YOU CAN’T FOOL MOTHER NATURE

90 years on this big chunk of dirt has allowed me to witness a plethora of amazing things. The following blog points out that we’ve screwed up our share of things, and there is lots of bad stuff going on as we speak, but we have also done a lot of good stuff. I have consistently underestimated the ability of my fellow men and women to do amazing things, but I am even more impressed with this latest generation. They seem eager to involve themselves in politics and environmental activism, which leaves me hopeful that they may do a better job of listening to what Mother Nature tells us.

Thousands of scientists worldwide devote their lives in search of such understanding. There certainly will be more pandemics and other crises to come, and an understanding of nature is our only hope for defense or prevention. My hope is that these bright young souls will learn from our mistakes, for we truly are all in this together. We have been honored guests on this planet for only a short time, and lack of respect for our earth mother could further shorten our stay. To have “dominion” over all these wondrous living things carries with it an awesome responsibility. We ignore it at our own risk. In this post, I hope to illustrate examples of how we humans have attempted to control Mother Nature and the consequences I’ve observed.

The Big Fox Hunt

My first exposure to humans trying to control Mother Nature was when I was 12 years old. Once upon a time (as the saying goes) , I was excited to be asked to participate in a fox hunt. This was not to be replete with trumpets, and people dressed in red jackets on horseback, but rather a bunch of serious good old boys in blue denim bib overalls and wampuses. The hunt was to be composed of a combination of fox and rabbit hunters. Granted, there were some who fit into both categories, but the strategies were very different and required different canine talents. The beagle was the breed of choice for rabbit hunters while fox hounds were much larger.

The idea of a fox hunt had originated with the rabbit hunters after a several year decline in the rabbit population of the county which they blamed on the red fox, the rabbit’s chief predator. The fox hunters were all for the operation. WWII was in full swing, the depression was over, there was full employment and much of clothing manufacturing capacity was used by the military, all of which conspired to make fur coats desirable. Consequently, fox pelt prices were at an all-time high. The strategy for this hunt was to recruit large numbers of bodies (even kids) to walk behind a long line of dogs with the thought that the foxes would be driven towards a line of hunters with guns. Since a large portion of the male population was off fighting the war, many of us kids were recruited for the big hunt.

The plan was never implemented. Not surprising, since due to the war, gasoline was rationed and ammunition for hunting was not available. Nevertheless, the plan was a small example of man’s attempt to intervene into the much more comprehensive plan which had been devised by nature, or God if you will, long before Adam and Eve arrived on the scene.

Mother Nature fixed the Rabbit Problem

However, in this instance without human intervention, it did not take too many years for the rabbit population to rebound and the fox hunters to complain that their dogs couldn’t even “catch a scent.” Apparently, since the fox’s natural predators in our area had long since been deposed by the world’s top predator (humans), the fox population grew rapidly, soon overwhelming the rabbits. With their favorite meal no longer available, the foxes either moved on, or starved, and the rabbits rebounded without our help. Now that fur coats are no longer fashionable, rabbits are scarce, and foxes which were formerly rarely seen, are active scavengers in urban areas.

It seems as if the predator system worked well for a few million years until the new top dog came along, and set out to screw it up.

The Apex Predator

About 200,000 years ago humans evolved to become the new apex predator, and the system of checks and balances was upended. This new kid on the block was not nearly so athletic, as his competitors, nor did he possess the acute sense of smell, vision or hearing as did most of his competitors, but his huge brain coupled with his upright posture allowed him to develop the manual dexterity necessary to make tools and weapons.


Those skills were honed to an extent beyond the imagining of our distant ancestors, and also allowed us to totally dominate the planet as per the Biblical injunction: Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

There is little doubt that we have been compliant with the fruitful and multiply part, but negligent about “replenishing.” The World Wildlife Federation reports that in just the last 50 years we humans have been responsible for the extinction of 60% of the world’s population of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. [Source: https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/living-planet-report-2018 ] If the scripture is referring to the replenishment of the human population, no doubt we have done a good job and then some. Just during my time on this planet the population of the world has nearly quadrupled, standing now at nearly 8 billion. It is estimated to have been a paltry 5 million souls in 5.000 BC. [Source: www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/.]


Earth’s Population | Malthusians vs Cornucopians

In 1798, Thomas Malthus, an English economist and clergyman, warned that overpopulation would lead to world-wide starvation due to the limited ability of the earth to provide enough food [Link to “An Essay on the Principle of Population”]. Of course, his theory was later discarded by most as he failed to take into account the development of more efficient farming methods. Since his time, the population has increased 5 fold, 20% of the food grown in the U.S. is wasted, and although food shortages exist in some parts of the world, they are largely due to problems of distribution, wars, or climate change, yet there still remains debate between the so called “Malthusions” and the “Cornucopians” (futurists who believe progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by similarly continued advances in technology) as to the limits of the planet’s ability to support life as we know it. With the mechanization of much of agriculture, farming has become much less labor intensive, and large families, which were a cheap source of labor, have become expensive.


