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Ask yourself: what are the truly critical issues facing humanity today? Abortion; the Sanctity of Marriage; gun ownership; the War on Drugs? Haha. No. The Debt Ceiling? Terrorism (or, more equitably, religious extremism)? Nope. Global Climate Change? OK, now we’re getting somewhere. But even terminology so broad as Global Climate Change** tends to oversimplify what’s happened, and make it seem like a separate “thing.” But it’s not just an item on a checklist, something to which we may allow ourselves to attach fluctuating priority depending on how the day is shaping up. Rather, it’s a tangible, leering Grim Reaper, staring us all in the face.
Boiled down to very simple terms, the earth is a substrate for life, just like a laboratory Petri dish is a substrate for the growth of bacteria, fungus, etc. There is a fixed amount of substrate in both cases. When all of the nutrients have been sucked out of the agar in a Petri dish, the bacteria stop growing. Of course, they keep metabolizing for awhile….keep generating waste which contains substances toxic to further growth. And eventually start dying off, being broken down into more toxic by-products, etc. But basically, a Petri dish is a very limited closed system, which, left unchecked, will very quickly overproduce and then crash, and eventually become a mass of smelly goo. And so it is with the earth.
Our planet is obviously much larger, and our ecosystem much more complicated, than a Petri dish. But the bottom line is that the earth is, for all practical purposes of human life, a closed system. There is a fixed amount of land, water, and nutrients. When biologists look at ecosystems and populations, one of the parameters to which they frequently refer is “carrying capacity.” Simply put, this is the load (number of organisms) a system can handle indefinitely, given the amount of resources available and the rate of turnover of nutrients. So, you ask, what is the earth’s carrying capacity, and how soon will we reach it? Bad news, guys. We strolled casually past that shit decades ago, as we might pass a bum on the street begging for quarters, not really even noticing. The ecosystem is now in decline, and heading for an inevitable crash. Sure, our continued advances in technology and agriculture have made us more efficient every day at harvesting the earth’s resources. But these advances are not a hopeful path toward a solution; the incredible efficiency with which humans have learned to extract food and other resources is, in fact, the problem. Our own cleverness is what has allowed us to march beyond the point of no return with almost no one even noticing.
(Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Michele Bachmann; back to that crazy bitch in a few. Hang in there, this is important.)
If the earth’s resources were a bank account, we could say we’ve been dipping into the savings side for a long time now, and it is not being replenished. We aren’t accruing interest, and it’s going to be empty a lot sooner than most people are willing to accept. Colloquially speaking, we are fucked. No, I’m not saying we are fucked “if we don’t do x or y.” I’m saying we are fucked, period. As Paul Gilding tells us in his book The Great Disruption, it’s too late to reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet. All we can hope to do at this point is manage the decline. Pump the brakes and look for the safest spot to crash. Gilding, whose message is somewhat more optimistic than it might sound so far, talks about heroic human action in past times of grave crisis, and believes that in the end, we’ll come round to seeing the truth of things, and that our response as a species will be massive and effective. But if course it will be too late to save everyone, and too late to salvage many of the paradigms of “life as we know it.”
I’m not going to try to anticipate or conjecture about the specific manifestations of the impending crash. Gilding and many others have been doing this for a long time. We’ll see soon enough which predictions were more or less accurate, and it’s not going to make anyone happy to be able to say “I told you so.” What’s not in dispute by anyone who examines earth and climate science, is that fundamental changes are coming soon. Like, in our lifetimes. Most of us can stop thinking about “our children, and our childrens’ children” and start thinking about ourselves. As soon as we do that for real, and abolish the easily-shunted abstraction of “the future,” we’ll get to work. But that hasn’t happened yet. It will, inevitably, and the point at which that moment of clarity nucleates within the minds of enough people is what will ultimately decide how manageable the coming crash will be. Obviously, the longer we wait, the worse off we’ll be when the new equilibrium is reached.
