"I don't believe in Climate Change."

"I can't believe I live in a country where so many people don't believe in Climate Change."

What is this, a new religion? Since when did scientific theories take on the status of gods?

By turning scientific theories and investigations into a matter of faith—all sides are guilty of this—we usually miss the point, which in the case of climate change could be a fatal mistake.

Bear with me here.

It is unlikely in the extreme that an asteroid of disastrous size will hit the earth in any time frame mankind should worry about. But NASA is watching, and working on possible ways to deflect any space object of significant size that threatens our planet. They're not panicking, but they're observing and preparing.

On the climate change issue, we're doing the opposite. That particular "asteroid" might not be the disaster that is panicking so many people—or it might just smack right into us while we're busy squabbling and calling each other names.

"You pitiful, moronic, flat-earthers! You stick your heads in the sand and care more about making money than about the health of our planet, not to mention all those people who are having their homes and their livelihoods washed away."

"You elitist idiots! You censor opposing viewpoints, know nothing about the lives of the working class, and would put our culture and our families at risk for the sake of some unproven computer models."

And somewhere, in a place where glaciers and icebergs don't stand a chance, Satan is laughing.

We argue, sometimes with good reason, over questions about the changing climate: It this something new, or a recurring phenomenon? How much of the change is due to manmade causes, and how much is natural? Which measurements and which computer models are most accurate? How much can we trust computer models? 

If you believe the questions are all settled, you don't know science. In science, questions are only settled until contradictory data comes along. Close your mind, and you close the doors to knowledge, growth, improvement, and all that is good about scientific inquiry.

Whatever the truth is behind all these questions, what should be do about it? Should we let nature take its course (man is, after all, part of nature) and simply adjust to the changes, as we have since the beginning of time? Or should we, as responsible, rational human beings, observe, prepare, and (without panic) take reasonable measures to deflect this incoming asteroid?

We don't need all the answers to take action, but we do need to start pulling together on this. Right now we're too busy throwing insults at each other and letting our own beliefs blind us to what other people are saying.

If I were the president of the United States—and I know many of you are convinced that I could do a better job than our current president, so pay attention—here's what I'd do. I would assemble a group of leaders (I hesitate to say "committee," but I guess that's what it would be) representing a wide variety of perspectives on the loosely-defined subject of climate change. Much care would be taken creating this group, because they would need to be able to work together without acrimony. I would begin by polling a large variety of leaders, asking, "Make a list of people who challenge your position on climate change, but for whom you still have respect, and with whom you think you could work together for the common good."  If a person responded that there is no one in the opposition whom he or she respects, that person, no matter how renowned, would be excluded from my committee. As much as possible, I would balance opposing viewpoints, because the committee as a whole must have credibility with all the American people: we all need to believe our position is being heard—and so do the hare-brained idiots who oppose us.

The purpose of this committee would not be to rule on the unanswerable questions, but to consider what can, and what should, be done to mitigate the changes we are observing. If the changes are due to human actions, of course it is our responsibility to see that we minimize the harm ("we" being everyone from individuals to corporations to governments). But even if they are 100% due to natural causes (excluding man), isn't it the nature of rational man to attempt to make beneficial changes to natural phenomena? We build fires, domesticate animals, invent air conditioning, develop vaccines, improve agriculture, use umbrellas. The question is, how to get the most benefit with the fewest negative consequences.

This is a sample what I would want the committee to consider:

  • What undeniable climate-related changes have happened? Stay away from speculation, such as "Global warming is causing more (or fewer) hurricanes," no matter how tempting; stick with clearly documentable facts, such "Glacier X has retreated by Y meters in the last 40 years." Consider everything from sea levels to weather patterns to geographical and biological changes, and come up with a list that everyone on the committee can agree on.
  • Do these changes point in a specific direction? How do they compare with previous trends? Are they accelerating or decelerating? Again, pare the answer down to something all can agree on.
  • What is the reliability of the various computer models used to make predictions from these trends? This will be tough to agree on, given our experience with hurricane path prediction models, but no one said being on this committee was going to be easy ... just important.
  • What are the probable impacts of these predicted changes? Consider everything.
  • What changes can be made that will slow the progress of harmful trends? This is to be a dream list, from the accumulated efforts of individuals to corporate actions to governmental edicts, of what could theoretically make a difference, and how much of a difference each might make.
  • What is the probability that each of the above changes could actually be implemented?
  • How effective would the resulting partial compliance be?
  • What would be the risks and costs associated with those changes? Consider job loss, price increases, economic and governmental instability, national security, anything that would negatively impact compliant individuals and nations.
  • What can be done to help those who will be impacted by present and future climate changes?
  • What can be done to help those who will be impacted by efforts to mitigate climate changes?