There are also now widely available and effective means of birth control which at first glance would lead one to believe the world’s population was declining, but increased longevity and a decrease in infant mortality have resulted in an explosive increase. Yet, the Cornucopians believe in a future in which we will see a decrease in the world’s population and that technology will triumph to keep our planet sustainable. Currently, the world population continues to increase but at a slower rate than previously. The UN predicts it will stabilize at around 11 billion by 2050, but such predictions have proved inaccurate in the past.


Some governments continue to take note of Malthusian principles and have attempted to regulate population growth by either encouraging or limiting it, usually with disastrous results. The most recent example is China where a one-child policy was adopted in the 1960s after a period of famines was felt to have been caused by overpopulation. Enforcement procedures were sometimes drastic with enforced sterilizations as a penalty for non-compliance. The policy proved to be too successful as the slowed birth rate coupled with increased longevity has resulted in too many retirees, and a shortage of workers to support them. The country has now initiated policies designed to increase the birthrate, which so far, have not been successful. Contrasting, but equally draconian efforts by the communist dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausesca, to increase the population of his country in 1966, resulted in thousands of orphaned children that overwhelmed the orphanages of the country. Consequently, a generation of children were neglected as I described in a previous blog.

Malthus blamed much of the poverty and associated hunger of his day on hereditary factors setting the stage for development of eugenics in which governments initiated policies designed to limit population growth. In 1927, the Supreme Court led by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who famously said: “three generations of imbeciles is enough” approved forced sterilizations of the mentally disadvantaged, not our nation’s finest hour. A few years later, Hitler in his attempt to purify the “Aryan Race” decided it was much more efficient to simply execute those deemed “defective” and his gas chambers proved to be quite efficient in that regard. Although Malthus writings awakened awareness of potential problems in our environment, they also have demonstrated the dangers associated with social engineering gone awry.

Overpopulation and Pandemics

Scientists suggest that the overall human impact on the environment, due to overpopulation, with its accompanying overconsumption, pollution, and proliferation of technology, has pushed the planet into a new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene. A case can be made for overpopulation as a factor in many of the world’s geopolitical problems including wars, migrations, civil unrest, famine, and climate change to name a few, yet even in this global pandemic which threatens every life on the planet, little note is taken of how population density factors into this COVID-19 thing.


Pandemics have been around throughout recorded history. One study that analyzed the origins of 1415 diseases which infect humans, found that 62% originated via contact with animals. [Source: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2001.0888]. Indeed, the spate of epidemics we have experienced over the past few years, such as Ebola, SARS, Swine Flu, and COVID-19, etc., as well as the oft mentioned Spanish Flu of 1918, and bubonic plague are all said to be zoonotic diseases (meaning those that jump from animal to man). Even smallpox, the scourge that had figured in wars and other upheavals throughout history, and decimated native populations in the Americas, is felt to have jumped from a rodent flea to humans in Egypt 10,000 years ago. There are multiple factors that can lead to increased contact of wild animals with humans.

Humans & Wildlife

For example, I spent my early years hunting, fishing and roaming the hills where I now live without ever seeing a deer, but as I write this, there are five white tail deer grazing in my back yard and I live in a populated area. Deer are now considered a pest by many, especially farmers, who see their corn fields decimated. Naturalists are concerned about over population with its concomitant increase in Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), an illness that infects the brains of deer, moose, and elk, and is closely related to Mad Cow Disease. In an attempt to reduce the numbers, the legal limit per hunter was increased resulting in 184,465 legally killed deer in Ohio last year with little apparent effect. So far, there are no reports of CWD having jumped to humans, although we know of many examples of mutations in other microbes resulting in cross species vulnerabilities.


The increase in our local deer population is fueled largely by deforestation rather than what we see with most species, for deer are grazing animals and consequently do much better in open rather than densely wooded areas while with other species logging can totally destroy their habitat. There are multiple factors that put us in closer contact with wild animals due to infringement or destruction of their habitat or upsetting the normal balance of nature. We now see instances in which the reintroduction of predator species results in a healthier ecosystem, a practice which a few short years ago would have been seen as counterproductive. It has now become obvious that we humans did not possess the wisdom required for us to have: “dominion over…every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Learning by our Mistakes

It is only by having screwed things up badly that we have begun to learn a little about how the whole thing works, but in putting this paper together I have been amazed to learn a bit about how it all fit together before we took charge, and began the process of exterminating species, and contaminating our soil, air, and water. We even managed to make the earth less hospitable to ourselves and all living things by messing up the climate. It required a lot of people to accomplish all that and as I mentioned previously, there are a lot of us. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, for we now know what needs to be done, and the only way for us to atone for our sins would be for all of us to work on putting it back together.

In the past, livestock farmers were well aware of the amount of pasture required for their herd and “culling the herd” via sending the less healthy or vigorous to the slaughter house was a regular practice. They are also aware of the increased susceptibility to disease that can result from over-crowding. The developers of factory farms find it more efficient to raise livestock in extremely crowded situations, and photos of hog farms show animals packed so tight they can barely move. This increases the risk of epidemic, yet these gallant entrepreneurs are not to be denied. They routinely add antibiotics to the feed, which many infectious disease experts suspect is a major cause of antibiotic disease resistance in humans, a good example of how our attempts to bypass nature’s rules cause even worse problems,

To date our only defense against the COVID-19 virus is so-called social distancing which could be more accurately referred to as asocial distancing and the use of a mask which also limits our non-verbal communications. Does that not speak to the possibility that our dense human habitats may contribute to our vulnerability to viruses? We humans have evolved into instinctually social or herd animals if you will, and herds of humans may now number into the millions.


