Monday, May 20, 2013

Walking the blues

Homo sapiens evolved about 100,000 years ago.  Incidentally, this data is a bit old.  We hit 400 parts per million last week.
Chart from Datafuzz.

Another climate change post, I know. I wrote a letter to my pastor about divestment and he said it's good if people have a “bee in their bonnet” about these things. So I suppose I have a bee in my bonnet. I've been looking for ages for a succinct infographic that can explain to people what's going on with carbon dioxide and climate change, and all along all I've needed is a simple graph.

The problem with most of the articles I see on carbon dioxide is that they only address the problem over the last couple of decades. “It's the hottest year since 1971!” or whatever. Or they address it over the last 100 years. Even climatologists will try to compare now to the 1890s. Or, if they're particularly enlightened, they address the rise of industrialism during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, how we began spewing carbon into the air at the advent of the Industrial Age.

Although that may feel like a long time, the button factories of Victorian Britain, really it's very recent in global climate cycles. So essentially we've been burning shit since we discovered fire.

Another of the challenges I've discovered in talking about climate change is how unwilling people are to accept human evolution. Yes, they believe in dinosaurs and carbon dating and the pyramids and the fossil record. Yes, they believe in the big bang and cosmic goo and the quantum mechanics that allows computers to function. But humans came from animals? Hold on there a minute. Never mind that 99 percent of our genetic material is identical to that of an ape. Never mind that we've not found just one missing link but several—the various branches of evolving primates that led, eventually, to homo sapiens.

It's more than that. It's this sense that somehow evolution devalues us and devalues our God. But if you really read about it, really study it—it's hard to imagine a more beautiful or elegant method of creation.

Faith is not incompatible with science. Can't we just agree on that? Science, itself, as any scientist would agree, is a form of faith. Faith in data, faith in abstract mathematics, faith in the power of numbers and proof and the predictability in matter in motion.

And carbon dioxide is matter. Every time you exhale, you contribute to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees breathe it in, we breathe it out. It's the most basic ecosystem, the balance of chemistry in our atmosphere, and we didn't even know about it till 100 years ago. After we'd already begun to contribute to the radical spike of its presence all around us.

Even if you're the brave humanist to believe in evolution, do you know the difference among what happened during the planet's history during the last 100,000, 1 million, or 100 million years? I didn't, up until a couple of weeks ago. But now I know that 100 million is when the dinosaurs were around. Neanderthals started their era about 800,000 years ago.

And homo sapiens? The first evidence of "abstract consciousness" comes from perhaps 100,000 years ago.  We started our exodus from Africa around 70,000 years ago, give or take, riding the wave of receding glaciers you can track on the above chart, riding the end of our last ice age for a very long time. Around 40,000 years ago we conquered the planet.  As far back as then when homo sapiens in Russia were burying their children with millions of beads. Then the Lascaux caves and fertility goddess figurines then Stonehenge and Jesus.

And now it's getting hot around here. Hotter than when the dinosaurs were here. Twice as hot as at any point in human evolution. Things are changing, and they're going to change more and more quickly, and they're going to keep changing until we are honest about ourselves and our technology and our civilization.

This American Life mentioned “war-time measures.” They mentioned that government climatologists, paid by us to report on the data, are lying to us because they're afraid that they'll be fired if they tell the truth.  Numerous state climatologists have been fired by Republican officials for their honesty about global warming.  These same climatologists are quietly buying second homes far, far above sea level.  But This American Life also profiled the Freedom Riders of a new generation, the founders of a movement that could save all of us. I hope to be one of them.  They also say that trying to convince us, all of us, who bathe in oil, drink it, breathe it in--too start a movement is like asking slaveholders to be the abolitionists.

I find myself becoming more and more conservative, in the truest sense, in the sense that we must conserve. When did conservation and conservative become incompatible? I am not a traditional conservative, more of a green socialist. But the only method we've found for motivating human behavior on a massive scale is capitalism, as brutal as its methods may be. Which means every breath of carbon has to cost more if we're going to bring down its level. Yes, this means that poor people will starve, will roast, will freeze. But they're going to do that anyway, and much worse, if we fail to address the actual science. Which means cap and trade, and radical disruption of our civilization, and that's if we're blessed.

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