The most important job of the committee would be to speak with a single voice to all the people, with their diverse views on the issue of climate change. The members must hammer out something that they agree on, if there is to be any hope that the rest of us will pull together.

What's the best climate policy? One that people will get on board with. Most people are willing, even proud, to make sacrifices, if they believe (1) the cause is important, (2) their actions will make a difference, and (3) the sacrifices are not unevenly distributed.

NASA's efforts to prevent a catastrophic asteroid crash are based on the idea that a small push, given in the right way at the right time, can deflect even a massive body. If they were to push at the wrong time, in the wrong way, or when a push was unnecessary, they could set up a worse disaster still. If they were to spend their time squabbling over how to do the job, the asteroid could easily get too close for even a massive push to make any difference.

Let's find a way to do this, and do it right.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Edit
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Delivery by drone is here—or rather, in Switzerland. Swiss Post and Matternet—which despite the name's similarity to Matterhorn, is based in California—have set up the first autonomous drone delivery system.

I remember a discussion, back in the late 1980's, I believe, about how much the world had changed during Porter's grandmother's lifetime, from the beginnings of automobiles to the Space Shuttle, from the invention of radio to television as a major social influence.

Being not at all prescient, apparently, I remarked that there had been no such dramatic changes in our own time. Sure, there had been improvements in technology, but they were incremental, rather than major breakthroughs that changed the lives of ordinary people. The space program seemed to have sputtered; we weren't flying excursions to the moon, let alone anywhere else. We had personal computers, e-mail, a very primitive version of the Internet, and even primitive mobile phones ("car phones") ... but these were very limited, the province of nerds and hobbyists. They hardly touched the lives of ordinary people.

Little did I know that we were poised on the brink of astonishing changes. I had forgotten two important factors: (1) we were still young back then, and (2) the other technological changes we now take for granted, like cars and airplanes and television, did not have a major impact overnight. They, too, started with a very limited, if enthusiastic, user base.

Excursions to the moon, on the other hand, seem as far away as ever.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 21, 2017 at 8:19 am | Edit
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When we moved to this neighborhood more than 30 years ago, we considered buying a house on the street shown in the news story below. Instead, we opted for a home one street over, of significantly higher elevation. Today that's looking like a very good choice.

Children, being the delightful people they are, find joy where the more knowledgeable and responsible adults find worry. They remember the togetherness of huddling in a hallway, listening to a hurricane rage outside, while their parents were wondering if a tree was going to crash through the roof. They remember the delight of the family sleeping together by the living room fire during an ice storm, and using marshmallow sticks to toast bread over the coals, while their mother fretted over how to get the baby clean diapers with no power to run the washing machine. They recall the thrill of riding their bicycles through knee-high water, while the neighbors dealt with flooded yards.

Irma's flooding in our neighborhood was the worst I have seen here. The hurricane that provided the biking adventures for our kids flooded the river so badly that a nearby bridge on the main road had to be closed, yet the water was not nearly as deep in our neighborhood as that from Irma. Flooded yards you may have to expect when you live next to a river, even a small one, but flooded houses are causing people to ask why. I suspect that recent reconstruction of the water/sewer/road system in our neighborhood left behind a glitch in the drainage, but that may be difficult to prove. Then again, the bridge has been upgraded and raised, too, so maybe we did just get that much more water—we're not usually on the east side of the hurricane.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 8:39 am | Edit
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Our children, who grew up in Mickey's Backyard, and whose favorite of all the Disney World parks was always EPCOT, may enjoy the memories evoked by this National Geographic article about the Netherlands: This Tiny Country Feeds the World.  (Thanks, Eric, for tweeting this.)

