Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

I wonder how many of you will recall that commercial from a number of years ago.  The tag line of the commercial was “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” whereupon Mother Nature stands up and with a wave of her hands—boom--thunder and lightning.

I couldn’t help but recall that commercial with its closing line as the predicted Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast of the United States.  Even now, a day after the hurricane has blown through central Pennsylvania—on its way to the Midwest—the storm is wreaking incredible havoc.  Manhattan, New York City has been hugely affected—power stations exploding disrupting power, cranes dangling from building construction sites, cars trapped in or out of Manhattan with bridges and tunnels closed. 
Of course, post-hurricane there will be debates—has global climate change made such super-storms inevitable?  I have read enough to know that climatologists are careful to talk about long-term trends, and steer us amateurs away from drawing hasty conclusions about individual weather events being caused by global climate change.  So, they are comfortable attributing the many heat records that were broken this past summer and the widespread extended drought to global climate change.  They are less comfortable attributing a single storm such as Hurricane Sandy to global climate change.

I find this whole topic maddening.  It is emblematic of a weird tendency in the U.S.—the tendency to subject something that either is (or isn’t) to a popularity contest.  So, polls are conducted to determine if people BELIEVE in global climate change.  And, while you might not think something such as global climate change would be an indicator of one’s political leaning, we find that depending on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, global climate change is or is not happening.  85% of Democrats say there “is solid evidence of warming” as compared to 48% of Republicans who accept that.  (Source: Pew Research Center) (Incidentally, more than 70% of so-called Tea Party adherents do NOT believe that global climate change is occurring.)
Where my anxiety goes off the scale is when the political ramifications come to play in WHO provides leadership in our national governmental structures on these issues.  Where the Republican platform four years ago had an extensive section on climate issues, the whole topic of climate has disappeared from the Republican platform.  Thankfully, the Democratic platform still deals with global climate change.  I know, I know—the platforms don’t mean much.  They simply give a snap-shot of what matters to the respective parties.

It should come as no surprise that our regard for science—or, I should say, our lack of regard—has an effect on our success in science education.  A recent report found that the U.S. is lagging behind many countries in various subject scores.  As the report notes, we might have won more Olympic gold medals, but we aren’t winning gold in education areas including science.  Who ranks first in science?  China.  The U.S. ranks 23rd.  (Source: Huffington Post article)

I do not blame our public education system for this decline—not at all.  I blame the pervasive attitude in the U.S. that science just doesn’t matter.  After all, you can subject it to a popular vote—if most people don’t believe it (whatever IT is: global climate change, evolution, you name it), then it must not be true.  Not only is it NOT true, but it has to be disputed at every turn.  Layer on top of that scorn a constant drum beat of fascination with the most mindless topics imaginable—can you say Snooky? Honey Boo-Boo?  Boxers? Or Briefs?  (All those topics have been asked of recent candidates for President, where the candidate’s position on global climate change has NOT been asked.) 
Well, Mother Nature gets the last word.  It’s not nice to fool her.


Climenheise said...

Part of a larger picture in which the search for and concern for truth has given way to "true for me"--"true for you"; "if it feels good, do it"; and so on. Feelings matter more than facts for many of us. I know I'm not immune to this. But facts, and the larger truth that they fit into, still matter more than our interpretations.

Climenheise said...

Just to say, KG Mom, it took me about 10 tries to read the robot-filter. Help!

Ginnie said...

Tonight I heard Mayor Bloomberg say that the "100 year major storms are now coming at the rate of every two years. Sure makes you wonder like it does my friend Al Gore."
I thought tht was very interesting. No mention of politics but just quoting his friend.
Good post.

Anvilcloud said...

I remember that commercial well: a classic. And I am with you wrt the rest of your post.

NCmountainwoman said...

We're not worried about global warming here in NC. Our State legislature has ruled that we do not accept the recent scientific studies about rising ocean levels in the Atlantic. They said that to accept the findings would be "bad for business." So since NC allows insurers to underwrite risks across the state, we are paying dearly here in the mountains for developments along our fragile coastline. Wounded once again by our fact-blind elected representatives.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I hope you feel better after this rant. I am stressed out regularly by the state of the world, the US in particular. Lynne and I will be having a civil conversation and a topic will come up and I am suddenly ranting away sometimes almost in tears as to how bad things are and how slow we are in trying to deal with the problems. We are 40 years late in tackling the climate problem and still the politicians seem to not care about the issue. (The US is doing better than Canada, I am ashamed to say)

A mild factual correction on your description of Sandy. in Pennsylvania it took a sweeping right and went North East (not to the midwest) to Canada through Cornwall Ontario, through Quebec and Labrador and out to sea again. I think the path was so wide the outside ring of the cyclonic storm touched Chicago We missed most of the excitment were I live.

KGMom said...

Daryl--sorry about the robot-filter--interestingly, I too have to enter the words/numbers when I make this comment. I appreciate your persistence.

Ginnie--I heard Mayor Bloomberg make that comment--an ironic twist on the "100 year" phrase oft-repeated.

AC--it's nice to have a fellow-1940s era birth person who can relate to things along with me. Makes me feel...not quite so old.

NCMtnWmn--yes, I saw that the North Carolina had solved global climate change. Would that it were so easy.

Philip--at the time I was writing, the storm path appeared to be heading for Pittsburgh. The first track appeared to show the storm taking a turn to the north right over Harrisburg (my city). So, its track further west was a bit of a relief. However, the storm did so much damage in other parts around that my relief seems selfish.