Climate Change is Not a Centaur

Centaurs, the half-man and half-‘beast’ creatures of Greek mythology, are now almost unanimously perceived as a human-created idea that many people in the past believed to be real.  There were centaur-fearing people, werewolf-fearing people, etc.  There are still some of these fearers, and large numbers of people today who fall into many disparate x-fearing categories (many of which are entirely human-created and not in the least, objectively, real).

Those things that can be influenced by a human being are worth worrying about by that particular human.  For example, a father may worry that if he died unexpectedly he would leave his family in an extremely difficult situation.  Investing in a life insurance policy can abate such fears.  There is no point in worrying about ways to prevent the very brain aneurysm which could leave his family in trouble.  Either it will happen or it won’t – there is essentially nothing that he can do.

Many argue that ‘climate change’ is not human-influenced, and therefore is not something for us to worry about it.  Some of those people who believe that centaurs exist may warn you that, if you go out into the forest, a pack of sweaty horse-men are going to trample you to death.  But there is nothing that you can do about it anyway, they might say, since centaurs can be anywhere at any time (including your home) so there is no reason to worry.  What will be, will be.  Don’t pick up your axe when the centaurs come clattering your way.  Such an outlook is not favorable to most of us.  It would be better to go down fighting a centaur, if it were a real creature, rather than allowing it to trample you.  It does not take a biologist to know that almost anyone will fight when presented with a situation that is apparently deadly.  Survival is the most engrained natural instinct of any living thing.  So if our life (which in genetic terms includes that of our offspring) depends upon it, we are naturally inclined to fight, say, a centaur – or any other threat that we perceive as real.

“I’m tired of hearing about centaurs.  Centaurs are not real.  I am a rationalist.  But even if centaurs do (or does, keep reading) exist, humans cannot possibly offer any resistance.  So let’s not worry!  Frankly, I’m quite sure that the Romans created the idea of centaurs so that we waste our time and resources trying to eradicate this myth!”  Replace ‘centaurs’ with ‘climate change’ and ‘Romans’ with ‘Chinese’ and this is essentially what Donald Trump has said in his so-far successful campaign to become president of the U.S. of A.

There are disconcertingly many who argue that climate change is such an illusion.  Human-caused climate change, they may argue, is as real and worth taking measures against as a centaur.  The fact that a major political party in the U.S. largely believes or pretends to believe that climate change is illusory is baffling from an ethical standpoint, considering the preponderance of scientific evidence suggesting otherwise, though expected from a political standpoint.  The support that candidates who deny human-caused climate change receive is a testament of the startling, and willfully ignorant, beliefs of a large percentage of United States citizens.

In the United States of America, many people are skeptical of science in general because, due to little or no fault of their own, they have not been trained in science.  Such a fact undermines the efficacy of statements by scientists, such as: humans are causing irreversible harm to the biosphere by burning fossil fuels.  People, understandably, don’t want to lose jobs and/or infrastructure associated with fossil fuel consumption, and will align with anyone who agrees with them.  Many (I stress, not all) Republican politicians, therefore agree for selfish and exploitative reasons.  They want to be elected, and say whatever it takes to gain the support of those who they do not ultimately care about the well-being of.  Being purposely selfish and exploitative are expected in the animal kingdom, which includes us humans, because that is usually the best way to have a lot of offspring.  But we must recognize this avoidable natural tendency now, and take it upon ourselves to demystify the notion of human-caused climate change before it is too late.  Let’s not allow the selfish people take advantage of us and the world that we love.

It is true that we as humans have a short reference frame, if one considers the vastness of time, and so the increase that we have seen in global temperature since we have been recording it could be a tiny, natural, and otherwise (if we weren’t living in the moment) brief and unnoticeable trend that is ultimately independent of human activity.  It is also true that a changing climate is natural.  There used to be tropical forests at the North Pole, for example.  Isolated weather anomalies do not prove human-caused climate perturbation.  Phenomena like solar flares could be more responsible for climatic variation than anything humans can do.

Such is the material of, for example, gabbers who are paid by oil and coal companies to talk on television or the internet in order to confuse people about the facts, and convince them that human-caused climate change is as real as a centaur.  The most devious and effective trouble-causers are those who construe veritable facts to support claims that are untrue.  Such is what the afore-mentioned political gabbers seem to be doing.  A puppet of such political strings should not be ridiculed, but should rather be reasoned with.  It is by talking to our neighbors, I think, that progress can and should be made.

