For sale: beachfront property on Mars. Contact B. Smith (R-Hazard, KY)

JISHOU, HUNAN — Kentucky State Sen. Brandon Smith (R-Hazard) is stupid.

By now you have heard about Smith’s now famous remarks about man-made global warming being a hoax, because … Mars.

As you (Energy & Environment Cabinet official) sit there in your chair with your data, we sit up here in ours with our data and our constituents and stuff behind us. I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change, but I will simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There are no factories on Mars that I’m aware of. — Brandon Smith in committee, July 3

Well, many people did dispute the idea that Mars and Earth share the same temperatures. They don’t. Mars is way colder. More on that later.

In a sane world, a politician making such a certifiably ignorant remark would claim he misspoke, or made an error, or offer some other lame excuse. Smith did not. He confirmed his ignorance, and corroborated his stupidity.

First, he claimed that he was misquoted. False. KET recorded the whole thing; it’s on video.
Then, he doubled down and claimed it wasn’t just Mars, it was all the planets!

#clarify: climate shift we see on earth comparable to those occurring on other planets in our solar system #commentstakenoutofcontext
— Brandon Smith (@Smithkysenate) July 3, 2014

False! Double false! It ain’t happenin’, senator.

Then, when he was challenged yet again, by LEO political blogger Joe Sonka, Smith went full metal stupid, claiming that anyone challenging the veracity of his remarks was an anti-coal activist bent on obstructing his committee from doing its duty.

Let’s pick apart Smith’s stupidity, point by point, shall we?

It’s clear that Smith, who incidentally hails from Kentucky coal country, does not accept that human activity (burning coal, for example) is accelerating global warming AT ALL. He’s sticking with the standard climate change denial point: rising average temperatures are a natural process, resulting from the Sun getting hotter. People (and coal) have nothing at all to do with rising temperatures, nuh-uh.

Now, if the Sun were getting hotter (it isn’t, by the way) then all the planets would also be experiencing rising temperatures. Somehow this basic fact has penetrated climate change deniers’ thick skulls, so they grasp at any idea, any straw, to show they are correct.

Trouble is, they suck at science almost as bad as Smith.

Here’s the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.

The Sun is getting cooler, not hotter.

The Sun is cooling off, probably with some sweet tea.

It’s been on a cooling trend for the last half century. Yet, the average surface temperature on Earth has been rising. How does a cooler Sun cause a warmer Earth? Riddle me that, Batman!

We have centuries of temperature data for Earth, including direct human observation and indirect measurements from studying things like ice core samples, sediments and tree rings. So, the climate scientist people sort of know what they’re talking about.

We don’t have centuries of surface temperature data for the other planets. So, we can’t really say anything conclusive about their average temperatures rising or falling. We can surmise, however, that as the Sun cools off so does everyone else. Except here, of course.

So, Smith is wrong about the Solar System getting hotter, too.

My Very Earnest Mother Just Stole Uncle Ned’s Pants

In terms of climate, not to mention climate change, we can dismiss Mercury and Venus right off.

Mercury has no air, so no clouds or wind or plants or life. It rotates very slowly. It’s the closest to the Sun. The sun-facing side has an average daily temperature of 800°F on the equator, and on the night side, it’s about -280°F. With no air or water to absorb and spread the Sun’s heat around, you could walk from the day side across the terminator right into a sub-freezing night. Bring a jacket.

Venus, on the other hand, has too much air and clouds and wind. It’s been completely enshrouded in thick clouds for millions of years. The clouds and its atmosphere trap heat from the Sun, like a giant greenhouse, so the surface temperature just about everywhere is about 860°F. A mite toasty. Also, the corrosive air is dense; surface pressure is about 90 times that on Earth. Don’t go there.

I’ll throw in the Moon here, since it’s our closest neighbor. Like Mercury, the Moon has no air or clouds or water or life. So, basically no climate. The day side is about 240°F, and the night side is about -280°F. The Moon is the only other place in the Solar System besides Earth where people have walked. They came prepared.

Now to Brandon Smith’s favorite planet. I suppose he got his intel on Mars from reading Edgar Rice Burroughs as a kid.

Mars is more appealing than Mercury, Venus or the Moon, because it’s the most Earthlike planet. It has polar ice caps like Earth — though the ice is frozen carbon dioxide mixed with water ice. It has weather, and seasons, and ferocious dust storms. On the downside, it’s very, very dry (no surface water) and the air is very, very thin (like Earth’s at 20 miles up). So, temperatures on Mars swing widely from a survivable 95°F on a summer’s day to -225°F on a wintry night.

Scientific measurements of Mars show no climatic changes. Changes in surface temperatures result from the occasional global dust storms and normal seasonal changes. (Mars’ axis is inclined like Earth’s. It’s that tilt that causes the seasons on both planets, by the way.)

I wonder if Smith knows that. I bet not.

How about the outer planets? The four big ones (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) are all gas giants, meaning inside there is an earth-sized rocky core surrounded by layers and layers of hydrogen, methane and ammonia. They don’t really have a surface, so we can’t talk about their surface temperatures. Suffice it say, they are all really cold, because they are much further away from the Sun.

Pluto, which fell off the A-list a few years ago and is now called a dwarf planet, is just plain cold all the time. Probably -380°F or colder. It is 30 times farther from the Sun than we are, so the Sun looks like a big bright star. It has a very thin, unbreathable atmosphere like Mars, but as for its climate and weather, will have to wait for the New Horizons space probe’s visit next July.

If Sen. Brandon Smith wants to argue that climate change is natural and not man-made, he’s entitled to say his piece. But he should at least learn some basic facts about science first. He does himself, his constituents and Kentuckians in general no favors by appearing to be a total idiot.

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