What scientists fear most.

I don’t even think  this debate is merely about “global warming” anymore…

I think it’s more about whether you believe humans can alter the environment at a global as well as a local scale. I mean, all of us can accept that even cockroaches and rats can change their local little jaunts easily enough…

(either inadvertently and/or purposefully; it doesn’t really matter for the sake of this argument whether the changes are intended or not) 

There is no question that we alter things at a local scale. We can directly manipulate the atomic, molecular and microscopic scales. We manipulate things at the ‘macro’ scale, too (the scale of what we can see without the aid of a microscope). We make things, change things, on the scale of millimetres, centimetres, metres, even kilometres. We make runways for instance. How long are they? Right?

Here’s a timely reminder — Earth’s atmosphere is only about 10km ‘thick’. I’m sure most people don’t stop to appreciate this on their morning or afternoon commute: most people travel more in one single day –be it driving a car or walking in the Ethiopian desert– than the Earth’s atmosphere is ‘deep’. They most likely travel at least this distance every single day of their lives, perhaps more.

One only needs to look around a city, any city, to know that the human civilisation built it. We most definitely changed it. Why? Because it doesn’t look like it did before humans settled there, that’s why. Isn’t it obvious? Before that, it was a forest or a jungle, a river’s edge or a peat bog.

And so we continue to dam rivers and build bridges. We build skyscrapers and oil tankers and cruise liners. We construct entire airports offshore.

We tear down forests and we mine the Earth. At every and any opportunity. Why? To make it more ‘comfortable’ for ourselves. We spew out all kinds of gases and chemicals into our waterways and our atmosphere. And somehow, miraculously, none of this can even remotely alter something so basic as “the average temperature”. Somehow “that’s impossible”1.

At what point along the size scale do people go from accepting that “yes absolutely humans can and do cause local changes in the form of urbanisation” to becoming ones of “oh no, humans are too puny to have caused this, this is god’s realm, carry on” in someone’s mind? At what scale? Where exactly do they let go of reality?

Here’s the thing that most people don’t seem to understand or comprehend: if you do enough “local-scale things” all around the planet, then it has to change at a global scale as well. It has to! Indeed, there really is no black and white distinction between ‘local and global scales’. The cosmos presents a continuous scale, all the way from the very tiniest subatomic particle (and probably smaller) right the way through to galaxies and beyond. And I don’t care what you think you want to believe, each scale does affect the other.

Man is not exempt from the effects of any of these scales (at either the very large-scale end, the very small end or anywhere inbetween). All scales can potentially be ‘dangerous’ to us. We have radiation, we have poison, we have knives, we have trucks crashing into things, we have nuclear bombs. And we also have something else. Something else we can’t quite control as well. The environment: the oxygen in our atmosphere, fresh water, food (and to a lesser extent, gravity). Each represents a different scale. And the presence or absence of each one can equally kill, albeit at different timescales.

There is simply no getting around it… “do enough shit” to the surface of this planet, any planet, and you’ll most likely fuck it up completely rather than make it only slightly ‘better’2

Whether carbon dioxide gas, or any other compound, it really wouldn’t matter what is causing it either, would it? Would it matter to people if it were a different compound such as methane, krypton or something else they’ve never even heard of? Would that help them understand what is going on with vibrational modes of this molecule at infrared frequencies?

Actually, surprisingly, I think the answer to that question is: “it depends”. I think the answer lies in how much this presence or absence of whatever it is we have to give up contributes to our current lifestyle. And I think we all know that we are far less likely to give up our ‘comforts’ than if it’s something we never (or rarely) use anyway.

If we don’t have much to give up, like with CFCs for example (because we simply used a spraycan with a different propellant inside of it), then by all means “let’s do this right now, starting today”. The Result? Ozone hole partially closed already.

A scientist might say that our reluctance to change is “inversely proportional” to the amount that it affects our present and future lifestyle. Lots to give up? Climate change = fake news. Not real. Not happening. Nothing to give up? No reason why it couldn’t be true.

On the other hand, if you’re talking about giving up the power of your very own automobile, reducing your electricity consumption, buying and using less stuff, travelling less, or just even generally using less and less technology instead of more and more — then on second thought, “perhaps not quite so fast”. Right?

Do you know what scientists fear most? Do you know what scares scientists absolutely shitless? Well they might not know it, but I think all scientists inherently fear that one day we’ll lose control of nature. Because right now, science can control nature (well sort of).

Now we don’t want you to panic. But quite frankly, it’s fast getting to that point. Because species are becoming extinct all over the place… and it’s an understatment to say that biologists, entomologists, and soil scientists are not happy about that.

I think to many people, technology may make it seem like “we can do whatever the fuck we want, however we want, whenever we want and wherever we want” and still we’ll all be okay. That no matter what happens, scientists will be smart enough to “figure a way out it”. I mean heck, “who ‘invented’ the ipad?”. People. People are smart. Right?

Wrong. Because even today, in the ‘modern age’ (whatever that is) we don’t have to create our own gravity, sunlight, air pressure, oxygen and water. Do we?

And somehow –some truly clueless, ignorant people– think that “everything’s going to be alright, Jack”. Maybe because it always has been. Maybe because they don’t have a very good imagination about the future. Maybe because they are ignorant. Or maybe they believe in some kind of higher power and that “man can do no harm”, that man’s job is to “work and be more productive”.

These “deniers” generally retort: “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” whenever anyone becomes even remotely ‘alarmist’. As if all alarms are false ones. Even if the alarmists do have a higher IQ.

But I really would really like to see those very same [science] deniers in another, very different, scenario. Say they we have organised a tour of a nuclear power station for them. Just say. Would they stick around, for example, if/when a nuclear scientist is yelling at them: “THE CORE IS GOING INTO MELTDOWN, GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!!!!!”. Would they be hanging around the containment building, tardily and proudly proclaiming “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”? Would they be so quick to make a cup of coffee in that instant? Or would they, far more likely, heed the scientists’ advice and flee their sorry arses right on out of there as fast as their legs could carry them? Yes I think the latter.

Or maybe I reall am missing something. Maybe we really are puny. Maybe. Maybe we are so fucking puny, nature will continue to evolve and adapt all around us.

But then I recall biololgists tellings us that the less biodiversity there is, the slower nature recovers from all kinds of change.

  1. And yet some people, refuse to believe that it too can be inadvertently manipulated. Funnily enough these are sometimes the very same people who believe that the presence of contrails, the ice crystals left behind aircrafts’ jet engines, are some weird-arse  conspiracy theory, that man is already altering the atmosphere. Secretly, yes, but “on purpose”. Which is it then?
  2. Whatever ‘better’ means. Prettier, more liveable, more biodiversity, more sustainable? I don’t know.

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