We Are All In This Together

My research for this essay has shown me that we really are “all in this together” and I don’t mean just concerning the current pandemic. We are not only connected to our environment, we are an integral part of it. We are so interdependent that whatever happens to one species effects many others, and I am heartened to see that much research now focuses on ecosystems rather than individual plants animals or microorganisms. For example, such studies have resulted in a greater understanding of our symbiotic relationships that extends even to bacteria. Last evening, I watched a documentary on PBS about the rehabilitation of Yellowstone Park by the reintroduction of wolves. Their step by step exhibition of how the entire area benefited including animals, fish, birds and vegetation was remarkable. Other such experimental programs currently implemented in other areas of the world are reaching similar conclusions.


The question as to what is the optimum world population remains a subject of debate. It is clear that there is an inverse relationship between standards of living and population growth for we have witnessed populations decrease in those countries whose people become more affluent. Cornucopians present this as truth that overpopulation, if it exists, will be self-correcting while Malthusians point out that with affluence there is an increase in utilization of resources and acceleration of global warming, another damned if you do or damned if you don’t conundrum.


With the upper level predators such as wolves, coyotes, bears, bobcats, and eagles, etc., long gone via the efforts of the apex predator (us), the balance has been upset and many species have proliferated leaving them vulnerable to disease, as apparently happened with our deer population. With urbanization has come an increased interest in wild animals and urban sprawl has encroached on habitats. Many of the zoonotic illnesses are transmitted by bites of vectors, i.e., usually arthropods, such as fleas, ticks, or mosquitoes, or by direct contact with the body fluids of infected animals, as was the case with Ebola. Of course, such animals can be avoided, but bacteria and viruses have a genetic code that can spontaneously change. Such mutations may alter them in such a way that they may find a way to move from one human body to another, and when it does, an epidemic is on its way. The Center for Disease Control reports that 3 out of 4 emerging diseases happen this way as has the current pandemic. [Source: https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html ]

Measles & COVID-19

Back in the dark ages, when I was practicing family medicine, measles was an accepted part of life. Antibiotics, which had recently appeared on the scene, had proven to be worthless against viruses, and measles was largely accepted as the most communicable of all the infectious illnesses. Viruses were mysterious little buggers and as a matter of fact we had no idea as to what they looked like until the invention of the electron microscope in 1931. When this covid thing reared its ugly head, I was struck by its similarities to the measles virus. They both are spread by respiratory droplets, and are infectious before symptoms appear, two factors which conspire to make them highly communicable and very difficult to control, although, the covid 19 virus is obviously the more serious of the two.


If there is anything good about measles, it is the fact that people who contract it develop a lifetime immunity. Since nearly every old person like myself had it in childhood, it is classified as a childhood disease. It has been shown that if 70 to 80% of the population is immune to a communicable disease, its spread is limited. This phenomenon is referred to as herd immunity and is the latest very bad idea to come from the White House’s latest false prophet sycophant, a guy whose day job is reading x-rays. His plan is to allow the virus to infect everyone except for the elderly (I like that part) and immune compromised. One person predicted this would lead to 1.2 million deaths and totally overwhelm our hospitals’ ability to care for the sick. Sweden did initiate such a policy, which was disastrous, resulting in 10 times more deaths than had occurred in neighboring Denmark. In addition to those problems, it is not even clear how long immunity lasts after recovery, if at all.


Science Is Simply A Search for the Truth

As has occurred at other times in history this pandemic has brought the world to its knees although some countries have definitely done a better job at handling it than we have. For more that a half century we have been warned by the scientific community that pandemics were inevitable, and by not heeding them we now pay a price, yet we seem to have learned little for anti-science views persist. As previously mentioned in other blogs, science is simply a search for truth. It is a discipline that seeks to understand the marvelously complex mechanisms which operate our universe. It is not a religion, but the knowledge it provides can and should enhance the reverence of the faithful.


The Questions We Need to Ask

As is usually the case with studies of natural phenomena, this covid pandemic leaves us with more questions than answers. Are we really the apex predator or does this invisible particle which infects us deserve that title? Is this pandemic nature’s way of culling the herd? Is there an optimum level of population above which the system cannot function? Does our technology possess the power to undue the damage we have done to the world or perhaps a better question is do we have the will to do it? My Grandmother said: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. For years epidemiologists have warned us of the inevitability of pandemics. We have turned a blind eye to research on preventive efforts and now suffer the consequences. Let’s hope this one will be a wake up call.

Trump Potus Tweet bullying Greta Thurnberg

DON’T MESS WITH GRETA!

If any of you are regulars on this beat, you may have noticed that in deference to our increasing susceptibility to Trump fatigue, I have suspended my analyses of the Donald’s behaviors. You may rest assured however that they have not gone unnoticed, and that I have watched with great interest the current fruitless attempts to remove him from office.