This much is undeniable: we rely upon the plants and other animals which rely upon the climate that they evolved to (or were ‘created’ to, whatever floats your boat/arc) flourish in.  A changing climate negatively effects them, and therefore us.  John Muir said it best: “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else…”  And so it goes with us and the other things on Earth.  Just like a typewriter can no longer compete in the current technological climate, and has therefore gone extinct, so to do biological organisms go extinct when the climate changes.   If the climate changes substantially, it would not be that big of a deal for the Earth in the long, long run considering it is an inanimate object that would likely support different kinds of life after we, or something else, eradicated the life we know.  But it is a big deal for us as a species, in our short crawl of that long run, considering that when the other species go, their replacements will not likely come anytime soon.  We have one chance here, and if the thermostat is turned up, at best we will be uncomfortable.  At worst our civilization will be destroyed.
Climate Figure 1

Figure 1.  From Wiki Commons, showing how atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature correlate.  The increase around 1900 seems directly related to human activity soon after the industrial revolution.  Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means that it allows solar energy to gain admittance through the atmosphere but not leave. 

Anyone who has been in an uncomfortably hot room knows that tensions can run high, especially if there is melting ice-cream waiting to be eaten.  And if tensions become high enough (due to increased competition for natural resources, etc.) in a world where there are nuclear weapons and irresponsible leaders, than the end of our civilization could be much closer than most are willing to acknowledge.  Climate change makes an already difficult situation (living in this place among others who live in this place) more difficult to due resulting conditions such as sea-levels rising, weather unpredictability, and resource scarcity.  So let’s keep the thermostat from being turned up while we can, before Uncle Donny throws his empty ice cream bowl at Granny’s heat-stricken head.

Metaphors aside, my message in regard to climate change on planet Earth is as follows.  Even if we are not changing the climate, we should be worried that it is changing, and do everything in our power to combat major environmental perturbation.

A fish will die a terrible death if, say, hydrochloric acid begins to mix in sizeable amounts with the water in its bowl, whether or not that fish is the ultimate cause of the acid being poured in.  If Nemo, though, can push a button that diverts the acid from entering his environment, then he had better do so before it is too late.  And we, of course, are able to push a multitude of buttons here in our fish bowl called Earth that can reasonably maintain and restore the environment upon which we depend.  But the majority of us fish have to open our eyes first!

A few buttons worth pushing:

Forests should be spared from being cut down, or allowed to grow again, because they combat climatic perturbation by absorbing and assimilating the very carbon dioxide that is released when we breathe, or blithely burn trees, coal, and oil.  Such ‘fossil fuels’ as coal and oil, when burned, release carbon from organisms that lived long ago, and it has of course become fashionable for many and profitable for fewer to take advantage of this to provide, so-called, cheap energy.  But a hefty environmental cost is being paid, even if not apparent to those who have been duped into thinking burning coal is ‘cheap.’  Other technologies, like solar panels, could be nationally embraced so that we may someday utilize the sun’s energy in a sustainable and cost-efficient way.  One only needs to look at a photosynthesizing plant to see what is probably the best answer to our dire energy-consumption problems.  Furthermore, burning fossil fuels is an obvious dead-end, considering that oil, coal, and natural gas will likely run out or become too hard to access, which makes the development of renewable energy systems even more important.  And while there are many gifted minds already at work trying to develop efficient solar energy utilizing systems, and other renewable energy systems, they would stand a much better chance of achieving their goal if we all as educated citizens cared and demanded the development of such technologies be a global priority.  The job creation that would likely result from implementing a new, clean-energy infrastructure would be unprecedented in magnitude.  Anyone and everyone can/should drive less, recycle, re-use, join pro-environment clubs, and support politicians who are not selfish exploiters.

But for any of this to happen we must care about the issue that confronts us, and see climate change for what it is (a global challenge) and for what it isn’t (a centaur).  If we don’t care soon, our prospects look bleak.  This must become an everyday conversational reality if we are to salvage this strange and wonderful opportunity that is life on Earth.  One only needs to look at the fossil record to see how fast chances to develop consciousness evaporate.  Over 99 percent of the species that have ever lived, of which we are but one, are now extinct.  The time to see, care, and make a difference is now.

