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Mark Schwiebert

“The earth is what we all have in common. It is what we are made of and what we live from, and we cannot damage it without damaging those with whom we share it. There is an uncanny resemblance between our behavior toward each other and our behavior toward the earth. . . the willingness to exploit one becomes the willingness to exploit the other… It is impossible to care for each other more or differently than we care for the earth.” - Wendell Berry

It is becoming common in some circles to treat established fact as falsehood and to treat reality as whatever someone wants it to be. Or, as the old saying goes, “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.”

But facts are stubborn things. When, for example, science has proven through detailed measurements over a period of time that the planet is steadily and rapidly growing warmer; that the hottest years ever recorded have been within the last five years; and that polar ice is melting and oceans rising at an accelerating and dangerous rate, denying climate change becomes as delusional as arguing the earth is flat or that the sun really revolves around our planet instead of the other way around.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a keen observer of the American experience, once remarked that “We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts”. Yet — and perhaps because he is a former reality show host — President Donald Trump feels that he can define his own reality. Daily asserting known falsehoods, then attacking those who catch him at it as part of the “fake news media,” Trump makes it hard for some to keep the facts straight or to know what to believe.

That’s what makes climate change deniers such as Trump and his minions like former EPA secretary, Scott Pruitt, so dangerous. For they not only reverse the critical safeguards aimed at reducing environmental pollution and waste, but they seek to undercut the very foundation for such safeguards by attacking science itself with outright falsehoods. These falsehoods generally originate from special interests like big oil, concerned more with short-term profits than with whether we leave behind a livable planet for our children.

Meanwhile, extreme weather disasters related to climate change continue to mount. Consider the recent multiple tornadoes devastating Marshalltown, Bondurant, and Pella; or the sudden, severe windstorm capsizing a large duck boat on Table Rock Lake in Missouri.

As author and farmer Wendell Berry noted, one of the most basic and moral responsibilities we possess as human beings involves good stewardship of the earth on which we all depend. It is, quite literally, our essential life support system. The picture taken from the moon’s surface 50 years ago, gazing back upon our blue-green planet rising over the lunar horizon, vividly illustrated this truly is our “Spaceship Earth.”

Undermining facts with falsehoods erodes our ability to communicate honestly and civilly. This in turn undermines our ability to make intelligent decisions that can preserve, rather than destroy, the environment on which we all depend.

As we’ve done in the past as a nation, let us once again heed the lessons of science and — applying “the better angels of our nature” Abraham Lincoln once invoked — take care of our planet as much as we do ourselves.

For as Berry suggests, what we do to the environment, we truly do to ourselves as well.

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Schwiebert, a Democrat, is former mayor of Rock Island. 

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