 

It is appalling that, though judged obnoxious by most, his behaviors have been accepted and even admired by a large segment of the populace. His extreme repetition of lie after lie overwhelms truth. His cozy relationships with authoritarian rulers of the world is worrisome as is his impulsive and inconsistent decision making. He seems to find The Constitution to be inconvenient, and probably feels that without it, those pesky democrats could be forced to shut up and do as they are told. Meanwhile, those who praise him are granted the keys to the castle no matter their political leanings.

Those issues and others were bad enough, but now he has really pissed me off by attacking my heroine Greta Thunberg, a bona fide 21st century Joan of Arc. Although the Nobel Prize committee did not follow my advice by awarding the prize to Greta, she was named “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine.

Upon learning of that, Trump the tweet master, posted as follows: “So ridiculous, Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend. Chill Greta, chill.”

Trump Potus Tweet bullying Greta ThurnbergAs one perfectly willing and able to take on the most powerful man in the world, Greta responded by changing her twitter profile to read:

“A teenager working to resolve her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old-fashioned movie with a friend.”

He obviously did not know who he was “messing with.” When asked if she would consider discussing her views on climate change with the president, Greta replied that in his case “It would be a waste of time.”

Mr. Trump was named “Person of the Year” upon his election in 2016, and has complained that he was not similarly rewarded in subsequent years. He does have a valid point as Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time, has defined an honoree as: “the person who most affected events of the year for better or worse.” For example, Hitler and Osama Bin Laden have been named in past years, so perhaps we should consider our dear leader for the dubious honor. I doubt he would care much as to which category he belonged as long as that magnificent head of hair was accurately depicted on the cover.

To be jealous of a teenage girl must be particularly difficult for a malignant narcissist. However, now that he has rid himself of those who did not always suck up and has surrounded himself with sycophants, he should recover. Meanwhile, in spite of my dismay, there is also some relief in hearing Senator McConnell guarantee that Trump will not be removed from office. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am concerned as to the effect his being cornered could have on his already precarious mental state. The down side is that a not guilty verdict may well reinforce his conviction that Article II of The Constitution gives him the power to: “Do anything I want.”

Since I was a latecomer to the “Greatest Generation,” I confess that I have not always been enthusiastic about turning the keys over to today’s crop of teenagers. However; I am in awe of the activism of Greta’s generation (Click here to read Business Insider’s definition of Gen Z). The movement she started was inspired by the “March for Our Lives” movement to end gun violence, which was organized by survivors of the Parkland Florida High School massacre. Their march on Washington produced a crowd rivaling the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration (I trust he hasn’t heard of that comparison).

Only months after Greta began her protests alone with a hand-made sign in front of the Swedish parliament building, this petite 16 year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome has millions of followers in 150 countries, and is now the most recognizable climate change activist in the world. She has also been recognized in NATURE magazine as one of the 10 most influential people in science.

That millions of kids who chose to protest the inaction of we adults on the issues of gun violence and climate change could hardly be explained as simply an excuse to skip school. I have listened to excerpts from the speeches of several of these kids and have been incredibly impressed by their knowledge and vision. They demand action in place of platitudes. One of those high school kids from Parkland in an address at the D.C. rally made that clear when he stated in his speech: “Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.”

March for Our Lives Protest in Washington D.C. prompted by Parkland High School Massacre

It all leads me to think the world will soon be in good hands. Go get em’ kids! The Greatest Generation is counting on you!

Sign about Greta and the children acting more like leaders than adults Climate change Global warming

Greta and Global Warming

Greta Thurnberg speaks at the U.N. about Climate Change  The recipients of this years Nobel prizes have recently been announced. My candidate, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, was not among them. She received fleeting notice in the press following an impassioned address before the United Nations in which she shamed we “adults” for our failure to seriously address the issue of climate change. She was sharply critical of those who consider only economic factors in the face of 30 years of science warning of the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, which she says has resulted in the world to be now in the “early stages of a mass extinction.”

 

Greta was an unlikely person to become a world-famous climate activist. She was socially awkward and extremely shy, which is not unusual in cases of Asperger’s syndrome, especially for Greta who was further afflicted with Selective Mutism. However, Greta has refused to see herself as disabled and regarding her diagnoses says: “It makes me see the world differently. I see through lies more easily. I don’t like compromising. To be different is not a weakness. It’s a strength in many ways, because you stand out from the crowd.” This is a link to Greta’s biography.

 

Indeed, this remarkable young person has stood out in a crowded world. In addition to her U.N. speech her accomplishments include inspiring children’s uprisings throughout the world including the September 20th “School Strike for Climate” involving an estimated 4 million people world-wide which had preceded her address at the U.N.

Greta was born into an apparently supportive and relatively affluent family along with a younger sister. There is little information available as to her early childhood. However, one could assume there were the usual problems associated with the presence of an autistic spectrum child in the family. Her mother is an opera singer, who is famous throughout Europe, and her father is an actor. From what I could ascertain, it appears her parents have been supportive of Greta in her political activities. From the available history, it appears that Greta was not in special classes, but preferred to sit silently in the back of the classroom. At the age of 8, her class was shown a series of documentaries about climate change that would change her life.