You see where I’m going with this yet? One of the increasingly active dialogs in our political milieu is what many refer to as the “global warming debate.” Those three words amount to one of the most grievous crimes ever committed against humanity by the mainstream media. “Debate??” There isn’t one. Not a real one, not among intelligent people who are able to assemble collections of data and draw critical conclusions. There’s no real debate among climate scientists, and no real debate among people who pay attention. There’s only a fake debate, perpetrated by the media and funded by Exxon-Mobil, the Koch Brothers, and other powerful lobbies. Sure there is some “quibbling” among peer-reviewed scientists about the details, but overwhelmingly the scientific community tells us, again and again, that human activity is now having a deep and lasting impact on the earth, and that our ecosystem’s carrying capacity was exceeded long ago. It is an irrefutable fact, when you look at the numbers, that we are depleting our resources even as our own population continues to grow unchecked. No fair and balanced media source would honestly pit two experts against one another, one advocating for “global warming” and one against. First off, it isn’t even possible to find an “expert” who claims that global climate change isn’t happening, unless that “expert” is on the payroll of one of the aforementioned lobbies. What if we assume that someone on the payroll of Exxon-Mobil is capable of producing unbiased science, and admit them into a legitimate debate? Even then, if we wanted to be fair and balanced, and present an accurate picture of current scientific thought on the matter, we’d have to offset each such corporate funded “expert” with roughly 472 published climate scientists who hold the broadly opposing view. That’s not even an exaggeration. That’s how deep the consensus runs.
And the word “warming” is itself an unfortunate term here, as it allows naïve people who don’t understand the difference between strongly-supported hypotheses and anecdotal information to reject the reality out of hand. As in “Global warming, my ass! Twenty degrees below zero in early November? Ha! Bullshit!”
But I’m not writing this to convince you of a truth that you almost certainly accept if you’ve read this far. If you are easily bamboozled by junk science, and are one of those people who finds it easy to just accept any dumbass thing that flies from the delusional pea-sized brain of Michele “Carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of nature!” Bachmann, then you stopped reading this somewhere short of the second sentence, and anyway you probably aren’t all that fired up about reading in general.
Now, this is a generalization, and I am well-aware there are numerous exceptions, but the issue of Global Climate Change is broadly split down party lines. You won’t find many liberals who question it, and an insane number of conservatives still follow the words “global warming” with the word “hoax” more often than not. It’s too bad that Al Gore had to be the one to produce one of the more important treatises on GCC, because I think that really pushed things hard in the direction of a partisan split. There’s also the fact that Congressional Republicans of the last 20 years or so are more likely than Democrats to shamelessly work against the interests of their constituents for money. Campaign finance reform is desperately needed, but that’s another story. At any rate, the R’s try to feed you bullshit about GCC being a hoax, while the D’s generally stick to a different brand of bullshit.
Now, you begin to see the great potential of a truly moronic politician, with a truly simple-minded and moronic following, to shift the balance, don’t you? Ultimately, this is not a political post. Not in the small, Western, partisan sense. It’s meant to encourage an examination of what’s really important. And it isn’t difficult to see that a major planetary crash might well supersede all of the garbage that tends to get media attention. You might even begin to conceive of the odd compromise that may one day make it possible for humanity to persist far into the future without going full-on Road Warrior: maybe, just maybe, if a bat-shit crazy person like Michele Bachmann (or Sarah Palin, or Mitt Romney, etc.) were to wake up one day and smell the rotting Petri dish of our certain doom, all of the bat-shit crazy people who voted for her would be willing to accept the gravity of our situation, and get on board with some things like sustainable food, steady-state economies, and renewable energy. Maybe. So long as the rest of us were maybe willing to have our abortions and gay married sex in secret.
