Climate Reality has a Way of Seeking Attention Now or Taking its Toll Later

by Duane Nichols on November 27, 2016

The divorce from reality while understandable, desperately needs correcting

Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Jane Lew, Lewis County, WV 

It is obvious to most well educated people that the world is approaching several kinds of crises at once.  I hardly need mentioning them – exponential population increase,  greater need for energy per person, improvement of war technology, increase in surveillance technology, approach to the carrying capacity of the earth (one half the earth’s primary production is now directed to human needs, such as food, shelter and clothing) and the most obvious one, climate change.

Many of my readers know the Norse colonized Greenland about 950 AD and were successful for about 500 years.  A climate change of about one-centigrade degree (worldwide average) during the Little Ice Age brought the colonies to extinction.  There are numerous examples of fertile lands becoming desert.  It is well known the great Sahara Desert was once fertile grassland that supported human life.  Climate change is not rare.

Society also knows how and why carbon dioxide absorbs energy from light. I took a course in transfer of energy between light and molecules in graduate school myself.  And if you understand the origin of coal, oil and gas, it follows that we humans are using in decades the carbon that went into earth over millions of years.  The atmosphere is large, but we billions of humans are adding to it enough to change its composition in the parts per million range. Assuming it has doubled since the Industrial Revolution for simplicity of calculation, that change is in the neighborhood of 0.02% of the atmosphere.  That change is basically irreversible over a period of a thousand years or more.  For humans to take it out would require more energy than was obtained by burning the hydrocarbons originally. Geoengineering to remove carbon dioxide is not practical.

Unfortunately, many people do not understand the nature of science, why it is so powerful.  It is a method of finding out truth about the physical world beyond the intuitive understandings or guesses of the practical person.  Such a person learns by experience how to manipulate objects and materials in the world to get a helpful result.  Science involves conjecture about the physical world which must be verifiable by experiment and repeatable by any careful experimenter, along with careful application of logic to build a consistent model explaining further observations to be expected, or the use of data from diverse sources to test the model.

Science is highly fraternal but also highly competitive – your experimental details, your observations and your logic are carefully examined by others working in your field and related fields.  Status is conferred by being correct and by new, original work.  It is not forgiving of errors.  Every trained person is free to find your errors.

Most of us live in a cultural world.  Our ideas are determined by people around us that we respect or are forced by circumstances to obey.  What is called truth, adherence to the physical world, is much more casual in the general culture.  Survival, fortunately (should I say obviously) does not require an exact map of reality.  The culture around us provides a map of reality which we can get along with but it is quite variable depending on where we were born, when, and our position in the society of that time and place.  Reality, then, is complex and diverse enough to allow survival with most of the maps one develops influenced by different places, religions, social classes, and all the rest if our differences.

But there is only one science.  In some cases it provides an eye on the future.

The worst case that develops in a culture is when a person becomes so powerful people are forced to take such a person’s will as a map of reality. Let’s call such a person a “potentate.”  That is a problem because people are forced to act on that person’s will for their actions.  Why?  The potentate is not confined by reason or review. Fantasy reigns.  Remember the ancient king who commanded the tide not to come in?  When it did, he had his soldiers to whip the sea!

So we come to the present.  Who are the powers beyond review today?  Obviously they are the people who control the corporations.  It was apparent to Rutherford B. Hays, 19th President of the U. S. (1877-81) when he said, “This is a government of the people, by the people and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations,” one hundred years ago, something far more obviously today.  They are majority stockowners and, increasingly, CEO’s.  They function entirely as profit makers, and have no social alignment whatsoever.  It is true some corporations exercise social responsibility, but it is not built in.  The results include the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and disavowal of those excluded, disregard for all but the most immediate and intense health effects and disregard for the environment.

The case history is obvious, with the oil and gas corporations leading the way.  They are powerful because they have a toll from almost all motion today – from people going to church and children going to school to big trucks, earthmovers, war machines, airplanes and oceangoing ships.  Everyone pays to move.

So there is great economic power concentrated in the hydrocarbon industry.  They buy the laws they want, and hire support from politicians.  They become “potentates” in the sense it was used above.  They support the kind of politician who brings a snowball into the Senate to disprove global warming.  If their science discovers an inconvenient truth (global warming) it then musters think tanks to deny that reality.  They support politicians like House Republican Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, who says the military’s efforts (regarding global warming) amount to partisan gimmicks and distractions from fighting terrorism. “Why should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security,” he wrote to colleagues in 2014, “to support a political ideology?”

The disconnect between the reality of global warming as demonstrated by science and counter-claims of the industry is caused for the reason a disconnect from reality always is: potentates don’t want to loose power, and with it status and influence.  Reality is an impediment to their goals and desires. 

As Henry Kissinger said, “control oil and you control nations.”  Including this one.

See also:  Climate Reality Project

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