 

She became obsessed with the climate issue, or in Greta’s words: “those pictures were stuck in my head,” which is a common problem for those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Three years later, she had become severely depressed, and unable to function. “I kept thinking about it (climate change), and wondered if I am going to have a future.” She was finally able to overcome her Selective Mutism, and confess to her Mother how the obsession had come to dominate her thinking and crowd out every other thought. Should Greta’s mother ever lose her voice and be unable to sing, I suggest she might find a promising career as a psychotherapist as her response was exactly what was needed. She listened attentively, and acknowledged the seriousness of the issue without the hollow reassurances and platitudes we are often tempted to issue in such situations.

 

For Greta, this was an “ah-hah” moment. After listening to her recitation of all the facts that Greta had collected regarding climate change, her mom was converted on the spot to a full-fledged environmentalist. Eventually, she would even stop traveling by air, install solar panels on their home, and join Greta as a vegetarian. Apparently, Greta was inspired by her parents’ response and began to think she might be able to influence others to share her concerns about climate change. “That’s when I kind of realized that I could make a difference.”

 

At age 15, Greta entered a climate writing competition held by the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, and was declared a winner. Her essay titled ‘We know – and we can do something now’ was published which brought her to the attention of an activist who mentioned the strike by the Parkland Florida students who were seeking to change gun laws. She liked the idea of a school strike, and immediately set out to recruit fellow students. She was not deterred when none would join her, but found an old board on which she painted ‘Skolstrejk for Klimatet’ (school strike for climate). Equipped with her sign and some hand written flyers, she initiated her one-person strike by sitting alone outside the Swedish Parliament building.

One of the news people covering parliament paused to interview her and wrote a brief article. The following day Greta was joined by others in her strike and the numbers continued to grow for the next 21 days until the Swedish national elections took place. The story was picked up by other news outlets, and social media. As a result of her rapid rise

to fame, Greta was invited to speak at a climate rally in front of thousands of people. Her parents were reluctant to allow her to do it due to their concerns about her selective mutism. However; Greta was adamant that she must speak out and said of her disorder: “Basically it means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.” The speech was delivered in flawless English and declared a rousing success.

 

Since that first debut, her speeches and interviews have gained huge audiences. As with this most recent rendering, she speaks on her subject with authority and nary a slip of the tongue. Her English is impeccable without a trace of an accent. The U.N. speech was a climax to the worldwide school strike, but she was not done yet for the next day she announced on twitter: “I and 15 other children from around the world filed a legal complaint against 5 nations over the climate crisis through the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. These 5 nations (France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey) are the largest emitters that have ratified the convention.” During that U.N. visit, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to the U.S. Congress Committee on Climate Issues. She bluntly told them, I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists and take real action as she explained why she was attaching the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report on Climate Change to her testimony.

 

It appears to me that the world has taken little note of what Greta and her buddies have accomplished, but then I guess it is not considered as newsworthy as a Trump tweet. In like fashion, it seems that the climate gets little notice in spite of all the bad news that seems to confirm the accuracy of climatologists’ frightening predictions. If anything, all that bad stuff they have been talking about for years is taking place more rapidly than predicted. In the U.S., our most recent crisis involved flooding in the northeast and fires in the west, but there is no place in the world left unscathed.

  • Some examples include Venice where the current flooding is the worst ever recorded.
  • There is also the Amazon rain forest still ablaze with nearly 3800 square miles destroyed in the past year compliments of Brazil’s president Bolsonoro, a rightwing climate change denier. This is a triple whammy, for in addition to its role in producing oxygen, it sequestered large amounts of CO2 which is released back into the atmosphere as it burns.
  • We just experienced the warmest July ever recorded while 24 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland.
  • With an ice sheet in some places nearly 2 miles thick, there is enough ice there that when melted will raise sea levels 23 feet.
  • Michael Bevis, lead author of a recent publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science states that we are now at a tipping point beyond which there will be no stopping the melt which is now increasing at 4 times the rate which had been predicted. If that trend is not reversed many coastal cities throughout the world will soon be immersed, resulting in mass migrations from our most densely populated areas.
  • It has recently been determined that the arctic permafrost is now melting much faster than had originally been predicted and liberating methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It has long been known that warming oceans contribute to more violent storms, but recent studies have shown that they are becoming acidic due to absorption of CO2, threatening not only reefs but all manner of marine life on which millions depend for sustenance. It has been said that the major grain producing areas of the world are particularly vulnerable to drought and even becoming deserts.

 

The news is not all bad however. I have heard that some renewable sources of energy are now less expensive than fossil fuels. How ironic it would be if pursuit of the mighty Dollar, which led us down this rabbit hole, would ultimately be our salvation. If we make more money using other energy sources, the fossil stuff will be left in the ground where it belongs. As for me, I put my hopes on Greta and her several million friends although She has said: “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic.” Her wish may be coming true for Time has recently published a story about a world wide epidemic of “eco-anxiety.”

 

Greta Thunberg: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic”

Most would agree that Greta is different. Unfortunately, “different” is often used with a negative connotation. Perhaps, we should use another adjective, such as special, extraordinary, bold, courageous, dedicated, to describe those who are “different” for throughout history we have seen many who were saddled with the label of “different” accomplish amazing things. In some whom we call savants we witness areas of genius in the face of severe limitations.  Greta, realized that she was not ordinary and said: “That’s when I realized I could make a difference”, and she has.  You go Girl!