It’s honestly not such a stretch. Everyone’s got a tipping point. We know all too well that for someone like Bachmann, that tipping point is unlikely to be confronting a roomful of lucid experts on climate change. Who cares? Maybe it’s one of those dumbass anecdotal things, like a couple of hot days in November where her bra sticks to her stupid saggy boobs and makes her itchy and annoyed while waiting for her turn to speak at an NRA rally. Maybe she visits a lake in Texas where her uncle used to take her bass fishing when she was six, and finds out it’s all dried up forever. Doesn’t matter. If something, anything, causes a moment of crystallization in her mind (or the mind of Mitt Romney, or any one of those nutjobs seeking the Republican nomination), and this happens when they are in a position to influence policy, then maybe we all get an ironic gift from someone who’s otherwise horribly unqualified to represent actual people on a grand scale.
Maybe I’m just deeply afraid of the next election, and seeking silver linings here. Nah, I don’t think so. For the most part, I don’t believe the person in the Oval Office is going to have a huge impact on my daily life. Barack Obama has already soured me on believing that there is any real hope for change being channeled through a lip-service paying, corporate-funded, status quo politician. The political center of gravity will have to shift on a much more fundamental level (like, in my Facebook Newsfeed) before it shifts at the level of national elections.
But I stand by Gilding’s assertion that facing GCC is inevitable, and that the crystallization of national (and international) sentiment will happen eventually, though it’s difficult to say when or how. And someone as nutty as Michele Bachmann, or perhaps any Republican with an overzealous, undereducated following, could, under the right set of circumstances, catalyze that crystallization, even as they do their best to take us backwards in other areas. I, for one, could tolerate a lot of backwards-ass social policy shifts in exchange for, you know, still being around and having a society at which to be pissed. Hmm. I might even consider voting for Newt Gingrich, now that I think about it.
** Despite the wall of unrefined text (damn, that’s a lot of words, eh?), I want to be explicit enough in separating the concept of Global Climate Change as its own thing from the actual deeply-integrated ecosystem clusterfuck that’s approaching. It’s deeper than ‘climate,’ much deeper than simply ‘warming.’ It is a profound over-exploitation of the entire planetary ecosystem. In fact, I hereby propose that we abolish the phrases “Global Warming” and “Global Climate Change” in favor of GEC: Global Ecosystem Collapse. Or Catastrophe. Or, Clusterfuck.
Todd Adamson is a long time lab rat turned professional photographer. In his off hours from the studio he teaches graduate students how to do extremely complicated in vitro transcription assays at the University of Iowa. Todd can be found all over the internet on his website, his photoblog, his twitter account, and facebook page.
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i can appreciate the sentiment and critical impact of what the text describes, but is bad language really necessary? i have no doubt the words are valid, it's just that foul language makes it harder to discern for me anyways.
baker, that was funny.
that being said i guess foul language is a matter of opinion. to answer Todd, words such as dumbass, clusterfuck, bullshit, bat-shit to name a few, though that might be all of them.
granted the end of life as we know it is certainly something worthwhile to get worked up about. and maybe that is just the author's style. everyone can have their own opinion and act on most of them of course. personally i don't appreciate foul langauge with my morning tea. not saying the author is wrong or trying to belittle him or her by exercising their right to use such language mind you.
the main reason i bring it up is, as much as i agree with the content of the article, i wonder how many peoples' opinions could be swayed if not for the foul language. for example if i did not agree with the author, i might read up until the first "dumbass" and immediately stop reading, and think less and less about the author's position. meanwhile if the article were worded differently, you never know whose mind might have been changed.
but what do i know, anyway? it's just an opinion i commented about. go forth and hold onto yours as dearly.
As a homosexual scientist, I appreciate the position that you've described. Logically, I can not argue with it. However, I'm really struggling with the idea that I should live a closeted, if not persecuted life* to save the 98% of the population that doesn't have to put up with the shit that I put up with on a daily basis (50% of whom are actively supplying the aforementioned shit). Am I that selfless? I hope so; but I'm not sure that you can bet your life on it--fair warning.
*To preempt the inevitable comments that this will inspire: I understand that the alternative to such a loathsome life is death. Patrick Henry beat me to the punch line.
Phred, I appreciate the reply, and I LOL’d at Baker’s response as well.
