Sunday, March 26, 2017

Watching the Stars - Reflections

Watching the stars here makes you think about watching the stars. You can see enough sky clearly enough to feel its vastness. When little white and red blinking lights cross your view, that's actually marvelous too. There are people up there! Jeez! You wouldn't see any such thing even 100 years ago. Just from watching, you wouldn't know that those guys aren't wandering around as far away as them stars.

It's incredible. It's sad that a majority of humans in the world don't get such a great view – or get it only occasionally, camping out. Jeez, we're lucky.

It makes my mate wonder why we're here.

I don't wonder that. I don't assume there is any real reason, in the sense of Allah or God or Begochiddy planning it all. Nature displays not only beauty but marvelous intricacy, a creative mix of simplicity and complexity, and even a sense of humor. We're just here, part of that. Tasked with surviving, helping the human race survive; and perhaps some (unconscious and miniscule) contribution to our race's evolution and improvement.

It seems we ought to try to do the best we can – whatever that means. I know what it means to me. It means something very different to Donald Trump, a member of ISIS, or Aaron Hernandez.

Helping its species survive is a key imperative for any life form. We find what seems like altruism in some pretty disrespected places. Rats will sacrifice food to share it with a starving rat; they'll delay gratification in order to try to rescue a trapped rat; in forests, trees use delicate root systems to share food with a tree that's in trouble.

How then can we not all get the message that irremediably fouling our nest, poisoning or even killing future generations of our kind, is a major no-no? 

Obviously many do get it, though sometimes to very limited degrees. People buy solar panels or Priuses. Some recycle and/or compost. 

But as a species – particularly in this part of the western hemisphere under our latest political turn – we're clueless. It's unfortunate to hear Steve Pearce flatly misrepresenting where things stand, particularly knowing how he's contributed to the tragic uncertainty by calling to formal hearings witnesses who would be a joke in any serious scientific inquiry. Could someone at least give him an intestinal-fortitude transplant, so he could say, “Yes, I know science says that, but doing anything about it could cost me my job”?

I'm no scientist; but if specialists were as unanimous about a medical procedure as climate scientists are, I'd listen!

How can we be so casual about such a threat?

You might say global warming is all nonsense. But that's hard, with Alaskan tundra melting, glaciers losing New-Jersey sized hunks regularly, and coral reefs dying. (Oh, and the bees? Bees pollinate stuff we like eating. Will Pearce do that once they're gone?) 

You might say that it's all too big and vast for us to do anything about. Well, we whipped Hitler and put men on the moon. As ballplayers say, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. Where something matters, trying counts. (Particularly if you believe in God, who might help us do something.)

You might say that we're just tragically stupid. That this particular evolutionary experiment will simply fail, because the human race couldn't quite adjust its selfish drives, important for the individual's survival, to mute their selfishness when faced with a serious danger to the entire race. 

Might be true. Best I can do is try to mute my selfishness.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 26 March 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG-TV's website.  A slightly condensed spoken version will air on KRWG Radio Wednesday.] 

[Because the column discusses global warming (or climate weirdness, as I prefer to say), I'll hear from an acquaintance who is a meteorologist and denies that, historically, what's going on is anything out of the ordinary.  Some day, if I get time, I would love to learn more of the science.  My acquaintance can shower with me a bunch of graphs and figures and maps.  My personal scientific knowledge is too limited for me to assess them.  So, he asks, how can I presume to speak about this stuff, even write about it?  He has a point.  I am used to investigating things for myself and reaching my own conclusions, not relying on others, even others I tend to trust.  For a journalist and certainly for a lawyer, that's essential.  Here, unless and until I can break off a big chunk of time to study science, I have to rely on the experts.  I do so knowing that at earlier moments in time, medical experts used leeches and later shock treatment, while employees at an asbestos company thought nothing of bringing home asbestos pots for growing tomatoes, or of giving their kids asbestos stuff to play with.  
Science is imperfect.  Still, at the moment scientific opinion is more unanimous about global warming than about aspects of evolution.  Beyond the mere numbers, there are other factors that tend to increase my confidence in that fact.  Above all, follow the money.  We know that the Koch Brothers and several oil companies and many others would readily pay zillions for a peer-reviewed study showing conclusively that global warming was nothing to worry about, and/or is a natural occurrence to which human activities have not materially contributed.   There's no such study. Rather, opponents tend to say "Well, there's still some doubt about human contribution to climate change," just as some of the same people, unable to produce a peer-reviewed study showing the harmlessness of cigarettes, kept saying "The evidence isn't conclusive that cigarettes actually cause cancer."  Or they blow out of proportion some minor irregularity in connection with some study, hoping to impeach all scientific evidence that points to the same conclusion.  
Further, we can already observe significant and frightening events, including the dramatic disappearance of glaciers, the shrinking of polar ice, the melting of tundras, the death of coral reefs, etc. ]

[Our New Mexico sky is one reason I feel very fortunate to live here.  I've thoroughly enjoyed many other places I've lived; but the relative silence, peace, and isolation, combined with the unobstructed view of a particularly bright sky, with the nearby mountains just dark, jagged shapes in one direction . . . restores me.  In the press of daily life, we do not simply sit out back staring at that sky nearly as often as we should.]

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