Editor’s Note: While editing eshrink’s blog, I found this blog post from Scientific American that previews a book written about scientists actually underestimating the rate of climate change and what can be done about it.

 

Sign about Greta and the children acting more like leaders than adults Climate change Global warming

Mother Earth from Space

Global warming and climate change continue to affect our habitat. Mother Earth will survive. Humans may not. ALWAYS LOVE YOUR MOTHER!

 

CLIMATE CHANGE, A BIG DEAL?

When I was a kid I enjoyed listening to the sound of train whistles. As they approached our small midwestern town, those smoke belching monsters would unleash a chorus of ear splitting blasts that would cascade into a mournful crescendo heard for miles, then fade away as they headed out into the distance. At night, those whistles became a haunting lullaby leaving a kid to drift off with wonder as to where that train was going, what it was carrying, and what it would feel like to be in charge of all that power.

train dads blog
Thirty or so years later, I returned to that little town of my youth, and found there was very little train traffic. There is still one train which appears periodically and toots its electric horn. It tries to mimic the steam whistles of old, but fails miserably. It runs a very short route from a strip mine a few miles south to a coal fed power plant just a few miles up the road. On a couple of occasions, I have been stuck at a railroad crossing and watched as a long string of cars neatly filled with sized lumps of coal head towards huge furnaces that will produce enough steam to power generators sending millions of volts of electricity to a large area of the country, not the least of which is my house.
On the most recent of such encounters, I found myself wondering how many tons of CO2 would be sent into the atmosphere by that coal. Later, I would find the plant had used 1,716,286 tons of coal in 2017. As I sat there with my car idling and the interior a comfortable 70 degrees while outside it was nearly 90, I thought about all this climate stuff and chastised myself for having recently bought the polluter I was driving. Then it occurred to me that if I drove an electric car, I would still need the electricity produced by that coal to charge the battery. Then came the reminiscences of the oppressive feelings associated with similar hot days of my youth and those nights of attempting to sleep while bathed in sweat. Would I be willing to return to those “good old days?” Truthfully, the thought of my air conditioner failing terrifies me.

the sopranos

In the TV series, “The Sopranos” Tony turns down the advances of a seductive female with whom he is negotiating a business deal by saying: “I never shit where I eat.” We humans are pretty smart and we do a lot of good things, but we don’t very often heed Tony’s advice for it seems that progress has become almost synonymous with environmental degradation. In order to make life easier, we produce all kinds of things. In the process, we devour natural resources, produce mountains of waste, and poison our habitat. It requires a great deal of energy to make all that stuff, and even more to utilize it. Not to worry, for the earth has been collecting and burying the carcasses of extinct critters, trees, and plants for millions of years. It burns easily, is accessible, and produces enough energy to satisfy nearly any need.

 

Coal is King

Coal was the most plentiful, easiest to harvest, and therefore cheapest of the fossil fuels. There is evidence that coal was used in manufacturing during the bronze age, but since the advent of the industrial age vast quantities have been used not just for manufacturing but also for heating and the generation of electricity. The major problem with coal was that it was dirty. The steam engines used to power locomotives and the earliest automobiles exuded large amounts of black smoke and sticky soot. That problem of powering rolling stock was solved with the invention of the internal combustion engine as the combustion of highly volatile petroleum products were largely invisible. With the insatiable demands for energy to make stuff and provide creature comforts, coal the cheapest and most available source became king, but there was still that problem with smoke and soot which not only soiled everything, but made it hard to breathe.

smoke stacks 1970s

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Since everything in nature is interconnected, whenever we attempt to fix one thing, we usually screw up something else. The way we dealt with the emissions from coal is an excellent example of such a process. The yucky smoke and ash problem was solved by sending it high in the sky via tall chimneys. In some areas of the country, smokestacks reached over 1,000 feet. They accomplished their purpose, but unfortunately by the 1970s trees were dying and fish were disappearing from lakes and streams in the northeastern U.S. There was also the problem of corrosion and rusting of exposed metal structures, such as bridges. It was eventually determined the cause was “acid rain” caused by smokestack emissions from the industrial Midwest.

acid rain

In 1982, at the height of the debates about acid rain, our community gained its 15 minutes of fame when two intrepid green-peace protesters decided to protest by climbing 800 feet to the top of one of our stacks and stayed there for three days.
The emissions from the burning of coal contain sulfur dioxide and nitric oxides which when released in the upper atmosphere react to the sun’s rays to form sulfuric and nitric acids which are carried in clouds, usually in an easterly direction.

 

This problem found a solution in “scrubbers” placed inside the stacks to capture those chemicals which was very cool, but does nothing about the massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) liberated from billions of tons of coal. To date, no one has found a solution for that problem. As a matter of fact, the scrubbers installed have apparently not been very effective on our old power plant built in 1957, and the plant is scheduled to be closed in a year. Locally, there will be no dancing in the streets for the plant has been a major employer for an already depressed area. The economic impact will likely affect many more. Will there be any market for coal from that mine, and will the train tracks which only go from the mine to the plant be taken up? If we ever do decide to get off our butts and do something about climate change there will be many similar scenarios in which people will fear more for their immediate well-being than the effects of global warming.