In a potato field near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium, Dutch farmer Jacob van den Borne is seated in the cabin of an immense harvester before an instrument panel worthy of the starship Enterprise. From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. ... The global average yield of potatoes per acre is about nine tons. Van den Borne’s fields reliably produce more than 20.

Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

Seen from the air, the Netherlands resembles no other major food producer—a fragmented patchwork of intensely cultivated fields, most of them tiny by agribusiness standards, punctuated by bustling cities and suburbs.

Climate-controlled farms enable a country located a scant thousand miles from the Arctic Circle to be a global leader in exports of a fair-weather fruit: the tomato. The Dutch are also the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value.

The brain trust behind these astounding numbers is centered at Wageningen University & Research (WUR), located 50 miles southeast of Amsterdam. Widely regarded as the world’s top agricultural research institution, WUR is the nodal point of Food Valley, an expansive cluster of agricultural technology start-ups and experimental farms. ... Ernst van den Ende, managing director of WUR’s Plant Sciences Group, embodies Food Valley’s blended approach. A renowned scholar with the casual manner of a barista at a hip café, van den Ende is a world authority on plant pathology. But, he says, “I’m not simply a college dean. Half of me runs Plant Sciences, but the other half oversees nine separate business units involved in commercial contract research.” Only that mix, “the science-driven in tandem with the market-driven,” he maintains, “can meet the challenge that lies ahead.”

Could this be the start of a new, more sustainable, Green Revolution?

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 18, 2017 at 7:44 am | Edit
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People tell me they couldn't move to Florida because they can't stand our bugs. Me, I'll take our giant cockroaches any day over ticks.

I grew up in Upstate New York. I spent much of my free time in the woods near our house, and hiked with my father all over the Adirondack Mountains. Never in my life did I see a tick of any sort until a visit to Connecticut after I graduated from college. Now, apparently, ticks are everywhere in the Northeast (and more). The worst a roach ever did to me was to scuttle into my bra when I was prone on the floor searching under the kitchen cupboards. The worst a tick has done to me was to give my little grandson Lyme disease, a far more serious, and much less amusing, situation.

Ticks freak me out. I don't know where this infestation came from, and I'm not happy about it.

But just when I started thinking that "extinction is forever" would be a great idea for all tick species, I read this: Oxford University researchers say ticks are a "gold mine" for new drugs.

It's possible that the extinction of any species, even the most apparently useless, annoying, or even dangerous, deprives us of some great, as yet undiscovered, benefit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 15, 2017 at 9:00 pm | Edit
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Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love.

This observation by John Gottman—from "The Calculus of Love", Science News, Vol 165, No. 9, 28 Feb 2004, p. 142—is what leapt to my mind when I read Michael Hyatt's essay, Why Speaking Well of Your Spouse Is So Important. It's a short article, in which he briefly fleshes out the following points:

  • You Get More of What You Affirm
  • Affirmation Shifts Your Attitude
  • Affirmation Strengthens Your Spouse’s Best Qualities
  • Affirmation Wards off Temptation
  • Affirmation Provides a Model to Those You Lead

Simple, powerful, difficult, and important in much more than the marital relationship. With our children, on the job, with our neighbors, in politics, on social media. Contempt is the sulfuric acid of love.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 3, 2017 at 11:25 am | Edit
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altThis wise, and heartbreaking, letter appeared in this morning's Hartford Courant. If you wade through to page A7, you can see it online here. (Click the image to see it larger.)

The writer is 99 years old, and his grandfather fought for the Union side in the Civil War, with the 62nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. My own great-grandfather was a sergeant with the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry and participated in all the principal battles fought by the Army of the Potomac, including Gettysburg, where there is a monument to his regiment that Porter has seen, though I have not yet had the pleasure. Nathan Smith died six years before the 50th anniversary reenactment in 1913, but I have little doubt that he would have been one of those veterans who "respected what each had done for his cause."  In the words of President Woodrow Wilson on that occasion,

We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor. 

That caused me to remember a line in C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle: “Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?”

One hundred years later, for all its progress in other areas, America has regressed in its ability to recognize valor and goodness in the opposition. After World War II, we quickly made peace with the Germans and the Japanese (were we ever seriously against the Italians?) and have much respect for them today, if not for some of their past actions. But we can't seem to make peace with our own history and people. God help us.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 2, 2017 at 9:09 am | Edit
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