You’re right, the language is definitely indicative of my character, and verbal style. I am well-aware that it puts some people off, and I do try to curb it. You should have seen that shit before my edits. ;)
And of course you are 100% correct that some of my word choices can serve to alienate potential audiences, and may also detract from my credibility. It’s one of those cases where I know I could do a thing better, and yet I do not bother. No excuses or explanations, just a simple fact.
I am certainly willing to write for a larger audience when it’s immediately evident that it serves a greater purpose. This piece was actually just a casual thought-spillage on a silly blog I am doing, and I had no idea it would be re-posted here (to be clear, however, Brian did give me the opportunity to edit it).
BTW, how’d you like the part about Michele Bachmann’s sweaty, itchy, saggy boobs? I’d have thought that more likely to have put you off your morning tea than an eff-bomb here and there. ;)
And one parting thought: although I could have been more neutral and palatable in my word choices, I strongly believe that any article about Michele Bachmann which does not contain the word ‘dumbass’ a couple of times is journalistically irresponsible.
Kyle, I guess what I was trying to say, in too many words (as usual), is that a moral, social, and ecological ideal is a lofty goal, and a supremely difficult one to manage. Sort of like juggling 30 or 40 flaming chainsaws and maybe a couple of dozen poodles all at once (yup, first lame-ass analogy that came to my head): maybe in a valiant effort you manage not to set your hair on fire and simultaneously cut your head off, but a couple of poodles might get their fur torched along the way, or even chopped in half.
I wouldn't focus too intently on the gay marriage thing; for me, that just happens to be one of the dumbest political hot potatoes used to distract us, in that I find it particularly surprising and appalling that so many people get so worked up about it. To me, nothing could be more obvious than the fact that the sex ratio in a relationship has nothing to do with love, quality of life, ability to raise healthy children, contribution to social morality, etc. It's just insane that the religious right have managed to manufacture such an intense debate around that "issue," so I instinctively use it when deriding the general stupidity of people like Michele Bachmann. I could have chosen a different specific hot button, but I tend to default to gay marriage and abortion.
My major point is that something always has to give; compromises are a fact of progress, and rarely permanent, and some of us may have to "take one for the team." :)
I could just as easily have sacrificed the rights of women to vote, or brown-skinned people to use the same water fountains as caucasians, although those issues aren't as topical, because our moral compass has already begun a great shift with regard to equal treatment of women and minorities. Openly gay people are still a relatively "new" thing for us culturally, especially for the nutjob bible-beaters who would consider voting for Bachmann.
But yes, ultimately, I am prioritizing the survival of the species above your quality of life as a homosexual, and above many other things. Sorry about that. ;)
Todd, check the box next to the BOLDED words that say "preview before posting." The fancy text editor doesn't play nice on mobile devices so I turn it off. You must manually insert page breaks.
I wouldn't wet my pants over tone, here. You think Michelle Bachman and co worry about what people think about what they say?
No, they don't. If they did, they wouldn't open their mouths. People need to be forceful to convince. PZ meyers wrote an interesting perspective on tone, and it's the shining confident light that sways the unconvinced masses.
Todd, I love your post and writing style. Hope to see more stuff from you here in the future!
Todd, love the language, love the post. Words convey a message, so use the words you want to convey your message, not someone else's.
...just realized my comment may appear to be directed at Todd. This is not the case, it was meant for Phred. ...
Psycasm, that is a point I had not considered. They are a loathesome bunch to be sure. We can agree to differ on the use of tone. I like ot think you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar. However, this is just how I think. Others' comments are fine with the article and that's okay too. I am not trying to change anyone. Merely expressing my opinion.
Todd, I did not realize you were the author. Thanks for the insightful response. My initial comment was really just an expression of my initial thought about the piece. No worries. Besides I can appreciate a sweaty saggy boob with my tea.
Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone. :) I'm happy a few people actually read it! Based on a Glenn Greenwald Op-Ed piece I read this morning, which weirdly paralleled my Bachmann piece (OK, perhaps only in my own mind) I was forced to hit my soapbox once again today: http://wp.me/p1Ild1-l