There are disconcertingly many examples of the effects that human-caused climate change has already had on the natural world.  It is probably not a coincidence that the mass extinction that we are currently experiencing is correlated with recent climatic perturbation.  For the sake of brevity I will mention only a couple of the first dominoes that are falling, and have chosen just two organisms that depend upon cold temperatures (though species are imperiled for a variety of reasons, not just temperature change).  Polar bears and pikas are famous for being among the first to suffer the consequences of human-caused climate change.  The bears can’t go any further north to find suitable habitat to replace what is being lost due to warming temperatures, and pikas can’t go up any further.  Both species could very well be extinct before the end of the century.  Should those of us at lower latitudes and elevations be so foolish as to assume that the first dominoes will fall but the others (like us), won’t?  And even if the other ‘dominoes’ (plants and animals upon which we depend) fall, are we as a species still so ignorant as to believe that we could stand unaffected?  I sincerely hope not.

Climate Figure 2

Figure 2.  The stoic stare of an endangered species, the American pika.

Choosing to remain ignorant in regard to the topic of climate change is as unacceptable as shooting pikas with pellet guns.  For by not caring, and not educating ourselves, we are condemning them in the short-term and ourselves in the slightly-longer-term.  I have heard pikas yip, and have watched them scurrying in the rocks.  They have as much a right to live as anything else.  Even the things that aren’t cute and cuddly so far as our mammalian brains perceive deserve to live, too.  And those of us who love life and living must do our best to protect the other organisms that us Homo sapiens have imperiled.  Even if we as a species could stand alone without the others (which we probably can’t), would we want to?

Without question, we have made some small steps in the right direction.  A recent step was the international agreement which happened in Paris, signed by 195 countries, to curb fossil fuel use and limit global temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  But if it were not for those who call climate change a man-made myth, the deal would have likely been much more politically-binding and effective.  If it weren’t for the mythologists, a frustratingly large fraction of which reside in the seemingly drunk and disoriented U.S. (hyperbolically ‘drunk and disoriented,’ due to having consumed too much oil, see Figure 3), the deal would have likely elicited a global celebration.  Those of us who love life should be proud of this deal, and do our best to continue encouraging such acts of sanity and fore-sight in a place where irrationality and myopia are much too common.

Climate Figure 3

Figure 3.  Also from Wiki Commons, these data show what countries are most culpable for climate change.  Other ‘developing’ regions will soon increase Carbon emissions rapidly.

We can make a difference, but must act fast if we want to save the natural world and our place in it.  Climate change is a major obstacle which could unite the world in the effort of combatting it.  Truly global citizens we could be become, united by adversity, if we are willing to come together to stand up for life as we know it.

If you have read this far, you are probably either my mother (love you!), someone who really agrees with what I’ve written, or someone who really disagrees and enjoys the feeling of indignation that comes with reading something counter to what you believe.  It is unlikely that an ‘on-the-fence’ person has read this far, which is ironic considering these are the people who are exactly who I want to reach!  So if you agree with my position, please spread the word.  This is important stuff, despite being less than real to most people.  If you disagree, please consider what I have proposed, and ask yourself if you are really different than a fish dependent upon a suitable environment.  If you are on the fence, I commend you for giving me this much of your time, and encourage you to make an informed decision in regard to how you will live your life and influence the lives of others.  If you are my mother, pet a basset hound for me and think about naming the next one Pika (and imagine how enraged you would be if someone shot him/her with a pellet gun!).

So please be aware: human-caused climate change is not a centaur.  It is a process that we should spend time thinking about, as well as one that we can and should combat, together.

 

Note:

More informative graphs can be found at:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Valued_image_candidates/Graphs_of_Global_Warming

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6 thoughts on “Climate Change is Not a Centaur

  1. Pika is a cute name, but I’ve been leaning toward the name “Bubbles” or “Pickles” for my next basset hound. I’ll take your recommendation into consideration when the time comes, however. Your most recent blog, which is hard to digest for a non-biologist (dummy) like me, makes me wonder, once again, “What keeps my son’s head from exploding?!” (Well done, by the way.) I love you too…and the dogs immensely enjoyed the extra belly rubs.

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  2. I appreciate this educational article! I didn’t know anything about the Paris climate change meeting, except that it happened. And I didn’t know about this adorable creature called the pika! I just googled it and heard its call. Also, did you know that collared pikas store dead birds in their homes and then later crack the skulls and eat the bird brains in the winter? Like an adorable little psychopath! 😉

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