change: “We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular… There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.”  Bolstering the views of Kaku and Hawking, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have added their names to the long list of scientists calling for laws based on science and not partisanship. 

Finally, legislation that curbs the effects of climate change shouldn’t be based on the views of politicians who turn on the weather channel. The fate of the environment should not rest upon the musings of Sen. Ted Cruz and his scrutiny of Al Gore’s documentary. Rather, the greatest scientists of our generation, from Hawking to Michio Kaku, should influence Congress with their analysis and viewpoints. Generations from now will wonder what we were thinking if we let politicians overshadow the 97 percent of climate scientists who agree that climate change is real and caused by human beings.

Goodman is an author and journalist.