Cuyahoga River Fire 1952

This is actually a picture from the Cuyahoga River fire in 1952. Fun fact: there are no pictures from the 1969 fire.

There have always been tree huggers, but the environmental movement got a big shot in the arm when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969 (see the original report at this link). The river ran through an area of heavy industry in Cleveland, and the incident gained international attention. Many feel it provided the impetus for the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a year later. That agency has registered some successes. The Cuyahoga River is no longer flammable and people now even fish its waters. The acid rain problem is much improved, and the banning of chlorofluorocarbons  (link to article in Scientific American about CFCs) in spray cans has resulted in closure of the hole in the ozone layer, but carbon dioxide (CO2), along with its cousin methane, the chief culprits of greenhouse gases continue to accumulate. As a matter of fact, it has been documented there has been a 45% increase in the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

The EPA does not garner a lot of support these days. Our President appointed an avowed climate denier, Scott Pruit, as head of the agency. After he left in disgrace, he was replaced by a former lobbyist for the coal industry (Andrew Wheeler), who had even led in filing suit against the EPA prior to joining its ranks – not surprising since one of Trump’s campaign promises was to revitalize the coal industry. Of course, it is no secret that the President is no fan of all this environmental stuff. He has characterized the climate change evidence as a hoax most likely perpetrated by the Chinese. One of his first acts after taking office was the announcement of his intent to pull out of the Paris accords regarding climate change. Only a few days ago the Vice President Pence in a television interview refused to agree that climate change was a serious problem.

 

Science is in need of a good PR Campaign

Science has been getting a bad rap recently. Respect for scientists and more importantly trust in their findings seems to have faded. Too many mothers now reject scientific evidence of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and in their zeal to protect their children put them at risk. There appears to be a resurgence of antipathy from “creationists” toward those who study evolution. Some see scientists as godless “intellectual elite” groupies with liberal political agendas consequently; climate change, which many including myself believe to be the most pressing issue of our time, has become politicized with a bit of help from the fossil fuel industry. Thus, in spite of mountains of data confirming we are all at risk from extreme man-made global warming, climate change deniers abound.

In its purest form science is a search for facts. Truth is generally a conclusion based on a collection of facts. At least that is my definition for whatever that is worth. It has also been said that facts answer the questions of where, when, and how; while truth seeks to understand why.

Unfortunately, in this day of social media dominance which makes it easy to promulgate “alternative facts,” conspiracy theories, innuendos, distortions, and altered descriptions of all kinds, truth is not always easily available. The climate deniers initially debunked facts by quoting one scientist of dubious reputation who wrote it all off as normal fluctuations of weather patterns. When he was discredited and data accumulated, many acknowledged there might be a problem in the distant future, but continued to insist it had nothing to do with human activity consequently; nothing could be done about it.

 
The scientific method attempts to screen emotional biases from research consequently; scientists may at first glance appear to be stoic and uncaring. There is not much touchy-feely stuff in most scientific papers, so imagine my surprise when I recently came across an article written by David Corn in the August issue of Mother Jones titled “Weight of the World” which concerned reports on the mental status of a group of climate scientists. The story was based on interviews with many academic scientists who study climate.

scientific-method-poster

 

The common theme through all these interviews with climate scientists was of frustration, anxiety and depression in various degrees. One scholar who was studying the effects of ocean temperatures on climate became clinically depressed. Another reported that she had decided she would not have any children because of her concerns as to the type of world in which they would live.

 

One of the unwritten tenets of scientific endeavor is that one should follow the facts wherever they lead regardless of their political or religious beliefs. The goal should always be to present facts and the presumption is that the facts will speak for themselves. The frustration shared by these people who have dedicated their lives to the study of climate is the feeling that the facts regarding the seriousness, and even the existence of climate change, are not being heard.
Certainly, there are groups and individuals who have a financial or political stake in the denial of climate change, and some like myself, who worry about giving up their air conditioning and all that other energy gobbling stuff I have come to enjoy. Those who warn us of the climate change crisis are accused by many of being duped by unseen forces, influenced by outside influences, or often as simply a bunch of “chicken littles” (i.e. publicity seeking alarmists who overstate the problem).

 
The source of the anger, frustration, and hopelessness expressed by these highly respected researchers however was the feeling that worse than challenging their findings was the feeling that no one was even listening to their concerns. Such situations have been referred to as the Cassandra syndrome, so named for a goddess in Greek mythology who was given the gift of prophecy but received a curse which prevented anyone from believing her.

 

Is Ignorance Bliss?

Indeed, it does seem that many don’t even bother to refute their findings, but just simply ignore them. One cannot help but wonder if there is also a blame the messenger scenario involvement. It is becoming more difficult to deny the existence of the problem as we witness prophecies of more frequent and more severe climate related disasters come to pass. Average temperatures continue to rise and as they do there are more frequent and serious floods, droughts, fires, and storms throughout the world. Sea levels are rising. Glaciers are melting, massive ice sheets are falling into the sea. Arctic permafrost is melting and expected to release even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. For those who would listen it should be obvious that these events are simply previews of coming attractions, and that global warming is not a future event but is already here. We only need look and we will see that millions are already suffering.

