On Climate

When I changed majors halfway through college from straight biology to biology-geology, I had an opportunity to enroll in a summer course after sophomore year, GEO 204. I don’t remember the title, but it was about climatology. We focused a lot on ice ages–that was my term paper topic, too. In upstate New York, our geology (and geography) is greatly informed by the advance and retreat of glaciers in the past few million years.

One thing that fascinated me were the findings of frozen mammoths with greens still in their mouths. (Image credit for Woolly, left.) That must have been one quick and unexpected blizzard. In the 1970s, geology was moving into new territory. Plate tectonics had mostly overtaken the notion of sections of the ocean and continental crust rising and falling to form land bridges and seas or oceans. Asteroid impact was the next big paradigm shift to come–but that was after my graduation. Over the decades, I’ve seen science readjust many times in many disciplines when expectations were dashed by observations.

In the same thirty -plus years, I’ve watched the various conversations on climate change with interest. And not little amusement. Resistance to change not only deals with rocks, but also human beings of every or any ideological stripe. It is easy to embrace the notion that the Earth has always been the way it is. But many things tell us otherwise: data from satellites and measurements taken in the air, over and under the sea, and on the ground. Records of human history. Archeology. Paleontology.

Over the years I’ve seen people deny the climate is changing. I’ve seen people confuse weather with climate. I can understand that people are skeptics on how much effect puny humans have on the environment. Now that most everybody concedes that there’s an undeniable warming trend far outstripping previous upticks, some are stonewalling on the obvious culprit–us. But I have yet to see critics of human-caused climate offer any serious alternative explanation.

Yes, Earth’s climate has changed in the past. Usually without human interference. Sometimes it has changed so quickly that an animal hasn’t had time to swallow its dinner. Often enough, we can pinpoint events in the geological record what happened: an asteroid hit, massive volcanic eruptions, shifts in continents and ocean currents. Climatologists have the benefit of working in the field, in laboratories, and with theoretical models on computers.

For select persons on the Right, it may be deeply annoying that political liberals align themselves with climate scientists. It could be galling that people who once self-identified as “conservatives” seem to be little interested in conservation–conserving our planet, our climate, and our human achievements. Instead, some on the Right present themselves as libertine narcissists intent on enhancing their personal wealth, power, and prestige. Because there'[s either nothing we can do about it, or that Jesus will come soon. These are the grasshoppers of Western culture, if you will. To answer the question: yeah, I vote we let them into the shelter when winter descends.

I will part company from the vehemence of some of my like-minded friends on the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Unlike them I don’t see this as a big deal. I view President Trump as a boss, not a leader. There is a distinction. I’ve known many people who seem content to boss others around. It happens in the workplace. It occurs on college campuses initiated by the so-called Left.* Bullies can chase people, and try to order them around. Most people just part company, Only toadies like to hang with a bully, but if there’s nobody else available, ideological cannibalism will result. The fangirls and fanboys will be eaten, make no mistake. Real leaders don’t need to look back. People follow because they are inspired. Not because they are afraid or insecure.

One facebook friend laments that Russia and China will vault into international leadership on climate change. I doubt it. They are facing a century of wanton poisoning of their own land, water, and air. I hope they get it right in the 21st.

I do think Mr Trump’s positioning on climate is a shame. But I don’t think it will have any long-term effect. I’m heartened that US states and cities have publicly repudiated his stance. Efforts like recycling, renewable energy, and new technologies were going to have to come from the people anyway. When a boss comes bossing people around, he or she’s only going to self-isolate. Especially when we aren’t employees.

If presidential posturing galvanizes people to get more active and interested in conserving, then this might well turn out better in the end. Citizens don’t need bosses. We need the motivation from leaders. Look carefully to see who’s leading and who’s following whom. And even if Mr Trump could convince three-hundred million Americans to go their own way; it’s only 5% of the population and 2% of the Earth’s surface. Not everybody will be a dinosaur on human advancement.


* These students have been infected by the trumpology virus–but that’s a topic for another post.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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