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The Candidates 2016

The Candidates 2016 and Science - Page 2

Science is consistently one of the most important issues for me, even as it tends not to get as much attention in political circles as the other subjects we will be covering over the next few months. People underestimate the importance of good science policy and empirical thinking, and no political party has a monopoly on scientific illiteracy or pandering paranoia, which is why this is usually the most surprising and difficult subject for me to cover when it comes to the presidential candidates.



GMOs

Starving African Children
Why don't you go to Africa and tell these kids how you don't believe the science that we could feed them with GMOs because you're scared of Frankenfood and the eeeevil Monsanto?
Much like the vaccination "debate" in this country, there are people convinced that a new, wonderful technology that can solve enormous worldwide health problems is somehow evil and dangerous, even though there is no science to back up their claims. Every study they cling to is shoddy, and every anectdote they spout is misleading or patently false. Yet, the power of fear-mongering has driven a sizeable portion of the American people away from "GMOs," genetically modified crops that have higher yields, better disease resistance, better nutritional value, longer shelf-life, a much lower need for toxic pesticides, and overall superior quality. GMOs, in short, are the cure for world hunger. Full stop. Currently, there is a big push by anti-GMO activists (and organic food companies that stand to make a tidy profit from anti-GMO sentiment) to have mandated labeling of foods that use even the tiniest amount of GMOs--even if those GMOs are only used tangentially and don't actually wind up in the product--and studies have already shown that such labeling would do devastating harm to the GMO industry (even non-mandated labeling has hurt GMO-tweaked sugar, a product that does far less harm to the environment than "natural" sugar). Besides, ALL food is genetically engineered; what do you think hundreds of years of genetic selection does if not modify the genes? In short, I oppose all efforts to mandate GMO labels, because such mandates are costly scare tactics specifically designed to harm an industry that is out there thanklessly saving the world.

Despite persistent rumors that Hillary is intimately tied to the famous GMO agribusiness giant Monsanto, there is little evidence to support such a link. That said, she has offered a few statements about the benefits of GMOs, most famously at the 2014 Biotechnology Industry Organization convention in San Diego, but she also advocates GMO labeling laws.

I can find very little in the way of GMO talk from Donald Trump. However, in a 2016 survey conducted by the Iowa Farm Bureau, under the question "Do you support the use of biotechnology in food products and oppose efforts to require mandatory labeling for foods simply because they contain ingredients derived from biotechnology," Trump answered, "Yes."

Both Gary Johnson and Jill Stein have gone on record in support of GMO labeling laws. Stein takes it further than anyone else in the race, advocating not only labeling, but also a moritorium on GMO foods, which she makes a central, front-and-center part of her main platform.

While I believe Hillary Clinton is probably the most well-informed on the actual science of GMOs, Donald Trump is the only candidate who has offered even a modicum of resistence to GMO labeling laws, slight as it may be. I sincerely doubt he would expend much political capital on the matter, but given the other three candidates' enthusiasm for labeling, I'd have to go with Trump on this one.



Climate Change

Angry kids
The modern climate change debate, in a nutshell
Manmade climate change is real. I don't doubt that anymore, even though I used to. However, its effects both short and long-term are wildly overstated, and the proposed solutions coming from the left side of the spectrum--forced carbon reductions, carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, subsidizing unproven alternative energy sources (while simultaneously demonizing nuclear power and fracking), etc.--make it much harder for industries to innovate and adapt in ways that will combat, if not wholly solve, the problem. Similarly, the billions of dollars being funneled into grant money for scientists who will continue to beat the drum of manmade climate change alarmism and fear-mongering does an amazing job drowning out scientists interested in studying the reality of the situation without hyperbole and proposing scientific solutions. In other words, I find the alarmism of the left as damaging as the denialism on the right, and I wish both sides would calm the heck down and be rational about the whole thing.

Hillary Clinton has plenty to say about climate change, so I'll stick to her website, which distills most of her policy proposals on the matter into a digestible form. She wants to "defend, implement, and extend" regulations of carbon and methane emissions, encourage "environmental justice and climate justice," end oil and gas subsidies, invest even more in alternative energy, and much more. It's a reliably predictable recitation of the 2016 DNC platform.

At the Libertarian convention in May, Johnson said, "I'm not smart enough to say whether or not global warming is man made, [but] certainly there is climate change." As recently as yesterday, though, he has indicated that he believes climate change to be man-made and has offered tentative support for carbon taxes as an alternative to more stringent governmental interventions, suggesting that they'd somehow be self-regulating.

It would take days to catalogue all of Jill Stein's strong opinions about climate change, but sufficed to say, she makes Hillary Clinton look like a free market capitalist. She is calling for a "Green New Deal" that would transition to a completely renewable, carbon-free energy infrastructure by 2030; declare energy a human right; end all use of oil, coal, fracking, uranium mining, drilling, pipelining, etc.; support a strong, enforceable global climate change treaty; pour an enormous portion of the federal budget (we're talking two digit percentages here) into alternative energy; and much, much more. She claims without hyperbole that climate change is the greatest and most immediate threat humanity has ever faced.

Donald Trump has a long, strange history of climate change denial (for example, he once accused China of making it up), and though he recently sought permission to build a sea wall to protect one of his resorts from the potential effects of sea level rising as a result of climate change, he has not wavered in his consistent dismissal of man-made climate change as a real threat. The 2016 RNC platform, however, indicates a need for a dispassionate view of the science and never once denies the reality of man-made climate change. It says, "We firmly believe environmental problems are best solved by giving incentives for human ingenuity and the development of new technologies, not through top-down, command-and-control regulations that stifle economic growth and cost thousands of jobs."

The only one of these four who sounds even remotely reasonable to me is Gary Johnson. Clinton is too much of a central planner and alarmist, and Trump is straight-up anti-science. As for Jill Stein, I don't have any family-friendly words to express what I think her policies would do to this country if enacted. Seriously, her rhetoric gives Trump's a shine of credibility and reason in contrast. And while I'm not willing to give Johnson a total pass--I wish he'd clarify how exactly a carbon tax could be bottom-up--I find his calm willingness to reason it out and compromise quite refreshing.



The Scorecard

CLINTON:
2

JOHNSON:
2

STEIN:
1

TRUMP:
1


If these four scientific issues were the only relevant political issues of the day, my vote would have to go to either Clinton or Johnson. Generally speaking, they seem to have a better grasp of science than Trump or Stein. Even though both Clinton and Johnson disagree with me on a couple of pretty important issues, I'd be willing to overlook those differences on account of the alternatives.

-e. magill 8/24/2016


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