 

We are told that an increase in average global temperatures of more that 2 degrees will take us beyond the point of no return, yet to date our efforts to do something about it is like emptying a bathtub with a teaspoon. As we monitor these events it appears that previous predictions of the pace of such warming have been underestimated. We continue to pollute, and to destroy nature’s remedies as for example the logging and burning which is especially prevalent in the Amazon rain forest. Trees not only absorb CO2 but use it to produce oxygen, that precious gas without which we cannot live for more than a few minutes.  The world population continues to increase and improved standards of living in developing countries results in more flesh eaters consequently; more animals raised for food which are a major source of methane a major greenhouse gas.

Mother Earth will survive. Will we?

Most climatologists’ predictions extend only for a few decades, but what about farther down the road. I have grandchildren and have hope that I will still be around long enough to meet my great grandchildren, but I wonder what their world will be like and what travails they will face, and if that will be the last generation of homo sapiens on the planet. Lest you think we are immune from extinction, let me remind you that we are one of many species descended from common ancestors who no longer exist. And that there are thousands of species of animals and plants that are now extinct as a result of changes in their environments. The Neanderthals, our closest relatives, lived in Europe for 40, 000 years, then mysteriously disappeared, some theorize due to climate change.

 

The irreverent George Carlin in one of his stand-up routines cynically reassured us that the earth would do just fine without us,  He seems to have been one of the first to have the audacity to suggest extinction a possibility.

 

So far, we have managed to adapt to changes with the help of our king-sized brains, but as mammals we are quite fragile. We are susceptible to a variety of toxic substances. Our ability to tolerate drastic changes in our environment is quite limited. We cannot live with body temperature fluctuations of more than a few degrees, and require continuous immersion in an oxygen atmosphere. We cannot live long without water and are susceptible to more fatal illnesses than most other creatures. In spite of all our vulnerabilities, when faced with the prospect of an uninhabitable planet, little mention is made of the possibility of the extinction of the human race.
lamar-smith-climate-change-denier-voters-1495136715Those scientists who warn us of what is to come should by honored as heroes. We do honor others such as “first responders” who respond to disasters however give little credence to those who attempt to prevent them. I suffered through the most recent so-called democratic presidential debate and saw little evidence of their concern about the state of our planet. Only one in that gang of candidates, Jay Inslee the governor of Washington, who has made climate change his number one priority, and other than for him little was said on the subject. As for the moderators, their contribution was to ask at the very end of the debate for a show of hands as to how many believed climate change was a serious problem. They all raised their hands, but there was no discussion of the subject and neither the moderators or the candidates other than Inslee brought up the issue during that painful 2 hour marathon.

 
According to the latest figures available nearly 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christian. As such we are taught to give thanks for all that God has provided yet it appears to me that our obligation of stewardship over all that which we have been given gets little attention in our worship services. Likewise, the news media makes casual mention in their reporting of news regarding climate change which in my opinion deserve front page coverage. After all, if there are no longer people on the planet all those issues will be irrelevant.

 
A few years ago Al Gore produced a movie titled “An Inconvenient Truth” which could hardly be considered a blockbuster, yet that title fits perfectly with what we see today. In order to avoid catastrophic effects to the planet there must be an awakening of the world’s population. We must avoid soft-pedaling information about the problem and talk about its consequence in stark terms. We need to not only hear but listen to those knowledgeable about our environment. As a matter of fact, their messages should be amplified so that they can be heard throughout the world.  Our PR and advertising experts have demonstrated their ability to convince the populace of anything.  I am reminded of the effectiveness of efforts to diminish the use of tobacco which motivated many including myself to quit.  Certainly, a condition which threatens the well being and indeed the very existence of the entire human race should deserve equal attention.

 
We need to look beyond this century for as an old guy who has put in the time I can attest to the fact that 80 years is not a long time. We need to use the term extinction (extinction of the human race) in our conversation even though it may produce some feelings of panic (maybe not such a bad thing).

 

Nothing Unites Humans Like a Common Enemy

There are many forces which conspire to keep us at odds with each other, and it has long been known that the easiest way to unite people is to find a common enemy or cause. Perhaps if we could all feel equally threatened we could put away all that trivial stuff and concentrate on saving our planet…actually, saving the human race.

 

It seems to me that legacy does not occupy the thoughts of many these days.  Perhaps we are so caught up in the pace of change that we are unable to visualize the future, and consequently predict what tools will be needed, or simply that we are so preoccupied with the here and now that thoughts of the future beyond our immediate family don’t occur.   We who who have left our carbon footprints have one last opportunity to make amends for what we have done.

 

Ignorance is no longer a valid excuse.

Editor’s Note: If you’re feeling helpless, check out these two organizations I discovered during my research. Stay informed. Voice your concern. Sign the petition.

https://www.ucsusa.org/what-can-i-do-about-climate-change

http://www.climatenetwork.org/

P.S. There’s even a rebel group called Extinction Rebellion for the rabid activists.